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Graeme Souness

Graeme Souness

And nothing would ever be the same again.

That line could apply to a million and one things. But in the case of Scottish football, the events of this week in April 1986 basically turned Scottish football into a two-member cartel.

The mid-80s were wilderness years for Rangers. Yes, they picked up the odd cup here and there (the Glasgow Cup was significant as long as you beat Celtic in the final), but not since 1978 had a championship flag flown over Ibrox.

Rangers, despite spending (in relative terms) big money, were making up the numbers on a Saturday.

Dundee United and Aberdeen had won titles, as had Celtic. But from the east that season, Hibs had KOed Rangers from the Skol Cup and Hearts had emerged as arguably the team of the season, in the mix for a domestic league and cup double (after beating Rangers in the third round, 3–2 at Tynecastle).

In the league, Rangers would only just scrape a European place, finishing fifth on goal difference from Dundee.

But by then, change was afoot. After losing to Tottenham in a friendly in London, Jock Wallace, the architect of Rangers’ greatest successes during the 70s and a one-time jungle fighter, was ambushed and sacked.

Wallace went, but there was neither time to say farewell nor to ponder who next might take over as the announcement came immediately: none other than Scotland skipper Graeme Souness.

That coup was masterminded by David Holmes – who admitted that, when making the announcement, he needed to keep sucking a lemon to keep the smile off his face. Hard to believe, but it wasn’t all smiles amongst the red, white and blue legions.

Souness was to be a player-manager, but despite his near legend-status for club and country (Liverpool being the club) he had never played professionally in Scotland. Neither did he have any managerial experience, a risk in the eyes of some of the Ibrox loyal would believed their club was where it was because of a similar appointment eight years earlier, that of John Greig.

It wasn’t all smiles elsewhere, either.

The Mexico World Cup finals were just a few months away. As Scotland skipper, Souness was to have featured in a number of commercial ventures between sponsors and the SFA.

I had managed to procure a “Made From Girders” poster featuring Souness, sipping from a can of Irn Bru. But they were never released for public consumption.

Indeed, for a few weeks, all of Scottish football was in a tizzy.

Good as he might think he was, Souness would need an able assistant.

But not only had Rangers a new manager, they also had a new approach. Souness was like a kid in a sweet shop. Or maybe that should be a fruit shop.

Cherry-picking who he wanted as his deputy, Souness hired Walter Smith of Dundee United for that plum job.

Not known for trying to win popularity contests, Rangers went back among the tangerines the following week to try a snap up Richard Gough for a Scottish record £500,000. Needless to say, the shutters came down at Tannadice.

If today there is bewilderment and shock at the negativity around Ibrox, it was diametrically replicated then.

Such were the levels of positivity in and around Govan, there wasn’t a player in world football who wasn’t linked to Rangers (dare I say, regardless of what school they might have attended).

While Rangers were indulging in fantasy football, the other key players in Scotland were going about important onfield business.

Dundee United had been in the mix as contenders, but had to make do with third as Hearts and Celtic visited Dundee and St Mirren respectively on the final day.

Hearts lost, while a rampant Celtic netted five in Paisley, and goal difference took the title back to the east end of Glasgow.

A week later, Hearts lost on goal difference again – three to none – at Hampden, as Aberdeen, a disappointing fourth by their standards, collected a cup double.

Rangers made another bid for Gough pre-Mexico, but a month after his appointment Souness made his first buy, £175,000 going to Watford for the relatively unknown striker Colin West.

“Is that it?” said one of my friends who lived and worked in the Granite City, his somewhat condescending take on Rangers’ first “big” buy.

Of course it wasn’t. But it was “it” in terms of anyone else, other than the Old Firm, having ambitions of being champions of Scotland.

Yes, the best of the rest would win the odd pot, and some would come close in league terms.

But if the arrival of Graeme Souness marked a transformation in how Scottish game was to be run as a business – which, ironically, his club is now toiling to live up to – it also rendered everyone else, Celtic excluded, as also-rans on a weekly basis.

Like a number of things, we never saw that coming this week in 1986…

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Dan Wheldon, 1978–2011 <em>Picture: US Army / Jim Greenhill</em>

Dan Wheldon, 1978–2011 Picture: US Army / Jim Greenhill

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
All we ever hear about in football is technology and the desire to use it to make refereeing decisions right. Proof today that all the technology in the world doesn’t necessarily mean the right decision will be arrived at.

Referee Alain Rolland stunned everyone by producing a red card to dismiss Wales captain Sam Warburton early in their Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.

No one I know said Rolland got it right, except the International Rugby Board (IRB).

“Alain Rolland’s decision to issue a red card was absolutely correct,” said referees manager Paddy O’Brien. Well they and he would say that, wouldn’t they?

Of course, Rolland made his decision on his own, without consultation, and quickly. But would it have been different had he asked an assistant or the TMO (television match official)? Based on what every expert who saw it a second time said, I have to think “yes”.

Sunday
On every poster or ticket for a car race or rally there is a simple warning. It reads: “Motorsport is dangerous.”

On Sunday those dangers were exposed in the most horrendous and devastating form when British driver Dan Wheldon was killed when he was involved in a 15-car pile-up at the Las Vegas Indy 300, the final race of the 2011 season.

Drivers had warned prior to the race that the track wasn’t big enough to take a 34-car field, where Wheldon – who had been unable to secure a regular drive this season despite winning the Indianapolis 500 – started at the back of the pack.

Had he succeeded in crossing the line first, he would have received a $5 million bonus (later rounded down to under £200,000). Not that this was a contributory factor in his accident. He was a racer who wanted to race.

Wheldon, married with two young children, was still relatively unknown in the UK outside the motorsport community, but he was twice a winner of IndyCar’s biggest race, the Indy 500, winning around the Brickyard in 2005 and for a second time just five months ago.

His death, the first in IndyCar since 2006, meant there was no celebration for Scotland’s Dario Franchitti who won the overall IndyCar championship once again, but who had warned in advance that he thought this race was an accident waiting to happen.

It also reinforced, for those many millions who might easily have forgotten, that motorsport, entertaining as it might be, can be a deadly business.

Wheldon’s death shocked the world. But where in the world of motorsport should he be placed?

A glance at the record books shows him third after Jim Clark and Graham Hill in the list of Brits to win the Indy 500. Certainly, a talent lost.

Monday
Gough, McCoist, Cooper, Young, Gascoigne, Laudrup, Butcher, Morton, Waddell, Johnstone, Cox, Goram, Thornton, McPhail, Albertz, Caldow, Shearer, Johnston, Brand, Millar – oh, and Baxter. And if I’ve missed anyone from that list, well, I’m sorry. But the reality is you are just making up the numbers.

Because everyone else who has ever donned the light blue, royal blue or lilac blue (for those who wore the not-guaranteed-for-one-machine-wash Admiral number) comes second to one man in the list of Rangers greats. Because he is the greatest.

Not me saying that about John Greig. The club, the fans, and players past and present have acknowledged that fact. Unfortunately, it would appear the new regime at Ibrox is not quite as accommodating.

Today Greig resigned as a director of Rangers, marginalised in his position by the new owners.

The majority of those who every other Saturday (occasionally Sunday and not always at three o’clock) turn up at Ibrox to see their team can take loss, debt, sheriff officers, HMRC, dodgy results, dodgier players, court orders by previous “establishment” figures, freezing of assets and unbalanced reporting.

But alarm bells really started ringing on Monday amongst the red, white and blue ranks when Greig, and former chairman John McClelland, quit the club.

That someone like Greig has seen it proper to call time on the club he loves (next to Hearts) brought everything of what has gone before to a head. “What is going on?” was the question, if not directly asked today by Rangers fans, then certainly one that crossed their minds more than once.

Craig Whyte has invested in – or inherited – a ticking, toxic, financial time bomb.

He might make it safe. Or he might need others to help. But keeping the support informed and onside, I would have thought was a must. And having the “Greatest Ever Ranger” walk out the door is hardly going to endear Craig Whyte to many Gers fans who still see him as a Motherwell boy made good who can afford a very expensive Rangers tie.

Tuesday
Top of the league, glamour friendly with Liverpool next, and Rangers make the headlines by withdrawing “all co-operation” with the BBC over what it said were “repeated difficulties” with the broadcaster this season.

Much of this stems from when a news reporter gatecrashed a football-only press conference to confront new manager Ally McCoist – on the eve of his first league match in charge of the champions – on the issue of sectarianism.

Not the done thing, and a tactic that left some experienced heads within BBC Scotland Sport shaking.

While that was patched up, the proposed documentary to be aired this week is viewed by Rangers as “prejudiced muckraking exercise” – another example, perhaps, of what they perceive to be biased BBC reporting deemed “neither accurate nor fair”.

Fair comment, some would say. Others would call it siege mentality mixed with a soupçon of paranoia.

The BBC, meanwhile, said it denied the allegation and placed “absolute value” on its “accuracy and impartiality”.

Is that the same kind of “accuracy and impartiality” which saw a wee weather lassie refer to Ibrox as “Castle Greyskull” (actually home of the He-Man good guys), or tagged a photo of one-time Gers midfielder as Kevin “c***” Thomson”, or labelled a picture of Nell McAndrew modelling the new Rangers kit as “the hun”? Or is that paranoia, albeit examples seen by thousands?

The notion that Rangers don’t do bans is of course true only to a certain generation who have, for the most part, only ever had to deal with people such as Walter Smith and Alex McLeish, who would tell you to your face what problems they had, leave you in no doubt as to their feelings, then drop it and move on. Sir David Murray was in much the same mould.

But others can recall when banning orders were a regular occurrence under former manager Graeme Souness. James Traynor, then of the Herald, was one such target.

His sports editor, Eddie Rodger, decided two could play that game, and would only use pictures of Rangers players wearing the club’s old kit – or worse (or better) still, use ancient pics of people wearing CR Smith-sponsored jerseys when Rangers were backed by McEwan’s Lager (or “Pish Lager” to dedicated readers of Not The View). Traynor was soon reinstated.

Could a similar tactic work for BBC Scotland? Not really. Not when you place “absolute value” on your “accuracy and impartiality”. And the fact that Gers supporters, for all their Sky and ESPN packages, still pay your wages.

Story about bigotry – captions with orange parades or guys with Rangers gear on.

Story about football violence – picture of Rangers supporters.

Story about Hearts fans booing a minute’s silence when the Pope dies – picture of Rangers fans.

Wednesday
Wales coach Warren Gatland receives a mixed response to his claim that the Welsh coaching staff considered cheating during semi-final loss to France.

Gatland admitted that, with Warburton sent off and prop Adam Jones injured, they talked through the possibility of feigning injury to another prop, which would have led to uncontested scrums.

Wales decided equally quickly to play by the rules. But Gatland’s comments dismayed the IRB, baffled others and were praised in other quarters.

If you considered cheating, and don’t, why tell anyone?

And if you considered cheating, and don’t, are you an upholder of morality, or someone whose morals who should be questioned for what you thought in the first place?

Me, if I was going to do it, I’d have done it. And if not, I’d have kept my mouth shut – unless it was full of fake blood.

Thursday
Peace in professional snooker doesn’t last very long.

This week, Ronnie O’Sullivan, the three-times world champion and arguably still the biggest attraction in the game, claims the game’s governing body is “raping” him by making ranking points available for smaller tournaments.

The language is emotive. Stephen Maguire is another to sound off, saying he feels like a “prostitute” turning up to play because he has to.

O’Sullivan’s problem is that he doesn’t want to play in the Players Tour Championship events, of which there are a dozen and which have a first prize of £10,000. More importantly, however, they carry ranking points.

And points win prizes in snooker, because with them you can stay in the elite top 16. Without them, you need to qualify for some major events.

So for good attendance, and a few good runs, you can push yourself up the rankings – great is you are a lesser, journeyman pro, not so great if you are one of the star turns. It’s a bit like asking Frank Sinatra to play Cleland Miners’ Welfare as a way of keeping his Las Vegas gig.

Still, Barry Hearn, leader of the snooker circus for more than a year now, can continue to do it his way, because the players, many of whom voted him into office, gave him the mandate to do things his way.

The players, when getting rid of the previous regime wanted two things; more money and more tournaments, the latter without really specifying what kind of tournaments.

There is more money. It’s just that it’s shared around differently. And there are certainly more tournaments. So they got what they demanded, although now they might appreciate exactly what is meant by “beware of what you ask for”.

Friday
France name the same team as beat Wales for the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Sunday. Well, not exactly.

Because on Sunday, Alain Rolland is only a touch judge.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, track-fighting man <em>Picture: Chell Hill</em>

Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, track-fighting man Picture: Chell Hill

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Usain Bolt aside, athletics has been up against it in recent times, drugs putting a question mark against everyone. So those in charge of the sport have tried all kinds of marketing ploys to lift the popularity, from Golden to Diamond leagues, strange-coloured vests, and world record attempts at every opportunity.

But it appears they might have cracked it with a completely new event – the middleweight street-fighter 3,000m steeplechase. I know there have been wee neds and polis throughout Scotland participating in this event for years, but never on a world stage.

Watch this and tell me who wouldn’t want this in the 2012 London Olympics or Glasgow 2014?

Channel 5 has live boxing, the British and Commonwealth heavyweight title fight between holder Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury.

Fury took the win on points after 12 rounds, which I had scored 117–112 in his favour. There were some inquisitive looks at me when the MC read out the judges’ scorecards, the first two giving Fury the fight by the same margin. There are those amongst my family and friends who forget what I used to do for a living.

All in all, it was more thud and blunder than blood and thunder, but a good enough scrap nevertheless. I’d score the contest 7/10, above average, because over the years I’ve paid more to watch worse…

Sunday
The German Grand Prix lost out to a BBQ. I admit, I missed a great race (although I watched the highlights later).

Star performance of the day comes from Mark Cavendish, who won the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris, becoming Britain’s first winner of the green jersey for the race’s best sprinter.

Cavendish deserves the plaudits for his achievement, although what he won was a series of races within one big race. Overall, he finished 130th, ninety-nine places behind the top Brit, Geraint Thomas.

Still, Cavendish rewrote the history books in capturing that green jersey, and had plenty more written about him as a result.

But imagine if he had taken such a title and finished at the head of the field. What media frenzy would have followed that?

Well, back in 1984, that’s what Scotland’s Robert Millar did, winning the King of the Mountains red polka-dot jersey outright and finishing an amazing fourth overall.

But Millar’s incredible performance merited probably a tenth of the exposure in this country that Cavendish’s did.

That’s how much sport has grown in the last quarter of a century. Or do I mean the hype around it?

Monday
While he might never have enjoyed the hero-worship of Jimmy White or Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry was always a popular guy.

People presented him with awards aplenty, adoring fans even commissioning special trophies to mark his achievements, with my good friend Neil White’s Waterford Crystal piece commemorating Hendry’s 100 Crucible centuries a particularly striking gift.

Whenever the seven-times world champion was signing autographs, there would be a lengthy queue, with all sorts wanting him to pen their books, photographs, programmes, tickets and the likes – and, in the case of a few daring young ladies, certain parts of their anatomy.

Stephen joked a few months that he was now the property of the granny brigade. But just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse when it came to admirers…

I have to say, all credit to Stephen for posing as an Apache warrior…

Tuesday
While Rangers entertain Malmö (although they struggled to do the same with the home support) in their Champions League qualifier at Ibrox, holders Barcelona are participating in the Audi Cup at the Allianz Arena along with Bayern Munich (who they would eventually defeat in the final), AC Milan and Internacional from Brazil.

Audi spend a shed-load of dosh year-on-year backing their own record-breaking team in endurance car races, especially at Le Mans.

But while there are those out there trying to tell butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers just how wonderful motorsport sponsorship is for brand awareness, here is one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world sinking even more cash (they are official car suppliers to Manchester United) in football.

What does that tell you about the power of the glorious game?

Back to Ibrox, and in the inner bowels of the great stadium ahead of the game, I’m interviewing the legend that is the “Greatest Ever Ranger”, John Greig. “Greigy” is helping me with a few chapters for a book idea I’m working on and complains bitterly that I’ve asked him to recall some details from nearly 50 years ago.

He then rhymes off team-mates, goalscorers, who passed to who and other recollections as if it were yesterday.

What does that tell you about the power of the glorious game?

Wednesday
One year to go to London 2012. 365 days now, or is it 366? It’s a year, anyway. Unfortunately my preparations have been curtailed somewhat by injury (a long-term Achilles problem has flared up again), and the fact that I am still trying to decide what event I want to compete in. This decision-making process will be all the easier once I work out what sport I am going to be good at.

I’m still thinking football, as the token Scot – or judo, as you would get to keep a nice jacket if nothing else.

It might be my imagination, but champion diver Tom Daley has started appearing even more regularly on my TV, fronting the Nestlé “Get Set, Go Free” campaign.

Now as a diver, young Tom is agile, inventive and expressive – all of the things he is not in this advert.

I noted that while he tried out golf and hockey, the kept him well away from horses. Copyright there probably belongs to Zara Phillips.

Of course, there has only ever been one athlete capable of world-class diving and being able to act with it. Watch and learn, Tom, from a master at work.

Thursday
El-Hadji Diouf has always had the ability to play at the very highest level. He has also had the ability throughout his career to start a fight in an empty hoose.

This week Diouf fell out of love with the Senegal Football Federation (FSF) which banned him for five years after comments he had made on Radio France Internationale, in which he claimed that “the whole system of African football is corrupt”. I couldn’t possibly comment.

But Diouf is naturally upset by the outcome and promised he would “go to war” with the FSF. Well, he wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t warring with someone. Ask Scott Brown, the players of QPR, and at least one Celtic fan. The list is endless.

This latest spat, coupled with Diouf’s non-appearance for Blackburn’s return for pre-season training, has put his future at Ewood Park in doubt, with Rovers boss Steve Kean indicating that perhaps the time was right for the player to leave the club.

And here was me thinking that Kean had allowed Diouf to play at the tail-end of last season with Rangers, just so he could welcome him back with open arms.

However, there might have been some method in El-Hadji’s madness, missing the making of this.

Maybe Tom Daley isn’t that bad after all…

Friday
Northern Ireland’s second-best golfer Rory McIlroy doesn’t like criticism levelled at him by American broadcaster Jay Townsend on Twitter.

After seeing the US Open champion double-bogey the last hole at Killarney, Townsend tweeted: “It was some of the worst course management I’ve ever seen beyond under-10 boys’ golf competition.”

McIlroy countered: “Jay Townsend shut up… you’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing.”

Townsend responded with: “I stand by my comments.”

The Ulsterman retaliated with “Well, I stand by my caddie,” and then revealed: “I have now blocked him on Twitter so I won’t be reading anything more.”

Different sport, different people, different times and different technology.

But you could never see someone like Graeme Souness in his pomp, or Sir Alex Ferguson, resolving their differences with someone by telling them they’d blocked them on Twitter…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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<em>Picture: Thejaswi</em>

Picture: Thejaswi

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
And the FA Cup takes centre stage south of the border with a mixture of ties and replays to decide who would progress through to the fragmented quarter-final draw, and a place in the last ten. No, I know that doesn’t sound right.

Live Saturday early evening viewing on all ITV regions (except for viewers in Scotland on council telly as you lot should have been going to see your local team even though they weren’t playing on Saturday and STV don’t show any Scottish domestic matches anyway) was Manchester United, managed by a Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson, against non-League Crawley, led by another from these parts, Steve Evans.

Stop there for a second. But does anyone else think there is something of the Freddie Starrs about Evans?

Continuing, and Fergie was not best-pleased after his side’s efforts in only managing a 1-0 win. While others would take that result and move on, a win is not a win in Ferguson’s eyes if you fail to put the likes of Crawley in their place.

Ferguson had of course been a cheerier wee soul beforehand, saying how he would welcome Starr, I mean Evans, who had brought along a special bottle of red wine as a gift for the Knight, hoping he would be offered the chance to commune in the presence of the oh so great one.

Sir Alex nodded his way through the pre-match platitudes, saying that Crawley would be given every respect on their Cup Final day.

What did irk him, was the interviewer’s assertion that “and of course, this is a match-up between two Glaswegians.”

“Naw, no he’s not … he’s from a wee village on the outskirts of Glasgow [Cambuslang to be exact],” said the Govan boy. Nothing like showing all of England how parochial us welcoming Scots can be

Sunday
I read with some interest (which is more than I will do with his threatened tome) that the British Olympic diver Tom Daley has signed a megabucks deal to write his autobiography – at the age of just 16. Maybe crayons will be included.

But what has he done at that age? What will the chapters be: Almost Drowning For The First Time, Santa – The Truth, Hair, Where! and Spots?

I can’t imagine it will be terribly honest either. Who’s going to go into detail about how they were always tired as a 13-year-old, not because of the training regime but because masturbating four times a day really takes it out of you. Not to mention being embarrassing if you are standing on top of the ten-metre board.

Still, Penguin (the publishers, and not some teen fantasy) aim to bring out the youngster’s life story in spring 2012, three months before the London Olympics start.

So sales of the book won’t be affected if he fails to make a splash …

Monday
Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting loses half his match fee after being found guilty of taking out his frustrations on the dressing room TV following his run-out for just 28 against Zimbabwe.

While Australia won in the end, Ponting was the financial loser after it was reported he’s broken the telly by throwing his gloves at it. In addition to his fine, he also offered to replace the damaged item.

Never nice to see someone like Ponting joining the John Logie Baird Memorial Club, which of course was set up for sportsmen who had shown particular venom either in or through (or should that be threw) televisions. I think Graeme Souness is still their president.

“When Ponting was run out, he was perhaps frustrated. He threw his gloves straight at the TV,” Gujarat Cricket Association secretary Rajesh Patel said. “It was an LCD TV, which was properly damaged. We could not view anything.”

That was before they found out it wasn’t connected to a satellite dish …

Tuesday
It’s all about the numbers today when the Olympic Velodrome in London is opened.

Apparently It took a team of 26 carpenters eight weeks to install the Siberian pine track and more than 350,000 nails were used on its 56km of timber surface.

I’m thinking these are the same chippies that did the flooring in my house, 56 kilometres of wood for a 250m track. A bit of waste there I think.

But no. The whole 23-month Velodrome project cost £94 million – which is on time and under budget.

This was on the same day MPs deliver a scathing report on waste by the Ministry of Defence who had cost the taxpayer a staggering £8 billion after cancelling the Nimrod and Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft and an overspend on the Eurofighter/Typhoon order.

Now, far be it for me to suggest such a thing, but, maybe if the Olympic purse-holders had been in charge of the military purse, then we might have got the planes we needed, to a cost, and on time – handily ignoring they were constructed out of Siberian timber and pedal-powered.

Wednesday
Cancelling any sporting event has a knock-on effect somewhere.

Anyone who has ever tried to return a thousand pies back to the local bakery when a fitba match has been frozen off will empathise with Formula One Management picking up the tab for the cancelation of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Formula One Management is Bernie Ecclestone’s business, where all empathy ends.

Bahrain was to have been the first round of the 2011 world F1 championship, but civil unrest meant the race was put off in the meantime, or for all time. It’s difficult to gauge civil unrest.

And the cost of cancelling that race? Around $40 million. That’s a lot of pies in any currency.

Thursday
And still in the Middle East, it is reported that the royal family of Qatar is preparing a fresh £1.5billion bid for Manchester United after the Glazers (who don’t do new PVC windows) rejected an earlier offer.

It appears the Americans have already knocked back £1bn, and are holding out for a figure closer to £1.8bn, give or take a few pies. The royal family of Qatar is preparing a fresh £1.5bn bid for Manchester United after the Glazers rejected an earlier offer.

Compare that to the £20 million United “sold” for in 1989. Of course, it didn’t sell, because the deal struck by Isle of Man-based property tycoon Michael Knighton fell through when his financial backers backed out.

So he bought Carlisle United instead. And those bankers have never regretted their decision since – much …

Friday
Former Celt Aiden McGeady may have turned his back on Scotland. But indirectly he could have ensured Scotland two Champions League places from 2012/13.

His Europa League goal meant Spartak Moscow beat Basle on aggregate, a result likely to keep Scotland ahead of Switzerland in coefficient rankings.

Of course, every single Scots football fan will be grateful for McGeady’s contribution. Not.

Because others will point to the fact that Maurice Edu is responsible for keeping Scotland ahead in that particular race thanks to his late, late goal for Rangers against Sporting Lisbon.

Indeed, that goal was so late, that there were several dozen re-writes made by those covering the game. But none had to work as quickly as the moderators on BBC’s soon-to-be-scrapped 606 forum.

A certain Alfonso1234 – a Celtic fan on the Rangers board – thought it would be clever to have a pop at Gers fans, stating that they now wouldn’t have the excuse of paying too many games when their team lost the SPL title.

Unfortunately for Alfonso1234 (presumably a pseudonym, although there is no guarantee of that), his barb remark came seconds before Edu’s dramatic equaliser. And once it was up, there was no taking it down.

Texts and emails flew around the nation as poor Alfonso was ridiculed, pilloried and abused to such an extent that BBC’s mods had to take every reference of the poor man off their site, as shown in this (broken) link www.bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A81798871.

I have to say, the great majority of the comments were hugely funny, the best arguably being; “If Carlsberg Did Premature Ejaculation …” – which even gained praise from Celtic supporters!

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Few players over the years have galvanised opinion quite like El-Hadji Diouf. In these parts, while visiting as a Liverpool players, he endeared himself to the Celtic support by gobbing on one fan who had playfully patted him on the head. For that he was fined £5,000. And Spit the Diouf (who really should be introduced to Bob Carolgees) was at it again a few years later when he spat at an 11-year-old Middlesbrough fan. Must make you something of a hardman in Senegal.

This weekend though, if it were possible, Diouf stooped even lower after QPR striker Jamie Mackie suffered a broken leg in a challenge with Blackburn defender Gael Givet. Diouf, it is alleged, abused Mackie as he lay on the pitch.

Of course Diouf denies it.

But you have to think that something must have been said to rile the QPR players and management to that extent. QPR defender Bradley Orr and goalkeeper Paddy Kenny posted comments on Twitter, Orr suggesting; “Never come across a more repulsive human being than E-H Diouf!” adding “The things he was saying were disgusting! The lad has just broken his leg! You horrible disgusting man E-H Diouf! Your time will come!” Kenny waded in with: “So gutted for the boy Mackie, football can be horrible sometimes, and that **** Diouf will get it one day, what goes around comes around.”

Mackie’s fingers still worked, enabling him to Tweet; “Proper disappointed that e diouf was in my ear while I’m on the deck with a broken leg.”

QPR youth coach Marc Bircham called him a “scumbag” while their boss, Neil Warnock, called Diouf “a sewer rat.” Even this early in to 2011, El-Hadji Diouf is off a few Christmas card lists …

Sunday
Not so much the king is dead as the King is back. Twenty-four hours after Roy Hodgson departs Anfield, Liverpool re-instate Kenny Dalglish. And all is well in the world with Liverpudlians, Scousers and Kopites – if you ignore their team. Within half-an-hour of being back on the bench, Dalglish finds out just exactly what he’s let himself in for as a penalty in the first minute and a red card for his captain end Liverpool’s FA Cup challenge against Manchester United.

If that was bad, Wednesday must have been a whole lot worse as Blackpool completed a league double over their coastal rivals. Many questions directed at Dalglish between those matches centred around how he would cope with managerial life a decade after he had last fulfilled that role. He intimated he had mellowed, and their was the jovial quip about Ryan Babel not being capable of mocking up the picture (of referee Howard Webb in a Man U kit) that landed him in hot water with the FA. And oh how the journalists laughed. I wonder if they’ll be so jolly if, or when, Kenny goes in the huff, and they end up having a press conference a city centre pub you wouldn’t frequent other than by accident …

Monday
Rangers beat Kilmarnock 3-0 in the Scottish Cup. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Not so with the attendance in that game. A stinking, if not stupid night for a game, coupled with live TV and a refusal from Kilmarnock to reduce the ticket prices, meant just 13,215 visited Ibrox, the lowest crowd there in 25 years. And if the years have hurried past, that makes it pre-Souness! There is a time and a place for live football. But shifting a match to a Monday just for TV is typical of the way regular fans are being abused. Overkill is killing interest in the game.

Tuesday
FIFA’s Ballon d’Or Puskas Award – the very wordy title for their Goal of the Year – was won by Bayern Munich midfielder Hamit Altintop for his volley while playing for Turkey. It was a great strike and polled more than 40% of the online vote, beating by a distance the likes of Giovanni Van Bronkhorst, Lionel Messi, Samir Nasri and Arjen Robben. But I bet you there’s another one, or two, or several, just like that one over the coming year. I doubt however if you’ll see another quite like the incredible back-heeled volley netted by Glentoran’s Matty Burrows (see below). The only reason I can think he didn’t win was that many would have considered it a freak or fluke goal. But he meant it all right.

Wednesday
Back on the subject of overkill, Manchester United’s FA Cup fourth-round clash with Southampton has been selected for live television coverage by ITV.

No surprise there in what was something of a mediocre draw. And no shock either than Fergie and his lads are again live and exclusive somewhere. Indeed, the shock would have been all the greater had the Old Trafford giants not been alive and kicking in the FA Cup. For believe it or not, Manchester United’s visit to the south coast will see them play their thirtieth – that’s 30 for those who wish confirmation – successive live FA Cup dating back to their 0-0 draw with Exeter in January 2005.

Like Barnum & Bailey coming to town, everyone turns out to see them, so TV executives have less chance of embarrassing gaps in the stands, as there were at Ibrox on Monday. And if they happen to be the hosts, Old Trafford is always full all of the time. And for those reasons, here’s to Sir Alex chalking up yet another record.

Thursday
More bullets in the post for Celtic personnel, with Paddy McCourt the target for a few rounds, just like team-mate Niall McGinn and manager Neil Lennon. It brings in to sharp focus just how many eejits there are still out there who would target individuals just because of where they came from and who they play or work for..

Friday
Browsing on my mobile. I spot a line online somewhere connecting Kris Boyd, the once-prolific former Rangers striker and now out-of-favour with Middlesbrough, with Turkey. I am not sure whether this was in relation to a move there, or how those in England view him …

The Ashes. <em>Picture: Mskadu</em>

The Ashes. Picture: Mskadu

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Christmas Day. Always brilliant to see the look of the faces of children and adults alike. Anticipation on the part of the little ones, bewilderment on the older generation as they struggle to assemble the various toys and goodies.

Still, I worked out why the Wii is so called, simply because it is piss-easy to set up. After numerous games of ten-pin bowling, baseball and tennis (where it took me a few hours to acknowledge that I was never going to get my double-handed, top-spin, backhand return to work this side of another Christmas), and having superbly defended my alpha-male status against my six-year-old son Callum, it was time to sit down and recall Christmases past.

“Did you have a Wii when you were a wee boy?.”

“No. “

“Just a Playstation?”

“No”.

I wasn’t sure what to read into his facial expressions – a mix of shock, horror, disbelief and even sympathy – as I tried to explain the delights and difficulties of mastering Subbuteo, of my generation, the-then state-of-the-art table-top football game. Even he saw how technologically advanced it wasn’t with the cutting line: “Just using your fingers?” As he sat resplendent in his green and black Adidas number, he fired off his next salvo.

“Did you have a Chelsea strip like mine?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because they wore yellow then.”

“Did you have a yellow one then?”

“No.”

“Did you have a blue one?”

“Yes! Yes I did!” I countered with a rapier-like Wii forehand cross-court drive.

“And I also had Manchester United home and away, Everton, Liverpool home and away, Ipswich Town, Leicester City, Bristol City, Leeds United, Real Madrid, USSR, Portugal, Greece, Marseille, Linfield, Anderlecht, Preston North End, Poland, Cyprus, Stockport County, Barnsley, Chesterfield, Cowdenbeath, Queen of the South, Carlisle United, Denmark, Cardiff City, Swansea, Wrexham, Rangers, Walsall, Charlton, Millwall, Bournemouth and Raith Rovers (although not entirely sure about them but it sounded good).”

“Wow!”

Yes, wow indeed wee man. What I didn’t say of course was that they were devoid of club emblems and badges. But the all blue, all red and all white kits from Kays Catalogue enabled you to manufacture countless permutations, up to a point, although with a bit of ingenuity.

“Oh, and Arsenal. But only if you pulled your red jersey over the white one and rolled the sleeves up …”

That shut him up …

Sunday
Boxing Day. Celtic beat St Johnstone. But the real news comes afterwards when manager Neil Lennon confirms Freddie Ljungberg could be moving to Parkhead.

“He’s been a world-class player for a long time,” said Lennon, although not dwelling too long on whether that was the same or different world-class to the world-class promised a year ago when Robbie Keane arrived …

Monday
Boxing Day II. Glasgow beat Edinburgh in the first instalment of the 1872 Cup at Firhill. The appearance of the Edinburgh kit would have shocked many a traditionalist, who would have toiled to get their heads around a kit that looked like scrumpled up Christmas paper.

Tuesday
There is sad news today with the passing of former Rangers defender Avi Cohen, aged 54, who succumbed to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident last week. While more recognised in this country as a Liverpool player, he was one of the many arrivals during the time when Graeme Souness was in charge at Ibrox, And while he made just a few appearances, his contributions in a blue jersey will not be forgotten. Eventful they were, including a win over Dynamo Kiev (virtually the Soviet state World Cup from the previous year), that 2-2 Old Firm draw, and a winner’s medal in the Skol Cup final.

Wednesday
England retain the Ashes. My thoughts haven’t changed, namely that a decent England team playing at their best have beaten an Australian team who are a cheap imitation of the previous model. In skippering his team to victory, Andrew Strauss (who is only South African born) becomes the first England captain to do so Down Under since another Middlesex man, Mike Gatting, in the winter of 86/87.

Now there was an athlete. Gatting was a popular guy, able to comment first-hand on how both captains would be feeling, one as a winner, the other – Australia’s Ricky Ponting – on being pilloried for his outburst at the umpire which lost him two-fifths of his match fee. Gatting was in full flow with his criticism of Ponting when it was pointed out that he had been embroiled with a certain Shakoor Rana many years ago. But Gatting’s defence was textbook, padding up with the reply; “Yes, but that was different!”

Thursday
Late night Thursday. And it emerges from Australia that Kevin Pietersen believes the actions that saw him lose the captaincy were key to England retaining the Ashes. Pietersen resigned as skipper in January 2009, after his attempt to have coach Peter Moores sacked made his own position untenable. “We would not be here today if I had not done what I did. I got rid of the captaincy for the good of English cricket,” said Pietersen. If only he came across as modest as that more often …

Friday
No sporting year would be complete without a glance to see who had been rewarded in the New Year Honours List. Journalists of course, are given advance notice of this release in order that we can prepare copy, articles and tributes around the announcement.

That part, in my experience, has not always been welcomed, or understood by some recipients who believe they are sworn to secrecy and who will lie and deny any such Honours nonsense just so they don’t let the cat out of the bag.

I don’t have a problem with Honours being handed out. What I do take issue with is the decision making process and the mechanics behind these awards, which are seriously flawed.

Exhibit A: Stirling Moss, a four-times world championship runner-up receives a Knighthood ahead of three-times world champion Jackie Stewart.

Exhibit B: Paul Collingwood, who received an MBE as part of England’s 2005 Ashes winning side, despite having played just once and scoring 17 runs.

Exhibit C: The various bench-warmers MBE, who were part of England’s 2003 World Cup winning squad.

I could go on. But this is as much about having someone pushing your name and knowing how the system works than out-and-out dedication and sporting achievement.

So who should have been rewarded this year and wasn’t? Try motorbike racer Ian Hutchinson, the first man in the history of the Isle of Man TT races to win all five senior races in the same week, doing something, at a location, where most of us would be hospitalised or worse after two or three bends.

Amongst those who were honoured in 2010 are golfer Graeme McDowall, who for winning his first major and Ryder Cup success gets an MBE, along with referee Howard Webb for his record 14 yellow cards and one red in a World Cup final, and veteran rugby league commentator Ray French, who in my eyes never quite managed to fill Eddie Waring’s camel coat.

Others receiving medals include rugby player Mike Catt, who having won an MBE for winning the World Cup in 2003, now gets an OBE for retiring. Make him Exhibit D.

One person suitably rewarded is George Kerr, the 72-year-old from Edinburgh, who in February became one of only 19 people since 1935 – and only the second Briton – to have achieved the status of 10th Dan in judo. He gets a CBE, and given his qualifications, I am not going to argue with that.

But were they forced into recognising George after the Emperor of Japan a few months ago awarded him with the Order of the Rising Sun?

And for a moment, I almost admitted to getting the same – until I realised it was an order from the Rising Sun, albeit with complimentary prawn crackers …

by Andrew Macdonell

<em>Picture: CLF</em>

Picture: CLF

Scottish ex-pats living in South Africa could be forgiven for feeling an eerie sense of “déjà vu” given the performance of the ‘Bafana Bafana’ national team in the first two games of this World Cup. For Scots of a certain age, the scars from the 1978 World Cup in Argentina are still there and ominous similarities are emerging between these two southern hemisphere World Cup tournaments.

Both South Africa in 2010 and Scotland in 1978 entered their respective campaigns carrying the unrealistically high hopes and expectations of their people. In purely football terms, the high expectations in Scotland in the months leading up to the Argentinian tournament would appear to have had more justification.

At the time, Scotland boasted possibly the strongest crop of players that it has ever produced with seasoned performers in most positions. Kenny Dalglish was near his prime and in Joe Jordan, Lou Macari and a young Graeme Souness, Scotland had the core of a great side.

South Africa, meanwhile, entered the 2010 tournament unbeaten in 12 games – albeit against very mediocre opposition. Nonetheless, winning can become a habit and the hopes here were that this trend could continue against tougher opposition.

On the down side, both nations had unsettled management leading up to the two tournaments. Ally McLeod had only taken over the Scottish team a year before, while South Africa has had to cope with the on-off-on again presence of Carlos Alberto Parreira at the helm.

With hindsight, it is easy to see that the showmanship, optimism and hubris encouraged by Ally McLeod had gone too far and that it was all bound to come crashing down. However if we are honest, at the time we all readily signed up for Ally’s Army and the dream of a small nation that was going to “shake them up when we win the World Cup!”. In South Africa too, the “Rainbow Nation” has also come together in the hope that home advantage, loud local support, young speedy players and the vuvuzela can make a mockery of the current FIFA rankings!

The world was in a similar place in 1978. The global economy was in recession and in Britain there was a hung parliament with the Liberals supporting a minority administration. Sound familiar? But there are differences too. South Africa today is a state trying to develop a sense of united nationhood; while Scotland is an old nation trying to carve out an independent state for itself.

But it is on the field that similarities are most striking. In their first two games, both countries only managed draws against, arguably, the weakest teams in their respective groups – Scotland in their second game against Iran and South Africa in their opener against Mexico.

Deep down both expected to win, but both had to make do with identical, disappointing, 1-1 scores. However it is when they faced South American opposition that the wheels really came off both wagons.

Wednesday’s 3-0 defect by Uruguay is a subject of much head shaking here; while Scotland’s 3-1 opening defeat by Peru still hurts even thirty two years later!

In terms of off the field diversions, it is true that South Africa has not had to deal with a Willie Johnston magnitude scandal; although the omission of Benni McCarthy from the squad (officially on fitness grounds) was certainly a shock to the nation.

The third chapter of the South African campaign has still to be written. However like Scotland in 1978, South Africa go into their final game against strong European opposition with only one point, knowing that only a good win and other favourable results will do. They take on France in Bloemfontein next Tuesday; while in 1978, Scotland had to beat Holland (then playing Total Football as one of the world’s best teams) in Mendoza by three clear goals.

Scotland got their win, but not by the required margin. It is very doubtful whether South Africa will be able to do any better.

Who could forget Archie Gemmill’s spectacular solo goal in that final game against Holland – a goal that briefly gave Scots hope? One suspects that South Africa have already scored their wonder goal in Simphiwe Tshabalala’s left foot stunner against Mexico – although all South Africa is hoping for a repeat effort on Tuesday.

The expectation has shifted though I suspect the vuvuzelas will continue long after all hope has gone!