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Paul McBride

The Copa del Rey – a bit bashed <em>Picture: Erik1980</em>

The Copa del Rey – a bit bashed Picture: Erik1980

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Semi-final weekend in the respective premier knockout cup competitions either side of the border, with one tie holding a slight advantage when it came to national interest. And you’ve guessed – it wasn’t Motherwell–St Johnstone.

On a day when Wembley was filled with the blue and red of Manchester, Hampden looked somewhat sorry only a quarter-filled – or, more noticeably, three-quarters empty – with the “hordes” from the shires of Lanark and Perth.

Motherwell deservedly won 3–0, with Saints ‘keeper Peter Enckelman the unfortunate recipient of the “Estate Agents Award”, presented to the man who did most to sell a semi.

But while Jamie Murphy and John Sutton scored crackers, you couldn’t help but notice the empty seats around Hampden, which raises the question – as ever – of why a match like this is ever taken to the National Stadium.

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Justification for building it appears to be the only answer. Because with just under 12,000 deciding the big day wasn’t that big in reality, Tynecastle or Easter Road would have made much better sense.

In the south, City shocked United. The next day, Aberdeen and Bolton were just shocking.

Sunday
From Steeltown to Steel City. I know it began yesterday, but given that it lasts a mere 17 days, there was always going to be time to catch up with the action from Sheffield and the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship.

Saturday brought two big stories. One came before a ball was potted in anger, and was so big it even made the front page of the Scottish Sun. It was the collapse, or near-collapse, of 110sport, snooker’s biggest management stable and a twice-former employer of mine. Indeed, in healthier times, I once was a board director there.

It is a sad state of affairs, which is about all I’m willing to say on the matter as I am restricted for space, something that won’t be a problem when my tale comes out in book form. Take that as the first plug.

Damned or doomed, 110sport’s demise was of their making, nothing to do with events conspiring against them, bad luck, chance or fate.

And certainly not a curse – although the second big snooker headline from the weekend could fall into the category.

No first-time winner of the world title had ever successfully defended the title in Sheffield, hence “the Crucible Curse”. And as if by magic, or other powers we cannot explain, title holder Neil Robertson crashed out, beaten 10–8 by Judd Trump, who this year looks to be fulfilling the potential everyone knew he had.

Speaking to Stephen Hendry last week, he believed Robertson could have been the one to break that trend. But he also conceded that few, other than the person who returned the cup from the previous year, could appreciate the enormity of the task and the expectation around being champion – because regardless of who you are, what you’ve done or how well you are playing, all anyone wants to mention is the dreaded curse.

So the next first-time champ, whoever you may be, be afraid… be very afraid!

Sunday also saw Mandy Fisher, who founded the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association 30 years ago, resign as chairman, chairwoman or chairperson (delete where applicable).

Fisher, 49, began the women’s circuit in 1981 and her commitment has been the main reasons it has survived this long. That said, it has always been the very poor relation in the snooker family. While the winner of the world title (an event open to men and women) pockets a quarter of a million, ladies winner Reanne Evans won just £1,000 for retaining her world title in 2010.

“Mandy’s heart was always in the right place,” said former WLBSA secretary and tournament director Jane O’Neill, “[but] there were always the knockers.”

Which many give as the reason why women can’t play…

Monday
And still in Sheffield, Barry Hearn, the Don King of snooker, unveils announcement after announcement for next season.

A ranking event staged in Australia in July (on the back of Robertson’s success), a World Cup in Bangkok, a biennial event where Scotland will be defending champions (and holders since 1996 when since the tournament has been absent never mind bi-anything), and a new format for the Premier League as it becomes a World Snooker event,

Sky Sports will broadcast an event for the next three years, prize money on the circuit will rise to over £6m (although it was once above that) and there will also be the Brazilian Masters, with traditional rules, namely unwaxed balls…

Hearn did however threaten that he wants players to come forward to record a new version of the Chas ‘n’ Dave “classic” Snooker Loopy, which reached number six in the chart 25 years ago.

Who will step up? Hopefully not some clown.

I can also exclusively reveal the song might be revamped to include an instrumental halfway through, just in case Ronnie O’Sullivan doesn’t turn up for his verse.

Tuesday
And the sale of Rangers takes another twist after the club’s chairman, Alastair Johnston, questioned the ability of would-be owner Craig Whyte to fund the reigning Scottish champions to the level required.

Whyte has been reportedly trying to purchase David Murray’s 85 per cent stake in Rangers since last November, thus wiping out their debt with Lloyds Bank.

However, Johnston and some of his fellow board members also want to see money spent on the team.

“Based on the documents we have only been able to review within the last week,” Johnston said, “we are disappointed that they ultimately did not reflect the investment in the club that we were led to believe for the last few months would be a commitment in the purchase agreement.

“Given the requirement to repay the bank in full under the proposed transaction, there appears to be only a relatively modest amount of money available that would positively impact the club’s operations, especially as it relates to an urgent requirement to replenish and upgrade the playing squad.”

As much as he is disappointed, there isn’t a queue outside Ibrox willing to part with £30-odd million to be then told what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their money.

Indeed, there is only one other offer on the table – this sees Rangers FC being exchanged for an apple, a kite (in good repair), a dead rat and a string to swing it with, 12 marbles, part of a Jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar (but no dog), the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel and a dilapidated old window sash.

That bid offer comes from a Mr T Sawyer, USA. Negotiations are ongoing, although they say there is nothing of significance in the last item listed.

On the field, Rangers ease past an equally dilapidated Dundee United 4–0. So easy was it that striker Nikica Jelavić had to amuse himself in other ways.

And this week’s competition is: from Paul Mitchell’s commentary, what would you pay good money for?

Wednesday
And as if nothing ever happened, Paul McBride QC will not now face legal action from the Scottish Football Association after expressing regret over recent criticism.

McBride had attacked the SFA after Rangers trio Ally McCoist, Madjid Bougherra and El-Hadji Diouf escaped further bans for their part the “Debacle of Parkhead XXVII” (as you can tell, there have been a few over the years).

McBride had represented Celtic boss Neil Lennon over his disciplinary charge and had accused the SFA of bias, publically stating they were “the laughing stock of world football” and “had been shown to be not merely dysfunctional and not merely dishonest but biased”.

Then he changed his mind, mentioning in his excuse note that he recognised “that offence has been taken to my remarks by the Scottish Football Association as an organisation, its council and its staff, and for that I express regret. I have a lot of respect for many individuals within the SFA…”.

What brought about that change of mind isn’t clear. Legal action, or of being reported to his bosses, who could say? Or did the threat of a parcel bomb just focus things a wee bit more?

I should say, I am not making light of what is a serious matter, and particularly dangerous series of events, least of all for the poor buggers collecting and delivering our post. But I’m surprised no one from the cry wolf brigade hasn’t commented on the potential of a conspiracy, given the Royal Mail have been entrusted with the safe passage of these unsafe parcels.

Terrorist officers from Strathclyde Police have conducted searches and enquiries into who is behind these threats, and have focused extensively on Ayrshire – where despite using ultra-modern and groundbreaking profiling techniques, they have been unable to track down the perpetrators as everyone in that area shares the same DNA…

Thursday
And in the wee small hours, Real Madrid return home from Valencia to triumphant scenes where the city celebrates their winning of the Copa del Rey after beating arch-rivals Barcelona 1–0.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s extra-time header gave Jose Mourinho his first trophy as Real Madrid coach. But it was more about what happened on the team coach – or, more accurately, what happened under it – that made this particularly memorable.

It brings back memories of other cup celebrations gone wrong, like the night in 1988 when Dean Richards and John Jeffrey took the Calcutta Cup for a walk down Rose Street.

Of course, Sergio Ramos will be reminded for evermore about dropping that cup off the bus.

But what is the best case of dropsy after a cup final? Steve Morrow, Arsenal’s League Cup goalscoring hero, takes some beating – or rather took a beating.

Friday
Two days to go to the final Old Firm game of the season and Strathclyde Police chief constable Stephen House believes everything from three league points, to the climate and a day off work could brew up mayhem in the west of Scotland.

“It’s a Bank Holiday,” House said, “it is the last meeting of the season – which is crucial for a result – and the weather forecast is hot. That means people will be drunk and they will get injured or raped, assaults go up and so does domestic violence.

“We do not see the clubs as the enemy. We do not blame Celtic or Rangers for the violence. The people who are responsible are those who use knives, fists or whatever other weapons on their fellow human beings.”

And I don’t disagree. I have seen the frightening aftermath of an Old Firm game first hand. But I’ve seen similar scenes throughout the country when there is not a Celtic or Rangers top to be seen.

Not meaning to trivialise in any way the concerns of some, but I do wonder on occasions whether all this reported serious crime is down to the factors the chief constable details, or the fact the same gentleman has vowed to put 1,000 extra officers on the streets.

More cops doing their job usually means more arrests and more frightening statistics. And more calls for more resources for more of the same and more overtime next time.

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Cricketers or condoms? <em>Picture: AkashSiinha</em>

Cricketers or condoms? Picture: AkashSiinha

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
A busy day, with two sporting institutions taking centre stage, namely the Grand National from Aintree and the Melrose Sevens – the latter won by the host club, admirably led by Scott “Scarface” Wight.

But it was the previous evening’s viewing which started my week. STV’s The Football Years has been an excellent series, picking out the highlights – and lowlights – from the past few decades. Last week focused on the exploits of Rangers during their treble-winning season and unbeaten European run of 1992/93.

The vintage footage has brought back many memories, of how good some footballers and teams were, and how bad the fashion sense of others.

You would be hard pushed to find any criticism of this series, although some of the journalists who have appeared as talking heads were at best adjacent to the action rather than close.

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That aside, as any editor will tell you, the difficulty with things like this is what you leave out.

Friday’s programme recalled the best Rangers side I’ve seen, which – apart from a sprinkling of “foreigners” such as Hateley, Huistra, Steven, “Disco” Dale and “Miko” or “Chenks” (but seldom Mikhailitchenko with a “t”) – was a Scotland XI better than the Scotland team of the day.

But from the story of that season, there was a minor detail overlooked that I picked up on – namely that Rangers clinched the treble minus future Gers boss Ally McCoist, who had broken his leg in Lisbon having scored a mere 49 goals up to that point.

While much was made about Rangers proving themselves in Europe, the importance of being the best domestically was never, ever, overlooked by the members of that team.

Having won the second dog-fight and with it the “Battle of Britain” against Leeds United, captain Richard Gough held court within Elland Road.

My erstwhile colleague from the Daily Mirror, Harry Harris, who knew Goughie from his Spurs days, tried to press the point that the Leeds encounter was surely the biggest club match the Rangers captain had ever played in.

“Aye, but we’ve got a bigger one on Saturday,” replied Gough.

“But you’ve just beaten the champions of England,” said Harris. “How can Saturday be a bigger game than that?”

“Because,” said Gough, “we play Celtic on Saturday. And if they beat us, they’ll be telling everyone they’re British champions.”

Of course few, if any, of the assembled English press penned that line. Either they didn’t see the significance, or did they just see being best in Glasgow as small-mindedness?

Sunday
Something that was noticeable on Friday night’s offering was just how passionate Walter Smith was as the relatively-new Rangers boss, struggling at times to contain himself, particularly when his side scored a crucial goal.

Compare that to Sunday’s goal by Niki Jelavic against Hamilton Accies, when the soon-to-be-retired Smith failed to connect with an attempted high-five with assistant coach Kenny McDowall.

The co-ordination and teamwork just wasn’t there. Maybe Wattie is standing down before the celebrations become as embarrassing as Sir Alex Ferguson’s daddy-dancing…

Monday
In cricketing terminology, OD stands for One Day, as in the limited-over form of the game. However, you can’t help thinking it might also stand for overdose, something even the most avid follower of the game must be experiencing by now.

Those who think that the Chennai Super Kings or Rajasthan Royals are £6.80 for a pack of 20, or that Deccan Chargers only work for alkaline batteries, or that Kolkata Knight Riders are condoms, won’t know what the IPL is.

But a week after a world cup that took a month and more to complete, we are straight into the Indian Premier League, the live and hitting version of fantasy Twenty20, where the best players in the world become little more than hired assassins.

ITV4 – fast becoming the nation’s leading digital (or is it terrestrial?) sports channel – are showing the action live, which is colourful and fast and should be watchable and entertaining.

But much as I love the game, even I’m feeling a bit jaded by it all. Overkill is taking away from the spectacle. It’s almost like the sequel to a movie which you saw just a year ago, only with more colourful pyjamas.

Still, it beats re-runs of The Fall Guy – but not of The Sweeney.

If the IPL isn’t enough, Australia beat Bangladesh, taking the series after a nine-wicket win with Shane Watson clattering 185 (out of a total of 232) from just 96 balls, including 15 fours and a world-record 15 sixes. Amazing, but so what? …

Tuesday
Snooker has tried to get its act together on many fronts of late, one being how authorities handle illness.

Ding Junhui was fined £2,000 by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association after failing to report that he was suffering from illness before losing 4–0 to countryman Liang Wenbo in their Euro Players Tour Championship match in Germany.

Officials reported Ding, who was fined for turning up “in circumstances where he may otherwise have properly withdrawn,” and where he was unable to “compete properly, which not only impacts on his reputation but also that of the sport.” Heavy stuff, and changed days indeed.

Remember, this was the sport which over the years had people like Alex Higgins, Quinten Hann and Mark Williams hopping and hobbling around the table because of various leg injuries.

We had at least one player made out to be a drug cheat because he loaded himself up with Night Nurse Cold & Flu, all because withdrawing from an event just wasn’t an option.

On another occasion, the aforementioned Williams was forced to play in somewhat difficult circumstances that only became evident when he stretched for a long pot. Without warning the public or the referee, he dropped his cue and bolted from the arena.

“I bent over and had two options – go for the shot or go for a shit,” was the bold Welshman’s graphic explanation into the nature of his illness. And before you ask, no, he wasn’t on the brown…

Just days away from the Betfred.com “Embassy” World Championship (as someone referred to it recently), and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s participation in the event is called in to question.

I am not one to make light of people’s problems, particularly around issues like depression which have beset Graeme Dott and Mark Allen of late, and O’Sullivan for some time.

Cruelly referred to as “The Two Ronnies” (because no one is ever sure which one is going to turn up), the three-times world champion – arguably the most gifted player the game has ever seen – would receive more sympathy and understanding if he didn’t threaten to retire every time he’s interviewed.

O’Sullivan has sought help from leading sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, the “mind guru” (as the Daily Mail called him) who helped the Great Britain cycling team win eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008.

Fitting perhaps, because you get the feeling one of them will be on their bike soon…

Wednesday
Don’t say we weren’t warned, but FIFA’s latest world ranking list shows Scotland tumbling 16 places down from 50th to 66th.

Playing (and losing) to Brazil doesn’t seem such a good idea now that we’ve lost our place amongst the third tier of European seeds.

Since they were first published in 1993, I have followed these rankings with amusement more than anything, laughing as we are overtaken by some nations which were not even nations when the list first appeared.

It also helps to ease the pain if you read this chart, pop-pickers, in the manner of Alan “Fluff” Freeman (this might help, “Not arf!”) or Tony Blackburn.

Among this month’s big movers – and reaching their highest-ever standing – are Montenegro, zooming in at 24 (although their most famous son Hugo was “Top of the Pops” once). Albania – yes the country which had Norman Wisdom as its cultural hero – are at 50, and Rock-ing The Casbah at 58 is Libya.

Libya!

A war-torn country ripped apart by civil rebellion and the kind of international assistance you can do without is now higher than this nation which could rightly lay claim to having given organised football to the world. Pathetic.

Of course, it is all too easy to draw comparisons between those who preside over the SFA and Libya.

One has a president who rules with a fist of iron, who has seen off those who would challenge from within, will crush insubordination by unleashing the power of his office against them, who has scant regard for state or international law, and who obviously cares little about his or his nation’s standing in the world.

And the other is led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi…

Thursday
And it emerges that the SFA bosses are considering legal action against Paul McBride QC after his allegations that they were “biased” towards Rangers and against his client, Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said: “We are now considering, with the benefit of legal advice, whether to sue just Paul McBride for damages or whether to also sue other parties.

“In making his unjustified and inflammatory remarks, Paul McBride appears to be acting as a self-publicist and not as a QC. His wild and inaccurate statements are defamatory and appear to be malicious.”

Where oh where is this all this bickering and paranoia going to end?

Hopefully in the High Court, with the SFA represented by Donald Findlay QC…

Friday
And Bolton Wanderers are but days away from an FA Cup semi-final with Stoke City. How well have Owen Coyle and sidekick Sandy Stewart done at the Reebok?

Another great advertisement for Scottish managers making their mark in England – or should that be Scots-born managers, given that Owen Coyle is Irish, by dint of his parentage and his one cap against Holland? Enough genealogy, though.

I first got to know Owen when he was at Clydebank before his £175,000 move to Airdrie. Yes, Airdrie had that kind of money in 1990, and got a debut hat-trick as part of the repayment.

He was still living with his parents then, and on one occasion I had cause to call the family home looking for him.

“Is Owen there?” I asked, to which Mrs Coyle replied: “What one do you want? Auld Oweny, young Oweny or onie Oweny…?”

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