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PSV Eindhoven

Ruud van Nistelrooy Picture: Personeelsnet

During his time, he was one of the best, the very best. But like everyone in football, time eventually catches up with you. And this week, former Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy called time on his career. And what a career.

But it could have been very different.

Van Nistelrooy started his professional career in his homeland with Den Bosch before moving to Heerenveen and then on to  PSV Eindhoven, where he made his name forming a deadly striking partnership with Belgian hitman Luc Nilis.

It was during his time at the Philips Stadion that I first saw him in action. Ahead of facing Rangers in the Champions League in 1999, PSV took on Willem II on the Saturday evening.

All eyes were on the danger men Dick Advocaat’s side might have to watch out for. Van Nistelrooy was one, already the Eredivisie Golden Boot from the previous season.

But this guy was anything but impressive. For more than an hour, while PSV were coasting, van Nistelrooy did nothing. Then he produced a McCoist-like performance (as I wrote at the time), scoring a hat-trick: one from an effort smacked into the turf which bounced over the goalie, another scrambled over the line from a few inches out, and the treble completed from the penalty spot.

Afterwards, along with a few colleagues (you got to spend a week away for Champions League games back then), I waited for van Nistelrooy in the “Mixed Zone”.

He duly arrived, was asked about the prospect of facing Rangers and former manager Dick Advocaat who had sanctioned his €6.3m move from Heerenveen. It was then, almost casually – and certainly unaware of what he was about to reveal – that he dropped into the conversation that he’d rejected a move to Rangers.

What?!

It was something no one was aware of. But Ruud explained that Advocaat had wanted him to come to Glasgow, as part of the “Oranje Revolution” – but he didn’t fancy it.

In essence, van Nistelrooy saw Scotland no differently to how he viewed the Eredivisie. In Scotland, it was about the Old Firm. In Holland, it was about PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord. The same teams dominated.

And quite simply, van Nistelrooy didn’t want to be part of the same old story year on year. So Rangers purchased Michael Mols.

Van Nistelrooy wanted a move out of Holland, targeting Germany, Spain or France. And which is why two years later, having been top scorer again in 1999–2000, winning two league titles and netting 62 goals in 67 appearances, he found himself in England, at Old Trafford, after a £19m move – although not immediately.

He ruptured cruciate knee ligaments during a training session, and missed a year. But that didn’t dissuade Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave the Dutchman the call he awaited. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Van Nistelrooy broke a record in his first season by scoring in eight consecutive league games. He accrued 23 goals in 32 games and was voted the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

In all, he banged in 150 goals in 219 games in his five seasons in Manchester and guided them to the title in 2002–03.

Among all the great Premier League strikers – Cole, Yorke, Shearer, Henry – van Nistelrooy had his time at the very top.

By 2006, he was surplus to requirements – or at least that was how he was made to feel by Fergie – and made another dream move, this time to Real Madrid, just the €24m changing hands this time.

Real captured back-to-back Primera Division titles, with “RvN” netting 53 goals in two seasons. But by now, injuries were taking their toll. He was rendered idle in 2008–09 and fell behind Gonzalo Higuain, the bright young one Karim Benzema – and Raúl, the only man who would head the Dutchman’s tally of 54 goals from 81 appearances in the Champions League.

If that goals-per-game ration was impressive, so too was van Nistelrooy performance at international level: 35 goals in 70 international appearances for Holland, including strikes at Euro 2004, World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008.

A year at Hamburg, and then a further year at Malaga was van Nistelrooy’s final hurrah, before he decided to retire this week aged 35.

So, in goal-scoring terms, van Nistelrooy did it all. But I do wonder if he ever regretted not accepting Advocaat’s call?

Probably not …

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<em>Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos</em>

Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Manchester, red or blue, had cause for celebration today. A point secured at Blackburn winning United the Premier League title, a goal at Wembley enough to give City their first FA Cup win since 1969. So all happy, then.

Well, not everyone. The last ten minutes at Ewood Park was a bit of a farce, as United settled for the point they needed and relegation-threatened Blackburn for the point they wanted. It was reminiscent of several years ago when Rangers won the title at Easter Road (or, more accurately, Celtic lost it at Fir Park) when Hibs didn’t want to concede another goal or they would have missed out on Europe and Rangers weren’t interested in adding to Nacho Novo’s strike.

City’s win over Stoke City gave them their first pot since the League Cup in 1976. Seems like yesterday!

Of course, if I’d spent £350 million assembling a team, and my goalscorer Yaya Touré was on £220,000 a week (mental arithmetic says that’s £10m a year, which is mental), I’d be expecting to not only win the FA Cup, but the Premier League, the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest, Horse of the Year Show, Crufts, a Grammy or two, an Oscar, the US presidential election and the National Lottery at least several times over.

Maybe that shows how easy pleased some people are…

Sunday
It was billed as “Helicopter Sunday”, a day when the ever-changing drama unfolding in Kilmarnock and the Parkhead area of Glasgow deemed air travel as the quickest form of transport.

But the reality was that the SPL could have saved themselves a small fortune in aviation fuel and delivered the silverware to Rugby Park on foot.

Those who had wondered all these years what was actually said in Celtic’s pre-match huddle will be keen to know that, on Sunday, the final words were “Rangers are one-up!”

Not true of course, as the games kicked off simultaneously just to add to the occasion, with the outcome also known simultaneously less than seven minutes later. The title was going back to Ibrox for a 54th time, making it three-in-a-row, and a fitting send-off for Walter Smith.

Kyle Lafferty, much maligned at times, grabbed the match ball with a hat-trick, taking his tally to seven goals in the last six games and maintaining his record of scoring on the last day of the season, just as he did at Tannadice and Easter Road.

Playing away on the final, title-deciding day of the season in three consecutive years? That might be considered cause for a conspiracy in some places.

Lafferty’s goals were important. But arguably no more vital than those from Kenny Miller who hit 21, a phenomenal contribution when compared to the SPL’s other goal machines, especially given that he only lasted half a term before bailing out of Ibrox for Turkey.

Celtic did pick up a trophy on Sunday evening, when Emilio Izaguirre – who already had the Scottish PFA and Premier League awards on his mantelpiece – was similarly honoured by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association. Better than Allan McGregor over a season?

I don’t think so. Not even by a point…

Monday
Honestly, you wait for one bus to run over a trophy, then two come along in the space of a few weeks.

Copying the example set by Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, who managed to get the Copa del Rey lodged under a double-decker, Ajax goalkeeper Marteen Stekelenburg fumbles the Eredivisie plate with similar consequences. Admittedly, it does look like a very ornate wheel trim, but there was no need to do this to it.

Stekelenburg is a target to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, which could force his transfer fee up by a few million. Not because he’s worth it, but with the number of trophies United win, insurance cover could be astronomical…

Tuesday
An historic day. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, visits Dublin – which, by chance, would also host the Europa League final the next day.

Not the usual thronging crowds around for a royal visit, and what did go on was kept in check by the Garda. Of course, if you look at the bigger picture, their job was made a lot easier, not by a lack of interest, or detailed intelligence, or assistance from their British counterparts, but by PSV Eindhoven.

Elsewhere, there appears to be some consternation emanating out of Rugby Park over the number of Rangers fans who filled the stadium for Sunday’s game.

I assume they were Rangers supporters, based on the attendance being 16,173 against a season’s average of just 6,427 (figures courtesy of the SPL’s own website).

Kilmarnock expressed regret at the number of away fans present in home sections at Rugby Park, putting their unhappiness down to safety, segregation and security issues.

It should be noted this had nothing to do with Kilmarnock being unable to charge Rangers supporters, who had bought empty “Kilmarnock” seats, an extra fiver. Of course it didn’t…

And talking of Old Firm fans, Celtic manager Neil Lennon urged supporters to stop offensive songs, saying: “In recent times, there has been a re-emergence, from a small minority, of some of the singing and chanting which is simply not acceptable.”

These songs have at times been inaudible to the human ear and can usually only be picked up by TV and radio effects microphones around the pitch.

BBC Scotland’s Bigotry, Bombs and Football documentary, scheduled for the following evening, highlighted the measures being taken by Strathclyde Police, and both Rangers and Celtic, to curb sectarian behaviour.

Reporter Reevel Alderson revealed that in three years, across their entire area, Strathclyde Police have arrested 800 people for sectarian behaviour. In the past seven seasons, Rangers have banned 548 supporters for a similar offence, and in the past five seasons, Celtic have banned six season-ticket holders for sectarian or offensive behaviour.

Does this mean that (a) Rangers should police Strathclyde, (b) Neil Lennon has drawn attention to a problem that doesn’t exist, or (c) Mark Twain (or was it Disraeli?) was right about lies, damned lies and statistics?

Wednesday
Talking of Strathclyde’s finest, their long-running investigation into alleged match-fixing allegations against snooker players Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett is at an end.

Bookmakers alerted authorities to “irregular betting patterns” around the match, which took place during the UK Championship in Telford in November 2008. They had taken numerous bets on the outcome of the match being 9–3 in Maguire’s favour.

Maguire won by that margin. But suspicion was raised by a black missed by Burnett which would have made it 8–4.

And since then, both players have been subjected to scrutiny, rumour-mongering and innuendo.

But all of that should now be put to bed. A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “Following a full and comprehensive investigation the case was reported for the consideration of Crown Counsel who, after careful consideration of all facts and circumstances, decided there is insufficient evidence to justify a criminal prosecution.”

I spoke to both players ahead of the recent world championship, where it was plainly obvious that neither had anything to say, other than how sick they were, because they had nothing to say in the first instance.

I’m guessing here, but after two-and-a-half years, and regardless of the online accounts across Scotland opened on a particular day, you would have thought something would have come to light – if there was anything to come to light.

I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that this news comes just a week after Taggart was made redundant.

Even so, you have to wonder what the game’s governing body is scheming up when WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said; “We are treating this case very seriously. We will now be given access to the evidence connected with the case, and our disciplinary committee will review that evidence thoroughly.”

And who do they have on that committee. Hercule Poirot, Jack Regan, Miss Marple?

Or do World Snooker want to bid against Rangers to police Strathclyde?

Thursday
And it’s congratulations to Gary Anderson for winning his first televised PDC title, landing the Premier League with a 10–4 final win over world champion Adrian Lewis at Wembley.

Given the venue, and given the reception Lewis got in Glasgow a few months back, I’m sure he glanced over his shoulder a few times to see if there were any advanced divisions of the Tartan Army making a pilgrimage back to their old haunts.

Brilliant as Anderson did in winning, and in finishing runner-up to Lewis in the world championship final, it’s sad he maybe isn’t getting the recognition he deserves.

If you asked most punters to name a Scots darts player, how many would answer “Jocky Wilson”? But then again, he did make it big.

Friday
London 2012 organisers reveal that they have received more than one million requests for seat tickets for the Olympic men’s 100 metres final – yet only 8,000 will get to carry the Olympic torch for a mile on its journey around the UK. So further enhancing our reputation of being a nation of armchair sportsmen and women…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Craig Thomson's running style? <em>Picture: Teenytoon</em>

Craig Thomson's running style? Picture: Teenytoon

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
One thing about American sport is its ability to throw up the unexpected, which more often than not revolves around unbelievable amounts of money.

Currently the 32 NFL teams are involved in a dispute between team-owners and players over a new pay deal.

NFL players negotiate collectively via their union. But having failed to reach agreement, they were “locked out” by the owners, although that would be overturned by a federal judge later in the week.

The problem is a simple one. Over $9 billion comes in to the NFL in revenue, of which the owners take just a billion and players split about 60 per cent under the current agreement. Not surprisingly, the players want more.

Put into perspective, the English Premier League has an income in excess of £2 billion. So you can see why people are willing to hold out for what they believe they are worth.

That also applies in baseball, where the Major League is taking over the day-to-day running of the Los Angeles Dodgers because of “deep concerns” over the famous club’s finances.

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Owner Frank McCourt is another locked in a bitter legal battle. In October 2009, the Dodgers fired their CEO, who didn’t like it one bit.

But unlike others who might have gone for unfair dismissal, Jamie McCourt – Frank’s wife – mounted an alternative challenge, and filed for divorce.

Well, it is America…

Sunday
Old Firm day in Glasgow. Ready to roll with Nuremberg Trial VT, NATO forces at the ready, the UN building in New York booked in advance. Nine arrests, none for sectarianism.

I can only assume therefore that the punter huckled into Ibrox before the game, held by two cops wearing “anti-sectarian unit” fluorescent vests, was arrested by fashion polis in disguise.

The game to was event-free, discounting the shove on David Weir by Georgios Samaras, the Greek escaping with a yellow card having been mistaken for Jesus by referee, Craig Thomson – a man whose running style has been shaped by someone into schooling dressage horses.

What was evident is that Allan McGregor is the best Scottish goalkeeper around by a mile, typified by his stops from Daniel Majstorović and Samaras from the spot.

But just when you think the day has passed, out pops Celtic manager Neil Lennon to pay homage to the supporters who have supported him, and then have a bit of a jape with the Gers fans, pretending he couldn’t hear them by cupping his hands behind his ears.

Oh how everyone laughed, or was at least supposed to.

“Don’t ask me about that,” said Lennon. “It’s called humour, all right?

“Don’t distract away from my team’s performance,” he said after becoming the distraction. “Don’t even write about it. You have the photographs I’m sure, but it is just a bit of fun.”

And I’m sure he saw it that way. But, given this is the man who earlier in the week was being sent letter bombs, it was at best a slightly misconceived gesture in the eyes of most neutrals.

Of course, neutrals don’t cause mayhem and grief. In some people’s opinion, Lennon’s actions would have fringed on incitement, while others would happily use it as another excuse to buy a stamp.

Remember, in all of this, there are those who would find a humorous angle in death. And they are not all playful jokers or comedians.

Monday
There wasn’t a Sheffield stonemason employed to knock out “Entered 22 April 1986, exited 18 April 2011″ into a suitably sizeable piece of Scottish granite, because no one was quite sure whether he had gone or not.

Stephen Hendry lost his second-round tie against Mark Selby 13–4, the kind of scoreline he once inflicted on others. That performance, or the result in itself, would not have sparked the great Scot into a decision on his future. Selby would have beaten just about anyone in that form.

It wasn’t until later in the day, when Ding Junhui managed to squeeze past Stuart Bingham, that the seven-times world champion had an idea of what next season would hold, as a player.

Ding’s win meant Hendry kept his top-16 berth, although he isn’t exactly enamoured by the constraints of qualifying in the modern era.

Having spoken to him at length recently, it’s obvious he has a very clear plan of what his future will hold, and how he will hold it.

Commercially, Hendry’s name alone is an earner – and, being more astute than some gave him credit for, he’ll do just fine taking and making his own decisions, although he will still have one or two trusted advisors to turn to.

Of course, the unknown and the unknowing led to many writing obituary-like epitaphs and tributes to his time on the table, some reading as if he’d been potted beneath the green stuff rather than played his last shot on the green baize. Much of this the man himself would have found rather embarrassing – and definitely amusing given that, by Thursday, he had announced he’d be coming back for some more.

One box that does await Hendry is the BBC commentary booth, where he can impart his knowledge to those who can find the once-prominent wallpaper with balls live behind the red button.

Something he would have said after his Selby beating (because he’s said it before) was that the trophy doesn’t get handed out on the first or second Monday. As Selby found, when he lost to Ding.

Moving on to the other table, and it is apparent that some of the players are peeved to say the least that there is no maximum break prize on offer in Sheffield.

When Cliff Thorburn made the first maximum in 1983, he pocketed a £10,000 bonus. More recently, in keeping with the numerical configuration of the achievement, £147,000 has been the norm – more often than not swollen by another top-up from the high-break prize on offer.

So when Ronnie O’Sullivan made £165,000 from his max in 1997 – in just five minutes 20 secs – he basically made more profit per minute than BT.

Not so now. Mark Williams was the most vocal in bemoaning the lack of a prize, while Graeme Dott, having sunk nine blacks, apologised to the audience when he went for a blue to win a frame rather than what should have been another black to win a fortune.

Times are hard in every sport. Earlier this season, we had O’Sullivan having a running conversation with referee Jan Verhaas when on a maximum at the SECC, and only potted the black under protest when he found out just four grand was on offer for the perfect frame.

A few years ago, O’Sullivan shared his Crucible cash with Ali Carter who made his own maximum. I doubt if anyone has been remotely interested in playing the perfect frame in the last fortnight – other than O’Sullivan, who would have wanted (until his demise) to go one better than Hendry on that score – although we’ll need to wait another three or four years at least, or even longer, to see if anyone comes close to Hendry’s benchmark of world titles.

Tuesday
Word is out that more than a dozen MPs are to sign a Commons motion calling for Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish to be knighted.

The motion was tabled by Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram because of what he said was Dalglish’s “outstanding contribution” to British football, and because it would be a “fitting tribute” to the families of the 96 fans who were killed at Hillsborough in 1989.

Dalglish was manager then, and earned gratitude and respect for the way he represented the city and club in the aftermath of the tragedy when he made sure the club was represented at all of the fans’ funerals and attended many of them in person.

I have no problem with Dalglish being put forward for such an award. Many of his achievements as a player and manager are unsurpassed. And in bringing solace and comfort to dozens of berieved families, he is also deserving of a suitable tribute.

But, as I’ve said before, where I have problems with the honours system in this country is how these things are decided. More often than not, it’s by canvassing more support, albeit from well-minded individuals, than someone else who might be more deserving.

Why did Matt Busby become ‘Sir’ and Jock Stein didn’t?

Why did Jackie Stewart, a three-times world champion, collect his knighthood after four-times runner-up Stirling Moss?

Or why is Stephen Hendry – seven-times champion of the world – able only to put MBE after his name while six-times winner Steve Davis is an OBE?

And what, if anything, did Rangers management or players receive in terms of commendation for carrying out the same painful duties as Dalglish when 66 died at Ibrox 40 years ago?

Or were there fewer political points to score then?

Wednesday
Horse racing mourns the passing of Sadler’s Wells, who died at the age of 30 at his home in Coolmore, where he had lived since being retired in 1984.

So what had he done since giving up his race days?

Well, as son of Northern Dancer, his offspring included champion racehorses Galileo, Montjeu, High Chaparral and Yeats, with grandsons Hurricane Run and Rip Van Winkle maintaining the great legacy.

That earned him the title champion sire 14 times in Britain, champion sire in France three times plus once in North America, producing over 293 stakes winners and 74 individual Group One winners before retiring from breeding in 2008.

A spokesman said he died of natural causes. Boredom, I’d say…

Thursday
Organisers of London 2012 have revealed that they received applications for more than 20 million tickets from 1.8 million people for the Olympic Games.

Organisers have also said more than 50 per cent of the 645 sessions will go to a random ballot and that 95 per cent of the applications are from the UK.

There has been strict and stringent policing of the entire ticketing process to prevent touts and corporate organisations getting their hands on the cherished briefs.

I am sure they have checked and counter-checked every application rigorously. Which means no doubt that three months after the games, we’ll find someone had a few more than should have – probably 300,000 more.

Friday
Bad enough that Craig Whyte’s intended takeover of Rangers is delayed by yet another shifting of the goalposts, but the Ibrox club find themselves €40,000 poorer and with their fans banned from their next away tie in Europe after sanctions placed by UEFA for sectarian singing in a match at PSV Eindhoven.

No one can condone such behaviour, and it is not as if Rangers’ travelling support haven’t had sufficient warnings over their behaviour.

Fined £13,300 for chants and £9,000 for attacking the Villarreal team bus in 2006, then £8,280 for their behaviour during a match against Osasuna in May 2007, a year before the notorious away-day to Manchester which was followed a year later by a fine of £18,000 being imposed for violence when the club played Unirea Urziceni in Romania.

Or do they think these fines and penalties are like parking tickets?

UEFA also gave Rangers a suspended ban on its fans for a second away game for a probationary period of three years. However, they steered shy of closing Ibrox to supporters, which would seem the next logical step if this illogical flouting of public decency continues.

But – and there will always be a but when it comes to UEFA – I for one am always sceptical about the governing body when it comes to even-handedness in punishing clubs.

Just how observant are these UEFA delegates who observe from the stands? Obviously, not observant enough to ask why PSV supporters saw fit to wave Irish tricolours at Ibrox. Of course, they might have been Indian flags and they were joining in a chorus of Delhi’s Walls.

Going back to 1998, were the monkey chants aimed at Henrik Larsson and Regi Blinker not audible enough for the UEFA delegate ahead of the tie with Croatia Zagreb?

I await with interest to see the wrist-slapping Real Madrid get for the racist behaviour of their fans – which most observers have said is persistent – against Barcelona, and how Europe’s football judges see the fracas between both sets of players after this ill-tempered encounter.

We don’t get much European football compared to some nations. But when you tot up how many times our clubs have fallen foul of UEFA wigs over the years – Rangers more times than they care to remember, Hearts over breaching broadcasting rights and Celtic’s infamous replayed game with Rapid Vienna – we seem to come under the spotlight more than some repeat offenders across the rest of Europe.

Still, things might be brighter around Ibrox should Mr Whyte’s takeover take place next Tuesday. Or not, as will probably be the case, again…

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Ibrox Stadium <em>Picture: Thomas Nugent</em>

Ibrox Stadium Picture: Thomas Nugent

By Stuart Crawford

Ho hum. Rangers are in the news again for all the wrong reasons. No, not their recent drubbing by Dundee United, nor the never-ending saga of the buyout by Craig Whyte, but once again because of their fans.

Apparently a sizeable section of them are unable to refrain from singing and chanting about historical events which have little or nothing to do with football, and which are generally accepted nowadays as being inappropriate.

It was ever thus, I’m afraid. Some of those in the Copland Road stand are either not bright enough to understand the ramifications of their actions, or possibly they just don’t care – which begs the question whether they are bona fide supporters at all. Neither do they seem capable of learning any new songs, ones which don’t offend. Which is a pity, both for the vast majority of decent Rangers supporters and also for the club itself.

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Basically, these people have a sort of vicarious death wish, for it has been plain enough what is going to happen if they don’t desist. UEFA is currently investigating the latest nonsense, which happened when Rangers played PSV Eindhoven. This might result in a ban on supporters and some games being played behind closed doors at Ibrox, or a hefty fine, or more likely both. Is this what the moronic choir wants?

The club’s response has been a tad underwhelming. Sure, chief executive Martin Bain has spoken out again and again, and the club has made significant efforts to get the anti-sectarian message across. Outgoing manager Walter Smith has added his voice to those condemning the perpetrators, while leaflets and advice have been handed out.

That said, there also seems to be a collective shrug of the shoulders by club and officials – suggesting that they’ve done all they can and we just have to live with it.

That’s a bit of a cop-out. There are many more measures that the club could employ if it was to treat the miscreants seriously. For a start, they must know who most of these people are. It’s all too apparent on match days where the singing and chanting originates from, even for those of us who watch on television. It can’t be beyond the wit of man (or club) to record the culprits on camera as evidence to be used later.

Neither should it be too difficult to place stewards and police – plain-clothed if you so wish – among them, to witness at first-hand their actions. I can quite understand why mass arrests on match days should be avoided, but individual arrests after the game should be more manageable. After all, that’s how the Met do it when confronted with mass criminal activity at demonstrations.

All of this is currently being played out against the background of the off/on takeover of Rangers by Craig Whyte, Scottish businessman and self-made multi-millionaire, of whom most people speak warmly. Whyte appears to be, quite rightly, taking his time over due diligence, for Rangers’ financial position is hardly appealing. To have the threat of UEFA action hanging over the club is not likely to encourage him to rush. So the club’s future remains in limbo, for the time being at least.

The net effect of all this is to damage the Rangers brand even more. Memories are long in the football world, and the riots in Barcelona in 1972 are still fresh in the mind for many. The Rangers manager on that day, Willie Waddell, had this to say of the fans’ behaviour: “It is to these tikes, hooligans, louts and drunkards that I pinpoint my message – it is because of your gutter-rat behaviour that we [Rangers] are being publicly tarred and feathered.” Waddell’s words have a renewed relevance 40 years later.

More recently, the club’s reputation was badly damaged by its fans’ behaviour in Manchester in 2008, when ticketless supporters who had travelled to the venue of Rangers’ UEFA Cup final against Zenit St Petersburg caused widespread injury and damage in the city centre. While neither of these debacles seem to have had an overtly sectarian strand, they hardly enhance the club’s popularity with the wider audience.

To many, it appears that the club’s response to this litany of justified criticism is one of cognitive dissonance, with rather pathetic pleas of being the victims of general disapprobation which could be levelled at others as well. While the problem with some of its fans is acknowledged – and there is a growing realisation that the minority of micreants might actually be quite sizeable – perhaps the true seriousness of the situation has yet to penetrate the club’s collective psyche.

Let’s make no mistake here: the Rangers FC brand is holed below the water-line and is sinking rapidly. A ruthless and energetic rooting-out of the club’s more bigoted and uncaring supporters is urgently required, and the means are there to do it. All it needs is the political will.

Meanwhile, if I were Craig Whyte, I would continue to proceed in a leisurely fashion…

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What Italy won against France <em>Picture: James F Carter</em>

What Italy won against France Picture: James F Carter

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
If at any time on your travels you come across a pile of tattoos, there is a fair chance that underneath them all you will find a sportsman hiding.

Pain and the buzz of a Micky Bee machine is a mental and physical combination I can do without. Couple that to mediocre sporting ability (a specialist first-leg runner in the 4×100 relay and an unlucky spin bowler who never found a turning wicket) and you will therefore find no angels, Maori battle garb, flying eagles or pouncing big cats, crucifixes, weans’ names in Chinese, Japanese or Cockneyese or pledges of love or allegiance here.

And I really take my hat off to those Olympians who have their rings done.

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But in the world of sport these days, you just haven’t made it unless you’ve adorned your flesh with the odd pint of ink or three. Basketball star Dennis Rodman was the first I can remember taking body art to new extremes, way before David Beckham became a walking Tate Modern.

These guys can literally carry it off, given the combination of their sporting prowess and their levels of fame, or infamy. They do what they say on the skin.

Needless to say – or should that be needles to say? – I have a slightly different take on those guys playing in the Scottish Third Division and their need to decorate various parts of their anatomy.

Just wait until you’re 60 and your grandson asks: “Papa, what’s your Tasmanian Devil got to do with Alloa’s Clackmannanshire Cup win in 2008?”

All of which and a bit more leads me nicely to the appearance of Scottish boxing world champion Ricky Burns at Braehead Arena and the latest defence of his WBO super-featherweight title.

Burns defeated Ghanaian challenger Joseph Laryea, who retired at the end of the seventh round, supposedly with a broken knuckle – although the only way I could see that happening was if Burns had punched his hand as well.

Burns looks a champion, in terms of both performance and tattoos – although I bet he doesn’t have the bottle to get his own knuckles tattooed in the fashion of one boxer I knew. Jealous of his brother’s “Love” and “Hate” combination, went out and got “Fish” and “Chip”. Maybe it was Ubiquitous…

If Saturday was profitable for Burns, in terms of Sky Sports covering his big night, then so too must it have been for Scots indie rockers The View.

Their latest offering, Grace, has been used on Sky’s Soccer AM and as the wrap-up music on their World Cup cricket coverage and the boxing.

Amazing! I just hope the royalties are as well. But judge for yourself.

Sunday
Another day of cup football north and south of the border. Over the weekend, there were glorious goals, as in David Goodwillie’s strike against Motherwell, further proving my point of a few weeks ago that it isn’t just Wayne Rooney who could do it.

There were also glorious games, as in the contests between Brechin City and St Johnstone and the battle of the Scots bosses when Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers got the better of Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City.

Arguably the best action of the weekend, however, took place 12,000 miles away when the A-League Grand Final was contested between Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners. This saw the Mariners lead 2–0 with just three minutes of extra-time left, before the Roar equalised then won on penalties to clinch the league and cup double.

It was an amazing final. Actually, it wasn’t. It was an incredible period of extra-time and a nail-biting penalty shootout. Before then, the only thing memorable was the torrential rainstorm which emptied the 50,000 capacity Suncorp Stadium.

Monday
I remember Twickers trips of old when the Sunday journey home at least allowed half a chance to square yourself up before work on the Monday. But these Sunday matches are so inconsiderate.

At least there was a morsel of comfort for those homeward bound that Scotland had put up a brave fight against the Auld Enemy, and it was only in the closing minutes that England used their superior numbers (in terms of having ten times the population to choose from) to good effect.

That said, backs coach Gregor Townsend said in advance that Scotland – despite not having won in London since 1983 – had “the players and the tactics” to win at Twickenham. Do I hear cries for drug testing within the coaching set-up?

Instead, Scotland will now face Italy in a bid to avoid the wooden spoon. Typical that the Italians will arrive off the back of their greatest-ever Six Nations victory, having beaten France 22–21.

I watched that match avidly, not because of what the outcome might be, but because – like England–Scotland and the Calcutta Cup – the Euro duo have their own reward up for grabs, namely the Garibaldi Trophy.

I was transfixed right to the end, desperate to see if said trophy was just a big biscuit. How good would that have been?

And even better if it had been presented to the winning skipper by the school janitor, giving him a choice of that or a Digestive…

Tuesday
Less than 24 hours after it started, the digital clock in Trafalgar Square – counting down the 500 days to the start of the 2012 Olympics – stopped.

“We are obviously very disappointed that the clock has suffered this technical issue,” said a spokesman for the Swiss-based Swatch Group.

“The Omega London 2012 countdown clock was developed by our experts and fully tested ahead of the launch.”

I sincerely hope the official timing equipment for the Games works perfectly. Slightly embarrassing to declare Usain Bolt’s 100m winning time as “11 hours, 53 minutes and 27.28 seconds, we think…”.

Wednesday
Sean Lourdes is Jonathan Watson’s die-hard Celtic-supporting character from Only An Excuse. Or should I say Sean Simpson Craig Gemmell Murdoch McNeill Clark Johnstone Wallace Chalmers Auld Lennox Substitute Fallon Lourdes, to give him his full name. Silly and funny – but it would never happen.

Unless, that is, your mother and father happen to be raving Burnley fans.

Welcomed into the world on 28 January (but only just revealed) is Jensen Jay Alexander Bikey Carlisle Duff Elliott Fox Iwelumo Marney Mears Patterson Thompson Wallace. And if you couldn’t make that up, then neither will you believe that the family name is Preston.

You do have to wonder about what goes on in the head of some parents, leaving their poor child open to the ridicule he will face in later life when his friends find out whose name he has. Chris Iwelumo! And here’s why.

Thursday
With the noise, the music and most of all the beer, Premier League darts is more like a party with some sport taking place in the background. Having witnessed it first-hand, it really is a great night.

Unfortunately, like some parties, a few of those you invite can waste it for everyone. So it was at the SECC.

No doubt someone, somewhere, when they did the scheduling, thought local lad Gary Anderson against Adrian Lewis – the man who beat him in the world final – would be a good idea. And it should have been.

Instead, it acted as the catalyst for an ugly night with racist jeering and bad – if not criminal – behaviour, with beer and coins hurled at players and the stage.

It wasn’t any better outside. The public tunnel that leads from the nearby train station to the venue was awash with drink and piss, smashed bottles galore and discarded food and rubbish. And no, I’ve never seen it like that before or after any football matches at nearby Ibrox.

It was a mess. It was an embarrassment. It was an advert for sport Scotland can do without.

Friday
Rangers manager Walter Smith reckons his side should have had a penalty as they exited to PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup. Of course, with five on-field officials in the vicinity and a sixth on childminding duties, you would think that someone, somewhere would have noticed.

I can just about buy why you would need a fourth official. But as far as I can see it, given that I have never seen any of them make a decision of any note in any game, those assistants beside the goals at either end do nothing other than enjoy a jolly to foreign lands for a few days.

Of course, frustration got the better of many at Ibrox as Scotland’s last remaining European representative meekly exited. That included one punter, driven to despair and angry at American Maurice Edu’s contribution, who cried: “Edu, Edu, this is shite. You’re shit. This is f*cking fitba, not f*cking soccer.”

The classic example of two nations separated by a common language…

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Useful when watching the news <em>Picture: Bennie J Davis III</em>

Useful when watching the news Picture: Bennie J Davis III

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
On most Saturdays, Soccer AM is our breakfast show of choice. Actually, it’s my choice and everyone else conforms.

In the aftermath of the Old Firm debacle, there have been interviews galore on the matter. One featured on Sky Sports News, with assistant chief constable Campbell Corrigan of Strathclyde Police giving his take on things.

You can almost hear the words of some wee camera bod saying “Oh, it will be fine.” Except it wasn’t, as you can see.

Great IT skills in evidence. More worrying is that someone, somewhere, promoted this chap to this position…

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And Saturday ends in front of the box. Oh, the exciting life I lead.

Now, I don’t know the viewer demographics for the late-evening new bulletin on BBC1, but I think “Aunty” believes it is watched only by Usain Bolt, cats, and the odd Time Lord with the Tardis already warmed up.

They used to say: “Match of the Day follows (except for viewers in Scotland, who can watch The Beechgrove Garden), so if you don’t want to know the scores, look away now.”

But last weekend, Sean Fletcher’s preamble went something like: “Match of the Day follows so if you don’t want to know the scores time to leave the room Arsenal drew with Sunderland nil–nil…”.

Maybe the Beeb thinks that while we may shop for our TVs at Comet, Currys or Rediffusion, we buy our furniture from Martin-Baker, manufacturers of ejector seats …

Sunday
More than a decade ago, I was hiring staff for a big, new, shiny online adventure. Remember, this was 2000. So the wording for the advert read along these lines: “Now if you know your sport, and can spot the difference between Stephen and Colin Hendry…”.

Both leaders in their field, both blond, both Scots, both well-known. A natural question to ask.

So imagine my surprise, and mirth, when I came across this offering from the web version of the Sunday Express, and what it was eventually changed to after a day or so:

hendry1
There but for the grace of God and all that. Oh, and certain web editors need not apply…

Monday
Over the weekend you may have missed the momentous decisions taken by IFAB, the International Football Association Board, when they had their annual get-together in Wales, with the deep-thinking Sepp Blatter in attendance.

Firstly, snoods – a fashion accessory no footballing would-be can be seen without in this chilly “mind yir wee chest out there” weather – have been banned for next year.

“The IFAB agreed that in relation to Law 4 – Players’ Equipment, the wearing of snoods should not be permitted,” said football’s law-makers.

The second big decision was that goal-line technology won’t be tested for at least another year.

I’ve got it wrong over the years. The F in FA obviously stands for Fashion, not Football. Unless FA begins in F and ends in All…

Tuesday
The Old Firm shame summit meets at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh, where the outcome is to censure both Celtic and Rangers (in alphabetical order) or Rangers and Celtic (in order of red cards and championships) sufficiently harshly that there is every chance we could have a re-run of this momentous knuckle-rapping exercise some ten or 20 years from now.

Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond stated it would be “a council of despair” if matches had to be played behind closed doors at any time in the future, one of the possible measures considered to tackle public disorder in and around the Glasgow derby.

“That would be acknowledgement that this problem cannot be tackled, cannot be defeated, cannot be overcome,” said the first minister.

Now, if the polis think they’ve got bother knowing where 50,000 or 60,000 are going to be for three hours of an afternoon, they might find their resources slightly stretched if that horde was running wild while an Old Firm game was being played only for a TV or radio audience.

Was calling in UN forces an option in these discussions? Of course not – they wear blue helmets. Conspiracy!

Wednesday
Having used his bus pass to get there and a free-entrance ticket to Exeter racecourse to enjoy a day’s at the horses, Steve Whiteley ended the day £1.45 million richer after his £2 Tote jackpot accumulator came romping home.

The final winner was a 12–1 shot called Lupita, whose jockey Jessica Lodge, I was interested to read, had never come first despite having had 28 rides previously. Make of that what you will.

Thursday
While you can argue who is the best fighter of a generation, or of a nation, or pound-for-pound, debate about where people rank over the generations is more difficult.

So trainer Billy Nelson’s suggestion that his fighter, Ricky Burns, will soon become renowned as Scotland’s greatest-ever boxer was sure to spark a heated debate.

Better than Benny Lynch, Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt? Better than Jackie Paterson, Walter McGowan or Paul Weir? Enough to start a fight in an empty house. Something another former world champion, Scott Harrison, possibly could do.

Burns’ manager Alex Morrison quickly distanced himself from Nelson’s comments. “Billy Nelson has done a terrific job with Ricky and has improved him to different levels,” Morrison said. “But he should remember that is where his role ends and let Ricky do his talking in the ring.

“He does not need pressure like this put upon him. My ambition for Ricky is that he leaves the ring like Jim Watt did, with his health, money, popularity and looks intact.”

Sadly, something Scott Harrison hasn’t managed. For boxers, sometimes their biggest battles are away from the ring.

Friday
Rangers return home with a scoreless draw against PSV Eindhoven in the bag. The Gers had won there in 1978, and did the same again in 1999, when Jörg Albertz blasted them to a Champions League victory, a game I witnessed.

On the way out of the stadium that night, I was intrigued by one auld fella saying that was three times he’d been in Eindhoven and won.

I could only count two, so I asked when the other contest had been.

“1945, son…”.

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