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Scott Brown

Mark Selby won the Masters – on the ‘red button’

Saturday
Most people woke to the tragic news that former Dundee, Rangers and Dundee United midfielder Ian Redford had been found dead, aged just 53.

Ian Redford - RIP

Ian Redford – RIP

Redford was the most expensive transfer between two Scottish clubs when he moved from Dens Park to Ibrox in February 1980 for £210,000 – ten grand more than the figure Rangers had rejected by Dundee the week before!

Arguably however, his best days came with Dundee United, part of Jim McLean’s team that reached the UEFA Cup final in 1987, Redford scoring the winner in the semi-final against Borussia Monchengladbach. And he wasn’t finished as a winner either, helping Raith Rovers to both the First Division title and most famously, beating Celtic in the League Cup final in 1994.

I go back to his Rangers days though, a time which for Redford yielded medals and some truly wonderful goals, outrageous in their delivery, sheer gallus in their execution. A time when he was often paired alongside Davie Cooper. Coop was genuinely amused with how disinterested Redford seemingly could be at times with football, and once admitted he thought that if Ian ever won the pools, he’d buy Ibrox and turn it into a nature reserve and deer park.

Like Cooper, Redford has left us far too early. Like Cooper, perhaps we didn’t realise how good some of the players of that generation were, Ian Redford definitely being one of them …

Sunday
TV companies, cameramen and producers, do like to focus in on managers these days, often coming up with a study of gritted teeth and nasal hair. And on occasions, something they had hadn’t bargained for.

Alan Pardew (Picture from Wikipedia)

Alan Pardew
(Picture from Wikipedia)

Like Alan Pardew’s language during the Newcastle United – Manchester City game when the irate Magpies boss was seen to mouth several obscenities in the direction of his opposite number – Manuel Pellegrini – including use of the ‘C’ word. Oh yes! Pardew apologised later, but not quite as much as the various Sky commentators and presenters had to.

I’ve mentioned before, especially in boxing, that if you stick cameras and microphones under the noses of sportsmen, coaches and managers in the heat of battle, you are asking for trouble. Maybe it’s time that kind of edit was hidden behind the red button?

Talking of red buttons, it only took one afternoon of The Masters before snooker fans were being instructed to reach for the remote in order that they could watch the deciding frame of the match between defending champion Mark Selby and Mark Davis. Ski Sunday, a recorded highlights package, was apparently more important than live coverage of the sudden-death 11th frame, which Selby won. I know most TV’s and devices are fitted with the red button facility. But why not stick the skiing on there and leave the snooker uninterrupted?

Or are there few snooker fans amongst BBC execs?

Monday
Cristiano Ronaldo wins the Ballon d’Or, beating Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery. It was the outcome most predicted given the year the Real Madrid star has had.

I have to admit I was more interested to see who the various managers and captains voted for. England boss Roy Hodgson and his captain Steven Gerrard both went for Ronaldo, while Scotland coach Gordon Strachan and international skipper Scott Brown voted for Messi.

I suppose it’s all about personal taste – or being able to identify winners ahead of also-rans …

Tuesday

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

Andy Murray is relatively untroubled in beating Japan’s Go Saeda to get his Australian Open campaign off to a winning start. I say relatively untroubled if you ignore the searing temperatures which has ball boys fainting, some of the women players burning their bottoms on the uncovered seats, and Murray himself claiming that if players were asked to continue in such heat, the consequences could be tragic.

It was nice then, given the extreme conditions, to see Murray being watched by one gentleman in a ‘See You Jimmy’ bunnet and wig. Nothing like being properly attired for the setting …

David Goodwillie

David Goodwillie

Wednesday
After Dundee United had shipped loan striker David Goodwillie back to Blackburn, Rovers boss Gary Bowyer stated he wasn’t sure what the next move could be for the Scotland striker, but that he could even be in his squad for the FA Cup tie against Manchester City, managed by the ‘old c***’ Manuel Pellegrini. In the end he wasn’t, and City won 5-0. I couldn’t help thinking though that had Goodwillie played, it would still have been 5-0 …

Thursday
Once again I am honoured to be invited on to Scotland Tonight presented by Rona Dougall as a guest, this time to talk about the Rangers players refusing to accept a 15% wage cut.

Once again, that dreadful ‘C’ word appears. But rest easy, not over the airwaves thankfully, but on my Twitter timeline, as in ‘you’re never aff the telly ya **** talking about Rangers.” Of course, such a perceptive comment didn’t come from a fan of the Ibrox club. Neither did it come from anyone very perceptive either given that I have appeared on the show talking about drugs in sport, snooker, the Commonwealth Games, the SPFL, the Tartan Army, ‘Ballboygate,’ Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Celtic, twice.

This would also slightly dent the observation that the programme is ‘always talking about Rangers,’ – although that was made by a follower of that club, for a change …

Dunkin’-Donuts-Logo CroppedFriday
Liverpool announce a global sponsorship partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts, which immediately sparks protests from some quarters that this send out the wrong message to children and ultimately could cause lasting health issues.

Well, I have news for those individuals concerned about what those round delicacies might do to you. A couple of dozen Dunkin’ Donuts a week, even a day, wouldn’t be as detrimental to your wellbeing as a round or two with Duncan Ferguson. And no-one complained about him being in the city. Liverpool I mean, not Glasgow …

Croatian fans were shocked by Scotland’s victory
Bookie Busters Of The Year

FORGET BBC’s SPoTY; forget the Ballon D’or; forget Oscars and the Queen’s Honours Lists. The Caledonian Mercury’s Stewart Weir delivers his own annual awards, ‘The Weirdos,’ to the unsuspecting, the unwilling and the under-fire sporting personalities and events of 2013, each award coming delivered with added irreverence and a bung of satire …

Juventus Defensive Line

Juventus
Defensive Line

NFL Defensive Line of The Year – Juventus, for their performance vs Celtic at Parkhead in the UEFA Champions League

The Fortnum & Mason ‘Nuts With Dates’ Award – Ross County, caught out by Remembrance Day popping up at the same time again this year and their subsequent excuse for forgetting a minute’s silence ahead of the game against Celtic

The Doctor Who ‘Parallel Universe’ Sonic Screw Driver – Peter Lawwell, who saw Gary Hooper’s value plummet from £29m in a parallel universe to just £5m in the real world in just over a year …

The Felix Ungar/Oscar Maddison Memorial ‘Odd Couple’ Award – Republic of Ireland’s managerial duo Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane

No - not Fearne Cotton

No – not Fearne Cotton

The Canesten Cream ‘Tube Of The Year’ (for any annoying itch that returns) – Charles Green for his (brief) comeback to Rangers

The Pierluigi Collina/John Rowbotham ‘Double Take’ Announcement of The Year – That Fearne Cotton was to take over as head coach of the Scottish national rugby team, when it turned out to be Vern Cotter (left)…

Scottish Sports Channel Of The Year – BBC Alba

Scottish Sports Channel Most In Need Of A Red Button Feature For English Commentary – for the second successive year, BBC Alba

The Pub-full Of Scottish Journalists Vote Of Thanks To The Story That Keeps Giving – goes to … (drum roll) Rangers (again)

Sports Column of The Year – David McCarthy, Daily Record for this musical ditty

Banner of the Year?

Banner of the Year?

Football Graphics Award Of The Year – The Green Brigade for their ‘London Calling’ banner vs Juventus

Commercial Radio Sports Station Of The Year – talkSPORT

The British Leyland/Austin Rover Marina/Ital Award (for the best rebranding of an unchanged heap) – SPFL, for still looking remarkably like the SPL

The Adlai Stevenson ‘Most Forgotten Runner Who Came Second In A Two Horse Race’ Memorial Shield – David Longmuir, beaten by Neil Doncaster for the SPFL CEO job ..

'Scotland Tonight' Best Sports Debate Programme

‘Scotland Tonight’
Best Sports Debate Programme

The BBC ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ Snobbery Award – those of the ‘SPOTY’ adjudication panel who managed to overlook Ronnie O’Sullivan and Carl Froch as nominees …

Scottish Sports Debate Programme Of The Year – Scotland Tonight

Sports Book Of The Year – despite not receiving a review copy the title goes to ‘SPAIN: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble’

The Parker Golden Pen (for services to the ink industry) – joint winners this year, boxer Ricky Burns and Ryan Stevenson of Hearts

Falkirk Artificial Pitch

Falkirk Artificial Pitch

The British Standard Kite Mark Non-Award (for not adhering to the manufacturers recommendations) – Falkirk FC, who failed to keep a naked flame (and Rangers fans) away from their new plastic pitch

The Hilti Power Tools Golden Rivet Gun – Stenhousemuir, who can use it the next time the roof comes off at Ochilview and forces the postponement of a live TV match

The Sid James ‘Carry On Regardless’ Oscar – Brian Stockbridge of Rangers. Nominated – Neil Doncaster, SPFL

David Francey Memorial TV Football Commentator Of The Year – for the third year running, joint winners Ian Crocker (Sky Sports) and Derek Rae (ESPN) (after the unification of the award)

Rangers Board Re-elected

Rangers Board Re-elected

Home Town Boxing Decision Of The Year – Ricky Burns for being battered to a draw with Raymundo Beltran

The Central Politburo ‘Why Bother Having A Vote In The First Place’ Electoral Cross In A Box – The Rangers Board, for being re-elected at club’s AGM

Vincent Lunny Tunes Merit Award For Policing Football – Jonathan Sutherland (replacing Rob Maclean) and the agenda-setting BBC Sportscene

The John Candy ‘It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time’ Memorial Award – Kilamrnock chairman Michael Johnston for sacking Kenny Shiels

Neil Doncaster

Neil Doncaster

The Viridor Recycling Headlines Trophy – Hibs (for a second successive year) after losing 3-0 to Celtic in the Scottish Cup final enabled countless sub-editors to pack away 111-year-old puns for another year

The ‘Where’s Wally’ Sports Administrator Of The Year Award – Neil Doncaster for his ‘appearances’ at Hampden during 2013

The Betfred Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Ian Black of Rangers

The Paddy Power Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Michael Moffat of Ayr United

The Ladbrokes Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Ian Black of Rangers

The McBookie Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Michael Moffat of Ayr United

The Scotbet Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Ian Black of Rangers

The Corals Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Michael Moffat of Ayr United

Scotland - shock loss to Wales

Scotland – shock loss to Wales

The Captain Nemo ‘Plunging The Depths’ Award For 2013 – Scotland national team losing to Wales at Hampden

The Tote Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Ian Black of Rangers

The Political Correctness Nod Of Approval – to everyone who said Eden Hazard of Chelsea was out of order to manhandle Swansea ballboy Charlie Morgan

Hypocrites of The Year – to everyone who said Eden Hazard of Chelsea was out of order to manhandle Swansea ballboy Charlie Morgan, but really wanted to say he didn’t kick him hard enough

The Bet 365 Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Michael Moffat of Ayr United

The Skybet Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Ian Black of Rangers

The 888sport.com Award For Services To The Betting Industry – Michael Moffat of Ayr United

How The Ashes Were Won DVD? (Royalty Free Image from PDPics.com)

How The Ashes Were Won DVD?
(Royalty Free Image from PDPics.com)

Bookie Busters Of The Year – Scotland national team for beating Croatia in Croatia

The ‘Shot At Glory’ Award (for the Christmas DVD consigned to the bin before Christmas) – ‘England 2013 – How The Ashes Were Won’ …

The Glade ‘Fresh Air’ Shot of The Year – Scott Brown of Celtic for his swipe at Neymar

KFC ‘It Tasted Like Chicken’ Family Feast – Branislav Ivanovic, having been nibbled by Luis Suarez

Unwanted Label Of The Year – Ryan Gauld, ‘who could be Scotland’s Lionel Messi’ …

Most Missed Sportsman of 2013 – Graeme Swann, especially by Australia’s middle order

Ryder Cup 'Ambassadors'

Ryder Cup ‘Ambassadors’

The 2013 ‘No, No, NO!’ Moment – Organising Committee of the 2014 Commonwealth Games on hearing Sir Chris Hoy had retired and wouldn’t be pedalling at the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome

The Michael Jackson ‘White Gloves’ Award (for items used for no apparent reason) – Ryder Cup ambassadors Ruud Gullit, James Nesbitt, Jodie Kidd and Alan Hansen, and Marvin Humes, or Marvin ‘Whatshisname’ as he’s better known from that forgettable boy band

The Bostik ‘Most Bonding Force In Global Sport’ – Cardiff boss Malky Mackay who has gained support from every quarter. Highly commended in that category – Nelson Mandela

The Joseph Goebbels Memorial Propaganda Degree – the Green Brigade (for believing their own hype)

Bluebirds in Red?

Bluebirds in Red?

Music To Read Green Brigade Banners ByThe Noveltones

The Gary Lineker 1986 World Cup Shorts Award (for the most ill-fitting nickname in sport) – the red-clad Cardiff City ‘Bluebirds’

The National Lottery ‘Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and Merlin’ Ball (for making up the numbers) – Marseille in Champions League Group F, for scoring ‘nil pois’ in giving Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli someone to play

The Frank Sinatra Award (for comebacks in sport) – Audley Harrison, who then retired again …

Audley Harrison

Audley Harrison

The Most Word Used In Scottish Sport With No Evidence That It Exists – goes to ‘legacy’

The Second-Most Word Used In Scottish Sport With No Evidence That It Exists – goes to ‘family’

Lazarus Sporting Comeback of the Century – USA’s America’s Cup winning team

The Jerry-built Sports Arena of The Year – most of those being erected for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

The Oxbridge Contradiction Diploma (for proving proverbs and sport don’t mix) – Rangers’ Easdale Brothers (that a bird in the hand is not worth two in the boardroom’)

The Johnny Ball ‘Think Of A Number’ Award – Rangers, for making £22m evaporate …

Paul Simon ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ Prize – Dennis Rodman

William Galliard Memorial Special Communiqué (for the most visible communications officer in sport) – Darryl Broadfoot of the SFA

Team of the Year – New Zealand All Blacks

The London Bus Company Plate (for waiting ages to suddenly get two in quick succession) – Chris Froome, Tour de France winner

StadiumThe ‘What Does That Remind Me Of’ Award for Sports Architecture – what else but this

The Sparks ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ Gold Disc – Ally McCoist and Charles Green

Monklands District Council Memorial ‘Jobs For The Boys/Perks Of The Job’ Award – Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee, unwanted as a club manager but in great demand as a summariser …

The Father Ted Crilly Accountancy Degree – Brian Stockbridge

The Khaled Hosseini/Christopher Robin Kite Flyer of The Year – Peter Lawwell for suggesting Celtic might play their Champions League qualifiers in 2014 at Old Trafford or in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium

The Cool Runnings Trophy (for services to bobsleighing, tobogganing, luge, skeleton and sledging) – Australia’s Ashes-winning cricket team

The Dolly The Sheep Cloning Award – joint-winners, to all Scots broadcasters who believe they have to sound like Jonathan Watson doing an impersonation of Jim White

… and by no means least,

The Golden Rose of Montrose (for Scottish Broadcaster of the Year) – Jim White, for his Deadline Day drama (except, ironically in Scotland, where nothing happened)

… and, finally,

The Charles Green-sponsored (by other people’s money) Lifetime Achievement Award – Neil Doncaster, SPFL, for making every year in Scottish football seem like a lifetime

Liverpool’s new ‘away’ strip – fans hate it
Image via Warrior

Saturday

Charlotte Green The new voice of football scores

Charlotte Green
The new voice of football scores

Today’s the day that Charlotte Green made her debut as the new voice of the classified football results on BBC Radio 5 live and World Service. Former Radio 4 newsreader Green replaced James Alexander Gordon who retired through ill-health during the summer after more than 40 years in the role. To most, it was a seamless exchange, but not for all. Watching the reaction of some, they appear to accept women are capable of producing bouncing babies, yet marvel that a female is able to read ‘Plymouth Argyle nil, Accrington Stanley nil’ without biting through their tongue …

Sunday
I can’t help but think football fans south of the border have led something of a sheltered life given the comments and hostility towards Liverpool’s rather unconventional away kit worn at Sunderland. Yes, it does look a bit as if it was designed by kids who were somewhat hindered when their felt-tipped pens ran out halfway through, or that they had just signed a kit deal with Remnant Kings.

But to be honest, this was nothing too obscene compared to what some of us had to live through during the early 90’s when Umbro’s design team looked to have dined out on magic mushrooms. And to think this was accepted at the time! What were we on?

Monday

Not everyone got the tickets they hoped for

Not everyone got the tickets they hoped for

Those who applied for Commonwealth Games tickets begin to find out whether they were successful or not in the completely random ballot for briefs. I have to say, from my own personal experience and observations, those who least expected to get tickets appear to have been the luckiest in this process. And no, I’m not talking about Glasgow councillors here …

Tuesday
Tens of thousands turned up at Parkhead this evening hoping lightening would strike twice as Celtic hosted Barcelona in the Champions League. To be fair, there wasn’t much in the tie until Scott Brown decided to have a wee, sleekit, fly flick at Barca’s brilliant stuntman and actor Neymar.

An instant red card in the opinion of the French referee, although Celtic boss Neil Lennon thought it was a ‘soft’ decision, while others rightly pointed out that Brown hardly touched him. Both points of view were good shouts. Unfortunately in this game of Trump Cards, ‘intent’ wins.

Lost out to Barca

Lost out to Barca

I do wish some folk would read up on the Laws of the game. But then you have to remove the blinkers first.

Wednesday
After the outstanding display of Fraser Forster for Celtic against Barcelona, this wasn’t the night for Manchester City’s Joe Hart to have a disastrous evening against Bayern Munich. The England No.1 was at fault for at least two of Bayern’s three goals, not what Roy Hodgson would have wanted to see. Maybe it’s just me, but has Hart’s form gone to pieces ever since he got rid of his dandruff? It may be coincidental, but Hart has been poor since he started extolling the virtues of Head & Shoulders, as has Rory McIlroy since he popped up on our screens on behalf of Santander. Think I’ll stick with my scalp condition and overdraft rather then jeopardise my sporting career …

Thursday

Neil Doncaster

Neil Doncaster

Taking of advertising, I thought one of the big reasons behind the formation of the SPFL was to make it more attractive to potential sponsors? Today, their head honcho Neil Doncaster dons his philosophical face again as he explains no title sponsor has yet been found for the new amalgam. So, the new concept is working then …

Still. Doncaster can crack a smile that Irn-Bru has become the official soft drink of the SPFL. Just waiting to see what Alex Neil, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing has to say about this one …

Friday
Cycling’s 2014 Giro d’Italia has been plunged into doubt after it was revealed that £11m had gone missing from the account of RCS Sport, the race organisers. Not surprisingly, race director Michele Acquarone has been suspended from his post as the company’s CEO, all of which will be worrying for Belfast, that well-known Italian city where the Tour is due to start next year. Perhaps a bit of creative accounting has been taking place. Perhaps some equally creative accounting could be used to explain the deficit.

Simply put £11m in the loss column of the balance sheet under the heading ‘drug testing costs.’ I think most people would find that believable …

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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A gavel: key tool for America's No 1 pastime - litigation. <em>Picture: Brian Turner</em>

A gavel: key tool for America's No 1 pastime - litigation. Picture: Brian Turner

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
I’m always suspicious of anyone who lists Grumpy Old Men amongst their must-view TV programmes. A bunch of guys moaning how things are not as good as they were and complaining about today’s version of events. I love it.

Watching three Six Nations rugby internationals (which, to be honest, would have been far better than seeing six Three Nations ties) I couldn’t help but think things were better a while back. In fact, not such a while back.

France vs Scotland was okay if you like poor defence, and five minutes of the Italy vs Ireland game when the hosts looked like springing a last-gasp surprise – was exciting. But for the most part, this was dull.

I’ve had the argument several times. That today’s game is played by faster, fitter men, that teams employ defence coaches to stop the opposition playing, and that tactical substitutes mean teams are able to change their game plan when the opposition show signs of weakness.

All compelling reasons to switch off. Brian O’Driscoll would be a “player” in any generation. But better than Mike Gibson?

Fitter, yes. And these boys are impressive in the gym. But being able to do another ten squats or bench-press 300 lbs doesn’t mean a damn if you can’t tackle a fish supper or side-step a bus shelter.

And as for defence, if I want to see rugby league-style flat-line cover, I’ll watch rugby league which is faster, more fluent, and is played more with ball in hand.

I grew up loving Andy Irvine’s cutting, dashing style, racing into the great unknown where he regularly went from hero to zero and back again, often on the same run. And now, Scotland have a full-back called Hugo …

Sunday
Visiting TV land again, there was once an American sitcom which rounded up off the weekly plot line with; “Confused? You will be after this week’s episode of Soap!”

Sunday’s Old Firm game had me head-scratching again. In recent times, the authorities in Scotland have worked hard to stamp out sectarianism. Trench foot amongst Rangers fans is at an all time low (in public at least), having not had to wade through blood up to their knees since legislation prohibited use of the “F” word.

The confusion for most people is that while they hear and see the measures taken to stamp out this offensive language, it appears to be one side of the great divide who are held in check.

The “N” word, once in regular use when referring to the black community, or brown when it came to shoe or furniture colour, is not outlawed, almost entirely by public opinion.

And rightly so, although I stop short of those who would have Guy Gibson’s dog written out of the history books. In fact, some would have the VC-winning aviator expunged from the records for flying a plane dangerously and causing flood damage.

Where confusion reigns is when the ‘N’ word is used by sections of the black population, a mixture between a term of endearment and a badge of honour.

I might be mistaken, but that also appears to operate amongst Celtic fans.

On Sunday, unfurled at Ibrox, was a banner proclaiming “Paddy McCourt’s Fenian Army”. A few people I spoke to, there not as supporters of either club but as sponsors’ guests, pointed it out asking if that wasn’t “a bad word these days”.

And that’s where a bit of the confusion arises. Because what is bad – if not illegal – for one section of society surely has to be bad for another?

But my real confusion was wondering why the two police officers standing directly in front of the said banner didn’t see it, or act. I would suggest a trip to Specsavers, but they might not see the bus to take them there.

Monday
The Americans would have you believe that the Super Bowl is the greatest show on earth, the climax to the NFL season and this year contested between eventual winners Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The certainly know how to put on a show or several, from the F22 to-the-second fly past to the Black Eyed Peas’ half-time performance, all watched by a record TV audience.

It was supposed to be a record stadium audience as well at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, but they fell 766 short of the 103,985 who viewed the 1980 final at the Rosebowl, Pasadena.

And thereby hangs the tale. For Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the NFL corporation are now being sued by fans who paid $100,000 for season tickets but didn’t get a seat for the Super Bowl.

Stadium works meant that they didn’t get to see the climax of the NFL season. And the one thing you don’t do in the most litigious nation on the planet is make promises you can’t keep.

Instead of prime, line-of-sight seats, those who turned up were handed folding chairs. Had that happened in this country, the world chair flinging record would have been broken several times over, followed by various visits to the Sheriff Court.

But in Texas, some individuals went straight to the federal court to seek $5 million in damages – oh, which can be tripled under the State’s trade laws.

Somewhat in excess of the NFL’s attempted compensation of $2,400 – triple the ticket’s face value – and a ticket for next year’s Super Bowl, which was then added to with the offer of a ticket to any future Super Bowl, plus return air fares and hotel accommodation.

There will be a middle-ground to be had in this case. Probably $4.9 million and a pair of tickets for every future Super Bowl, plus flights, hotels and the likes. And maybe even a game if you take yir boots …

Tuesday
A war of words erupts between Blackburn’s unwanted El-Hadji Diouf and Celtic’s “waste of money” Scott Brown over who said what and who had the last laugh after Sunday’s 2-2 Old Firm Scottish Cup draw at Ibrox.

For me, there was only one winner. Brown’s superb equaliser, and his all-round play when Celtic were down to ten men, was inspirational.

Great that we have him playing for Scotland …

Wednesday
… or not as was the case. Scott Brown is injured in the warm-up at the Aviva Stadium (wonder if they have insurance for that kind of thing), with Celtic boss Neil Lennon seeking clarification if the grass seed had indeed been imported from Senegal.

As for the game, Scotland beat Northern Ireland 3-0 in the Carling Nations Cup in Dublin. Within a second of the final whistle I’ve received a text message proclaiming “The Tartan Army has a spring in its step again.” How easily pleased are some?
The Carling Nations Cup, in terms of meaningless competition, ranks alongside other Mickey Mouse tournaments such as the Kirin Cup.

We haven’t qualified for a major championship since France ’98. So a bit of reality please before we get too euphoric about winning one match in a kick-about series against equally useless neighbours …

Thursday
And on the back the Dublin internationals, Wigan manager Roberto Martinez says midfielder James McCarthy faces a “very, very deep” decision on where his international future lies.

Glasgow-born McCarthy, formerly of Hamilton Accies, has played for the Republic of Ireland but not yet in a competitive international, a point not lost on opposition supporters during his time in Scotland.

I’ve never changed my views on this. McCarthy has already made his choice.

I felt the exact same with Dominic Matteo, Dumfries-born, but who chose to represent England at under-21 level. He didn’t progress to full-international status until Scotland rescued him – and then we were the only country he ever wanted to play for.

Why take other nations cast-offs when we have dozens of our own …

Friday
There is a bit more clarity over what might happen to the Olympic Stadium (I am thinking of starting a Facebook campaign to have it called the “Alf Tupper Memorial Stadium”) after the 2012 Games with West Ham’s bid winning favour from the Olympic Park Legacy Company executives.

The OPLC board like West Ham’s option – ahead of Spurs – as they would keep the athletics track. Or at least that’s the plan this week.

West Ham have more important things on their mind currently, like avoiding relegation along with Wolves, Wigan and West Brom with any three from four favourites to head down and out.

Relegation ready-made for online and the internet – W, W, W drop …

There is an essential romanticism to Tony Mowbray, at least that part of himself that he reveals to a wider audience. His ideology is entrenched, something deeply felt. But then it might also be said to provide a form of reassurance. This has been a season of confrontation: with results, with misfortune, with the media. The response has always been to return to the notion of playing the game a certain way.

It is a self-sustaining belief, this devotion to a philosophy of football. If Mowbray was to concede that it is impractical on occasion, he would be undermining his principles; by considering the pursuit of “style and entertainment” somehow more virtuous than seeking out results, however they might be conceived, he can also explain away some of Celtic’s failings this season.

“This football club knew when they employed a manager what they were getting,” Mowbray says. “It’s not a secret the way I like to play football. Yes, they want to win. Yes, I want to win – but I play a certain way, I do it a certain way. If we have to suffer not winning the league this year, if that’s going to be the case, then so be it.”

Statistics compromise the Celtic manager. In winning only 16 of the 28 league games so far, the team sits 13 points behind Rangers. The Ibrox side will regain the championship if they win their next six matches (and they have lost only one domestic encounter all season). Hearts knocked Celtic out of the League Cup at Parkhead last October and on Saturday they face Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup quarter-final at Rugby Park.

The game has begun to carry such a weight of significance that it can be seen to be pivotal. Defeat would effectively leave Celtic exposed: to the frustration of their supporters, to the concerns of the directors, to a press that exists in a tense, strained relationship with Mowbray.

The club will not sack him, as the title remains possible in theory (even if the reality is something more disquieting) and there is little to be gained by inviting turmoil into the closing weeks of the season. No new appointment could be made before the summer, as many potential candidates will have obligations of their own.

“Do I worry?” Mowbray says. “Why should I worry? Me worry about it? I have more concerns me, I’m only here to do a job and build a team. I don’t worry, I have my own worries in life. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Some Celtic supporters even fear that reaching the Scottish Cup final in May would allow for a greater indignity, if they were to be defeated by an Ibrox side completing the treble (Rangers face St Mirren in the League Cup final a week on Saturday). The concern tells of a mindset of angst.

The team is capable of playing neat football, and on many occasions this season domination of opponents has fallen short because of poor finishing or insecurity at the back. If progress towards an ideal has been made, it is subtle.

“Pressure on football managers has always been there and the bigger the club, the greater the pressure,” Mowbray says. “It has become more intense as the media has grown. That’s what football is and you shouldn’t complain. I like to think I’m pretty comfortable with it and the hysteria that the Scottish football media, especially in the west of Scotland, like to build to a crescendo. Everyone else seems to get concerned about it, but I just get on with the job.”

Mowbray can still restore something of worth to his time at Celtic, if he remains in charge next season. Victory over Kilmarnock will surely go some way to allowing that to happen.

The drama was predictable. Several of the referee’s decisions were dwelled upon at Ibrox, while Rangers found the wherewithal to seize a late victory. The outcome was familiar because Celtic have been confounded by their Old Firm rivals all season. The title race, too, now seems routine.

Rangers are 10 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League, with a game in hand against St Johnstone to come. For Celtic, the 1-0 defeat felt like a devastating blow, particularly since the visitors must have thought they had endured. Scott Brown’s red card midway through the second-half diminished their ambition and as the game entered injury time, a draw would have seemed heartening.

Opportunities had been sporadic and Rangers’ attacking was anxious. The siege of Celtic’s goal looked hapless, but when Artur Boruc pushed Sasa Papac’s shot wide, there was a stir of urgency. From the resulting corner, in the 93rd minute, Boruc blocked from Kris Boyd, and Maurice Edu drove in the rebound.

Tony Mowbray conceded afterwards that the championship is Rangers’ to lose. The Celtic manager was circumspect, and he chose to deflect questions about Brown’s dismissal by saying he had not yet seen television footage of the incident. The midfielder certainly pushed his head into Kyle Lafferty’s midriff as the players tussled for possession, although the contact seemed meagre.

Dougie McDonald, the referee, was erratic. Brown forced him to make a decision, and he opted to be severe. Last week an anonymous source at Celtic was attributed with criticism of match officials this season, with the inference being that the Parkhead side are constant victims of poor decisions.

It sounded like an expression of persecution, and all SPL teams can point to incidents that tell of a decline in refereeing standards. Even Hugh Dallas, the head of Scotland’s match officials, spoke recently of his disappointment. Celtic will dwell upon the fact that Madjid Bougherra did not receive a second yellow card for various fouls, having been booked in the opening minutes, but mostly the contentious decisions were subjective.

Rangers prevailed by being sufficient. David Weir and Bougherra coped with Robbie Keane, while Kevin Thomson was the game’s outstanding player. There is no extravagance to the Ibrox side, but the reaction to the goal was telling. Every figure on the bench launched into celebration, with Walter Smith charging onto the pitch to punch the air, Ally McCoist gamboling down the touchline and Kenny McDowall raising a television microphone to wave it jubilantly.

Smith was more restrained afterwards, and spoke cuttingly about the added pressure on McDonald. He called for the critic to come out of the closet, and the sense was of a second blow being landed on Rangers’ opponents. But his mood was predominantly one of satisfaction. Rangers have lost only once this season, so their lead appears invulnerable. Smith will be baleful towards any notion of complacency, all the same, but he might reflect on the value of his work this season.

Rangers are beset by financial difficulties, and the team is often careworn, but they have shown a remarkable obduracy. Willpower alone has been potent. Celtic can still apply pressure, but their reliance now is on a fragility suddenly undermining their rivals.

The scrutiny, though, is on Mowbray. His team-building has been piecemeal and the lack of defensive security is a calamitous flaw. Keane can still bring glamour to the cause, and the back four will improve once injured players return and stability of selection becomes possible. But the season now seems relinquished.

This was Smith’s 26th Old Firm victory, equalling the records of Jock Stein and Scot Symon. His ability to rouse a team, to draw from it a compelling worth, has been vital.

An international manager is limited in the scope of his boldness. Craig Levein’s first Scotland squad is a combination of regulars, returning players, and a handful of individuals still to prove themselves at this level. The surprise was minimal.

Of the players Levein wished to restore to the squad, Kris Boyd and Lee McCulloch were recalled, but Barry Ferguson remains on the sidelines, albeit for now, and Allan McGregor was replaced by Neil Alexander, his Rangers deputy. The goalkeeper was injured in an alleged attack outside a Glasgow nightclub last Sunday morning. Already, the Scotland manager is learning that call-offs will never be a novelty.

Mostly, though, his selection for the friendly against the Czech Republic at Hampden on Wednesday, March 3, reveals a desire to quickly establish a sense of stability. Fifteen of the 24 players can be considered certain to feature in every squad, injury permitting, while the rest are subject to form.

Levein will hope to create a sense of unity and spirit around core figures. From Craig Gordon, Alan Hutton, Gary Caldwell and Scott Brown to Darren Fletcher, James McFadden, Kenny Miller and Boyd, the spine of his team seems evident. His approach will be to send out a side primed to be formidable.

Scotland are at their most effective in being obstinate. Levein will hope that combativeness and industry will become redeeming features. The likes of Andy Webster and McCulloch will further enhance this forcefulness.

Positions of doubt remain. Caldwell requires a settled partner (with Webster the most likely candidate), while left-back is an area of concern. Levein has opted for two players he has worked with in the past, Lee Wallace of Hearts and Paul Dixon of Dundee United, but both are callow at international level.

“We’re looking for someone to establish themselves as a permanent left-back for the national team,” Levein said. “Although Paul has had a fairly quick rise coming from Dundee to Dundee United, I feel he’s got attributes that would enable him to be at home at international level.”

The shape and substance of the midfield will be determined by the occasion, but Fletcher and Brown will remain mainstays, with Kevin Thomson, the Rangers midfielder, and Graeme Dorrans, who is earning a growing reputation as a creative force with West Bromwich Albion, providing different options alongside Paul Hartley and James McFadden.

In attack, Miller will remain the first-choice for the lone striker role, with Steven Fletcher as his deputy. Any partnership will always begin with Miller and Boyd, injury and form permitting. Relationships built at club level are always enticing to an international manager.

The squad may seem innovative because it is Levein’s first selection. Only the inclusion of Garry Kenneth appears unforeseen. Charlie Adam is included among the midfielders, but then he has been scoring, and performing impressively, on a regular basis for Blackpool. The omissions tell of the scarcity of choice.

McGregor apart, only Stephen McManus, the defender on loan to Middlesbrough from Celtic, and Ross McCormack, the Cardiff City forward, might be considered unfortunate. “There aren’t hundreds of players out there who are going to improve the squad dramatically,” Levein said.

With the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifiers having spared Scotland a frightful assignment, the new manager will be keen to generate optimism. With the Czech Republic among Scotland’s opponents in Group I, a small psychological blow may be landed at Hampden. The aim, though, is to stir hope in the fans.

“I’m pleased everybody seems positive about the future and the way things are going, but we have to have our feet on the ground as well,” Levein said. “We’re looking at a team, here, that in the last two years has won only three matches.”

Scotland managers seldom find history is an ally.

President Barack Obama will bow to public pressure in the wake of the Democratic Party’s shock election setback in Massachusetts by announcing a three-year spending freeze in his State of the Union address tomorrow.

The freeze, which comes amid growing public concern over Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package boost and trillion dollar budget deficits, is projected to save $250 billion, administration officials say. However, it will not apply to defence and national security or foreign aid, and is therefore likely to anger party liberals already disgruntled by Obama’s stalled $900 billion health care bill.

In an interview with ABC News Obama vowed to press ahead with healthcare reform even if it meant jeopardising his chances of re-election in 2012. “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,” he said.

Still, Obama’s address is expected to focus mainly on job creation. On Monday Obama unveiled proposals aimed at helping the middle class by doubling child tax credit and offering government t support for families caring for elderly relatives.

“Does the turn toward the economy spell the end of an unpopular health care reform?” asked the Christian Science Monitor. “Not at all. In his remarks announcing the initiatives of the Middle Class Task Force, Obama laid out what is expected to be a central theme of his State of the Union: that health care, energy, and financial reform all fit under the larger umbrella of economic revival and job creation.

“After rising for generations, living standards have stagnated over the past decade for millions in this group,” said the Monitor. “Real median incomes have been declining amid rising health care costs and college tuition. And an unprecedented pileup of household debt has accompanied greater risk of decline in the value of the typical family’s major asset – a house.

“America’s middle class represents a large swath of the voting public, a group more politically powerful than the poor and more vulnerable to economic swings than the wealthy. And the goal of an expanding and prospering middle class has long served as a litmus test for the nation’s well-being.”

Despite a barrage of criticism verging on ridicule in its readers’ comments section, the liberal Boston Globe yesterday continued to urge Obama not to flinch on healthcare reform.

“Here’s one lesson President Obama and congressional leaders need to remember after Scott Brown’s Senate victory [in Massachusetts] last week: “One state’s vote, by a 52-47 majority, doesn’t erase a 29-state presidential victory and a 59-vote Senate margin. If Democrats use the Massachusetts election to abandon health reform, they won’t be following the people’s mandate — they’ll be defying it. And voters will rightly take revenge at the ballot box…

“Congress should not walk away now from a reform that achieves a goal of presidents since Theodore Roosevelt — that Americans have a right not to fear denial of care or financial ruin because they lack what citizens of all other industrialised countries have: health insurance.”

The New York Times, while also strongly urging Obama not to abandon health care reform, said conservative Democrats in the House or Representatives and Senate were urging the president to support a freeze because “perceptions that government spending is out of control have contributed to Mr Obama’s loss of support among independent voters, and concern about the government’s fiscal health could put upward pressure on the interest rates the United States has to pay to borrow money from investors and nations, especially China, that have been financing Washington’s budget deficit.”

Republicans were quick to mock the freeze proposal. “Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for the House Republican leader, John Bohener, told the Times.

Twitter: You bustard, you killed Johnny

Twitter: You bustard, you killed Johnny

Some people will do anything to avoid another Pirates of the Caribbean film.

Well, there must be some good reason why “RIP Johnny Depp” was alongside Lady Gaga and Scott Brown (the Governor of Massachusetts, not Celtic & Scotland’s midfielder) and Haiti on recent Twitter trending topics.

There is a reason – if not a particularly good one.

Some internerd had created a mildly convincing CNN homepage that the Edward Scissorhands star was involved in a fatal car crash, similar to the fake, similarly vaguely plausible 2001 BBC News page that Britney Spears had also perished.

The most effective recent hoax was the one that Jurassic Park’s Jeff Goldblum was a goner while filming in New Zealand. Although this was utterly baseless, the usual cynicism did not apply (no major networks ran with Depp’s ‘death’).

The reason: it was posted minutes after Michael Jackson’s (first rumoured, then confirmed) death and on the same day as Farrah Fawcett passed on. Therefore, because everyone was in such an emotional tailspin about the Charlie’s Angels and Jackson 5 reunions being off that “Jeff Goldblum’s dead” led to the reaction: “Oh,” followed by: “Suppose we’d better run that while we check TMZ.com for MJ details.”

Hours later when Kevin Spacey reassured the world on Twitter (where else?) that Goldblum was alive and well, the general reaction was: “Oh.”

The prototype for the Big-Celeb-Is-Dead rumour started in the sixties with the “Paul McCartney Is Dead” tale which claimed he’d actually croaked in 1966 andbeen replaced by a Macca impersonator. This theory was allowed to rumble on for aeons and only resurfaced when he did Beatles karaoke in December 2009 with the X Factor finallists. Because the real Paul McCartney wouldn’t have touched that with a bargepole … right?

The difference with the Depp story was that someone called JD to find out that he was in France and not the afterlife (easily confused) and the Twitter trending topics moved on to the Jonas Brothers and the NFL.

Johnny Depp and Paul McCartney are both, at time of writing, alive and well. The main difference in the Twitter-age is that it took weeks for the Macca rumour to spread and years for it to go away. For Johnny Depp, read minutes and a couple of hours. Similar tweets about the Jonas Brothers or Lady Gaga in the future may well be lucky to be given a second’s thought.