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Scottish Football Association

New Zealand celebrate their victory
(Picture from Facebook)

Saturday
I like my boxing, especially meaningful fights. Fitting that bill handsomely was the world super-middleweight title contest between Carl Froch and George Groves.

Carl Froch (Picture from Wikipedia)

Carl Froch
(Picture from Wikipedia)

This was always going to be a belter (excusing the pun) especially after the build-up; no holds barred, no love lost. And it was the same afterwards following referee Howard Foster’s controversial decision to stop the contest in the ninth round with challenger Groves ahead on most people’s cards. Some said Forster was premature in stepping in as IBF and WBA champion Froch unleashed a series of blows on the challenger. Not so Froch, who reckoned Forster had saved Groves’ career; not so the British Boxing Board of Control, who subsequently backed the man in the middle.

I didn’t have a problem with the decision. Forster had a split second to react, all it takes for untold damage to be done to any fighter. I’d much rather be talking next time about the various acronyms who control boxing and who sponsor these titles and belts than the one mentioned when some boxers careers have been ended prematurely. Like RIP …

Sunday
The mantra of playing till the end could have been made for the rugby players of New Zealand. The day after their Rugby League stars held on to their world crown by beating England 20-18 in the final minute of their World Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Ireland_rugbyHeartbreaking for the English, matched on Sunday when their Irish Union counterparts were beaten 24-22, Ryan Crotty’s try well after the 80 minutes had expired tying the contest, Aaron Cruden kicking the clinching conversion, given a second attempt thanks to some overly-keen Irishmen encroaching. That denied the Irish their first win over the All Blacks in 109 years of trying, losing 26 of 27 previous encounters, a draw in 1973 at Lansdowne Road their only ‘success.’

Cruden’s kick did however mean the world champions ended 2013 with a perfect 14 wins from 14 starts. If you want to see the difference between a good team and a great team, watch a re-run of this game – after the clock had gone red. Playing to the end, and beyond …

Monday
After England’s capitulation in the First Test those wondering what’s they’d have to write about with the match finishing a day early quickly got their answer.

Jonathan Trott Returned home from the Ashes Tour (Pic: Public Domain)

Jonathan Trott
Returned home from the Ashes Tour
(Pic: Public Domain)

On the back of a going over with the ball by bowler Mitchell Johnson, and verbally by David Warner, England’s Jonathan Trott leaves the Ashes tour of Australia because of a long-standing stress-related condition. Warner’s comments about Trott (“the way that Trotty got out today was pretty poor and weak”) meet with disapproval from England captain Alastair Cook who branded the Aussie opener “disrespectful” while former Australian skipper Steve Waugh said Warner had “crossed the line.”

Meanwhile current Australia captain Michael Clarke was fined 20 per cent of his match fee for telling James Anderson “to expect a broken arm,” his comments picked up on a stump microphone.

Sledging – the verbal bating that goes on during matches – is nothing new. I doubt even if this was the most serious example of it in Australia-England battles, and neither do I believe the Australians are entirely at fault. Was Anderson and Stuart Broad inviting various Aussie batsmen around for cucumber sandwiches and tea when they dismissed them or beat the outside edge? Oh, they were!

Trott’s departure has put another slant on sledging and there is obvious concern about the matter now going by the comments from Australian pace bowler Peter Siddle about sledging.

“It’s just natural. It wasn’t any different to normal. If it hadn’t of been on the mic a lot people would not have said so much about it. The most disappointing thing is that it actually came up (on the broadcast). It’s not meant to at that time and it is very stiff for Michael (Clarke). There was a lot of other stuff going on and James Anderson was in the thick of it and a culprit for it all happening. Anderson brought it on himself. So fair’s fair.”

Good to end on a conciliatory note …

Tuesday
The shortlist for BBC’s Sports Personality of The Year is announced with winner Andy Murray joined by those making up the numbers, namely athletes Mo Farah, Christine Ohuruogu and Hannah Cockroft, cyclist Chris Froome, golfer Justin Rose, Sir Ben Ainslie from the world of sailing, jump racing legend AP McCoy, British Lions star cricketer Leigh Halfpenny and Ian Bell, the England cricketer.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

They, beyond anyone else, met the criteria set which were: to reflect UK sporting achievements on the national and/or international stage; represent the breadth and depth of UK sports, and; take into account ‘impact’ over and beyond the sport or sporting achievement in question. Adjudicating on who best met those criteria were BBC representatives Barbara Slater (director of BBC Sport); Philip Bernie (head of TV sport); Carl Doran (executive editor of Sports Personality of the Year) and Mark Pougatch who occasionally pops up on other TV channels but was on this occasion the voice of Radio 5 Live.

The opinions of the written press were gleaned from Alison Kervin, Adam Sills and Dominic Hart, respective sports editors from The Mail on Sunday, The Mirror and The Telegraph, with former nominees Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson, Dame Kelly Holmes and Marcus Trescothick accompanied by Liz Nicholl, chief executive of UK Sport, former SPoTY host Sue Barker.

And between them, they decided that neither Carl Froch nor Ronnie O’Sullivan, world champions in boxing and snooker respectively, were worthy of consideration. I’m so glad I don’t know as much about sport as that esteemed panel …

Wednesday
I’m working my way through the Scottish independence Referendum White Paper. I thought I’d better read it first before deciding who was going to get one for Christmas. But finally, I’ve reached the ‘Sport’ heading. And what an interesting Q & A it is.

Sport

218. Will Scotland have its own Olympics and Paralympics teams? Yes. Scotland currently meets all of the qualifying requirements of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees (IOC), other than being an independent state. Arrangements will be put in place to ensure that Scottish athletes were able to compete in Rio 2016 by attending any necessary qualifying events in the lead up to Rio 2016. This work would be undertaken in parallel to the wider governance arrangements required for Olympic and Paralympic accreditation, establishing Scottish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and transferring functions currently undertaken at UK level. It is only through independence that Scotland can have its own teams for the next Olympics and Paralympics.

The White Paper

The White Paper

219. Will independence affect who can play for the Scottish rugby and football teams? No. The criteria to play for Scotland at a sport are set by each world governing body (FIFA for football, IRB for rugby etc) and not by the Scottish or Westminster Governments.

220. Will Scottish football teams still be able to compete in FIFA and UEFA competitions? Yes. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) is already a member of FIFA, the world governing body for football. Likewise, the SFA is also an affiliate member of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations).

221. Will an independent Scotland still be able to host the Open Golf Tournament? Yes. The Royal and Ancient are responsible for determining the venue of the Open. Scotland is the home of golf and Scottish golf clubs will continue to be part of the rota to host the Open championships. Both the 2015 and 2016 events are planned for Scotland.

222. How will an independent Scotland ensure that elite sport continues to secure appropriate levels of funding and facilities? Scotland already has a number of world class competition and training facilities. Our national agency for sport (sportscotland) has responsibility for all aspects of community and performance sport up to Commonwealth Games level. It will be for the Parliament of an independent Scotland to decide how best to generate and deploy this resource to the benefit of Scottish sport in future.

223. Would all Scottish athletes have to compete for Scotland or would they be free to represent the likes of “Team GB”? Athletes are currently free to choose which country they represent providing they meet that country’s relevant qualifying criteria. Whilst the Scottish Government hopes that all athletes who are qualified to represent Scotland will do so, this is a personal decision.

Little did I realise that sport could become so simplified when you are an independent nation, or have nothing to do with football as an industry or business in Scotland. Not sure who was asking the questions (probably the combined might of the SPoTY panel), but I couldn’t help but notice a couple of glaring omissions.

Would the British & Irish Lions become the British & Irish & Scottish Lions? When would Scotland win the football World Cup? Will snooker and elephant polo become part of the school and education curriculum?

Having read this leaflet, cover to cover, we deserve answers …

Thursday
And after UEFA launch an investigation in to banners and slogans displayed by the Green Brigade during the Champions League tie against AC Milan, and the SPFL steal the idea of doing the same in relation to events at last weekend’s Aberdeen game, Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell responds with a terse statement. Lawwell claimed the incident “was nothing more than clear disrespect for the club and our supporters who now face another UEFA charge.

Celtic Logo“There have now been a number of UEFA charges made against the club during the last three years, relating to behaviour, displays and pyrotechnics – it cannot go on any further. Let’s be very clear. Following the actions of a small minority, these charges are made against the CLUB. It is the reputation of Celtic, our great club and our great fans which is damaged, while others carry on indulging in such behaviour. Regardless of the political views people hold, football stadia, whether it is Celtic Park or anywhere else, should not be used to promote these.”

Strong words, but still only that. As everyone knows, actions speak louder than words. And Celtic’s actions up until now, namely outrage followed threats, followed by, eh, more outrage when it happens again, and more threats, scare no-one.

A good start would checking and searching people entering the ground to see if they are carrying these massive banners. I know, innovative thinking. Personally, I think the talents of the Green Brigade are being wasted here. With such a talent for words they should join the Stadium Scrabble Tour in America. I wonder who’ll be first to Google it?

Cricket Scotland Logo portraitIn other news, Scotland fail to qualify for next year’s World Twenty20 following an eight-wicket defeat by the Netherlands. So, Scotland will stay at home again while the likes of Afghanistan and Nepal (yes, you did read that correctly), will be in action in Bangladesh in March.

I tried desperately not to be too critical. But in cricket, Scotland is going backwards. In 2005 we won the ICC Tournament staged in Ireland, and eight years on we are losing out to nations who most people don’t even know play cricket – and that’s within Afghanistan and Nepal! Questions must be asked – though please, not by the SPoTY panel or independence White Paper authors …

Friday
And a Happy Birthday to Ryan Giggs, 40-years young, still playing for Manchester United. He puts his longevity and youthfulness down to yoga. Not sure about the first bit, but I put his youthfulness down to the fact he’s successfully avoided football management …

The day ends with the shocking news of a police helicopter crashing into a Glasgow pub. Not a time for jokes, unless of course, you are golfer Steve Elkington. You may recall him from The Open at Royal Birkdale when he Tweeted; “Things about Southport England … -fat tattooed guy -fat tattooed girl -trash -ice cream stored guy -Pakistani robber guy -shit food.”

Difficult to see how anyone could surpass those insults, but Elkington did just that minutes after the helicopter came down on the Clutha Bar.

“Helicopter crashes into Scottish Pub… Locals report that no beers were spilt…”

Not surprisingly, big, brave @elkpga quickly removed the tweet, but then explained “sorry … heard it just flopped on top.” A bit like your thought process, Steve …

John McGuinness set the pace at the Isle of Man TT
Picture from John McGuinness Racing Website

Saturday
Well, do I wake up happy or what after my confidence in Scotland out in Croatia was fully justified as the boys in blue (shorts) record a tremendous win over the nation ranked fourth-best in the world by FIFA. It was a win that put a smile on many a face, although the gormless grin in some instances could have been shock-induced. Be honest. Who thought Scotland would get anything from that match, with that injury-ravished side?

Scotland FC LogoBut it should make Gordon Strachan’s job more interesting for our next appointment, in London, in August, against England. Does he go with the boys, who played like a team in Zagreb, or bring back those ‘better’ players who missed that trip? A bit of a quandary indeed. And that’s without mentioning the heightened levels of expectation, now that we are the fourth-best team on the planet …

Sunday
Having amazingly avoided the result for two days, I finally get the chance to watch the Senior TT, the blue riband event at the world famous Isle of Man road races. And it didn’t disappoint. John McGuinness produced a stunning ride to win and claim his 20th TT success, so denying Michael Dunlop a record-equalling fifth win of the week. Dunlop was unquestionably the star of the week, but McGuinness showed that even at 41, he still had what it took to win around the most dangerous course in the world, having earlier in the week smashed his own lap record time around the 37.73-mile track at an average speed of 131.670mph.

Those figures alone don’t do justice to the achievement of the Honda rider who sits second to the legendary Joey Dunlop (with 26 victories) on the all-time winners list. McGuinness himself is a legend on the island and beyond, a rider with nothing to prove to those who have seen his marvellous performances over the years. If he was to call it quits now, no-one would blame him, or be too upset. Being the greatest-living TT rider is an achievement and an accolade in itself …

Monday

Stewart Regan

Stewart Regan

Ahead of the Scottish Football Association’s annual meeting, Chief Executive Stewart Regan urged member clubs to adopt stricter regulations to eliminate racism and sectarianism. Regan’s stance was based on a fear that UEFA or FIFA might impose their own sanctions if Scotland’s regulations were not seen as being robust enough. Clubs would no longer be able to avoid sanctions by arguing that they had taken “reasonably practicable” measures to avoid such behaviour.

FIFA have outlined their measures to eliminate racist and other discriminatory behaviour, such as a minimum five-game ban for players, points deductions for clubs and nations, and closure of stadia. Tougher domestic rules were required said Regan, to implement a “zero tolerance” stance on racism and other forms of discriminatory behaviour. That phrase ‘discriminatory behaviour’ in a Scottish context of course means sectarianism.

Regan can’t be faulted, for once, on trying to drive such legislation. However, his attempts to police football, and society, might have a better chance of success if Scottish Law courts could actually make convictions stick based on current Sectarian Laws. It wasn’t so long ago that Sheriff Richard Davidson cleared Dion McLeish at Dundee Sheriff Court of inciting public disorder during Celtic’s Boxing Day match at Dens Park. McLeish had been filmed by police singing Irish Republican songs, although some would have you believe they were no more than harmless Country and Western ditties. Sheriff Davidson stated the new anti-sectarianism legislation McLeish was tried under were “horribly drafted,” and more damningly, said the “word mince comes to mind.”

None of which helps Regan’s case, even if he and his organisation have believed they are a law unto themselves at times ….

Tuesday
And low and behold, in a scene reminiscent from that episode in Father Ted where he is branded a ‘racist’, Scottish Football votes against those regulations outlined by Regan.

“As far as the specific wording and the resolution is concerned, the clubs felt that it was drafted in such a way as to be too onerous,” explained Regan. “To move to strict liability from where we are now was quite a leap.” Which begs the question, who drafted that wording, and who put it in front of the meeting? To use Sherriff Davidson’s lead, did it qualify as mince?

Sir Henry Cecil

Sir Henry Cecil

Putting frivolity aside, there is sad news today when the death of Sir Henry Cecil is announced after a long battle with cancer. A 10-time champion Flat trainer, Cecil trained 25 British Classic winners, including Derby winners Slip Anchor, Reference Point, Commander In Chief and Oath, a record 75 Royal Ascot winners, and latterly, the Newmarket-based Cecil trained Frankel, officially the highest-ever rated racehorse after finishing his career unbeaten in 14 starts. An impressive record, one that may never be matched, and the kind of CV that would earn most people a place in their National ‘Sports Hall of Fame.’

Despite being born in Aberdeen, Cecil doesn’t feature in Scotland’s ‘Hall of Fame.’ Two questions. Firstly, why not? Secondly, when will they put someone who knows about Scottish sport in charge?

Wednesday
I find myself in the company of the delightful and attractive chief football writer of the Scottish Daily Mail, Stephen McGowan, and the extremely knowledgeable football expert Rona Dougall to debate the ramifications of the historic Scottish Football League vote to merge with the SPL and with that, accept league reconstruction. While in STV’s Scotland Tonight studios there is friendship, albeit mixed with scepticism over whether the new plans will actually work, there appears more animosity within the SFL, or should I say former SFL office bearers.

SFL president Jim Ballantyne said; “The fact is that it is a takeover, not a merger. We are joining their company. They have swallowed us up. They can use nice words about it, but it is a takeover.
It is a positive vote in terms of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ numbers but a lot of people have left this room with a heavy heart.”

Meanwhile SFL chief David Longmuir closed his press conference – and with it 123 years of League history – with the line; “Will somebody put the lights out.”

I suppose you can make such a jovial quip perhaps if you are walking away with a nice little pay-off. But I reckon those who might not keep their jobs in this new amalgamation might find it harder to see the funny side. Longmuir probably knows that already …

Thursday
Tynecastle StadiumIt seems only a few short weeks ago that Hearts were given a clean bill of health by the SPL following their intensive investigations in Lithuania into the finances of the Tynecastle club following the collapse of parent company UBIG. For the record, I’d sack Piorot, Clouseau or Taggart, or who ever else did that in-depth detective work. For today, the financial plight of Hearts became evident when chief executive David Southern – a man who had the audacity to describe St Mirren as ‘misleading’ just weeks ago – announced that every player at the club was up for sale at the cash-strapped club.

Maybe he’s hoping for a David Templeton to Rangers-type move, although that’s unlikely given the rules that could be enforced by the new SPFL about trialists. After all, that was for the good of the Scottish game, wasn’t it? Southern’s hopes of selling any player, never mind only those they receive ‘reasonable offers’ for, are well-intentioned, but flawed. Who is going to pay anything – other than two goldfish and a balloon – for anyone who in a fortnight could be a free agent, released by some administrator to save money?

And all this days after Hearts announced a deal to bring Danny Wilson to the club on a full-time basis. Wilson might be able to worm his way out of the contract, claiming he signed on the back of false assurances made by Hearts, and given he hasn’t yet been officially registered as a player. But whoever sanctioned that signing or put their signature on the contract on behalf of Hearts, should be brought to book – as long as it’s not one of the SPL’s detective novels …

Friday
And Celtic new boy Amido Balde is an immediate hit with the tabloid newspapers telling them that he wants to play like Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic while in Scotland.

The 22-year-old, who signed at four-year deal at Parkhead admitted; “I modelled myself on a few different players. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was my favourite, but I also like Adebayor of Tottenham and Mario Gomez of Bayern Munich.” Could be worth watching.

As might be this space in 12 months time, should he hit the heights reached by members of that triumvirate. If he does, what chances of him suddenly feeling unloved in Scotland, or having to leave for personal reasons?

Celtic — Winners of the Scottish Double 2013

Saturday
JUST under a year ago, Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan said the Scottish game faced ‘Armageddon’ when clubs voted not to allow newco Rangers to join the SPL.

SFA

SFA

“We are faced with a situation some say is meltdown and some say Armageddon. There are no winners, there are only losers in this,” warned Regan.

So, Mr Regan, if there are no winners, only losers, what category do you come under having pocketed a £33,000 pay rise? It emerged today that the man who has presided over the most shambolic period in the history of football in Scotland, gained a 13.5 per cent rise to take him to a yearly salary of just £280,425.

Put another way, that £33k equates as a 12-month shirt sponsorship deal for a Scottish Football League Division One club.

So, when Stewart Regan next appears on your TV screen, spouting off about the financial constraints in the Scottish game, and how money is scarce, always have at the back of your mind that here is a man who obviously lives, and works, by the mantra, “do as I say, not as I do …”

When it comes to sporting pay days, few deserve them more than professional boxers.

Carl Froch was deserving of the plaudits, his titles, and the increase in his bank balance after beating Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler in an epic contest at London’s O2 Arena to retain his IBF super-middleweight crown. Froch’s performance was brilliant, especially from what was a titanic eighth round onwards, to take a unanimous decision, winning 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113 on the three judges’ scorecards, one of whom, was either watching a different fight or had previously only ever scored cake making competitions …

Sunday

Kimi Raikkonen Grand Prix photo credit: Mark Hintsa via photopin cc

Kimi Raikkonen
Grand Prix
photo credit: Mark Hintsa via photopin cc

There is nothing quite like the glamour of the Monaco Grand Prix. Even though I’ve been to the Principality, and driven and walked the circuit (a stroll greatly aided by the bars along the route), I still haven’t quite worked out how they manage to run an F1 race there.

Today, I feel extremely old. Thirty years ago, I watched Keke Rosberg win. In 2013, it’s the turn of his son Nico to take the chequered flag for Mercedes. Back in 1983, Rosberg Snr ended his race with a massive blister on the palm of his hand, testament to the hundreds of manual gear changes he had to make. Today, all that constantly changing up and down would at best have given Rosberg Jnr sore thumbs. It’s called technological advancement.

One man who might have had something considerably more painful to worry about if Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen had his way was Sergio Perez. The McLaren driver made a series of aggressive overtaking moves during the race, collecting Raikkonen in one such manoeuvre. It’s not the first time Perez has angered his fellow racers, but the Finn had his own ideas on how to curb Perez’s exuberance.

Asked if the drivers would talk to Perez, Raikkonen said: “That won’t help. Maybe someone should punch him in the face.” Kimi can be thankful he survived the incident, and, that F1 isn’t governed by the SFA, who’d have him wheeled into Hampden to explain his comments …

Today of course, was the SFA’s showpiece occasion, the Scottish Cup final, with Celtic completing the domestic double by seeing off Hibs 3-0. Congratulations to Neil Lennon and Celtic, but it would have been nice to see Hibs end their 111-year hoodoo. It will happen eventually. Once they’ve worked out how to defend …

Monday
Crystal Palace FC LogoA solitary goal from 39-year-old Kevin Phillips is enough to see Crystal Palace defeated Watford in the Championship play-off final at Wembley and secure a place in the English Premier League for next term. The build-up and hype surrounding this game is quite phenomenal, the value placed upon being £120 million. Staggering, given the Champions League Final a few days before at the same venue, was apparently worth just €10.5m to Bayern Munich.

Palace can look forward to £60m next year, even if they finish bottom of the English Premier League, and subsequent ‘parachute’ payments over the next four years (if relegated) of £22m, £18m, £10m and £10m respectively. Puts that TV deal for Scottish football in perspective …

Tuesday
No sooner has Sir Chris Hoy told BBC Radio 5 live he does not want to get involved in the “hornet’s nest” of the Scottish independence referendum debate than he is being stung by criticism following his observation that Scots could find it harder to compete at Olympic level if the country were independent.

Sir Chris Hoy

Sir Chris Hoy

Given that he probably knows more than most about what goes in to producing elite athletes, and presumably an independent Scotland would be interested developing such talent, Hoy’s opinion surely should be considered rather than condemned. No?

Well, no. Despite saying “I don’t want to get drawn into it” Hoy found himself labelled ‘a traitor’ in some quarters for voicing his concerns, and for the merest mention of his pride at being both Scots and British.

Funnily enough, Rangers new boy Jon Daly was also branded ‘a traitor’ by some this week, and he’s neither Scots or British. What’s that all about then?

Wednesday
And Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley won’t appeal against his 11-week ban after being found guilty of verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final against Leicester. The Saints’ captain was sent off for swearing at Barnes and calling him a “cheat” after a penalty went against his team. And Hartley’s decision not to appeal ruled him out of the Lions tour to Australia. Costly or what.

Just a suggestion. But if you want some discipline back in football, look at rugby and the penalties they impose. And I don’t mean three points either.

Thursday
Cardiff City FC LogoA mixture of fan power and intense lobbying on social media has forced Cardiff City owners in to giving supporters a say on what colour of shorts the team will wear in the Premier League next season. While Cardiff’s home shirt remains red, the original shorts in the new design were shown as an even darker shade of red. Now fans will be asked if they want to keep that unpopular combo, go for shorts matching the shirt colour, or opt instead for either white or black pants.

I wish there had been a fifth choice – inspired by Sammy Nelson. Younger readers may want to Google him …

Friday
Walter Smith is now Chairman of Rangers. I suppose it was inevitable given that the man he assisted for many years, Dundee United’s Jim McLean, also rose to achieve such office. Radio and TV reporters however, will be hoping Walter doesn’t end his tenure in a similar fashion to ‘wee Jum’ …

A non-Augusta albatross Picture: twiddleblat

A non-Augusta albatross Picture: twiddleblat

Saturday
What a performance. What a result. No, not what happened at Rugby Park. What happened at the rugby.

Edinburgh produced the best-ever result (I don’t think anyone could ever say best-ever performance) from a Scottish side in the Heineken Cup, beating four-times winner Toulouse at a busy Murrayfield.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was more than enough to see Edinburgh through to the last four, with just a date in Dublin against Ulster (“just”, he says) between them and the final.

Nearly 38,000 turned up at Murrayfield. Big-time club rugby. But let’s not get carried away as some appear to be doing (headed in the direction of the nearest asylum). Edinburgh got that crowd because of the importance of the match, not because of any great support Edinburgh might have.

Many people I know who went saw it as a one-off, the chance to see Edinburgh – or just a Scottish club – that far advanced in the premier European club tournament. So before anyone sees Edinburgh as the biggest team in the capital – ahead of Hearts and Hibs – wait and see what your next home gate is.

Of course I can’t let Saturday pass without giving credit where credit is due. Well done to Celtic and Neil Lennon on winning the SPL title.

It is not a soiled title. It is not a tarnished trophy. It is not a competition won by the second-best team. Celtic won it fair and square. And anyone suggesting that Rangers’ ten-point penalty handed the Hoops the title are deluded.

It didn’t help the Rangers cause, admittedly. But there was no mention of penalties or administration when the Ibrox club lost a 15-point advantage in October. So please, get real …

Sunday
I hugely admire Sir Chris Hoy, although I still get to call him Chris. That might change if he wins another couple of golds this summer. I, like everyone else, might need to call him Lord Hoy.

And, on the evidence of Sunday at the world championships in Melbourne, he might have a chance of doing that. Hoy (or should I say Chris?) monstered his way to yet another world title (his 11th) by taking the keirin race. It was a typically gutsy, bullish effort from the Team Sky rider and one that should be sufficient to see him selected in that event come London.

He will also be part of the UK’s line-up in team sprint, but in the individual sprint he may (probably) need to concede that berth to his young team-mate and protégé Jason Kenny, who defeated the Scot in Melbourne.

Whatever events he participates in, Hoy will have everyone’s support. Or maybe not everyone’s.

His father, David, had the previous day highlighted the fact that British athletes had been given the chance to purchase two tickets from LOCOG for each session that they compete in. It means Chris may need to choose between sister, parents or wife Sarra as to who gets to see him winning again.

“It just needs somebody to sit down and think about the families who have got the athletes to this level,” said Hoy Snr. “Just a little bit of payback would be very welcome.”

Still, it could have been worse. The name Ticketus might have cropped up …

Monday
The Masters dominated the sporting Easter Sunday, and into the sma’ hours of Monday. It was worth staying up for.

As is the way these days, there were, naturally, a million-and-one comments posted on social media sites about the players, the shots and the protagonists.

What was the best shot?

Louis Oosthuizen’s albatross (or double-eagle as the Americans call it), or the eventual winner Bubba Watson’s Seve-esque wedge around the trees?

In the world of Twitter, however, there was an equally heated debate about the merits – or lack of them – around the emergence of former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan conducting the post-round interviews.

A great many didn’t catch up with that detail until Sunday night, probably not sure exactly who the “Michael” being referred to was.

But like a self-fulfilling prophesy that such jobs should be left to professionals, and that Vaughan would be caught out eventually (see the cricketing pun I used there), he boldly interviewed three-times Masters winner Tiger Woods.

“Four actually,” replied Tiger. Oops …

I, possibly more than most, realise that people need to make a start somewhere when they are switching careers or moving into new fields.

But it was asking for trouble to give someone so relatively inexperienced – and from a totally different sport – that gig in the first place.

Anyway, I’m just looking forward to the Olympics and Geoffrey Boycott interviewing Usain Bolt …

Tuesday
Category One whistler Charlie Richmond quits amid claims he believed he’d been shunned and frozen out by his SFA handler for not being a team player.

As ever, anyone who dares say anything about the Scottish Football Association is cast as a wrongdoer and a troublemaker.

Almost immediately, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan used Twitter to call Richmond a “consistent under performer”, while referees’ chief John Fleming joined in, stating: “I consider his comments an affront to the work currently being undertaken by the Scottish FA to promote and support referees at all levels.”

A closing of ranks there – or a closing of eyes?

Wednesday
It was such a big story that Reporting Scotland did a live interview from Somerset Park.

Yes, because of events the previous evening, Ross County were crowned First Division champions, earning them promotion to the SPL.

I congratulate them. See, I’ve said it.

But I’m sorry. I ain’t buying into the fantasy being perpetrated by one or two blatantly delusional (or drunk) individuals that Ross County’s arrival is going to be great for the SPL. It’s Ross County who are getting in, not Barcelona.

My reaction may appear like sour grapes, but when you get people pointing to the Scottish Cup final a few years ago (when they were tonked by Dundee United) as being an example “of the kind of crowds we could take to Glasgow”, then someone somewhere has lost both sense and sobriety.

Like the rugby boys on Saturday, that crowd was an exception to the rule, not the norm.

Against Ayr United, a few hundred fans (probably nearer the two than the three) travelled south. OK, it was a midweek game, and OK, Ayr United might not be must-see opposition.

But will Motherwell or Hibs or Kilmarnock or St Mirren be any more an attractive proposition come November or February next term? SPL chairmen and bean counters won’t be planning their bonus structure on what Ross County bring to the party.

No, they’ll base it on what the likes of Rangers might bring them.

A lot of posturing today from the SPL’s decision-makers about the type of penalties clubs facing liquidation (ie Rangers) might face if they come back in another guise (ie Rangers Newco).

Threats of ten-point penalties for two years, and TV and sponsorship incomes hacked back to just a third (around £800,000 as opposed to £2.4 million) have been voiced. All very threatening, all very we’ll-show-them-who’s-boss.

Whether the vote goes that way remains to be seen. A who-blinks-first scenario is forming: the SPL wants to teach those who have flouted the rules (ie Rangers) a lesson. But what happens if such a club (eg Rangers Newco) seeks sanctuary in the SFL, wrecking any TV deal and denying club’s vital income?

Oh, there will be a debate-and-a-half that afternoon.

Of course, all of this is worst-case scenario stuff. Of course, worse-case scenario is still a massive threat to some SPL clubs (ie Rangers).

The SPL’s leaders are right to toughen their stance on clubs that go into administration or liquidate. It shows how weak their rules were previously. Or didn’t they believe it could ever happen?

If that was the case, then they have been acutely negligent. Or didn’t they notice what happened at Motherwell and Gretna?

If they had moved their rules and regulations to make them more robust after those episodes, when Gretna went to the wall or when Motherwell made 19 players redundant, no one could have accused them of bolting the stable doors and all that, or of knee-jerk reactions and double standards …

Thursday
On a day when director of football Damien Comolli leaves the club by mutual consent and Peter Brukner, head of sports science and medicine, also departs, at least Liverpool chairman Tom Werner says the Anfield board has “great confidence” in manager Kenny Dalglish.

Just what you want to hear just two days away from your biggest game of the season – an FA Cup semi-final against arch-rivals Everton. Bad enough being eighth in the Premier League – but not as bad as being second-best in your home city.

After that vote of confidence, there were names galore being touted as Dalglish’s replacement. Who would I go for?

Why, David Moyes of course. At least, after spending £120-odd million on players, it would save Liverpool some money on a relocation package …

Friday
Busy day on the airwaves. Early morning shot on talkSport’s superb through-the-night show Extra Time with Mike Graham, before talking about the dangers of the Grand National on BBC Radio Scotland’s Call Kaye.

When I say dangers, I mean to the horses, not to your bank balance.

Of course, betting can be profitable. Take one punter yesterday who lifted £100,000 when Big Buck’s won on the opening day of the Grand National Festival, its 17th consecutive win.

And how much did they have to gamble to hit six figures? Just half a million quid, as the horse started at odds of 1/5.

Big Buck’s was such a sure thing. In most people’s cases, so too would be a heart attack …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments.

Rory McIlroy – no Tweets <em>Picture: Danielbennett98</em>

Rory McIlroy – no Tweets Picture: Danielbennett98

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Gordon Smith is named as the new director of football at Rangers and a bunfight amongst Scotland’s newspapers breaks out as to who had the exclusive on the story.

Smith is, of course, the former Scottish Football Association chief executive, and the SFA is organisation which has former Rangers secretary/director Campbell Ogilvie as its president.

Good job no one in Scotland is paranoid enough to read anything into that…

Sunday
Having folded like a cheap deckchair at the Masters, Rory McIlroy proves he is made of sterner stuff as he takes the US Open Championship, breaking and creating all kinds of records in the process.

McIlroy’s win made it back-to-back US Opens for players from Northern Ireland, following on from Graeme McDowell’s victory 12 months ago, and with Padraig Harrington a treble Major winner, the island of Ireland – in terms of population – must be the greatest golf nation in the world.

And if it isn’t, it won’t be long before the Irish Tourist Board is telling us.

So what was different between McIlroy’s Masters week and last weekend? Nothing much, apart from the outcome and that we were told he didn’t Tweet once during the tournament.

I never realised that not using your thumbs could have such an impact on your game…

Monday
Celtic fans rejoice with the news that club manager Neil Lennon has signed a one-year rolling contract worth – depending on whose report you read – double or even treble his previous deal.

It has taken time for the detail to be confirmed, considering BBC Scotland broke the story on cup final day when the intrepid Jane Lewis ambushed Dermot Desmond on the steps of Hampden.

So who did BBC Scotland have commenting on the big contract signing?

Well, I’m not sure, but judge for yourself. Am I to assume this chappie’s name is actually Celtic Blogger?

Now that is dedication to the cause…

Tuesday
Wimbledon is in full swing. And whilst we hope a Scot triumphs, at least one of his countrymen has picked up an award just two days into the tournament.

The Scottish Sun’s Robert Martin collected a virtual gong having successfully managed to connect events at SW19 with the SPL by revealing that Andy Murray’s second-round opponent Obias Kamke once owned a Hamburg shirt emblazoned with the name “Albertz” on the back, when Jörg of the Rangers was once Jörg from Hamburg.

Kamke’s knowledge of the Scottish game also extended to knowing that Stefan Klos was also once at Rangers.

Mr Martin need not take offence. We’ve all done it in our day.

My most spurious association between another sport and the SPL came when I once got West Indies cricketer Carl Hooper talking about how good a goalkeeper former Scotland all-rounder Andy Goram was.

How I managed it, I do not know. I’ve even less of a clue how it ever made it into print.

Wednesday
The CONCACAF Gold Cup deserves an award of its own for being the most tongue-twisting tournament name in “soccer”.

Of course, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Gold Cup would be even more of a mouthful. So CONCACAF it is.

Many of those participating are instantly recognisable. Well into Thursday morning, USA beat Panama 1–0 in the semi-finals, a goal created by Landon Donovan (ex-Everton) and scored by Clint Dempsey (Fulham).

In the other semi, Mexico defeated Honduras 2–0 in extra-time, goals from Aldo de Nigris (one of 14,629 players linked with a summer move to Celtic) and Javier Hernández, “El Chicharito” of Manchester United.

So Sunday sees USA play Mexico in the decider at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, the third successive Gold Cup final between two nations who have won nine of the ten Gold Cups contested since this biennial tournament was instigated in 1991.

You can’t help but think Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Jamaica, Grenada, Cuba, Honduras, Guadeloupe, Guatemala and Panama are there just to give the big two somebody to play, other than each other.

Thursday
Not the best of starts to the day with the news that my friend and former colleague John Quinn had died.

By coincidence, one of those John wrote about and followed featured in the Great Britain Olympic football team debate.

After the British Olympic Association jumped the gun by announcing that the associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would support a Team GB soccer side at the 2012 Games – and were instantly and suitably rebuked for their potentially dangerous press announcement – there was plenty written about who would, who could, and who wouldn’t wear the red, white and blue next summer.

But some had a bit of fun with the whole thing, the Daily Mail for one – they amassed a tidy number of scribes and ex-players to give their all-time British XI, with some interesting selections and even more interesting takes on criteria of selection.

Michael Walker, in particular, limited his selection to those who had never played in either a World Cup or European Championship, and came up with a mixed bag which included Jimmy Johnstone, Celtic and Scotland – “Jinky” to many, including John Quinn.

But Johnstone did go to a World Cup, in 1974 in West Germany, albeit as a non-appearing member of the 22 which climbed aboard the plane. Or in his case, the rowing boat.

Still worth a read, though.

Friday
Up early and straight online. The next batch of Olympic 2012 tickets was up for grabs. Good luck to those who succeeded.

But to be reading a “We cannot process your request” message on the official site at 6:01am because it had been weighed under by the sheer volume of interested parties raises the question yet again of how prepared or transparent the ticketing process has been for the London Games.

Not that I held out much hope anyway. But I will be there in either body or spirit.

So I’ve already put in motion the plans I revealed several weeks ago to hire a submarine and take it in to shallow waters around Weymouth Bay for the sailing – or I could just buy another 60-inch plasma.

Or, even more unbelievable, I could get back into training…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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

The Copa del Rey – a bit bashed Picture: Erik1980

By Stewart Weir

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

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

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

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

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will step up? Hopefully not some clown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

<em>Picture: Woodley Wonder Works</em>

Picture: Woodley Wonder Works

The nation was flabbergasted to find no mention of the Calman Omission at First Minister’s Questions in parliament this week. The cognoscenti among you will recall that, at a time of great debate about dependence or independence, Calman looked at every constitutional option – er, except independence. Only in Scotland.

Some form of his recommendations are now being granted by Westminster and, soon, Scotland will have control over air-guns and responsibility for raising a third of its pocket-money. Whoop-de-doo.

You’d have thought Elmer Fudd, aka Iain Gray, leader of the Labour & Unionist Party, would have taken the opportunity to get us down on our knees in gratitude for such munificence from London. But, in an inspired move, he decided to bang on about bobbies on the beat, a subject that’s been done to death.

He asked: “Will the First Minister agree that his much-promised 1,000 bobbies on the beat are actually bobbies in the backroom?”

Ecksworth Salmond, the First Minister, said there were record numbers of “pleese” in Scotland: 1,190 more than when the Nats took office, and 1,190 more than promised by Labour at the last election. He said everyone at local authority level welcomed this, “except” – and here he deepened his voice theatrically – “the Labour Party”.

Elmer claimed many of the new bobbies were doing civvie jobs – isn’t that a decision for the copular authorities? – and cited an apparently real-life detective (Lab) being made to retire after 30 years so that cheaper replacements could be brought in. Comrade Fudd seemed to think Eck had made the decision personally. But isn’t 30 years the upper limit of service in the police? As Sherlock Holmes might have put it: “I detect cack here, Watson.”

Mr Fudd continued: “When I was justice minister” – gales of appreciative laughter – “we worked to rid hundreds of police officers from backroom work in order to do their jobs on the street.” Yes, I remember it well. You couldn’t move for bobbies crowding the pavements.

The First Eck cited the Scottish Police Federation’s praise for the increased numbers, and noted that only some local authorities – “the Labour ones” – were thrawn about the whole thing.

The nation’s favourite thrawn cocktail, Annabel Goldie, paid tribute to public service workers, and urged folk to look after elderly neighbours. The Conservative and Unionist leaderene ululated: “This is a time for us all to muck in.” I got a wee warm glow from all this. Forget the party political stuff. The positivity and Clydebank Blitz spirit reflected well on Annabel, whom Eck praised for “turning to the dominant issue this week”.

However, in a shock move, the First Eck added this bombshell announcement: “I don’t like to single out individual newspapers but the Sun‘s double-page spread on sub-zero heroes … is an example that people in this parliament should read.”

Hell’s ringtones, that was taking the spirit of solidarity too far. Mind you, I did like the recent Sun headline about Tommy Sheridan getting rid of his lawyers for the umpteenth time: “Tommy drops his briefs again.” Phnaar-phnaar.

It was titters out for the boy when young Tavish Scott, leader of the Liberal & Unionist Party, asked why other airports were open but Edinburgh was not. Quoth Tavoid: “The First Minister’s Government is pushing Scotland as a winter fun destination” – that’s a joke, right? – “so what will the government do to make sure that Scottish airports have appropriate winter contingency plans?”

Eck made noises about the exceptional conditions, when he should have said: “What de ye want me tae dae? Dig it oot wi a shuffel masel?”

Impish Patrick Harvie (Green) said some public sector employees, who couldn’t make it to work, were being threatened with disciplinary procedures. Eck said if Patrick could give detailed examples, he’d boot said employers up the arse. I am paraphrasing here.

Ian McKee (SNP) wanted to know about government plans for tackling sectarianism. Eck said there’d been progress – eh, how long have I been asleep? – and cited the welcoming of the Pope and the all-faith commemoration of the Reformation.

Dr McKee said the key was to get faith and non-denominational schools to engage in joint activities, “to work and play together, thus forming friendships across the religious divide”. Aye, I’ll have some of what you’re smoking, mate.

Ted Brocklebank (Con), last seen excavating his beak on live television as he sat behind Annabel, said it did little to dowse the flames of sectarianism in football “when chairmen of prominent Scottish clubs go on television to demand the sacking of individual referees”. This was a reference to John Reid, the Celtic chairman and former Labour minister in London who, according to his critics, was happy with gross porkies about weapons of mass destruction but furious about a dozy referee lying about a bad decision.

Eck stuttered uncertainly: “You know, I will shimmy – sidestep – around the requirement to interfere in the internal affairs of the Scottish Football Association.” However, he added boldly: “I believe that, following due process, they have come to the right decision.” This concerned Hugh Dallas, the SFA’s head of referee development, who was developed out the door for passing on an irreverent email about the Pope.

Talking of irreverence, the back-benchers kept coming at FMQs, and this was a good thing, since the nation never sees them otherwise. Christine Grahame (SNP) asked Eck to share her delight at seeing Scottish schoolchildren getting fresh air as they cavorted about in the snow. It’ll be the ruin of them. I spent my entire childhood outdoors and it did me no good whatsoever.

My old friend Margaret Smith (Lib Dem) is another breath of fresh air. Margaret and I have a long-standing disagreement as to whether or not she walks like WPC Ruby Gates out of the old St Trinian’s films. She denies the allegation. At FMQs, she was concerned about the possible closure of a leisure centre in her constituency, and Eck sympathised, while noting that public services were under extreme financial pressure.

Robert Brown (Lib Dem) is another girning Geordie in the Mike Rumbles mould, though at least Mike’s head is normal. With his combover held down by a brick, Robert wanted to know where Eck stood on the question of a single Scottish police force. Eck said various options were under review.

Richard Baker (Lab), the member for Toytown, was keen on a single force. But Eck questioned his expertise, recalling how the posturing clot had issued a statement referring to the seven police force areas in Scotland. Eck: “Of course, there are eight police areas in Scotland. It may be useful to know how many there are before he considers abolishing them all.”

The picture of Hugh Dallas from Bonkle shown in joke emails

The picture of Hugh Dallas from Bonkle shown in joke emails

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
There are times when there is nothing else to do but channel hop, especially when you have a couple of fatigued children pinning you to the sofa. This was one such evening and after glimpsing various sports results shows, cooking programmes, police car chases and the likes, I stumbled on BBC Alba (channel 168 on Sky) and their delayed transmission “lowlights” of the Aberdeen v St Johnstone game. With the volume down (so as not to disturb the Weir weans who may have thought it was Padraig Post) I watched the latter stages of the second-half, where Aberdeen succumbed to self-inflicted damage, namely losing a player and then an own goal. I also succumbed, and turned up the volume only to realise that Aberdeen look and sound as bad in Gaelic as they do in English…

Sunday
Using the same logic and methodology employed by the nation’s football fans since 1967, Scotland wake up champions of the world having beaten South Africa at Murrayfield the previous day. Okay not quite the same as that Wembley triumph, but nevertheless a win greatly appreciated by many. Hero was again stand-off Dan Parks, who kicked all 21 points to see off the ‘Boks, ending (in big game terms) a year which had seen him also picking up three Man of the Match awards during the 2010 Six Nations championship. Not bad for someone who a year and a bit ago, was branded a dud and faced public ridicule.

Monday
Like gross and net, I’m always confused by probability and possibility. But then most people are when it comes to a threatened strike. So the working week begins the possibility or probability of Scotland’s referees being on strike for this weekend’s matches. While hardly a Red Robbo, I have never been averse to walk-outs and strikes. Sometimes, it is a last resort, born out of frustration, and the referees are obviously upset at criticism from certain quarters especially that their integrity is being called in to question.

Sorry, but it was Dougie MacDonald who admitted he lied, and he’s kept his job. So what are folk supposed to think?

I’m of a generation where hitting the street was the thing to do and meant something, usually, that the same problem would arise further on when there was even less room for negotiation. In real terms though, this threat ranks alongside panto dames and ark builders taking industrial action. I hardly foresee this being the most committed of strikes. I mean, you’ve no chance of seeing pickets or a picket line forming outside Parkhead. But think of the crowd that would attract. And I would pay handsomely (as my imagination runs wild) to see those pickets dispersed in the same fashion as they were at the Orgreave coking plant back in May ’84. Of course that would never happen, as we are comparing the historical industrial importance here between miners and mere minors …

Tuesday
The referees strike threat is still real, with no sign of compromise or climbdown. But the conspiracy theorists have a field day when it emerges that following Gillian McKeith’s dramatic collapse on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me An Agent Who’ll Get Me To Do Anything To Get My Name Out There, under-fire ref Dougie MacDonald awards Rangers a penalty.

Wednesday
I meet up with friends and acquaintances from south of the Border who are up for the Champions League game at Ibrox, bemused to a man by the whole refereeing saga, and more by the emerging prospect of overseas officials being flown in. What if the cheap, foreign imports are better, last longer, and come with a guarantee and warranty? Early indications are though that referees from abroad want to show solidarity with their fellow whistlers, brothers, comrades and lodge members. Neither do they wish to be branded “scabs” as it is bad enough being called “useless bastards” on a weekly (if not daily) basis. The SFA hopes of hiring referees from Europe and Scandinavia are dashed when Iceland quickly withdraw their stock, along with Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury …

Thursday
For those who think Neil Lennon has over-reacted towards referees, think again. Southport amateur footballer Joseph Rimmer, 28, was sent off in a Sunday League game by ref David Harkness. Rimmer returned, driving his Range Rover onto the pitch, causing terrified players and spectators to scatter and Mr Harkness to realise adrenaline is brown. After performing a series of 360 degree “doughnuts”, Rimmer jumped from his vehicle and shaped his hands as if shooting Harkness (who by this point must have shit himself). Judge Brian Lewis jailed Rimmer for 24 weeks and banned him from driving for two years. There is no word yet on what action the Southport Sunday League Association are likely to take. Or on whether Mr Rimmer is considering an appeal through the video review panel.

Friday
And my dulcet tones (some would say drones) are broadcast across the nation on BBC Radio Scotland’s Call Kaye programme, my contribution to the referee’s debate and in particular the allegation directed at the Scottish Football Association’s head of referee development Hugh Dallas. According to a tabloid paper, an email was sent from the internal SFA account belonging to the former first whistler containing an image of a school crossing sign with a silhouette of an adult holding a child’s hand and the word “caution” along with the date of the Pope’s visit to Scotland on 16 September.

Depending upon your religious beliefs, what foot you kick with, what axe you may have to grind, or whether you have a sense of humour, you may have found the said image deeply offensive, highly contentious or mildly amusing, or equal measures of all of the above. For the record, I received the same email and text several times over (although not from Hugh Dallas).

Pressure had of course increased on Dallas (and the SFA) after the Catholic Church in Scotland intervened and demanded Dallas be sacked if it was proved he had passed on this “tasteless message.’ Funny, I can’t recall the Catholic Church going on picket duty around Scottish theatres demanding certain comedic talents clean up their acts. But then, Hugh Dallas isn’t paid – publicly or privately – for generating laughs, even if some of his members are hilariously funny. Remember, serious as it may be, the point here (according to one of my employment lawyer friends) isn’t whether an individual is sectarian or anti-Catholic. It’s whether they have breached the Code of Conduct prescribed by their employers. And negotiations arising are not always made public.

Any mention of the Lanarkshire-based former official always bring a smile to my face as I recall the words of the late and much-missed Jim Blair. It was always the desire of “Sundance” to turn up at a match where “Hugh Bonkle of Dallas” was to have been in charge. For the record, Bonkle, sorry Dallas, officiated at two World Cups, in 1998 and 2002, after which he was the “victim” of a much-circulated email (see photograph attached) which, I seem to recall allegedly coming from (if you believed the email’s claimed header and address, that is) the offices of the Catholic Church in Scotland “proving that all referees were indeed Masons bastards in disguise”.

Depending upon your religious beliefs, what foot you kick with, what axe you may have to grind, and whether you have a sense of humour, you may have found my last comment deeply offensive, highly contentious or mildly amusing, or equal measures of all the above.

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Celtic run up a 9-0 win over Aberdeen, who I noticed, will be playing host to the Scotland v Samoa Autumn Test in a few weeks at Pittodrie. Obviously, the Aberdeen players wanted to get in the mood for that fixture by experiencing a rugby score of their own …

Sunday
Honours in the first capital derby of the season go to Hearts who beat city rivals Hibs 2-0, with victory sealed thanks to stunning run and finish from David Templeton, son of Henry, the Ayr United hero of yesteryear. Templeton Snr reveals later in the week to readers of the Scottish Sun that his laddie was named after Rangers legend Davie Cooper. “Cooper was my hero,” said Henry. “I had to name one of my boys after him and it turned out Davie got it.”

Really. Not Wullie or Tam?

Joking apart, Templeton’s goal was a magic moment, seeing a Scots winger dribbling in the direction of the opposition goal. Unfortunately, the match was also memorable for Derek Riordan’s criminal tackle on Rudi Skacel, while everyone would like to forget the scenes which saw Skacel and Kevin Kyle pelted by coins, lighters and cans, while flares were also thrown on to the pitch. Had the same thing happened in an Old Firm game and not just a game shown on live TV and reported by every news outlet in the land, questions would already have been asked in the Scottish Parliament, police would be demanding an 8.00am kick-off and some university graduate would have wangled money from somewhere to research religious intolerance in the community.

'The Equatorial Jungle' by Henri Rousseau: Linford not pictured

'The Equatorial Jungle' by Henri Rousseau: Linford not pictured

Monday
Since the passing of Ray Alan earlier this year (which is probably why we haven’t seen much of Lord Charles either), the search has been on for a decent ventriloquist. Let me then put forward McLaren F1 boss Martin Whitmarsh, who following a 1-2 finish in the Brazilian Grand Prix which saw his team beaten to the constructors’ world championship by Red Bull, passed on congratulations “on behalf of all at Woking” to “all at Milton Keynes,” presumably through gritted teeth.

Tuesday
It’s emerged that Linford Christie, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics 100m sprint champion, is to be one of the contestants in the forthcoming annual running of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me An Agent Who’ll Get Me To Do Anything To Get My Name Out There jungle jape. Others with a sporting connection included in the double D (for desperate)-list of contenders are Sheryl Gascoigne (ex-wife of the ex-England star Paul), Britt Ekland, whose ex Rod Stewart is a celebrity Celtic fan and therefore will claim to know plenty about the Jungle, and some guy called Santos, which was of course Pele’s old club team.

Health and safety rules withstanding, celebs will be rewarded with “real” food should they manage to munch their way through a selection of crocodile eyes, live silk worms, witchetty grubs, crocodile foot, and kangaroo testicles, penis and anus. With such delights on offer, producers should pay particular attention to Christie, who for years was noted for sneaking a lunchbox into his Team GB shorts …

Wednesday
Jeanfield Swifts footballer Kenny Morrison is sentenced to three years after being caught with nearly £30,000 of cocaine. The 29-year-old was nabbed by the law with the half-kilo stash in his works van which he said was to be sold to his teammates. I am reliably informed that the arrest took place thanks to undercover work by drug squad officers, and not because suspicion was aroused when one of the players scored with a flying header while 45-feet off the ground …

Thursday
I am genuinely saddened by the news that Jim Farry, the former SFA Chief Executive, has died after a heart attack, aged 55. Equally sad, is that he will probably be remembered more for his handling of events following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the delayed registration of Jorge Cadete to Celtic, which ultimately led to his demise from the SFA, than any of the great work he did as an administrator.

My first dealings with him came when I was dispatched to Park Gardens – or the “House on the Hill” – for regular Sunday press briefings, where a thesaurus was a better companion than a Rothmans Yearbook when meeting the-then Secretary of the SFA. In the early 90’s, during my Evening Times times, I regularly had to call him for clarification on the SFA’s stance – or maybe his – when live Scottish Premier League matches blacked-out all because an obscure game was being played somewhere within British costal waters.

Fans, and those who had paid subscriptions to satellite channels, grew to dislike Farry, and cared not whether he was right or wrong. Checking back my jottings on one occasion, I noticed that he’s managed to answer ten of my dozen questions by referring me to the goings on of the Executive and General Purposes Committee of the Scottish Football Association. I then found myself on the mailing list for their minutes, arguably the most tedious read in sport. Don’t ever say Jim Farry didn’t have a sense of humour.

I bumped in to him a few times at Murrayfield, where away from football, he was perfectly pleasant and chatty, not in the slightest bit aloof as was sometimes his image when back in official blazer and tie. That didn’t help him when compassion was called for, most notably when the rest of the country mourned the death of Diana, and he was adamant that Scotland’s World Cup match with Belarus at Pittodrie would go ahead, on the day of her funeral.

In the most bizarre week I experienced as a newspaper journalist, the Scottish Mirror portrayed Farry, front page as a Teletubby (the red one), while our London desks were just outraged that one man could show such callousness. Only when strike action was threatened by the Rangers trio of McCoist, Goram and Durie was there any climbdown. But by then, the general public had nothing but distain for Jim Farry.

Eighteen months later, his tenure was at an end, brought down by the tenacity of someone equally as stubborn and legally in the right, Celtic owner Fergus McCann, and an independent commission who found Farry guilty of deliberately delaying the registration of Jorge Cadete and preventing him from playing in a crucial Cup tie against Rangers. It is baffling how flawed Jim’s judgment was on that occasion. It is also sad, and some might say typical, that those two instances overshadowed his dedication and diligence while working (and I’ve omitted the word “for’) the SFA administration.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since Jim Farry left office, Scotland hasn’t reached the finals of a major championship. Farry never picked a team or kicked a ball. But when it came to negotiating our playing schedule, how often did Scotland face their toughest away matches early in the campaign, leaving us with an easier home tie to win at the end? A classic example of what went unnoticed being his true value to Scottish football. My thoughts go to Elaine, Alyson and Ewan.

Friday
I’m alerted by an associate (for professional reasons only) that the WAG’s (that’s wives and girlfriends for my Morningside reader) of Dundee have decided to disrobe for a charity calendar to help the ailing club. So the girls have stripped down to their scants and their undies (see peachfur.com to research further) for the cause. For those who keep up with this column, do I hear a chorus of “Well we love Dundee and we love Dundee …?” I am sure that even some Arabs (and I mean those from further down the street) may even dig deep in their pockets and show some solidarity, although not necessarily in that order. There was, but of course, a stock picture taken with girls wearing Dundee shirts, which a Mr. Mellor of Putney was willing to pay top dollar for…

Lionel Messi: How would he have fared in Scotland? <em>Picture: Darz Mol</em>

Lionel Messi: How would he have fared in Scotland? Picture: Darz Mol

By Stuart Crawford

Henry McLeish’s long-awaited report into the state of youth football development in Scotland is shortly to be published. It promises to be a lengthy tome, a root-and-branch assessment of why the foundations of the sport seem to be in such dire straits. A situation, many would say, which translates into the poor standards at senior level in Scottish football today.

I have no idea what Mr McLeish, a former professional footballer himself, is going to say, or what his recommendations will be. Or, indeed, whether the Scottish Government has the will to do anything about it anyway. If it did, where will the money that the game needs come from? But as a parent of a boy with a passion for football, I can make a few observations of my own.

First and foremost, it is clearly crazy that our football season runs through the winter. Over the last few months’ horrendous weather, senior-level football was plagued by cancellations. If it’s bonkers at senior level, then it’s even more bonkers at junior levels.

Nothing is guaranteed to put children off their chosen sport more than having to play it in the winter. More times than I care to remember, I have watched, soaked and freezing, as my son and his teammates, similarly soaked and freezing, have tried to inject some skill into chasing a waterlogged ball across a muddy pitch. That is, I should add, on the occasions when the game has not been cancelled on account of the weather and/or the state of the pitch.

If we are serious about raising the standard of football through youth development, then we either need to provide proper indoor facilities for training and matches, or change the season to play over the summer. The former, given the parlous state of public finances, is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future even if the political will to do it existed. Common sense dictates that a break over the winter, say from November to February inclusive, is the only way to go. Nobody has yet explained properly why this can’t be done.

Next, there seems to be a pathological fascination with muscular athleticism at the expense of raw skill and talent. This is particularly noticeable between the ages of 15 and 17, when the senior professional clubs begin to look seriously at who might have the aptitude to make it at senior level. Almost without exception, they choose the big, lumbering hulks over smaller, more skilful and talented, players whose growth will come later or possibly not at all. The end result? The “hoof it up the park and run after it” approach which so blights the Scottish game.

I have seen with my own eyes the most talented players in boys’ clubs who, through lack of bulk and stature, have been passed over. It’s been said often enough before, but if any of the diminutive wizards who make Barcelona the best club team in Europe – Messi, Xavi and Iniesta – were playing at youth level in Scotland today, they’d probably be overlooked because of their size. Strength and athleticism have their place, but not to the exclusion of innate skill and talent.

Finally, there is something fundamentally wrong with the SFA’s Youth Initiative programme, in which professional clubs are funded by the SFA to recruit and train youth teams comprising “elite” players. The recruitment is allegedly accomplished by creaming off the best from boys’ clubs across the country and providing them with concentrated and expert coaching at a higher level to ensure the proper support and training, enabling them to participate at senior professional level in due course.

All very laudable and sensible, you may say. But the problem is that Youth Initiative teams regularly compete against, and are beaten by, the top boy’s club teams. Teams funded by the SFA because of their “elite” status are often no better, and frequently less accomplished, than teams sustained by players’ subscriptions and parents’ fund-raising efforts. Something not quite right here?

We’ll never have a decent national football team, or decent players at professional level, if we don’t sort out how we handle youth development. I’m sure Henry McLeish’s report will mention all these issues and more.

If we get it right, then rather than the odd Darren Fletcher or James McFadyen percolating through, we could have a whole squad of talented individuals desperate to play for their country. That would go some way to restore national pride in what is, whether you like it or not, our national game.