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Asmir Begovic in action
(Picture: Creative Commons from Wikipedia)

Goalkeepers scoring goals was once limited to a select few. As a kid I recall Pat Jennings of Spurs scoring against Manchester United’s Alex Stepney in the Charity Shield game in 1967 and Peter Shilton doing the same that year for Leicester City against Southampton’s Scottish goalie Campbell Forsyth. Twenty-five years ago, Andy Goram became a Hibs goalscorer, his long punt deceiving Morton’s Davie Wylie.

 Andy Goram defending the Scotland goal (Creative Commons)

Andy Goram defending the Scotland goal
(Creative Commons)

It wasn’t too difficult to recall such occasions, it was a rare event. But then (and I blame penalty-kick taking Hamish McAlpine myself) goalkeepers became glory hunters, throwing themselves in to attack at set pieces, some even become free kick experts, such as Jose Luis Chilavert of Paraguay. Still, nothing quite beats seeing one shotstopper beating his fellow defender of the pokey and custodian of the onion bag from long range.

On Saturday, it was the turn of former Celtic No.1 Artur Boruc to play the fall guy when Stoke’s Asmir Begovic scored from about 87 yards against Southampton. Needless to say, it was wind assisted, and helped greatly by an outrageous bounce. But a goal just the same, one that catapulted the Begovic to joint-top Stoke scorer this season. Remember, one!

Begovic was loathed to take praise or plaudits for his goal, adhering to the Goalkeeper’s Union Code of Conduct, paragraph 27, sub-section eight, which states: “You shall not celebrate at any misfortune that may befall one of your own.” For the record, paragraph 27, sub-section nine says: “Because you might be next …”

Within the Goalkeeper’s Union Code of Conduct, there is a section covering injury and how, regardless of personal wellbeing and health, you shall play on regardless, especially after a head knock. The wording for this is found within two section, ‘Bravery’ and ‘Stupidity.’

Hugo Lloris

Hugo Lloris

There is little doubting the bravery of keepers, hurling themselves in where other wouldn’t stick a wary boot, where one kick could have serious consequences. On Sunday, we saw the stupidity element in all its glory. Well most of us did. I can’t be certain Spurs ‘keeper Hugo Lloris knew much about anything after being knocked cold after colliding with Everton striker Romelu Lukaku.

When you consider the actions that have been taken within boxing around head injury, and more recently, the time and effort spent understanding and protecting rugby players from concussion and the after-effects, the actions of Lloris, the Spurs medical staff and manager Andre Villas-Boas to allow the Frenchman to play on appear foolhardy. No, says Villas-Boas, saying such talk is disrespectful to the Tottenham medical staff that helped save the life of Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba.

It might be an idea then for Spurs to rent out their medical staff for this season’s Six Nations, with the guarantee that no rugby player will be unavailable for selection or lost to concussion, or suffer long-term after-effects from head injuries. That’s not what Villas-Boas is saying? It is from here …

PrintNo one can say the SPFL haven’t been hard at it on the money making front. Just a month after naming Irn Bru the league’s official soft drink, a deal is struck with an online streaming provider to show 58 SPFL matches in China through PPLive TV.

A couple of things. Firstly, the £20m is part of a 10-year rights deal. So you can do the maths. Secondly, online streaming is not TV, therefore your potential audience is greatly reduced. This is something I know all about from past experience. So maybe not as extensive as some would have you believe. Still, First Minister Alex Salmond said it heralded “a bright future”.

He is of course the boss of Nicola Sturgeon, who said at the time of the World Cup draw called it “not bad.” You can perhaps see where my scepticism stems from …

A good 'percentage' of tickets sold

A good ‘percentage’ of tickets sold

I read with interest that of Glasgow 2014 tickets sold this far, 57% have been bought by people living in Scotland, 40% from other parts of the United Kingdom and the remainder from non-Commonwealth countries, with tickets to Commonwealth nations coming from an additional pot.

But overall, 70% of the Glasgow 2014 tickets were made available to the public, while organisers reserved 9% for the Commonwealth Games associations and the Commonwealth Games Federation, sponsors and broadcast partners accounted for 8% and 7% of the tickets respectively, while one ticket in 20 was retained for “contingency” and 1% reserved for Games partners.
An interesting breakdown. But why deal in percentages rather than real numbers?

Because percentages are seldom challenged where true figures demand answers? Sorry, just that scepticism again ….

Former Hibs manager John Collins is behind Terry Butcher’s proposed switch from Inverness Caley Thistle to Easter Road. I never knew Collins disliked Butcher that much …

The recriminations about who started, and who was guilty of what in Amsterdam before and after Celtic’s Champions League clash against Ajax are in full swing.

Celtic LogoAs a journalist on such occasions, you write what you see. Video and photographs are not always reliable, either because of the editing or the context they are shown in. For football writers especially, being asked to comment on street violence is a thankless task, usually because you are miles away from the unwanted action. But in this world of instant access and comment through Twitter and Facebook, the legitimate excuse of ‘I didn’t see anything’ really wasn’t enough for some.

Some of my ilk were called blind, one-eyed, biased, even liars by those who believe that football journalists actually have access to satellite images, CCTV and helmet cams from around the globe whilst their actual job is trying to watch and write about Celtic scoring. Just because you are at a game doesn’t mean you know what’s happening through the wall behind you.

Take Manchester, May, 2008 and the UEFA Cup Final. It’s impossible for some to comprehend that I didn’t see any violence, rioting, hooliganism, police brutality or the likes that afternoon or evening. I was at the stadium from just after four in the afternoon, didn’t leave until midnight, and headed south, then north, to avoid motorway congestion. Yes, my desk had called to say there was trouble. But it wasn’t until the six o’clock news the following evening that I saw any evidence of trouble.

ajax-logoEven when you are at a game, there are things you miss. One returning to the Mirror office after an Old Firm game I was asked what I had for the back page on Gazza’s flute playing at Parkhead.

The fact it occurred for a few seconds only in the midst of a furious Celtic-Rangers clash, while trying to find out the name of Andy Goram’s sadly-departed ‘auntie’ and was really only viewable to those behind one goal, or to those tucked up nice and cosy in their warm office with access to Sky’s beautifully slow-motioned images (a) for impact and b) to actually have sufficient seconds to broadcast) was lost on some.

“What the f*** were you doing?” I was asked.

“Watching and writing about the game,” I replied.

Sorry, but I WAS doing my job.

Unacceptable to some then, just as ‘I saw nothing in Amsterdam’ is unacceptable to some today …

The morning after the night before is likely to have been the same as the morning before the night before for jump jockey Tony McCoy. In a time when the word ‘legend’ is tossed around too easily in every walk of life, but especially sport, ‘AP’ could wear that label and bar several times over.

Tony McCoy - 4,000 wins  A true gentleman of racing (Creative Commons)

Tony McCoy – 4,000 wins
A true gentleman of racing
(Creative Commons)

On Thursday he rode his 4000th winner, a testament to his durability and dedication.

Not many other than jockeys would keep their body at a skeletal weight for their sport, apart from perhaps boxers. McCoy’s diet of cups of tea, some jelly beans and ‘the odd’ bit of grilled fish or chicken means there is little in the way of flesh around his bones, let alone fat.

I have met him once. He is sporting royalty, but after a few minutes of handshakes and pleasantries he departed having made the invited assembly feeling like he was honoured to have met them. That really doesn’t happen too often in sport, particularly in the company of busy, top-of-their-form ‘legends.’

And did McCoy, like so many would have done, ponder how he was going to cash in? No, not a bit of it. Instead he McCoy phoned Sir Peter O’Sullevan, the legendary voice behind horse racing, to offer him the riding boots he had worn when claiming win No.4000 on Mountain Tune at Towcester.

Maybe McCoy hasn’t heard of Ebay. And maybe he hasn’t heard how superstars are supposed to act. A very grounded individual, except when it comes to cajoling a ton of horseflesh over jumps ….

BBC Sport — usually right?

There are many who hang on the word of the BBC for their sporting information. And a most reliable service they provide. But in churning out so many results, scores, flashes and words, occasionally someone, somewhere will get it wrong.

The Davis Cup

The Davis Cup

The more discerning and observant user of the Beeb’s website may have noticed a couple of instances where the pressure of delivery and deadline just got to some operatives. Take the Davis Cup tennis for instance. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having a double-take when the tweet came through on the progress of Great Britain versus Croatia, namely; “@BBCSport: Croatia take third set tie-break 8-6, but England lead 2-1 #bbctennis.”

It was quickly deleted and amended, though possibly, would have been forgivable a few years ago had GB been represented by a Tim, or a Buster, or someone from the Home Counties like Greg Rusedski. Unfortunately, the England, sorry, Great Britain flag was being flown at that very minute by Andy Murray and Colin Fleming who, as we all know, are Scots. Still, no-one was hurt, unlike the feelings of the wee lassie who failed her examinations on history and geography in the same tweet.

Talking of hurt, some of us were left wondering what almighty blow someone in Glasgow must have taken to the head, or what they had sampled or sniffed, when we read about events at Firhill as Aberdeen took a two-goal lead against Partick Thistle. “GOAL- Partick 0-2 Aberdeen (Pawlett 19mins); Aberdeen would give Arrigo Sacchi’s famous AC Milan side a run for their money on this early first-half form.”

Now given my tacky-tabloid background, I have, I confess, been prone to the odd bit of exaggeration now and again. But this was quite literally Serie A-grade fantasy. Still, it did keep me amused on Saturday afternoon. Unlike Sky’s offering the next day …

… which was of course the English Premier League meeting between Southampton and West Ham United, instantly forgettable, and exactly what Sky +’s fast-forward was made for. I’m often quick to praise what is served up by England’s top flight. But this, in all honesty, gave tripe a bad name …


Commonwealth Games Tickets over-subscribed

Commonwealth Games
Tickets over-subscribed

There are one million Commonwealth Games tickets available for Glasgow 2014. Today we find out that more than 2.3 million requests have been made for the briefs, with diving, swimming, athletics, cycling, gymnastics, judo, shooting and triathlon all oversubscribed, with tickets for these sports to be allocated via a draw.

So, for many, it will have been a case of book early to guarantee disappointed …

Stephen Lee began the 2002/03 professional snooker season ranked provisional world No.1. Today, he is firmly established as snooker’s No.1 cheat.

Lee, who had been suspended by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association for almost a year, was found guilty of match-fixing charges, described by authorities as “the worst case of snooker corruption we’ve seen.” The former world No.5 was accused that at the 2008 Malta Cup he conspired to lose to Ken Doherty and Marco Fu while also conspiring to lose to Neil Robertson by a pre-determined 5-1 score.

Stephen Lee Guilty of Cheating (pic: creative commons)

Stephen Lee
Guilty of Cheating
(pic: creative commons)

Lee was also charged that at the UK Championship that same year he agreed to lose the first frame in matches against Stephen Hendry and Mark King, while the following year he lost matches at the China Open and World Championship to Mark Selby and Ryan Day respectively, again by a pre-arranged score. That was the case, substantiated by the players who opposed Lee in those games, one claiming that Lee made no effort to win either frames or matches.

Lee protested his innocence, but Sport Resolutions, an independent body specialising in sports arbitration, said the bets placed on the seven matches were “substantially successful.” For ‘substantially successful’ read £40,000 paid into his wife’s bank account, and excluding possible cash-in-hand transactions.

Anyone who has hung around snooker long enough will have their own ideas and tales of suspected match-rigging, from the old pro ticket days, through to dodgy qualifying results and all kinds of tales about what went on in round-robin-based tournaments, which is probably where Ronnie O’Sullivan was coming from as well before he backtracked on his accusations.

In the real world, the verdict on Lee will be delivered next week, along with countless epitaphs and memorials on what had been his career …

September 18: that date will be etched in to Scottish history in 12 months time, the date of the Independence Referendum.

Today, 365 days before we put our cross in the box, there are all sorts of events, speeches and announcements to acknowledge the countdown, one of which is of a hugely sporting nature. Scottish Sports Minister Shona Robison says Scotland will press ahead with plans to have Olympic and Paralympic teams at Rio in 2016, if the country votes for independence this time next year.

Shona Robison MSP Scottish Sports Minister

Shona Robison MSP
Scottish Sports Minister

This proclamation saw a resurrection of all the claims about how successful Scotland was at London 2012, with various ill-informed folk reeling off all the Scots medal winners in various sports, and detailing we’d have finished 12th in the overall medal table. What they again seem to have missed – just as they did 12 months ago – was the number of medals that Scots won as individuals; not as members of teams, boats, or partnerships with other representatives from elsewhere in the British Isles.

That totalled just three, albeit good ones, with Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy winning gold and a silver for swimmer Michael Jamieson. That is more 36th than top 12, behind Azerbaijan, those pesky Norwegians we’re always being likened to, Usain Bolt, Iran and North Korea. What could we learn from them? And, we haven’t even touched on who amongst the current crop of athletes would stay loyal to Team GB rather than represent Scotland.

Robison however said more Scots would get the chance to participate in Brazil and in future Olympic Games if independence became a reality. Remind me. This announcement was about sport, not trying to claim votes?


Usain Bolt may appear at the Commonwealth Games (Pic: Nick Webb, Creative Commons)

Usain Bolt may appear at the Commonwealth Games
(Pic: Nick Webb, Creative Commons)

Mentioning Usain Bolt, today he gave his clearest hint yet that he will compete at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. That good news however was tempered by his suggestion that he will only run in the 200m. I suppose this news could be the way of determining whether someone was a pessimist or an optimist.

He intends running over just one distance, yes, but it’s double what he would have run had he just contested the 100m. See, pessimist, optimist. Being a pessimist or an optimist though will firstly come down to whether you had applied for tickets to watch the 100m or 200m. Still, there is always bowls …

Lastly, Fulham are to return the statue of Michael Jackson from outside Craven Cottage to the club’s former owner Mohamed Al Fayed. Al Fayed had the tribute to the late pop idol – who visited the ground in 1999 – placed on the approach to the Hammersmith Stand in 2011, but not surprisingly, its arrival divided opinions amongst fans and the wider football community.

So, as part of changes to the London venue following American businessman Shahid Khan’s £150m purchase of the club during the summer, Mr Al Fayed will have his Jackson effigy returned. Definitely an invite to Beat It …

Royal Birkdale – home of this year’s British Seniors Open
Pic: VisitBritain (Creative Commons)

For many, Saturday morning is spent disposing of the mess from the night before.

Steve Elkington Think before you Tweet

Steve Elkington
Think before you Tweet

However, not too many could have expected a major clear-up operation to be taking place at Royal Birkdale, home this week to the British Senior Open, after Australian golfer Steve Elkington decided to vent his feelings about Southport on Twitter. Elkington thumbed; “Things about Southport England … -fat tattooed guy -fat tattooed girl -trash -ice cream stored guy -Pakistani robber guy -shit food” Just to help his case, he then Tweeted on Saturday; “Couple of caddies got rolled by some Pakkis. Bad night for them.”

His comments were considered racist by most, foolish by many. Needless to say, explanations and excuses were quickly offered, though not entirely believed. Lee Westwood asked on Twitter; “I know it’s Friday night but how much has elk had to drink?”

I hope he had none. I’d hate him to have any excuse for what he said …

In recent weeks Sunday’s have seen some memorable sporting finishes and conclusions. I’m thinking here of Wimbledon, the Tour de France, The Open and the cricket, not to mention the odd Grand Prix. The British Senior Open just had to get in on the act as well, with its own memorable finale. Actually, better make the memorable for the wrong reasons.

Long-time leader Bernhard Langer came a cropper at the 72nd hole, dropping two shots and allowing Mark Wiebe to force a play off. With play having been suspended twice during the final round because of rain and lightening, the tournament was already running late. But organisers decided to press on for a finish. This was perhaps not the best decision ever made, and one likely to end in farce, given that before Langer and Wiebe had even got near the tee, my erstwhile colleague Euan McLean of the Sunday Mail noted that until now, he didn’t realise golf buggies had headlights!

Gary McAllister,   Derek Rae  and Darrell Currie at Hampden. Need for a caption competition

Gary McAllister, Derek Rae and Darrell Currie at Hampden. Need for a caption competition

Not surprisingly, after two additional holes and in near-dark, play was halted, with Wiebe clinching the title the next morning after the fifth extra hole – and after another PR disaster for golf …

There really should have been a caption competition and a prize to be had when former Scotland skipper Gary McAllister, commentator Derek Rae and presenter Darrell Currie attended Hampden for the launch of BT Sport’s SPFL coverage this season. I do wonder if Rae, given where he hails from, had his hand down the back of the couch to see if there was any loose change …

Talking of money, it seems Neil Lennon is a wee tad peeved that Celtic are being asked to pay over the odds when they go shopping for players.

Celtic Logo“With the money that we’ve brought in for Gary (Hooper) and Victor (Wanyama) sometimes the price all of a sudden seems to rise a bit,” said Lennon after paying around £3m for Ajax winger Derk Boerrigter.

As I said to Mike Graham on talkSPORT’s Extra Time, I couldn’t recall Celtic giving Southampton or Norwich City a discount on Wanyama and Hooper.

But then, regardless of what Celtic have in terms of usable cash, maybe clubs across Europe have wised up to the Parkhead club’s business model of buy players cheap, then selling them at a healthy profit.

Now, I am trying desperately to remember who it was who pointed out that strategy to everyone …

According to one report, half the clubs within Scotland’s all-new Premiership are reporting increased season ticket sales. I’m not sure about the terms and conditions, but will there be a rebate should any clubs be liquidated part-way through the season?

Just asking …

St johnstone FCWell done to St Johnstone for recording a great away win over FC Minsk in their Europe League qualifying tie. Playing in Europe is nothing new for the Saints, but I just hope they don’t get ahead of themselves as they did in the early 70’s when they considered a name change to SJ Perth to fit in with their new-found European status.

Maybe, just maybe, after the final in Turin. That’s in Italy, for those who haven’t been beyond Norway or Belarus …

Many will have woken up to the sad news that Colin McAdam had died, aged 61.

McAdam will forever have is place in Scottish football history having been the first player to have his transfer decided by tribunal when he moved from Partick Thistle to Rangers. Rangers offered £80.000. The Jags wanted £500,000. Lord Wheatley, Scottish League President Tom Lauchlan and SPFA secretary Harry Lawrie decided to meet in the middle – and McAdam moved for £165,000.

It was never, ever enough for Thistle fans. Neither would any supporter think 61 was ever enough either!

Andy Murray – Wimbledon Champion
(Creative Commons)

It doesn’t get much better than a Test decider against Australia for the British Lions and the Wimbledon finals.

John Inverdale Backhanded compliment?

John Inverdale
Backhanded compliment?

Carlsberg don’t do sporting weekends, but if they did you would have been forgiven for thinking BBC Radio 5 Live anchor John Inverdale had got to the bar first. If backhanded compliments were on a scale of one to 10, Inverdale hit Bartoli with a double-handed smash as he attempted to sum up her battling qualities that had just seen off Sabine Lisicki in the Ladies Final.

“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’” Inverdale asked the listeners, who were probably incapable of a reply as they had been stunned in to silence.

Had the airwaves been filled with the Potter’s Wheel interlude music to mask the sound of Inverdale being dragged out of the studio, few would have been shocked. The BBC would apologise for Inverdale’s insult, while he in turn would write his own sorry note to Bartoli. Many though, are still hoping he has enough ink left to pen a resignation letter as well …

Stuart Hogg Celebrating the Lions' Victory

Stuart Hogg
Celebrating the Lions’ Victory

On the other side of the world meanwhile, you could imagine the Carlsberg as well as several of the local brews being guzzled after the Lions Third Test victory over Australia. And who would have thought that a Scot, in the shape of Richie Gray, would feature more in securing that win than Lions legend Brian O’Driscoll?

It was no surprise that the partying lasted well into the night. And who would have thought that a Scot, in the shape of Stuart Hogg (pictured left), would feature in one of the lasting images from the post-match celebrations. Great to see that even in this professional era, rugby players are just the same as they’ve always been …

Earlier in the week, First Minister Alex Salmond had purchased a pair of season tickets for his beloved, and extremely troubled Hearts, then kindly donated them to a couple of fellow Jambos. Those thinking Mr Salmond might be equally generous when it came to handing out his Centre Court for the Men’s Final at Wimbledon were however, to be disappointed.

Salmond waves the Saltire (Creative Commons)

Salmond waves the Saltire
(Creative Commons)

He chose to join Prime Minister David Cameron in the best seats in the house to see Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets to become the first British male to win his home Grand Slam event since Fred Perry. As Murray held the trophy aloft, Mr Salmond unfurled a Saltire.

The actions of a proud Scot? Or a desperate act of jingoism? That probably depends which box you intend to stick your cross in come next September. Still, Salmond had to explain his actions, and said the flag had been in his wife Moira’s handbag.

Funny, I didn’t have her down as being a Sydney Devine fan …

And I’m a guest on BBC Scotland’s MacAulay and Co, joining Fred to chat about Murray’s win, and give an insight into to what happens to a sportsman in the aftermath of such a monumental success.

Should  tennis have been included in next year's games?

Should tennis have been included in next year’s games?

I’m not alone in having my say about the now two-time Grand Slam winner. Anyone remotely associated with the tennis ace is interviewed, although BBC Scotland performs something of a coup in having the champion’s mother, Judy, live from London.

After the normal platitudes, she was asked about next summer and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. No tennis?

Not surprisingly, she said reckoned that tennis should have been included, and added it would have been “huge” for the new Wimbledon champion to take part in his home country. The minutes from the meeting that decided tennis wasn’t for Glasgow should make interesting, maybe even slightly embarrassing reading now …

And the Nigerian Football Federation suspend four amateur teams involved in two weekend promotion deciders.

“It is unacceptable; this is a scandal of huge proportions,” NFF vice-president Mike Umeha announced after Plateau United Feeders hammered Akurba 79-0 while Police Machine thrashed Babayaro 67-0 in Division Three promotion play-offs.

Thanks for that Mike. But I think people might have guessed that five minutes in to each game …


Celtic's first match Timed to suit the broadcasters?

Celtic’s first match
Timed to suit the broadcasters?

And there is outrage when it is announced that Celtic will begin their Championship defence against Ross County, the game kicking-off at 5.15pm, another prime example of broadcasters being listened to ahead of supporters. Twelve months ago, when there were some prickly decisions to be made about Rangers, how many clubs gave those same supporters, or ‘customers’ as they were then known, a say in what happened? You might be fans for life. But you only get treated like customers when it suits the clubs. And that was last year …

Victor Wanyama completes his £12.5m move to Southampton. That completes an amazing piece of business for Celtic, who bought the Kenyan midfielder from Beerschot two years ago for just £900,000.

It’s also a ringing endorsement for the star-spotting capabilities of the Celtic scouting network, though I can’t help think that they might be a whole lot cheaper to buy those scouts than midfielders costing eight-figure sums …

While ‘The Weirdos’ – arguably the most irreverent (and cheapest) sporting awards around – are still a good five months off, I have to say it will take something special for the Royal Caledonian Curling Club not to win the ‘Only In Scotland’ title for 2013. They have decreed that teams selected for the 2014 Winter Olympics, should not compete in the world championships, and give three reasons why.

Eve Muirhead Current World Champion (Creative Commons)

Eve Muirhead
Current World Champion
(Creative Commons)

They say it is to keep athletes selected for Sochi totally focussed on that target; to allow the development of athletes not selected for Sochi; and lastly to enable the Royal Club flexibility in the scheduling of the Scottish Championships.

Those reasons might appear perfectly justified, apart from one minor detail. You see, Scotland has the reigning world champion in Eve Muirhead. But she won’t be world champion for much longer thanks to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and the criteria they have set out.

But have they not imagined the kudos that would go with being and Olympic and World Champion in the same year? Or imagined the celebrity status young Eve might achieve and enjoy, thus lifting the profile of the sport? Or imagined what that might do for the popularity of the sport?

Probably yes, along with imagining their own self importance …

Administrator Bryan Jackson woke up this morning with three groups bidding to take control of Hearts. Fans’ group the Foundation of Hearts, HMFC Ltd, who are financed by American group Club 9 Sports, and Five Stars Football Ltd, who list Angelo Massone, who left as Livingston owner in July 2009 when they were placed in administration, as one of their directors.

I have this mental image of Jackson, in his bathroom, whistling the theme tune to The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly while he’s having a shave. I don’t know why. I just do …

Ibrox – the 51st state? <em>Picture: mrsdkrebs</em>

Ibrox – the 51st state? Picture: mrsdkrebs

By Stewart Weir

As with any career, there are highs and lows during the lifetime of your average footballer, leading a rollercoaster existence.

One such player could be Maurice Edu, a well-mannered, ice cream-loving, Twitter-holic American boy who has had his ups and downs during his spell on the Clyde coast.

His winning goal in one crucial Old Firm game has long been forgotten, replaced for the best part of a year by real inconsistency

But this term, Edu has slowly grafted his way back to his best, capped at the weekend by a stunning strike against Dunfermline.

A week or so back, Edu was Ally McCoist’s pick as MVP (to give it its over-the-pond label) in the 4–2 win against Celtic, although some didn’t see that.

If that accolade and his goal at East End Park were good, it would get even better by the middle of this week when Edu was voted man of the match against Kilmarnock, so completing the transformation from whipping boy (not my description, but one used by a Radio Clyde pundit a few weeks back) to neighbourhood good guy.

I fancy his transformation could have something to do with him being surrounded by some of his own. The arrival of Carlos Bocanegra and Alejandro Bedoya could have made Maurice feel a little more homely.

I well remember Howard Wilkinson once telling me that he signed the Wallace brothers from Southampton, Rod for a million and a half to play up front, Ray for a hundred grand to keep Rod company. And he didn’t mean on the pitch.

Sure, Rangers did have DaMarcus Beasley on their books for a few seasons, but “Dawinger” was no more than a bit-part player during his time in Glasgow, who had his own issues to deal with.

It’s different for someone of Bocanegra’s standing, for instance. Craig Brown, who knew him from Fulham, gave me a glowing testimonial of someone he regarded as a top professional and player, suggesting Bocanegra’s experience – “you don’t play Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea or in front of 100,000 in Mexico City without learning” – would rub off on others.

Is Edu already benefiting? Well, he does look happier, and sounds happier, if his tweets are anything to go by, bro…

It’s obvious that the Stars and Stripes contingent are enjoying it in Glasgow currently, although I can’t get this picture out of my head of that triumvirate, living together under the one roof, something akin to the Beatles, the Young Ones – or, as it’s a trio, maybe the Goodies.

Fun, fun, fun all the way, conveniently ignoring Malmö, Maribor and Falkirk…

I could write something about Scotland losing to Argentina in the Rugby World Cup, but that’s too depressing, or about Sebastian Vettel nearly clinching the F1 world championship again, but that’s too predictable.

But I must mention Europe beating USA to win the Solheim Cup, and in particular the drama of those final three singles matches.

However, away from the limelight, there is sad news that United Arab Emirates winger Theyab Awana has been killed in a car crash aged just 21.

His name may not be instantly recognised, but most football fans will be aware of what he famously did, something that will keep his memory alive for many years to come.

Congratulations are in order when it’s announced that the Mansfield Town owner is to marry the club’s chief executive.

No, it’s not like that. John Radford will wed CEO Carolyn Still, a real Mr and Mrs, the news coming just weeks after her appointment when she denied being in a relationship with the chairman.

Obviously after a couple of half-time pies she changed her mind. But it will be interesting to see how that relationship works out.

Which made me wonder if perhaps this might not have been a better way for Craig Whyte and Martin Bain to resolve their differences…

Kettering strikers Moses Ashikodi and Jean-Paul Marna show just a wee bit too much passion as their side goes down 5–3 to Hayes & Yeading in their Blue Square Premier League game.

Both throw punches and are sent off. Not what any manager wants to see, especially when the team-mates had a (Blue) square go at each other.

Trouble flared when Ashikodi missed a penalty, which Marna had wanted to take. Marna scored from the resulting corner, words were exchanged, as were a few blows, closely followed by two red cards.

Passions and tempers often run high within teams. Training ground flare-ups are common place. Less so during games, but when they occur, not surprisingly, they are well reported.

The first instance I can recall was the Charlton tag-team of Derek Hales and Mick Flannigan having to be pulled apart after a disagreement following an offside call.

More recently, Graeme Le Saux and David Batty became “Le Sau-lt and Batty-ry” while on European duty with Blackburn, with Newcastle’s Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer also exchanging more than glances and Christmas cards.

And who could forget Hearts stopper Graeme Hogg coming off a distant second when he criticised his fellow centre-half for a goal conceded in a pre-season friendly against Raith Rovers?

Hogg got a ten-match ban and a broken nose, the aggressor a 14-game suspension.

Now what happened to the latter? Oh, that’s right. Isn’t he the current Scotland national team boss?

For those who haven’t seen me saying it before, I was told there was no such thing as a new story, only an old story presented to a new readership.

All the hullabaloo today is around Rangers’ owner Craig Whyte broadcasting his ambition to take Rangers to the English Premier League, or becoming part of an Atlantic League. Now where have I written or read that before?

Given that the top English clubs said no to developing the Championship (the Second Division in old money) into a “Premiership 2″ a couple of years ago, and that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas (who is going to vote themselves out to make way for either of the Old Firm?), and that Rangers are probably second in any queue behind Celtic, and that Manchester 2008 probably put Rangers’ case or cause back years, I think the chances of the Ibrox club being confused with those from Loftus Road in the near future are somewhat remote.

As for the Atlantic League, I wrote about it 20 years ago during my Evening Times days. Then, the Atlantic League would have the Old Firm, those sleeping giants (well, they were then) from the English north-east, Newcastle United and Sunderland, along with Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord from Holland, Anderlecht and Bruges from Belgium, and Swedes IFK Göteborg.

Unfortunately, the Atlantic League concept did a good impersonation of the Titanic, and disappeared.

Now it’s been trawled up from the depths again, a “new” story to some who haven’t heard it all before. Great if it happened. Or will there be some equally cynical lines being written another two decades from now?

Spirits lift in Scotland with news that two of England’s Rugby World Cup party have been banned from Saturday’s “must win” game (yes, “must win” matches are not solely the preserve of the national football team).

Spirits fall when they are named as kicking coach Dave Alred and fitness specialist Paul Stridgeon. And their crime? Ball-switching.

Rules state that you must use the same ball for the conversion as was used to score the try. But England changed it without asking the referee.

Apparently, kicker Jonny Wilkinson thought one of the balls being used was the wrong shape. Millions across the globe will be thinking that’s stating the obvious…

Celtic will be reflecting on their 1–1 draw with Udinese and how costly that late penalty might be to their Europa League ambitions.

But I wonder if their decision to kick off early in their tie against the Serie A outfit was also a costly exercise.

The crowd was guesstimated at 37,000 by some outlets last night, the swathes of empty green seats testament to many fans’ disgust at the hideous start-time.

OK, it’s not quite as bad as Motherwell’s midweek, mid-afternoon kick-off against Borussia Dortmund back in 1994. But six o’clock is no time to start a football match.

Of course, the switch was made for television. But how much would a TV company pay for that game, against the revenue Celtic missed out on from those absent fans?

Supporters have for too long been shunted around to accommodate TV companies and football clubs. Maybe last night’s distinct lack of crowd involvement and noise (and that’s from a Celtic diehard), and the end result might just make them, and others, think whether it was worth it or not.

Certainly in Sweden supporters have been determined to make clubs aware of just how important they are, both in terms or revenues and atmosphere

I’m sure the Green Brigade or Blue Order might have something to say.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (right) from Lochan na Brathan <em>Picture: Nigel Brown</em>

Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (right) from Lochan na Brathan Picture: Nigel Brown

Some responses and reactions to Monday’s announcement that a survey by the Munro Society (TMS) has suggested that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh in Fisherfield is not 916 metres in height as currently mapped, but 913.96m.

Given that the threshold for Munro status is 3,000ft – which converts to 914.4m – this would appear to indicate that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is below Munro height by 44cm (or 39cm, given that the surveyors claim a confidence interval of +/-5cm).

Whether or not any hill has a place in the list of the Munros is not, however, in the gift of TMS (founded 2002); it is decided by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (founded 1889 and publishers of the list since 1891). Thus far, the SMC’s stated line on the Beinn a’Chlaidheimh situation is that the club “has been notified of these survey results and has undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey [OS] update its map of the area.”

Here are a few thoughts on this from a variety of experienced hillgoers:

David Gibson, chief officer, Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Regardless of the measurement, I am sure our members would agree that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is a fine mountain and well worth a visit due to its fantastic location and views of An Teallach and the other delights of the Fisherfield wilderness. We look forward to seeing the future publication of the SMC’s Munros and Corbetts tables for the official verdict.

Robin Howie, multiple Munroist and hillwalking columnist in the Scotsman
The recent announcement is an interesting one for the four parties involved: the SMC, self-styled arbitrators in all matters Munro; TMS, new to the game and arguably elitist in only permitting membership to those who have climbed all the current 283 Munros; the OS who have confirmed the new height, albeit using TMS as unpaid surveyors; and lastly and by no means least the ordinary hillwalker.

The SMC’s stance – of having “undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey update its map of the area” – is a curious one. The height is now known, so the delay smacks of not being sure what to do when usurped by the Johnny-come-lately TMS.

TMS are now seen by many as the driving force in matters Munro, albeit acting as unpaid advisers to the OS – which, along with other government bodies, is abrogating its duties by offloading some of its work to unpaid charities and other societies.

And finally the hillwalker will do as he has always done: ignore the shenanigans and vote with his feet. When a previous Corbett was promoted to Munro status they went there in their droves… regardless of the SMC.

It is to be hoped, however, that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh will be just as popular as ever – to those on a Corbett round and to those who regard the hill as one of the finest peaks in Fisherfield, regardless of its height. For myself, I have still to climb the hill on this my tenth Munro round… and that I look forward to.

Ralph Storer, author of The Ultimate Guide to the Munros
Who’d be a writer of guidebooks to the Munros? As if the vagaries of Scottish weather didn’t increasingly reduce the number of days suitable for on-the-ground research, and the increasing cost of reaching the Munros not eat into royalties, it now seems that we may be climbing the wrong mountains.

You’d think the height of a mountain would be more or less immutable over the lifespan of a guidebook, but it is becoming apparent that the list of Munros is a moveable feast. We’re used to SMC worthies tinkering with the Tables to “rationalise” them – but, when even a long-standing OS height measurement can’t be relied on, the guidebook fraternity is in deep peat.

To cap it all, the new surveys always seem to result in a height decrease. Is it too much to ask the surveyors to give us some new Munros so we at least have an excuse to stimulate sales by publishing new editions? Would bribery help?

Steven Fallon, professional mountain guide and completer of 14 rounds of Munros –
All very interesting. We’ve had two trips to Fisherfield already this year to bag what we call the “Fisherfield Big 6”. I’ll need to rename the trip the “Fisherfield Not-So-Big 5”!

What’s next? The 4,000ers? Surely either Carn Mor Dearg or Aonach Mor must be a contender to be demoted to just a mere Munro?

Nowt seems to be getting promoted – wouldn’t it be interesting if Sgurr a’Choire-bheithe in Knoydart was upped to Munro status?

Richard Webb, Munroist and experienced all-round hill man –
I would like to point out the difference between the SMC altering their list by changing hill/top designations and actually finding out the heights of hills in relation to 3,000ft. The hill in question has been shown by the best measurement possible to date – using skills and technology far in excess of someone in Southampton driving a photogrammetry machine – to be less than 3,000ft. The whole point of Munro’s tables is that the hill has to be above that level. If not, it’s out.

In the past, Beinn an Lochain and Beinn Teallach were changed without fuss, Beinn Teallach remarkably quickly, so I do not expect any problems this time. This does not mean a second opinion would not be valued, and that will probably come with time. I wonder if the same fuss would be made if a hill was admitted? Beinn Bhreac, perhaps.

This process is now coming to an end as [the surveyors] run out of candidates. There are those who want to stick to the original list. What is stopping them? Which original list? It was a work in progress. And this is not really relevant here as Beinn a’Chlaidheimh was not a Munro in the old lists and this is not a top/hill tinkering exercise.

Oh, and they should all get out more and enjoy other hills!

Changing top status is of course the sole responsibility of the SMC, whose silly fiddling is the reason I don’t really care about Munros. They still have the right to do it, though.

Elsewhere, bloggers on the subject include Chris Townsend and Heavy Whalley, while there have also been discussion threads on Walk Highlands, Scottish Hills, UKC and elsewhere. As yet, grough doesn’t appear to have anything on the story.

Generally, the SMC has remained tight-lipped apart from the initial formal statement, although the Herald did obtain a quote from Noel Williams (or “Noel William” as they styled him), who edits the SMC Journal: “Once the OS verifies the figures it really is a formality for the SMC to accept them.”

However, on being asked about this, Williams has indicated that he was speaking in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the SMC, and did not intend to be quoted.

Incidentally, the surveyors from TMS measured Sgurr a’Choire-bheithe in 2009 and reckoned it to be 913.32m, roughly a metre short of 3,000ft.

Update 13 August: grough now has a piece on the situation.

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The King of Pop at Craven Cottage <em>Picture: www.offthepost.info</em>

The King of Pop at Craven Cottage Picture: www.offthepost.info

By Stewart Weir

And most definitely a day of winners and losers.

India won the cricket world cup, beating Sri Lanka in an excellent final, Sporting “Hee-Hong” ended José Mourinho’s nine-year unbeaten home record, Rangers lost to Dundee United and with it the chance to go top of the SPL. And, for good measure, Wayne Rooney completely lost the plot.

The other big sporting contest of the day was one which just wasn’t billed anywhere.

Motherwell defeated Aberdeen, but what kicked-off afterwards was just bizarre, with a handshake between Dons boss Craig Brown and ‘Well chairman John Boyle suddenly erupting in to a full-scale, eh, stooshie.

Whether Boyle had attempted a peck on the cheek of his former manager, or Broon had asked where his money was, isn’t clear.

But what we had was 70-year-old Brown almost pulling Boyle’s jacket off as he legged it up the tunnel, closely pursued by Aberdeen’s mild-mannered assistant Archie Knox.

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The polis stepped in before the Pittodrie tag team could throw any telling blows, although the constabulary failed to prevent Mr Boyle from flashing what many described as a threatening pout.

Naturally, I’m expecting this to be taken further, scouring the printed press, waiting for the first MSP to demand punitive action against these reprobates who have given Saga policy-holders a bad name. Or does that only apply to the Old Firm rather than the infirm?

Boyle has sunk big bucks into Motherwell (although not enough in the direction of Brown and Knox by all accounts), and was almost sunk by that generosity as big-money acquisitions like Andy Goram and (without so much of a mention of tax-efficient measures) John Spencer pushed the Wee Alpha with big ambitions into administration, and 19 players into the dole queue.

But Motherwell and Boyle have bounced back, with cup final appearances, European football, and as a feeder club for future Aberdeen managers.

No one can fault Boyle’s dream or ambition of making Motherwell the third team in Scottish football, and a big club.

But if you are thinking big, at least act the same way. What the hell is the chairman of a top-grade Scottish football club doing on the pitch at the full-time whistle? It’s just not the done thing for someone in high office.

Surely the SFA must have at least one rule, regulation or bylaw covering that?

Those who were watching cricket’s world cup final from the off would have seen the confusion at the coin toss, just like the boat race a week ago, a crucial part of any contest.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni spun the coin and thought he had won the toss. But New Zealand match referee Jeff Crowe did not hear a call from Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara.

So amazingly, after that false start, Crowe had to order a re-toss for arguably cricket’s biggest contest.

Sunday was no different when it came to false starts. The British Touring Car Championship, the premier race competition in the UK, was delayed when two cars had a coming-together. Nothing unusual there in a series which prides itself in wheel-to-wheel racing. Except this was on the warm-up lap.

For one team, it should have been a sponsor’s dream. A full 40 seconds focused on the front wing and bumper of the car – except the sponsor’s name was completely obliterated by tyre rubber.

But that indiscretion, rectified by some terrific racing later in the day, was nothing to the shambles in France when the Le Mans Series season got the green light. And that was where the problem lay.

For while everyone at the back of the field started racing, those at the front were still holding station behind the pace car which hadn’t pulled off.

Listen to the commentators – who are obviously in a shed nowhere near the south of France – trying to explain things as you watch the mayhem, battered egos and battered cars here

I know this clip is only three minutes of a six-hour race. But trust me, that was as exciting as it got…

Another sad week for athletics with European women’s marathon champion Živilė Balčiūnaitė banned for two years for doping.

Balčiūnaitė, 32, won the European title last July, becoming the first Lithuanian to take gold in the event.

I have to admit, I was rather suspicious at the time, especially when she kept overtaking the camera crew on their motorbike…

Taking of bikes, I received an advisory note about applying for accreditation for the Scottish Six Days Trial. No, I haven’t become a court correspondent.

This is to do with motorbikes and some of the most difficult off-road riding in the world, staged in the Highlands in May. Indeed, some say you haven’t made it until you’ve won this event.

Which reminded me of some press blurb sent out a year or two back from a manufacturer who listed the previous winners, something like: 2006 – Graham Jarvis, 2005 – Sam Connor, 2004 – Graham Jarvis, 2003 – Joan Pons, 2002 – Amos Bilbao, 2001 – Foot & Mouth.

I still wonder if it was Foot or Mouth who did the steering …

Mentioning court, the jury is still out on the Michael Jackson statue unveiled outside Fulham’s Craven Cottage at the weekend by club owner Mohamed Al-Fayed.

As we know, Jackson was a regular at Fulham in the same way Elvis Presley was in Prestwick.

Mr Al-Fayed was short and sweet when asked about those supporters who objected to the figure, saying they could “go to hell.”

While some liked it, and many turned up for the unveiling ceremony, others said it looked plastic, out of proportion and nothing like the real Michael Jackson.

So, quite lifelike, then…

As is this one.

St Johnstone boss Derek McInnes says the state of the McDiarmid Park pitch is hampering his team.

“It doesn’t lend itself to fluency and can make you look foolish at times,” said McInnes after the loss to Rangers in midweek. “I think it has affected our players a bit in home games as it’s not easy to play on that.”

Perhaps St Johnstone chairman Geoff Brown has got his wires crossed, having the pitch prepared to suit his other sporting love – namely nine-year-old grey Silver By Nature, the Grand National prospect – who, unlike McInnes, likes it good to soft.

Former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward decides it’s time he has his say about Wayne Rooney’s expletive-filled celebration at West Ham. But Woodward also questioned United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s role concerning Rooney.

“Part of the coach’s job is to coach people to handle pressure moments,” said Woodward. “As a coach, you would need to ask ‘Why would you as a player do that?'”

Just as a great many people asked “What did you do, Sir Clive?” during his year in football when technical director at Southampton. Obvious. He became an expert on football.

That’s something basketball star LeBron James will might become after he took up a minority stakeholder in Liverpool FC after signing a representation deal with the club’s owners.

Fenway Sports Group has struck a deal to partner the Miami Heat player’s marketing firm to become his exclusive representatives, worldwide, which includes Liverpool.

James’ knowledge of soccer or that part of the world is probably minimal. So he wouldn’t know that Thursday was the first day of Aintree’s Grand National Meeting, or Liverpool Day as it has become known.

So we had comedian Ken Dodd cutting the ribbon to officially open proceedings, probably his shortest-ever show. And when it came to short, that was also the order of the day in terms of neck and hemlines.

Remember, it is April. It was sunny. And it is Liverpool. Second thoughts, LeBron?

After the rammy a few weeks ago at the Premier League darts in Glasgow, organisers obviously had learned a lesson or two.

Local hero Gary Anderson – whose match against Adrian Lewis sparked some disgusting crowd scenes – won 8–3 against Terry Jenkins, and the audience were happy.

But instead of topping the bill, Anderson was first on, a purely tactical move – before the locals got too tanked up.

Plenty of verbals for Lewis – on second with James Wade – but no beer-chucking. But then it was £4.50 a pint, and it was Aberdeen…

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By Stewart Weir

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

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

Of course Diouf denies it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: drurydrama (Len Radin)

Photo by: Len Radin

A lost Vivaldi concerto has been discovered in Edinburgh, it emerged today.

Andrew Woolley, a research fellow from the University of Southampton, discovered the manuscript from a lost Vivaldi flute concerto among papers housed in the National Archives of Scotland.

The set of parts for Il Gran Mogol has since been authenticated as the work of the 18th century composer and has not been performed in modern times.  It will receive its modern day premiere in Perth in January.

“This piece was previously known only from a mention in the sale catalogue of an 18th-century Dutch bookseller.

Discovering that it is actually in existence is unexpected and hugely exciting,” said Mr Woolley.
It is unclear how exactly the concerto was brought to Scotland, but it is believed the manuscript was the property of the flute-playing nobleman Lord Robert Kerr, son of the 3rd Marquess of Lothian, and that he may have acquired it on a Grand Tour of Europe in the early 1700s.

The manuscript was preserved among the family papers of the Marquesses of Lothian – acquired by the National Archives of Scotland in 1991 – eventually to be discovered by Mr Woolley.

Although the catalogue describes the title and composer, which are recorded on the manuscript, he is the first scholar to identify the significance of the work.

Il Gran Mogol belonged to a quartet of ‘national’ concertos – the others, titled La Francia, La Spagna and L’Inghilterro, remain lost.

The flute concerto Il Gran Mogol is almost complete, missing just a part for the second violin.  Mr Woolley has been able to reconstruct the missing part by referring to the manuscript of another flute concerto by Vivaldi, kept in Turin, which appears to be a reworking of Il Gran Mogol.

Scotland’s Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop, said: “This remarkable discovery of an unpublished concerto by one of the world’s best-known composers shows the outstanding quality of the collections in the National Archives of Scotland.
“With no evidence that the piece has ever been played, I welcome the news that its premiere will be in Scotland.”
George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: “We’re delighted that the significance of this musical score has been identified, and we congratulate Andrew Woolley on his exciting find.”

Two other musicians connected to the University will help give the concerto its modern day world premiere at Perth Concert Hall, Scotland on 26 January 2011.

Adrian Chandler is a Research Fellow at Southampton and renowned violinist, specialising in the works of Vivaldi.
He will perform the piece with other members of the leading early music group and Gramophone award winners, La Serenissima, of which he is Artistic Director.

University of Southampton lecturer and leading performer on early flutes, Katy Bircher, will play the solo part.
La Serenissima will perform and record the work using Mr Woolley’s new edition, published by Edition HH later in the year.

Photo by: Nikki Pugh

Photo by: Nikki Pugh

If you do one thing this weekend, take your children out and about in search of conkers, and reintroduce the noble playground game that should be part of every Scottish childhood. Realistically primary school kids are now more likely to have an iPhone than a string of conkers in their blazer pocket when facing the cold drizzle of an autumnal playtime. They are missing out on the best playground game.

Going back a few years, come September/October, kids from every walk of life could be found throwing schoolbags, shoes and sticks at horse chestnut trees in an effort to get them to shed their largest nuts. These enticing green, prickly trophies always seemed to be caressed by the highest and most inaccessible branches. Once on the ground – either through high winds or brutal endeavour – a quick stamp to the shell, and the size and magnificence of your ‘bully’ would be revealed.

Interestingly the rules surrounding the game seem to vary, as does the terminology, depending on where you played. In my school we would drill a hole with a small screwdriver or compass point, thread a length of kitchen string through and knot it underneath. Each person would have three shots at the opponent’s conker. From memory, I think a new conker without any wins was a called a ‘none-er’. Victories thereafter were known as ‘bully-one’, ‘bully-two’ etc, with the winning conker assimilating the points of any conker it annihilated.

Ashton Conker Club secretary John Hadman says:
“It’s a game for 2 people, and it’s entirely aggression. Whoever wins the toss of the coin can decide to hang their conker up or to take first strike. In the traditional game, you take 3 swipes at your opponent’s conker with your own. It’s then your turn to hang up your conker and let your opponent have a go. This continues until one of the conkers breaks completely off the string, and the one with the remaining conker, however battered, cracked or tatty-looking, is the winner of that game.

“There are various stances or swings that they take. Some people favour the overarm swing, where the conker comes down vertically. Others go in from the side or diagonally, reckoning that it’s perhaps easier to go against the softer part of the nut — there is the side-slash, the forward side-slash, and the backhand side-slash.”


Anyone who has played the game will remember their opponent constantly adjusting the height of the hand to the correct place for their shot, and the fear of getting a zinger of a hit to the hand if they misjudged their shot. Better still was all the necessary preparation and priming of the prize bully. Baking, soaking in vinegar, or the blatant cheating that was putting mum’s clear nail varnish on the conker.

Such behaviours will not be tolerated at the World Conker Championships in Oundle, Northamptonshire on 10th October 2010. Won last year by a 53 hear old Scotsman, dressed as Rab C Nesbitt, contenders from eighteen countries fiercely contest the title. The rules are strict, with conkers being issued by the organisers to prevent any conker-tampering.

During WW1 children were actually paid to collect conkers. Blockades stopped the importation of cordite, used as a propellant in small arms and artillery, from North America. When faced with manufacturing our own cordite, the solvent acetone needed to be sourced from our own shores, and horse chestnuts were one such untapped source. Boy Scouts and schoolchildren were asked to collect and deliver the nuts to depots, receiving a small fee of 7/6 per cwt for their efforts.

It may have been good enough and harmless enough for the war effort, but many schools are now taking themselves and their Health & Safety risk assessments too seriously, and have banned the playing of conkers in the playground. Fearful of litigation in case there is an injury, this traditional game is being lost to many Scottish children. The reasons most often cited for the ban are the potential for an eye injury from shards of conker when they shatter. Unlikely. Or the risk of anaphylaxis to those that suffer with nut allergies. This seems a huge over-reaction and, according to The Anaphylaxis Campaign, an online advisory group for those with life-threatening allergies;

A few children have reported that they break out in a localised skin rash when they handle conkers, but we are not aware of any severe reactions. A few schools have banned conkers because they have been told there is a risk to nut-allergic pupils, but this may be an over-reaction. Nevertheless it is difficult to offer a clear-cut answer and there may be a few people who do react badly to conkers. Research from Southampton suggests this is a rare problem.


Grown-ups and children: Revolt! Go forth and find a huge horse chestnut tree, collect an armoury of conkers, prep them and have some fun family tournaments. I promise, with the exception of the odd whacked hand, you will have a laugh. Next, dispute any school bans with the killjoy Headteacher and reinstate conkers into school next week for some proper Autumnal playtime fun!