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Tannadice

Saturday
Scottish Cup day and all eyes are on Tannadice. Well, not all the eyes some had expected as the boycott from the Rangers support limited their numbers to a hardened, defiant, and by the end, humbled few.

Dundee United won at a canter, 3-0 in the end and given the ideal start to both the game and Jackie McNamara’s managerial career with a Johnny Russell goal in under 16 seconds. To be exact, according to BBC Sportscene, 15.74 seconds. As quick as they come, but not the quickest ever. In this tournament, that particular record belongs to Aberdeen’s John Hewitt, who back in 1982 netted against Motherwell in just 9.6 seconds.

Of course, today, it would be impossible to score a goal in that time at Fir Park as it takes longer to run through sand than over grass …

Sunday
It’s the Superbowl, and this year’s game will be remembered for a number of things; the Harbaugh brothers going head-to-head as opposing coaches; the 49ers comeback; Ravens’ Ray Lewis bowing out with a second winners ring. And then there was the power cut. A lack of electricity halted play for 35 minutes, plunging the Superdome in New Orleans into darkness. Not what the NFL wanted. Certainly not what Mercedes Benz wanted. They own the naming rights to the Superdome.

It’s great seeing your name up in lights at such a venue, on such an occasion. Not so great when the lights go out, and when broadcasters then insist in giving you your place as a sponsors. See, naming venues and stadia does have a down side. Charles Green, take note …

Monday
Europol, the EU’s intelligence-sharing agency, reveals startling evidence to suggest that corruption has been rife in European football, with 380 games, from the German fourth division to Champions League, European Championship and World Cup qualifiers targeted, along with 300 matches played in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, involving some 425 match officials, club officials, players and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries.

And out of all of that, the only game that matters to Sky Sports news was Liverpool’s 2009 Champions League tie against Hungarian club Debrecen who confirmed UEFA had disciplined goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic in 2010 for not reporting approaches from fixers.

So, that’s that little problem cleared up …

Tuesday
Great Britain’s double Olympic swimming champion Rebecca Adlington decides to retire. With 400m and 800m freestyle victories at the 2008 Beijing Games, she became Britain’s first female to win Olympic gold in the pool in 48 years, and added a brace of bronze in London last summer. But she’s called it quits, aged just 23. No doubt she’ll have a good retirement plan worked out – or a BBC commentators job as some call it …

Wednesday
Gordon Strachan begins his tenure as Scotland boss with a win over Estonia at Pittodrie, Charlie Mulgrew scoring to become the answer to many a quiz question in the future. It wasn’t a brilliant performance, nigh impossible of the surface presented to the teams.

But it was a win. And I’ll take that, against anyone, so much better than watching your country line-up in a bewildering 4-6-0 formation, or being humped 5-1 in the wee, sma’ hours by the USA. Remember what that felt like the first time it goes slightly wrong for Gordon …

Thursday
It’s a busy old day for me, firstly mastering technology to take part in a C4 video web chat, then getting my head around the doping inquiry that’s rocked Australian sport for a guest appearance on Scotland Tonight. But earlier in the day, I spotted something that made me sit up and take note.

I spot a tweet to Chris Graham, the often seen and heard spokesman for many Rangers supporters, who’s self-deprecating biog talks of him as a ‘purveyor of smoking hot intellectual bigotry.’ Not my words, you understand. Graham has been tweeted this morning, with a message saying; “You’ll have a lot of Rangers girls in Glasgow’s west-end follow you, they should be aware of this news.” A link followed to the BBC website, warning of a sex attacker targeting young women in the city.

A well-received warning from a public-spirited individual, an individual – or account holder – that just happened to be CelticMinded.com.

There are some things that can push bitter rivalry aside. And the protection of women obviously is one of them. I mention this deed because it’s deserving of a mention – unlike some of the trash in print or on social media networks around this age-old divide.

Friday
Everyone has their all-time great football XI, and it appears the Royal Mail is no different. To celebrate 150 years of the rules of football, the Royal Mail chose their UK select team from the ages. England’s Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks, World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves, Kevin Keegan, Bryan Robson and John Barnes make the team, along with Welsh legend John Charles and the genius that was George Best from Northern Ireland. And so it is left to Denis Law and Dave Mackay to fly the Saltire. And, for the record, I’m sure that will be Best of Hibs and Mackay of Hearts …

The Herald moth <em>Picture: André Karwath</em>

The Herald moth Picture: André Karwath

For the first time since 1946 – and for the first time ever in Scotland – one of these little blighters, the Conformist moth, has been found. It was enticed into a light trap at the Insh Marshes RSPB nature reserve near Kingussie.

There are thousands of moth species and subspecies, many with wonderful and curious names. As well as the Conformist moth there is (inevitably) the Nonconformist moth, the Anomalous moth, the Confused moth and the Herald moth – the latter being a rare creature named after a similarly declining-in-circulation newspaper.

And then there are these…

Scottish Lib Dem Constituency moth
tavishia zetlandic liam orcadus
Currently confined to the Northern Isles after being almost wiped out following a disastrous crossbreeding programme with the New Conservative moth (bullingdonia etonus). Large numbers have also been devoured by the Orange-Book clegg (smarmosa westminsteria), a voracious predatory insect known to favour nesting in beards and sandals.

Independence Referendum moth
calmanici westlothiaquesta
Although last spotted in 1979, there are persistent and increasing rumours that a huge swarm (or flock, or herd, or whatever the hell the collective noun is for moths) will be seen Scotland-wide in the spring of 2015. Expect a particular density in Banff and Buchan. The king moth is easily recognised due to being more bulbous than the standard drones, and sporting impressive eyebrow-type features. Closely related to the cybergnat.

Goodwin’s moth
bankus extrabonusa
Famed for its elusive mating habits that can only be indirectly observed on the internet. Part of the subspecies superinjunctix flappus, along with the Giggs Gall and the Marrfly.

Non-Old Firm League Win moth
lennononono superalli squabblicus
Last spotted in 1985 in the Pittodrie Marshes, and – briefly – in a decaying Tannadice jute mill. One of the rarest of all Scottish moths: whole centuries can pass without a single report. Previous brief sightings have come in Edinburgh, Dumbarton and Motherwell – while most poignant of all was the now-extinct subspecies, the red-and-white Third Lanark moth, southsidia bankruptus.

Suffers great tribulation from the green-hooped wasp and the bluenosed hornet, which interbreed far more widely than is generally assumed. These have become resilient to all pesticides, without as yet having had any success in spreading south of the border.

Gay Church of Scotland Minister moth
stonewallix clergi onthemoundium
Curiously, like the Non-Old Firm League Win moth, this was also last seen in Aberdeen. Considerable numbers of these moths are believed to exist behind closed doors, in closets and vestries. Rarely seen out in the fresh air and sunlight due to relentless attacks from the Fundie fly, and related to the likewise prevalent-but-persecuted Archdiocesean Rood-Screen moth, spiritus outragus.

Buckfast Abbey moth
devonia bevvius
Foreign parasite that lays eggs in the heads of the young.

Embra Tram moth
cycletyri trappella
Similar to a species that thrives in numerous mainland European cities, this much-rumoured but never seen moth has a hugely long, disruptive and expensive gestation period that sees the cocoon ultimately turn into a beautiful 22 bus route.

One final thought. If dainty cakes with sticky-up wings of sponge were known not as butterfly cakes but as moth cakes, would people be so keen to eat them?

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

Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

By Stewart Weir

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

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

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

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

Maybe that shows how easy pleased some people are…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Naturally enough, the predominant response among the Rangers players following their League Cup final victory over St Mirren was a sense of triumph. The circumstances at Hampden combined so that the win felt like an act of conquering, of prevailing over the kind of odds that would normally only prompt distress. But then the outcome could surely not conceal a greater truth, something that might yet impact on the Ibrox side’s ambition to gather all of this season’s domestic trophies.

During the first-half against St Mirren, when the game was 11 v 11 and what was at stake was a question of authority, of which team was prepared to engage fully with the obligation to be bold, Rangers were subdued. It was Gus MacPherson’s team who sought to be intrepid, and so they dominated long spells and their two robust strikers – Billy Mehmet and Michael Higdon – so bullied their markers that the Rangers defence ought to have been offered counseling at half-time.

Instead, what we saw after the interval was the clearest expression of Rangers’ alarm. Having been so overwhelmed by their opponents, in midfield and defence, Walter Smith altered the shape of his side to 3-5-2, so that they matched St Mirren’s formation. This is an act of concession by a manager, when he admits that his own side has to be changed to cope with opponents who are in danger of being implacable.

In recent weeks, Rangers have lacked that sense of purpose, of entitlement even, that brought such command to their play during spells this season. They fell behind at Ibrox to St Mirren in the league, before winning 3-1, and Dundee United in the Scottish Cup quarter-final, which ended 3-3 and so requires a replay at Tannadice on Wednesday. Smith identified the uncertainty as a hesitancy, as though the players are waiting for something to happen in a game before reacting.

Against St Mirren, this might have been acutely costly. Smith’s half-time address to his players was strict and emphatic, but any hopes of regrouping were dispelled by the red cards shown to Kevin Thomson and Danny Wilson. Reduced to nine men, Rangers reverted to the one quality that has sustained so much of their aspiration this season: resilience.

It was enough that the Ibrox side could contain their opponents (albeit the lack of a meaningful goal threat was always in danger of undermining St Mirren’s work), but the counter-attack that led to Kenny Miller’s decisive header was an indication of the sense of conviction that so shapes the players’ attitude. In the circumstances, the move upfield should have been considered an opportunity for relief, but the deft precision of Steven Naismith’s cross and the sheer persistence of Miller’s run and header spoke of a different faith, one that remained certain that despite being so diminished, this team could still triumph.

It will have felt exhilarating, but too often Rangers have been required to banish a sense of malaise before they could win recent matches. Eventually, that demand on the players’ resolve will prove too great. Smith, more than most, will understand this flaw, as it perhaps comes from the feeling of anxiety in a squad that has overcome its own limitations to move so close to a season of great achievement.

Against Dundee United – who are rejuvenated under Peter Houston – Rangers will be without Thomson and Lee McCulloch, who is also suspended, while Madjid Bougherra and Kirk Broadfoot are injured and Steven Davis is recovering from a virus. The squad is depleted, not so much in numbers, but by the sprightliness that is lost when limbs and minds begin to fatigue.

There is, no doubt, enough of a gap over Celtic in the Premier League for the title to remain safe, but on Wednesday night at Tannadice, Rangers cannot afford to waver.