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Wembley

Stewart Kennedy at Wembley, 1975

There are, some say, two kinds of history: the stuff you get out of books, and the stuff that’s real, living history.

The latter usually sparks emotion from those who have experienced certain occasions, whether it’s war or work, social or sport.

Football fans especially can relive moments years after the event, good and bad, almost forming immunity to the latter – especially true if you happen to be a Scotland fan.

There isn’t a generation who don’t have their own dark day, when they witnessed their national side being humped or humiliated. Some can readily recall a 7–0 World Cup drubbing by Uruguay, others when England cheated their way to a 9–3 win at Wembley, playing with an orange ball that the Celtic ‘keeper wouldn’t catch and the Rangers full-backs wouldn’t kick.

Today’s kids only needs to look as far back as the weekend and the thrashing handed out by the USA, their fathers probably able to tell the next generation of Berti Vogts’ first game against France, an evening when the Scots were lucky to get nil.

But even Scotland teams regarded as half-decent had the ability to come a distant second-best to better teams on the day.

Between qualification for successive European Championship finals, Portugal thumped Andy Roxburgh’s XI 5–0, while a trip back to the 70s still has many pondering how such reversals could happen.

While Craig Levein might want to look at the 5–1 pasting the other day as a blip, in the mid-70s Scotland suffered a “double-blip” at the hands of England.

On a cold, February evening in 1973, the SFA thought it a good idea to play the Auld Enemy to launch their centenary celebrations. At the end, it maybe didn’t seem such a good idea: the scoreline Scotland 0 England 5. Still, Bobby Moore (“superstar, wears frilly knickers and a padded bra”) was happy in being awarded his 100th cap.

Of course, that game didn’t matter. It was only a friendly, certainly how it was thought about later in the year when Scotland qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time in 16 years, with ostensibly the same group of players who had been humbled at Hampden.

The euphoria of being one of the top 16 teams in the world (there were no rankings as such then) certainly carried Scotland along through thick and thin for the next few years.

When Scotland trooped down to Wembley in 1975 as part of the Home International Championship (remember that season finale?), there was hope in the hearts for the travelling throng that perhaps a first win on English soil could be achieved since Scotland had become champions of the world in 1967.

A scrambled draw against Wales was followed by a convincing win over Northern Ireland. Optimism flowed like Tennent’s Lager and McEwan’s Pale Ale.

Those liquid refreshments would certainly be welcome by the end of the 90 minutes on Wembley’s hallowed turf. The reputations of a few Scottish goalies lay buried beneath that well-manicured lawn – and, sadly, that of Stewart Kennedy was to join the others.

QPR midfielder Gerry Francis began the tale of woe after just five minutes, combining with Mick Channon, then eluding Danny McGrain before smashing a shot from 25 yards past the flat-footed Rangers ’keeper.

Within two minutes, England’s lead was doubled. England broke at pace down the right, Francis fed skipper Alan Ball, who found Kevin Keegan. He looked isolated, with only Kevin Beattie on a charge forward. But Keegan’s cross found the Ipswich defender who, from around the penalty spot, looped a header up and over Kennedy who collected the post rather than the ball.

It was a horrible goal to lose for any goalkeeper. And England’s third in the 40th minute was no better. Colin Bell burst through a Danny McGrain tackle and shot, beating the diving Kennedy to his right, the ball at least four feet inside the upright.

While Bruce Rioch netted from the spot before half-time, Scotland and Kennedy’s day just got progressively worse.

England worked the ball to the impressive Francis from a free-kick – and, again from distance, he beat Kennedy aided by a deflection off Scotland skipper Sandy Jardine.

Number five summed up Kennedy’s afternoon. Ball chipped over a free-kick from the right which Keegan headed at goal. Kennedy, at full stretch, touched the ball on to the bar, the rebound knocked against a post by Dave Watson only for David Johnson, another Ipswich star, to complete the misery.

It had been Kennedy’s fifth appearance for Scotland. It was his last, ironically, after the only loss he’d suffered between the sticks. But what a loss.

There were, however, no protests or demands for Willie Ormond to resign. After all, he’d led Scotland to West Germany and, with the group of players he’d leave when he moved on to Hearts, would put them on the road to Argentina.

Scotland rode out that Wembley aberration, and would return two years later to, quite literally, take England and the venue apart.

So what is different from that painful defeat compared to last Saturday’s beating across the Atlantic?

There is a mindset that, despite their qualification record for the World Cup and their world ranking, we shouldn’t be losing to a bunch of Americans. A completely blinkered viewpoint, in my opinion.

No, the main difference is that Scotland were less than a year on from the 1974 World Cup finals where they remained unbeaten. To get there, Scotland had out-qualified Czechoslovakia, who in 1976 would be European champions.

Scotland were riding the crest of a big wave. The were clattered by a big roller in London that May afternoon, but the momentum had been built.

The current Scotland malaise runs far deeper. Manager Craig Levein might talk of improvement, but that is more statistic than realistic. Results might be better, but unless you qualify for a major finals tournament, nothing – and I mean nothing – counts.

That’s why the USA result might be far more damaging than some think. But then reality doesn’t really hit until you get home …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments.

A haka, of sorts <em>Picture: Found5dollar</em>

A haka, of sorts Picture: Found5dollar

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
These days, in international terms, Scotland only ever seem to play “must win” matches. Today is no different. The Scots face the Czech Republic needing three points. In the end, one wasn’t enough.

The crowds turned up, as usual. But when will people realise that the legendary Hampden roar is no more. 50,000 will never make as much racket as double that number, and the genuine atmosphere has been replaced by a PA system that is constantly at gas mark 10.

There was little to cheer at the end, the Scots diddled out of a result by a dodgy Dutchy, if you believe the spin. Truth is, Scotland were lucky to survive a genuine penalty claim from the Czechs in the first half when Charlie Adam proved he would struggle to tackle a fish supper.

Of course, most blinkered folks would only see the penalty that the Czechs did get, and the one we didn’t. All in all, and best summed up by Sky’s Ian Crocker, three wrongs didn’t make a right.

Afterwards, SFA head honcho Stewart Regan tweeted that maybe the time was right for replays to be used for contentious decisions. And I agree. As would the Czechs who didn’t get their penalty in the first 45. If only Mr Regan had tweeted at half time, he might not have looked such a whinger.

Of course, Scotland have never benefited from dubious or dodgy penalty decisions in their long history. Just don’t make that point in the company of a Welshman…

Sunday
Mo Farah is on top of the world after winning the 5,000m at the World Championships in Daegu, Britian’s first-ever distance gold medal, or so one commentator had you believing until the words “Liz McColgan” were hissed in his ear.

Meanwhile, Jamaica turned up the heat on everyone else by romping to the 4x100m gold in a world record time of 37.04 seconds.

Great Britain were in lane 3, and broke the British all-comers record for baton-throwing with their sixth balls-up in the last ten major championships. That’s professionalism for you.

Closer to home, Rangers win the Masters Grand Final in Manchester, beating Leeds United in what was an enjoyable finale. Proving he hadn’t lost it, Jörg Albertz showed, even after all these years, that he is still Der Hammer, lashing home one of the Gers eight goals in the final.

As I once wrote, it was an effort that had the goalie clutching at the vapour trail…

Monday
And here was me thinking it was only me, Terry Wogan and those who have appeared at Wembley (I mean footballers, not horses or Boyzone) who take cramp.

But tennis genius Rafa Nadal suffered an extreme bout (or is it dose?) after his latest match in the US Open. Oh how we laughed at his almost-comedic departure under the table.

It later transpired however that cramp was only an excuse, and actually he had fallen asleep listening to Andy Murray.

On such occasions, it’s difficult not to laugh. And I am so glad Caroline Wozniaki saw the serious side of Nadal’s agony…

Tuesday
News travels fast these days, sometimes too fast. At the weekend, we were told that French footballer Steed Malbranque had retired with immediate effect so he could look after his son who had been diagnosed with cancer. Very honourable, very loving, very touching,

Joey Barton tweeted his support, as did many from the football family. But his lawyers in the UK didn’t.

They denied the story, and denied Malbranque even had a son. So the ex-Fulham and Sunderland midfielder went in an instant from being a caring and concerned father on the news pages to a free agent on the sports pages.

Rangers were linked with a move for Malbranque, new news for some.

“Aye, he’s a decent player,” said one fella in the queue at the local Co-op.

“Aye, and obviously Yorkhill will be handy for the wean as well….”

Make that some news travels fast…

Wednesday
Time catches up with everyone, eventually. And seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry could be the latest victim of age.

Hendry is set to lose his place in the elite world top 16 after being beaten 5–1 by Robert Milkins in the opening round of the Shanghai Masters.

The Scot has been part of the top 16 for the past 23 years but will now probably need to qualify for the UK Championship in December.

It’s easy to say he’s past it and he’s had his day. One, if not both of those statements, is fact. And he, more than anyone, will know that.

So he doesn’t need advice from some – especially those who, 20 years ago, wouldn’t have got in a queue to watch him, never mind pick up a cue to play him…

Thursday
Rangers announce that they are to commemorate the deaths of two fans 50 years ago at the Old Firm game later this month.

Tommy Thomson, then 29, and 22-year-old George Nelson, lost their lives at Ibrox on 16 September 1961 at Ibrox when they were crushed on a stairway as they attempted to leave the Copland Road end of the stadium.

However, as innocent as this announcement and commemoration might seem, you would not believe the knicker-twisting, consternation and conspiracy theorising that has gone on in forums, fans chatrooms and the likes.

For some, believe it or not, this is just a ploy by Rangers to catch out the moronic element that Celtic (and indeed all clubs) have within their fan ranks. As the late James Sanderson would say, utter poppycock.

Rangers are getting around to something they perhaps should have done years ago.

However, within ten years of this accident, Rangers were having to deal with a monumental tragedy that will be painful for evermore, when 66 went to the football and never returned home. It is easy, although in no way correct, to forget two souls when faced with the enormous scale of that death toll.

But those of this generation don’t realise how differently things were done years ago. People, who had seen millions killed in wars in previous decades, and who worked in industry where death was almost commonplace, perhaps didn’t commemorate or signify tragedy en masse as we appear to do these days.

When Phil O’Donnell died, games across the country were cancelled or postponed. A week after the carnage in Govan 40 years past, the games were played as if nothing had happened.

So maybe it is a generational thing. And maybe those in the current generation at Ibrox are catching up with something that, if not in their forethoughts, has long been on their conscience.

Friday
You can’t beat a good opening ceremony. In truth, you can. A great deal of time, effort and money goes into such displays of national culture and the likes, but does any sports fan really care about it?

The Rugby World Cup kicked off today, with hosts New Zealand facing up Tonga.

Having roundly beaten them in the Strictly Come Dancing appetiser – or the haka, as it’s better known (to the tune of Humpty Dumpty) – the All Blacks then ran out easy winners against the Tongans.

So, we’re off an running – all the way through to 26 October and the final.

Wonder what time the body clock will be on by then…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Shaq O'Neal – a Neil Lennon target? <em>Picture: Keith Allison</em>

Shaq O'Neal – a Neil Lennon target? Picture: Keith Allison

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Were we not all subjected to horror stories as kids (and maybe even in later life) of what would happen to us if we misbehaved?

How we wouldn’t get anything from Santa, or the Tooth Fairy, nor would we get to play with our friends, go on holiday or taste our favourite sweeties ever again.

And worst of all (although there was always a bit of me fancied finding out, just to see what it would really be like) being handed over or taken away from your loved ones by some shady spectre who preyed on boisterous weans who wouldn’t take a telling.

So just imagine how naughty, undisciplined and downright bad some kids must have been lately, to have been made a spectacle of in from of millions on TV.

Ahead of the Champions League final at Wembley we had the introduction of the teams, when kids – boys and girls, adorned in the colours of Manchester United (an away kit of necessity, not greed) and Barcelona – got involved in the now ritual parade of peace and friendship in football. Weans kitted out like Messi, Villa and Pedro, taking the hands of Rooney, Giggs, Ferdinand and co.

What a highlight for these youngsters, and a nice touch, if all rather cluttered.

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But for every few of the lucky ones, there were those kids who had obviously just missed going to “the bad fire”. No walk-on parts with them, taking the hand of a football legend. No, for them it was much worse.

What have they done? Taken a marker pen to grandma’s only surviving wedding photo? Or buried the only set of keys for dad’s car in the toy box, or in the garden, or in the dog? Or told the playgroup or nursery of their mother’s hair removal techniques?

One can only speculate. But there is no doubt these brats have been bad, if not downright evil.

Just image having to be led on to the Wembley pitch, not by an instantly recognised footballer, but by a referee, or a referee’s assistant, or – worst of all – by a fourth, fifth or sixth official. It’s the UEFA equivalent of missing out on meeting Santa, but getting to meet one of his helpers. Wow!

And if you can’t imagine the trauma or ridicule some of those kids will have faced over the last week, try walking in to work on Monday morning and asking “Does anyone want to see this photo of me in the pub with a Grade One referee?”

Poor kids…

As for the game itself, what a masterclass from Barcelona. The best team ever? Who knows. Trying to compare Barça with, say, the famous Real Madrid team of the late 50s and 60s is a waste of time.

Remember, those who witnessed and understood what Puskas, Di Stefano and Gento were all about would now be of pensionable age and their memory might not be what it once was. Sir Alex Ferguson could pass comment, but then that would have to be tempered by the fact he forgot to put Dimitar Berbatov on the bus.

Of course, there will be those who will point to the fitness levels and tactics of the modern game being far superior, and maybe so. But 50 years ago all there was to play in were modified pit boots, and some of those were worn by men who could happily kick you into submission.

What was without question was how far Barcelona were ahead of United. However, while the Catalans may be the best team in Europe, they don’t have the benefit of playing in the best league in the world. How many times did you hear that on TV or radio on Saturday night as those with acute tunnel vision desperately sought some solace, even from their own misguided beliefs.

Like the clown on Radio 5 Live 606 phone-in who reckoned Barcelona would struggle in England because they would need to play the likes of Wolves. Yes, I can see why humans may toil when faced with a pack of rabid, starving wolves. But those that just missed relegation on goal difference? I think not.

No, United were just a distant second, and made to look as much. Rooney and Park tried hardest, while Fergie’s defenders got plenty of honourable mentions for being so busy. But others were conspicuous by their absence.

They should have had Anon on the front of their shirts, instead of AON, and at least one looked as if the gagging and non-reporting injunction was firmly back in place just for those 90 minutes.

Still, there is always next year.

Sunday
After the Lord Mayor’s Show and all that. And there was plenty of it – although, as Mr Spock might have said, “It’s football, captain, but not as we know it.”

For starters, we had the Cuairt dheireannach Cupa Emirates, or Emirates Junior Cup Final, live from that hotbed of the Gaelic: Rugby Park, Kilmarnock. This assumption is of course based on the fact that having watched The Scheme and only ever understood every fourth word they say, English is not the local language in those parts.

Auchinleck Talbot beat Musselburgh Athletic 2–1 after extra-time, in front of just over 6,000 mad-keen supporters. With attendances like that, they could book the Aviva Stadium for next year.

Victory doesn’t qualify you for Europe (unless the sponsors throw in some cheap flights), but does get you one of the most ornate and decorative prizes in Scottish sport, a trophy I first came into contact with as far back as 1970 when Blantyre Vics won it.

Not that I knew anything of Blantyre Vics. But one day my dad arrived home in a work’s Mini van and whisked me away to have a look at this impressive trophy as it took pride of place on the middle of a six-foot snooker table that had seen better days. I would not have been any more impressed as a ten-year-old had it been the World Cup. But enough nostalgia.

Fair play to BBC Alba for covering the final live, a game that was once almost religiously broadcast by STV until they concentrated only on the Champions League. While the ITV network had shown the nation (unless you were on Sky) Lionel Messi at his very best the previous evening, the Scottish Junior Cup Final had a few protagonists who were twice the player Messi was, if only because they appeared at least twice the size…

Moving on – and just a word for Darren Ferguson leading Peterborough to promotion and becoming the most successful manager in that footballing family for that weekend at least – and we arrived at the Carling Nations Cup Final, and slightly busy Aviva Stadium in Dublin for Republic of Ireland against Scotland.

The hosts wore black with green flashes, whilst – in keeping with the trend of trying desperately not to be identified as Scotland – their opponents wore gold, yellow, or custard depending on what corresponding shade you fancied from the Dulux paint chart.

Robbie Keane beat Allan McGregor, for once, to claim and Irish victory and the spoils that were on offer, namely that Carling Nations Cup trophy.

Not your traditional cup or pot in the style of the Scottish Junior Cup or European Cup, but, well, something different.

Was it a work in silver and steel to mirror that Aviva backdrop, or did it symbolise and contours and contortions of a goal net as the ball is smashed high in to the rigging? Or did you see the resemblances between it and a hooded cobra? Yes, I can see all of those.

Or was it a cheese grater, probably purchased by the FAI using the GAA Dunelm Mill storecard (see last week’s offering for details)?

Talking of iconic awards, the Indy 500 trophy takes a bit of beating, as do cars and drivers in what can be a brutal and cruel race. Just ask JR Hildebrand.

If you haven’t seen it, watch this.

Such was his momentum into that final wall, I mean corner, that he still managed to cross the line even on two wheels and in half a car. Unfortunately, England’s Dan Wheldon overtook the wreckage to take his second Indy victory.

If only the Californian rookie had entered the Indy 499 and a half, he’d be celebrating today.

Still, sponsors National Guard gained some great exposure.

And coincidentally, they got the same again in NASCAR’s big race from the weekend, the Coca Cola 600, when Dale Earnhardt Jnr – again sporting the National Guard sponsorship – ran out of gas on the final corner.

Now, it was only coincidence, wasn’t it?

Monday
Unlike the bus I needed to be on, I didn’t miss it. Luke Donald won the PGA Championship at Wentworth to become the new world no.1.

He replaces Martin Kaymer, who in February took over from Lee Westwood, who at the tail-end of last year took top spot after Tiger Woods had gone off the road.

Like buses, you wait on a no.1 coming along and suddenly you get three in quick succession…

Swansea City (I remember when they were only a Town) become the first Welsh club to achieve Premier League status. Their success comes a few hours after Dave Jones was sacked. So no reunion tour for The Monkees, then…

Tuesday
As I Tweeted, I’ve always been an admirer of FIFA president Sepp Blatter ever since he started his speech to the assembled ranks and friends at the annual Scottish Football Writers’ dinner a dozen years ago with the line “Most people think Switzerland is only famous for cuckoo clocks.”

A dozen years on, they don’t just think that Sepp…

Wednesday
And through Twitter, basketball star Shaquille O’Neal says he’s quitting.

Now that came of something of a surprise to his current team, the Boston Celtics, who said the player had not notified them of his plans.

A 7’1’’ ex-Celt? There is no word on whether Neil Lennon is monitoring the situation…

Thursday
First minister Alex Salmond will meet representatives of the Old Firm to make sure he has their support in the battle against sectarianism.

Salmond will conduct meeting with new Gers owner Craig Whyte, and with Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell.

Nice to see him being even-handed when it comes identifying the main players. So we can expect word of a meeting with Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov soon, Mr Salmond?

Friday
Normally I wouldn’t pass comment on Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. But they make it in to my sporting week because I spotted they were looking for a tutor for their kids Moses and Apple. But not just any old tutor.

For they must be able to teach Ancient Greek, Latin, French and Spanish, and be able to give lessons in sailing and tennis.

I can think of one or two tennis players who could probably pass as French or Spanish teachers. But when it comes to sailing and Ancient Greek, the only person I could think of was that bloke Jason, who palled about with those Argonauts…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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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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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.

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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.

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RMS Queen Mary <em>Picture: Altair78</em>

RMS Queen Mary Picture: Altair78

Surrounded by the biggest port complex in the western world, the once-magnificent RMS Queen Mary looks a shadow of her wartime self, when the “Grey Ghost” ferried Allied troops across the Atlantic and where Winston Churchill, perhaps its most famous passenger, made many of the decisions that eventually won the Second World War.

The Queen Mary has been docked here in Long Beach, Southern California, since 1967, during which time the ocean liner once declared the fastest and most luxurious ever built has had its standing diminished by a series of financial missteps that have bankrupted numerous owners and threatened even this port city’s financial status.

Many have tried to turn a profit on the Queen Mary – including plans to turn her into a five-star hotel, a casino, and even an ambitious attempt to get her back sailing the world’s waters at a projected cost of £1 billion – but all have failed.

Now the once proud Grey Ghost is merely a vessel for ghost tours and Scottish festivals and wandering tourists, as the city tries to eke out a meager income from the ship’s dignified if dilapidated presence. The Queen Mary, the city and ship’s operators have found to their cost, is not Disneyland.

Her rooms are musty and poky, her hull rusting and weakening, and the memory of Churchill’s decisions as distant as her stern from her bow. That any of her former grandeur remains at all is testament to the quality of original materials used by John Brown and Company, which launched the ship to worldwide acclaim in Clydebank in 1934.

The latest company to attempt to turn around the Queen Mary signed a two-year deal with the city of Long Beach in 2008 to invest £3 million in reconditioning the ship’s 314 state rooms with amenities expected by tourists today including flatscreen TVs and iPod docking stations, following upgrades to the ship’s decks, kitchens and three restaurants.

The work is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Delaware North, the tourism and recreation group that owns ventures around Yellowstone National Park and Kennedy Space Center – and manages Wembley Stadium – will be hoping the curse of the Queen Mary doesn’t befall it, as it has numerous operators in the past.

The company says it’s “excited to be taking the helm of the legendary Queen Mary at this juncture in its history”.

But various commentators have labeled the ship a “white elephant” and “overvalued” since it was bought by the city of Long Beach from Cunard for £2 million in 1967. The city quickly poured in more than £65 million renovating the ship before considering selling it for scrap after less than stellar returns on its investment.

in 1988, hopes for the ship’s future were raised when Disney acquired the company that held the rights to its lease and spent more than £1.5 million refurbishing the ship. But Disney booked a £7 million loss on its investment and returned the lease rights to the city of Long Beach.

Following a messy engagement with another Southern California company and an Indonesian investor, the ship’s lease was turned over to Queen’s Seaport Development, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 after lengthy rent wrangles with the city.

A Newport Beach company, Save the Queen, bought the lease for the ship and its surrounding 45 acres for £25 million at auction from the city in November 2007. But Save the Queen also failed to deliver a profit and soon let its principal investor, Garrison Investment Group, take over the company and the ship’s operation. Struggling under the ship’s rather mighty everyday upkeep demands, Garrison then brought in Delaware to manage the ship in October last year.

Do brighter skies and calmer seas await the Queen Mary? Watch this space.