Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's been 39 years and 316 days since East Fife played, and won, a Scottish league game at Ibrox.

October 13th 1973.

The Simon Park Orchestra were number one in the charts with "Eye Level", the theme tune to the TV show "Van Der Valk", Bruce Lee's "Enter The Dragon" was still drawing the crowds in at the local picturehouse, and kids were riding around on Raleigh Choppers laughing at the big hair and hideous clothes.

Amidst all that, Jim Hamilton was writing a name for himself in Bayview folklore, with a goal that should give hope and inspiration to the current crop of players proudly wearing the black and gold.

October 13th 1973 was to be the 16th and final time that East Fife would visit Ibrox on league duty until this coming Saturday's game. The Fife's record there made dismal reading - Played 15, Won 0, Lost 12, Drawn 3, Goals For 7, Goals Against 47.

It's incredible really when you consider what a powerhouse East Fife were as a team themselves in the late 40s and early 50's.

East Fife were managerless. Pat Quinn had been sacked 20 days earlier and although a new manager had been found in former player, and League Cup winning goalscorer, Frank Christie, he wasn't taking over until the home game against Morton the following week.

The omens weren't good for East Fife and former legendary player and current kitman Jimmy Philp, and groundsman Alex Doig were in charge of the team in the dugout.

This was to be their third and final game in charge of the team, having recorded a win against Dundee and a loss to Dumbarton. No-one expected them to pull off a miracle at Ibrox but they and the players rose to the occasion.

Jim Hamilton in particular rose well, especially in the 7th minute when he was left unmarked in the box and headed home a Johnny Love cross for what was to be the only goal of the game!

East Fife held their own for the rest of the first half and had several chances to add to their advantage.

Hamilton nearly grabbed his second, but Rangers keeper Stewart Kennedy got his hand to his shot and sent it crashing off the bar. Kevin Hegarty then headed over from under the bar before pulling a shot wide from a good position towards the end of the half.

Rangers pushed for the equaliser from the moment the second half kicked off but found East Fife goalie Ernie McGarr in top form.

McGarr and Bobby Duncan combined to keep out a John Greig shot and then Alex O'Hara saw his shot headed off the line by Davie Clarke.

Those were close calls, but there was closer yet to come when Derek Johnstone crashed a shot off the crossbar.

With five minutes left, Rangers thought they had snatched a point when Johnstone headed home, but the Rangers striker turned centrehalf was flagged for offside and East Fife breathed a sigh of relief.

The final whistle came and East Fife held on for a famous victory.

Both teams' reserve sides were playing at Bayview that afternoon, with the Gers running out 1-0 winners. So momentous was the victory that the closing moments of the game at Ibrox were played over the tannoy for those in attendance to be a part of the occasion!

New manager Christie was undertaking his last game at St Johnstone as trainer-coach and was sitting on the bench following the East Fife game through updates from fans listening in the crowd.

"A big roar went up from the crowd who had tuned in to the commentary from Ibrox and it was then I learned East Fife were leading Rangers," he said. "It was a wonderful result for us."

The line up for both teams on the day were:

RANGERS: Stewart Kennedy, Sandy Jardine, Willie Mathieson, John Greig, Derek Johnstone, Alex MacDonald, Tommy McLean, Tom Forsyth, Alistair Scott (Graham Fyfe), Alex O'Hara, Doug Houston [Sub Not Used: Dave Smith]

EAST FIFE: Ernie McGarr, Bobby Duncan, Davie Clarke, Ron McIvor, John Martis, Walter Borthwick, Jim Hamilton, Johnny Love, Kevin Hegarty (Graham Honeyman 70), Billy McPhee, Grahame Ritchie (Derek O'Connor 72)

The referee was R.D. Henderson and the attendance was around 12,000.

A great game and I wish there were highlights somewhere for us all to see. We'll just have to play the highlights of this Saturday's victory on repeat instead.

'Mon the Fife.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Love them or loathe them, and I firmly fall into the latter category, we’re stuck with them for at least a season.

I’m talking about Sevco FC of course, or Rangers as some would choose to call them.

Next week sees East Fife first visit to Ibrox on League duty since October 13th 1973. Pretty much a full forty years ago. I wonder what percentage of our current support were actually even born then, never mind attended the game.

East Fife won 1-0 that day thanks to a 7th minute Jim Hamilton goal. It is our only ever league win at Ibrox. The same again next Saturday would be wonderful, if somewhat unexpected if we’re being honest.

The last league meeting between the two sides was at Bayview on February 9th 1974.

The Fife lost 3-0 and were soon relegated from Division One, never to yet return to the top flight of the Scottish game.

With that in mind, there is something nice about the fact that we meet next week in ‘League One’ action, although the whole renaming of the divisions is still farcical. There is also something great about having the Fife playing games in front of tens of thousands once again and having a demand for tickets, both home and away.

Of course trips to either of the Old Firm’s grounds brings with it a whole set of other issues that we’re thankfully not used to. You all know what they are. As horrible as it's been in the lower reaches of Scottish football, it's not been a bad thing to be away from some of the nonsense at the top end of it.

Just watch what you wear if you’re heading through next week!

My last trip to see the Fife at Ibrox was in the Scottish Cup tie in February 1997. I was flogging fanzines outside the away end and wearing the Fife’s away strip at the time – the infamous deckchairesque green and white striped number.

Ah, the abuse I got for happening to wear my team’s strip to a game, just because it was green. So much so, I had to zip my jacket up. Idiots.

Now before some reading this get all up in arms and accuse me of writing this through green tinted glasses, let’s get this straight. We’re an equal opportunities blog. We hate both sides of the Glasgow divide. Actually, we hate most teams in Scotland north, south and west of Bayview.

Frankly I care little about either of the Old Firm and if they both wanted to head down to England or some Atlantic League then I wouldn’t shed a tear and I feel it would actually benefit Scottish football, but that's for another day.

Both sides have stifled the game here and hit the smaller clubs like East Fife hard in taking away local support and buying up promising talent just to leave them rotting in their reserves, weakening their opponents in the process.

Laying all my cards on the table, I have a dirty little family secret to share. Both of my parents are Rangers supporters. Not once did I ever consider following suit. It’s always been East Fife for me.

I can excuse my mum. She was born in Shawlands and regularly went to games with my granddad. My dad on the other hand is a born and bred Fifer and that is what’s so wrong about football in this country.

For decades hordes of fans travel from all corners of Scotland to watch Celtic and Rangers and not their local side. I'll never understand, just as those fans will never understand watching a team that doesn't win all the time.

So all that said, I want to end with some praise for the Gers.

I have been amazed that Rangers have kept such a loyal and large fanbase through their fall from grace. Some have walked away. Some have finally found out the joy of following their local team. We’ve got a few ourselves in the Fife support now and they've very welcome for seeing the light.

What Rangers' journey up from the Scottish footballing basement has done is to raise the interest in the lower leagues and that can only hopefully be good in the long run. I know a lot of it is forced, as the Scottish media can’t not have their Rangers stories to fill masses of column inches and airspace.

I never thought I’d see the day where matches at lower league grounds, including hopefully Bayview, would be broadcast live around the world in glorious HD.

We can only hope that a number of Rangers fans enjoy their lower league adventure and appreciate how important clubs like East Fife and their fans are to the Scottish game.

Our other hope is that some of them enjoy it so much that they shun the eventual return to top flight action and go and watch their local team on a regular basis instead.

Just as long as they leave all that other nonsense behind them.

[This blog first appeared in Saturday's copy of "The Bayview" programme]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The new English Premier League season may have got underway last weekend, but it's not too late to join AFTN's mini league in the official Fantasy Premier League.

We were a bit tardy getting everything set up this year so decided we'd hold back the scoring until Week 2 this season to give everyone a chance to get their teams in and any adjustments made.

Bit of a shame for some that had Villa's Benteke, but them's the breaks!

So to enter/register go to http://fantasy.premierleague.com and pick your team.

Then to join the AFTN mini league, click 'Leagues' then 'Join a league' then to join our one the code is 2246421-468409

The AFTN mini league is open to fans of all teams, no matter where in the world you reside.

So take part today and good luck everybody.

After another bit of a hiatus, we're back with the blog.

We're in the middle of a complete revamp of AFTN's main Scottish site (www.aftn.co.uk) at the moment and hope that this will be done by the end of September at the very latest.

The first public phase of this was revamping the blog here. So we've got a brand new, modern design and are updating it with some of the blog articles we've written for the East Fife programme these past couple of years.

We'd always planned to put these up here once they'd appeared in the programme, but never quite found the time to do so, but by the end of tonight all of last season's and this season's stuff will have gone up, backdated to the dates they were either written or around when they appeared.

Moving forward, we'll continue to add the programme blog stuff a few days after people have had a chance to read the hard copy at the match.

But it's not just going to be old rehashes of stuff we've had elsewhere, we want to get back to making this blog a regular blog about East Fife and about football and build on the success of our MLS/North American football blog over at www.aftn.ca. Not saying we'll ever go back to daily updates again but at least a lot more regular.

But to do that we need your help. We've put together a good team of writers over the pond and are looking to do the same here. So if you have anything you want to write about the Fife, Scottish football or the beautiful game in general then drop us an email at: aftn at Hotmail dot co dot uk.

So that's all for now, back to updating, and more coming soon....

Friday, August 16, 2013

Being a collector sometimes feels like having a borderline mental illness. The passion, the enthusiasm, the obsession. Collectors' have different mindsets for their hobby that the non-collector will never really understand. Just ask my wife!

Depending on your predilection in life, and whether that collector's switch in your brain has been flicked, the chances are that you collected some kind of football cards when you were younger. You possibly still do. Your age may also dictate what kinds of cards you collected: cigarette, bubblegum, tea, comic, panini, trading or the modern day nonsense!

Card collecting dates back to the late Victorian times and the first known cards featuring footballers were produced in 1894.

East Fife have featured in numerous collections over the years. The earliest East Fife card that I have found out about so far dates back to 1935, but I am sure that there will have been earlier ones out there. So let us know if you know of ones before that.

As we continue this series in the programme over the coming months, we'll feature several different sets and cards that have been issued over the years, along with other wonderful pieces of East Fife memorabilia from the club's 110 year history.

Today we're heading back to the early 1970's and some bubblegum cards that had kids of the time running into sweet shops and up to ice cream vans to part with their pennies.

A&BC Chewing Gum Ltd were formed in 1949. They produced numerous cards, on a variety of subjects, which were given away free in packets of bubble gum.

They produced their first set of 36 football cards in 1954, as part of the 120 card "All Sports" series set. Their first standalone football collection was a 92 card one in 1958 and their first Scottish football specific set was produced in 1962.

The company continued to publish a Scottish set each year until 1974 and but it was only once East Fife gained promotion to the First Division at the end of the 1970/71 season that our players were featured, with 21 cards of East Fife players being published in the 1971-1973 sets.

And they're wonderful items to have in your collection.

The cards were all 80mm x 55mm in size and were made of actual hard card and not cheap paper or the sticker variety. They were double sided, with player info, stats and facts on the back of them. They varied in style. Some were more classic, some hideously garish. But all fun items to have in your collection.

They were issued in various series, with all the East Fife ones featuring in the "Scottish Footballers" ones. Each series also came with a couple of checklists for you to keep track of what you had and those seem to be my most lasting memory of buying these when I was a nipper.

Deep in my recesses, I can't remember the players I had at the time but I do remember ticking the little boxes on the checklists.

You can still pick up the East Fife and other cards, including the checklists, on ebay today, as I've done myself over the last few years. They're usually pretty cheap, apart from the checklists, which seem to be quite prized.

Of course, if you were around and actually collected these cards at the time, you're left kicking yourself for never keeping hold of your own ones to start with.

If you're reading this far and thinking what is this old geezer rambling on about, or more hopefully, you're reading this and thinking that these sound great and you need to add these cards to your East Fife memorabilia collection asap, then here's some details about what East Fife cards are available and what they're all about.

There were 144 cards in the 1971 Scottish Footballer series with four East Fife players featuring - Billy McPhee (number 15), Bertie Miller (#65), John Martis (#92) and Joe Hughes (#126).

There were two checklists published in the set: number 57 for cards 1 - 73 and number 115 for cards 74 - 144.

All cards had purple backs and featured the height and weight of the player, a brief bio and a "did you know" factoid.

There were 179 cards over two Scottish Footballer series in 1972. Cards 1 - 89 had blue backs and cards 90 - 179 orange.

This time nine East Fife players were featured. Bobby Cairns (#8), John Martis (#26), Jim Hamilton (#44), Davie Gorman (#80) were the four featured in the first set; and Billy McPhee (#100), Peter McQuade (#122), Bobby Duncan (#143), Joe Hughes (#157) and Kevin Hegarty (#166) were the five featured in the second one.

The backs had a brief player bio and each had a question and you had to scratch the box beside it with a coin to get the answer. The scratching revealed such "fascinating" facts as Bobby Cairns works in a bank, Kevin Hegarty's favourite player is Dennis Law, and Billy McPhee's ambition is to keep East Fife in the first division.

There were 178 cards in the 1973 series, all of which had pink backs. Eight East Fife players featured: Jimmy Hamilton (#7), Ernie McGarr (#15), Billy McPhee (#43), Bobby Duncan (#51), Kevin Hegarty (#79), Walter Borthwick (#87), John Martis (#123) and Dave Clarke (#159).

The backs featured the usual brief player bio, along with personal stats and a cartoon fact. One of the facts gloats about how East Fife got Edinburgh lad Dave Clarke ahead of Hearts and Hibs, whilst another mentions that John Martis is the oldest player on the side, complete with a cartoon gravestone!

East Fife fell out of the First Division soon after and so with that fall went their appearances on any major card collections of any sorts since.

Maybe a nice touch in this anniversary year would be to produce a set of cards for the current squad to be given out at the turnstiles of home games over the course of the season. Start some new collectors off amongst the support.

I've always wanted us to be featured as part of a Panini sticker collection but that seems a far flung hope these days.

Never mind, there's still a lot of cards from yesteryear that we can draw on for this feature, along with many other items of East Fife memorabilia. Watch out for them in future programmes.

[You can see more of East Fife's A&BC cards, and others, on AFTN memorabilia section HERE]

Monday, August 12, 2013

When the fixtures were announced for the new season, there were a few games that every East Fife fan immediately looked for.

Who would we have in the first League game of the season? Would we have a home game for Boxing Day? And what about for New Year's Day? When would we be playing Rangers? And when were the eagerly awaited Fife derbies against Dunfermline be back on the calendar?

Bizarrely it turned out that the answer to the last question was also provided by the first one.

It's only been 83 days since both sides had their contrasting fortunes decided in their respective playoff finals, and now they meet today on League business for the first time since all of us of a black and gold persuasion would care to remember.

The answers to some of the other questions posed above were thankfully, yes, two home games around the festive period and hopefully much needed bumper gate and hospitality receipts for the Club if mother nature plays nice.

But what is with the New Year game? Why no Fife derby and we host Arbroath and not Dunfermline? It's absolutely ridiculous, as I'm sure Pars fans reading this and having a January 2nd trip to face Stenhousemuir would agree. At least we're not having to head somewhere ridiculous like Stranraer.

New Year time is all about old acquaintances after all and after years of going in opposite directions, East Fife and Dunfermline only have a handful of Cup games in recent years to have helped keep themselves reacquainted with each other.

For those of us of a certain age it never used to be that way and we have many fond memories of battles at Bayview and trips to East End Park between these Fife foes.

When I first started watching East Fife in the 1980s I loved the games with Dunfermline and I looked forward to them more than the ones against Raith. It was helped of course by having AFTN hate figure Jim Leishman in charge at the Pars those days and say what you will about him, and we did, it's actually great that he's still around and playing such an important role in the club still today.

What fun we had at his expense in the fanzine, and then one day we found ourselves chatting to him at a pre-season friendly at Rosyth when he revealed he was an avid reader!

For those with memories of the 70s and long before that, there are some many great games between the two sides in the history books.

It still doesn't feel all that long ago that we were in a division higher than the Pars, whilst they had some battles of their own, both on and off the field, with Queen of the South in the old Division 2.

When we found ourselves in the same division, pushing for promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, there were some cracking games.

The 4-2 win for the Fife at East End Park on August 30th 1986 is still one of the my favourite games I've ever attended. There were 4,448 in attendance that day, as the Fife ran rampant with two goals from Brian McNaughton and one apiece from Stuart Burgess and Hugh Hill. Those two Pars goals couldn't dampen the black and gold mood.

Neither could being soaked to the bone for the 1-1 game at East End Park on New Year's Day that season.

Ah, 1986/87. When the Scottish League fixtures makers actually had commonsense.

The 4-2 game had come just days after the Fife took a newly built, Souness-led Rangers team to penalties in the Skol Cup at Bayview.

Such happy days and a period of hope and respective glory on the pitch.

For as we mentioned in last week's blog, there is a whole section of the Fife support who don't know what it's like to play the Pars on a regular basis, and even less who remember Rangers coming on League duty.

Many couldn't have seen those days coming around any time soon, but whilst East Fife have been financially prudent all these years off the pitch, and suffered as a result on it, our big spending neighbours and the blue yins from Glasgow have had their glories but now find themselves back down to earth with a huge bump.

Meaning now we're playing Dunfermline and Rangers again. Those fixtures are back. Let's hope that the relative glory days are too.

Another 4-2 victory today would do just nicely to kick things off.

'Mon the Fife.

[This blog post originally appeared in the East Fife programme 'The Bayview' on Saturday August 10th 2013 - minus the picture!]

Monday, August 5, 2013

The feelgood factor is back at Bayview. We've missed it, replaced as it was by another set of F words altogether.

Another new season and football fans across the land are filled with hope, expectation and a joy that their Saturdays can be put to good use again.

I've written before in these blog pieces about the often misplaced excitement each new season brings. Ultimately, the vast majority of football fans in Scotland are going to finish the season disappointed. Some very much so.

We came close to that ourselves last season but despite playing some horrible football at times and the lows that went with Billy Brown's now infamous open mic night, things ended on a high. I'm still not sure how if I'm being honest.

Who would have thought that a 9th place finish in the Scottish Second Division would end up creating such jubilant scenes and an actual feeling of achievement?

Maybe I was wrong all these years and the playoffs do serve some purpose in the Scottish game. It certainly felt like we'd won something. For those in attendance at Balmoor on May 19th, it was a feeling akin to having won promotion and after a winter of discontent, it set Fife fans up for a summer of solace.

76 days have passed since that Playoff Final victory. In reality of course, it just meant we had avoided being back in the dregs of Scottish football by the skin of our teeth.

Div Muir's goal at Peterhead elevated him to folklore status and if/when he comes back from his Canadian adventure with Toronto Lynx he should never have to put his hand in his pocket for a drink in local pubs for many a year.

We may have just avoided relegation by the skin of our teeth, not something to usually celebrate, but the repercussions from that goal were huge for the future of our football club.

That 48th minute strike meant that we have found ourselves in a League with two massive sets of fixtures to look forward to against Dunfermline and Rangers. The despair of being relegated and missing out on those would have been the final straw for many.

Staying up will have a massive bearing on the finances of East Fife and our immediate future, with four bumper home gates to look forward to and money from likely television coverage added in to that too.

Most of our support will have never seen us play League games against either. And let's be honest again here. 18 months ago, we would never have thought that we would be any time soon. How the "mighty" have fallen.

How different it could have been had Div not buried that chance. We'd be looking forward to trips to and from East Stirling and Albion Rovers instead.

Seeing how long it took for us to crawl out of the basement the last time we fell down there, it wouldn't have been an easy journey back and could have sounded the death knell for our proud Club in these changing times for Scottish football.

Now, we've already moved up a division and are playing in League One!

And of course, we have new, local owners, a new management team and a brand new squad.

Lee Murray's acquisition of East Fife has brought back a feelgood factor that hasn't been around for what feels too long a time. You actually feel good about supporting the club again and giving them your money.

But we should temper that joy and the expectations that go with it and be realistic. We're not going to become world beaters overnight.

The new board have breathed fresh life into the club off the pitch, with some excellent and long overdue changes and new ideas, but it will still take some time to see the results on it.

And that's where we all come in.

It's good to have our expectations. We all should have. But we need to make sure we bring patience and are not on the backs of the players like we have been in the past. This new squad will take time to gel but the roots for growing this club once again have been planted, especially around the youth set up.

This will be an exciting season. We're going to see some great games and there will be an interest in the club not seen for many a year from everyone from the Levenmouth public to the national media.

I'm hoping for the playoffs, along with taking several points of both the Pars and Newco, but as long as we don't end up in a relegation dogfight then that's improvement.

It's also progress I didn't think I'd be seeing just three months ago. That alone is reason to feel good right now. Anything else is a bonus.

'Mon the Fife

[This blog post first appeared in the East Fife programme 'The Bayview' on Saturday August 3rd 2013]

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's been a few weeks since we brought you a Vancouver Whitecaps update in out 'View From Abroad' feature.

During that time, the Whitecaps have had a very mixed start to the 2013 MLS season, and their young Scottish manager, Martin Rennie, is now under the first spell of real pressure, not just in his Vancouver managerial career, but throughout his whole time in the North American game.

Last year the Whitecaps made history by becoming the first Canadian side to reach the MLS playoffs. They may have bowed out after just one game, losing 2-1 to eventual winners Los Angeles Galaxy, but they showed great improvement from their first season in the League, where they finished bottom of the pile.

With that feat achieved, going backwards in not an option, and with an ownership group who have already shown that they will act quickly to replace underperforming managers (Rennie became the third manager in the Caps' short MLS era), the team's start to the latest campaign has the masses chattering.

This season couldn't have started better for Vancouver. Back to back home wins, had the team sitting joint top of the Western Conference but then the wheels slowly started to come off, brought upon by what has been the Caps' achilles heel in the past three years - away games.

The Whitecaps are an awful team away from home. They didn't win any of their 17 away games in their first season in MLS and although they did muster three in their second year efforts, they have failed to win in their first five attempts this season.

Since joining the League in 2011, Vancouver have an 7.7% winning record on the road, taking a meagre 16.2% of available points (19 from 117 - I love me some stats!).

Both records are the worst in MLS by some way.

After their winning start to the season, five of their next seven games were away from the home and the club has struggled, going on a seven game winless streak and dropping to the bottom of the Western Conference.

To make matters worse, and keeping on the achilles theme, the Whitecaps lost their captain, American international and former Watford hero Jay DeMerit, to what seems to be a season ending achilles injury just eight minutes into the season.

The injury woes continued when Kenny Miller picked up a hamstring injury that he just can't seem to shake off. It may surprise many who have seen his recent games with Scotland, but Miller was proving to be an inspiration to the Whitecaps this season and showing some of the form from earlier in his career, with two goals in the three games he did play.

Both of these losses to injury have hit Vancouver hard and a couple of concussions, some other injuries and a horrendous run of form by their top striker, Jamaican international Darren Mattocks, haven't helped the team's form either.

Whereas these injuries have caused Rennie to make adjustments to the team, a lack of form of other players has seen the Scot become a tinkerer that would make Claudio Ranieri's teams seem settled.

The problem seems to be that Rennie does not know who his best starting line up is and the talent and depth of the squad he has put together has been quickly found out to not be anywhere near the strength that many thought after some good pre-season form. His rigid tactics, especially his yawn inducing away ones, are being increasingly questioned.

Whereas other clubs have added some strong, experienced players, Rennie has built up a squad of young talent. Most of the strikers are under 24, with many straight out of college. They're struggling with how to get out of an early season slump.

One of the few bright spots for Vancouver has been the addition and form of former West Ham and Aston Villa star Nigel Reo-Coker.

The former England U21 international was once thought to have a very promising career ahead of him. For whatever reasons, his star has started to fade in recent seasons, and at only 28 , many thought that his best days were long behind him.

He joined Vancouver fresh from not making the grade at Championship side Ipswich Town in a short loan spell, and the reaction of many online Tractor Boys was that they were glad to see the back of him.

Reo-Coker though was not finished as a top footballer just quite yet and saw the chance to move across the Atlantic as the perfect opportunity to kickstart his career out of the limelight a little.

Some footballers have left the UK to go to MLS for a final payday. Kenny Miller is on $1.1 million with Vancouver, Tim Cahill is on $3.6 million with New York and his team-mate Thierry Henry is on $4.35 million. This is not the case with Reo-Coker, who reportedly turned down some big money offers to stay in the UK to sign for Vancouver for $200,000 for the year.

His deal will see him move on to Designated Player status, and the big buck that go with that, if he performs well this season. That's how all contracts should work. Play well and you'll be paid well.

It seems to have worked with Reo-Coker who is producing some of the best form for many a year.

He's also ruffling a few feathers along the way, describing his team-mates as being "too soft" after a recent defeat away to Real Salt Lake, in what was a really dire performance to be the fair to the Londoner.

His words, and the subsequent dressing room dressing down from Rennie seemed to work, as Vancouver returned home to BC Place on Saturday and beat Los Angeles Galaxy 3-1, for their first win in eight games.

It showed what the side is capable of but the key now is how they go on and build from that.

The Whitecaps are about to enter their most telling month of the season, with a string of huge games coming up.

This Saturday they play one of the in-form teams in MLS, their Cascadian rivals Portland Timbers, in a huge derby game that will see 1500 travelling fans make the seven hour trip north of the border from Oregon. Seven hours away may not seem much like a derby game, but trust me, it is!

Before that, tonight in fact, Vancouver play another derby, this time a Canadian one, as they travel to Montreal Impact in the first leg of the final of the Voyageurs Cup.

This is the Canadian Championship/Cup, with the winners qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League and ultimately the chance to go and play alongside the world's elite at the FIFA World Club Cup.

Vancouver have never won the Voyageurs Cup and is their main goal this season along with reaching the playoffs once again.

The problem is Montreal are probably the other form team in MLS alongside Portland and have stacked their team with a host of former talented Italian internationals who seem to be enjoying a new lease of life in Quebec.

After the second leg on May 29th, Vancouver face two tricky away games, in New York and in Seattle.

It could be a case that the Whitecaps are looking at three straight MLS defeats and a loss in the Canada Cup. If that is the case then, both their goals for the season could have all but vanished by mid June.

And if that does happen, we could see the Scottish experiment in Vancouver ending more abruptly than anyone expected.

The next month is going to be huge for Vancouver Whitecaps. If you want to get your summer fix of fitba, then keep an eye out for them.

[You can get daily news on all things Vancouver Whitecaps, including our podcast, on AFTN's Canadian website at: www.aftn.ca]

[This blog post first appeared in the East Fife programme 'The Bayview' on Wednesday May 15th 2013.]

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ah, playoff time. Love them or loathe them, the playoffs are here to stay.

If you're on the fence about them then your thoughts may be shaped one way or the other come 5pm on Sunday evening.

I've always been pretty torn about them. Hate the Scottish ones, but love the English ones. Playoffs in the Scottish League seem pointless when you only have ten team leagues, although I am starting to warm to them.

My view has always been to just let the runners up go up and the second bottom team go down. They both deserve and have earned their fates. If that meant East Fife lost the chance to go up or were horribly relegated, then so be it.

Of course, that was my view before East Fife actually found themselves in a relegation playoff. Now I'm torn again, but I think deep down, I feel we should already be down.

But we're not. Them's the rules that we all knew when we started out on this long and horrible road last summer. We now have a second chance at life and we can only hope that each and every player grabs that opportunity with both hands and embraces it with all their might.

There is no doubt that the playoffs add a bit of excitement to what is sometimes an otherwise dreary end of the season and the games do throw up some cracking matches. Better cup ties than some cup ties.

Anyone who was at Bayview on Saturday will long remember the emotions they felt when they saw the ball leave Liam Gormley's foot and into the back of the Berwick net.

Speak to any Dunfermline fan, or Forfar one for that matter, about the emotions that were running through them last Saturday at East End Park in a truly remarkable match.

You don't get that in many League games and now we have the chance to enjoy two more.

Maybe the playoff buzz that the English ones generate are finally starting to catch on here in Scotland. Maybe I am starting to come round that they are a good idea and prevent a huge spate of meaningless matches at season end.

There is no doubt that there is still a long way to go before we'll be anything like what they have down south.

The ending to the Championship playoff semi between Leicester City and Watford was simply unreal.

I thought I'd seen it all at the end of the regular season with the League One game between Brentford and Doncaster when it came to dramatic endings, but that playoff game was even more stunning than that. It was simply one of those wow moments you're glad you saw and won't forget in a hurry.

Maybe not as dramatic, but equally as fantastic to watch, was the Blue Square Premier playoff between Newport Country and Wrexham, with County scoring two goals in the final five minutes to seal their place in the Football League after 25 years of heartbreak.

I've long had a soft spot for Newport County going back to my days swapping fanzines with their "Never Say Dai" one. I'm a member of their Supporters Trust and so very glad that they now have their place back where they belong.

So what will tonight and Sunday hold in store for fans of East Fife and Peterhead? One half will be joyous beyond belief, the others heartbroken.

We have fought so hard in recent weeks to be where we are tonight. It's been a hard season, with many more downs than ups, but the players deserve the credit for sticking with it and having us on the brink of staying up.

Without adding more pressure on them, it's imperative that we do. We can't afford to miss out on the gate money from Rangers and possibly Dunfermline games and we can't afford to return to the dregs of Scottish football that we fought so hard to escape from.

We don't have a great record in the playoffs but let's change that tonight. To the fans, I say support the team, no matter what, through 180 minutes and more if needed. To the players I say, do this for the fans, for the proud history of the Club, but most of all, do it for yourselves and prove ALL of your doubters wrong.

'Mon the Fife. Let's get this done together.

[This article first appeared in the East Fife programme 'The Bayview' on Wednesday 15th May 2013]

Monday, April 22, 2013

SUPPORTER

Noun

1 - A person who approve of and encourages someone or something.

2 - A person who is actively interested in and wishes success for a particular sports team.



The AFTN forum has been full of a lot of talk this season about what being a supporter is all about. After the embarrassing antics that took place at Bayview last Saturday, that debate has got a lot more heated this week.

Most football forums have such discussions these days. It also breeds a modern day blight of oneupmanship, as supporters try to devalue others commitment to the cause.

There's not many things more likely to get my hackles raised on forums than that most boring of debates - "I'm a better/bigger fan than you".

Nobody cares. It doesn't matter why you think you are, everyone has the right to support their football team the way that they see fit. No one fan is better than any other fan. We're all in this as one big group.

What makes a supporter? Can you still be considered one if you don't actively attend games any more? And if you don't attend, should you be able to criticise or have you given up that right by not supporting your team by putting your hand in your pocket and handing over your admission money?

My answer to those last two questions is a resounding yes. If East Fife is in your blood. If you have an interest in the club. If you want them to succeed. Then by definition you ARE a supporter, whether you attend matches or not, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Is being a supporter all about unwavering support no matter what? In my mind, no.

The above definition emphasises the interest and the desire for success aspect of being a supporter. Not blind loyalty no matter what. Not shutting up no matter how bad the team is playing and not making your feelings known.

Others will vehemently disagree and this is seemingly where a lot of the arguments keep getting stuck in a continuous loop between those that are on different sides of that line.

And talking of lines, there is one between what is acceptable criticism and what is not. We, as supporters, have the right to make our feelings known. We have the right to complain vocally. We have the right to boo and show our disgust. In most cases, we were here before the current crop of players, management and board members were, and we'll be the ones here long after they move on.

All that said, some of the criticism of players at Bayview has been over the top for many, many a year. Every season, there always seems to be one or two players signalled out for the abuse, often by the same sections of the home crowd.

Away from home, the atmosphere at games is a lot different most of the time. Home field advantage seems negated at East Fife.

How does barracking our own players help them? How will it make them play better and not just have them living on their nerves of what the next abuse will be if they make another bad pass or shot? Do you really think they go out there to deliberately play poorly? They haven't picked themselves for the team.

I'm sick of reading posts between the warring factions of those who have walked away from East Fife and those who will keep going to cheer on the team no matter what. Neither group is actually helping the Club.

This season has been a divisive one off the pitch and what makes it all the more frustrating is that ultimately, everybody wants the same thing - a successful and thriving East Fife FC.

Frankly, I don't care if you're attending every week, a few times a season or not at all any more. Our football club needs us more than it has done since those dark Derrick Brown days, and it needs us all to work together for the betterment of the club.

There are little enough of us as it is, and those numbers are dwindling all the time. Fighting amongst ourselves when we are in the middle of a relegation dogfight solves nothing. Uniting and turning that anger into a positive solution for putting East Fife back on a better footing and dealing with the problems that have us where we are, does do that however.

We have three games left in the regular season and possibly up to four more in the playoffs. Save the hostility and the finger pointing and the nonsense until after those. Our only focus just now should be uniting to keep us up.

No matter what happens there needs to be a major close season chat about how to take this football club forward, how to correct the mistakes made this season, how to get some of those stayaways to come back, whilst attracting new fans at the same time, and how to bring some positivity to OUR once proud team.

For now, it HAS to be a case of - United we stand, Divided we fall. Right back in to the Division Three. And NO-ONE wants that.

[This blog post first appeared in the East Fife programme 'The Bayview' on Saturday 20th April 2013]

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Bad weather and postponements can kill a small club. Not only do you lose out on gate income, lost hospitality and wasted food in the pie stall, it can often lead to the most horrendous fixtures pile up.

Right now of course, we'd love to be looking at a fixtures backlog at Bayview and having a few more games ahead of us to try and avoid the seemingly inevitable relegation playoffs.

Some of the top managers are always on the telly complaining about having too many games in too short a time. It's not good for the players. You know, those highly paid ones that are full time and train a couple of hours each day, if that. Never mind that we used to play for 4 or 5 hours a day when we were kids, then go home and have our tea and then go back out and play some more.

Next time you hear complaints about fixture congestion, or think that your own club has a horrendously busy spell ahead of them, think of the plight of poor Guernsey FC.

I've been following the fortunes of the Channel Island's club since they formed in 2011 and played their first game in a friendly against AFC Wimbledon in July that year.

Right from the start, it was a feelgood story about underdogs trying to make it. It's one we can all relate to, following the level of football we do.

I was immediately intrigued by the travel implications involved in playing in the English football pyramid. They are closer to France than England after all. it would be like having Orkney or Shetland playing in the Highland League, something which I think would amazing btw!

Guernsey FC are the first Channel Islands club to do such a thing and they pay the travel expenses of all of their opponents that have to visit the island. It must cost them fortune, but it's just one of the hurdles they had to overcome to earn the right to play football with the mainland teams.

The island has a population of just over 65,000 and the club play at the 5,000 seated Footes Lane in St Peter Port. When the team was launched they drew on players from the top seven sides that made up the Guernsey Football Association and from that first day, they haven't looked back.

They were accepted into Division One of the Combined Counties League last season, Level 10 of the English football pyramid, and they won promotion to the Premier Division with ease. They scored a staggering 138 goals in their 34 matches (an average of four goals per game), losing only two and having a goal difference of plus 116. They walked to the title by 14 points. Their leading scorer, Ross Allen, had 51 goals!

This season was full of hope, and it kind of still is.

Promoted to the Premier, they've had a great season, including a run to the semi finals of the FA Vase. They eventually lost over two legs to Spennymoor Town, the new offshoot of the now defunct Spennymoor United, who East Fife played in a pre-season friendly in the 90s. The home leg of their semi final saw them pack 4,290 fans into Footes Lane, their current attendance record.

It was the first year they'd entered the competition and they nearly got all the way to Wembley. Not too shabby!

That Cup run and the horrendous winter weather this year has unfortunately had a huge impact on the League aspirations.

At the time of writing this article (Monday evening), Guernsey are sitting third in the League, with the Champions promoted to Division One of either the Southern League or the Isthmian League.

Getting to that level in only two seasons is remarkable enough, but it would also leave them four promotions away from the Football League, and you just have to look at the rise of AFC Wimbledon to know that such thoughts aren't necessarily just pipe dreams.

They're currently sitting 17 points behind the League leaders Egham Town, but they do have seven games in hand!

Yes, with an amazing 27 games postponed this season, Guernsey FC have been left with the most horrendous fixtures backlog I've ever seen.

Their April schedule sees them due to due to play 17 matches in 30 days and seven of those are away from home. This includes two weekends where they will play games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and they're basically playing every other day.

It's incredible stuff, but even more so is the fact that so far they have won five and drawn one of their seven games this month, scoring 21 goals in the process.

By the time you read this programme, they'll have played another two games, both of them away from home.

And the team can't catch a break. Saturday's home game against Farnham Town was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.

That game has now been rescheduled for May 6th.

Guernsey's April schedule is bad enough, but when you look in to May they will round off their season by playing a staggering four home games in four days over May 3rd to 6th. Any more bad weather and postponements and who knows how they can fit new dates in.

Their end of season run in, especially their four-play in May, is a nice little football trip in store for anyone who fancies a trip to the island. I'd hoped to take a game in when I was down in London in January. The weather put pay to that idea, but the cost and time of actually getting to Guernsey didn't exactly help either.

Guernsey also have a chance of getting promoted if they finish second and they are currently just three points behind Epsom and Ewell who currently occupy that spot.

A top two place is almost guaranteed but if they can win back to back Championship they will have achieved it against all odds and overcome some of the worst fixture adversity you are probably likely to see.

A few more bad winters mind you and we could be seeing it again down there.

The Guernsey FC story is a magnificent one. It's one of underdogs. One of overcoming many obstacles to try and get success. And one of achieving it.

It's the dream all of us fans of lower league football clubs have and it's nice to see it when it does happen, unless it's a team like Gretna of course and then you can't feel good about that!

So keep an eye on Guernsey's end to the season and the next time you hear someone complaining about fixture congestion, just point them in the direction of the Channel Islands.

[This blog post first appeared in the East Fife programme 'The Bayview' on Saturday 20th April 2013]

Monday, March 25, 2013

If I was to sit here and ask you "where did it all go wrong?", I'm sure your first thought would be that I was talking about East Fife's season.

It could be. Or it could also be about Scotland on the international stage, or Scottish clubs in Europe, or what happens to all the promising youngster that we produce in this country, or why don't we produce players like the old days?

Sadly it could be a seemingly endless list that a one pager in an East Fife programme could in no way even begin to address.

For the sake of this week's blog though, I'm talking about the general state of the game in Scotland, which can also encompass all of the above anyway.

Watching from afar, this season just seems to have lurched from one shambles to another, with many that are entrusted to lead the game in Scotland seemingly out of touch with the average fan and apparently clueless in what needs to be done to take the game here by the scruff of the neck and give it the kicking it needs to not just survive, but to thrive.

From the Rangers debacle that dominated the close season, to more failure by our "top" club sides in Europe, to Scotland's shambolic World Cup campaign, to the constant talk about league reconstruction that have gone nowhere. It's been a depressing season all round that shows little signs of easing up.

The two latest pieces of this annus horribilis are the current plight of Dunfermline Athletic and the never ending saga about how the league set up will look next season.

Even to consider adding Old Firm colt teams to the League set up ahead of teams like Cove Rangers and Spartans. Seriously SFL?

We can add a third in Tuesday night's draw against Albion Rovers if you want, as that's left us deep in the brown stuff with eight games remaining. Happy thoughts, Happy thoughts.

The Pars plight is both shocking but not exactly surprising at the same time.

Now let's preface this with the usual no-one wants to see any club go bust, etc etc, BUT at some point it is going to take a middle-sized club to go to the wall to get other clubs acting correctly.

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking, because you know what, will some of them ever change or is the lure of spending beyond their means to reach the promised land of the SPL just too much?

We've covered this before but when you look back to East Fife in the increasingly distant past and look to who our peers were, Dunfermline were in the division below us. Then something went right for them and they rose the league and were somewhat Premier mainstays for a bit, then a yoyo club between the top two divisions.

So how did they get there? And is that what has them in their current mess? Could that have been us if we hadn't lost Davie Clarke and our top players to Falkirk in the mid 80s and instead spent to strengthen the squad? Or how about if we'd taken Steve Archibald's advice and gone full time in the mid 90's.

We'll never know. Other clubs, like Ross County, seem to be well run, worked hard to get to the top and are doing well, albeit with some debt I would guess.

How does a football club allow itself to get to the stage where they are running up debts into six figures and not paying the taxman? Why at no point did someone say, you know what, we're not heading to a good place here, until it was too late.

At the time of writing this, they look doomed. Maybe a saviour will come along at the last minute, but will that really be better for them than doing a Sevco? Only in so much that the little local businesses may at least see the money that they so badly need for them to survive.

Chin up Pars fans. We'll see you in the Third next season. Fife derbies again. Woo!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Paul Ritchie earned seven full international Caps for Scotland and more at U21 level and below.

The ex-Hearts hero may be plying his trade on the other side of the world at the moment, as assistant manager of Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer, but he is still proudly Scottish and looking forward to taking time out from his busy schedule to watch the next two matches in Scotland's 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, the first competitive games in the new Gordon Strachan era.

Paul's fellow assistant manager in Vancouver is former Wales international Carl Robinson. The two had some excellent banter in the build up to the last game between the two countries, with some secret wagers between them. As we all know, that particular match ended horribly thanks to the Welsh submarine Gareth Bale. Dive. Dive. Dive.

Ritchie took it as well as any Scot would, and with Vancouver's manager also being a Scot, Martin Rennie, Robinson immediately found himself on a scouting trip to Honduras! We're sure that was just purely coincidental.

Now round two was last night, so by the time you read this, we'll all know just how good or bad things ended this time around.

We're hoping well, as it will put the following interview into a better context, as Paul chatted with AFTN last week to share his thoughts on Strachan's appointment, how we should play out the remaining qualifying campaign and the continuing inclusion of Scotland captain Kenny Miller, who is with him over in Vancouver.

So what does Ritchie think of Strachan as the new Scotland gaffer?

"He's a quality coach. He's coached at the highest level. I think he's the fans choice, so I think when you have the fans backing it will go a long way because the Tartan Army have been starved of success recently.

"Hopefully under a new manager we can aim to progress. It might take a number of years. There's a lot of good kids coming through. It might be too late this year to qualify for Brazil, but I think there a chance for the future."

Has Ritchie ever played alongside Strachan in his 17 year pro career?

"No. I never played with Gordon. I played with a number of teams against him."

We spoke about the dilemma Strachan faces in these very pages a couple of weeks ago. Does he play his strongest team and experienced players in the remaining qualifiers, in the hope that some kind of footballing miracle can be pulled off, or does he blood the new breed of Scottish internationals and let the likes of Jordan Rhodes get valuable experience spearheading the attack, thinking ahead to that next qualifying campaign?

Ritchie had no question as to how Strachan and Scotland should approach the remainder of the campaign.

"I think we've got to go for it as long as it's mathematically possible. Two games coming up and if we win both of these games it gives us a good chance. But you know what Scotland's like. We give ourselves a chance and then fall at the last hurdle.

"But I think as long as we can succeed and as long as we have a chance to qualify, we must go for it, so we must pick the best players available at the time."

And that's just what Strachan has done. He's picked the strongest squad he could for the double header against Wales at Hampden last night and in Serbia on Tuesday.

For the Whitecaps management and fans that has meant the loss of Kenny Miller for the game in Houston today, and who knows what state he will be in when he arrives back for the Chivas game the following weekend.

You see, Major League Soccer has many faults and one of them is their sometimes crazy scheduling that sees league games directly clashing with the international calendar.

This is despite the US still being heavily involved in trying to reach Brazil, having games themselves on Friday and Tuesday, and with 38 players from 15 different countries now missing their club matches this weekend as they are away on international duty.

There's no postponements for clubs, no matter how many players they may be missing. This is no East Fife v Clydebank situation!

But why bring Miller over for his second cross-Atlantic journey in a few weeks? He only saw a handful of minutes against Estonia.

The answer is experience and what he can bring to the squad off the pitch, as well as on it. A role he has been undertaking in Vancouver, as he takes the new crop of young striking talent at the club under his wing.

You also have to factor in that he has had a new lease of life and started the new MLS season with a bang, becoming captain of the Whitecaps and winning over his doubters with two excellent performances and an opportunistic goal of the highest order.

Maybe Strachan is right to keep him involved and we'll see the Kenny Miller of old in a Scotland shirt again. Ritchie seems to think so.

"Kenny's in the squad now. I know for a fact that there's a number of people back home who think he's past it, he's too old. Having seen him in the first two games of this season, he's got a lot of football left in him.

"The effect he has here with the younger players, I think he can have that effect on the Scottish players. When you look at the younger players who are involved with the national team just now, playing at a good level, they're really lacking that little bit of experience. Kenny's got that experience and he's willing to share that.

"He's a fantastic pro and the younger ones like Jordan Rhodes will learn off Kenny Miller."

So is a coaching role in the Scotland set up something that Ritchie sees in the future for Miller? And how happy will the Whitecaps be in Miller making 12+ hour journeys across the Atlantic for such a role?

"Time will tell. From our point of view, unless he does play, it's not beneficial to us as a club to have Kenny flying back and forward.

"Kenny will make that decision himself. If he's part of these next two squads and playing and involved, then good for him, keep at it. But if he goes there and doesn't play.

"I know his family circumstances are a little bit different just now, his wife and baby are back home, so that's the thing, but we can't have Kenny making these trips for nothing. And that's a selfish point of view.

"Kenny was fantastic the first two games of the season for us and we need to keep him like. We don't want him travelling 5,000 miles there and 5,000 miles back to sit on the bench. Everybody knows that when you go away with the national team, the training isn't as intense as it is with your club team.

"He's a great professional. I think the break will do him good, but hopefully he does play and hopefully he plays some part in Scotland winning the next two games."

Paul of course didn't have the knowledge that all of us reading this today now do. So how did last night go? Did we give Wales a doing? Did we get revenge and kick Bale off the park? Has the Strachan era started as a success? Do we have something to look forward to on Tuesday? Or was it a case of same old, same old?

Sadly we all know things went tits up again, but as Ritchie says above, we do have a habit of falling. And it never gets any easier. It's still going to be a long road ahead.

[This article first appeared in the East Fife programme 'The Bayview' on Saturday March 23rd 2013.]

Monday, March 11, 2013

As East Fife fans we know that the black and gold don't like to do things the easy way.

The last three seasons have been a bit of a rollercoaster as we flirted with the relegation playoffs one year and the promotion playoffs the next, only to settle for mid-table mediocrity once again at the end of it all.

This season has seen very few highs, too many lows to count on your fingers, and with ten games to go, I think most of us would just be happy with mid-table mediocrity again at this point.

It's not exactly a lofty achievement to be aiming for as a storied football club.

As it stands, we're in a battle and need to start putting in the performances and stringing the results together that will get us out of our current plight and relegation dogfight.

We're heading in to the final quarter of the season and the games aren't going to come much bigger than our next three games, starting today.

Arbroath may be in that mid-table spot we crave, but they are certainly there for the taking today. A draw may not be a disaster, but we have to start looking at taking full points from our home matches.

Then comes two huge games against our fellow basement dwellers, that if we don't take the full six points from, then we're going to be in big, big trouble come May.

Albion Rovers surprisingly grabbed what will be a confidence boosting three points against Stenhousemuir on Tuesday, in a seven goal thriller. They're still adrift at the bottom by nine points, so at least we have that - for now.

Our goal difference (of a massive 20 goals) is saving us from that dreaded relegation playoff spot at the moment. Stranraer are filling that and meet Albion today.

As we face Albion next week, if the unthinkable were to happen, and they string three wins together on the bounce, they would be just three points behind us. Then we have face Stranraer at home the week after.

It really isn't exaggerating to say how huge the next 15 days will be for our hopes this season, and without being too dramatic, our footballing future as anything but a forgotten also-ran of the Scottish game.

The players need to step up but so do we the fans.

Those that know me, will know that I'm not around Methil much these days unfortunately, but I was back at the end of January and saw the 3-3 draw with Ayr.

I can't believe the team I saw fight back that day is in the trouble it currently is, but what surprised me even more was the atmosphere and crowd at Bayview that day.

So many regular faces from my past were just simply not there to cheer on the team any more. They've found something else to occupy their Saturday afternoons for various reasons.

The new Bayview has never been a source of much noise, singing and excitement, but I just couldn't believe how flat it was. Dare I say, how boring.

Where was the passion, the enthusiasm and the vocal support?

Many complain about the minority that abuse our own players. Who never seem to have a good thing to shout out, only criticism. You know one of the best ways to not hear that? Drown them out by singing for the team.

It's not always easy of course when the team just isn't giving you much to cheer about on the pitch, but we're all in this together.

I've been spoiled in my new surroundings of watching football in North America. There's still that perception that fans over here don't get the game and aren't passionate.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fans here sing and chant for pretty much the full ninety minutes. They don't let their support waver and you seldom hear a cry of derision at their own player. They bring banners, huge flags, drums, noise and most of all passion.

That's the passion we've not had at this club for many a year. Passion both on and off the park. To live and die for the jersey.

That's the passion we now need to keep us as a Second Division club.

Run until you're sore, shout until you're hoarse. Find a friend that's lapsed and get them back into the fold.

Make East Fife a proud and passionate football club once again.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Scotland get their disastrous 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign underway again in just over two weeks time when Wales come a calling to Hampden Park.

There's not exactly a lot to look forward to in the fixture, apart from maybe getting some revenge for the travesty that happened in Cardiff in October and the hope that someone in a blue jersey will give the diving Gareth Bale the hard kick he truly deserves (my money's on Scott Brown, whether he plays or not!).

Bottom of Group A after four games, eight points adrift of the top spot and with five teams above us in the table, it's all looking a bit bleak and there's still six games to go.

You could take the glass half full approach and say that's still 18 points available that would take us up to a whopping 20, or you can take the more realistic approach that we're now looking ahead to the campaign for Euro 2016 and the 'Road to Rio Paris'.

Even if we do start to string a few wins together, jetting off to Brazil next year would require a more unlikely comeback than Gary Glitter.

The only good thing to come out of this campaign so far is that it has meant the end of Craig Levein as the Scotland boss, something we can at least all be grateful for, so thank you cards should be on the way to the FA's of Serbia, Macedonia, Wales and Belgium.

In what should have been a surprise to no-one, Gordon Strachan was named his replacement on January 15th this year and the new gaffer has a 100% record so far following the narrow 1-0 win over the mighty Estonia last month.

At least he managed to beat a team below us in the FIFA world rankings, so he's already off on a better footing than Levein.

It was a horrible performance, but we might have a few more of those ahead of us in the next few months.

Strachan is faced with a dilemma. Does he play his strongest team and experienced players in the remaining qualifiers, in the hope that some kind of footballing miracle can be pulled off, or does he blood the new breed of Scottish internationals and let the likes of Jordan Rhodes get valuable experience spearheading the attack, thinking ahead to that next qualifying campaign?

For me, it has to be the latter.

Strachan needs to use these games to take a good look at the group of players that will be key to trying to reach France in 2016. He needs to see if they can perform at the top level and get them experience playing in these kind of matches. Treat the rest of the World Cup campaign as training games and let the players stake a claim and show that they deserve to be in the international reckoning.

Give some the U21s a shot, as they'll be moving up soon enough. Hell, I'd even throw 17 year old Islam Feruz into the mix at some point.

Not all of the current crop and older players are wanting to be put out to international pasture quite yet though.

One of that old guard is current captain Kenny Miller, who still dearly wants to be involved in the Scottish national team set up, whether the Tartan Army want him to be or not!

To let you know just how keen he is to be part of Strachan's plans, Miller made the gruelling 12+ hour trip from Vancouver to Scotland in February for that Estonian friendly. When you consider how many players have all of a sudden got an injury when friendlies come around, it's some commitment.

Not only that, but he put his place for his club at risk by doing it, leaving their Whitecaps' vital preseason training camp, which has just got underway.

He's no plans on stopping making that trip, but how does he cope with the jetlag?

"It takes a wee bit of time getting used to it. I think the more you do it, the more you're kind of prepared to get used to the timing of things going both ways. I generally find it not too bad coming back this way (to Vancouver)".

Miller has had a pretty rough time of it after moving to Vancouver Whitecaps and Major League Soccer last summer. He's only scored twice in 13 appearances and lost his starting spot towards the end of the season.

The offseason in North America seems to have revitalised him though and he's looking fitter and sharper than at any time there so far. He also taking on a different kind of role, playing more as an attacking midfielder behind the lone striker up top.

He's also been finding himself coaching the three young strikers around him, the oldest of whom is 22, eleven years his junior. It's a role that seems to have brought the best out of him and a smile to his face.

Maybe it's not quite time to put him out to graze in a Scotland jersey just yet and he'll be used in a similar coaching and mentoring role for the rest of this campaign, helping some of the young Scottish strikers to be fully prepared for international football.

That of course will be up to Strachan.

Miller made his debut for Scotland in April 2001, when he came on as a sub against Portland. During his international career, which currently sees him with 17 goals in 66 appearances, he has served his country under seven different Scotland managers, including the newly appointed Strachan.

It's a familiar voice in the dressing room for Miller, having played under him during his brief time at Celtic, so what does the current Scottish captain make of the new Scotland boss? A good appointment and someone to turn the fortunes of the national team around?

"Well, only time will tell. Obviously we got off to a winning start. It wasnae a great performance and things, but we got the win and that was the main thing. We just need to build on that for the next qualifiers."

That they do, and not exactly words to get you carried away for the new Scotland boss.

One Vancouver based Scot who does think that Strachan will do a good job in his new role is Miller's club boss, Martin Rennie:

"I think it's a good appointment. He's obviously got great experience and had a lot of success as a manager and I think he'll command the respect of the players and the media as well.

"It's a tough job being the Scotland manager but he's one of the guys that you could see doing very well, hopefully like Walter Smith and Alex McLeish did."

Hopefully indeed. But even more hopefully, like a Jock Stein or Andy Roxburgh and actually see us qualify for major tournaments again.

We have a dream. Let's hope it can come true. The rebuilding starts March 22nd.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Football has changed and, in some instances, almost beyond recognition.

Some things are for the better, some things are for the worse, and some things, like East Fife winning major trophies, seem like a different world altogether.

Seeing the Fife add to their trophy tally is perhaps not a realistic short term goal in modern day football. Seeing the club compete competitively with their Second division peers and emulate the likes of Airdrie, Cowdenbeath and Dumbarton by playing in the First Division, should be the minimum we are aiming for as a football club.

Looking to do this and actually achieving it are two very different things of course.

You would say money is a key factor in success these days, but you don’t look at the likes of Cowdenbeath, especially with the state of their ground and the crowds that they pull in, and decide that’s what’s done it for them.

There is no doubt that money helps of course and resources at a club like East Fife are not rich at the moment.

Like it or not, small, provincial clubs like ourselves need the continued support of their fans – both in volunteer hours and in monetary terms.

Regular readers will know that we’re also supporters of AFC Wimbledon. For me, they are everything that is right about football in a time where you really have to dig deep to find such examples.

Fan owned and operated, they rely heavily on their support to survive and thrive. But this well can run dry and it’s a struggle in recession hit days like these. The results are showing, with the Wombles now facing the real prospect of returning to their non league roots, being rooted at the bottom of League Two as I write this.

It is hard for them to compete with other clubs in the division who can splash some cash, much as it seems like it is hard for East Fife in our League 2.

Wimbledon are 20th in the league table of spending on players’ wages in the division and that table is usually indicative of where they will finish in the other, more important, table. Last season they punched above their weight, finishing 16th and being ranked 21st in the spending table.

I’ve been at Kingsmeadow for the Dons’ last two home games (against Port Vale and Burton Albion) and the fundraising efforts amongst the fans is something that a club like East Fife could learn a lot from.

Now obviously you can argue that there is a bit more wealth kicking about the likes of Merton and Kingston-Upon-Thames than there is in say Methil and Leven, but every little helps.

Wimbledon fans have just launched a “We Are Wimbledon Fund”, a new way to provide support to their club. The fund aims to raise £400,000 a year through direct debits and one off donations under the Umbrella of The Dons Trust. The money will go directly to the playing budget.

The aim is to raise additional money to that already raised to take them out of the “budget league relegation zone and up towards mid table”.

They also have a “Be A Womble ‘Til You Die…..And A Good Bit Longer” campaign where they encourage fans to include the Dons Trust in their wills.

We wish them every success in their efforts.

It reminded me of course of our very own “Manager’s Fund”. This hasn’t quite caught the imagination of our support.

For those that don’t know about it, the aim is also to raise money, no matter how big or small, towards the playing budget. The fund is ring fenced and anyone who contributes is entitled to know the current state of the Fund at anytime.

It’s hard when money is tight, but if we really want to see East Fife being more than lower league fodder, we’re going to have to step up and help do it ourselves, or failing that, find some nice rich local businessmen who want only the club to do well in return for their money.

I think most clubs would love that of course.

Monday, January 28, 2013

If there's one subject likely to draw both consensus and discord amongst Scottish football fans, it's League reconstruction.

The consensus is there in that the vast majority of us know that there has to be change of some sort and the discord comes with none of us being able to agree exactly what that change should look like.

The latest proposals on the table from the governing bodies just don't cut it.

There should not be change for changes sake. We've waited long enough for this to happen so it has to be the right proposal that gets accepted.

A 12-12-18 set up is not that proposal.

The few plus points, such as the redistribution of wealth and some sort of pyramid system being in place, are far outweighed by the ludicrous mid season splitting of the divisions and other issues that feel like they were drawn up on the back of a beermat.

The numbers in the top two divisions still do not address the complaint of over familiarity with opponents. Continuing to play the same teams at least four times a season is not going to get the punters flocking back through the turnstiles.

It may do in the Third Division, sorry, National League, where at least we would get a bit of variety, although hopefully that would not be the place we would regularly be finding ourselves.

At the time of writing this, there is still a lot to discuss. By the time you read this, it may already have been done and dusted. We can only hope not, for if it has been, then they've gone for the quick fix and the wrong one.

However this plays out, any change should not be implemented midway through a campaign.

You can't change the goalposts when the thing that everyone thought they were playing for from day one no longer exists.

So what do we at AFTN feel is the way forward?

Well obviously we don't have the magical cure either, but looking at an even 14-14-14 split makes the most sense to us. I'd even be happy with a 12-16-16 and the addition of two new teams to freshen things up from the start.

Maybe we should all take a step back and take a look at the past.

I know times have changed and there are so many different ways that people can spend their time and hard earned cash on a Saturday now, along with the lure of televised games, but the numbers we got at Scottish League games years ago were phenomenal at times.

Apart from it being a different time and mindset, something must have happened to capture the fans' imaginations and get them to keep coming back in numbers week after week.

Let's look back the Fife's glory years and take 1947/48 and 1948/49 as examples.

There were two main divisions and a bit of a mish mash of a third. In that first year we won the 'B' Division. the following season we finished fourth in the 'A' Division.

32 clubs. Two divisions. A 16-16 split, with a further 12 clubs (including some second teams) in the C Division.

Those numbers worked then. Football worked then. East Fife worked then. What changed?

Maybe we should stop looking too much to the future and learn some lessons from the past.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The 2012 Major League Soccer season ended with the MLS Cup on December 1st.

Seven weeks later and the teams are all back in pre-season mode, looking forward to 2013's "First Kick" on March 2nd.

For Vancouver Whitecaps, there was an extra month to sit around and improve their golf handicap, having bowed out of the playoffs in the first round at the start of November.

It was a historic season for the Club, making the playoffs in only their second MLS season and becoming the first Canadian club to ever do so.

Some change from their previous bottom of the heap finish, but it set the expectations. 2013 had to be even better.

For Whitecaps fans that means several things: winning the Canadian championship for the first time and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League; and reaching the playoffs once again, but this time hosting and winning at least one game.

Anything less will be deemed a failure and although he would never admit it publically, Head Coach Martin Rennie knows this to be the case and the Scot, who pushes himself harder at every opportunity, would have it no other way.

Last season, the Thurso born Rennie decided to rely on the help of some fellow Scots and other UK expats.

'Designated Players' Kenny Miller and Barry Robson, were joined by former Newcastle and Irish national team defender Andy O'Brien.

The first two came in amongst huge fanfare, and pay packets to match (Miller on $1.24 million and Robson on $596,000). The softly spoken O'Brien came in under the radar, picked up only $192,250, and outperformed his two bigger name signings every step of the way.

The daggers of many fans were soon out for the seemingly underperforming Scots. Barry Robson finished the season with 3 goals in 17 appearances and Kenny Miller just 2 in 13.

Not the best production. Not the worst. But when you're talking about the team's two biggest earners, more was expected.

Fans were quick to point the favouritism finger and accused Rennie, and his assistant, ex Jambo Paul Ritchie, of bringing in their countrymen on reputation alone and just because they were Scots.

Maybe they did, but either way, it didn't seem to be working.

The axe was particularly out for Miller, with many fans hoping he would arrange a loan or permanent move back to the UK this off-season. The addition of several new and younger strikers and wingers seemed to indicate that Miller's days in Vancouver were numbered.

Rennie though seems keen to keep hold of Miller, and for his part in it, the Scottish captain is very happy in Vancouver and wants to stay and prove he is not a busted flush.

The jury was out on Robson. Some felt we were going to see the best of him this season. Others just wanted him gone too, partly from his on field performances and partly due to his on field actions and overall demeanour. The general consensus though was that he was the best midfielder that the Whitecaps had.

Somewhat ironically, and unexpectedly, as Whitecaps pre-season training got underway on January 21st, Miller was there all smiles and raring to go and Barry Robson was absent.

It was then revealed hours later that Robson and the Whitecaps had parted ways with the Club and player having mutually agreed to terminate the contract, playing the good old "family never fully settled in Vancouver" card.

When Robson was announced as joining the Caps in February last year, there was genuine excitement at what the experienced midfielder could bring to the team.

Unfortunately, once he started playing in July the reality was a player from a different footballing culture who just didn't seem to have what it takes to cut it in Major League Soccer.

Is the game really that different in North America to the UK? Others have struggled and Kris Boyd has just been bought out of his contract at Portland Timbers. Maybe it's just the Scots!

The sometimes lengthy travel between games takes some getting used to. So does the often poor quality officiating. How you deal with such things, and frustrations in general, tend to shape people's perceptions of you and Robson's biggest struggles seemed to be shaking off the perception of him by some fans and the media.

Many didn't like his on field attitude and he was plagued by rumours of dressing room disharmony. He was certainly hard to like at times out there.

If you were to ask fans for their lasting impressions of Robson, it wouldn't be his standout performance against Beckham's LA side in July (where Robson was the best midfielder on the park), instead it would be his constant arm waving to either berate of team-mates (including the club captain in one heated exchange) or the officials, the failure to track back or look interested at times, the sitting on his ass complaining about everything when the game was going on round about him, sometimes to the detriment of the Caps.

All sadly true and all attributes of a player that will always find it hard to settle into the North American game and win the warm affection of the fans here.

When he arrived in Vancouver he told AFTN: "I wear my heart on my sleeve. That’s the type of guy I am."

And he did. For all to see. And many didn't like what they saw.

I can't knock him for that to an extent. I want to see passion and the desire to win. At least he showed he cared.

Fans in particular can accept such actions if the player himself is without sin. Sadly Robson performed so far below his game on many occasions that it really was a case of pots and black kettles and his actions were clearly born out of frustrations at himself at times.

He was seen and portrayed as dour and surly by sections of the media, but it has to be remembered that he came from a background where the football media are not to be trusted. He wasn't used to be forced to chat to the press pack on a daily basis and less than enamoured by the post match open dressing room, which he never liked or got used to. I still find it weird wandering in there after a game!

I never found him to be hard to deal with personally. He always had time to speak with me. We shared a laugh and joke about a few things. Maybe it was just being a fellow Scot in unfamiliar surroundings, but as his time went on he did start to crack some smiles in the press scrums and come across as more friendly and approachable. Not that such things make as interesting reporting of course.

Are the Whitecaps a better team now without Robson? At this precise moment, no. There is now a huge gap in the midfield.

Will they be a better team when Rennie brings in a younger, more creative, productive and athletic midfielder in his place? Undoubtedly.

Given a full season here, I think the fans would have seen the Barry Robson I've watched since his early days playing against East Fife. Unfortunately we only ever got to see some very rare glimpses of that player in MLS.

Something didn't work with the Robson experiment. Whether it was the player, the tactics, the team-mates, the environment or a combination of all of that, we may never truly know.

Now, as pre-season continues and it's six weeks till the new season kicks off, the Whitecaps have a massive gaping hole in the middle of the park. Whoever replaces Robson needs to be strong, creative and someone to build the team around for several years to come. I'm guessing he won't be Scottish.

This is shaping up to be a very intriguing season for Vancouver Whitecaps from the off. We'll keep you posted.

[You can get daily news on all things Vancouver Whitecaps on AFTN's Canadian website at: www.aftn.ca]

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's hard not to think of East Fife's past in this season of anniversaries.

When you want to do some research or enjoy some reading about yesteryear, your number one stop should always be Jim Corstorphine's excellent history of the first hundred years of East Fife Football Club, "On That Windswept Plain", which was brought out for the Club's centenary in 2003.

That book was not the first to document the Fife's long and distinguished history though. That honour belongs to a 48 page book that was published in 1948 and which covers the wonderful, and sometimes testing, early years of the Club.

"Through The Years With East Fife FC" was written by William Phenix Junior and "issued under the auspices of East Fife Football Club" to tell the story of the Fife "in word and picture".

I don't know how many were originally published but it has been a long sought after collector's piece for the avid East Fife fan and one which doesn't appear all that often for fans to buy on ebay or elsewhere. It should be a must have for all Fife collectors though.

You're probably not going to uncover too many new or unknown snippets of information in the book, as a lot is also covered in Jim's book and elsewhere, that's not what makes it a magical must have.

Simply flicking through it and looking at the photos and adverts, and reading the style of writing, is what does it. You realise that you are holding in your hand a segment of history from a time when East Fife were amongst the best in Scotland and a force to fear.

You can pretend you're a Fife fan from the time, reliving the glories you've just seen with your own eyes, that now seem so long ago to us and we can only dream of ever repeating. It's hard not to get misty-eyed and nostalgic.

The tale of East Fife's early history is documented in short snippets under headings such as "The Kick Off", "All-Conquering East Fife", "Nearer - and Nearer - and Nearer", "Excelsior!", "Nightmare Interlude", "A-Dreaming, Promotion, A-Dreaming Of Thee", and many more.

The brevity of it all sees so many things quickly covered or just glossed over, but inside you find tales from the days in the Northern League, the Central League and of course the Scottish Cup win in 1938 and the first League Cup win in 1947.

We learn of the history and early days and how in season 1911-12 East Fife "shed their funereal garb of almost all black and donned the present-day famous strip of black and gold". The writer then pondered whether "the injection of a gold streak into the black was a symbolic expression of the hopes for a golden era in both playing and paying sense". The current Board should take note.

I love looking through old football books, programmes and magazines in general, but especially for the photos. There's 12 of them in "Through The Years", most, if not all of them, will be familiar to the faithful, but even so, looking at them so crystal clear just makes them seem anew.

For example, the first ever (?) team photo of East Fife from 1903 is well known, but in this book, for the first time that I recall, you can actually see people sitting on the hill behind them. The original Bayview mound! It's the little things in life!

Pride of place in the centre pages is reserved for a photo of "The Men Behind The Scenes" - the then Board, including the legendary Chairman John McArthur, who tragically died a year later at the League Cup semi final win over Rangers.

Nearly half of the book is taken up by adverts, but even these capture the times. There's a great on the inside back cover for Manfield-Hotspurs boots with the tagline "1948 Cup Finalists - Once again the Cup was won in Manfield-Hotspurs".

And of course we all know who won Cups wearing them.

In the acknowledgements section near the end, William Phenix noted that he expected "criticism of what is NOT in these pages may well turn out to be a more potential goal-scoring attack than criticism of what IS there".

We'll leave you with the introductory paragraph from this final section of the book to sum it all up:

"Sclimmin' ower and scramblin' a'low the fence at Bayview Park to see East Fife when my 'Saturday penny' had been already spent, I have ripped holes in my breeks. In later days I have ripped along many a road and rail to a far-off away game. I am, unashamedly, a dyed-in-the-black-and-gold football fan. Collecting material for and writing this history of East Fife, therefore, has been a fascinating ploy for me".

And it's also a fascinating, if all too short, read.

If you ever get the chance to add it to your collection, then you really should.

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