Monday, August 31, 2009

We continue our look at the things that have disappeared from the football with a real blast from the past. So far we have mainly taken a look at things from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. Things that at least a lot of us can still remember. This time though, there probably won’t be too many of us nodding our heads and saying “oh aye, that was me”.

(7) The Bunnet:

This series has talked about fan accessories already. Scarves tied around the wrists, rosettes, inflatables, rattles, but one item of clothing that was a must have for the football fans at Bayview in the 1920’s and 30’s was the bunnet.

The good old bunnet, or the flat cap as it was more commonly called outside of Scotland, was the fashionable thing for men of all ages at that time and especially the younger ones. They were all the rage.

I’d love to say that they came in all sorts of shapes, styles and colours but have a look at this picture taken at Bayview during that period, and you’ll see that, well, they didn’t! You’d certainly be standing out if you weren’t wearing one anyway! Take a close look and you’ll see that they do.

You can’t help but look at that picture though and wonder how much money you’d have taken in if you owned a bunnet shop in those days. If we ever manage to go back in time, it’s going to be “Bayview Bunnets” for me.

It was important to be seen as fashionable. To be seen out and about at the football was a prime time to wear them, where they also acted as a great celebratory tool of course.

You may have seen them in the old newsreels. The ball goes in the net, the crowd go wild and thousands upon thousands of bunnets go flying up into the air. The chances of you getting your own one back would have been slim. The chances of you ending up with head lice not so much!

This practice would explain why the two men in the far left of the front row look like they do. If they were lucky it was a three or four goal game and they could chance getting a better fitting hat next time around. If it was 1-0 though then it was a long trudge home in your ill-fitting attire, avoiding lamp-posts on the way, hoping that the next game would be a high scoring thriller and wishing that you hadn’t tucked your last cigarette in the rim of the hat you originally came with.

It’s strange to see pictures like that now – a ground jam packed for an East Fife game! The uniformity of it all. It’s even more strange to think how much things have changed. You hardly ever see bunnets these days unless you’re watching a Samuel L Jackson movie, Delboy on TV or Brian Johnson from AC/DC. Or you could just take a walk up Cowdenbeath High Street and follow some old men around.

What on earth happened to them? How can something so popular, just disappear so quickly?

They say that fashion goes in cycles. Maybe in the 2020’s we’ll all be bedecked on the new terraces of Bayview Stadium wearing the latest range of black and gold bunnets and I’ll be sitting back counting the money from the opening of my sixth branch of Bayview Bunnets.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Rochester Rhinos (USL1)

Vancouver Whitecaps stayed in the final USL playoff place last night following their 1-1 draw at home to Rochester Rhinos.

The point extended the Caps unbeaten streak to five games and with just five more League games remaining and a seven point gap over 8th placed Miami, a play off place is all but assured. It's where they finish in the play off mix that's up for grabs now.

It wasn't their best performance of the season but was far from their worst and they were unlucky not to take all three points from the encounter and tie Rochester for 5th place.

The first half was end to end stuff, with both teams having chances to open the scoring and the Whitecaps had Jay Nolly to thank for a couple of important stops. The Caps were the more dangerous looking side and pinged a few efforts agonisingly just wide, with Martin Nash and Nizar Khalfan having two good efforts.

Vancouver continued to force the action in the second half with Khalfan and substitute Gordon Chin having a couple of good chances before they finally got their deserved breakthrough on 66 minutes.

Wes Knight took one of his trademark long throw's from the right and it hit the right spot, in this case Charles Gbeke's shoulder, to fly into the net. A good goalscorer can find the net with any part of his body and Gbeke did just that to score his 10th goal of the season and give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

I have to say that I thought that that would be the match winner as Rochester were looking unlikely to find a way past Jay Nolly, but they did just that in an unorthodox fashion with ten minutes remaining.

It was two ex Whitecaps players that combined to tie the game up (isn't that so often the case). The classless Steve Kindel made a run down the left before whipping over a perfect cross to Ze Roberto. The Brazilian failed to connect properly and headed the ball into the ground, where the awkward bounce took the ball over Nolly before dropping into the net. 1-1 and that's how the game ended.

With the Caps having a relatively easy run in, the forthcoming match with Montreal could have a real impact on the final playoff placings (no pun intended!). It would also be very satisfying to hand the Frenchies the bottom seeding following their surrenderings earlier in the year to TFC.

Vancouver are now unbeaten in five and are going into the playoffs with some good form. Once they get there, everything changes and back to back Championships are certainly there for the taking.

FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 1 - 1 Rochester Rhinos

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Match Report: East Fife v Cowdenbeath (Scottish Second Division)

The season is only four league games old and already East Fife are attracting the tag "draw specialists".

Three in a row now, still unbeaten, down to fifth place and some very uninspiring play. It could be a long season.

The Fife faithful weren't expecting a derby game this season, but the Livingston debacle has thrown up our third rate derby against Cowdenbeath once again. It's not quite the same as the Rovers one. Hell, even a Pars one is better, but it's what we've got.

The fact that Cowden seem to have some sort of hoodoo over us as well doesn't exactly whet the appetite. Not just to me either it seems. Whilst 6,289 fans headed along to East End Park for the Dunfermline-Raith Rovers derby, a paltry 803 made their way into Bayview Stadium for this encounter.

The fare served up on the pitch did little to excite for the three encounters still to come - especially as two of them are now at the shit hole that is Central Park.

With East Fife still not able to include main striker Paul McManus in the starting line up, although he did make the bench today, it's always a question of where the goals will come from.

With Michael Brown taking over the top pelters from many fans for his goalkeeping performances, this was the chance for him to show the Fife faithful what he's got and be a derby hero.

Sadly for Brown, he became the villain of the piece after just 12 minutes when he allowed Jay Stein to score from a corner. It may have been windy conditions but when you're clearly heard to yell out "keeper's ball" and then don't collect it, it's only going to increase the pressure on you and take any remaining confidence that the defence might have in you away.

To make matters worse, East Fife had had most of the running up to this point but the goal signalled a shift in fortunes and the Blue Brazil went into the ascendancy, thankfully without really threatening to increase their lead.

Half time gave East Fife a chance to regroup and they were the better team in the second half, although the constant punt punt punt tactics did little to pose much of a threat to David Hay in the Cowden goal.

David Muir, who has had a fantastic season to date but was having a shocker today, was replaced after 58 minutes by Paul McManus and Shagger soon showed what the Fife are missing when he's missing from the team.

His workrate is second to none and he got his reward on 70 minutes when he rose well to head home a Mark Staunton flick on from a corner.

Both sides had half chances to win the game but once again, a draw was a fair result from proceedings, an all to familiar story so far this season.

From what we've seen so far, it's a pretty weak Second Division as many of us expected. We can quite easily challenge for promotion this season, although we do lack the necessary strength to survive in the First Division with the current squad any way.

The important thing is to start playing some decent passing football again and more importantly, converting some of these draws into victories. Too many points dropped could be very costly come May.

FINAL SCORE: East Fife 1 - 1 Cowdenbeath

Friday, August 28, 2009

One thing that unites football fans in anger these days is cheating players. Whether that be divers, those feigning injury, using a sly hand or whatever, it just drives fans crazy.

For anyone that saw Wednesday night's Champions League match between Arsenal and Celtic at the Emirates Stadium, the main post match talking point sadly wasn't the Gunners clinical display, but that of the penalty that Da Silva Eduardo won by taking a clear dive in the box.

It's hard to argue that the decision turned the match as Arsenal were clearly the better side over the two legs and would probably have run out clear winners anyway, but the first goal on the night was very important and it then forced Celtic to push forward gung ho and leave themselves exposed at the back.

You also can't blame the referee Manuel Gonzalez for giving the penalty as his view of the incident from behind and Eduardo's actions would have looked like a clear cut penalty to anyone, no matter how much Artur Boruc protested that he never touched him.

It was fantastic then to hear today that UEFA have charged the Croatian international with diving and that he faces probably a two match ban.

Arsene Wenger's outraged reaction is not unexpected. "I find it a complete disgrace and unacceptable," said Wenger "It singles out a player to be a cheat and that is not acceptable. We will not accept the way Uefa has treated this.".

The thing with this voyeur is that he did cheat, so what's your point here?

Wenger is arguing that you can't prove that he dived, just that he moved his legs away - in a "I've just been assaulted by the goalie" kind of way. Total bullshit. Eduardo knew exactly what he was doing and the other argument that he was worried about suffering another leg break doesn't hold sway either.

Eduardo knew that he wasn't touched. He knew that it wasn't a penalty. He could easily have missed the penalty that he then got up to take, but he didn't.

Wenger's continued defence of his player and the actions are almost worse than those of Eduardo in the first place.

UEFA's punishment of Eduardo certainly won't stamp out the cheats, but it certainly does send the message that they have no place to hide and that they will use television evidence after the event to punish the scumbags. It's certainly a good way forward and one that hopefully all leagues around the world that can use this technology will hopefully adopt. I know a lot already do.

The cheats can never win or else the game has no meaning.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When we were researching our list of the richest men who own football clubs (see Blog of August 4th) we came across the very interesting figure of Sunil Mittal.

Indian Mittal is 59th in the list of Forbes Magazine’s Richest People of 2009 with a net worth of $7.7 billion, having made his money in the telecommunications market. Mittal doesn’t own a football club but does have an interest in the game and his investments could have a world changing impact on the game as we know it.

Sunil Mittal, you see, is investing a lot of money in setting up a football academy in India, with the aim of helping the Indian national team qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

India are a country, along with China, who have the potential to change the world game solely based on population factors alone. It has often been a puzzle to me as to why there has not been a constant stream of Indian professional footballers coming through at the top level of the game.

This is especially true in the UK. Obviously Cricket is the sport you immediately associate with India but there is a large Indian population in the UK and many of them have a keen interest in football, both watching and playing. As the generations move on, more Indians are growing up living and breathing everything about football, but yet the talented individuals that exist in the community are not gracing our TV screens week in and week out.

In India itself, football is ranked as the second most popular game in the country, even ranking first in some states. The game is governed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) but the country with a population of over 1.1 billion is a major underachiever in footballing terms, and that’s putting it mildly.

The Indian national team is currently ranked joint 156th in the FIFA World Rankings. Incredible. Even the Maldives are above them. Their World Cup 2010 hopes fell at the first hurdle, with a 6-3 aggregate defeat by Lebanon. It’s hard to fathom.

You’d think that a country of that many people could find 11 to compete on the world stage. The big problem would appear to be the lack of proper training facilities and developmental opportunities in the country, but now, thanks to Sunil Mittal, this may all change.

It’s been a tough slog for Mittal to get his dream off the ground.

He first announced his plans in 2007 and announced a tie up with the AIFF in January 2008, saying that he would spend whatever was needed to see India compete in the 2018 World Cup. The plan was to build a world class football academy and set off a “football revolution” in the country. What Mittal didn’t foresee was the seemingly endless problems that lay ahead in acquiring the land they wanted, first in Goa and then Haryana, and then the recession hitting a number of sponsors of the game in the country.

Mittal is still keen for the project to go ahead, but his dreams of seeing India play in the World Cup may have to be put back to 2022.

You just have to look at the US to see what steady development in youth can achieve. Their programme has seen a number of top players now emerge and with more to come, they could start to be a powerhouse on the international scene. We’ve seen what they’re capable of already at this year’s Confederation Cup. If they could only get the MLS to put games on hold for international fixtures then they could really be looking at something big happening. The big breakthrough many have been waiting for.

It would be great to see a country like India invest in their footballing future. Even if only a small fraction of their population were to start to develop into top players, they would hold such sway in clubs across the world and we could see an Indian Premier League in football and not just 20/20 cricket.

Who knows what the game could look like in 20 years time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The big talking point this morning is of course the violence that erupted both outside and inside Upton Park last night at the Carling Cup match between West Ham and Millwall.

With so many people in the media seemingly salivating at the prospect of some good old fashioned football violence to report upon, the in-phrase to describe last night's events seems to be along the lines of "this is a throwback to an era of football long past".

Anyone who attends matches in England, and especially those matches involving Clubs whose fans have a reputation for causing trouble, will tell you that that is clearly not the case.

The hooligan element has never gone away, but has got smaller and less bother to the headline writers. It's not the sensationalist news story it was before, but it certainly has never been eradicated.

That to me is one of the main shocking aspects of last night's scenes - the vast scale and obvious organisation of it all.

No one can have seriously expected a game between West Ham and Millwall to kick off without any trouble at all but the fact that so many were involved and that it returned the trouble to the terraces (obviously seats these days) and to inside the ground is particulalry worrying.

The police seemed to be caught out by the size of those there to cause trouble and once they were unable to contain the initial surge and splits, they were always going to be fighting a losing battle to contain it.

As a West Ham fan since I was a little boy, I've known the reputation and stories of our support for years. Glamourised in print and film, what has really shocked me about it all is that it was the West Ham fans that were the main instigators in all this and that they decided to do it on home turf.

I'm sure that many of you were like myself and when they heard about the trouble automatically thought that it was the away fans that had started it all.

So is this a return to violent days of old or one-off? The media would have you believe it's the former and probably secretly hope so. The truth is that it is neither.

Stadium make ups and hig prices for match admission has signalled that the heydey of hooligans is in the past and football is all the better for that. There will always be sporadic bursts of major violence and especially in the lower leagues. Of course, when it isn't so high profile, the media doesn't seem to care as much.

As for West Ham, the sheer scale of the trouble and the number of pitch invasions involved is going to see them hit with serious repercussions. For a Club that has seemed to stumble from crisis to crisis off the pitch in the last couple of years, their so called "fans" have put them in a dire situation.

They are already not the most popular Club with the football league and the chances are that they will be made an example of. They will get little sympathy from other Clubs, despite the fact that this was such an organised operation by the hooligans that no Club would have been in a position to deal with it any better than the Hammers did.

With ownership concerns, money worries, the possibility of having to sell their top players and the fact that their bench at the weekend resembled a youth club outing, this is really the last thing that West Ham needed right now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Canadian Football League may not be that well known to a lot of you reading this in a part of the world that isn't Canada. For starters it's not the proper kind of football. No, the CFL is that of the throwball variety, akin to the NFL in the States.

Don’t hold that against them though as they are one of the most forward thinking sporting leagues around, are very open to suggestions for improvement from the fans and have a few innovations and ideas that I would love to see brought into our kind of football.

This season the CFL have their second year of "Retro Week" games.

Retro Week is a chance for the League, the players and the fans to honour the CFL and their Club’s rich history and the achievements of past legendary players. To cap it all off, each team plays their game that weekend in a retro authentic throwback uniform. A uniform which can be purchased by fans, as obviously the moneymakers in the sport don’t want to miss a trick at making a quick buck!

Last season the 1950’s was the era that was celebrated. It was a huge success and proved very popular with the fans. This season the 1960’s was chosen and the idea has proved to be such a hit that there’s two weeks this season, so that each team can play a home game in their retro strips for their own fans. The second week of games was just held at the start of August.

I just love the whole concept and would love to see the Scottish Football League introduce a retro week into our game.

How exciting would it be to see an East Fife team run out in the 1938 Scottish Cup winning strip? Or how about any of our League Cup winning strips? Fans of other Clubs would no doubt love to see teams playing in the strips to honour their own achievements and periods of success.

The options and marketing potential could be endless. The SFL could set one weekend of action as their Retro Week. With so many Clubs having differing histories and a lot of newer clubs in the League, it would be better not to specify a particular decade to celebrate and just leave it up to the individual clubs to decide which era of their history they would like to honour each season.

There is also the potential cash windfall for the clubs too. They could bring out limited edition runs of the retro strip and I’m pretty sure they would be snapped up. After all, a company like Toffs has been making a good business of providing retro strips for years now. On this occasion I wouldn’t fault the Clubs for making money out of the fans for such an idea. At least we’d be buying something cool and different!

Considering so many of the top sides seem to want to sell anything branded to their often fleeced supporters these days, I can’t believe that no League has thought of doing something like this before now. The closest we’ve had is when Clubs bring out a special commemorative strip for an anniversary season.

In Vancouver, Whitecaps supporters group the Southsiders held their own retro day for the game against Miami on Sunday, as fans came decked out in NASL Whitecaps jerseys and Vancouver 86ers shirts, some replica, some original. Great fun was had by all.

East Fife have a proud history. So do other Clubs. Let’s honour this and not forget the players that gave us these good times all those years ago. So many of the big Clubs these days always appear to take their heritage for granted. An annual retro week 9or weeks to allow each team a home game) would make sure that this doesn’t happen and give the fans something to brighten up their Saturday afternoons at least once in a season.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Miami FC Blues (USL1)

Vancouver Whitecaps took huge strides in securing a play off spot with a 2-0 victory over Miami FC Blues last night, in front of 5,288 fans at Swangard Stadium.

With Vancouver, Miami and Montreal fighting for the last two spots, it was vital that the Whitecaps took all three points from the match up, which they did thanks to two late goals from Charles Gbeke.

The first half had been pretty much a non event, with neither team really looking like they realised the importance of the encounter. Miami at least had a reason, as they had just played the night before. The Whitecaps had all the main chances, but they all ended up wide.

Vancouver had dominated play and this continued into the second half and although it felt that a Caps goal was inevitable, there were also times when you just couldn't see the breakthrough coming.

It took until the 80th minute for the opening goal to come. Gordon Chin floated a great cross into the box and Charles Gbeke used his height to throw himself at the ball and head it across the goal to the back post and over Pat Hannigan in the Miami net from 14 yards out. It was a fantastic header. One of the best this season and Vancouver took a deserved 1-0 lead.

Chin almost made it two himself with a minute remaining when Marcus Haber set him up with a great side pass after breaking on the right, but Hannigan rushed out well to thwart the danger.

Moments later, with the match entering stoppage time, the Caps did wrap things up.

Randy Edwini-Bonsu had just come on for Haber and his pace caused the Miami defence immediate problems. In a quick Caps break, he collected the ball just inside the Miami half and left Miami captain John Pulido for dead with a burst of pace up the touchline. As he ran onto goal, many players would have tried the shot but he had the awareness to see Gbeke beside him and laid the ball off for the big hitman to easily slot it home from 12 yards out. 2-0 Vancouver and goodnight Miami.

The win gave Vancouver a six point gap over the Florida side (technically seven as they also hold the tiebreaker qualification), although Miami have played a game less than the Caps. With a fairly easy looking run in, a play off spot is now only Vancouver's to lose and they could even find themselves finishing as high as fifth as they are rapidly closing in on Rochester, who currently hold that position.

So for all Caps fans, it's not too presumptuous to start looking ahead to the playoffs and the possibility of back to back USL Championships. It's not going to be an easy road to get there, but recent performances have certainly shown that they have no-one to really fear.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Match Report: East Fife v Arbroath (Scottish Second Division)

East Fife continued their unbeaten start to their Scottish Second Division campaign yesterday, but their second consecutive draw and the nature of their performance did little to inspire the fans.

The share of the points with table toppers Arbroath was a fair reflection of the game.

The first half saw little of any real note, with East Fife's best chance coming from a blocked Bobby Linn effort just 4 minutes in. The Smokies had chances through Hislop and Gibson but they were of little real danger to the Fife goal.

The second half gave the game what it needed with both teams getting on the scoresheet early on.

Arbroath opened the scoring through Robbie Ross on 51 minutes, when the big sub easily outjumped the Fife defence to head home a corner.

East Fife fought back immediately and squared things up three minutes later when player manager Stevie Crawford buried a bouncing long throw from six yards out.

Although this action seemed to spark both teams into life, and both sides had chances, neither goal was seriously under any danger for the remainder of the game, with the main talking point being created with Ross' sending off for violent conduct with two minutes left, when he appeared to stamp on Mark Staunton after a tussle on the ground.

With main striker Paul McManus still being out injured, his absence just shows up the lack of firepower that the Fife have this season and it would be good to try and add a big hitman to the squad before the transfer window closes.

There are also questions being asked around the goalkeeping situation with some fans, and seemingly some players, appearing to have a lack of confidence in current number one Michael Brown.

After all the low expectations following our pre-season form, I'm sure many of us would have taken an unbeaten first three games of the campaign. It's where we go from here that is raising all the questions at the moment.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's not often that this blog will say too many favourable things about Newcastle United. Too many friends who are Sunderland fans may have clouded my judgement on the Magpies!

All of their problems last season were more an amusing sideshow than important news for us, but news coming out of Newcastle about potential new owners and an exciting new direction that they hope to take the Club have certainly captivated our interest.

Fanbase 410 is a consortium fronted by former Chelsea, Spurs and Rangers player Graham Roberts. To many fans in Scotland, the former England international is more remembered for his conducting of the Rangers choir in sectarian songs than his football achievements, but Roberts now hopes to have the Toon Army singing to his tune going forward.

The group have an audacious plan and one which if it goes ahead, has the potential to revolutionise Club ownership and fan involvement in the UK on a huge scale. The word "if" is the key here though, as there has already been scorn poured on the consortium being able to raise anywhere near the capital required for their bid to succeed.

The plan would be for Fanbase 410 to buy Newcastle but the club would be run akin to Barcelona in Spain. The ownership group would consist of members who would buy a share and have a say in who would be Club chairman and manager and how the Club would be run. It would all be down to the members.

Now fan ownership of football clubs in the UK is nothing new.

We have Supporters Direct helping all the Supporters Trusts across the country get seats on the board and, in some cases, buy out the Club owners to have Clubs run by fans. I had involvement in setting up the East Fife Supporters Trust and they now own shares and have an associate director on the Board at Bayview. All great stuff.

Then there are schemes like who bought and run Ebbsfleet Town through members paying yearly subs and making the decisions. Whilst there was a lot of initial success and interest, members have reduced going forward with the idea.

Fans have set up very successful new Clubs like AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester and I've been following the exploits of new club Southill Alexander FC thanks to a fellow Whitecaps fan. They have joined the bottom level of the English non league pyramid and have been set up from scratch on a model like the Ebbsfleet one above but the fans feel a lot more involved.

It all stems of course from fans feeling that they can run their Club better than those that already do and that's exactly the kind of attitude that the Fanbase 410 consortium hope will rally the Toon Army round and see them putting their money where their mouth is.

The reason I feel such a deal would revolutionise UK football is that such fan ownership and day to day running decisions have never been seen at a Club anywhere near the size of Newcastle United. It's a huge advancement of the whole idea.

In these days of billionaire owners and crazy transfer fees, the idea of fans owning any Club is just so appealing. Many fans feel detached from their Clubs now and they want to feel close to them again and actually feel that they are an important part of their success.

The Newcastle option might just end up being pie in the sky, but if it were to go ahead and succeed, it could prove to be the catalyst for a shake up of how some of the bigger UK football Clubs are run.

Not for the first time this year, it's worth keeping an eye on what's happening down St James Park.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Match Report: Charleston Battery v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL1)

And the games keep coming. So does the Caps relentless schedule.

Vancouver Whitecaps played their third game in six days last night and they don’t come much tougher this season than away to the second placed Charleston Battery at Blackbaud Stadium.

You wouldn’t have thought it was a tough proposition though as the Whitecaps really went for it from the off.

After a couple of dangerous balls into the box, which the Battery defence dealt with, Vancouver opened the scoring after just four minutes.

Wes Knight got the ball just inside the Battery half and played a perfectly flighted long ball into the box, falling right to the feet of Charles Gbeke, who was between two Battery defenders seven yards out. He wasn’t going to miss from there and easily buried it past Keith Wiggans in the Charleston goal for 1-0 Vancouver.

It was the perfect start for the Whitecaps and they weren’t showing any tiredness from Tuesday exertions, at least not yet. Charles Gbeke in particular was looking really spritely after the shift he had put in two days ago.

As the first half ticked by and possession was shared, Charleston had a spell of concerted pressure around a quarter of an hour in, but their best chance was when Jay Nolly was unable to get hold of a dangerous Tsuyoshi Yoshitake corner but no one could take advantage of the rare slip from the Caps keeper.

It was Yoshitake again who caused problems on 23 minutes when he whipped in a dangerous free kick from the corner of the box which Nolly spilled before recovering and clearing.

Two minutes later and Charleston gave away a really cheap corner and were nearly made to pay dearly but Gbeke could only watch on as his bullet six yard header from Martin Nash’s corner crashed off the bar and over, with Wiggans well beaten. An inch lower and it would have been a two goal advantage to the Caps. As we so often say in this blog, it’s a game of inches sometimes.

As in a lot of games this season, a player with pace seems to cause the Caps defence no end of problems and Spicer was the man to watch in this game. The Caps were playing pretty tight, with only the looseness of the left back position causing a few concerns though.

Vancouver weren’t allowing the Battery much offensive danger from close range but their tight play was nearly caught out with ten minutes of the half remaining when Ian Fuller slipped the ball in to the dangerous looking Darren Spicer, but Nolly came out to get the ball first.

Stephen Armstrong was forced off with an injury as the game approached half time, catching the Battery by surprise with no subs ready. Ansu Toure then showed sportsmanship well beyond expectations when he inexplicably played the ball out to allow Charleston to bring their sub on and their team back to full strength. Bizarre, stupid, I dunno. Words fail me!

As the game went into first half stoppage time, Charleston had a quick break on the right but the Caps defence cleared the danger for a corner which the Battery couldn’t take advantage of.

The half time whistle came with the Whitecaps going in with a well deserved one goal lead. There may have been the odd dangerous ball into their box but Vancouver were well in control of the game and untroubled for the first half.

As so often is the case, the half time break gives a team a boost and unfortunately it was the Battery on this occasion and two minutes in the game was tied.

Vancouver’s Lyle Martin gave away a free kick on the left and Yoshitake played it into the box to Fuller, who managed to rise unmarked and turn midair to head the ball past a helpless Nolly from six yards out. 1-1. A great header, but a bad goal to lose for the Caps. Game on.

Charleston were the team in the ascendancy now and Scott Buete tested Nolly from just outside the box following a good Battery build up.

Vancouver came back though and as the hour mark approached, Nash curled a 20 yard free kick round the wall but Wiggans easily saved low to his right.

On yet another muggy night on their travels, Vancouver took the opportunity to bring on some fresh legs with Gordon Chin and Tyrell Burgess coming on for Wes Knight and Ansu Toure, respectively.

The Whitecaps had recovered their composure and were dictating a lot of the play once again. Nizar Khalfan led a blistering two on two break from a Charleston corner, which led to O’Brian Woodbine ending it in it’s tracks with a shoulder block just inside the Battery half, leading to a booking for the Battery defender.

Nash looped an effort wide and Gbeke headed a good chance just over as the Caps tried to restore their lead.

Vancouver had a lucky escape on 70 minutes when Randi Patterson played a dangerous ball across the Caps goal but just beyond Spicer. As the ball was cleared, a neat passing move led to a free kick on the edge of the box.

Set piece danger man Yoshitake fired in a fierce grasscutter, which took a slight deflection and forced Nolly to make a good save low to his left for a corner.

The Caps came right back and Chris Pozniak, who had come up for a corner, just failed to get on the end of a long Chin pass over the Battery defence.

The game was certainly up for grabs now and Patterson had a volley well blocked with quarter of an hour remaining.

Charlston were looking the stronger team against a visibly tiring Vancouver side and Woodbine saw his effort well held by Nolly.

With the Caps hanging on a little, Teitur Thordarson freshened up the Vancouver attacking, replacing Marcus Haber, who had a pretty quiet game, with the pacy Randy Edwini-Bonsu and the substitute nearly made an immediate impact when the ball hit off him at close range but out for a goal kick.

The game was playing out to a draw but Vancouver had a good penalty shout in the 90th minute when Edwini-Bonsu went down in the box but the referee was having nothing of it.

Moments later the nippy sub had a run in the box ended for a corner which the Caps wasted.

With three minutes of stoppage time signalled, Vancouver were finishing with a flourish and Khalfan ran up the line and saw his cross cleared for a corner.

That was the last real action of the match and the referee blew for full time and the points were shared.

If Vancouver were offered two points from these games against Carolina and Charleston at the start of the week, they would probably have taken them. Coming so close to taking all six will smart a little but the point against the Battery gives Vancouver a three point cushion over Miami in that all important final play off spot.

With Miami having two games in hand now, the game on Sunday at Swangard Stadium is the most important League match of the season for Vancouver.

With Miami facing table toppers Portland the night before, the Caps will have no better opportunity to give their playoff hopes a major boost.

Let’s just hope they manage to get a lot of rest between now and then. The Southside will be in full voice to cheer them on.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

We continue our series of things that you don't see when you go to the football these days with something that you do still find at some of the older and smaller Clubs in the UK, but in very small numbers:

6: The Good Old Fashioned Social Club -

When East Fife moved from Bayview Park in late 1998, not only did the fans lose their spiritual home and a cracking ‘real’ football ground, they also lost a favourite watering hole in the old East Fife Social Club.

Social Clubs gave an identity to club supporters. It was like having your very own personal pub and it was so exclusive that you had to pay a nominal fee to be a member to even be allowed to drink in there! It was your own private gentleman’s club, except with dominos instead of strippers.

East Fife’s Social Club opened in September 1971 to coincide with the team’s return to top flight football. For those too young to remember it, the club consisted of a small dance floor in the main area, along with seating and the main bar and through the back was the snug for the quieter ones – an ideal place to just sit and think about it all after another defeat!

But our social club went the same way as most others over the years when we moved to the new stadium.

With spanking new stadiums come spanking new bars and bar restaurants. Corporate lunches and matchday hospitality. I not knocking it. Such ventures provide a financial lifeblood to smaller clubs like East Fife.

It’s just that standing in these bars just isn’t quite the same. There’s no character and it all feels a bit unfootball-like. More middle class than working men’s clubs.

Some Clubs still try and kid on that their new lounges are social clubs, but they’re not except for in name. For me, it’s not a social club unless you have to sign in and then sit in uncomfortable metal seats or long flowing cushioned benches of a garish colour. Any foam poking through the holes in the cushioning adds that extra little touch of ambience. You also need to have part wooden flooring and a carpet that if you stay in the one spot for too long you have to be cut out from, and let’s just add in a puggy, a pool table, a cigarette machine, a quiet corner, crisps sold out of boxes and the availability of food of an indeterminable nature!

Thanks heavens for the Warriors Club at Stenhousemuir. You can always rely on that never to change!

There are still some of the old spit and sawdust style clubs knocking about but they are declining at a fast rate of knots. Take who were meant to be one of East Fife's pre-season opponents in July, Spennymoor. When we last paid them a visit in 1994 they had a cracking wee social club. It lasted well but this year it was demolished just days before we were due to play down there – and not by the torrential rain either! It’s going to be replaced with a new bar/restaurant that will make the Club some much needed money yes, but with it take a part of their character away.

Maybe I’m just living in the past or maybe it’s just that I remember when you could buy a round without the need to worry about your overdraft limit. I’m away now to stop my shoes from feeling sticky.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Match Report: Carolina Railhawks v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL1)

The USL fixtures never fail to cause bewilderment and so it is again this week as Vancouver Whitecaps face two tricky away matches in three days and against two top three teams.

Tuesday night saw them face the Carolina Railhawks again, after Saturday’s goalless -draw that saw Hawks keeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell named in the USL Team of the Week.

So WakeMed Park was the setting for the game and it was a night of promotions, with food being given away every five minutes in “taste of the triangle night” and huge line ups to take advantage of the dollar beer night to wash it all down!

The Caps were clearly hoping to continue the pressure they applied at the weekend and decided to go with Charles Gbeke up front with Marlon James and Ansu Toure got the nod on the wing.

Best laid plans and all that, as with only four minutes gone Marlon James pulled up chasing a long ball and despite receiving treatment on the sidelines, he was replaced three minutes later by Marcus Haber, with a recurrance of his hamstring injury.

The first good chance of the game fell to the Caps after 11 minutes when Toure fired a low screamer from 30 yards out that was heading for the bottom right hand corner of the net before Eric Reed turned it around the post for a corner.

Moments later and recent Whitecaps signing Nizar Khalfan fired another long range effort, but it was of little trouble to the Hawks goalie.

Vancouver got a huge let off after 21 minutes. Carolina’s Joseph Kabwe got onto a through ball and left a trail of Caps defenders in his wake before Marco Reda desperately hauled him down by his shirt when he was about to run straight through to a one on one with Nolly. A clear professional foul and a clear last man challenge, but the referee inexplicably only gave Reda a yellow card.

The Railhawks aimed to make Vancouver pay for the challenge and nearly did, but Daniel Paladini saw his brilliantly curled effort go just wide and clatter off a female fan behind Jay Nolly’s goal. A game of inches indeed.

Carolina’s pace was clearly troubling the Vancouver defence now and the chances started to come for the home side.

With 32 minutes gone the dangerous and nippy Gregory Richardson, who was having a quiet game up to this point, ran at the Caps defence and played a neat ball inside to Kabwe, just as he was taken out of the game by a shoulder charge from Reda. Kabwe took on the ball but his shot was deflected for a corner.

The corner was cleared but Carolina kept the pressure on and a cross to the back post was headed across the goalmouth but with no Railhawks player waiting, Vancouver cleared.

As the game approached half time, Carolina had the best chance of the match to open the scoring on 43 minutes.

Richardson played a diagonal ball to the bye line to Josh Gardner, who took a touch, moved inside and crossed the ball in to Richardson who headed an easy chance wide from four yards out.

The big Guyanan was now starting to run the Whitecaps defence ragged and earned a corner moments later before whipping a great ball across the Caps goal which Sallieu Bundu just failed to get on the end of, but he was flagged offside in any case.

Half time came with no score and it was Vancouver who were the team that were glad to get off the pitch for a rest.

It was a fairly even start to the second half but Vancouver almost took the lead five minutes in when Gbeke forced Reed to turn the ball away, when he got on the end of a long Wes Knight throw from the right and flicked a great header goal bound.

With 57 minutes on the clock, Brad Rusin had a great chance to score when Kupono Low whipped in a dangerous cross, but his header was weak and easy for Nolly to collect.

Moments later the Hawks threatened again, when Richardson was given too much space and fired just over from outside the box.

The game was in a bit of a lull when Vancouver silenced the home crowd on 66 minutes (well to be fair they were quiet anyway - must have been all that free food). Marcus Haber got on the end of a long ball and held off the only Hawks defender Devon McKenney, who slipped allowing Haber to calmly stroke the ball past Reed and into the bottom right hand corner from 12 yards out. 1-0 Vancouver.

As both teams had half chances, Martin Nash’s face helped Vancouver keep their lead when Brian Plotkin unleashed a fierce 20 yards effort with twelve minutes remaining, only to find Vancouver’s captain courageous unknowingly blocking it in a very painful way.

Vancouver’s defence tried to keep it tight and allow Carolina only long range efforts. Paladini had an attempt on 83 minutes but Nolly was untroubled and easily collected.

As the minutes ticked by Nolly was forced to come off his line to collect a through ball before Bundu could get on the end of it and the big Vancouver stopper was becoming the busiest man on the park in the closing moments.

Carolina’s all out attack got their reward with two minutes left in a lovely passing move, made by their subs, that saw John Cunliffe find Andriy Budnyy on the edge of the box. The Ukranian striker breezed past Mason Trafford before avoiding a last ditch Hirano tackle and the oncoming Nolly to clip it home from nine yards to tie the game up.

1-1 and with four minutes of added stoppage time there was only going to be one team that was likely to win it and they nearly did in the dying seconds when the continuous Carolina pressure nearly saw a Vancouver own goal but Nolly brilliantly turned the header over.

The final whistle came and the Caps got a point they would probably have taken at the start. With every point being vital as they attempt to secure a playoff spot, it would have been harsh on Carolina if Vancouver had taken all three, but just desserts after not taking them on Saturday.

The big talking point with be the non sending off of Reda in the first half and that decision definitely influenced the result. You need those breaks though and Vancouver certainly got one.

Charles Gbeke did some non stop running and will be exhausted for Thursday night’s game at Charleston. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rested and on the bench with Haber either up front on his own or partnering Toure.

The defence looked at all sea at times during the game and once again showed what a bit of pace does to them. If the Caps want to make a playoff push then they need to tighten up in the middle and be more creative instead of playing long balls into space.

We’re still fighting though and there’s still all to play for.

FINAL SCORE: Carolina Railhawks 1 Vancouver Whitecaps 1

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The return of the English Premiership season on Saturday also meant the welcome return to our screens of Soccer AM on Sky Television.

It might not have the same comedy value as when Lovejoy, Fenners and co were the crew, but it still entertains and we always make sure we don't miss it every week. We even grew to like Max Rushden last season, who had seemed the most wooden TV presenter ever when he first joined the show. The jury's still out as to whether we can ever take to Helen's minging new haircut mind you. She seems to have aged to being a middle aged woman overnight (which of course she is, but never seemed it!).

Whilst we're glad it's back, Soccer AM does have a lot to answer for in one regard. It made it that a female co-presenter was the "must have" accessory for seemingly every football tv show since.

Before the days of Tim Lovejoy and Helen Chamberlain, Soccer AM was presented by Russ Williams, ex pro Gary Stevens and a female presenter called Jane Hoffen. That's when AFTN featured on the show with our two "fancams" that we did for them. It was a far more serious show then and Hoffen was annoying and awful and not sexy and informed like Helen is today.

That set the mould though for every show to follow though and the success and popularity of Helen just meant that so many footie shows, on every channel, have to add that female component. It really is like a token gesture and when you see how some of them perform, you have to wonder why they even bothered.

ITV went with Gabby Yorath, there's been Kirsty Gallagher and a whole host of others, some good, some dreadful. Setanta had Rebecca Lowe who came across at times as a second rate Helen Chamberlain, but was a lot less annoying and a lot more enjoyable than a lot who have gone before her and it's good to see that she was picked up by ESPN.

The latest addition to this long list are the two women who have so far appeared on the new BBC flagship programme, The Football League Show - a show that seems to be presented from a dungeon studio that we can only think was designed by Josef Fritzl. Week one has Lizzie Greenwood Hughes and week two had Jacqui Oatley. Their exciting and patronising job - to read out the emails. Whether we're going to get a different woman each week, who knows, but so far both women look a lot more suited to being on a show like Watchdog than a football show.

And it's not just the UK that has this affliction, the whole token woman presenter has come across to North America (and in most sports too, not just football). Just be thankful you didn't have to endure the atrocious cow who was sent to try and interview fans during the game in CBC Canada's coverage of Toronto FC games. Sure she was hot. Sure you'd want to shag her, but perhaps only on the condition that she didn't actually speak.

It's time that TV producers woke up to the fact that adding a woman to your show isn't going to hook the dads and pervs into watching. If we want to just watch some hot bimbo speak inanely then we have babestation and their ilk. It can be more of a turn off than a turn on. Match of the Day and Soccer Saturday seem to still manage with an informed, all male crew without having to bow to the pressure to conform to the new norm.

We're not against female football presenters, as our love for Helen shows, but just make sure you pick ones that actually give the impression that they know what they're talking about.

Monday, August 17, 2009

To much excitement and expectation around the world, the English Premiership season is back. We may have been critical of the EPL in this blog before, but that’s not to say we don’t look forward to it as well! It still captivates and excites, despite it’s flaws.

It was an interesting opening weekend, with some surprises and some cracking goals (Rodallega’s volley for Wigan and Assou-Ekotto for Tottenham are already contenders for goals of the season).

ARSENAL looked immense in their 6-1 demolition of EVERTON, but let’s face it, they didn’t have to work all that hard as the Toffees were all over the place. Everyone was wondering how the Gunners would cope with the loss of several key players and where would the goals come from without Adebayor. Well, now we now - from everywhere! It was the most surprising performance of the weekend for me and sets up a mouthwatering Champions League clash with Celtic on Tuesday. You don’t really want to be the team to face them after that performance. Keeping the consistency together for the whole season has been what’s plagued Arsenal the last two seasons, so it will be interesting to see how they look 6-8 weeks down the road. Keep this up though and they could be surprise title contenders.

I’ve been a fan of Everton’s exciting and attacking football the last few seasons but they were woeful on Saturday. The whole Joleon Lescott situation can have done nothing but disrupt the team but David Moyes has gone way up in my estimation for the way he has handled everything so far, with Mark Hughes coming across as a bully and a man of few scruples.

His big money MAN CITY side were no great shakes on Saturday and BLACKBURN could have really made them pay if they’d taken their chances. The City defence in particular seemed all at sea at times, but with a squad of such depth the big problems that’s going to lie ahead for them is keeping everyone happy both on and off the pitch. So much is expected from the fans and owners that failure will not be tolerated well.

Their cross city rivals UNITED also looked shaky in defence and full marks to BIRMINGHAM for taking the game to them. Ben Foster looks like a liability in the United goal, but they do have that habit of scraping through when not playing particularly well.

Of the other “big” teams. No one impressed so far, but of course, give it time. CHELSEA will be hard to beat this year and if they can get off to a good start then watch them go. I think LIVERPOOL will struggle to repeat last season’s feats. I know they have injuries, but that was one hell of a weak bench they had out there yesterday. Not exactly one to turn the game in their favour when they needed it. Torres will get goals, but he may be doing most of it with just Gerrard as support.

Everyone always wants to speculate on who is going to face the drop come May and even at this early stage, there’s some obvious contenders.

BURNLEY are already weakened by injury, and although I’d love to see them stay up, it’s going to be tough for them. In Owen Coyle though they have a manager who can get the best out of the players at his disposal, so they may yet surprise. WOLVES are my tip to finish bottom and continue their yo yo existence, but the likes of BIRMINGHAM and HULL have shown that they’re prepared to battle for every point, but they need to convert their chances if they want to stay up.

Hull are a hard side to predict for this season. They fell away so bad last season, but the signing of Stephen Hunt could be their most important one in having another season of survival. Let’s hope so.

I think the two things that a lot of fans look for each Premiership season is some team making a surprise run for the title/Champions League place and at least one of the bigger teams to get relegated.

We got the latter last season, but despite teams like Everton and Villa making runs at it, it’s still a rarity to see a surprise package up there.

Probably unlikely to see that this year, but the best of the rest of the teams that will make a push for Europe at least are TOTTENHAM, who look well organised under Harry Redknapp and have some impressive striking potential. FULHAM always look well organised under Roy Hodgson and could claim the last European spot on offer.

WIGAN might be the real surprise package. They looked really exciting against a poor ASTON VILLA side (who will be mid table strugglers this season) and Roberto Martinez is perhaps the most exciting new manager in the League. He has them playing some nice passing football, which is always a joy to watch at any level.

As a WEST HAM fan, I’d love to see them make a push for Europe but feel they may be muscled out of the places but still finish in the top half.

So AFTN’s predictions for this season’s Premiership campaign…

Well, we’re tipping Chelsea for the title, with Man United a close second and Arsenal third.

At the bottom end, we’re looking at Wolves to be bottom, then Birmingham just above them and Burnley unfortunately making it an immediate return to the Championship for the three promoted teams. Portsmouth could the established Premier side to get dragged into a relegation battle this time around and may fill that third bottom place instead of Burnley.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be one hell of a season.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Carolina Railhawks (USL-1)

Vancouver Whitecaps came away from their home game against the Carolina Railhawks with a point last night, but despite that being good enough to still hold on to their playoff position, the Caps came away feeling that it was two points lost.

The first half was a pretty even affair, with the Railhawks testing Jay Nolly a couple of times in the Whitecaps goal but with little trouble to big Vancouver shot stopper.

Vancouver thought they had taken the lead on 26 minutes when Marlon James had the ball in the net at the third attempt, after Caleb Patterson-Sewell had kept out his first two efforts, but the referee adjudged a foul and the goal was ruled out.

That was the closest any side came to scoring in the first half. With three points somewhat of a necessity to boost their playoff hopes, the Whitecaps took control of the game in the second forty-five.

Jay Nolly was left as an onlooker, with most of the play taking place in the Railhawks half, but despite the constant pressure the Caps attack could find a way past the Carolina goalie.

The chance of the night fell to Marlon James after 63 minutes.

Charles Gbeke brilliantly got on the end of a Ansu Toure cross at the back post and as his header flashed across the goalmouth, it came off the near post, right into the path of James one yard out. The ball somehow got cleared by a desperate Hawks defence before he could knock it home, after it initially bounced off his shins.

James had a penalty appeal waved away a little later, but there was to be no reward for their waves of pressure, with the Carolina defence standing strong all night.

It was a tremendous defensive performance from Mark Schulte and Brad Rusin in particular. Both players dealt with everything thrown at them with ease, seemingly towering over the tall Caps strikers in the process. I would certainly be glad to see either of them in a Caps jersey next season.

With Vancouver's home form being strong this season, taking full points at Swangard is a must if they are to make the playoffs and frustrating games like last night's will only make the battle with Montreal and Miami all the more tight.

With two tough away games in three days next week against two title chasers in Carolina again and Charlston, Vancouver have to take something from both games to keep their playoff hopes alive and try and get some momentum going with nine games left.

Next Sunday's home game against Miami has never looked more important.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Match Report: Stenhousemuir v East Fife (Scottish 2nd Division)

East Fife took a point away from Ochilview today but was a very different looking side to the one that won their home opener against Brechin City last weekend.

With striker Paul McManus out through injury, boss Stevie Crawford gave himself the nod, in what was otherwise an unchanged 3-5-2 line up again.

Stenhousemuir were the ones to open the scoring with a screamer of a long range free kick after just 5 minutes from Pat Scullion.

The goal was wind assisted, in very blustery conditions, and the weather helped Stenny to be the better team in the half.

It was East Fife who netted the next goal though, equalising two minutes before half time thanks to some great work out wide by Crawford. Stevie beat his man well, whipped over a perfect cross and David Muir was there again to head home from close range, for his second goal of the season.

East Fife controlled much of the second half, but couldn't find a way through. Stenhousemuir had three great chances to restore their lead in the last fifteen minutes, hitting the woodwork twice from close range, with Scott Dalizel just clipping the bar with his effort. Perhaps they shouldn't have concentrated on filming a "crossbar challenge" in midweek training after all!

At that point, the Fife faithful would have been happy to just go home with a point there and then but then contrived to miss their own great chance to take all three with the last kick of the game, in a goalmouth scramble.

It ended a goal apiece and a point apiece though, but worryingly we didn't look as threatening going forward today. It was the back three that took most of the plaudits, along with Lloyd Young and Robert Campbell.

We're trying to play good passing football though and that is pleasing to see. We just need to be a little less shot shy.

Still, we'd have taken four out of our first six possible League points two weeks ago. Onwards and upwards. The Smokies are next.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Time for more 'Friday Fun' from AFTN and another Top Ten List. To coincide with tomorrow's big Premiership season kick off, it's the Top Ten Most Likely Overused Comments You'll Hear This Coming Premiership Campaign:

(10) "My joining Man City had nothing to do with the money"

(9) "Every game's a Cup final for us from now on"

(8) "[*insert player's name*] is an important player for us and he's going nowhere"

(7) "Under pressure [*insert manager's name*]" - expect to see this about one month in

(6) "Can't afford to go down"

(5) "We've rejected an offer from Man City"

(4) "I didn't see the incident"

(3) "I never said we'll win the league"

(2) "Staying up's the most important thing for us"

(1) "Well that just goes to show you that money can't buy the Premiership title"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

As a Scotland fan, you get used to those embarrassing results. They still hurt, but there’s a kind of inevitability that what you just witnessed won’t be the last such result.

We have the really low points of Peru and Iran in Argentina 1978, Costa Rico in Italia 90 and pretty much the whole Berti Vogts era. Can we get any lower than being 2-0 down away to the Faroe Islands at half time? Hopefully not, but last night was starting to run it close at times as Scotland crashed, and were crushed, 4-0 away to Norway in a World Cup Qualifier.

I want to use that old “we were lucky to get nil” line, but even that doesn’t do the performance justice in a game where we had to return with three points to keep our ever decreasing play off hopes alive. Even the linesman felt sorry for us, by not giving a Norwegian goal that clearly crossed the line.

Sure you can argue that Riise could have had two yellows before he scored, but I counter that by saying if he’d been booked for the first tackle then the second one wouldn’t have merited a booking. Did Carew dive that should have earned him a second yellow? Well I’ve watched that incident several times and it’s still too close to call as to whether it was a penalty or not. Did Caldwell deserve to go? Yes. I still feel he went for being the last man and not a second booking and his first challenge was a shocker.

We can argue all we like about those points. The fact is we would have still lost, just maybe not been humiliated in the process. We were poor beyond belief last night, with no spark. No flair. No ideas. No hope.

All the good work that was done under Walter Smith and Alex McLeish is in danger of being undone in just a few short months under George Burley. But it’s not just Burley and the Scottish national team that’s the problem, it’s the whole of Scottish football at the moment.

Something is rotten in the state of Scotland and it HAS to change and fast. Our game is a laughing stock on the world level. The State of the Nation - embarrassing.

Where to start?

Well the Scottish Football Association top brass needs cleared out. Get some visionaries and out of the box thinkers in there that can lay the foundations for long term future growth. I would happily miss this World Cup and the next Euros if we were told that the younger players were coming through and we were part of a 5 year plan.

Get the right manager in the position as Scotland manager. I don’t care whether he’s Scottish, English or Martian. Get a man manager that will get the best out of the players he has at his disposal. Let’s face it, we have mediocre players. So did Smith and McLeish, but they got them going, motivated and most importantly, winning. Where is our Egil Olsen?

No World Cup qualification since 1998, one World Cup qualification in what looks like being the last five attempts and no Euros qualification for the last three tournaments. That’s pretty depressing stuff.

Internationally we are no longer viewed as a danger team. Bar the very odd exception, none of our national team players are playing with the top Clubs outside of Scotland. It’s all lower Premiership and Championship teams in England. Those with the Old Firm are hardly being tested week in and week out in the Scottish game. We don’t have our guys playing in Serie A, La Liga or the Bundesliga anymore. Do we really need to ask why that is?

I know we don’t have anyone like Dalglish, Law, Bremner or Jordan at our disposal any more but we must have better than some of the players who wore the jersey recently. And if not, why not? That’s the crux of the matter.

Maybe it’s just the mentality of the modern day player, but where’s the fire? Where’s the passion? Where’s our players of the future?

The domestic game in Scotland has been farcical for years and every year it just shows signs of getting worse.

In the SPL it’s always a two horse race with a third team making a decent run at the Old Firm once every decade it seems. Sure, last season’s SPL was exciting with last day drama, but it was like bald men fighting over a comb.

The top six split is pointless. It’s just the bigger, richer clubs saying “we don’t really need you guys” to the rest.

Any team outside Celtic and Rangers that does do well and does bring on younger players soon see them snapped up for a pittance by the Old Firm to mostly fester and be ruined in the reserves at the evil twins.

Our European exploits at Club level this season have been cringingly embarrassing. Three teams out of the Europa League preliminary rounds already, with one more soon to follow I would expect. Motherwell nearly went out to a Welsh team and lost a game to an Albanian side. I was telling someone this the other day and they were laughing, but they nearly fell off their seat when I went on to explain that Falkirk had crashed out to a side from the mighty football giants of Liechtenstein. At least Celtic restored some pride with their performance in Moscow but that was nearly another disaster.

What is happening to our game? A game we used to be able to take some pride from?

The lower Scottish leagues have too many deadweight Clubs. Too many Clubs in general perhaps? More are in danger of falling by the wayside every year but instead of looking at league reconstruction and keeping a reduced number of sides, the Scottish Football League just keep bringing in the new boys.

The SFL have lost face with the continuing Livingston farce that we all hope will be sorted out today, but probably all know that it won’t be. If Livingston’s appeal is rejected, they will try to take it further leading to more disruption. If the SFL back down and don’t demote Livi then it’s the most embarrassing thing to happen in the Scottish domestic game since, well, last close season really.

So that’s the problems (or at least some of them), what’s the solutions? I know it’s easy to pick away at things but there’s no point in doing that without suggesting ways forward.

For me, it all hinges on the domestic game and the development of youth and home grown players.

There has to be League reconstruction. Forget your SPL2 and all that nonsense. Increase the SPL to 16 or 18 teams. Reduce the fear factor and need to succeed. Yes this will mean more meaningless games but every league around the world has that. What that will do is allow teams to play young players. To develop young players. Allow them to play at the top level in Scotland with a bit less fear of what might happen if they lose a few games.

Ok, we might struggle in European competitions for a few years, but it can’t be much worse than what’s been happening.

Reorganise the lower divisions regionally to keep travelling costs down for Clubs and fans. More local derbies, more local rivalries, bigger crowds (in theory) and a lot more excitement than making long hundreds of miles trips with little travelling support. Get some kind of pyramid system going.

There has to be a quota of a minimum of 5 or 6 homegrown players in each SPL side. I know this won’t stop the Old Firm buying the best ones, but at least they might get games this way. I’d like a quote of 8 but know this would be unrealistic with all the EU laws. Getting any quota will be difficult enough with all that nonsense.

Insist all SPL and SFL Clubs have youth initiatives as part of their membership and provide grants to help them. The SFA should chip in with this as it’s going to benefit them and the national team in the long term.

East Fife have finally started to make the right moves in this regard and it’s very exciting for all concerned with the Club as to what that might produce for years to come. In Canada, the model adopted by Vancouver Whitecaps residency and youth development programme is what should be held up as the way forward for Clubs all over the world. It’s already leading to the MLS taking note, albeit slowly. They’re looking at the best kids from 12 years old in the area (and beyond) and working with them and properly developing them, every step of the way. So many of them have broken through into the first team in the last few years.

This isn’t all pie in the sky, pipe dream stuff. It’s things that are happening in Leagues all over the world. Leagues and countries which are heads and shoulders above us on the international scene.

I want to be proud of the Scottish national team again and proud of the Scottish game. I don’t want to have a Norwegian voice in my head going “Billy Connolly, Sean Connery, wee Jimmy Crankie, your boys took one hell of a beating”.

Football is our national game. It’s time we took it back, unite and force the powers that be into changing the game we love before it’s too late.

*** Share your thoughts of what is wrong with Scottish football and how to improve it in AFTN's forum HERE ***

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This wasn't really going to be the topic of today's blog, but I just had to share this with everyone.

I just stumbled across this You Tube footage from last night's preliminary match in the Copa Sudamericana between Blooming FC of Bolivia and Uruguay's River Plate.

It's the most unbelievable piece of hooliganism I can ever remember seeing that involves an attack on a player, as River Plate's Henry Gimenez gets attacked by a fan wielding a knife. Gimenez got a lucky escape to say the least.

We're so used to seeing violence at South American games these days that nothing really comes as a shock any more, you kinda become desensitized by it all. I have to say that I just had to go "woah" when I saw this.

The passionate atmosphere generated at games in South America is second to none, but does seem to come at a price. That said, I don't think I can feel that I've experienced being a football supporters till I take a match in on the continent at some point in my life.

Maybe best to just find a nice quiet corner of the ground to observe it all from mind you!

Just as an aside to finish, what the hell was the goalkeeper doing for the goal?!

Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In recent seasons I’ve become a huge fan of the football played in the Championship. Last season, in particular, I got more enjoyment out of watching those games than most of the Premiership encounters that were served up.

The skill levels might not be just as high as the illustrious League above it, and the players on display may not be household names, yet, but the passion and desire to win more than makes up for all that as far as I’m concerned and this season it looks like it could be even better.

The opening round of fixtures were played at the weekend and it was the first chance to see what we have in store for the many months ahead and it looks like being a cracker.

The weekend had it all. Two relegated teams meeting right away, Cloughie v Fergie, Cardiff’s new 50 million pound stadium and of course the teams that have all the big money backing at the moment like Derby and QPR.

One of the big questions that everyone was asking was how would Newcastle fare and the answer still is we don’t know. Their game away to West Brom ended 1-1 and they were saved from a potential thrashing by the 21 year old Dutch substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul‘s fantastic display. Krul looked more like he should be on stage with Julian Casablancas than keeping out the Baggies but produced one of the performances of the weekend (Clinton Morrison's fantasic lobbed first goal for Coventry bags the goal of the weekend).

With so much uncertainty still surrounding the Maggies we’re still harbouring some hope that they’re going to do another Leeds.

West Brom didn’t look as sharp as when they dominated the division two seasons ago and the other relegated side Middlesborough looked woeful, as they were booed off the pitch on Friday night. How Gareth Southgate still holds onto a manager’s job with them is now becoming a huge mystery.

It’s usually the case that at least one, and usually two, of the relegated teams dominate the division after they come down and head straight back up again. I really think it will be different this year though and we could see a couple of surprising and unfashionable teams up there chasing the golden goose that is the Premiership.

Bristol City and Preston played out an entertaining 2-2 draw on Saturday but I think, and hope, that both teams will be making a serious push for the two automatic promotion spots. Bristol City struggled a little last season after coming so agonisingly close to going up the season before but the additions of Paul Hartley and David Clarkson will invigorate them and Preston were oh so unlucky last season.

If either, or both, of these teams can make the leap to the top flight and the likes of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Barnsley can avoid the drop, then that would be a result for fans of unfashionable sides the land over and give hope to us all.

With the Championship being so wide open this season, eight draws in the first round of matches, it could be the managers that start to shine and make the all important difference. There’s so many characters and stories this season.

The Cloughie-Fergie second generation battle would make for a great story but in truth both Derby and Peterborough will probably both be happy with a mid table season of consolidation. I quite fancy Derby to overachieve this season though. Nigel Clough has put together a good squad, with some highly experienced journeymen players who can still do the business at this level. Their team performance in the 2-1 win over The Posh on Saturday shone through.

Darren Ferguson has to be fully commended with sticking with his core squad of players that have seen back to back promotions. Those players deserve their chance to shine at the higher level and I’d really love to see them take it.

And when you have the fantastic characters of Neil Warnock and Ian Holloway in the division as well, what excuse do you have not to watch things develop?

Whilst the world watches the overpaid prima donnas show the uneven split in the Premiership once again (yawn), those in the know will be watching the real football action and drama unfold in the Championship.

Maybe it’s good that they don’t get as much coverage worldwide. We don’t want it to go the same way as the boring stuff above them, although the serious money is coming in at this level now and the budgets between the rich and poor are widening. At least in this league you have competition that lasts the whole season and covers most of the teams in the division.

After all, when football stops becoming entertaining with meaningful games, then what’s the point?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Today's blog is going to be very self indulgent and for that I'm not going to apologise but please bear with it!

August 10th 2009 you see is a special day for all connected with Away From The Numbers, for today AFTN is 20 years old.

For me, it's hard to believe that something that started off in my bedroom in Fife two decades ago has developed from a printed paper fanzine into what it is today, with a much used website and forum, a blog, a You Tube channel, a Twitter account, the presence on the various social networking sites and a soon to be launched sister site in Canada.

Issue 1 of AFTN (or "The Bayview Bulletin" as it was called for the first five issues of it's existance) was printed on Thursday 10th August 1989. Weird that it was a Thursday I know, but there you go.

Never totally happy with the name, the fanzine was revamped and rechristened in time for Issue 6 in April 1990. Away From The Numbers was the new name, with "The Bayview Bulletin" becoming a stats pull out section within it. But it was all one and the same monster and it soon just became known as AFTN.

The whole pull out section was part of the value for money aspect I wanted for the zine. There was also another free pullout later - a music fanzine we produced, dedicated to local bands, called "Ultracore". We always strove to pack in as much as we could and 40-60 pages were the norm and all for just fifty pence initially and then a quid!

As a paper entity, AFTN ran for 38 issues, with the last one to date coming out in April 2001. We're not saying the final ever printed issue as we still harbour this desire to do some more at some point in time, should the need ever arise.

With technology changing, the move online for AFTN was inevitable and after several months in development, Away From The Numbers hit the web in December 2003.

Hopefully AFTN will continue to grow from strength to strength. Without your support we wouldn't be what we are today, so we thank you one and all for all your contributions to the website itself and of course, our ever active forum. A special thanks as well to all of you who contributed to the paper zine over the years. Without you in particular we wouldn't be celebrating our 20th birthday today.

There's been a few highlights over the years. We had issues of the zine on sale in sports and book shops throughout the UK, with many stockists regularly selling out, including the influential London based sports bookshop Sportspages.

A number of newspapers, magazines and TV shows jumped on the football fanzine bandwagon and this led to a number of great reviews by high profile people. Our pinnacle could be described as being given 30/30 and the accolade of "the best fanzine we've seen so far" by the "Daily Sport" newspaper - we know our audience!

There was the red card campaign to oust manager Gavin Murray, which took a lot longer than we anticipated but was our first major rallying of the fans behind a cause.

When the Derrick Brown situation arose at the Club in 2005/2006, the bond of supporters then was even better and we are as equally proud to have been able to provide the mouthpiece and organisational tool for the fans behind the "Down With Brown" campaign on that occasion as well.

Hopefully we will not need to be there for anything like that again.

One of our main regular cartoon features in the zine, the Insane In The Brain funnies, were described as "surreal comic brilliance" by another publication and I hope to resurrect and freshen this up for this electronic version sometime soon.

AFTN reached the height of it's notoriety with our Cowden Family comic strip and appearance to around 14 million people on the BBC's "They Think It's All Over" TV programme in a Christmas special. An appearance that generated a lot of media interest in Scotland on what must have been a very slow news day! You can see footage of it HERE.

This wasn't to be our only TV appearance though, with our particular highlight being the opportunity to produce two 'Fancams' for a pre Tim and Helen Soccer AM for Sky - highlighting East Fife fans travels to first Berwick and then Stranraer.

From a website point of view our proudest achievement so far is in our East Fife All Time Greats vote, which the East Fife Supporters Trust turned into a fantastic dinner and awards showcase last year. That night is felt by many as being one of the best they've had as an East Fife fan and we're proud to have kicked the whole thing off.

The launch earlier this year of our East Fife online museum section, The Bayview Bible, is AFTN's other crowning glory I feel. And one day it might even be finished!

But enough of our own trumpet blowing, at least for another ten years anyway!

Again, thanks to everyone that's helped AFTN be what it is today. We look forward to entertaining you for the next 20 years, whatever that might have in store.

Thanks for supporting and being with AFTN. In all seriousness, it really means a lot to me.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I'll admit it, I was surprised. I certainly didn't see it coming after our pre-season and Cup form, but East Fife got their League campaign off to a fantastic start yesterday with a 2-0 home win over Brechin City.

With many tipping Brechin to if not win the League this season then to at least make the playoffs, the win is the confidence booster needed at Bayview and a great shot in the arm for new boss Stevie Crawford.

It was a throughly deserved win for the Fife, who lined up in a new look 3-5-2 formation, and hopefully one that we can now build on and get some early momentum going.

East Fife had come out the strongest, before Brechin settled and had around a fifteen minute spell of controlling the game before the Fife took over.

After hitting the bar through a 35 yard David Muir rocket, East Fife opened the scoring on 30 minutes when Paul McManus fired home Robert Campbell's cross on the second attempt, after City keeper Craig Nelson had saved his first headed effort.

Three minutes later and it was two, with what is already being talked about as a contender for the Fife's 'Goal of the Season' from Captain Scott Thomson. It is hard to think of one which will better it, it has to be said!

The move started when Lloyd Young saw his effort cleared off the line. The ball came out to Shaun Fagan who sent a brilliant 40 yard diagonal ball into the path of Thomson, who volleyed it Van Basten-esque like into the net from around 12 yards out.

Brechin hit the bar in the second half through Kevin Byers on 55 minutes as they pushed to get back into the game, but once again the Fife took control of proceedings.

Muir, Fagan, McManus and Bobby Linn all had a number of chances to kill off the game, but found Nelson on fine form in the Brechin goal, with a string of good saves. They may not have increased their tally but the Fife ended up as comfortable winners in the end.

It was very disappointing to see a crowd of just 605, but hopefully with a string of good results under the belt, the numbers will start to return once again.

It's interesting to see that three of Craw's summer signings (Aaron Conway, Mark Staunton and Darren Baillie) are just benchwarmers at present, which shows how well our younger players that came through at the end of last season have developed.

Robert Campbell had a particularly excellent game but the top plaudits have to go to Shaun Fagan who ran the show in the middle. He was outstanding and showed what we know he is capable of if he can keep his temprement under control. Assuming the vice Captain role could be the best thing that's happened to him in his career of late.

We don't want to get too carried away after just one result. One swallow does not make a summer etc etc. What we will say though is that getting off to a good, strong start in such an even League is going to be vital in deciding those final places come May.

That we have certainly achieved so far. C'mon the Fife.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

We've mentioned this a couple of times before in the blog, but one of my big bugbears about watching football in North America is the lack of opportunities to follow your team away from home. As someone used to watching their team week in, week out, home and away, it's difficult to be reduced to only be able to go to home games.

For me, part of the whole football fan experience is cheering on your team in opposition territory. There's nothing like it. The expanse of North America and the costs of travelling prevent the every game home and away culture from taking hold, although those fans that are making some trips in a season have to be admired. Vancouver to Puerto Rico for a Sunday day out isn't really an option though!

After the disaster of trying to take in my first Vancouver Whitecaps away game down in Portland in May (see blog entry on May 30th), I finally popped my away game Caps cherry on Thursday night in Portland.

A 625 mile round trip, 17 hours of travelling, a two and a half hour delay to get through the border on the way down and a 1-0 defeat for the Caps, was the story of the trip. It was worth it though. You have to take any opportunities you can to take in an away game.

The trip down was made a bit more special by being the official transporter of the Cascadia Cup. It's not every day that fans are entrusted with such tasks - just ask the US border guards!

The Cascadia Cup is a trophy that is played for each season by Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders. It was started in 2004 by supporters of all three of the Clubs and is awarded to the team with the best record against the other two teams over the season. Vancouver won it in 2008 and this season's Cup was all dependent on the result of Thursday's game.

The game itself saw Portland secure the Cup with a 1-0 win, thanks to a first half goal from Ryan Pore after 30 minutes. The goal came from a quick Portland counter attack after Martin Nash was dispossessed in midfield and Pore did well to turn and run on to score, despite Wes Knight's best effort at keeping the ball out on the line.

It was a pretty evenly matched game with Portland hitting the woodwork and Jay Nolly producing a string of fine saves and Vancouver looking to have scored an equaliser from Marlon James that Timbers goalie Steve Cronin produced a fantastic last ditch save to keep out.

A draw would have seen Vancouver win the Cup, and get a much needed league point, but it wasn't to be and at the end of the game we handed over the Cascadia Cup and you could see what it meant to the Timbers Army.

It was quite a surreal experience walking around the pitch and handing the Cup over to the Timbers Army representatives, but with the mutual repsect shown by both sets of fan groups it is one I will remember for a long time.

It was a great experience down at PGE park. It's a bit of a weird ground to watch the game from, as it's primary use and design is as a baseball stadium, but if all the necessary redevlopment is approved then come MLS time in 2011, it's going to have seating in a U-shape I believe, as opposed to the current J-shape of the stands. Hard to explain, best to look at a picture of it all! (CLICKY).

The beer garden that takes up the area beneath sections 118 to 123 is fantastic, with the old fashioned looking bar underneath the stands a nice addition but one we were told might be disappearing with the renovations, which would be a real shame.

So what's it like being an away supporter in the States? Well we found it a good experience. It reminded me a lot of East Fife's trips down to Berwick. Before the game, sharing a friendly beer and good natured banter in the pub. During the game the hostilities commence, and boy is it a hostile atmosphere for opposing teams and fans (I enjoyed all the boos and abuse as we walked round to our section with the Cup mind you). After the game, more friendly banter and beers in the wonderful The Bitter End pub, although that might just have been because Portland won!

It's the way football should be and it's so good to see fans over in North America that get it. I wish there was more. The game needs real rivalries. Not ones that end in clashes and police, but ones that create a huge atmosphere.

I have to say that in my 30+ years of watching football, that's the friendliest welcome I've ever had as an away supporter from a home support. Never had so many people shaking my hand in all my life!

All this friendliness might not be the same when Seattle are in town! I knew the Timbers fans hated Seattle, but with every single person I spoke to mentioning it, it's a lot more deep rooted than I ever imagined. It's REAL hatred on a Celtic-Rangers, Liverpool-Man United level.

Then of course that brings us to the Timbers Army. I've seen and heard them on TV but until you actually experience them at a game, you just don't realise how large and loud their numbers are.

It might not be the most popular thing to say if you're a Vancouver fan, but to me, the Timbers Army are the best fan group, at the present time, in all of North America. When you consider their numbers at USL level it's impressive. They sing and bounce non stop throughout the game and are loud as hell, although I do have to say that the layout of the stadium means you can't hear a lot of the actual words at the other corner of the ground but you know they're there!

Seattle fans have gone the way of Toronto fans in Canada, almost claiming that they invented the whole fans supporters section in the US. Their support of their MLS team has been impressive, but where were they all in their USL days?

The Timbers Army and us Southsiders are here now and will only grow. What the TA can grow into is a phenomenal prospect though, although they may be limited in growth potential by stadium restrictions. Whereas Portland will be doubling their fan base in two years time, the Caps will be quadrupling theirs, with the prospect of more.

Can the general Vancouver public match the noise of the Portland, Seattle and Toronto ones though? I have to admit that the jury is out on that one a present. Until the big kick off in two years time we don't know what type of fans these extra 15,000 will be. Singers or sitting on handers. The Vancouver public are very visibly vocally restrained at the various sporting events I have attended. One thing that is certain is that the Southsiders will grow in numbers and that's all that matters for the group to flourish.

I'm told that in the NASL days, Vancouver used to take around 1,000 fans over the border and down to Seattle and Portland and vice versa. If we ever get into that position again it would be fantastic and the atmosphere would be electric. There was around a dozen of us this time around, but about three times that many back in May when it wasn't midweek.

I have real fears though about how that would even be logistically possible today. The transport infrastructure and horrendous border crossing queues are going to be a nightmare. I would urge everyone to make sure they have a Nexus card to ease it a little. It would be fantastic if they could even put on "football special" trains like the old days in England. What an experience that would be.

A more rambling blog post today than usual I know but it's thoughts I just had to put down in print. Despite not getting home till 5.30 the next morning, the trip was worth all the hassles and disappointments and I can't wait for the next chance to follow the Caps on the road.

Awaydays. You cannae beat them!

*** Photo's of AFTN's trip can be found on Flickr HERE ***

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Friday Fun in today's blog, as we feel the need to comment more on the Livingston debacle and follow up on Wednesday's post.

Just when you thought that the whole situation couldn't become any more embarrassing for the Scottish game, there's a new twist.

I was away on Thursday and expected to come home to find that Livingston FC had finally been put out of their misery and we could move on to looking forward to the season ahead, albeit with just 41 League teams.

Like a persistant cockroach, they just won't die it would seem and they're determined to try and take the dignity and reputation of Scottish football down with them.

Livingston were given the right to appeal Wednesday's decision to demote them two divisions. No one expected they would, as not only do they have little hope in succeeding with any appeal, it would also disrupt the whole League campaign. But appeal they did today, throwing confusion and problems in every which way.

The SFL were now faced with the following options.

Option 1. Keep Livingston as a First Division club pending the appeal, meaning they would play a game away to Ross County and Airdrie and Cowdenbeath would play a Second and Third Division game respectively. If Livingston's appeal failed, all the games would be voided and new matches needed to be replayed involving the six teams (Arbroath and East Stirling being the other clubs affected). Certainly not ideal and penalising other teams by having to play and put on extra matches when they have done nothing wrong in all this.

Option 2. Postpone all three games, and future games involving the Clubs, pending the appeal being heard. Apart from throwing the three Leagues into chaos, Ross County and East Stirling indicated they would be looking for compensation if this decision was made to covers costs such as programme printing and catering.

Option 3. Promote Airdrie and Cowdenbeath, as decided on Wednesday, and let them play their appropriate games against Ross County and Arbroath. Demote Livingston and make them play East Stirling. All pending the appeal and if Livingston win their appeal, these games would be voided and again new matches needing to be played.

What a shambles and one that probably hasn't been experienced by any other League in the world.

The SFL settled for option 3, possibly because they know that any appeal will not be successful.

Livingston have responded to this by snubbing the fixture and saying they will not turn up at East Stirling. The Shire are now left in the crazy situation of putting on the match, fielding a team, kicking off and if their opponents are not there, winning the game by forfeit.

Livingston's actions will also surely now mean that if they fail to win their appeal, they will be kicked out of the SFL for failing to complete a fixture.

Lessons have to be learned from all this and quickly. The appeal has to be heard as soon as possible to stop any future disruption.

As for Livingston. Their actions will just have infuriated everyone so much that they can have no hope of winning the appeal. The sooner they're removed from the Scottish game, then the happier we will all be.
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