Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do you know what really gets my goat?

I just always wanted to start a blog post that way!

I'm starting to think that I've hit the age that sees me turning into a grumpy old man. Some would say I hit that a few years back!

Watching football on TV these days I find myself shouting and muttering at the screen about some of the things that go on. Even more than when I'm at the match in person.

I dunno whether it's just from watching the overpaid superstars that does it, but their petulance and basic downright cheating is just driving me crazier every passing the season.

One thing that has bothered me for a while is the badgering of referees when they give a decision like a penalty. It's really getting to the stage now where some governing body has to issue a directive that when players are verbally abusing a ref then they get a straight red. It borders on manhandling him on occasions.

Saturday's match between Chelsea and Wigan was a prime example. The reaction of the Chelsea players after the penalty decision that saw Petr Cech sent off was appalling.

It's not as if Chelsea don't have previous with respect to this. You just have to look at last season's Champions League semi final with Barcalona and the horrible scenes that engulfed the ref then.

The big clubs like Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal have been at it for years. It tantamounts to bullying and it's always the same players like John Terry at the forefront.

It's way beyond time that someone is made an example, both the help the game and my blood pressure.

And breathe...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When we did the blog on Saturday around match fixing (see HERE), we didn't expect to be writing about it again so soon and certainly not the circumstances of it.

Match fixing allegations have always been rife in certain games played in Eastern Europe. You always tend to think that the game in Scotland is relatively clean, although there have been a few murmurs of dodgy results in recent years.

So it came as a huge surprise to me to read today about police investigating a complaint of match fixing in Saturday's Scottish Cup first round match up between Highland League side Huntly and East of Scotland team Hawick Royal Albert.

Now to many reading this, these team names will be unfamiliar to them to say the least. Let's be honest, these names aren't exactly household names in Scotland to many either.

For those that don't know them, Huntly are by far the better side and have recent Scottish Cup pedigree, including a recent test of East Fife in the competition. They should have won the game comfortably. It may have been a little tighter as Hawick had home advantage, but the borders side have lost 6 of their first 7 games this season and are firmly rooted at the bottom of their League. When I saw the 7-0 scoreline on Saturday, I didn't really think much about it apart from that the Highland side must have put together a pretty decent side again this year.

Claims have now been made though of several bets being made on this scoreline, at obviously very high odds, along with bets being placed on Huntly being awarded a penalty, which they opened the scoring with. After the event of course, you can analyse a lot of things to make things look suspicious, such as the goals conceded in the last ten minutes, but there is nothing concrete that has been found yet.

The SFA have already threatened sanctions and bans to anyone proved to have taken part in any wrongdoing and both sides have pleaded their innocence. Hawick have launched an internal investigation though and are going to be speaking to all their players about the allegations.

The fact that the police are involved already does step the seriousness of the whole situation up a notch from the start. It could take months for the investigations to be complete and in the meantime it's left a dark mark over the competition that's only just started for the season. Maybe I'm just naive, but I've been left totally shocked by it all.

If it's subsequently proved that there is any truth in the allegations though, then this mark will become a damaging stain to a game that has already taken a lot of his in Scotland this season.

As it stands, you can't help but be left wondering just how clean our house in Scotland is in this respect. Let's just hope that this isn't the tip of the iceberg of a more deep rooted problem.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Match Report: Carolina Railhawks v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL1)

The anticipation was huge and the reward was palpable, as Portland Timbers awaited the winners of Vancouver Whitecaps 2nd leg playoff clash with the Carolina Railhawks on Sunday.

As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, the whole playoff system in North American football devalues the League as far as we’re concerned, but once they’re here and you’re playing in them, they’re exciting as hell!

Vancouver did the business in the first leg on Thursday, taking a 1-0 lead to Carolina’s WakeMed Park. Carolina looked a poor side in the first leg but they took the surprise decision to rest some key players, all of whom were back for the second leg, including the ever dangerous Gregory Richardson.

The Whitecaps made the decision to start the match with top scorer, and USL Golden Boot winner, Charles Gbeke on the bench. It was a pacy starting line up, with the aim to clearly try and tire the Carolina side early on.

Carolina on the other hand were keen to try and get parity early on and that’s how they set their stall from the first whistle and it only took them two minutes to come close to their goal.

Daniel Paladini sent in a dangerous free kick from the left and it was a Caps head that turned it just wide for a Carolina corner.

Carolina thankfully didn’t follow up this early close call with a spell of pressure and were reduced with trying the long ball over the top of the Whitecaps defence, with little success.

The Railhawks had a penalty shout waved away after 18 minutes when Mark Schulte’s header hit off Kenold Versailles, but the replay showed that the ball clearly hit his chest.

Versailles himself then came closest to opening the scoring on the day when he picked up a loose ball in the Hawks box and crashed a powerful volley off the Carolina bar after 25 minutes. It was one hell of a shot that left the bar rattling for a while after the danger was cleared.

The Haitian international then came close again four minutes later but his header went wide.

With 34 minutes on the clock it looked like disaster had struck Vancouver when Lyle Martin tangled with Richardson in the box and bundled the speedy Guyanan over for a penalty. There was no question about it and up stepped the usually decisive Paladini. Jay Nolly brilliantly saved down to his right though to keep the score level on the day and the Caps ahead on aggregate.

Paladini then wasted a free kick from a good central position as the half drew to a close before the final chance of the half fell to Marcus Haber, but his long range shot didn’t trouble Eric Reed in the Carolina goal.

Three minutes of stoppage time came and went and Vancouver had 45 minutes to hold on to progress.

Vancouver fans knew that a tense and nervy second 45 minutes lay in store.

Carolina made a big change at the half, bringing on recent signing Matthew Delicate up front for the ineffectual Sallieu Bundu. Vancouver responded nine minutes into the half by bringing off Marlon James up front and replacing him by the super quick, and first leg goalscorer, Randy Edwini-Bonsu.

Randy nearly made an immediate impact racing into the box and seemingly being brought down by Schulte, but no penalty was given.

If defending the lead was in the Whitecaps gameplan then it wasn’t showing and with just under half an hour remaining, Haber made way for Charles Gbeke.

Gbeke was in amongst the action right away, just failing to properly connect with a cross into the box, as Vancouver pushed to kill the game off.

Carolina thought they’d levelled against the run of play in the 64th minute when they had the ball in the net but it was clearly offside.

Vancouver were having the majority of the possession in the half and Versailles found himself in room to have another header in the 69th minute, but it was high and over.

Carolina had to up the tempo and wasted a great opportunity with 13 minutes remaining after a neat one-two between John Cunliffe and Brad Rusin.

The Railhawks had a great opportunity with seven minutes left when Delicate ran onto to a long through ball but Jay Nolly came flying out of his goal to clear the danger with an amazing diving header.

As the game went in to the last five minutes, the tension was becoming unbearable, not helped by the fact that Vancouver have had a horrible habit for losing late goals this year.

Justin Moose came close for the Caps with a shot from outside the box before Edwini-Bonsu made way for Mason Trafford to tighten up the back.

The referee, who had a shocker on the whole indicated five minutes of stoppage time but it wasn’t to help Carolina as Vancouver easily closed out the game to deservedly advance.

So it’s semi final action against arch rivals Portland this coming Thursday and next Sunday. I can’t wait already!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

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

It's felt like a long time coming but East Fife finally returned to winning ways yesterday, recording their first victory since the opening day of the season.

Four 1-1 draws and last week's heavy defeat at Stirling have followed that opening win against Brechin at Bayview and many fans were despondent following last week's performance at Forthbank.

Clyde are toiling this season, following relegation and financial woes. This was an important game for the Fife. A win was a must if we weren't to think of ourselves being involved in a bottom of the table dogfight - at least for now. No disrespect to the Bully Wee, but if we couldn't take anything from this game then that was the sign to worry.

Thankfully Stevie Crawford's men delivered the three points. Like pulling a fat girl on a Saturday night, it wasn't pretty but got the job done.

The only goal of the game came very early doors. Five minutes in to be precise when Guy Kerr headed home Aaron Conway's corner. There wasn't a lot more to talk about for the rest of the game in all honesty. The Fife had a penalty appeal denied in the second half and Clyde had a couple of chances but debutant keeper Stewart Baillie was in fine form for the black and gold.

AFTN will take some of the credit for the win of course. The forum has been rife since last Saturday's defeat with advice to the Craw from the fans as to what changes he should make. He clearly listened, avid reader of it as he is!

The two main changes most were looking for were the dropping of Michael Brown in goals and the gaffer himself. Stevie duly obliged, along with some other changes, and it was a very youthful team that took the field but that also took the honours.

Baillie had an excellent game. A couple of good saves and some strong kicking showing the Fife fans what they've waited all season to see so far from the former Junior who came to Bayview highly recommended.

Bob Campbell has to be particularly singled out for his performance again this week. He's going to be one hell of a player for us and has a sweet right foot that will find him on the scoresheet several times this season, of that I have no doubt.

With the likes of Nipper Thompson, Goran Stanic and Bobby Linn waiting to return to the side, it's going to be a bit of a headache for Stevie C in picking next week's team. For that we should all be grateful, as we continue to make inroads and find our top form this season.

I still think mid table respectability is going to be our fruit for the season, but if we can sneak one of the playoff places then it'll be a huge achievement. What we need to do now is to build on the guys confidence and put a string of results together. After that, who knows.

FINAL SCORE: East Fife 1 - 0 Clyde

ATT: 697

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm sure I'm not alone in watching certain sporting events and thinking there's something funny going on. You know, things don't seem right during the action or there's been a weird decision at the end of it all.

Happens a lot when I'm watching boxing and there's a points decision that makes you just say wtf out loud (did anyone see the recent Tyson Fury-John McDermott heavyweight contest? Wow!). I'm sure that on the vast majority of occasions there's nothing more to it than crap refereeing/officiating.

When it comes to football, there's always been lots of murmers about match-fixing over the years, whether it's players throwing games or suspect floodlight failures. We usually think though that it's just the conspiracy theorists in full flow and our game is pretty much clean.

UEFA made an announcement yesterday that will make many wonder just how clean our game is.

The head of UEFA's disciplinary services, Peter Limacher, said that the governing body are investigating 40 cases of suspected match fixing over the last four years. The games are all in both European competitions, the Champions League and UEFA Cup, and involve mainly Eastern European teams.

Earlier this year, UEFA banned Macedonian club FK Pobeda from European competitions for eight years after they found them guilty of throwing a game.

So how rife is this problem? Is it coming from the organised criminal fraternity or is it just the smaller teams trying to make a quick buck out of a competition they know they have pretty much no chance of advancing in?

We may get answers to the latter question following UEFA's investigation but probably not the first one. And maybe it's better we don't find out terrible news, for the more games that UEFA (or FIFA) reveal as being fixed, then the more the integrity of the game is going to be affected. What we don't want to get to is every Cup shock or surprise result leaving fans wondering whether everything was by the book.

As far as we know, there are no results involving Scottish teams under suspicion. Sadly, their horrendously poor performances of late have all been down to them just being really crap.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Carolina Railhawks (USL1 Playoffs)

Vancouver Whitecaps started their 2009 USL1 playoff campaign off with a fine 1-0 home first leg win in their first round match up against Carolina Railhawks.

In front of a disappointingly non sold out crowd of 5,135, Vancouver dominated the match against a very poor and toothless Carolina side.

The game had 0-0 written all over it as Vancouver came close time and again.

Luca Bellisomo had the Caps best chance in the first half, with the ball falling to him just yards out but it was a case of the wrong player in the wrong position for the big defender.

The rash of second half substitutions couldn't see Vancouver break down the Railhawks defence but the breakthrough did finally came with 13 minutes remaining thanks to Randy Edwini-Bonsu's first goal for the Whitecaps first team.

The pacy winger has looked impressive every time he has come off the bench in recent games and it was his speed that led to the goal. Marlon James flicked on a long Jay Nolly kick into the path of Edwini-Bonsu and the young Cap evaded a Hawks defender before taking the ball round keeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell and hit it home into the empty net.

The goal sent the Caps players and the Southside into raptures and gives Vancouver a slender lead going into Sunday's second leg, with all to play for. It should be a cracker in store in Carolina but I back Vancouver to do the business as they are clearly playing like a team that believes.

After the results of the other first round, first leg matches, it's shaping up to be a dream Vancouver run to the title. Arch rivals Portland await them in the second round if they can get past Carolina and the surrender monkeys of Montreal could give everyone of a blue and white persuasion a dream final and a chance for real justice.

The playoff dreams are alive and kicking.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We try to keep this blog varied as we have readers from all across the world and don't want to focus on the game in Scotland too much, but today we have something that we want to get out there.

Supporters Direct Scotland are the group who organise and aid supporters trusts across Scotland, including the East Fife one. They have commissioned a survey to get an idea of what people think about how their Clubs fare in certain issues, along with some general questions around the state of the game in Scotland in general.

With all that has happened lately at both domestic, European and international level, it's important that as many people make their opinions known as possible.

The survey can be found HERE and should only take you ten minutes to complete.

If you're a supporter of any Scottish Club then please do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I've never been much of a fan of Ian Wright. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that I've always found him a bit of a wanker. A great footballer and someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, but as a commentator, a bit of a tosser.

My opinion of Ian Wright has radically changed though. A lot.

The reason for this change of heart towards the former Arsenal forward is his new TV programme on Sky One - Football Behind Bars.

The series airs on a Monday evenings and the third episode has just been shown this week. For those unaware of what the show is about, well it does what it says on the tin.

Before being a world renowned footballer, Ian Wright was on the wrong side of the tracks and spent some time in prison. This was a fact I didn't know about the striker. It wasn't a long spell in the young offenders institution, just days, but it shaped his future and he came out vowing to turn his life around like most do. Unlike most though, Ian Wright did just that.

Wright has a plan that he thinks might help rehabilitate some of the young offenders and keep them from becoming repeat customers and continuing their life of crime. The idea - to set up footballing academies in the UK's prisons.

He feels that by teaching the attributes needed to make it in football, such as teamwork and a hard work ethic, he can change prisoners outlooks on life and change the way they act.

It might seem far fetched but Wright hopes to roll it out across the nation. First though he needs to see it trialled and in action and this is where this series comes in as it follows Ian attempts to set up an initial prison football academy in Portland Young Offenders Institution, under his guidance and two of Chelsea's coaches.

It's been a fascinating and captivating series so far. Over half of the prison applied to be part of the programme, 48 made it to the final trials and Ian picked his final squad of 22. They are in a separate wing of the prison and eat, sleep, train and learn together. Along the way he is facing the animosity of other prisoners, his squad players getting an early release and the objection by some that prisoners are being given this chance in the first place.

I can see the viewpoints of the latter to a certain extent. Yes, we can never forget the victims of these criminals here, but if people aren't given the chance to turn their life around then what hope have they got and how are our prisons around the world ever going to get less crowded?

There are times when Wright feels that he has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew, but as he points out in the first show, what other player could you get to try such a thing? Certainly not someone like Gary Lineker!

As I said at the start of this article, Ian Wright has really gone up in my estimation by seeing him in this show. He passionately believes in what he is trying to achieve and I wish him all the best. Even if it helps just a couple of the guys then it's all been worth it.

If it can be proved to be beneficial and to actually make a difference then better still. I'm eagerly awaiting to see how the whole programme ends up.

It's a great show and worth catching on Sky. For those without Sky or living outside of the UK, then the show is available on a number of download sites.

In these days of prima donna footballers, it's great to see one remembering his roots, trying to make a difference and perhaps leaving a greater legacy than what he achieved on the football field.

More power to you Ian Wright Wright Wright.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The subject of the abuse of players and officials, and how they react to it, has seldom been out of the news this season.

The two most high profile cases have involved some big money players. First we had Beckham's little hissy fit with the LA Galaxy fans that saw him confront the fans on the stand and subsequently get fined. Then we had Man City's Emmanuel Adebayor running the length of the field to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans, almost setting off a riot and leaving him facing a possible three match ban.

Both players snapped at the amount of abuse being directed to them from the stands.

They're not the first, and they're certainly not going to be the last, players to face abuse from fans and they're not the only ones to crack and react. Eric Cantona's famous king fu kick on the Crystal Palace fan perhaps being the most newsworthy.

On Sunday we had another Man City player in trouble when Craig Bellamy slapped a Man United fan that had run on to the pitch after United's derby win. The latest incident to make the news involves a referee and not a player.

Switzerland's top referee, Massimo Busacca, was suspended by the Swiss FA for three matches after making obscene gestures to FC Baden fans in their recent game against Young Boys.

Busacca was the ref in last season's Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United and is expected to be one of the key refs at next year's World Cup in South Africa. After receiving constant abuse in the match in question, he was caught giving the middle finger to the Baden fans.

All of these incidents raise the question as to when does the abuse of players and officials go too far?

As someone who has meted out a fair share of abuse at opposing players and match officials over the years, I do feel it is part and parcel of the game. I actually like it when the person being abused gives something back. That banter is what the game is all about. It also shows you that you're getting to them and possibly putting them off their game.

I've always hated it when fans have given a player stick for the whole match and then as soon as the players says something back or makes a gesture to the fans they're instantly over at the stewards or the police to make a complaint. Get a life!

In Vancouver, the Southsiders are known for giving the opposing keepers heaps of well researched abuse and most applaud the fans afterwards.

I'd love to see players and officials being allowed some leeway to make comments and gestures back to the fans abusing them. To a certain degree at least. Obsene gestures or inflammatory runs the length of the pitch to the fans are a little bit out of order, but let them react a little.

I'd rather that than see them trying to stamp abuse out of the game because we know that this is a no tolerance campaign sitting in waiting at present.

At times the game these days is pretty sterile. It needs characters like Robbie Savage, and in days gone by in Scotland, Chic Charnley. These are players you love to hate. You love to abuse them and it's great when you get a response.

With the way teams like Man City have been going this season, I'm sure we have a few more "cracking" incidents in store for us this season.

Monday, September 21, 2009

When we first started this series, we mentioned that as East Fife fans we were in a fortunate position that a lot of the things that we would be looking at are still around in the lower leagues, or are at least disappearing at a much slower pace than elsewhere in football.

One such thing is the traditional changing of ends at half time and in UK League football there are now only a handful of clubs that allow the fans to partake in this and many of those can be found in the bottom two Scottish divisions.

10 - CHANGING ENDS:

All seater stadiums have killed off a lot of the old traditions in football and changing ends to watch your team shoot into the goals in front of you is one them unfortunately.

As with a lot of fan related things, there was something tribal about it all, especially as an away supporter. Walking around the ground, past the home support and claiming your new end, All that was missing was driving a flag in your club colours into the ground.

When making the mass move, it was always important to eyeball the home support as they walked on by, yes, sometimes it did lead to fisticuffs but usually nothing too serious and was just part of the whole thing. There was mostly just good natured banter between both sets of fans as you passed by each other.

It was also important to keep an eye on such end changes to stop ending up in the wrong end if you went for a pie at half time and were too engrossed in reading your programme and munching away as you wandered back round to your spot for the second half, only to be surrounded by strange people you didn’t know wearing the wrong colours.

Obviously with the bigger matches, larger crowds and segregation, changing ends was a logistic impossibility and discouraged by the police. Something that should probably have been taken into account for our Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Arbroath at Gayfield in 1993. The fists certainly flew that day, and it wasn’t at half time, when Danny McGrain beard wearing Smokies fans wandered into our end to cause trouble and as fans spilled onto the pitch, the Arbroath fans got their just desserts. That was always the danger of allowing the fans to change ends and wander freely round the ground.

When hooliganism was in full flow in England and at some clubs in Scotland, segregation was the first killer of the traditional end change. But as long as there wasn’t a fence in place, as was the case in most of the Scottish lower league grounds, it never seemed to matter too much and for the crowds sizes being attracted it actually helped to add to the atmosphere. Games always seem more enjoyable and the fans all the louder when your team is trying to score right in front of you.

When all seater stadium started to come in though, changing ends became a lot more difficult, as did being able to just wander around the stadium as you pleased. Set ends for away fans, often with no access to any other side of the ground, meant that you just had to stay put for the whole 90 minutes and this became the norm.

Even at the grounds where you can change ends, fans these days seem so used to not moving from their spot any more for the whole game that they just don’t bother making the change any more.

Look at the last few times we’ve played at Gayfield or up at Forfar’s Station Park. Two of the few remaining grounds where we can all congregate together at each end during the game, but grounds where we just tend to occupy a spot along the sidelines and that’s us until we head home. The home fans are still a bit inclined to making the half time switch, but that’s probably due to them doing that same thing every two weeks. To them that is still the norm, to us we just don’t want to seem to move any more.

Maybe next time we do play at one of these grounds we can remind ourselves about the fun of changing ends and reacquaint ourselves with just how much more enjoyable the game becomes when we do. It might just help get some cracking atmospheres back on the terraces again as well.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

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

Everyone knew it wasn't going to last. East Fife's unbeaten start to the season had been under some pressure from almost as soon as it began and Stirling Albion ended it with a comprehensive 3-0 victory yesterday that could have been double.

It didn't look like that for the first third of the match, as both teams were evenly matched and shared possession.

East Fife's play was earning a lot of corners, which Jonathan Smart, Jordyn Sheerin and Guy Kerr all headed over, but at the other end it was another goalkeeping blunder from Michael Brown that saw the Binos open the scoring after 25 minutes.

Brown failed to collect a free kick into the box from John O'Neil and it gave Andy Graham the opportunity to easily head home the opener.

Stirling almost doubled their lead ten minutes later when Martin Grehan hit the bar with a header from a corner, but the Fife held out till half time where they hoped to regroup.

It seemed to have worked with East Fife starting the second half brightly and Paul McManus had a chance three minutes in which was headed clear.

Stirling came back into the game though and Brown made some amends for his earlier mistake when he saved a flashing shot from Andy Gibson on the hour mark.

The big turning point in the game came three minutes later though.

David O'Brien raced clear for Albion and as he checked his run in the box, Paul Nugent's momentum sent him crashing. Penalty for Stirling and a red card for Nugent.

Stewart Devine stepped up for the penalty and Brown did excellent to turn it past the post, but it was going to be an uphill struggle for East Fife for the rest of the game and so it proved.

Stirling doubled their lead on 73 minutes when a long ball bounced over Mark Staunton, allowing Grehan to race through and easily slot the ball past Brown for 2-0.

It was already a foregone conclusion as to where the points were going by this stage, but Stirling put the cherry on top of a fine performance with a third on 84 minutes.

The Fife defence had been all at sea for a lot of the closing moments and they allowed Ross Forsyth to run 30 plus yards into the Fife box, where the defender squared the ball to Ross McCord and the young Dundee United loanee easily hit home.

The final whistle thankfully came and the 211 Fife supporters in the 678 crowd went home pretty despondent.

It was a convincing 3-0 victory for Stirling that has left a lot of questions about East Fife, especially surrounding the defence. With injuries meaning a bit of a makeshift back four, the depth of our squad has been fully tested and the answers haven't been all that positive.

Michael Brown is getting regular pelters from the Fife support now and Stewart Baillie should now be given his chance between the sticks. He came highly recommended from the juniors, so now is the ideal time to see what he has.

If Stevie Crawford could get a keen young striker on loan then we could have promise ahead, but as it stands I fear a relegation battle looming. We should just be thankful that there's some teams in the division that are in a worse state than us!

FINAL SCORE: Stirling Albion 3 - 0 East Fife

** For masochists out there, you can watch "highlights" from yesterday's game HERE **

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps played their last regular season game of the year last night, recording a 2-1 win against bottom placed side Cleveland City Stars.

The Ohio side gave the Whitecaps a sterner test than most were expecting and put Jay Nolly's goal under a lot of pressure, especially at the start of the second half.

When the Caps took the lead after just 11 minutes, with Charles Gbeke's diving header from a Marcus Haber cross from the byeline, many in the crowd thought that the floodgates would be opened but full credit has to go to Cleveland who fought hard and fought back with an equaliser just before halftime, when Teteh Bangura scored from a tight angle.

Cleveland started the second half well but it was Vancouver who were to wrap up the full points when Ibrahim Kante handled Randy Edwini-Bonsu's shot in the box and Haber converted the resultant penalty.

The sold out 5,642 crowd were very vocal all night and the Southside was packed and rocking throughout. This is just what the guys need to roar them on to back to back Championships.

The win wasn't enough for Vancouver to overhaul Rochester for the 6th placed spot and their comfortable 7th placed finish has earned them a first round playoff match up with Carolina Railhawks.

Although Carolina finished a close second to Portland in the final standings, I'm very happy with facing them in the playoffs. Vancouver's three games against them on league business this season saw a narrow 2-1 defeat in Carolina in the first match and two draws in August. In both of the latter two games Vancouver should have taken full points and can go into the games with a lot of optimism.

Vancouver's injury situation is the main concern going into the first game on Thursday and the full depth of the squad has been questioned and tested on a lot of occasions already this season.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm not a fan of the playoff system in place in both the USL and MLS. I feel it devalues the league and makes so much of the season seem really futile.

That said, once the playoffs are here, there's nothing like them and the atmosphere at the games is electric and the tension so high. It's just a shame that after watching games since April, you're left feeling that that's really the season starting now.

So with back to back Championships now the goal, let's see if Vancouver can rise to the occasion. They're going to have to do it via the most difficult route and playing all of the top sides on the way but they've shown over the course of the season that they have nothing to fear from any of the sides that are left.

I know Thursday can't come quick enough as far as we're concerned.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It used to be that when it was the Manchester derby, there was only one choice for who you wanted to win for many and that was the blue side.

Manchester City were the drunken daft uncle of Manchester footballing circles - harmless and you felt a little bit of pity for them. If they could come good once in a blue moon, all the better.

Now though, the hatred towards them is growing by the week and it's not down to jealousy of their newly acquired wealthy stature. So much so in fact that I'm sure I'm not alone in being unsure as to who I'd really like to win Sunday's big game.

The animosity towards City probably did start with their big cash investment if I'm being honest. Not through jealousy as I said, but from the fact that they then thought that they could just go and buy any player, from any club without question, driving up prices for some very average players in the process.

Then came the whole Joleon Lescott affair and the way that Man City publically handled their pursuit, disrupting both the player and Everton, was disgusting. It was like watching a school yard bully in action.

The latest controversies to surround the Club came last weekend of course thanks to the behaviour and actions of Emmanuel Adebayor.

Having been fortunate enough to watch the game live last Saturday, I was left disgusted and shaking my head at what took place and have never wanted to see a team come back into a match as much as I did Arsenal that day.

The FA's decision to ban Adebayor for three games for the Van Persie stamping incident was commendable. If only they could have banned him for longer and sent out a firmer message.

Then there was the whole celebration incident and another three match ban that is imminent.

I find it disgusting that City are appealing this. In many ways, Adebayor's actions when he scored were almost worse than the stamping because of the possible aftermath that they could have caused.

Having been in situations where opposing players have wound up our section of the support, I know how hard it is to keep your cool and how easy it would be to just completely lose it.

I don't blame the reactions of the Arsenal fans one bit last Saturday. They were more restrained than they could have been on the whole. If there hadn't have been so many stewards there we could have had an incident where Adebayor was set upon by a throng of angry fans and would have basically gotten what he deserved.

If Man City want to have any respect out of these incidents they should let the bans stand uncontested. To back his reactions sends out the wrong message.

One city. Two teams to despise. How can you pick a team to cheer on from that?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The return of the Champions League group stages this week has done little to excite the footballing tastebuds here at AFTN.

Having a look at the televised football fare that was to be served up this week, I was left feeling a little flat and very much unexcited. Then after taking in a few of the games, even more so.

I have to ask. How many people still actually get a buzz out of watching these games, aside from fans of the teams taking part? Does a Dynamo Kiev-Rubin Kazan match up really get your juices going? Ironically, this was one of the better games of the week.

I ended up just flicking aimlessly between the matches shown and having the games on in the background. The one match that had really caught my eye, Inter Milan-Barcelona, turned out to be a massive, no scoring disappointment. At least the FC Zurich-Real Madrid and the Standard Liege-Arsenal games served up a little bit of excitement and potential shocks, before it was back to the same old, same old.

UEFA have tinkered about with the European Cup/Champions League so much now that what they have left is a borefest until the later rounds and even then the continued domination by certain sides has blighted the competition.

Clubs, on the whole, are terrified to lose points early on. The money at stake is too much for many to take any gambles and that's just all wrong. I've ranted before about the amount of different clubs each country is allowed to have in the competition. The whole farcical advancement in the Europa League for the losers just devalues the whole competition too.

And don't even get me started on the complete waste of time and effort the Europa League is itself.

Nothing's going to change any time soon, as long as the sponsors keep ploughing their money in to it, so all that I have left to hope for this season is that some big clubs will fall at the first hurdle, allowing some romantic team to carry the banner for true football fans. Add to this a semi final line up devoid of English Premiership involvement and Rangers falling flat on their faces and then perhaps I'll have taken something out of this year's competition.

I can't really see me devoting much of my time on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to watching any of this transpire though and that in itself saddens me most. All I want is a valued European Cup back. Is that really too much to ask?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You may already know. You may not care. But Danny Baker's back on BBC Radio with a new football show on Saturday mornings and already it's been of interest to East Fife fans.

Danny Baker is one of those presenters that seems to split people down the middle between loving him and loathing him. I've always found him to be a genuinely funny guy who I'll gladly spend a couple of hours in the the company of. His style is welcoming and his enthusiasm infectious. I know some will disagree!

Danny's back on our airwaves though with a two hour Saturday morning show on 5 Live between 9am and 11am. Not the best time to be on when, you have Soccer AM on TV to occupy your pre-match mornings, but for those making the early start drives to matches, it makes for fun listening. Thanks to the modern day wonders of technology such as iplayers and podcasts though, football fans the world over can enjoy his musings whenever they want on by heading over to the 5 Live site HERE and you can listen to the two episodes so far. There's also a link to listen to the two part podcast of the latest show.

Last Saturday's show (September 12th) had a new section where Danny has decided to "twin" UK football clubs together in the same way that towns and cities get twinned together, although his method is to pick the names randomly out of a bin. His plan is that from the moment of twinning onwards, those two Clubs should be forever linked not just on his show but on the whole of the BBC!

The first "twinning" was that of Tranmere Rovers and Watford, both Clubs of course having the current link of John Barnes between them, so a cracking start for the idea.

As the show progressed the second twinning was Wigan and Torquay. Then came the time for the third twinning. Ipswich Town were the first name drawn and their new twin club is now East Fife.

So we now have an official connection with the Tractor Boys. Not sure if that means we'll be seeing Roy Keane paying a visit to Bayview Stadium anytime soon, but stranger things have happened! Maybe this will lead to some regular pre-season friendlies between the Clubs or maybe we can get some of their talented youngsters on loan.

I know it's all just a bit of fun, but here at AFTN we love the whole twinning idea. Not just for us, but just in general. It puts a bit of fun back into football and who knows what things can come out of it if Danny Baker decides to step things up to another level with it all.

Of course, I've been on a mission to try and twin East Fife with Vancouver Whitecaps, but now we have to triple up with Ipswich. Don't mind that at all!

Once Danny Baker makes the twinning he's hoping for fans to get in touch with him to see if they can show a natural link between the Club. Not so easy in the case of East Fife and Ipswich.

The teams have never met in a friendly. When East Fife were doing their tours of England for floodlight matches in the 1950's, Ipswich were still a smaller struggling side.

From the records I have, I can't find a player that has played for both teams. If anyone does know any different then let us know.

So links are hard. There is the fact that Ipswich have a Club crest featuring a horse and East Fife of course used to have a club crest featuring a horse. We both hate our inbred rivals from along the road too. No, we're not clutching at straws here!

There are three good links we cna come up with though for the twinning of East Fife and Ipswich Town.

First of all, the on field successes. Both Clubs have a lot in common in that they are smaller, unfashionable provincial sides that punched above their weight and had a spell in the limelight in their respective domestic game, guided by a brilliant manager.

For East Fife our spell between 1938 and 1953 (interupted by World War Two of course) brought a Championship, a Scottish Cup and 3 League Cups, a lot of it down to the wonderful Scot Symon. Ipswich had their moment in the sun between 1978 and 1982, with an FA Cup and a UEFA Cup win to show for it, along with two League runners-up spots, all under the guidance of Bobby Robson.

The second link was pointed out by Rob Freeman on Danny Baker's twitter page. Mel Henderson is the ex Ipswich Town programme editor and a writer who has penned numerous books on Ipswich. Turns out Mel was from Methil and is an East Fife fan.

The third link is even spookier and features me! Having been part of the Vancouver Whitecaps Southsiders for 2 years now, I've made a lot of football mates. The guy I've got to know best though (particularly due to his excellent taste in music!) is called Chris, posts on the Southsiders Board as Tractor Boy and is, yup you guessed it, an avid Ipswich Town fan that's followed them all over the UK and Europe during their glory days. It was him that alerted me to the whole twinning thing. What a small and crazy world!

That last one gets us in with the triple link too!

Anyone got any more? Let us know on the AFTN forum (HERE) or you can email Danny Baker himself on lord.reith@bbc.co.uk . For anyone wanting to listen to the Fife bit in the show, it's after about 55 minutes into it but seems to be missing from the podcast part of the show but should be on the iplayer.

With Ipswich Town struggling to set the heather alight this season and the Vancouver Whitecaps floundering a little, what two better clubs that have had fine former glories could there be to be joined with East Fife?!

As Fife fans, you know we'd not be happy if we'd been twinned with Man United!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Following a long day of talks yesterday, the Scottish Football Association announced today that George Burley is to remain as the manager of the Scotland national team, as he attempts to guide us into the Euros in 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

The announcement will disappoint a lot of fans but I feel it is the right decision and he has AFTN's backing and support.

As we've mentioned before in this blog, the abuse directed towards him during the World Cup qualifying campaign, from both fans and the media alike, was over the top and unacceptable.

Sure his team selections and tactics annoyed the hell out of me at times in the past year but the signs are there that he has started to turn the team around, get rid of some of the deadwood and stamp his managerial style over the squad. To replace him now would have seen us go back to square one once again.

I admire Burley for sticking things out and wanting to remain as Scotland boss. You could clearly see what it all meant to him during the Holland game and in Burley we have a man who will see the job through and not walk out when a big Club contract comes along like the deserting rats Walter Smith and Alex McLeish did before him.

The Euros don't really hold as much importance to me as the World Cup. I'd be happy to see us using the Euro qualifying games to blood younger players and keep a stable and youthful team that we can build upon and mould into a force to be reckoned with once again.

I believe Burley is the man to do that and have the patience to do that. What we need to do as fans now, is to show that similar patience and to back him 100%. It might not be a pretty ride but I feel we'll reach our destination in better shape for it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When we started this feature all those months ago, we mentioned that we’d be looking at a lot of things that were now missing from going to the football. Some that were dearly missed, or at least looked back upon fondly, and other things which it’s perhaps better that you don’t really find at stadiums these days. Today’s category falls into the latter of these.

(9) The Crowd Sway:

Crowd sways and surges weren’t exactly a common feature at Bayview Park, at least not in it’s latter years. The closest you got to such was when somebody tripped on the stairs coming down the terracing and people scattered to avoid getting scalding hot Bovril thrown all over them. Well, more tepid Bovril at old Bayview.

It wasn’t always that way, with the big crowds that packed into the old ground in the 40’s and 50’s, but the closest I ever got to any such atmosphere was at the Hibs Cup replay in 1984 when the place went mental after we scored our two goals. I was just a wee laddie then so was down the front and missed most of the “fun”!

Having never been involved in a proper packed shed crowd sway, I can only draw my reflections on it from television re-runs of old games, especially ones from the 1970’s and the big English teams and games involving the Old Firm. Watching the fans surging forward, back, left and right is quite mesmerising. It’s like some kind of modern day interpretive dance ensemble putting on their latest production.

It all seemed terrifying! You start in one place with your mates, there was some action on the pitch that got everyone excited, then the next thing you knew, you were about 20 rows down and to the right of where you were previously standing and usually no longer beside the people you came to the game with. Handy if you wanted you a better vantage point, but not if you were planning on staying there for too long. If you’d arrived late of course, you could try and calculate your movements with military precision to try and end up in the spot where you wanted to be and meet your mates. Yeah, good luck with that one.

Speaking to people who experienced this, and reading other people’s accounts, it was common to spend most of a match with your feet off the ground and just going where the sardine packed crowd took you. When you look at old crowd pictures there’s people facing in every direction!

It was also a popular tool used by football hooligans and in one particular infamous incident in 1970, Leeds fans deliberately started a crowd sway in the Stoke support that led to 61 people being hospitalised.

The Hillsborough tragedy was the obvious catalyst that put a stop to such crowd actions and the onset of all seater stadium really put an end to the dangers. When you look back at the old crowds though, it really is a miracle that there wasn’t way more fatalities long before that fateful day in 1989. People really had no control of their movements and you regularly see people looking crushed at the front and if you wanted a pie or a pee, well forget it - hence that old wet pocket “myth”.

I’ve never been a fan of all seater stadium, especially for the lower leagues, but they did probably stop other disasters happening at some point. There is something completely different when watching the top teams on TV these days though. The whole sways and surges in the Kops and Sheds really did add something to the whole fan experience and atmosphere and is probably something that all football fans should have had the benefit of experiencing at least once in their lifetime.

Perhaps the next time we’re at one of the more older fashioned terracing grounds in Scotland, we can all huddle together and have a sway for old times sake. At least if we fall we’ll have plenty of room.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

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

If you'd told us that East Fife would be unbeaten after the first five League games we'd have been pretty happy bunnies. Surprised, but happy!

If you then went on to tell us that we'd have recorded four 1-1 draws in a row, all of them coming from behind, we'd have been more than surprised. That's how the Scottish Second Division season has played out though so far and we're far from complaining about it.

With East Fife currently sitting 5th on seven points, it's perhaps not been the most exciting start to a season but I'd rather we were taking something from every game than nothing.

Manager Stevie Crawford asked the fans for patience whilst he built the team he wanted, in his first stint in a mangerial role, and on the whole the fans have been giving him what he wanted.

The signs are there that the Craw is building solid foundations at Bayview. He's not been afraid to single out what's gone wrong and change it and his openness in the press is very refreshing. He is also trying to play some decent football and all that is needed is for some of the draws to be turned into wins and I think we're going to see the start of something exciting down Bayview way.

Yesterday's latest draw, against Peterhead at a windy Balmoor, was another spirited fight back. It's not been a happy hunting ground for us on most occasions since they joined the league but the players did well to keep themselves in the game that really was the proverbial game of two halves.

Peterhead had the wind advantage in the first half and were the better team, playing long balls over our defence and causing a lot of problems. It was such a play that saw them take the lead through Scott Michie on 20 minutes when he hit home from close range.

East Fife then used the wind to their advantage in the second half, with Peterhead content to just get players behind the ball and try and hit the Fife on the counter attack.

Just when it looked like East Fife's first defeat of the season though, Paul McManus took advantage of the Peterhead defence and goalkeeper Paul Jarvie's failure to deal with an Aaron Conway cross and Shagger had lots of time at the back post to head home the equaliser.

What's been most pleasing about East Fife this season is their never say die attitude. Once they go behind they don't let their heads go down and believe they will get back into things. So different from what was on display under Dave Baikie last season.

As we said, if we can just start getting some ticks in the win column this will boost the team's confidence even further. In the meantime, let's just see how long we can make this unbeaten run last.

FINAL SCORE: Peterhead 1 - 1 East Fife

ATT: 551

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps claimed the 7th and final USL1 playoff spot last night and they didn't even have to kick a ball to do it.

Although most fans felt that the Caps spot was assured several games ago, the playoffs were mathematically confirmed by Miami losing 2-1 at Charleston Battery to leave them 8 points back of Vancouver with 2 games remaining.

Miami have actually fallen to 9th place now after a late season collapse that left some fans questioning how much the team wanted to make the playoffs.

Their 8th place was taken by Minnesota Thunder who trounced the second placed Puerto Rico Islanders on Thursday evening. That win left Minnesota on 30 points, six behind Vancouver with two games left, but the Whitecaps have the tiebreaking head to head sewn up against the Thunder to secure at least 7th place.

For those that don't know, the top 7 teams in the 11 team USL1 make the playoffs. I know, I know. It makes the whole season pretty much pointless but that's how they seem to like things in North America. The League title itself is nothing compared to the playoff winners. Crazy and just one of the reasons many football fans outside of the continent struggle to take the North American leagues seriously.

The team that finishes top of the table after the 30 regular season games wins the Commissioners Cup and receives a first round playoff bye. This season, that team should be Portland Timbers who have a 5 point gap at the top with 2 to play. Barring some serious crashing bottles they should secure the first Championship in their history and with the way they've played this season, deservedly so.

All that could mean nothing though depending on how they fare in the playoffs.

Vancouver's playoff scenario is still very much up in the air. They could still finish 6th but I would say that unless Rochester Rhinos fail to take anything from their final two games it's looking unlikely. Since one of the Rhinos games is against the faltering Miami, we can expect 7th.

That would mean a first round two-legged playoff match up against the second placed team. Just now that's Puerto Rico but it could still be Charleston Battery or Carolina Railhawks that are our opponents. Still with me?!

All three are winnable ties. I prefer Puerto Rico from a footballing sense as I fancy our chances of winning that over two legs and it would give us the Concacaf Champions League qualifier we never had. From a logistical point of view, the players hate it and the whole trip can take up to 26 hours due to airport stopovers en route.

Get through that and the Portland Timbers await. Again, nothing to fear from the match up and it gives both sets of fans a chance to travel to the away leg. A real toughie for both teams though.

No matter what it's going to be a hard playoff run if Vancouver want to record back to back USL Championships.

With two home games remaining, this is the Caps chance to find what line up to go with into the playoffs. The crazy match scheduling has led to a lot of changes and rotations and I doubt that Teitur Thordarson even knows who his best starting eleven is. The fans on the terraces can't agree on that.

It's important that the Caps get some momentum going and confidence flowing as they face the playoff road ahead and that starts tomorrow with the game against Austin.

The season starts now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

We all think it from time to time. That we could do better than the guy running our team. Maybe we could. We're not likely to find out any time soon though.

Football management games allow us all to believe we have what it take though and every year millions of people around the world look forward to the newest Football Manager game coming out for the PC and sign up to numerous fantasy football games on various websites.

AFTN is no different and our game of choice is Xpert Eleven.

Xpert Eleven is a great football management game that allows you to pick your team, assemble your squad and sell and buy players, bring on youth players, train your squad, pick your tactics and formation and a lot more.

What makes it even better is that it's all free to play as well (although you can also sign up to be a VIP player, which we recommend, and have access to even more features, such as scouting reports for future opponents and designing your club's own strip).

There's the main Xpert Leagues, where you can pit your team (male and ladies ones) against players worldwide, and a lot of private leagues where you can play against friends.

AFTN has it's own league along with readers of Raith Rovers Fan Talk forum. The league is open to all though and we've just ended our current season and really need some new managers to join to freshen things up a bit.

Interested? Want to know more? It doesn't matter where in the world you're reading this, or who you support, head along to www.xperteleven.com and sign up today.

Once registered, look to join an existing league. Click Search then enter League ID 78588. Then you'll be allocated your players and you're all set to go.

It really is an addictive game. I have four seperate team in various official and private leagues and even manage Scotland in a FIFA World Cup league. I've won the World Cup. No other Scotland manager can claim that!

So head on over and join in the fun and see just how Xpert a manager you would be.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It was a familiar tale by the end of it all. More heartbreak for Scotland. Another qualifying campaign ending in disappointment. The hopes of a nation left shattered once again.

We could go on and it would be hard to pinpoint which year and which tournament's qualifying campaign we're talking about. What's different about this one though is that this time it really hurts because we're left with the feeling that we threw it all away.

And what we threw away wasn't even automatic qualification, just a playoff spot.

Eljero Elia's goal with 8 minutes remaining saw Holland snatch a late 1-0 victory over Scotland at Hampden Park last night. It was such a cruel end to such a brave performance. The first half saw Scotland hit the bar, miss an easy chance and have a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. The Dutch had their own misfortunes but their class came through in the end and they ended their qualifying campaign with an impressive unbeaten record.

Scotland's display on the night was what's been lacking for a lot of this qualifying campaign. Full of passion, attacking prowess and confidence. It looked at times that a goal was imminent. If only this had been replicated in many of the other games and the lacklustre performances that were on display during them.

Of course the main focus of attention now will come down on the future of George Burley. The knives have been out and sharpened for a while now and the calls for him to go will now be intensified.

He made mistakes in this campaign, was too defensive and some of his team selections beggared belief. Even last night, he went with one up front. The players, it would seem, want him to stay on and you can't doubt his pride and commitment to the job. He went through the wringer last night on the touchline and his emotions with every kick of the ball were very evident for all to see.

It meant as much to him on the sidelines as us in the stands and watching at home. He's a Scotland fan like us, but maybe not the right man to be at the helm of the national squad to take us forward. The players have shown in last night's game that they have the ability to compete with the best so should we be asking "did George Burley let down the players or did the players let down George Burley?".

The injuries that plagued Burley's squad selections were unbelievable and continued right up to kick off last night when he lost Craig Gordon between the sticks (although a huge credit has to be paid to David Marshall who did an outstanding job coming in). Our squad depth appeared to be non existant once the main guys went out.

Then you can look at the disgrace to the nation by the likes of Barry Ferguson, Allan McGregor and Kris Boyd. The disruptions they caused didn't help the team to stay focussed.

It all boils down to the performances though and the games and incidents that shot us in the foot.

The loss in the first game in Macedonia was a killer from the word go, having gone a goal behind after just 5 minutes into the campaign. James McFadden should have had a stonewall second half penalty given in that game and ended up with a booking for diving which proved costly and eventually saw him ruled out of the crucial last game through suspension.

Chris Iwelumo's horror miss at home to Norway cost us two vital points and now, looking back, it seems even worse. The disasterous game last month in Norway was the real crippler though, allowing the Norwegian to kick start their seemingly dead campaign and eventually claim second place in the group on goal difference.

Holland were always going to win this group but our performances in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign against Italy and France saw us going into the World Cup games with high hopes. If we couldn't dispose of the likes of Norway, Iceland and Macedonia what hope did we have as being a respected footballing nation once again? Well I think we know the answer to that one now.

What makes matters even harder to swallow now is that a draw last night, and the 11 points total we would have ended on, would not only have secured us the vital runners up spot but would hold a really good chance by the looks of it of squeezing into the playoffs. No point keeping an eye on that complicated table any more though.

Before everyone jumps on the "Burley out" bandwagon, people need to look at the bigger picture. The SFA and the whole of Socttish football needs a clean out in the next few months. EVERYTHING needs reorganised and a productive youth set up needs implemented now, along with protecting our homegrown players in the Scottish leagues.

Only then can Scotland rise up and be a footballing nation again and the changes need to start from today.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On Monday, the Scottish Football Association's appeal panel finally threw out Livingston's appeal against the Scottish Football League's two division demotion that was imposed last month.

The whole debacle has dragged on for months and Livingston's fate was finally sealed after a nine hour meeting in Glasgow. The Club do still have one final route of appeal, via the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but this is highly unlikely and Scottish football can temporarily close the door on the whole embarrassing situation.

I say temporarily as I'm sure it won't be long before Livingston are in the headlines again for all the wrong reasons.

Having refused to play their opening League fixture at East Stirling, the SFL could still impose a points penalty for this as well, which hopefully they will. Livingston tried to play hardball with the football authorities and came off a sorry second best and for this they should be additionally punished.

The craziest thing to come out of all this though is that fact that Livingston have decided to stay full time. Do they not learn from their previous failures and falls into administration? Clearly not. How long before the new regime are in a financial hole again?

Languishing in fourth bottom spot of the Scottish Third Division, with one win to show from their first three League games and two Cup exits, staying as a full time Club just makes no sense. To me it seems suicidal.

The new Chairman is encouraging the fans to come out and help the club's survivial but a massive 632 people was the attendance for their first home game since all the shenanigans. Loyal supporters, faithful through and through. Not a song sung at Almondvale I imagine.

Hopefully a large points deduction to kill of their season will also be the final nails in the coffin of Livingston FC. I'm sure most Socttish fans are fed up reading about them already this season.

There's other Scottish Clubs out there who are in dire troubles as well, such as Clyde and Stirling Albion. Too much has been written about a Club that has brought all the misfortune on itself. It's time now to talk about these other Clubs and give them our support and help to survive.

As far as we're concerned, Livingston can just rot away now. Scottish football would be all the better for it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Every season there's not many weeks go by without the subject of instant replay technology being used in football following a contentious decision. The big talking point last month was the amazing non goal in the Bristol City-Crystal Palace Championship game and there will be several more before the season ends.

In this modern age, and following the successful use in sports like American Football and Ice Hockey, it really is baffling why something hasn't been introduced to stop controversial and often costly wrong decision ruining games.

Whether it be a full blown instant replay review by the fourth official or even an introductory goal-line camera mounted on goalposts to see if the ball has crossed the line, the time for change is long overdue.

Some are still against the idea, whether it be due to tradition, not wanting to disrupt the flow of the game or the fact that not all games can have this benefit due to the lack of television coverage around the lower leagues of the world.

Even those that are opposed to using technology feel that some change is needed, whether that be in the shape of two extra linesman or something else.

I'm a big advocate of using technology in the modern game where possible. It may not benefit East Fife in most games but it will benefit the game on the whole. Sure it will delay games whilst the referee checks decisions, but that delay is going to be minimal and the number of them in games few and far between if it's not used for every little thing but just disputed goals and penalty decisions.

The amount of time wasted celebrating or arguing about such decisions just now can be used to make sure that the right decision has been made or will be made in the end. It's all worth it as far as I'm concerned.

I've wanted to see this happen for years and was overjoyed to see it actually happen in a live football match on Sunday.

It may not have been in a big match or even "proper" football, as the decision took place in the UK Masters tournament in Liverpool, but to finally see instant replay put to good use was a joy to behold.

The game in question was the final of the tournament between Tranmere Rovers and Bolton Wanderers. With Bolton leading 3-2 and time ticking away, Tranmere had a penalty appeal for handball waved away. The Rovers players were furious and to make matters worse Bolton went up the field to score, make it 4-2 and seemingly wrap up the trophy.

Referee John Underhill then used the stoppage in the game to review the penalty incident. It took him just seconds to see that it was indeed handball and disallowed Bolton's goal, awarding Tranmere a penalty instead. Tranmere scored the penalty to level the game at 3-3 and then went on to win the tournament with a goal in the dying seconds.

It was all controversial stuff, mainly because no-one seemed to be aware that instant video replay was actually in use at the tournament!

The whole review decision took seconds though and in the end the wrong decision was overturned and proved to be a game changing reversal.

It may not have been the World Cup Final or a championship or relegation decider but it showed what is missing from football at all levels. Hopefully video of the incident will find it's way to someone at FIFA and it's not too long before such technology becomes the norm at games around the world.

Let's hope it's in place before a controversial decision robs your team.

Monday, September 7, 2009

So far in this series we’ve looked at a number of things that have disappeared from your average Saturday afternoon day out at the football. Some you’ll remember yourselves, some you could possibly relate to and some that you’ll have had no idea what I’ve been going on about!

Today though it’s something we all went through, just maybe not at the football - childhood! Or more specifically the perks that used to go with being a kid attending the football.

(8) Childhood Perks:

Getting children hooked on going to the football was a lot easier in days gone by. There wasn’t the saturation of TV coverage featuring top quality football and big names from the comfort of your bedroom. For many kids, the Saturday night highlights were way past your bedtime, so if you wanted to see some football action, it had to be in person - the way it should be.

I didn’t need asking twice to go along to a game and although in the early years it was just to Glenrothes Juniors with my granddad, it still seemed special to me.

Nowadays, if you can even interest your child in coming along to watch the Fife, or whatever your team may be, the cost in itself at many clubs is the biggest obstacle and if you have more than one child to bring, then remortgaging your house for the season is always an option.

It wasn’t always this way of course. When you ask people what things they don’t see at the football any more, lots of them say the same thing. You just don’t see kids being lifted over the turnstiles the way you used to.

There are many reasons for this of course. First of all there is the clubs wanting to make money from everyone in attendance. There’s the whole “kids should be let in free anyway” argument, but that’s for another day. In the current climate, any turnstile operator who was to be caught letting a parent nip his kid in for free probably wouldn’t find themselves manning that turnstile at any future games.

Then there’s the new turnstiles themselves. Big, muckle things that fill the tiny gap that is the paying punter area of the turnstile from top to bottom. No chance of lifting anything over the top of those things, not even your scarf. The space allowed for just one person to go through them is tight enough, so you can forget smuggling the little ‘un in under your duffle coat as well, for fear of jamming it for everyone else for the rest of the afternoon.

Finally there’s the nation’s obesity problem. Have you seen how podgy the kids of today are? Try lifting one of those chubsters at all at your peril and that’s your back gone for weeks.

Once the kids were inside there was that other age old perk of being handed/pushed down to the front so that they could get the best view and see over everyone.

Sadly in today’s world, anyone putting a hand on a kid that isn’t theres is viewed with suspicion and with all seater stadium, it’s not even a possibility at the bigger grounds. No, the poor kid could be stuck behind a six and a half foot monster with a novelty hat on their head for added annoyance.

Modern football doesn’t seem to be that kid friendly and you know, I’m not even sure if a lot of the kids care enough these days anyway. Go to any lower league football ground and you’ll find a load of those that have made it along just running around, playing tag and looking entirely disinterested. Or maybe it was always like that and you only appreciate things once you get that wee bit older.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scotland's win against Macedonia yesterday has kept us in the playoff mix, even if our hopes are hanging by a thread.

The European qualification to South Africa seems pretty straight forward on paper. Europe has 13 spots available for 2010. The 9 group winners go through automatically, with the best 8 of the 9 runner ups going into the playoff round, with the four winners advancing.

With there being 8 groups of 6 teams and Scotland being in the only group of 5, results against the bottom team in groups 1 to 8 are not included in the calculations.

The actual logisitics of it all will go down to the last round of matches if Scotland can take anything from Wednesday's crunch game at home to Holland.

It's been a fear of ours for a while that even a second place finish in Group 9 might not be good enough to get us into the playoffs, with every team taking points off each other. It's been hard to work out exactly where we stand, but with the qualification games now being down to the last three rounds of matches (and one final game in Scotland's case), things now look a little bit clearer at least.

Scotland currently sit second in Group 9 with ten points. Norway drawing with Iceland yesterday was huge for us and means that if we take at least a point off Holland on Wednesay then we have secured second spot.

A defeat to Holland could still see us finishing second. Norway and Macedonia are tied on 7 points and meet in Oslo on Wednesday. A draw there would give us the second spot no matter what. If Norway or Macedonia win and Scotland fail to get at least a point, they will finish second and we're definitely out.

Although realistically we need all three to boost our playoff chances, we could still make it with just 11 or even 10 points. It's unlikely, but possible.

The nine teams battling for the eight spots currently stand as follows:

1 - Russia: Played 5, Points 12
2 - Croatia: Played 6, Points 11
3 - France: Played 6, Points 11
4 - Greece: Played 6, Points 10
5 - Republic of Ireland: Played 6, Points 10
6 - Scotland: Played 7, Points 10
7 - Bosnia and Herzegovina: Played 5, Points 9
8 - Northern Ireland: Played 6, Points 8
9 - Hungary: Played 5, Points 7

In the details above, each team will have played 8 games by the end of the campaign (this is games not against the bottom team). To complicate matters, some of the current second placed teams are in a battle for that spot like ourselves and may not be in the mix at the end. The bottom team in some groups is also not decided and although this will make little difference to most of the group standings, it could have implications in Ireland's group 8, where three teams could finish bottom.

Although currently sitting in 6th place looks to be ok, we are in the worst position with just one game left to play.

So what of the three teams currently below us?

Bosnia and Herzegovina have games left against Spain, Turkey (who could still pip them for second) and Estonia (who they have already beaten 7-0 in this campaign and aren't the bottom team in the group). At worst they should pick up three points taking their tally to 12.

Northern Ireland have two games left, against table toppers Slovakia and the struggling but dangerous Czech Republic. They could also still finish anywhere from 1st to 5th in the group and could be our best hope of making one of the playoff spots.

Hungary have three games left in another tight group that is up for grabs. Their matches against leaders Denmark and two against Portugal will be key to that group. If things go well, we could be ok.

So much to think about. So much to watch out for. So much can still happen.

All the permutations could look different after Wednesday night. We might not even care any more.

What we need is to put ourselves in as a strong a position as possible and that can only happen by taking all three points at Hampden.

Scotland have never needed a performance like they do on Wednesday for years and they need the Hampden roar to be there from the kick off.

It's going to be a tense night but then again, we never do things the easy way, do we?!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Scotland started today's World Cup qualifier at home to Macedonia on a life support machine. They ended it in intensive care and still critical, but at least their survival hopes are still alive.

It was a nervy afternoon at Hampden and Macedonia came out all guns blazing but found Craig Gordon on top form in the Scottish goals and dealing with everything that was thrown at him.

Nerves had seemed to be getting the better of the occasion from a Scottish point of view. Even the famous Hampden roar was a bit subdued but the turning point of the match came as half time approached when Scott Brown contested a drop ball and hit it off a Macedonia player for a corner.

The Macedonians were furious but Brown was right to do it. If only more people contested these decisions these days then the game would be better for it.

In this case, our game was better for it. The incident brought the fans to life, the players to life, the roar returned and Scotland came out with a stirring second half display full of fight and passion.

This campaign has been blighted by some less than fired up displays from the Scottish team but you certainly couldn't fault them for their second half performance this afternoon.

It was still nervy after Scott Brown put us ahead after 56 minutes and after some close things at both ends, the Tartan Army could stop biting their nails when the talismanic James McFadden secured the three points with nine minutes remaining.

The victory, and performance, was just what we were needing at this low time in Scottish football. We've still given ourselves a chance at making the playoffs but it's not going to be easy.

We have to beat Holland at Hampden on Wednesday. The Dutch are unbeaten in the qualifiers and are FIFA's third best ranked team in the world at the moment. So an easy evening at the office in store! A draw may still give us second place in the group but probably won't be good enough to get into the playoffs (more on that in tomorrow's blog).

There's still a lot to do, but at least for a small moment this evening, Scotland fans can feel proud of their team once again.

Friday, September 4, 2009

As a supporter of a small team, it's always nice to see those big bad boys get a jolt back down to the real world in whatever way possible.

When FIFA announced yesterday that they were placing a transfer embargo on Chelsea for the next two transfer windows, thus preventing them from registering any new players until January 2011, my reaction was well done for standing up to those money rich clubs and sending the message that they can't push around the smaller teams.

The ban stems from Chelsea being found guilty of inducing Lens player Gael Kakuta, who was just 16 at the time, to leave the French club and join the Blues.

Chelsea will be appealing the decision, of course, but such a ban is not necessarily a bad thing for the Londoners and could in fact help to strengthen the team and their push for Premiership and Champions League glory.

One of the annoying things for football supporters is the mass turnaround of playing staff at their clubs.

Takes my two loves. Both East Fife and Vancouver Whitecaps have a constant merry-go-round of players coming and going each season, and sometimes during it. There's not much point in buying a replica strip with your favourite players name on it as it might only be relevant for a few months.

On the whole, such mass movements in the playing staff causes instability and the team's performances generally suffer as a result.

By not being able to just go out and buy new players, Chelsea may find themselves in the fortunate position where their squad grows and gels far better than expected and their results will benefit from the stability in the side and the familiarity of the players.

You just have to look at English Division 2 side Bournemouth. They've had it tough. Administration, a 17 point penalty deduction, fighting for their survival as a League club and the imposition of a transfer signing ban.

Such things would kill many a club but the Cherries have fought back and in some style, currently sitting joint top of the Division.

The adversity and lack of disruption to the squad has built an amazing team spirit at Dean Court. The players have had the time to bond into a tight unit and grow stronger as a settled squad. The results speak for themselves and although manager Eddie Howe would love to have the embargo lifted, allowing him to strengthen his squad where needed, I'm sure that he would be the first to admit that the ban has had a positive effect on the Club.

Chelsea should take heed. This is an opportunity for them. Have some settled times at Stamford Bridge for a change and see what the results might be.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Austin Aztex (USL1)

Vancouver Whitecaps regular season is in it’s final stretch just now and with a relatively easy looking run in, it’s a case now of just what play off position the defending Champions can achieve.

On paper, last night’s match against the woefully named Texans looked a formality. Austin are sitting second bottom of the USL and the Caps are hitting fine form at the right time. It didn’t quite prove to be as easy as most were thinking though.

Austin are coached by a name that will be familiar to many UK based readers - former Everton star Adrian Heath. They’ve had a pretty woeful season, but fair play to them, they certainly made a game of it last night in front of 5,081 fans at Swangard Stadium.

Vancouver took the game to the Aztex from the start with both Tyrell Burgess and Chris Pozniak testing Austin goalie Nick Noble early on.

It was no real surprise when the caps made the early breakthrough and once again it came from Wes Knight’s fecking long throw. This time, it was met by Kenold Versailles’ head after 11 minutes and the Haitian international found the top corner. 1-0 Vancouver.

Midway through the second half and the lead was doubled and it was the very much on form Charles Gbeke that added to his ever increasing tally, combining well with Marcus Haber before hitting low past Noble.

2-0 to Vancouver and it was looking like an easy night, with Austin having a few chances but most of them sailing wide.

They unexpectedly pulled one back though after 34 minutes and it was another Haitian international, Jean Alexandre, that got himself on the scoresheet. Alexandre collected a pass from Kevin Sakuda just inside the box and fired off a shot that took the most amazing swerve, catching out Jay Nolly in the Caps goal who was heading in the other direction. Having a fantastic view of the effort, it was a cracking strike that would have deceived most keepers.

So 2-1 and game back on as they headed in for half time.

Austin sensed a way back into the game and had several close calls that left the Whitecaps fans a little jittery but with 65 minutes gone, up popped Gbeke once again to head home a Takashi Hirano cross for his second goal of the night and restore Vancouver’s two goal advantage.

The Texans just wouldn’t lie down though and they did well to pull another goal back with 14 minutes remaining and it was Alexandre again that did the damage, hitting home from just inside the box.

The Caps had chances to make things safe, with Versailles having an effort cleared off the line with eight minutes left.

Austin had a couple of chances to take a shock point but in the end Vancouver held on for the full three.

It wasn’t the easy game many expected in the end and full marks go to Austin for not letting their heads go down after falling two behind. If nothing else, it should act as a warning to Vancouver to keep it tight at the back.

Charles Gbeke had another outstanding game last night and Wes Knight and Kenold Versailles both had good games as well.

Onwards and upwards though and Minnesota away are next up for Vancouver tomorrow!

FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 3 - 2 Austin Aztex

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sponsorship is something that you unfortunately can’t seem to get away from in the modern game. It’s everywhere. On the front of shirts, the back of shirts, shorts, training tops and every aspect of every Club such as the website, programmes, cars and so on.

I’m not saying it’s all bad. Far from it. Many clubs need that level of interest from companies and individuals alike just to survive. You don’t want to upset your sponsors and suppliers or you’ll end up like Livingston!

Every football show on commercial television has to have a sponsor. It can’t just be brought to you by ITV or Sky any more, someone else is just itching to part with their cash so that they can bring you your enjoyment. How nice of them. Just be thankful you many of you reading this don't have to watch North American coverage of games where each 10-15 minute segment of the game is brought to you by someone, as are the corner kicks and throw ins. For those of us that do have to watch it, it's infuriating.

All that’s really missing is "this chant has been brought to you by…", which could be a gap in the market that choir the world over may wish to exploit in forthcoming seasons. It's come close to this I feel this season in Vancouver, where the Southside section, but not the Southsiders themselves, has been sponsored by the local radio station The Fox. As low key as their presence is on matchday, it just doesn't sit comfortably with me.

I was really pleased to see East Fife go retro in their player sponsorship this season, by going back to the good old shirts, shorts and socks sponsors for the home, away and third kits. As a kid I always thought it was great that you could feel that you were helping to spur on your favourite players by paying just a few pounds to sponsor their socks.

It’s been disappointing that there hasn’t been a higher take up rate so far. Only ten quid to sponsor someone’s socks and you don’t even have to worry about being presented with them at the end of the season. It's something I'd like to see Vancouver Whitecaps doing for their first MLS season in 2011. Just to make the fans feel that little bit closer to the players.

It's even better when you do get awarded with what you've sponsored at the end of the season. I have my signed Jamie McGowan top to show my commitment to the Fife two seasons ago!

It’s really hard for Clubs to find new and attractive ways to get sponsorship money. Most things have been done before, either by them or one of their rivals, so when something new does come along it really grabs the attention and I was quite taken by something that AFC Wimbledon have been doing of late.

Fan run Clubs like the Wombles and FC Manchester tend to lead the way in a number of initiatives that not only capture the fans’ imaginations, they bring in a fair wad of cash at the same time. What Wimbledon have been doing is raffling off a spot in the official team photo.

Everyone interested buys a raffle ticket, or tickets if you’re really keen, and the lucky winner gets to line up with the players and management for the official squad photo that is sent to all the press etc. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and you’re captured forever with the team you love.

So simple, it’s genius. It’s a cracking idea and one that most fans would love to be a part of. I don’t know why other Clubs haven’t pounced on the idea, but it’s one I’m throwing out for East Fife and Vancouver Whitecaps for next season. Some lucky person could be featured in AFTN’s Bayview Bible squad photo collection for eternity.

Apart from this idea, I’d still love to see East Fife to do some kind of sponsored brick scheme that many clubs have done now. Buy a brick with your name on it and have it displayed at the stadium for all time. If nothing else if could stop the amount of balls that fly over the walls at present by making them higher.

It would also be a nice touch if the Whitecaps can ever get approval to build their own stadium. I remember visiting Sunderland's Stadium of Light with my best mate Stevie to find his brick. Oh how his little 40 year old face lit up!

If sponsorship has to be tolerated in the modern game, at least make it fun!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There’s nothing quite like a ‘derby’ game. Whether it’s the Old Firm game in Glasgow, Spurs-Arsenal in London, the Milan derby (although I’ve always found the Rome derby a lot more interesting and exciting), they’re renowned around the world, the fans just love them and the atmosphere’s are usually electric.

As the years have moved on it’s been interesting to see how derbies and local rivalries have developed across the world and how different fans view different games.

Looking at Fife, for example, East Fife’s traditional local rivals, and main derby game, have always been Raith Rovers. With the 20 odd year gap when we didn’t face each other, East Fife fans have had to make do with the “pretend” derby against Cowdenbeath. We’ve got that back again this year, whilst Raith have moved on to their other Fife derby against Dunfermline Athletic. Both match ups were played out on Saturday to very different crowd numbers and atmospheres.

Opinion is split amongst the Raith support. Some, especially the younger ones who haven’t been used to anything else and still foolishly think of Raith Rovers as a “big” club, consider Rovers-Pars to be the main Fife derby. Others still know that it’s East Fife-Raith.

Dunfermline supporters don’t really care about Raith. They view their main local rivals to be outside of the Kingdom, in the shape of Falkirk. There’s real hatred there, again based on more recent games and exploits. When East Stirling still played in Falkirk, a Shire-Bairns match wouldn’t have got the juices running in any way, shape or form for the vast majority.

Such anomalies are found all across Scotland and England and it’s not inter town/city/county rivalries that matter as much any more. Liverpool-Man United generates more hatred and fervour than either Liverpool-Everton or United-City, although the latter will have added spice from this season once again. It’s always the “smaller” of the two Clubs that love the same hometown derby games it always appears.

Nottingham is a great example. Forest-County matters to the County fans, whereas Forest are more concerned with Derby County (although the Rams fans obviously have a Derby game every week!)

Saturday’s match up between the Rams and Forest was an absolute cracker. If anyone hasn’t seen it, try and get hold of highlights from somewhere. The passion on display on and off the pitch was electric. The fans cared. The management cared. The players cared - as was demonstrated by the stramash at the end of the game when Derby players took offence to Forest’s Nathan Tyson waving a celebratory corner flag past the Derby support. Five goals, hard tackling, total commitment. It’s what fans want and need from their players in such matches and something that was sadly missing from East Fife’s game against Cowdenbeath on Saturday.

On a worldwide stage, the biggest game for me is the Barcelona – Real Madrid game. It’s another example of regional rivalry taking over from inter city rivalry, but it doesn’t lose anything in the process. I don’t take too much interest in La Liga, but always make a point of watching these two combatants fight it out.

North America is so far behind this culture but it is certainly changing.

When Vancouver and Portland join the MLS in 2011, there’s some mouthwatering derby games in prospect. Portland and Seattle in particular is shaping up to be a tasty encounter for years to come. There’s real hatred between these two Pacific northwest cities on many levels. Portland fans have already set up ACES - Any Club Except Seattle. It’s a brilliant concept and I love it. It’s creating real football rivalry and as long as things don’t boil over into West Ham-Millwall type scenes (although I do have a feeling that it might!), then it’s all good, clean fun.

The media in North America are the ones that have a key part to play in developing these rivalries. As long as they let them grow and not expect Vancouver fans to cheer on Toronto, as they expected earlier this season, then the game will grow with it. It just needs journalists who “get it”.

In the meantime, I can only wait now for Hallowe’en and our next third rate derby encounter. Still, it’s better than nothing!
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