Saturday, October 31, 2009

One of the key rules you're always taught as a kid playing football is to always play to the whistle.

You would think that top level football players would remember that!

Not so if you watched this afternoon's North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham.

Arsenal's third goal in their 3-0 victory came in almost comical circumstances when most of the players around the ball stopped when a Gunners free kick looked certain to be awarded after a crunching Spurs tackle.

The ball ended at the feet of Bacary Sagna, who took a few steps with the ball and also stopped, only to realise that referee Clattenburg had played advantage. Sagna then ran on, whipped a delightful ball across the goal and all that was left was for Robin van Persie to easily fire home against the motionless Spurs defence.

Full marks to the ref here though. Everyone is quick to criticise them but what a fantastic advantage he played. More power to him.

The Spurs players mildly protested their confusion but they should perhaps have just thought back to their days in the playground. Always play to that whistle.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Since it's inception I've found it hard to really get excited by the MLS. The fact that it isn't just a single table, the playoffs, the no relegation and what I've always perceived as inferior football on display being the main factors.

I saw my first live MLS match in the flesh in 1997 when I took in a LA Galaxy game at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, but since then there's been very little action caught on TV apart from a brief spell watching Tim Lovejoy's show on Channel 5.

With Vancouver Whitecaps entering the fray in 2011, I thought that this season would get me a little bit more excited. Seattle Sounders games did that initially but being stuck with mostly the boredom that was Toronto FC games to watch on TV, it hasn't quite happened the way I thought.

Last night though I took in the first leg of the playoff match between Seattle and Houston Dynamo and what a cracker it was too.

Plenty of passion, thrills, spills and chances galore. No goals, but certainly one of the better no score draws you're ever likely to sit down and watch.

The atmosphere at Seattle's Qwest Field was also exceptional. The chanting and singing continued for the whole 90 minutes and from what you could see on TV, the whole of the stadium seemed to be standing for the entire game.

Seattle have been a great success story for both the League and the game in general in North America. The crowds they've been achieving (opened up to 36,000 last night) and the atmosphere they've been creating, have done more to excite me about Vancouver joining the league than most of the football I've seen on display.

Their rivalry with Portland will be the best and fiercest in the entire MLS and when you add Vancouver into that Pacific Northwest melting pot, the games are going to phenomenal.

With an exciting second leg in prospect and what promises to be an explosive tie between arch rivals LA Galaxy and Chivas USA to come on Sunday, the MLS has finally started to get me interested.

If only all their games could be like last nights one, then I'd be making sure I'd be watching more often.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It seemed like it was never coming, but the draw for the Third Round of the Scottish Cup finally took place yesterday.

With the Second Round ties being played on Saturday, fans were hoping for the draw on the Saturday night or at the very latest on the Monday. Why it took place on a Wednesday is anybody's guess but I figure you just have to answer that with "it's the Scottish Football League" and everyone will just nod knowingly.

Once the draw was finally made, with East Fife as number 13 in the "hat", the pairing of a trip to Links Park to face Montrose didn't exactly set the heart all a flutter.

As a current Fife exile, but returning home to take in the match, I was particularly wanting an away tie. Basically anything but a home tie at the sterile Bayview. So at least we got that. A good day out and a team we can certainly beat.

I'd convinced myself it would be another bore tie at home to Brechin or Arbroath or Forfar. As it turned out those three teams all got cracking away ties at Wick, Irvine Meadow and Spartans, so I'm sure their fans were pretty pleased about not playing us as well!

With all respect to Montrose though, it's not exactly exciting. It's a ground we've played at on countless occasions. I don't know how many times I've seen us there now. Even in pre-season friendlies.

It's also a very familiar team, or rather management. Manager Steven Tweed left us last season to become the Gable Endies player manager and Assistant Manager Jim Moffat is our former manager. I'm sure they'll both be going all out to put one over on their former, and bigger, club.

I'll admit the draw has left me with a tinge of disappointment but at least the away game should give us a bit of atmosphere and I'm hoping to try and get some kind of tifo in place for the day.

It'll be a great day out, another Cup victory and I'll get the chance to see my beloved black and gold in the flesh once again.

Just a shame it's not pastures new.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One thing that a lot of fans of the larger football teams struggle to understand is why some supporters choose to shun the big sides, the large crowds, the trophies and successes and choose to follow a smaller side.

I don't know how many times over the years that people have asked me why I support a team like East Fife or who my "big team" is.

For me it there was never any other choice of team to follow. My local side. I knew little of their past or present, but knew they were the team for me.

Over the years the successes have been few, but when they come along, it's all the more enjoyable. The Cup shocks, the promotions, the 2007/08 Championship. It's for moments like those that you support a smaller team.

You also have a bond with supporters of those other smaller, less fashionable clubs around the world and for that reason, we raise a huge glass to the fans and players of Spanish Segunda B side (third tier) Alcorcon.

As many of you will already know, Alcorcon pulled off one of the shocks of all shock, beating Real Madrid 4-0 last night in the Copa del Rey. And it wasn't like the Carling Cup where teams field sides with hardly any players known to their own fans sometimes. Real field a pretty strong side that included the likes of Raul, Guti and Van Fer Vaart. Then again, with all the cash Real spent this summer it would be hard to field a weak team.

The Spanish moneybags were three down by half time and it could have been more than four by the end from watching the highlights.

It was great to hear and even better to watch. There is still the small matter of the second leg at the Bernabeu to come and you can certainly be sure that Real will be fielding a much stronger side then. A match not to miss.

So next time anyone asks you why you support a "small" team, remind them it's for moments like this.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just to continue on from yesterday's blog, we want to talk about Danny Baker's ground demolition plan just that little bit more.

I don't know whether it's just with getting older or whether it's with being an expat currently and being surrounded by stadiums with no character or soul and very little history, but I'm at the stage now of feeling very nostalgic about old football grounds. The ones that seem like they should really still belong in a time gone by.

It's probably for both those reasons, but that suits me just fine.

It's not even with grounds that I've been to anymore. I'm now getting all nostalgic over ones I haven't been to!

One such ground is Chesterfield's Saltergate. It's a ground full of history and character and if it could talk, you know it would have some great stories to tell. Not surprising really as it's 138 years old as a football ground (a year older if you count the cricket played there).

It was a ground I hadn't really given any thought to over the years. It was also a team, that apart from their wonderful 1997 FA Cup run to the semi final stage, that I hadn't really given much thought to either. The last few weeks though it's been the opposite and I've fallen in love with Saltergate.

Saltergate first raised my interest when watching the DVD of the excellent The Damned United. The scenes at Derby County's now demolished Baseball Ground were filmed at Saltergate for the film.

This Saturday was a Saltergate double whammy, as it featured in both Danny Baker's 5 Live show and Sky's Soccer AM, with the latter featuring a tour of the stadium in their "This is my Club" section.

Just from watching the film and the Soccer AM tour, you know that Saltergate is that rarity these days - a good old proper football ground. Terracing, sheds, the wooden panelled and small windowed ticket office, the sparse dressing room, shower and physio areas. Lacking all of the modern comforts and amenities really. Just how it should be!

Danny Baker clearly agrees, as Saltergate is one of the 20 grounds he's going to save from demolition now in the totalitarian world on his show.

Ironically, this fantasy world can't be repeated in reality and Saltergate will be no more after the end of the season, with the Spirites moving to a brand spanking new stadium for next season. All shiny and plastic, with no character or history.

It just won't be the same. Although I've never been there, and probably never will now, it's so sad to see another relic of bygone footballing days disappearing.

In a world game that lacks a lot of the down to earth charm that made the game so popular amongst the working classes in the first place, places like Saltergate should be cherished while we can.

For like all good things, they must come to an end one day it seems.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Regular readers of the Blog will know that I'm a fan of Danny Baker and I'm particularly pleased to see him back on the air with a football show on 5 Live on Saturday mornings (you can listen to full episodes worldwide HERE). I know he's a love him or hate him kind of guy, but we here at AFTN think he's a genius.

We'd mentioned before about his twinning plan, where he'll twin up all the teams in the UK (see HERE), with East Fife being one of the early twins with Ipswich Town.

There's lots of other running points of interest on the show and one of them is his plan to establish a totalitarian state, where all but 20 football grounds the length and breadth of the UK will be demolished.

It's an interesting idea. There's too many teams, too many grounds and many of them, primarily the newer ones, are soulless pieces of cold plastic and concrete. Each week, fans have to make a case for their club's ground to save it from the wrecking ball. It has to be a good case though. No reason of just sentimentality will cut it. What makes your club's ground stand out from the others and deserve to be saved?

Already, the likes of Anfield, Goodison Park, The Hawthorns, Portman Road and Cappielow have been demolished. Few have been saved and, maybe surprisingly to some, one of them is Brechin City's Glebe Park. You just couldn't demolish that hedge though. Now that's character in a football ground.

Let's be honest, I'd be glad to see East Fife's Bayview Stadium demolished. In fact, I'd love to be operating that wrecking ball when it happens. Bayview Park on the other hand had character and history.

Under Danny's plan, it's not too late to save it. Yes, we could bring Bayview Park back from the ashes. We can rebuild it. We have the technology or rather Danny does!

So what can we offer up for reasons to save Bayview Park?

Well, from a football point of view there's the history of the only Second Division team to win the Scottish Cup playing three key matches there in 1938. Then there's the fact that the first Scottish Cup match under floodlights was played there in 1956.

Not enough, well what about the quirkiness of those concrete anti-tank blocks with the messages of our brave troops from the Second World War (see HERE). That might tug enough on the heartstrings.

Can anyone think of any other reasons, not just plain football ones, that could make a case for reviving old Bayview? Let us know here or on the AFTN Forum. If we get enough we can make a decent pitch to Danny!

I know the current houses sitting on the site of the old ground pose a little problem, but we'll iron this out. This is our chance to bring back Bayview, at least in a fantasy world form. And let's face it, anything's going to be better than the current stadium.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Scottish Premier League is not exactly up there with all the other top leagues around the world. What with a constant two horse race, a lack of household names, poor efforts in Europe and a shambles with those making the decisions.

As we mentioned before in the blog though, it's a shame that more people haven't seen the action in it this season as there's been some cracking goals. The opening weeks in particular produced a slew of world class efforts.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this season has been the form of Hibernian. Yes, we know Dundee United have been doing well too, but Craig Levein's a complete wanker and we at AFTN have long memories, so let's just not mention them or him again in this feature.

For years, Hibs have threatened to turn in a great season, but their seemingly never ending supply of exciting young players were soon snapped up by the Old Firm and any team unity soon disbanded.

They have also been consistantly inconsistant.

Every time they've look like producing a strong challenge at the top or just a solid team, a run of poor results against the lower teams have soon put a pin in those hope bubbles. It all looked the same old, same old this season when a promising start was soon ended by a comprehensive defeat away to Hamilton.

They've bounced back though and Saturday's fighting comeback against Rangers have shown that they may now be the team they've long promised to be and let's hope so.

Scotland badly needs a season where it's not a two horse battle from early on. Sure we had the Hearts challenge that split the Old Firm a few years back, but you kept waiting for them to fall away and eventually they let Celtic run away with the title.

It was good to see them snatch second but it was also hard to be on the Hearts bandwagon too much due to the way that they treated George Burley and moneybags Romanov was hard to take to.

Hibs though are much more likeable, much more appealing, and have gone about their business in a quiet way. So much so in fact that their rise to third place has almost gone unnoticed and unreported. They could have even gone top if they had beaten Rangers yesterday. I'm sure this lack of pressure and focus is just what they want.

Sitting third now and three points off the summit, their season may collapse as we've seen so many times before, not just with them but with so many other teams over the last few seasons. There's always one team that makes that early push and raises our hopes. They might run out of steam after the turn of the year, but they may also be the team the rest of Scotland have been looking for to cheer on to land the title away from Glasgow for the first time in what seems an eternity.

We think they'll keep it going for a while yet and with Celtic and Rangers seemingly not wanting to take the top spot for more than a few games at a time, a serious run from now till the end of the year and it could finally be an interesting SPL season.

It's taken long enough.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

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

There's no doubt about it now. The 2009/10 Scottish Second Division season is going to be a rollercoaster, a nailbiter and all those other things that fans don't really want when it involves their own team.

It's not a great League this season. There's no standout teams and there are no really weak teams either, which has surprised many. Clyde and Cowdenbeath were expected to struggle but both have strung some results together, whereas Arbroath started well and now sit second bottom.

The whole division is going to be tight for a long time to come and every slip will prove costly and every win could prove priceless.

It's only October and already East Fife were faced with a vital six pointer. Sure there's a long way to go till the i's are dotted, but with such a tight league, fall too far behind now or face a crisis of confidence and it's going to be hard to turn it around.

The Fife thankfully battled through this adversity, even turning in a pretty fine display to beat Stenhousemuir 2-1 at Bayview today and confine the Warriors to the bottom of the table.

It was a more assured performance from the Bayview boys than that on display in recent weeks and despite the close scoreline, they did run out comfortable winners.

Aaron Conway opened the scoring on 58 minutes when he fired the ball home under Stenny keeper Chris McLuskey. Paul McManus got on the end of a long Stewart Baillie kick out nine minutes later, to hammer home the second, and a few more chances went a begging before some poor defending saw Craig Molloy net a consolation goal in injury time.

The goal was a cruel blow for Stewart Baillie, who really deserved a clean sheet in the Fife goal after yet another fine performance, which included a world class save in the first half that many at the game consider to be the best save they've ever seen.

Baillie's save was one of the main talking points of the game. Unfortunately the other was created in the dying seconds by the Fife's vice Captain Shaun Fagan, who saw red for a truly horrendous tackle and stamp on Molloy.

We're losing count of how many sending offs and suspensions Fagan's had for us now. He has such talent but lets himself down time and again with his discipline. Today was the final straw for many, who were sickened by the tackle and the fact that he'd only been on the pitch for 10 minutes in the first place.

The sending off could have really cost the team but thankfully there wasn't much time left. He also allegedly received a second red for an incident after the game and many fans are now calling for him to be sacked by the Club. It's certainly not a good example to set for the younger players.

We shouldn't let this incident overshadow a good and vital win for East Fife though. It's just another battle in what is going to be a very long war though and next up is derby day and a trip to the smellies of Cowdenbeath.

Let's just hope for more of the same and not a scary Halloween.

FINAL SCORE: East Fife 2 - 1 Stenhousemuir

Friday, October 23, 2009

When East Fife started playing in 1903 their home colours were green and white, not the black and gold they are known for today. Now, 106 years later, East Fife are going green once again, although this time it's off the pitch.

The East Fife board announced this week that they are partnering Ore Valley Housing Association to install a giant wind turbine at Bayview. The 55 metre turbine will be positioned in the south eastern corner of one of the Club's car parks and with a 20 year lease agreement for the land, East Fife will have a steady stream of income coming in for years to come.

It's a great move, helping the local community, the environment and the Club's attempts to have more of a community involvement. Hopefully it will also signal more green initiatives from the Club.

If East Fife are looking for more ideas as to how the local football club can help the environment and the local community then they should look no further than what Vancouver Whitecaps have put in place this year.

The Caps aim to divert and recycle 95% of all solid waste produced at their stadium on matchdays. They ran a series of posters at Swangard Stadium on matchdays featuring the players and recycling messages. They also ran a series of humourous You Tube videos to get the message across (see HERE). At the stadium there are many recycling bins and they want fans to bring environmentally friendly balloons, streamers and smoke along to the tifo. It seems to have been a big success.

So ideas there for East Fife to follow. In the meantime, I wonder if there's any way we can arrange for the turbine to turn round and be turned on to full blast when the opposition are attacking the goal at that end.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while will know that I'm no fan of the European Champions League.

Maybe it's the smalltime fan in me, but the same teams from the same countries qualifying year after year bores me rigid. I won't even go down that whole four teams from the one country and the "it's not like the proper European Cup" routes again.

The group stages in particular are usually like watching a murder mystery film with a telegraphed ending. Barring the (very) odd shock, you can pretty much predict the outcome of the groups. The top two may not be placed as you expected at times, but it's usually the right top two.

Add to that the actual enjoyment level on display in these group games and it's not regular viewing at AFTN Towers.

I have to admit to having caught very little of this season's competition so far. I've just been unable to muster the enthusiasm to sit down and watch it. I've caught the odd few minutes of different games here and there and had others on in the background, often with the sound down. A token look at the results of the UK teams and a general laugh at the expense of Rangers has been about it really.

I found myself at a bit of a loose end during last night's games though and after a bit of channel flicking, thought I may as well give a game a try. With Chelsea and Man United's opponents not setting the heart all a flutter I decided to go with the Real Madrid-AC Milan game and what a fantastic decision that turned out to be!

I tuned in for the second half and with Real leading 1-0 and the commentators explaining how dire the game had been so far it didn't look promising, but what an explosive last 25 minutes we had in store.

Goals, a shock defeat for the big spending Spaniards at home, some horrendous defending, some even more horrendous goalkeeping, some dreadful refereeing and a stramash. Now THAT'S what I want from my Champions League matches.

I saw more passion, more desire, more commitment and more action in those 25 minutes than most of the Champions League group games I watched last year combined. It was a great advert for the game and showed you just how European matches should be played between the big teams.

It's games like this that have been missing from the competition since they went for these ridiculous group matches. Looking at the current tables, the last two round of games in some groups are going to be going through the motions once again. At least Bordeaux have put the cat amongst the pigeons in Group A and should have Juventus or Bayern Munich worried about missing out on advancing.

If I could be guaranteed more games like the Real-Milan one, then you'd have a convert for life here and an advocate for the competition. Sadly I feel that if I tune in next time, I'm only destined to be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Every season it's the same old story. Managers getting sacked with every passing week and the phrase "managerial merry go round" becoming an overused term.

The life of a football manager certainly seems to be a shortlived one and with the pressure and demand for success seemingly increasing every year, you have to wonder just what makes a player want to take that step into management?

It's little wonder that more and more of the top players decide to go for the more secure media career.

The latest big name casualty is Gareth Southgate, who was sacked as the manager of Middlesborough last night, after nearly three and a half years in charge.

It's been a pretty horrendous time for Southgate at Boro and you've been left wondering why he hasn't been sacked long before now, especially following last season's relegation. The main surprise about Southgate's sacking now though isn't around how long it took for it to come, but the actual timing of it.

With all of Boro's poor performances in recent seasons, and the mixed start to this season, Boro chairman Steve Gibson strangely chose to sack Southgate on the night of a 2-0 home win over Derby that left the Club in 4th place in the Championship, challenging for promotion and only one point off the leaders West Brom. Bizarre.

Does winning a game that puts your Club so close to the top spot merit a sacking? If it's been on past performances, then why not sack him before the game? It's all a bit odd.

It does raise the question, what does a manager have to do to keep his job at some clubs these days.

Look at East Fife. Dave Baikie took us to our first Championship in 60 years. The following season, poor results, poor performances and the failure to secure a playoff spot in the higher league immediately had the previously loyal fans on his back and calling for his head, which we got. At the time it's what a lot of us wanted. Looking back, was it fair?

Vancouver Whitecaps have a coach in Teitur Thordarson who took us to our a Championship win in his first season in charge in 2008. This year, we made the Championship final again and just lost out. Yet, he is still not certain to be at the helm when the Club moves to the MLS in 2011.

It's very easy to call for a manager's head these days. I'm certainly more than guilty of that myself. the way things are going though, where will it all end and will anyone be left wanting to be a manager?

When Brian Clough had his infamous 44 day reign at Leeds United in 1974, that was thought to be a one-off, the way things are going that's going to be come the norm.

We've already seen it with John Barnes at Tranmere this season, who got less than four months in charge after taking over in June, although to be fair, he was woeful!

Steve Gibson's backing of Southgate had previously drawn praise. At last a Chairman who wouldn't bow to fan pressure and wanted to give his manager a proper chance. The chance that Alex Ferguson got at Man U all those years ago.

He'll probably pick up some flak now for sacking him after a win, but what it does mean is that everyone's patience comes to an end at some point. Some sooner than others. There's going to be a lot more nervous managers looking over their shoulders after Southgate's sacking.

It probably isn't fair that the manager takes the blame when the team does poorly. It's going to take a lot to change the minds of people like me, my fellow fans and Club chairmen though. I still have my red cards ready for the next managerial protest coming your way sometime soon!

In the meantime, what's the betting on who's next in the firing line?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign already seeming like a distant memory from a Scottish perspective, UEFA's announcement of the playoff matches for the final four European places yesterday barely raised much interest to many in the Tartan Army.

Looking at how the second placed finishers ended up, if Scotland had held out for a draw in their last match against Holland, it wouldn't have made much difference, as they would still have fallen a point and goals short. A last ditch win on the other hand would have seen them into the playoffs, but that's all in the past now and we should move on.

It was disappointing to see UEFA seed the playoffs but they've done it before, so it shouldn't have really come as a surprise.

The reasoning clearly being that they want as many of the "big" nations at the finals as possible, but as we've said before in this blog, the World Cup to us is all about the smaller nations trying to rise to the top and dethrone the traditional bigwigs. That's the romance and enjoyment of it all as far as I'm concerned, but I know this may be the minority viewpoint.

The seedings are clearly aimed at advancing France, Portugal, Russia and Greece, but the way the draw has worked out, I would say that only Portugal should feel comfortable.

Portugal's match up against Bosnia and Herzegovina should favour the Portugese on paper, but the Bosnians have the added incentive of matching arch foes Serbia's qualification.

France and Ireland could go either way and I have a sneaking feeling that the Irish will do enough. France haven't looked great shakes at times in the qualifying and Ireland have certainly held their own against the bigger nations in recent times.

Ukraine against Greece is hard to get excited about as a neutral but the signs are that Ukraine are finding their rhythm at the right time of the campaign and should surprise the seeds in this one.

Match of the playoffs for me though will be Russia against Slovenia. I've had a soft spot for Slovenia for a while now, thanks mainly to my friend Ian who decided to support them in the Euros a few years back. He ran a Celtic website so went with the green and white option, following another non qualification by Scotland.

The Slovenians were told of the support and loved it. We even ended up going to an ambassadors banquet in Edinburgh one evening as their guests! So good luck to Slovenia in this one and I really do believe they have the players to come through if they can keep the Russian leg all square.

So there still may be "shocks" in the making in these games. We're tipping three. It's just a shame that UEFA don't have the balls to let the tie selection gods make their own decisions as to whether the bigger countries should get an easier path.

Then again, we should all know by now that football isn't all about the little man any more.

Monday, October 19, 2009

With Vancouver Whitecaps season coming to an end on Saturday, I'm now left with the prospect of nearly six months without competitive action to watch in the flesh. Six friggin months.

It's only been two days since the season end, but already I'm feeling low at the prospect ahead. Sure there's all the action on TV to watch in these cold winter months, but nothing beats going to a match in person and nothing ever will.

East Fife's season is still in full flow of course, so I have that to occupy two hours of my time on a Saturday and with East Fife TV coming by the end of this month then that will help incredibly.

But it's the live action I crave.

Thankfully I'll be taking in two Fife games in person in November, so that will ease the withdrawal symptoms a little, but six months is a long gap to have for any professional football season.

Last season East Fife played their last game of the season on May 9th. Just 51 days later and they were playing their first pre-season friendly, with their first competitive game 26 days after that. Hardly a close season at all!

Football in North America doesn't have to look far for it's difficulties. We've covered the lack of media coverage several times already in this blog, but even when you have an exciting end of season, that gets some media attention, it's hard to then build on any momentum built up when fans have to wait nearly half a year to see more action from their favourite team.

The vastness of the continent, coupled with the very different weather patterns in winter, makes the USL April-October season the optimum time for games to take place. The MLS start a month earlier and finishes a month later, so at least Vancouver fans have that to look forward to come 2011.

There's not a lot that the Leagues can do about it, as the extreme weather in some parts of the continent would make playing football impossible, so it's just something that fans have to put up with.

It's just so disappointing though. The Whitecaps playoff run had so many of us on such a high and living and breathing football thoughts 24 hours a day. Our drug has gone and already I feel deflated and cold turkey symptoms, although that may just be a possible case of swine flu.

Now I just have to count down the days until I see East Fife at Clyde next month. 33 if anyone's caring!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

East Fife went down to the odd goal in five at Brechin City yesterday but it could have easily been three points going back to Methil if the luck had been going the Fifers way a little.

In saying that, at the other end goalkeeper Stewart Baillie produced another excellent display to keep the score down to three, so it's hard to be too disappointed.

The loss saw East Fife drop a place to 6th in the table, but with it being a great weekend for the sides below them, we now sit just one point of bottom place, with goals from open play being hard to come by and confidence lacking amongst the young side.

With next Saturday's opponents, Stenhousemuir, one of the four teams below the Fife, a win next week is vital. It's a bit early in the season to say that a game has huge implications for the final outcome of the season, but this game isn't far off it.

I feel a loss and a drop into the relegation zone, or even bottom spot, could be hard for the team to overcome and whether the team has the stomach for a relegation battle may soon be really tested.

Stevie Crawford has his work cut out for him but he still has the backing of the fans, at least for now. Most fans are hoping for a raid on the transfer market come the January window, but the worrying thing is that if we don't start turning things round soon, that might be too late.

It may be only October, but next Saturday is already crucial.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Match Report: Montreal Impact v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL)

It was always going to be an uphill task, but Shaun Pejic's controversial sending off after 29 minutes left Vanouver Whitecaps with an absolute mountain to climb in their quest to land back to back USL Championships.

Reduced to ten men for the second successive match, the Caps couldn't stage the comeback of all comebacks and eventually went down 3-1 on the day and 6-3 on aggregate, as Montreal Impact claimed their 2nd USL Championship.

After a pretty uneventful start, in which Vancouver had the better possession but Montreal the better chances, the big turning point came as the half hour mark approached.

A brilliant through ball from Montreal's Leonardo Di Lorenzo split the Whitecaps defence and with Tony Donatelli bearing down on goal, Caps goalie Jay Nolly seemed to bring him down for a penalty. The ref waved play on, the ball broke to Roberto Brown and with a man who goes down easier than a cheap junkie hooker, it was no surprise when he crashed to the ground under Pejic's challenge and a penalty was awarded.

Little for the Caps faithful to complain about re the penalty but the subsequent sending off of Pejic was truely shocking and bewildering - and costly.

Ex Cap Donatelli converted from the spot and further quick goals from Joey Gjertsen on 40 minutes and wanker Brown, two minutes later, killed the match off as a competitive contest.

Ansu Toure pulled one back just before half time with a nice header, but there was to be no miracle comeback in Montreal and Vancouver had to let their Championship reign end.

They may still be Canada's shame, but Montreal deserved their Championship victory. They were clearly the better team over the two legs and looked dangerous throughout, whereas Vancouver seemed to just run out of steam after a draining season. The Impact were the class of the playoffs, recording six straight wins and that's why they are now 2009 USL Champions.

As for Vancouver, I'm proud of the guys. If you'd told us they'd be battling it out for the Championship back in July we'd have thought you were mad. They just fell short at the final hurdle and playing most of the 180 minutes with ten men was too much for them to overcome.

The semi final second leg match in Portland was one of the best games I've ever attended and the emotions some of the best experienced. We have the memories, just not the silverware.

With one more season to play before the MLS, next season is most likely to be a building process on the way to the "big league". With players fighting for a place in the MLS Whitecaps, who knows where that motivation will take them.

We only have around 6 months to wait to find out!

FINAL SCORE: Montreal Impact 3 - 1 Vancouver Whitecaps (Montreal win 6-3 on aggregate)

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's an issue that never seems to go away. It's also an issue that most in England don't really care about, which makes it all the stranger. Will the Old Firm leave the Scottish Premier League and join the English leagues?

The issue has been pretty quiet, or at least on the back burner, in recent times, but the last few weeks has seen it rise to the surface once again, with the Chairman of Bolton expected to make a call at a meeting next month for them joining an English Premiership expanded to two divisions.

Such a bid is almost certainly going to be voted down, as the potential for increased crowds for some is overpowered by the possibility for some of the smaller, less fashionable sides of losing their current top tier status. We won't even get into whether the two Scottish sides would fare well down south or not.

A Celtic spokesman recently said he'd be happy for the team to start at the very bottom of the English system if it meant they had a chance to get in the Premiership one day.

Some in Scotland feel the Old Firm leaving would kill the Scottish game and leave crowds dwindling. Others can't wait to see the back of them and their bigoted fans.

European Leagues, Atlantic Leagues, there's been so many ideas mooted but nothing ever comes of them.

On a day when Walter Smith said that Scottish football was "dying" and needed Celtic and Rangers to move on and out of Scotland for the game and other teams to thrive and grow (HERE), the good old ostriches at the SPL said the game was "alive and kicking" and basically has never been in a better state (HERE).

If the same two teams battling for the Championship by a country mile each season, Clubs embarrassingly crashing out early of European competition to sides from lesser countries and having to take a reduced TV deal is the game in a healthy state, then heaven help us when we started to find the going tough.

Scottish football is in a sorry state. A lot of its ills are due to the Old Firm, their dominance of the game and their sickening fans but the biggest faults can be laid squarely at the doors of the SPL and SFL.

It's time for the fans to make changes happen, for if we're going to wait for the authorities to get their asses in gear, we're not going to have much of a game left to save.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I can't remember looking forward to an international game of football, that didn't include Scotland, as much as last night's South American qualifier between Uruguay and Argentina.

Two teams battling for their World Cup survival. Two passionate sets of players and fans. Two teams not known for anything but playing robustly. It had all the makings of a cracker. And I'm sire that that's what we would have got if the home side had bothered to turn up for the occasion.

Argentina's struggles this qualifying campaign have been well documented. This wasn't exactly make or break for them, as a defeat could still have seen them clinch a playoff place, but it was close to it.

From talking to people as to who they wanted to win this game, the jury was most certainly out. You have the purists who wanted Argentina to qualify as they want to see the best and biggest teams competiting together on the world stage. Then you had the romantics who like to see the lesser nations do well and the bigger teams face humiliation and taken down a peg or two (not that Uruguay is exactly a minnow but they don't have the status they had in the past).

Anyone who knows me won't be surprised, but I was in that latter category. The thought of a powerhouse like Argentina not being at the South African party really warmed my heart. I've never been a lover of Uruguay after their antics against Scotland in Mexico 86 but on this occasion I had my light blue scarf firmly held up.

I'd hate to be a referee in South America. The pressure on them during fierce games like this must be immense but the ref last night handled it pretty damned fine to his full credit.

Uruguay came out of the blocks at a really fast pace and had a couple of good chances, before Argentina found their feet and the goal-less score at half time wasn't necessarily a disappointment to me, as it meant that both teams would have to attack in the second half, or so you would think.

The game had promised to be full of fight, battles, tackles flying in, goals, anguish and a fair few yellow cards. With 3 bookings in the first 16 minutes I hoped that this would set the tone for the passion that was going to be on display for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately we got a bit of a snoozefest in the end and when word came through that Chile were beating Ecuador 1-0, well all the spark seemed to just drain from Uruguay and it looked like they were happy to just secure a playoff spot.

That's what they got and Argentina made the 32 bound for South Africa by the skin of their teeth. It's amazing to think of their struggles when you look at the quality and skills of the players they have on offer.

It was disappointing to look forward to a game so much and feel cheated by the action on display. Maybe the occasion overwhelmed Uruguay. Whatever it was, my light blue scarf has now been firmly put away again and I'll be cheering on Costa Rico for the playoffs.

Remember, it's always nicer when the smaller nations come through.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There's a number of important World Cup qualifiers taking place today. In amongst them are two teams who have failed to qualify from European Group 5 and have nothing to play for except pride - Turkey and Armenia.

Well perhaps a little bit more than just pride. Symbolic is probably a better word.

With the two countries signing a historic accord to end over 100 years of hostilities on Saturday, the timing of this game is Bursa in Turkey could not be better.

It may be an uneasy truce, with more than a few kinks still to iron out, if you can call the admission of genocide just a kink, but the war between the two neighbours has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and civilians from both sides are glad to see a recognised end to hostilities and the chance to build better relations.

Once again football is the tool that can kick start the process off in fine style.

Turkey sit third in the group, Armenia bottom. They have already met in Armenia in the sides' first match of the campaign last year, with Turkey triumphing 2-0 in Yerevan. The score today is irrelevent on many counts. The fact that two countries and their supporters can celebrate a historic moment in both of their histories with a game of football is what makes this match special.

To me, seeing football still played in times of adversity and times of reconciliation is what the game should be all about. Bringing together people across the world. Putting aside differences, faiths, colours of skin, just to enjoy a game.

Whether it's Iraq starting off again as a democratic footballing country or Palestinians forgetting Israeli brutality and oppression for 90 minutes to cheer their countrymen on. It brings a smile to my face.

Those soldiers who had the historic game of football on Christmas Day in 1915 had it sussed with their impromptu kickabout. Interestingly, 1915 was the year when the Turkish Armenian genocide was starting.

People who don't "get" football and football fans should look deeper. Why does it means so much to so many? It unites so many across the world and helps so many to forget their cares and worries. That's really why football is that much oversued phrase, the beautiful game.

Let's hope today's match between Turkey and Armenia is just the first of many years to come of games between the two countries being played in a whole more peaceful environment. And let's just hope that some other countries follow suit.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's been a fun ride of reminiscence but this is where the journey comes to an end - at least for now....

(12) Sweetie and Crisp Trays:

Food glorious food. Well maybe not so glorious when you’re talking about the munchies on offer at the football. Last time we looked at the disappearing old fashioned pie hut and the new food that has become the staple half time fare for the younger football watching generation coming through.

There were two kinds of "food" that we didn’t mention though - sweets and crisps. Chocolates, hard candies, chews, crisps galore of all flavours. Nothing too extraordinary there to merit a "Disappearing World" feature all to themselves you’re probably thinking, but it’s not the food itself we want to talk about, it’s how many older fans remember being able to get hold of them at old Bayview and other football grounds across the UK.

For years, it was commonplace to see kids wandering around the pitch selling sweets and crisps from the plastic trays tied round their necks. Considering it was at a time when there was a lot of incidents on the terraces and with things getting thrown on the pitch, the sweetie boys got off relatively unscathed, on the whole, especially from the away fans. There was kind of an amnesty for them, most probably due to the pity factor from the fact that it wasn’t the best way a kid could spend a Saturday afternoon at the football. Also, their fellow kids loved them!

They then disappeared without trace at East Fife, but did make an albeit brief resurgence at new Bayview in the early years. Their reappearance came about as an attempt to try and reduce the terrible queues and waiting times at the home pie stall (hard to imagine such a thing I know!). The idea being that all kids want at the game is to munch on chocolate, so, get some other kids to act as pushers and they’ll be mobbed, freeing up valuable space for the grown ups that want the healthier option of pies! Of course, this didn’t factor in some female fans and certain more rotund supporters from getting to the trays first - you know who you are!

These kids also soon disappeared but I never knew why. It actually seemed like a great idea and I was known to partake in their goods myself. Was it health and safety gone mad? Was it the Club acknowledging Scotland’s obesity problem and wanting to play their part? Or did the kids complain about chunkier grown ups in lumberjack coats trying to pay for their wares with Burger King vouchers? We’ll probably never know.

They really should make a return to football matches throughout the country as they do provide a worthwhile service. Scotland is pretty far behind countries like the United States and Canada when it comes to feeding the fans at sporting events mind you.

Go to any sport in the US, whether it be football, throwball, baseball or whatever, and you get a lot of your food brought to you! Pizzas, burgers, hotdogs, peanuts, water, candy floss and beer, to name a few. They sell the stuff out of plastic trays tied round their necks too. Old school!

Part of the reason for this door to door service is that a lot of Americans tend to be too fat and lazy to actually move around much, but it does mean you don’t have to miss the action on the pitch to feed your fat face.

Of course the other American tradition is of passing your money along your row to the vendor and then getting your food passed back to you. I can’t really see this catching on in Scotland on two counts. First of all, the chances of your money making it to the tray guy in certain parts of Scotland would be slim. The second being the chances of the food making it back to you in one piece would be similarly slim, especially if there happened to be a guy wearing a lumberjack coat in your row.

We don’t want to get like the Americans anyway. Where would it all end? We’ll be calling it soccer next. Nope, just bring back the kids with the sweet and crisps trays and then we’ll be happy. If nothing else, it might make that half time trip to the pie stall move all that little bit quicker.

Monday, October 12, 2009

In amongst all the World Cup qualifying excitement at the weekend, Scotland lost a friendly to Japan 2-0.

Decimated by call offs, the Scotland squad was hardly full of household names. Some of them might have struggled to be recognised by their own households. They certainly didn't look like they knew each other on the pitch at any rate.

Not surprising really considering the match was on the other side of the world in Yokohama, Japan.

You really have to question the SFA's sanity in sanctioning a match like this. The Scottish and English domestic seasons are not long underway and managers are wary about having their players away on international duty at the best of times and especially for meaningless friendlies.

And they don't come much more meaningless than this one.

After Scotland's horrendous qualifying campaign saw them crash out of the 2010 World Cup mix, now is the time for rebuilding but you need to do that closer to home and not thousands of miles and timezones away.

The game surely could not have taught manager George Burley very much, apart from how woefully unprepared these players were for international duty. It was basically one way traffic, with nothing coming from the Scottish "attack". Getting away with just a two goal defeat was very fortunate.

Six players made their debuts and if you were being generous, maybe a handful of the whole team made any good impression.

With around five more games before Scotland begins it's Euro 2012 campaign, we do need to start finding the right mix, but we need to do it a lot closer to home so that we can actually have the players we want to have in that campaign turning up.

Before that though, let's just hope that the SFA have a long hard look at themselves and start reorganising whatever the hell goes on there.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Montreal Impact (USL 2009 Championship Game First Leg)

You need a bit of skill, a bit of luck and some breaks to deliver a Championship winning season. Vancouver Whitecaps have seen a lot of the first and a bit of the second on their way to reaching the 2009 USL Championship final. The latter has seemed to desert them at times this year and that was again the case in yesterday's first leg match up at Swangard Stadium.

5,886 fans crammed into the stadium to witness the first ever all Canadian match up in a North American football Championship match yesterday, as the League's 7th and 5th ranked teams battled for the title.

The match had added spice following Montreal's embarrassing capitulation to Toronto FC in the final Canadian championship game in June. A defeat that cheated Vancouver out of their rightful Champions League place. That was a game that will long live in the memories of Vancouver fans and the Southsiders reminded Montreal, and viewers around the world, that they are Canada's shame with a 30 foot banner that read "Je Me Souviens 18.6.09" - "I remember".

After a disappointing first half, the exciting and explosive second period was marred by a shocking refereeing performance from a female official who looked to be clueless and completely lose control of the proceedings. it was a performance that adds weight to those that feel that women officials have no place in the men's game. I can't argue with that after her display.

The fact that referee went to university in Montreal and is listed on some sites as being from Montreal (although born in Ontario), raises a lot of questions as well - namely what were the USL thinking of? At a time when many of the major players in the League want to break away and form their own new League, and following the second leg scheduling debacle that we saw earlier this week, you have to question whether anyone at USL headquarters actually know what the hell they're doing.

As for the game itself, Montreal dominated the early proceedings, without really threatening the Caps goal. Vancouver didn't look like the same team that turned in the battling performance in Portland last Sunday to claim their place in the final. The Impact were the more experienced side and whether this helped them or the Caps players were a little overawed by the occasion to start with I don't know.

Both teams hit chances high and wide but with Montreal finishing the first half the stronger, they delivered a killer blow just on half time. Stephen deRoux's cross from the left was aimed into the box towards Roberto Brown. Brown went down low for the header, completely missed the ball and it richoteted off Shaun Pejic's midriff and flew past Jay Nolly into the net. 1-0 Montreal.

It wasn't the best half in Pejic's Caps career, as he was found wanting for pace at times, but he wasn't alone and Vancouver ended up defending too deep.

Going to Montreal for the second leg and chasing the game is not what Vancouver wanted and in an attempt to get back into the game, the Caps made two changes at half time.

These changes weren't to prove the possible match changing one though, that came six minutes into the half when ugly ref Carol Anne Chenard made an ugly decision and one that could decide the destination of the Championship.

Whitecaps captain, Martin Nash, was fouled inside Vancouver's half. The dowdy Quebec ref didn't give the foul and Nash took his frustration out by clattering Brown seconds later. It was a rash challenge that merited a booking, but Brown's histrionic reaction (and that of the Montreal bench), seemed to influence the stupid cow in the middle to giving a red card.

From that moment on, the woman in the middle lost control, authority and respect. Brown's screaming like a baby obviously hit home in her natural maternal instincts. All that was missing was her running over to him and cradling him in her bosom. It was also interesting to see how quickly Brown became miraculously healed. Chenard was duped.

It was starting to look like a disaster for Vancouver and their hopes of back to back Championships, as the series could be ended after just one match. To their full credit though, the Whitecaps players fought back and were a far better team with the ten men than full strength and the sending off seemed to light a much needed fire in them.

With 55 minutes on the clock, Montreal's goal creater turned Vancouver goal creater as deRoux played the ball back from the edge of the Caps box straight to Marcus Haber at the edge of the centre circle. Haber then showed why he is the USL Rookie of the Year, collecting the ball and running over 60 yards before curling a beauty past Matt Jordan in the Impact goal and into the bottom right hand corner. 1-1 and game back on, against all the odds.

Card happy Chenard proceeded to book Haber for his celebration, which was nothing more than running up to the fence for a few brief seconds. Clueless.

The goal shocked Montreal and they turned the pressure back up. Brown headed an effort wide before crashing a shot off the post just past the hour mark from 12 yards out.

The Impact weren't to be denied though and retook the lead on 63 minutes. Peter Byers beat the Whitecaps offside trap in a bawhair borderline decision, hit the byeline, cut back and somehow hit the ball home past Jay Nolly at his nearside post. It was an effort you'd expect Nolly to keep out at least 99% of the time but somehow this time it sneaked in. 2-1 Montreal and more worries for the Caps.

The Caps defence weren't having their best night and Byers managed to score despite the presence of three defenders.

Byers celebrations saw him leaving the pitch and celebrating with the Impact bench but he received no yellow card.

Vancouver showed just why they are the defending USL Champions though and fought back once more and Montreal's lead lasted only two minutes.

A long Wes Knight throw from the right was headed out back to Knight and he played it back in quickly straight to the head of Marlon James, whose downward header left Jordan standing and sent the Southside into raptures.

Once again the Caps celebrations earned a booking for basically nothing. The booking led to Caps boss Teitur Thordarson having a word with the fourth official about the referee's performance and inconsistancies, which he also questioned in his after match comments.

For the Caps to be level was amazing, but their current workrate even more so.

Montreal kept the pressure on with their man advantage and deRoux whipped a tantalising cross into the Caps box with 71 minutes gone. The cross was met by Brown and he no doubt gave out some more baby screams as his header crashed off the bar. The rebound fell to former Cap Eddie Sebrango, but Jay Nolly scrambled across goal to turn the ball away on the line. The ball then broke back to Brown and he hit it high and wide.

This was a close escape for Vancouver and just as the match seemed to be being played out to an incredibly brave draw for the Caps, Montreal struck with a minute to go to take a lead into the second leg.

Jay Nolly did well to save Rocco Placentino's long range effort, but the rebound was met in the air by Sebrango who rose high to head home from a yard out and break Vancouver hearts.

Sebrango's goal once again set off wild Montreal celebrations and once again there was no card shown.

Vancouver then miraculously nearly levelled for a third time, when Marlon James agonisingly saw his stoppage time effort curl the wrong way and inches past the post.

The Whitecaps players were visibly gutted when the final whistle came, as the Southside tried to raise their spirits with chants of "we'll win in Montreal, we'll win in Montreal".

Montreal hasn't proved a happy hunting ground for Vancouver but if they ever needed the motivation to win there, this season has given it.

As for clueless Chenard, it was a game full of phantom calls and non calls (for both teams) and imbalanced cautions. She was apparently hit on the face by a water bottle as she went up the tunnel. All we can say to that is that we hope it hurt. Any damage can only make her piglike features look a little better.

The defeat wasn't just down to the officials though. The Caps defending, which has been exposed several times this season, was woeful at times. This needs to be really tightened up for the second leg.

As it stands, Montreal have scored in the opening second and there's still 90 minutes to go. Vancouver can still do this. Maybe we'll even get a ref from BC.

Believe.

FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 - 3 Montreal Impact

*** For more videos from the final (and other Whitecaps action), check out AFTN's Canadian You Tube Channel HERE ***


*** For some fantastic pictures of the game, check out Bob Frid's gallery HERE ***

Saturday, October 10, 2009

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

East Fife ended the first quarter of their season today. Still in fifth place but now only four spots off the bottom spot, in a day when the teams below them pulled off a string of surprising results.

With the addition of new signing, ex Dundee United starlet Jamie McCunnie, in midfield, hopes were high that one of our gaps in the team, a strong midfield dynamo, would now be filled. This seemed to be the case for around the first five minutes, when McCunnie looked full of promise, before the rest of the team seemed to decide to miss out the midfield from the action altogether and just follow Dave Baikie style punt and rush tactics.

It wasn't a bad game to watch, but East Fife offered very little and basically had one real chance in the whole match to make something happen for them.

Dumbarton had the best chance in the first half, but found Stewart Baillie in fine form as he saved Scott Chaplain's volley on 16 minutes.

Paul McManus had East Fife's best chance near the start of the second half but sent his effort wide from a good position and the home side were soon punished for this miss when Denis McLaughlin scored the only goal of the game after 58 minutes, when the Fife defence failed to clear the danger following another Dumbarton attack.

Dumbarton were nothing special and looked no better than a strong Third Division side. What that means for East Fife, is anyone's guess, but with the League now tightening up, a couple of bad results will see us right down there in the middle of a relegation dogfight.

If that proves to be the case then I'm not sure that our current squad have the ability or the stomach to get us out of such a situation.

FINAL SCORE: East Fife 0 - 1 Dumbarton

Friday, October 9, 2009

There's a lot of complaining from football fans these days of them being ripped off.

Excessive admission prices, a never ending fashion parade of changing replica strips and the chance to buy everything under the sun with the official Club badge stuck on it, which seems to double the everyday price of such items, are just some of the things that raise the ire.

The price and value of season tickets is another. Every season in recent years, East Fife fans have had a moan about the season ticket package offered up by the Club. Even with early bird pricing, it hasn't proved an incentive for shelling out your season's money in advance, especially as they didn't include admission to any home friendlies or Cup games.

It was slightly better this year with early purchasers being given admission to the friendlies for the first time in many a year, but then again with the friendlies we had on offer, it wasn't exactly a grabber of a deal.

Many of East Fife's divisional rivals have had excellent season ticket pricing packages on offer, especially for children, to reward their loyal fans. It's both great to read about such deals and frustrating at the same time that your own Club lag behind in the value stakes.

Having been an East Fife season ticket holder for many a year, I have to say how refreshing it is to see Vancouver Whitecaps season ticket deals, especially in the Southside supporters section of the stadium.

For not much over $200, Whitecaps Southside season ticket holders were treated to 15 home games in their package and ALL playoff games including tomorrow's Championship final first leg. Add into this the two Canadian Championship games against Montreal and Toronto, admission to every Whitecaps women's game (yeah right) and a "never waste a ticket" scheme whereby you can take friends to matches with your unused tickets and it's a pretty damned good deal.

Even if the team hadn't made it into the final or far into the playoffs, it's phenomenal value and should make their MLS packages something to look forward to come 2011.

Glad I have that deposit booked!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

As we mentioned a couple of days ago, the blog this week is going to be pretty Vancouver Whitecaps centric, as the excitement rises for the first leg of their Championship final on Saturday. We thought we’d have a break from it for a day though and turn out attention back to Scotland for a sec, although still with an eye on North America.

The official East Fife website will be getting relaunched shortly and one of the exciting new features will be the video section. Match highlights and interview features have been long sought after for a while now by many fans, especially those who are exiles or can’t make it along to every match.

East Fife have been slower than some Clubs to jump on the highlights package bandwagon, but we certainly welcome their addition to the teams offering this service to their fans.

This season alone has been great for far flung fans and those just keen to see the action once again. Most of our away games have been filmed and video highlights shown on the official websites of Stenhousemuir, Peterhead and Stirling Albion. Add to that Raith Rovers capturing the CIS Cup tie at Bayview and there’s been no excuse for not keeping up to date with all that’s been going on, wherever you live in the world.

In general, the Scottish football authorities are so far behind other parts of the world when it comes to promoting their games online it’s quite depressing. Both the SPL and SFL have failed to embrace new technologies when it comes to promoting the game in Scotland and they could learn a lot from some of the newer leagues around the world.

The problems surrounding securing a new TV deal for SPL games are likely to be played out again in a few years time, with the Clubs feeling that the best deal hasn’t been achieved. The SFL’s deal to show some lower league games on BBC Alba was a welcome step forward, but there is so much more that could be done.

If you look over at North America, it’s not exactly what most people would think of as a footballing hotbed and the MLS and USL have many many faults (as we discussed in yesterday‘s blog), but one thing I will praise their bigwigs for is catering for their fans desire to be able to watch all their team‘s games, both home and away, live and on demand.

Both Leagues offer fans a season long online package that allows them to view the full live 90 minutes of every League game that doesn’t have nationwide TV coverage. The games are also available on demand, so fans can follow their team in action as and when they can/want. There are also highlights available and also US Open Cup games, from the very early stages onwards.

The USL version has been free this season and the MLS one available at a very reasonable cost, reducing as the season goes on. Both versions provide live coverage only in the US and it’s territories and in Canada, but on demand archive action is available worldwide.

Such a set-up is great for helping to sell and promote the game in a continent where it vies for so much media attention. With clubs being so far apart as well, it means that fans can follow all away games at home or in the bar, when they can’t make it along in person. The ability to feel close to your team by watching every game is a must to create the football culture so many desire to come into effect across the continent.

With so many ex-pat Scots around the world if the SPL and SFL set up a similar system they would be making a lot of fans happy both home and abroad, as well as selling the game in Scotland to a worldwide audience that it doesn’t have just now. I’d like them to go one step further though and open up the live action worldwide.

As it stands in Canada for example, they sell the live rights to show Old Firm SPL games first to Celtic and Rangers supporters clubs. They then charge people up to $20 a game to watch it live. Cost aside, spending the early hours of a weekend morning in the company of such people really doesn’t appeal. Setanta do show the odd non Old Firm featuring SPL game live, but only when there’s nothing else live to show from the EPL or Championship. The Celtic and Rangers games are aired in full on Setanta, but usually 48 or 72 hours after the event and at a time when most people wouldn’t be in to watch it in the first place.

Some of the actual action in the SPL this season has been first class and it’s just a shame that more people across the globe can’t see it unless it’s via unofficial downloads or streams. Given the choice of watching a choppy, poor quality illegal stream of a game, or a great quality official stream at a reasonable season lasting price, I know what I’d pick every time, although I appreciate I may be in the minority here!

There is nothing to stop the Scottish Football League though offering a USL Live style service. They have nothing to lose out on, as their games are not shown anywhere outside of Scotland.

The launch of “East Fife TV” is a great thing, but if we could get the whole league shown to everyone that wanted it, well that would just be a dream come true and rather than take away from attendances at games, I feel it would give attendances in the lower leagues a boost and help create more interest in people’s local clubs.

If a drop in attendances was a concern then all they need to do is blackout the live action in Scotland, but let it go out live worldwide. Full, on demand games and highlights could then be available in Scotland 24 hours after the event, like so many Clubs currently do on their own websites.

If many of the small leagues in the English pyramid system can do it, then why are we so far behind? Promotion and pride are two things severely lacking in our domestic game just now and surely anything that could help boost that is worth a try?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yesterday we were complaining about how football doesn't get the respect, column inches and airtime that it deserves in North America.

When it comes to the respect aspect though, the Leagues don't exactly make it easy on themselves.

You already have the world ridiculing the set ups in the MLS and USL.

Leagues that make the entire regular season seem pointless and worthless, as it's all about the playoffs. Leagues that have most of their teams qualifying for these said playoffs. Leagues which don't have relegation. The major league that doesn't allow for youth development. The second league that seems to set their fixtures by way of a chicken walking across a map of the continent and makes teams play games on consecutive nights.

The list could go on for several paragraphs.

With the USL's showpiece game(s) of the season imminent, those fans that consider them no better than "bush league" have been given something else to just sit and shake their heads at - the actual date and time of the Championship final second leg still appears to be somewhat of a mystery.

After Vancouver's victory over Portland on Sunday, Fox Soccer Channel (Fox Sportsworld in Canada), who were showing the game live, announced the dates for the final (also to be shown live on the channels) as Saturday 10th October in Vancouver and Sunday 18th October in Montreal.

This was great news for those Whitecaps fans wanting to travel cross country to see their team win back to back Championships. It gave them the whole weekend to get there. Hopefully no fans booked their flights at that particular moment.

On Monday, Montreal announced that the second leg would take place at 2.30pm EST on the Saturday 17th October instead. From an initial look, this seemed like being due to the fact that the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team were playing at home that night and the city's CFL side were at home the following afternoon. No other sporting clashes for them, should maximise their crowd.

It made sense, even though it disappointed the Vancouver fans that would be unable to make the trip now or even watch it live due to work commitments.

The Whitecaps front office though indicated that they believed this date was still under discussion as the USL seemed to want the game played on the Sunday.

You'd think that as the bosses, the League would have the final say but seemingly not, as on Tuesday both the Vancouver and Montreal websites stated that the second leg was indeed at 2.30pm EST on Saturday 17th October.

Well, that seemed to be the end of it. Yeah, right. In the USL, nothing is as straight forward as it seems.

Yesterday evening, Fox Soccer Report were plugging their coverage of the two game Championship final and announced that they were showing the second leg of the final live on Saturday 17th October, but at 8.30pm EST!

Wow. The whole piss up in a brewery simile seems made for the USL.

At the time of writing this, no one is 100% sure who to believe and when the actual match kicks off. The fact that Vancouver fans can't book their flights and hotels until they know when they have to be there is scandalous. The longer it is before it is finalised, the more expensive the flights become and the availability becomes less.

Well done to the USL for seemingly making a complete shambles of proceedings. Is it little wonder that teams are looking to break away and form their own new League next season? if it isn't the USL's fault, they haven't exactly helped matters by not making any public statement about this on their website.

Whatever the outcome is and whenever the game is, the message that comes across is that no one seems to give a toss about the fans. Way to win over a sporting public that doesn't look favourably on football as it is.

Only in (North) America.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You'll have to excuse the blog a little this week. It's going to be pretty Vancouver Whitecaps centric.

With the Caps looking forward to Saturday's USL Championship final first leg, and the chance to defend their title, it's hard not be a bit excited.

The fans, the players, the whole front office of the organisation can think of nothing else. With Vancouver being a sports mad city, you'd expect the local media to be the same.

Sadly this doesn't appear to be the case.

Monday's Vancouver Province newspaper had the chance to do the team proud by featuring their triumphs right there on the whole of the back page. But they didn't. What did appear there was a picture of a kitten.

Yes, you read that right - a kitten.

The reason for the pussy pic was for the dismal form of the local ice hockey side Vancouver Canucks and centred around the quote "other lines have looked as dangerous as a kitten with a ball of string". The picture they used didn't even feature a ball of string!

The story of the Caps success was buried thirteen pages in.

It just makes you shake your head and emphasises the struggle the game has in Canada (and the US) to get the column inches it deserves. I understand it's a hockey town, but there was no need to feature that picture after the city's most successful sports team had just done the city proud again.

You just have to wonder what on earth the team has to achieve to merit the plaudits they deserve. No wonder people don't buy newspapers anymore.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Match Report: Portland Timbers v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL)

Vancouver Whitecaps reached the 2009 USL1 Championship final yesterday in one of the best games of football I've seen in my life.

Their quest for back to back Championship continues after a battling performance at PGE Park against the Portland Timbers, which saw the match end 3-3 on the day and the Caps progress 5-4 on aggregate.

For anyone doubting the passion and quality of football in North America, this game was the perfect response. Pulsating is an overused term for matches, but is so apt on this occasion and 14,283 fans in attendance saw an absolute cracker.

Vancouver went down to Portland with a narrow 2-1 lead from Thursday's first leg. With Portland topping the regular season standings, and PGE Park being like a fortress for them this season, the first goal was always going to be crucial and thankfully it fell to Vancouver after only 4 minutes.

Jay Nolly threw the ball quickly out to Ansu Toure, who collected the ball midway in the Caps half, ran up the left wing and twisted Portland's Johan Claesson inside and out before whipping over an inch perfect cross to Marcus Haber in the box. Haber rose unchallenged to head home powerfully from 10 yards out to give Vancouver a two goal advantage in the tie and a bit of breathing space.

That breathing space lasted a total of six minutes before Portland hit back and levelled the match on the day through Brian Farber, who collected the ball at the back post and hit home from six yards out.

Portland sensed blood and came close a couple of time with the Caps defence all over the place and really struggling with the long balls over the top.

Vancouver regained their composure though and nearly retook the lead through Toure, but his fierce strike crashed back off the bar.

It was end to end stuff with both sides having chances and Vancouver had Jay Nolly to thank for saving them from going behind.

There was nothing he could do with two minutes of the half remaining though when a deflection fell favourably to Farber to head home and level the tie on aggregate.

With the way the Caps back line had been playing, I personally feared the worst, but Portland failed to come out all guns blazing and it allowed Vancouver to regroup and settle back into winning the match.

The hour mark approached and the decisive moment came. Marcus Haber went down quite cheaply to earn a free kick on the edge of the box. Up stepped Captain Marvel, Martin Nash, and he drilled a beauty into the postage stamp corner to put Vancouver back ahead in the tie and send the travelling army of Whitecaps supporters into raptures.

The goal took the wind out of the Timbers sails and put Vancouver into the ascendancy, as they pushed to kill the game off.

They nearly did just that on 71 minutes from another free kick, but Takashi Hirano was unlucky to see his fine effort cannon off the post and cleared for a corner.

Vancouver weren't to be denied though and went back ahead on the day, and increase their aggregate lead to two, second later when Marlon James bundled the ball home after a goalmouth scramble.

Full credit to Portland though. They didn't go on a 24 game unbeaten run earlier this season without being able to play football and they fought right to the end. Alex Nimo's spectacular strike with seven minutes left made for squeakiy bum time for the travelling Caps fans and despite some close calls and desperate defending, Vancouver held on for the fine victory and the chance to record back to back Championships.

It was nervy at the back at times and some usually solid players had a shocker, especially in the first half.

The win sets up the dream final against the French surrender monkeys from Montreal. For Vancouver and their fans, it's payback time for their capitulation in June against Toronto that cost the Whitecaps a Champions League place.

Nothing would be sweeter than to hit six past them ourselves.

C'mon the Caps and roll on the first leg on Saturday.

FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 3 - 3 Vancouver Whitecaps 3 (Vancouver go through 5-4 on aggregate)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Continuing our series of things you don't see at the football anymore in Scotland (and things you don't see very much)....

(11) The Old Fashioned Pie Hut:

Changes in the surroundings that we watch our football in are inevitable really. We had years of little or no change at grounds throughout the UK. I know it’s easy to wallow in nostalgia, as we have been doing in this series, but some things from days of old added character to grounds and were a part and parcel of your day out at the fitba.

One such thing was your trip to the pie hut for some nourishment and refreshment. There was something about going to a old wooden pie hut that was magical when you were a kid. Looking back though, paying a visit to a rickety, free standing wooden shed to buy some food just seems bizarre. Where were all the health and safety people back then? Probably best they weren’t looking into the contents of the pies mind you.

Old Bayview had the two pie huts on the terraces at one point, before we were left with the one solitary one at the home end. It was a great place to get your fare, as you could stand in line and watch all the action at the same time, so it didn’t matter at what point during the game you went to get your pie and Bovril, you weren’t going to miss anything apart from in the few seconds that you actually got served.

That’s how it should be. You shouldn’t have to disappear underneath a lego built stand and queue for 20 minutes to get something to keep the winter chills away, either missing the match or the half time banter in the process. I know I’ve blamed all seater stadiums for killing a lot of things in these articles, but they have had a big part to play.

With all seater stadiums come the all new, shiny, clean, health and safety approved but characterless “concessions”. All silver, with fancy big ovens that, depending on the ground, still manage to serve you either cold pies or ones that seem to contain some kind of volcanic filling. It also seems to give carte blanche to the caterers at grounds like Hampden to charge extortionate amounts for sub standard fare.

Of course with the new food stalls comes the new food. A pie and a bovril has been a staple diet of the football fan for decades. Not now though. Kids grow up more expecting a burger and chips at the football these days, all washed down with a small plastic glass of some no name, no taste cola. You know, the ones they just pour out of a bottle that cost about a quid and they charge you about 30p a cup for. Some people claim to have even tasted a mythical Kirky hot dog, but others just ridicule them about that idea.

If I was to think of certain things that only remind me of going to the football growing up. One would be the smell of deep heat and linament that you could smell if you were near the dressing rooms at the smaller grounds and the other would be those small, plastic cups of purple “cola” that were fully sealed and you and had to try and stick the smallest straw in the world into to it to drink it. It wasn’t Coke, but it did the job!

On the whole, the pies at football have got a lot better. The days of some non descript, pink looking meat that just oozed grease from the minute you bit into it have gone at most grounds, but sadly not all.

You still get some old fashioned pie huts at the older grounds and thank goodness for that. Some even still resemble just a wooden shed, like at Forfar, and thankfully you can still always get a pie (or a bridie).

At grounds like Stenhousemuir (and East Stirling before they moved), old met new with new fare such as pakoras being sold out of the old fashioned hut. I’m all for that. Things do need to change with the times and food at the football probably is one of them.

It’s just not the same if it’s not out of a hut though. Or is that just me?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

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

Wow. Another draw. It's getting to be quite unbelievable. Eight league games played, two wins, one defeat, five draws, a goal difference of zero and joint 4th in the league. Let's be honest. If we'd been offered that record as we approach the end of the first quarter of the season, at the start of the season, we'd probably have bitten the offering hand off.

The game was played in horrendous conditions at Alloa's Recreation Park today, on a day which saw several matches postponed across Scotland due to the high winds. Both teams struggled and a point apiece isn't too bad to be coming away with.

Despite Alloa's surprisingly good start to the season, hopes were high amongst the Fife faithful of another good result in Alloa, which has proved a pretty happy hunting ground of late.

Both sides struggled but it will be Alloa who will be rueing both missed opportunities, a possible penalty not given and a disallowed goal, as they sought to keep the pressure up on leaders Stirling Albion.

Andy Scott had the best chance for the home side in the first half but was denied by a brilliant save from Stewart Baillie in the East Fife goal.

Alloa were again the better team in the second half and looked to have a decent penalty shout when Guy Kerr looked to have brought down Mark Gilhaney in the box, but the referee waved play on.

The Wasps thought they'd snatched the winning goal later in the half when Scott Walker had the ball in the net, but the ref ruled it out for a push.

From an East Fife point of view, it was great to see another clean sheet for Stewart Baillie, who has yet to concede a competitive goal in his East Fife career to date. Sure it's only two games, but it's better than the gifts Michael Brown has been giving away this season!

It was all a bit of punt and rush from us and we didn't really create a decent scoring chance. The sooner we get some of the injured players back, the better.

With the addition of ex Dundee United midfield starlet Jamie McCunnie to the squad, the signs are there that Stevie Crawford could have an exciting squad on his hands. Their youth will surely come into play as the season progresses and some of the teams with older players will suffer from their fatigued legs. We're badly needing a skillful and attacking midfielder, so hopefully McCunnie will give us that.

Onwards and upwards, but we need to try to make some of these draws into wins or we're going to get dragged into the wrong end of the table.

FINAL SCORE: ALLOA ATHLETIC 0 - 0 EAST FIFE

ATT: 580

Friday, October 2, 2009

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Portland Timbers (USL Playoffs)

Vancouver Whitecaps are now just 90 minutes from a place in the USL Championship final following a one sided first leg semi final last night, in which only one team seemed to turn up.

Following some poor form mid season, it's been an improbable but welcome bounce back from the Caps who keep showing why they are the defending Champions.

Portland's later season form has dipped considerably after their long unbeaten streak was ended and Vancouver showed they had nothing to fear from a powderpuff Timbers side that didn't look worthy of topping the regular season standings and rarely troubled Jay Nolly's goal.

A large and, at first, vocal Timbers Army representation headed north from Oregon and it was impressive to see around 60 make the trip on a wet and cold Thursday evening.

Vancouver's Luca Bellisomo and Wes Knight had the first chances of the game but their efforts went wide, before both teams then traded half chances. Marcus Haber had a great chance to put Vancouver one up midway through the half. He brilliantly got on the end of Ansu Toure's cross into the edge of the box and with Timbers goalie Steve Cronin committed, and the net empty, he headed agonisingly wide.

The Whitecaps fans didn't have to wait much longer to erupt with joy however. With 25 minutes on the clock, Takashi Hirano whipped a delightful cross into the box and the USL Golden Boot winner Charles Gbeke met it with his head ten yards out and headed the ball into the ground, up and over Cronin and off the underside off the bar into the net.

1-0 Vancouver and cue scenes of jubilation around the far from sold out Swangard Stadium.

The Whitecaps were clearly in the ascendency and controlling the game and had a couple of attempts at increasing their lead before the contentious and controversial decision of the night, that may yet prove to be the game changer.

With two minutes of the half remaining, Hirano gave the ball away cheaply to the Timbers in the middle of the Caps half. After several blocked shots, the ball was fired at top speed towards the Caps goal, hitting Lyle Martin as he was bundled to the ground by a Timbers player. Martin had no chance of getting out of the way and it should have been a Caps free kick anyway, but the ball hit his hands and the ref pointed to the spot.

Ryan Pore converted from the spot and the anger erupted both on and off the pitch, with Vancouver substitute Marco Reda being red carded for comments to the fourth official. As half time came, the referee was given an escort off the pitch by security as several fans abused him going up the tunnel.

Portland were now back in a game that they were never at the races at.

Full credit to the Caps players though. As the heavens opened, they responded the best way possible and regained the lead four minutes into the second half. Charles Gbeke turned provider this time and played an inch perfect cross into the penalty spot and Haber rose unmarked to head home with ease.

The Southside erupted and the smoke bombs and flares came out. 2-1 Vancouver and justly back into the lead.

Portland offered little in return and Vancouver had several chances to increase their lead and take a decisive advantage into Sunday's second leg, as the smoke kept coming and threatened to fog out the pitch at times. Subs Marlon James and Nizar Khalfan had the best efforts, with Cronin doing well to save both.

The final whistle came and Vancouver's fans celebrated a deserved victory and one that puts them one step closer to back to back Championships.

It can only be hoped that the slew of missed chances doesn't come back to haunt them at PGE Park on Sunday. Portland will be fired up for this and should be a different looking side to what was on display at Swangard last night, or at least you would think so.

With a sizeable contingent making the cross border journey it should be a cracking game and a cracking atmosphere. I can't wait. I wish it was Sunday already!

FINAL SCORE: VANCOUVER WHITECAPS 2 - 1 PORTLAND TIMBERS

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps have a huge match tonight. You have to wonder though if the football loving Vancouver public actually care.

The Caps take the field against the Portland Timbers this evening at Swangard Stadium in the first leg of the USL1 playoff semi final. At the time of writing this the game is not a sell out.

When you consider the official capacity of Swangard is just over 5,200 and that Vancouver recorded a spate of sell outs (and over capacity matches) throughout the season, it’s very disappointing.

The last game of the season packed in over 5,600 fans for a meaningless game against the bottom placed side Cleveland.

The reason being offered up for the lack of ticket sales is that the Vancouver Canucks kick off their NHL season at Calgary – ON TELEVISION. Yes, the Vancouver general public can’t be arsed getting their fat arses off the couch to go and watch the most successful sports teams in the city’s history in a vital match.

With the Caps having almost 10,000 season ticket deposits for the MLS season in 2011, you do have to ask why these supposed football fans don’t want to watch the team now.

Eurosnobs? Major leaguers only? Scared of getting a bit wet in the rain on the bleachers?

In truth, it’s a combination of all this and it’s very sad to see. There’s also been very little column inches and air time dedicated to the Caps playoff run.

Vancouver Whitecaps are a winning sports team. They are a championship and trophy winning sports team. They are the pride of Vancouver and all of BC.

It’s just a shame that it’s only going to be when the Club go “big time” that most will care. It’s a sad indictment of North American sporting culture, but it’s their loss.

All we know that AFTN, the Southsiders and the rest of those in attendance tonight will be there to cheer the team on through thick and thin and it’ll be us that have the memories and stories to tell in years to come.

C’mon the Caps.
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