Thursday, December 8, 2011

The 2011/12 season is starting to become an annus horribilis for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.

Weakly crashing out of the Carling Cup and the Champions League in the space of seven days, and chasing down their Manc rivals in the Premiership title race with a string of stuttering performances, is not what the spoilt United fans are used to.

And neither is Fergie.

When you add United drawing City in the Third Round of the FA Cup next month, it’s not inconceivable that Man U could finish the season trophyless.

There is the good old Europa League to aim for now, although I look forward to Fergie playing the kids and crashing out of that at the earliest opportunity.

What a difference a year makes.

United’s 12th Premier League title was secured by nine points and they seemed to be putting together another squad of amazingly talented kids. The future looked as rosy as Ferguson’s cheeks.

Ferguson will be 70 years old in 23 days time. At his age, and with 37 major career trophies to his name, should Fergie have got out when he was ahead and quit at the top?

Obviously I’ve never been in any sort of similar position. All I know is that I can’t wait to retire.

I’ve always been puzzled by players who play on past when they should. I know there’s the whole missing of the game and not knowing what to do with themselves. That’s a buzz I’ll never know to fully judge.

Long term managers also know no other life. It’s what they love doing.

Outside of football, I feel the same about actors who make really shitty films when they don’t need any more cash.

Why would you not go and enjoy your money and rest on your laurels, knowing full well that the legacy you’ve left behind will stand the test of time?

Why risk tarnishing it and going out on a low point in your career?

Let’s look at this from the viewpoint of another sport I closely follow – gridiron, American football, throwball, call it what you like. Let’s be more precise, Canadian Football and the CFL (Canadian Football League).

My team is the Vancouver based BC Lions. They’ve just won their sixth Grey Cup (Canada’s equivalent to the Superbowl).

I know most of you don’t care about such a sport, but bear with me. There is a point!

The Lions Head Coach, Wally Buono, has the best winning record as a coach in CFL’s long history and this was his fifth Grey Cup triumph, and ninth final appearance. The win for the Lions came in their own home hosting stadium, becoming only the third team achieve this feat.

Buono is 61 years old, 62 in February. He has a good eight years on Sir Alex, but after the triumph he has retired as Head Coach.

There’s not going to be anything better than what he achieved this season, so why not go out on the top? Several of the veteran players have/will be doing the same.

Back to proper football now, and so Fergie should have done the same thing as Buono last May.

I know football is in his blood. He would probably happily coach till he dropped down dead. One of his mentors, Jock Stein, did just that and you could arguably say he died doing what he loved most.

It’s not my, or anyone’s decision to make, just Ferguson’s. But will he make the correct decision at the right time?

I’m no Man United fan, far from it, but with all that Sir Alex has achieved in the game, I’d like to see him retire on a high.

Maybe he still will win a Premiership, FA Cup and Europa League treble.

If he turns this season around and does that, then that surely must be the tipping point for his retiral.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t keep going on till he drops or until people start to say he’s lost it. This season is his hardest in a long time, but of course, Man United are experts at the second half of the season revival.

It would be horrible to see arguably Scotland’s greatest football manager bow out after a season of despair and failure.

If the past seven days are anything to go by, then he has possibly his toughest five months of his managerial career ahead, as he looks to salvage some pride and keep his reputation in tact.

That’s just as important as silverware.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Anyone that knows AFTN, and regular readers of this blog in particular, will know that we're not the greatest fans of top flight football at the best of times, or rather the mechanics behind the business end of it all.

As East Fife fans, I think it's naturally in our DNA to love watching lower league and non league football, in the smaller, more intimate environments. Or in other words, games where naebody turns up.

That's not to say we don't enjoy watching games from the English Premiership, because we most certainly do. Or at least did, until this season.

I've been finding it increasingly hard to get excited about this season's Premiership campaign.

For those that don't know, I'm currently a Scottish ex-pat, enjoying life in the new climes of North America. We've covered this fact before in AFTN, so for those that have heard it before, please bear with me.

Over here, we get an abundance of live and as-live football. Every top league you could imagine and also the SPL! European, Mexican, South American, even the A League down in Oz. The English Premiership is obviously the big draw and we get an amazing amount of games.

Every weekend, every game is basically shown in full at some point in the schedule. They draw big audiences. To put it in perspective, the recent MLS Cup final drew half the audience in the evening that a run of the mill EPL game had drawn that morning.

On a Saturday we get the early kick off game live, two or three 3pm kick offs live, and the teatime game live. We also get both the main Sunday games live, unless there's something like a Celtic-Rangers game to be shown instead. All the other games are shown, usually one after the other, in full.

That's a feast of football, of that there is no doubt. Sure it can be a bit of a football overload, and the pain in the ass that is the kick off times can be inconvenient, but hey, that's why PVR's were invented right?

This season though, I've found myself flicking through the TV guides on a Friday night and thinking "You know what? I really don't fancy watching any of these games in full". This results in me not getting up early to watch anything and not recording anything for perusal later.

Instead, I've found myself watching all the Championship games that have been on offer instead.

Even the games I do end up recording, I find myself just fast forwarding through and just watching the goals or any interesting incidents that catch my eye.

Now it’s got nothing to do with the football or entertainment on offer, on the whole. It's just that I can't muster up any excitement about the 20 teams in the Premiership this season.

I'll quantify that by saying right from the off that I'm a West Ham fan, so a lot of my interest went out the window right there and has turned to the Championship, which has been the best English League for excitement for years now anyway, and one which I've always followed closely.

The last few years we had the excitement of watching promoted teams like Hull City, Burnley and Blackpool try (and ultimately fail) to punch above their wait, as they end up in relegation dogfights that have provided twists and turns up to the final kick of the season's ball almost.

When Blackpool went down with the Hammers, I knew the writing was going to be on the wall for me with regards to watching the Premiership this season. Right there you were losing exciting football, underdogs and Ian Holloway.

Sure we have three new promoted clubs, but they're not exactly the underdogs the way the above northern contingent were.

Norwich are kind of blah. I do want them to stay up, as they are an unfashionable club and have a very promising Scottish manager at the helm. I know that when it's getting to the end of the season, if the Canaries find themselves in a relegation battle, that will be enough to get me to tune in, but just not right now. Last season I went out of my way to watch every Blackpool game in full.

The way Norwich are going they could find themselves safe without any need for a dogfight, which is great for them and all smaller clubs with strange aspirations to just stay up.

The same is true with Swansea. I also would love them to avoid the drop, primarily because they're not English!

Then you have last season’s Championship Champions. There is so much to dislike about QPR. They had the big foreign money investment and splashed the cash. Also, how can you cheer on any team that has Queen AND Rangers in their name?!

Existing teams like Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton don't exactly get the juices going when you see the fixture list for the weekend ahead. And if they're playing each other, then just forget it.

At the top, it could get interesting if Spurs keep up their charge. The football they played at the weekend was breathtaking to watch at times. Still hard to like them though.

If Man City run away with the title, which I think they will have all but wrapped up by the end of March, then it's going to be an even less exciting Premier League run in than we get in Scotland most years.

So for now, my disinterest in this season's Premiership will continue.

I will watch games of the top sides battling it out, even though they usually end up just disappointing and not living up to the expectations. I'll tune in for any interesting derbies or games with some player animosity thrown into the mix.

And I’ll sit here hoping above hope that West Ham, Blackpool and an unlikely club like Brighton, fill this season’s three promotion places come May. Not sure I’ll be getting that wish in full.

On the whole though I'm going to be relying on the good old Beeb's 'Match of the Day' to cover the day's games and keep me up to date with all things Premier League.

It's like I've been transported back to my childhood days of the 70's, as I avoid the day's results until I can settle down to watch it.

And you know what? It's been really refreshing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Watching Sportscene on Sunday evening, one of the weekend debates was obviously about Rangers' Sone Aluko and his apparent dive to win, what turned out to be, a match winning penalty against Dunfermline at Ibrox.

Pundits in the studio and punters online have all had their say on the matter.

To us it looked like Aluko knew exactly what he was doing. He had nowhere to go, he went down theatrically, he won a penalty by embellishment.

Most angles show no contact, one shows the possible slightest of knocks that looked nowhere near enough to send a grown man crashing to the deck the way it did.

The immediate question was whether the SFA would punish Aluko for diving. Today, we got our answer.

The SFA are proposing a two match ban for simulation, and the matter will be heard by a tribunal on Thursday.

Now this is all well and good (and it really is), but the end result of these hearings simply do not go far enough if we are really serious about stamping this blight out of football.

The introduction of video evidence has been a great innovation to the Scottish game and punishes cheats. At least most of the time.

The punishments don't always hold up when clubs end up appealing them, ala Hibs and Gary O'Connor, when a similar incident led to a two match ban first being proposed, then quashed on appeal.

Clearly post-match punishments also serve as no deterrent to players, who are prepared to take the gamble if it earns their clubs vital points. In a lot of ways, you can’t blame them.

Realistically most fans don't care if they win a game due to a dive or an act of cheating. I'd be lying if I said I would. I want the win.

On the other hand, if my team were to lose due to such actions, I would be livid. We're hypocrites. Most of us are if we’re being honest.

When the punishments are handed out later though, they need to be way more far reaching.

Banning a player for a game or two and/or fining the guy, means very little these days. It has to be the clubs themselves that are punished.

Rangers won the game, and all three points, due to Aluko's actions. Those points could be decisive in the Championship race at the end of the season or even the relegation dogfight.

Punishing Rangers, or any club, for their players diving by docking them three points (no matter what the outcome of the game) is way more likely to see these antics curtailed pretty quickly.

Ultimately, I would rather we had video evidence than nothing at all. The alternative is what we had before, with all such players getting off with nothing more than their reputations being tarnished.

If we're ever to stamp this blight out of our game though, then the punishments need to be way more far-reaching.

And I can think of no better way to start that off than by punishing the SPL leaders.

There's the clear message.

No matter who you are or how big a club you are, you WILL be punished in a manner which hurts you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wrexham take on Darlington at the Racecourse Ground tonight in the Blue Square Premier.

The game is live on Premier Sports, I’m sure you’ll all be watching come 7.45pm.

I would love to be watching live if I could get the channel and wasn’t actually at work when it’s on, so will need to make do with trying to find a download later on.

So what’s so special about this match? It’s just another non league game on a channel that not many of us actually subscribe to, right?


It’s been great to see non league action back on our screens. AFTN would always prefer it to be available on a free to air channel, but beggars can’t be choosers, and with ITV digital and Setanta Sports going tits up and taking football deals with them, then any kind of coverage that lower league and non league football can get in this modern age is very gratefully received here at AFTN Towers.

And Premier Sports do a really good job with it, treating it with respect and giving it decent airtime on their schedule. It's great that they stepped forward and picked up the coverage.

In the battle for our time and footballing mind, the game is primarily up against Man United v Crystal Palace in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup over on Sky Sports and the Europa League tie between Tottenham Hostpur and PAOK Salonika on Channel Five.

I know what game I would pick any day of the week, but that’s me. I’m in the minority I sadly know, although not amongst readers of this blog thankfully.

Premier Sports are adding a new feature to tonight’s broadcast though, and if it’s the success I think it will be, then we could be looking at a new direction for our football commentary.

Sky always like to be cutting edge, and if they see something working elsewhere, you can be sure that they’ll be on it quicker than you know.

For tonight’s game, Premier Sports are going to be going fully interactive, with the commentary teams inviting comments from viewers via Twitter about the game and coverage.

On paper, it’s nothing that we should look at as too groundbreaking in this technological age, but yet it is.

Now we have the chance to let commentators know that they’re spouting inane rubbish and that they should shut up! Or tell them to stop being so obsessed with certain players.

More so though, it will give fans to share their thoughts on the current action, ask questions about decisions, subs, anything you fancy. It should also make for more informative chat and batter during the game, especially during lulls when commentators are just trying to avoid dead air.

Presenters Steve Bower and Alan Snodin will try and read out as many comments as they can during the broadcast. You can get in touch with them at their newly created Twitter account.

Lower league and non league football fans already feel closer to their teams at matches, than their “big team” counterparts. Now they can feel closer to the action whilst watching at home too.

Watch the game, take part and make this experiment the success it deserves to be. You could be shaping the future!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kilmarnock’s 1-0 win over Rugby Park on Sunday was great.

One of the bigot brothers had just got beat and it closed the gap at the top between Rangers, Celtic and Motherwell, to at least add some pretend excitement that we have a two/three horse title race on our hands in Scotland.

At least we don’t have one team walking away it, like it looked like just a few weeks ago.

It should all have been joyous news. Except it isn’t.

Kilmarnock’s win, or rather how the Killie fans and players reacted to it, just highlighted one of the many things wrong with Scottish football.

Watching the game on TV, and then listening to Sunday’s Radio Scotland podcast of the day’s news, the post game reaction was astounding.

Sure it’s always nice to beat one of the Old Firm, and yes, it was Kilmarnock’s first home win over Rangers for an incredible 17 years (and 33 games), but seeing and listening to the jubilation at the final whistle, you would have thought that it was a Cup tie or that Killie had just won the League with the result.

These results should not be unexpected. They should not be treated like a Cup giantkilling shock. Where is your aspiration? What exactly are your goals as a football club? To merely survive in the League and hope for some kind of Cup run every season?

Kilmarnock are Rangers’ peers. At the start of every season, they line up on equal footing with their Glasgow counterparts. Level on points, but clearly with much different aspirations.

Obviously I understand that the likes of Kilmarnock cannot compete financially with the Old Firm and, as such, they can’t compete competitively with them on the pitch over the course of a whole season. And that’s what’s sad about the Scottish game.

Ultimately, what is the actual point of these SPL also-rans’ existence?

One of our top flight teams in this country should not be so excited about beating a team that they have played for three and four times a season for years now.

If this is the pinnacle of your hopes and aspirations, then just give up now.

As an East Fife fan, and supporter of lower league football, I often get people telling me that they just don’t understand how I can watch a club like that. What enjoyment do I get not seeing the “big name” players and experiencing the “big match” atmosphere? What is the point of my team’s existence?

If my alternative was watching a team that every season think to themselves “wouldn’t it be great if we finished third this year” or “wouldn’t it be great if we managed to finish second bottom and avoid relegation”, I don’t think I could get much motivation for going to the games.

Clearly I’m not alone. No wonder crowds are so poor.

Did you see all those empty seats at Rugby Park? Was it the cost? Was it the early Sunday kick-off time? Was it the fact that the game was on TV?

For some fans, these will have been the reasons, but the over-riding reason for many will have been the fact that they didn’t see the point of turning up as they expected Kilmarnock to lose – again.

At least with East Fife and most other SFL clubs we have real hopes, battles and meaningful games every season.

Very few teams in the First and Second Division don’t have realistic hopes/fears of being involved in the promotion and relegation issues at the business end of the season.

The Third is a different matter, but add in a pyramid and relegation and we may have a whole different ball game on our hands.

We might not have the skill, the names or the crowds, but lower league Scottish football at least gives the game some real meaning and I’d rather have that any Saturday of the month.

If one of us beat Rangers, then that IS something to get so excited about.

Let’s give Kilmarnock their moment in the sun though. It’s not every season they beat two big teams in a month.

Rangers were one thing, but we should always remember their struggle in overcoming the odds to beat the ten men of the mighty three time League Cup winners East Fife a few weeks ago.

What a season for them, huh?

Living the dream.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The footballing world was sent into shock yesterday by the death of Welsh manager Gary Speed at the age of 42.

Speed had no connection with any of my teams, but I wanted to pay tribute to a man that was a model professional and a son, husband, father and friend that will be truly missed my many. He was that kind of man. Fans of all teams admired and respected him.

When I woke up on Sunday morning and saw the headline on the BBC website, I just couldn't believe it. Finding out the sad facts behind his death was equally tragic and shocking.

This was a young manager who seemingly had everything going for him, but no-one, not even his closest friends seemed to have any idea of what feelings he was hiding behind his genuinely bubbly public demeanour.

Robbie Savage said it best on last night's 606 Football Phone In on BBC Five Live:

"I just can't understand it. The world was at his feet. I just can't believe it."

As a player, Welshman Speed touched the hearts of many. He had 23 years in the game, turning out for five clubs, and known to millions around the world for his times at Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton in the Premiership. His 677 appearances brought 103 goals, and he is behind only Ryan Giggs and David James as the player with the most matches played in the top flight of English football.

Capped 85 times by his country, he went from player to captain to manager, and was just starting to see the fruits of his hard work in turning the fortunes of the national team around.

The recent 4-1 defeat of Norway showed that things were starting to fit nicely into place and that performance was already a marked difference from how Wales played against Scotland in the 3-1 Celtic Nations Cup defeat back in May.

It was still very much a work in progress for the Welsh, but moving back into the top 50 in the Fifa rankings made it clear that they were moving in the right direction.

Players were clamouring to play for the Welsh national side again. There was renewed hope and whoever takes over the hot-seat from him will have a great legacy, built by a great servant to his country.

Upon hearing about Speed's death, my thoughts turned to ice hockey. For those readers who don't follow that sport, this may seem strange, but 2011 has been a year that has seen the suicides of a couple of NHL players.

Depression seems to be the link in all of them. It was a disease that some were known to suffer from, but some kept it, and their personal turmoil, hidden out of sight.

We of course don't know yet if Speed was affected by such a thing. Nobody seems to have had any indication that he did. The same was true of my wife's uncle who committed suicide in 2007 and to this day, no one knows why.

Listening to Darren Fletcher and Robbie Savage on BBC Five Live's 606 Football Phone In was so emotional. It was a fitting tribute to Speedo, and must have been so difficult for his close friend Savage to get through the show.

There were laughs. There were tears. There were fond memories. But most of all, there was just so much love for the man. No-one seems to be able to speak highly enough about Gary Speed and that says it all. He was a true gentleman who always had time for everyone.

It just makes it all the more confusing as to why such a talented man took his own life so early.

The show isn't an easy listen, but we urge you all to listen to the Podcast, as there will be no more fitting tribute to the Welshman than the outpouring of emotion therein.

RIP Gary Speed. You will be missed more than you could ever know.

Friday, November 25, 2011

We haven't done one of these for what seems like an age and we've had this one up our sleeves for a while now.

Sending offs ruin football matches. We know that's technically true.

As long as it's not one of our guys though then it's fine with me, ruin away!

Some red cards are obvious, some are debatable and some are a real bone of contention that leaves you wondering just what the officials saw that you, and hundreds of others around you, didn't.

Then you have the ones that just beggar belief altogether, and those are the ones we're going to put in the spotlight today.

Bizarre sending offs are fantastic to see and provide much light relief for years to come. As always, so long as it's not affecting your own team.

I'll kick off with one which did affect one of my teams back in April.

Vancouver Whitecaps striker Eric Hassli, had been booked minutes earlier, when the Caps were awarded a penalty.

The Frenchman stepped forward to take and score the kick, when this happened...

Standing behind the goal watching it unfold, I immediately said "fuck, he's off". And yup, he was!

To make matters worse, the Caps were already down to ten men, but they managed to hold on to their 1-0 lead until injury time when opponents New England Revolution fired in an equaliser.

Hassli had also just returned to the line up after being sent off in his previous match!

So even the old double jersey switcheroonie doesn't save you from one of the most ridiculous laws of the game.

Never see why simply taking your jersey off to celebrate is still a bookable offence when no-one seems to want it to be.

Want to see another bizarre sending off for taking your jersey off?

Try this one from a Ukranian Premier League match between Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Karpaty Lviv:

Again, technically the letter of the law, but come on, where's the commonsense?

The unfortunate player picking up his second booking was Dnipro's Ghanaian defender Samuel Inkoom.

Neymar's bizarre mask sending off is well known, so we won't feature that here. Plus it couldn't have happened to a nicer wanker.

Even when you try to do good, you can still earn the wrath of the referee and see red, as Dorchester Town player-manager Ashley Vickers found out in a Conference South match last season at Havant and Waterlooville:

Borat has a lot to answer for.

Our final clip comes from down under.

I've seen a lot of red cards waved around over the years, but I've never seen one issued for having your penis pierced. Until now!

Some of you may have seen this back in the summer, but it's always worth another chortle.

The incident took place in a lower league reserve game in Melbourne, Australia. Aaron Eccleston of Old Hill Wanderers had a Prince Albert which the cock of a referee took an objection too and sent him off:

The question everybody wants to know when they see this, is how did the ref know he had such a piercing?

Well it came to light after Eccleston had to receive treatment when he took a ball to his balls.

Yes, the ref is within the rules to get jewellery removed, but makes you wonder how many other players (of both sexes) have private piercings that no-one ever gets to know about.

Old Hill still won 3-0. I'm sure wanted to know that for closure!

Do you have some favourite strange sending offs of your own? Share them below...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

We’ve said this before in AFTN, but being an exile certainly does make your footballing heart grow fonder. Especially when you add in growing older and getting all misty eyed reminiscent about the footballing days of your youth (not all of which are probably as fondly and accurately remembered as they perhaps played out).

It’s been over four years now since I left Scotland for pastures new across the Atlantic, and it really is true what they say. You don’t realise what you’ve got till it’s gone.

There’s not many things I miss from living in the UK, but going to the football every week is one of them. Especially when going to the football meant going to some really quaint and some really ramshackle grounds on your travels.

And if East Fife got an away draw against non league opposition in the Scottish Cup? Result!

It’s been a huge culture shock for me to go from three figure attendances in the lower reaches of Scottish football to 20,000+ crowds at state of the art, purpose built stadiums full of plastic seats and far too many plastic supporters and, shudder, soccer mums and their annoying kids.

I miss my lower league and non league football. Grassroots football will also be my first love.

Getting your football fix isn’t hard to do in North America. We’ve covered before about the plethora of games and Leagues from around the world that you can watch. It really is overload. Nothing beats going to a live game though and nothing ever will.

Moving away has given me some regrets.

Why did I throw out certain football memorabilia instead of shipping them over? Why did I sell all my childhood subbuteo stuff? And, in particular, why didn’t I do more groundhopping when I had the chance?

I’ve had a long love affair with non league football in the UK, and especially the English pyramid system.

I love the hope every team can have that somehow, one day they could be in the Football League, even when you’re rebuilding a team you’ve watched die in front of your eyes.

I love the atmosphere and banter at games, when sometimes you’re in a crowd of just double digits, and in some leagues for midweek matches, single ones. I love the affinity and bond you have with your team. I love the surroundings, the localness of it all and the wonderful history that so many of these Clubs have.

To me, this is proper football.

Pre-season trips to watch East Fife at clubs like Peterlee, Seaham Red Star and Spennymoor piqued my interest in the English non league scene, but I guess my love affair really started when Wimbledon were forced out of the Football League and AFC Wimbledon rose from their ashes.

As a long time member of the Dons Trust, their tale is an inspiration to all fans of lower league and non league football. We don’t need to say much more.

We’ll never forget though the support the Dons gave to our Down With Brown campaign.

The Wombles aside, there’s a number of non league sides that AFTN has been avidly following the fortunes of (for a wide variety of reasons) over the last few years: Cray Wanderers, Kingstonian, Metropolitan Police, Bath City, Newport County, FC United of Manchester, Durham FC and Guernsey FC to name a few.

The last couple of years, AFTN has made an annual pilgrimage back to the UK, not to see friends and family, but to catch some proper football matches.

We always take in a Fife game of course, but we’ve also been trying to get some non league groundhopping done too. Sadly this hasn’t happened this year, but we hope to be back over in April and May to get some end of season and playoff action in.

Maybe I’m some kind of football snob, but I just can’t understand why every football fan doesn’t love, appreciate and attend non league games when they can. In reverse, supporters of the Old Firm and the top English sides will wonder why I want to stand freezing my ass off in rundown surroundings, watching (arguably) inferior football, in front of a handful of people.

They don’t get it and I don’t get them. Neither party is likely to change anytime soon.

It’s been sad to see the spate of non league sides go to the wall in recent seasons. It’s just going to be an increasing trend I fear.

There’s the strange situation where non league football has been killed by the media, but now, more than ever, it needs the media to help it survive.

Sky changed the whole game of football in the UK, but it made far too many people only care about the Premiership and watching games from the comfort of their armchair, whilst they take in a never ending stream of slick graphics, replays and fancy technology.

Non league football needs the exposure that TV and radio can give it though to attract more people through the gates to support local football.

Those fans who have got out to see what non league football is all about have liked what they’ve seen and many have become hooked.

The game needs more fans to do this and it’s been fantastic to see the success of “Non League Day” the last couple of seasons.

It’s also been great to see non league football back on our screens through ESPN. Just a shame that it couldn’t have been picked up by one of the free to air channels, especially a terrestrial one.

Every bit of support counts though.

For me, being so far away from the action, one of the most important tools in recent season to keep me in touch with what’s happening in English non league football has been the BBC’s excellent Non League Football Show podcast.

The whole team have done a great job in bringing non league teams and their issues to the airwaves and to a wider audience.

The publicity they’ve brought to a number of issues have undoubtedly helped many clubs, and although often there has been nothing that can be done to help some plights, they also celebrates the highs of the minnows in FA Cup and League action.

”For the fans, by the fans.” is their tagline, and with host Caroline Barker being a life-long Chelmsford City supporter, it’s not a false claim.

The podcast is a must listen for me, and many others, every week, and I’m saddened to hear that the show is facing the axe from the BBC next year due to huge budget cuts in local radio.

It’s a dreadful situation, especially when you consider some of the absolute tripe that pains our ears every week. You would think that the BBC would actually want to keep and promote one of their few football shows that is not derivative.

Without the “Non League Show” we would not have been kept so well informed about the troubles that have affected a multitude of non league sides, such as Chester, Crawley, Wrexham and a host more.

Dave Anderson, Willie Wordsworth and Dave Watters always give insightful analysis of the pressing matters in the grassroots game and instead of getting rid of a show like this, we should be actively producing more.

As football fans, no matter who we support or what League our teams play in, we cannot allow this show to be axed.

When it was announced last month that the show was facing the axe, a Facebook page was immediately set up to show support, and currently has 1785 members.

The show is produced by BBC London, please take a minute to email them at: and let them know how important the ”Non League Football Show” is to grassroots football.

You can also alert the BBC Trust and make your feelings known, not just about the Non League Football Show but also the cuts that will be taking place in BBC radio in general, at:

Spread the word about saving the show on Twitter as well, using the hashtag #savethenonleagueshow.

In these days of monotonous unoriginality in football shows, The Non League Football Show is a breath of fresh air.

As the battle for real football lives on, let's hope the show isn't drawing its final breaths.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

AFTN are traditionalists. Any regular readers will know that.

You could describe us as grumpy old men, living in the past and not embracing change. Harking back to bygone days that may or may not have existed in quite the glowing light that our memories paint. We prefer to go with traditionalist!

One of those traditions that we have been known to harp on about is that football is meant to be played on grass and we don’t want any of those newfangled artificial pitches.

Ultimately, we still feel that way but our stance has most certainly melted, to the stage where we’re not sure whether there’s more of the snowman or more of a puddle.

I’m of the age that whenever anybody mentions “plastic pitch” to me, my immediate thoughts plunder my memory bank and throws out the horrendous pitches that existed at Stirling Albion’s Annfield Stadium in Scotland and the likes of QPR’s Loftus Road and Luton’s Kennilworth Lane in England.

I never experienced watching a live game at either of those venues south of the border, so that’s probably more media brainwashing with regards to those. I did though have the misfortunes of watching East Fife play at Stirling’s bouncy castle in the late 1980’s.

It was a horrible surface. A sickly green colour that produced uneven bounces and scraped shins and other extremities.

Opposition players hated playing on it, opposing fans hated watching games on it. It gave Stirling a bit of an advantage, playing on the darned thing every other week, but with the kind of bounces you were getting, it was still a bit of a lottery for both sides playing football on it.

Those days are past now, and in the past they must remain. For it’s a whole different ball game with the new, state of the art artificial surfaces that are out there.

So much so, that there’s currently a national debate raging on as to whether this is the only realistic way forward for lower league and non league sides the length and breadth of the UK, with cash strapped sides like Accrington Stanley convincingly arguing that it is.

Football clubs that currently have artificial pitches not only swear by them, many also put them down to keeping their very existence going.

There’s estimates that a Club with an artificial pitch can generate upwards of £100,000 in extra revenue each season. With so many clubs in serious financial peril right now, this is a potential godsend for them and not something that can be turned away.

It could be the difference between continuing to operate and going to the wall.

The installation of an artificial surface lets the pitch be used every day of the year if clubs wanted. It can be used on matchdays, it allows for better training facilities and it can give some sides a bit of a home field advantage.

It guarantees a perfect playing surface for every match, but even more importantly, it guarantees that the match is actually going to take place and bring in much needed revenue. No last minute postponement surprises and the financial worries that brings.

Add in use in all weather conditions, for hours at a time and the fact that it can be rented out to whoever, and it really does make financial sense for clubs to go down this route.

So why aren’t more doing it?

Well, there’s the large six figure cost involved to get the pitch in the first place (you’re looking at around £4-500,000 upwards).

Then there’s the rules that don’t allow it in some competitions (Football League, FA Cup, FA vase to name but three), even though the world’s governing body FIFA sanction their use.

There is still a stigma in the UK about such pitches. Many of us are a little bit stuck too much in our ways and need to embrace the future a little bit better.

These pitches are even commonplace in the likes of Spain. Another footballing hotbed, with passionate fans, but one which also has a better climate than what we’re stuck with in the UK! They go down alright over there.

You just have to look at the last two winters in the UK. Horrendous snow and frost decimated fixtures across the country for weeks upon weeks. Undersoil heating can only do so much and most can’t afford such a luxury anyway. This may make the surface playable, but it can’t do anything about the ruts and divots created by the weather.

East Fife have stated in the past that they were concerned about the sudden stop in vital cashflow, and the financial costs at this time of the year are horrendous for small clubs already struggling to survive.

Every fixture lost, can be another nail in the coffin for some.

East Fife have already talked about installing a state of the art artificial pitch in their proposed new mythical stadium.

When the initial announcement was made, there was a scream of “Noooooooooooooo” echoing around AFTN Towers. Now though, we’ve changed our mind.

Taking all the positive financial aspects out of the equation, what really turned my views round on this subject was experiencing a plastic pitch first hand watching Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer.

The Whitecaps moved into their new home, at the $563 million renovated BC Place, in October this year.

Since I began watching the Caps in 2007, they always played on a grass pitch at Swangard Stadium. The move to the “big leagues”, meant that this stadium was not an option and a temporary move was made to Empire Field before the permanent move to BC Place.

Empire Field sported an artificial turf and it was awful. The Caps players hated playing on it and actually went away and trained on grass in local parks most of the time. The pitch was also blamed for a number of niggling injuries that the squad endured this season past.

FC Dallas’ Daniel Hernandez can testify to just how crappy the pitch was, catching his studs in it and twisting his leg for a season ending knee injury.

So the warning lights must now be flashing with you and you’re questioning my sanity in saying that I’m warming to artificial pitches after these tales.

There are still some bad surfaces out there, where the problems of old still persist. Get one of the brand spanking new surfaces though, like what has been installed at BC Place, at a cost of around $1.2 million, and the difference is night and day.

The Whitecaps are playing on a new Polytan surface, said to be the closest thing to real grass and earning the highest possible rating from Fifa. It really is hard to tell. The bounces are natural, there’s been no injuries caused by the pitch so far, and the players have been very positive about playing on it.

The Whitecaps also secured two wins on the thing, which was rare enough in 2011!

I’ve slowly been won round.

Clubs need to get income generation from outside of their daily football operations to survive and artificial pitches will do that.

I’ll still always prefer grass, but let’s be honest here, how many clubs can afford to have lush, bowling green pitches these days?

If installing a plastic pitch is going to be the difference between my club, or any club, thriving or dying, then there can only be one decision made.

Let’s hope people like the FA come to same conclusion.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yesterday's sixteen Scottish Cup ties proved not to be happy hunting grounds for seven of the nine non league sides remaining in the tournament.

As we discussed on Tuesday, year upon year, the FA Cup still has an alluring quality around it, something seriously missing with its Scottish counterpart.

We've pondered in AFTN before as to why the Scottish Cup just never gives off such mystique.

Yesterday's ties basically showed you why.

Whereas the gap between non league and league opponents in England seems to narrow every season, in Scotland, the difference in quality between Scottish League clubs and most non league teams is massive.

Somewhat strangely, but also somewhat expectantly, the smallest gap is between the league sides and the top Junior outfits, demonstrated once again by the only two non league teams remaining coming from the Junior ranks.

All four of the Junior teams admitted to the Cup this season had made it to the Third Round.

Bo'ness United fell 3-0 at home to Division Two leaders Cowdenbeath, whilst Irvine Meadow were on the end of a 6-0 hammering from Division One high flyers Livingston.

Ayrshire Cup specialists, Auchinleck Talbot, were the only non league winners of the round, seeing off fellow non leaguers Vale of Leithen 3-1 at Beechwood Park.

The last of the four Junior teams, Culter from the SJFA North Superleague, were in the Third Round by default, having been reinstated by the SFA when Spartans were thrown out for fielding an ineligible player in their 2-0 Second Round victory.

They certainly made the most of their second chance, holding Division One strugglers Partick Thistle to a 1-1 draw in Peterculter.

The Junior teams apart, the non league sides have struggled once again this season in the competition.

In the Second Round, only Deveronvale ousted a League side, beating Berwick Rangers 4-0 at home. Two other sides, Fraserburgh and Buckie Thistle, took their Third Division opponents to a reply, but both fell short.

From East Fife's point of view, that was great news. Yesterday's Third Round Cup opponents, East Stirling, had dispatched Buckie 4-2 in their replay, and probably gave the Fife a much easier tie than the Highland Leaguers would have provided.

East Fife's 5-0 victory yesterday was five going on around 15. The Shire were one of the worst teams we've had at Bayview in a long time. Great for us, as we now find ourselves in Tuesday's draw and looking forward to hopefully another major Cup run.

The Fife's big win was great, but nothing compared to Airdrie United's embarrassing 11-0 demolition of East of Scotland side Gala Fairydean.

This was more than a league side steamrollering over their non league opponents. This was showing just how lacking in depth the Scottish non league set-up is.

Gala were one of the stronger non leaguers in this year's Cup. They had already banged in some goals themselves, thrashing fellow borders side Hawick Royal Albert 8-1 in the first round and Highland League outfit Golspie Sutherland 5-2 in round two.

I thought we'd seen the last of such hammerings being dished out by League teams at this round of the competition. They were commonplace when I was a lad.

Fluke result? Or another sign that if Scottish football is to develop and grow, we need to have a strong non league system producing quality young players to come through the ranks through a properly organised pyramid system?

East Fife have never lost to non league opposition in the Scottish Cup in their entire history. Many have tried, all have failed.

Let's just hope that we avoid Auchinleck Talbot in the fourth round to keep that record intact.

The Ayrshire men are going to be the team many want to avoid.

At least one side is keeping the non league magic alive in this season's Scottish Cup.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A remarkable event occurred last Saturday.

No, a Cowden fan didn’t have a shower, that would just be ludicrous. Almost as ridiculous was the fact that Fort William FC actually won a game.

Not only did The Fort get their first three point haul of the season, they also did it away from home, beating the unfortunate Rothes 2-1 at Mackessack Park. That’s a stat that the Speysiders don’t want to have on their record books this season.

The win took Fort William’s points tally to the season up to four, after eleven games. Only 28 points behind league leaders Forres Mechanics now!

As terrible as they are, they weren’t even bottom of the Highland League before this win!

It’s been a long few years if you’re a Fort William fan.

I’ve always kept my eye on them since they joined the Highland League for the 1985/86 season. I still have a lot of their programmes from their debut season. I even got to see East Fife play a pre-season friendly up at Claggan Park in 2000, and they made us very welcome.

They’ve never done great, and have never finished in the top half of the table. Their best season came in their second season, when they finished 11th.

In the last fifteen seasons, they’ve finished bottom on a staggering eleven occasions and, on occasion, by some margin.

The 2008-09 season, in particular, was an all-time low for the Club. Their 28 game record read Won 0, Drawn 1, Lost 27, for a grand total of one point, the lowest points total ever recorded in the Highland League and I would think in any other mid-level league as well.

We’ve featured Fort William in AFTN before, when an American project to take ownership and have fans around the world fund and run the Club was proposed, billing the Club as "America's Team".

Sadly, like most of Fort William’s seasons, it’s come to nothing and the project seems as dead as The Fort’s Highland League Championship hopes.

I don’t really know what it is about the Club that has made them so bad. Maybe their distance from the core of the other Highland League sides, and the closer proximity of top Junior teams, makes it harder to attract the quality players.

For most recent seasons, the Club have had no real peers in the League.

That changed in 2009, when new kids on the block, Strathspey Thistle, joined the Highland League.

Since then, the last three seasons have seen the two sides battle it out for the morale boosting second bottom spot, with both keen to avoid the “Worst Football Club In The Country” tag.

Strathspey had that dubious distinction in their Highland League debut season of 2009/10, when they finished seven points adrift at the bottom.

Last season, Thistle took the avoiding the tag honours, finishing 17th with a total of ten points, one ahead of the hapless Fort William. Both sides recorded just two wins the whole season, with Strathspey finishing with a goal difference of a whopping minus 94 and Fort William with one of a staggering minus 112.

This season has just been a disaster for both teams so far, culminating in their meeting on November 5th at Claggan Park.

Going in to that game both sides had no wins, no draws and no points from their combined total of 21 Highland League matches played.

Something had to give. Someone had to have at least a point by the end of the afternoon.

It was perhaps fitting then that the game ended as a 2-2 draw, with both sides getting their first points of the season and the game garnering much interest the length and breadth of the UK.

The only thing better for both Clubs would be getting their first actual wins of the season and Fort William did just that at Rothes last Saturday.

Danny Mackintosh gave The Fort a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute with, literally, a toe poke. The visitors then doubled their lead with a minute of the half remaining through a fantastic 25 yard free kick into the postage stamp corner from Sean Ellis.

When Rothes pulled a goal back through Stuart Massie with seven minutes remaining, it was real backs to the wall stuff for Fort William, as they hardly had a possession stat to their name in those closing moments.

They held on though and secured a famous victory, to leave Strathspey Thistle as the only winless team in the country, going down 3-1 at home to Fraserburgh the same afternoon.

Fort William manager Danny Conlon was pleased with the progress his team are making:

”We were a wee bit nervous as we are not used to being in the lead.

Defensively we have only lost eight goals in our last five games, Mike has been working really hard on the training ground on the shape and positional sense of the back four and midfield four and we can see the rewards of that.

Before the last two games I felt that if we got 4 points I would be happy so I am delighted with that. It is a long road, I think we are going in the right direction but it all takes time for it to fit into place.

We are working hard, every game I ask for a bit of progress and look for the boys to push on from previous games. Other than in the first half v Strathspey we have done that.”

The current table in the battle not to be the worst of the worst, now sees Fort William with four points and a goal difference of minus 31, to sit in 17th place. Strathspey just have that one solitary point and a goal difference of minus 33.

Both sides can take a bit of hope from looking at Brora Rangers, who are sitting third bottom with ten points, having played more games than both sides below them and having the worst goal difference in the Highland League, at minus 36.

AFTN is full of admiration for both of these sides struggles. It can’t be easy for everyone at the club to turn out and play, manage or support these sides week in, week out.

These are true football people. No glory hunters in sight.

You should remember this the next time you moan about your own club’s plight. Better still, if you find yourself in or near Fort William or Grantown-On-Spey, get along to Claggan Park or Seafield Park and lend your support to these perennial strugglers.

This is real football.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Last weekend was one of my favourite times of the football season.

The first round of the FA Cup is just a magical time, and although this year didn’t produce a plethora of cup shocks by the minnows, it did produce some cracking games, goals and highlights.

763 teams will take part in the Cup this season, by the time the big guns come in to the mix in January.

After months of qualifying games, the first round proper saw 32 non league teams taking part, including eight all non league ties. 17 non league teams now proudly take their place in the second round draw, including the lowest ranked team in round one, Redbridge, but how many will be there once all the replays are decided?

The Ryman League Division One North side, now face a replay against fellow non-leaguers Oxford City for that place in round two and a visit to high-flying, and big spending, Crawley Town.

Another side to watch for in the replays is Stourbridge. You would think that scoring three goals away to ten man Plymouth would have been enough to see them advance, but they conceded a heartbreaking late equaliser, albeit from a cracking goal.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this year’s FA Cup is the number of teams in the draw that have fought back from not just the brink of extinction, but the actual death of the original club itself.

Sadly, in this modern age, the number of clubs having to be wound up and start all over again is growing each year. Seeing the likes of AFC Telford United, FC Halifax Town and, of course, AFC Wimbledon, is inspiration to all football fans who agonisingly see their club die in front of their eyes.

One of the results/highlights I was particularly looking forward to seeing on Saturday was that of Bradford Park Avenue. It’s a name I know from my childhood programme collecting days. Great to see them back. Not so great seeing them get two men sent off and thumped by an amazing 8-1 scoreline by fellow Tier 7 minnows AFC Totton, from the Southern League Premier Division.

My full interest in the FA Cup seldom lasts past round four these days. Even rounds one and two have a slightly less shock appeal than previously.

The gap between the top Conference sides and League Two opposition seems to narrow more each year. League One teams, on the whole, do provide a much sterner test for their non league counterparts. The gulf between the bottom two divisions of English League football does seem to be a step too far for many.

Fleetwood Town beating Wycombe Wanderers, and deservedly, is still a shock, but one which we, and many others, expected.

Even when you see some heavy defeats like the 4-0 ones suffered by Alfreton Town and FC Halifax Town, the scorelines on paper don’t convey the full story of what played out on the pitch.

It was great to see so many of the games broadcast live, or in full on delay, across the world. I did wonder what the American public must have thought when they tuned in Fox Soccer to watch Alfreton Town on Saturday morning.

I loved it. Perfect setting, perfect atmosphere, perfect weather. Just a shame the result wasn't different.

There were some real grounds of character on display and a fair few I want to see on a groundhopping trip at some point in the future.

You can stick Maidenhead United’s York Road ground on that list. It was amazing to think that you were watching TV pictures from a ground that first hosted a FA Cup tie 140 years ago after the club moved there in 1871.

Halifax Town may have risen from the ashes of the original club, but they still play at the Shay and it’s a cracking ground worthy of hosting League football once again.

There’s just something special about seeing any old ground that still has terracing these days.

I always regret not doing more groundhopping when I lived in the UK, especially since some of the grounds that I’d have loved to have seen, like Chesterfield’s Saltergate (another ground that was first used in 1871), are sadly no more.

The usual thing I guess. You don’t realise all the great things on your doorstep till you move away.

Non league football is such a thing with me as well. I always loved it. Watched East Fife on numerous pre-season jaunts to some weird and wonderful places, but never explored all the possibilities fully, due mainly to following the Fife around the country every Saturday.

One thing that’s definitely on my bucket list though is taking some time to watch the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup one year. Right from the very start in August.

Anyone who has read the excellent Real FA Cup website can't want anything else.

One year...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Having claimed the scalps of Scottish Premier League sides Dunfermline and Aberdeen in the previous two rounds, Second Division East Fife went in to tonight’s Scottish League Cup Quarter Final, at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park, with nothing to fear.

East Fife are three times winners of the trophy, but tonight was to be their first national quarter final tie for 39 years and they wanted to make the most of it.

Several hundred fans made the cross country midweek trip, hoping to see another Cup upset from their black and gold heroes and evoke memories of the Fife’s greatest moment – when they defeated Kilmarnock in the 1938 Scottish Cup Final to become the first, and still only, side from outwith the top tier to lift the trophy.

East Fife kicked off the game in front of a very vocal Bayview faithful.

Kilmarnock had the first effort of the game when Liam Kelly shot high and over, from long range.

East Fife certainly didn’t look overawed by their SPL opponents and started to take the game to Kilmarnock, winning the first corner of the game in the 5th minute.

The home side started to turn up the pressure on their lower league visitors and Mark Ridgers had to get down well to save at his near post from Gary Harkins in the 9th minute.

Moments later, Killie had another chance to open the scoring, with the dangerous Paul Heffernan firing narrowly wide.

East Fife weren’t overawed though and Ryan Wallace had a long range effort go just wide in the 15th minute.

The Fife had a lucky escape in the 20th minute when Heffernan broke clear and outpaced the Fife defence before trying to round Mark Ridgers in the Fife goal.

The Bayview stopper did well to force the Irishman wide, allowing the Fife defence to get back and clear the danger.

East Fife came right back and Ryan Wallace broke clear but didn’t have the support to break the deadlock, midway through the half.

There was little to choose between the two sides, with Kilmarnock looking dangerous on the break, but East Fife were having success with the long ball and running at the Killie defence.

The game was becoming a little bit dreary as a pure footballing spectacle, but the on loan Dean Shiels had a chance for the home side in the 37th minute, firing wide from a good position in the box, after some neat build up play by Harkins.

As the game entered the two minutes of stoppage time as disaster struck for East Fife, in what was to prove to be the turning point of the match.

Robert Ogleby went in hard from behind on Rory McKeown, and as the Killie player rolled around in agony, the other Killie players surrounded the referee and after a long delay, the referee eventually produced a second yellow card and sent off Ogleby.

As boos echoed round Rugby Park at the half time whistle, East Fife went in happy with their performance. but knowing that they would have a huge mountain to climb with ten men.

Kilmarnock’s half time team talk must really have kicked some asses, as they came out for the second half all guns blazing.

A Fife defender turned a cross dangerously over the bar, before Danny Buijs hit a strike just over, two minutes in.

The East Fife defence was under intense pressure and Matthew Park hit a cross over the bar that could have gone anywhere, as Kilmarnock went for the jugular.

The home side came the closest yet in the 51st minute, when Heffernan rattled a fierce strike off the post, and the Fife travelling support breathed a huge sigh of relief.

East Fife showed that they could still be a danger though and Wallace saw an effort deflected for a corner after 53 minutes. John Ovenstone had a great chance from the resultant corner, but headed over when anywhere on target could have caused serious problems.

The ten men from Methil withstood the initial bout of Killie pressure and settled back into their game, playing with the passion and organisation of a full strength side.

Kilmarnock seemed devoid of ideas, but substitute David Silva nearly sparked them into life in the 68th minute, hitting inches over.

The deadlock was eventually broken in the 73rd minute when Ridgers failed to hold a Killie corner and Udinese loanee Mahamadou Sissoko was there to bury it from close range and give the SPL side the lead.

After the goal, all you could hear were the Fife supporters, as they tried to lift their black and gold heroes back into the game.

With East Fife having to push forward in search of an equaliser, there were going to be gaps at the back for the Bayview men and Silva nearly exploited one, forcing Ridgers into a great save from a left footed volley with fourteen minutes remaining.

The introduction of Silva had given Kilmarnock some impetus and the Portugese midfielder hit the post with ten minutes remaining.

If the outcome of the game was still in any doubt then Gary Harkins saw an end to that a minute later.

Harkins ran on to a long ball and clinically gave Ridgers no chance to give Killie their second and seal the win.

With the East Fife travelling support chanting “2-0 to the referee”, all that was left for East Fife was to play for pride and try and keep the score to the brace.

And that they did, as Killie were happy to see the game out and claim a semi final berth.

The final whistle signalled an end to a wonderful Cup run for East Fife that saw them claim two well deserved victories over SPL sides and reach their first national quarter-final in a generation.

The guys did themselves and the fans proud tonight and in the previous games. We now need to build on this and make a concerted push for at least a Division Two playoff spot.

The players showed on this Cup run just what a good squad we have at Bayview right now. Who knows where the rest of the season will take us.

Mon the Fife.

FINAL SCORE: Kilmarnock 2 – 0 East Fife


KILMARNOCK: Anssi Jaakkola, Alex Pursehouse, Mahamadou Sissoko, Manuel Pascali, Rory McKeown (Garry Hay 46), James Fowler (James Dayton 83), Danny Buijs, Liam Kelly (David Silva 59), Dean Shiels, Gary Harkins, Paul Heffernan [Subs Not Used: Kyle Letheren, Zdenek Kroca]

EAST FIFE: Mark Ridgers, Scott Durie, John Ovenstone, David White, Matthew Park, Darren Smith (Paul McQuade 83), Bobby Linn, David Muir, Robert Sloan (Craig Johnstone 54), Robert Ogleby, Ryan Wallace [Subs Not Used: Michael Brown, Andrew Cook, Steven Hislop]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Heartache and heartbreak.

Two components that come with being a member of the Tartan Army.

You have to give credit to the 15,000 plus Scotland fans that made the trip to Spain.

Scotland were playing a team who had not lost a World Cup or Euro qualifier in 26 matches, had won their last 13 competitive games, had 22 wins in a row on Spanish soil, and had never lost a match in the host city of Alicante.

A victory was never on the cards. A draw was equally as unlikely, but you never know in football.

Although after the first six minute's of yesterday's match, I think we all knew!

Pre-game, the fear was there that we would get hammered. After David Silva's first goal, I really thought the floodgates would open.

The fact they didn't is testament of Scotland's grit, but it was really men against boys out there. We were completely outclassed on that pitch.

The 3-1 defeat, coupled with the Czech's rather fantastic 4-1 win in Lithuania, sent another qualification death knell to Scotland.

That's going to be 14 years and 7 major tournaments that Scotland haven't been at the party. A whole generation don't know the feeling of cheering on Scotland in World Cup or Euros finals. It's enough to bring a tear to a glass eye.

When you look at Scotland's difficult 2014 World Cup qualification section, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Our current crop of players are simply not good enough. That's one of the main reasons we find ourselves in this sad situation today.

Sure there were the unlucky breaks and the downright cheating of the diving Czech penalty at Hampden. Every team has those in a campaign. You just need to make sure that you've done enough before and after these incidents so that they don't actually affect the outcome. That we didn't do.

Craig Levein's tactics leave a lot to be desired and I am VERY disappointed that he has no plans on stepping down at the end of this campaign. We have shown no real progress during this campaign and the buck stops firmly at his door.

We will never forget that embarrassing 4-6-0 line up against the Czechs that cost us any points over there last year, no matter how much he clearly wants to not talk about it.

That cost us more dearly than the 2-2 debacle at Hampden. It cost us points, respect and any reputation we had left.

There have been some glimpses of hope for the future. Some of the guys coming through look like they have the ability to lift the downhearted spirits.

Craig Mackail-Smith could be the man to lift us out of our neverending lull. He looks the real deal. I've been watching him do the business for the last few season's and on his current form, he could lift Brighton to an unlikely and unexpected Premiership spot by the end of the season.

He can't do it on his own though. Put in average around him and that's how he looks too.

It's great that so many Scots are playing in the English Premiership. They need to regularly play against some of the best players in the world to have any hope of developing their own personal game and competing on the international stage. Get our top guys out of the sham that is the SPL.

When you looked at our bench against Spain last night, there was nothing there that made you excited that we had a game changer to shake things up if/when we needed it.

That's our big weakness right now - depth. It's just not there.

How we get it on the other hand is a whole different ballgame in itself.

But we need to find it. And soon. Or we will forever be stuck in with the minnows in future draws and have any small hopes we have of qualifications extinguished altogether.

We need to rise up and be a competitive footballing nation again - before it's too late and beyond fixing.

The hard work needs to start today.

Friday, September 23, 2011

So many emotions were going through my head with East Fife’s massive win against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in the Third Round of the Scottish League Cup on Tuesday evening.

The main one was, argggggghhhh, I so wish I was there!

I hope that those who were savoured the moment fully. I’ve not been so envious at missing out on a match since the last round!

It’s not easy being an exile when the Fife are playing bad. Following the results in text form online, wondering what went wrong, were we just unlucky or simply outplayed?

It’s even worse when they’re doing great and producing Cup shocks, as they are rarer!

Tuesday's game was particularly hard as I was stuck in a new building at work which has no internet access yet and I have a PAYG phone with no data plan. Agony!

The first of me having any indication as to the famous victory was a tweet from a mate wondering why I hadn't been on Twitter crowing about the win. At that point, I couldn't wait to get home to find out exactly what had happened and was checking within seconds of getting in the door!

As a hardcore fan, the anguish (and the joy) is pretty much the same whether you saw it play out with your own eyes or not. The love and passion never dies.

I’ve watched East Fife since 1984, from when I was allowed to travel through to scary Methil on my own. My first ever live East Fife game was the Scottish Cup replay win against Hibs at Bayview. You could say it's been pretty much downhill since!

I would probably argue that Tuesday's win against Aberdeen is in fact an even bigger one than that against Hibs - especially since we were away from home and currently languishing at the bottom of the heap in the Second Division.

There’s been highs, there’s been lows and there’s been even darker than that since my love affair started. Results like the Dunfermline one last month only come along once in a while. To now have two giantkilling feats in consecutive rounds is tremendous and who knows, there may be more to come.

Yesterday's quarter final draw wasn't what we had hoped for.

A home tie was the particular hope. I was happy to avoid Celtic, Hibs and Dundee United. I would have loved St Mirren or Ayr. They were my first two choices with Falkirk and Kilmarnock battling it out for choices three and four.

With the Bairns already having put one over on us in the Challenge Cup, I would probably have put Killie in at number 3 and that's who we've got in our first League Cup quarter final in 39 years.

A whole generation, probably two, have never experienced the Fife in a major Cup quarter final. Now we have the chance and the tie is definitely winnable.

A trip to Rugby Park is never top of most fans' dream ties. They will be hard to beat, but I think we've adequately shown in the last two rounds that SPL opposition hold no fear for us.

If we play with the passion and belief that we have in the last two rounds then we can definitely win this tie and then who knows, a Hampden trip and a semi final against the Buddies or Killie's Ayrshire rivals could be our reward. Another winnable tie.

Obviously we can't get too far ahead of ourselves.

Killie won't underestimate us and neither will they be too unhappy at the draw they've got. They will be very confident, but so should we. A giantkilling trilogy is firmly in our grasp.

Robbo will have the players fired up and what's important is that we take as big a travelling support through to Kilmarnock as possible. Never easy for a long midweek trip, but who knows when we will have the opportunity to play at this stage of the competition again, especially with the ridiculous seeding the SFL have put in place.

The players, to a man, deserve all the plaudits they can get for the last two games. They have done the legendary Cup tradition of East Fife proud. They are a credit to the jersey and have already written their names into Bayview folklore.

I truly believe that they will add to their legacy even further come the end of October, but whatever happens, they’ve made us all very proud to be East Fife fans and to call them our black and gold heroes.

It looks highly unlikely that I will be able to make the trip over. If the game was a week later then I could.

I'll definitely be there for the semi though!

Mon the Fife.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arguably the greatest East Fife win of modern times, here's the full penalty shoot-out and post match celebrations from East Fife's win against Aberdeen in the Third Round of the Scottish League Cup at Pittodrie on Tuesday evening.

The match finished 3-3 at the end of normal time. There were no further goals in extra time, before East Fife won the dramatic penalty shoot out 4-3 to clinch their first League Cup quarter final spot in 39 years...

Kilmarnock now await in the quarters at the end of next month.

Will the Fife's giantkilling run continue? Two down already.

No fear.

Mon the Fife.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Apologies once again for being so quiet in the blog. Need to get that rectified and back to normal again soon.

A lack of time between writing AFTN Canada and a weekly online column for Vancouver Metro, coupled with work, vacations and following Vancouver Whitecaps around North America have taken its toll!

Although this blog was meant to be the main AFTN blogging output, the Canadian one has proved to be more popular and has been building up a bigger and stronger readership every week, so more efforts were put in to that to the detriment of this blog.

It's also meant that last season and this, I've not been able to write for the East Fife programme, but I also hope to rectify that soon and get back to doing some features and player interviews.

Although East Fife are sitting bottom of the League, the Cup wins show that the signs are there that this could be a very exciting season for the Fife and we want to be there blogging about that and general footballing topics.

In the meantime, I've had a couple of ideas for new features, penned by different guest writers.

If you're interested in doing some writing for AFTN then drop me an email at

Cheers and we'll hopefully start everything getting back into a bit of the old swing of things this week!

We also hope to work on main AFTN website over the next few months as well, all ready for a New Year relaunch.

Also we really need to get the main AFTN Twitter account in full flow.

Stay tuned and follow us in preparation!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The 2011/12 Premiership season gets underway tomorrow.

I have to say that I'm finding it hard to get an interest this season.

My English team from when I was about 6 years old, West Ham, played terrible last time and got deservedly relegated. My other bright lights from last season, Blackpool, have also gone. What am I meant to do now??!

Since my other English loves, AFC Wimbledon, are still a few years away from the cash cow, it's hard to focus on anything but League Two and the Championship.

None of the Premiership's promoted teams really do it for me, although I will find myself cheering on Swansea City. Celtic brethren and all that.

All that said, it hasn't stopped us running our annual AFTN Premiership Fantasy Football League!

It helps keep my interest and watching, and for those of you whose teams are playing in the Premiership and for those of you who just love it, it's an added bonus and a lot of fun.

We've gone with the official game this year, so as to harvest our readers from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

Everyone is welcome to take part, no matter what team you support. In fact, the more the merrier. So tell everyone you know, that AFTN is the place to go.

You can sign up any time, although we will close our private league off to new entrants by the end of August. To get off to the best possible start, make sure your team is entered before the first game kicks off tomorrow.

You have £115 million to spend and a squad of 15 to assemble, so get cracking!

You can sign up at

Once you've picked your team, you need to enter the AFTN Private League. The code for that is 1010555-240491.

We'll hopefully come up with a prize for the winner at the end of the season, and will post regular updates on the AFTN Forum.

Good luck!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

There's been so many times when I've gone ballistic at a referee. If you're a football fan, it's almost impossible not to have lost it.

If you think the refs are bad in Scotland and the rest of the UK, you should try seeing what they're like in MLS in Canada and the US. That takes ineptitude to a whole new level.

I'm sure we've all seen countless fans losing it. Some players too, but always with a bit of restraint and keeping it to the verbal abuse variety.

There's been a few exceptions.

Who can forget Paolo Di Canio shoving the aptly named referee Paul Alcock when playing for Sheffield Wednesday?

If you have, or have never seen it, then here it is...

A more theatrical fall on the football field would be hard to find. Di Canio got an 11 match ban and a £10,000 fine for that.

Quite mild from one of my all time favourite players and nothing compared to what happens in this Pakistan Premier League football match between the Pakistan Army and Afghan FC Chaman on July 26th.

Afghan FC were leading 2-1 with 15 minutes remaining, when the Army players lost it with the ref...

Let's just be thankful that Army guy didn't have a gun on him!

[*** Thanks to Football Pakistan for bringing this to our attention ***]

Monday, June 27, 2011

You're not an East Fife fan because you like the glory. Underachievements and relegations have been commonplace in my 28 years of watching the team I love.

I can't imagine what it must have been like as a fan of the Fife in the late 40's and early 50's, when going out at the semi final stage of a major Cup competition was a disappointing result.

It's those glory days that give us belief, hope and expectations and when any success does come along, like the Division Three Championship in 2007/08, it makes those days all the more special.

That's why I love my team and that's why I'll always support them. Those footballing highs and lows have made me the supporter I am today.

If you're a fan of the famous Argentinian club River Plate today, you're experiencing some emotions and despair that are shockingly new to you.

I've never taken much interest in South American club football save for You Tube clips of insane riots and spectacular goals. Several clubs are familiar names but I've never grown up watching any of the games and have no interest in any of the teams.

River Plate's plight this season certainly caught my attention though and yesterday they were relegated to the second tier of Argentinian football for the first time in their 110 year history.

The phrase "how the mighty have fallen" doesn't even begin to do justice to what has happened to one of Argentina's top and most famous of clubs.

Club Atletico River Plate were formed in 1901 and have won a record 33 Argentinian Primera Division League titles (the last of which was just in 2008) and five international titles, including two Copa Libertadores.

Just what went wrong to cause this fall of a true South American giant?

That's the question the fans want the answer to. For neutrals looking in, it all seems so improbable.

To make things worse for the River Plate fans, there may be no easy answers.

River Plate are Argentinian football through and through. Of their 36 man squad, only two were from outside of Argentina. They hit a slump at the wrong time and the team failed to record a win in their last seven Primera Division games.

That run saw them fall into the relegation/promotion playoff place and facing a two legged match with Club Atletico Belgrano.

Belgrano had finished 4th in the National B Division and were looking to play in the top tier for only the fourth spell in their 106 year history.

River Plate were still expected to get themselves out of the hole they had dug themselves in to but were stunned by a 2-0 defeat in the first leg in Cordoba.

With over 50,000 expected in Buenos Aires when they hosted the second leg, there was still more concern than panic stations, as the giants were expected to get at least the two goals they needed to preserve their top tier safety.

I watched the game at 'El Monumental' unfold yesterday and it was an intense and nervy atmosphere from the off. It was also electric for the neutral at home.

When Mariano Pavone opened the scoring for River Plate just six minutes in, it looked like Belgrano would fold in the red hot atmosphere and things would play out as expected.

Despite pressure from the home side, the game remained 1-0 as it reach half-time, but the home crowd were stunned into a mix of silence and tears in the 62nd minute when Belgrano's Guillermo Farre equalised, sending their travelling support into ecstatic scenes.

Pavone then went from hero to villain for River Plate as he had a penalty brilliantly saved in the 70th minute.

With River Plate's fate almost sealed, things within the stadium turned nasty. I would expect nothing less to be honest from what I've seen in the past.

Fans invaded the pitch, police fired back with water cannons and the match was abandoned in the 89th minute.

As the Belgrano players couldn't even get to celebrate with their brave travelling support and had to be ushered off the pitch under a hail of missiles, the River Plate players were reduced to tears as the realisation sank in.

We, as fans, often decry players for not showing passion for our club. The River Plate players certainly showed that they were hurting. I'm sure wondering what the fans were going to do to them also added to those emotions!

The violence continued outside of the stadium after the game, with fans clashing with riot police and several injuries being reported.

As a fan of the underdog, it was great to see Belgrano pull off the shock.

Everyone will be talking about River Plate today but we should also be talking about Belgrano as what they achieved was truly tremendous.

With River Plate rumoured to be around $19 million in debt, the quick return the fans demand may not be forthcoming, as top players will most likely need to be sold.

Aren't you glad that East Fife haven't had 109 years of glory and top flight football?! Must get boring.

The River Plate fans might enjoy their spell in the second tier. Although judging by the post game riots, maybe not.

I'd still rather be an East Fife supporter!


Here's some videos of the day...

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's Friday.

That means Friday Fun in AFTN and what better fun can you have than to laugh at a goalkeeping mistake from an English keeper?!

Sometimes I curse my luck that I have two teams to follow now on the international stage that are both under achievers at the big tournaments - Scotland and Canada.

Once in a while they give you something to shout about and the Canadian under-17's have done just that at this month's U17 World Cup in Mexico.

Step forward goalkeeper Quillan Roberts, who scored this fantastically hilarious goal in Wednesday's group game against England:

The look of disbelief on Roberts face is priceless. He really doesn't know what to do to celebrate the historic moment!

What is even more remarkable in this story is that Roberts is the back up keeper and was only playing after the first choice goalie was injured towards the end of the first group game against Uruguay.

As for English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, he can console himself as now being in the same category as English goalkeeping "greats" like David Seaman, David James and Rob Green when it comes to fucking up in major matches.

Good old England. They never let us down!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scotland's team at the 2011 Cerebral Palsy World Cup are doing the nation proud.

The Scottish team finished second in Group B, after a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Canada in their final group game.

The win came on the back of a 10-0 trashing of Finland two days earlier, as the team bounced back from an opening 5-0 loss to Ukraine in some style.

Here's some highlights of the game in the CPISRA Daily new broadcast from the tournament where it was picked as the 'Match of the Day':

The 2011 CPISRA World Championships are being held from June 17th to July 1st in the Netherlands and they act as the qualifiers for next year's Paralympics in London. With England already crashing out, it looks like Scotland should be at the Paralympics in 2012.

CP football was founded in 1978 and has been part of the Paralympics since 1984, with the World Cup being held every four years. The 2007 finals were held in Brazil, with Russia beating Iran 2-1 in the final and Scotland coming a very respectable 6th.

Matches are 7-a-side, with two thirty minute halves and those competing are affected by non-progressive brain damage such as cerebral palsy, severe head trauma and strokes. There are four different classifications of disability within the criteria and there are restrictions and rules on how many players from each criteria can be on the pitch at any given time.

The Scots now face Brazil in the quarter finals and that in itself will be a daunting task.

The Brazilians drew their first match 2-2 against the host Holland, but then came roaring back with two 10-0 thumpings of Australia and Spain.

You can follow all of the Scotland team's fortunes on the official tournament website.

Good luck to the guys on Saturday. Bring home the World Cup for Scotland.
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