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Another battle has broken out in the energy war. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors, and the government, with a promise to freeze its electricity prices until 2016.

SSE LogoSo the old Scottish dam-builders, and their electricity board comrades in the south of England and Wales, have challenged the other five companies in Britain’s energy business to match their offer. And they’ve challenged the Coalition government by showing that Labour’s price freeze idea can work.

Meanwhile the market regulator OFGEM has cast a smokescreen across the whole battle field by recommending an 18-month long investigation into the whole business of energy supplies by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Jackie Baillie MSP Called for an energy price freeze

Jackie Baillie MSP
Called for an energy price freeze

The issue was top of the agenda at the Scottish Parliament when Labour’s Jackie Baillie challenged the first minister Alex Salmond to admit that a price freeze was the best way to protect households from ever-rising fuel bills. “Will he change his mind or will he continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in opposing a price freeze ?” she asked, three times.

Mr Salmond said the SNP government in Scotland was already cutting fuel bills by £70 a year by agreeing to switch the renewables subsidies from energy bills to general taxation. He went on to welcome the competition inquiry but pointedly added that it should include an examination of the “massive subsidy” being given to the nuclear industry.

To me, it all seems like another case of political cowardice by all the parties concerned. The cruel fact is that energy costs are going to rise as the world becomes more industrialised and more populated. Of course the public complain about it – and a quarter of Scottish households are being pushed into “fuel poverty” – but the cruel fact remains. It would be better if the politicians accepted the fact of rising prices and encouraged people to use less energy.

The Big Six  Competition investigation

The Big Six
Competition investigation

Instead, all political parties are behaving like medieval witch-hunters and are hell bent on roasting the “big six” energy companies at the stake. The very fact that there are six of them, many of them global companies, indicates that there is no monopoly. The competition inquiry will be hard pushed to find any other large-scale industry which is more competitive. Britain actually has some of the lowest energy prices in Europe. They went up just 4 per cent last year, not a great deal more than inflation. The average household bill is £1,260 a year. The profits of the energy companies are running at around 5 per cent, not a lot considering the amount of capital invested.

SSE, for instance, has invested more in energy projects and its distribution network than it made in profit in each of the last five years. But now it has given in to political and consumer pressure and been forced into a price freeze which means it can no longer continue its wave and tide development programme. It’s all so short-term and so short-sighted.

If you think the energy companies are behaving badly, consider the banks. We had another example of their cavalier approach to their customers this week in the case of North Sea oil worker Richard Durkin. He bought a computer from PC World in Aberdeen with the help of a credit agreement for £1500 with HFC Bank, part HSBC. The following day he took it back, realising it did not contain an internal modem. But the bank continued to collect his monthly payments and when he fell behind, they put him on a credit blacklist which he could not challenge.

Price of a returned laptop £250,000

Price of a returned laptop

Not only is this a scandal, but the legal system has taken 16 years to clear the matter up – finally awarding him £8,000 in damages at the Supreme Court in London. Mind you, Mr Durkin could have settled for £116,000 damages in Aberdeen Sheriff Court back in 2008 but he chose to challenge that ruling, saying the amount was too little. He reckons the litigation has cost him £250,000, leaving him a little rueful. “I’ve got mixed feelings,” he said. “But I’m glad I’ve helped the greater good with a consumer victory.”

This week the golfing authorities, almost as fast moving as the legal system, have entered the 21st century. The governing committee at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews has written to its 2,500 gentlemen members urging them to vote in favour of admitting women to the club for the first time in its 260 year history. The vote – in person only – takes place on 18th September this year. And if that date seems familiar, it’s the day Scotland decides whether it wants to remain part of Club GB or perfect its golf swing on its own.

Celtic Football Club, meanwhile, is wondering if it is to continue playing on its own or whether it can compete in a new mini-European league which has just been given the go-ahead by UEFA. It won the Premiership title with seven games to spare when it beat Partick Thistle 5-1on Tuesday night. Its arch rival Rangers still have a year’s probation to serve in the Championship league after their financial collapse and this week we learnt they are still making a loss of £3.5m a year. All this, I’m sure is worth discussing more, but I’ve run out of this week’s supply of energy.

The conclusion to Scotland’s Six Nations campaign was instantly forgettable, a bit like Dan Biggar’s short-term memory after Lions full-back Stuart Hogg caught the Welshman with a cheap forearm smash that was more Hulk Hogan than Kenny Logan.

Stuart Hogg (Pic: Glasgow Warriors)

Stuart Hogg
(Pic: Glasgow Warriors)

Not surprisingly, referee Jerome Garces decided that Hogg was going off, yellow carding him before making it red on review, a decision no-one could complain about.

In changing his mind, with hindsight but mostly with the assistance of the video replay, Garces highlighted wonderfully the benefit of a review process at the highest level of sport. The risk of a bad call on the vast majority of occasions is taken out of rugby, American football, cricket and tennis, simply by using the technology to hand.

If only football would embrace the concept, how many dubious, game changing decisions would be eliminated from what is the biggest sport in the world. But then, those who officiate in soccer don’t make mistakes, do they?

The first Grand Prix of the new Formula 1 season takes place in Australia and is, for a change drama-packed with breakdowns and retirements galore.

This was in the main due to the race being the first competitive run for the new 2014 specification cars, with the biggest and most noticeable change coming in the engine noise the cars make. I’m surprised people are critical of the sound, given that from my own experiences around F1, the first thing sponsors provide is a set of ear plugs!

Rangers progress, finally, to the semi-finals for the Scottish Cup, seeing off that mish-mash of tax inspectors, Asda staff and tradesmen that collectively are known as Albion Rovers.

Albion Rovers  Donated £10,000 to charity

Albion Rovers
Donated £10,000 to charity

The Coatbridge side kindly donated £10,000 of their hard earned wealth to Radio Clyde’s Cash For Kids appeal, a generous act, though I for one would have fully understood if they’d kept the money for one of the many rainy days that sweeps over that part of North Lanarkshire, by which I mean Cliftonhill.

The ground has changed little, or maybe that should be not at all, since I first clapped eyes on it in the late 60’s, watching St Ninian’s in the final of some Lanarkshire schools tournament.

Little had been upgraded or updated (thankfully) by the time my next memorable experience came, in the mid-80’s, which meant breaking out of the stadium having been locked in by the ‘jovial’ groundsman after overstaying my welcome while trying to make various newspaper deadlines as the local ‘stringer.’

Back to the present, and Rovers offered little in the way of resistance or threat as they had done a week before at Ibrox, which I was reliably informed, was down to the majority of their players having worked an eight-hour shift.

That isn’t really an excuse I buy, knowing the fitness levels achieved by countless amateur sportsmen. Of course, that ten grand Rovers gave away to good causes could have easily covered the cost of taking a day or shift off to prepare for facing Rangers.

As they say, sometimes charity begins in the home dressing room …

That Rangers win at New Douglas Park set them up with a Scottish Cup semi-final tie with Dundee United at ‘neutral’ Ibrox. Of course, United were none too pleased at this probability when the draw for the last four took place and complained to the SFA, who filed their protest under ‘B’ for bin.

Dundee United LogoUnited might have had a better case had they highlighted the possibility of Rangers, or for that matter Celtic, being involved in the latter stages of the competition when the semi-final and Final venues were announced, back in October.

They may also have strengthened their hand had they not asked for just 8000 tickets for the semi-final tie at Ibrox, and, had they managed to get some kind of continuity in their argument for moving to another neutral location with a 50-50 split in tickets.

Ordering 8000 tickets then demanding both clubs get an equal share? In effect, United put up a very good case for downsizing the semi-finals of Scotland’s premier knock-out Cup competition and completely underplaying the sponsor’s involvement. Just what Scottish football needs …

The irony in all of this of course was that when Hampden was previously undergoing its many transformations in 1990’s, the Old Firm contested Cup semi-finals on ‘neutral’ venues belonging to their arch rivals. And apart from Rangers manager Walter Smith’s ‘Take 2’ coin-tossing with then-Celtic assistant Joe Jordan (I might explain that one on Twitter later), there was nothing contentious about who would get what.

If only things were that simple today …


Aberdeen's first silverware (Pic: from Vimeo)

Aberdeen’s first silverware
(Pic: from Vimeo)

Is there no end to the celebration and jubilation surrounding Aberdeen’s first silverware in 19 years?

On the back of their hugely significant League Cup success over Inverness Caley Thistle at Parkhead on Sunday, the Dons fans were also congratulating themselves for the social media campaign that carried The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ into the iTunes top 5.

Aberdeen fans had subtly changed the lyrics to “Peter Pawlett Baby”, making it their terracing chant for the Final, even though Pawlett missed the final through injury.

The Human League’s Facebook page posted a message that said: “Amazing stuff you Aberdeen FC fans, simply amazing.” It was, and in the process completely blew any notion that Aberdeen or their fans were stuck in some kind of 80’s time warp …

I couldn’t help but notice Derbyshire (county cricket club) had just secured a naming rights deal around their home venue in conjunction with the UK’s national training provider for apprenticeships. So from this summer, Derbyshire will now play their home fixtures at the 3aaa County Ground.

I’m not 100% sure how 3aaa will be communicated in a sporting context, as the ‘3 A’s’ belongs to athletics, while Triple A is associated with minor league baseball.

Still, Derbyshire collect a ‘six-figure’ sum for concluding what is described as being an ‘innovative’ sponsorship agreement, in much the same way as all such deals are lucrative and innovative. Namely, the club collects the money and everyone still calls it the County Ground …

Twenty years ago fantasy football was all the rage. Today it’s called the Champions League.

The quarter-final draw for this year’s tournament left Manchester United – the English champions – and Borussia Dortmund, runners-up in the tournament just 12 months ago, as the outsiders to lift the famous old trophy.

The World Cup in a few months has a lot to live up to …

Celtic — Winners of the Scottish Double 2013

JUST under a year ago, Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan said the Scottish game faced ‘Armageddon’ when clubs voted not to allow newco Rangers to join the SPL.



“We are faced with a situation some say is meltdown and some say Armageddon. There are no winners, there are only losers in this,” warned Regan.

So, Mr Regan, if there are no winners, only losers, what category do you come under having pocketed a £33,000 pay rise? It emerged today that the man who has presided over the most shambolic period in the history of football in Scotland, gained a 13.5 per cent rise to take him to a yearly salary of just £280,425.

Put another way, that £33k equates as a 12-month shirt sponsorship deal for a Scottish Football League Division One club.

So, when Stewart Regan next appears on your TV screen, spouting off about the financial constraints in the Scottish game, and how money is scarce, always have at the back of your mind that here is a man who obviously lives, and works, by the mantra, “do as I say, not as I do …”

When it comes to sporting pay days, few deserve them more than professional boxers.

Carl Froch was deserving of the plaudits, his titles, and the increase in his bank balance after beating Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler in an epic contest at London’s O2 Arena to retain his IBF super-middleweight crown. Froch’s performance was brilliant, especially from what was a titanic eighth round onwards, to take a unanimous decision, winning 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113 on the three judges’ scorecards, one of whom, was either watching a different fight or had previously only ever scored cake making competitions …


Kimi Raikkonen Grand Prix photo credit: Mark Hintsa via photopin cc

Kimi Raikkonen
Grand Prix
photo credit: Mark Hintsa via photopin cc

There is nothing quite like the glamour of the Monaco Grand Prix. Even though I’ve been to the Principality, and driven and walked the circuit (a stroll greatly aided by the bars along the route), I still haven’t quite worked out how they manage to run an F1 race there.

Today, I feel extremely old. Thirty years ago, I watched Keke Rosberg win. In 2013, it’s the turn of his son Nico to take the chequered flag for Mercedes. Back in 1983, Rosberg Snr ended his race with a massive blister on the palm of his hand, testament to the hundreds of manual gear changes he had to make. Today, all that constantly changing up and down would at best have given Rosberg Jnr sore thumbs. It’s called technological advancement.

One man who might have had something considerably more painful to worry about if Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen had his way was Sergio Perez. The McLaren driver made a series of aggressive overtaking moves during the race, collecting Raikkonen in one such manoeuvre. It’s not the first time Perez has angered his fellow racers, but the Finn had his own ideas on how to curb Perez’s exuberance.

Asked if the drivers would talk to Perez, Raikkonen said: “That won’t help. Maybe someone should punch him in the face.” Kimi can be thankful he survived the incident, and, that F1 isn’t governed by the SFA, who’d have him wheeled into Hampden to explain his comments …

Today of course, was the SFA’s showpiece occasion, the Scottish Cup final, with Celtic completing the domestic double by seeing off Hibs 3-0. Congratulations to Neil Lennon and Celtic, but it would have been nice to see Hibs end their 111-year hoodoo. It will happen eventually. Once they’ve worked out how to defend …

Crystal Palace FC LogoA solitary goal from 39-year-old Kevin Phillips is enough to see Crystal Palace defeated Watford in the Championship play-off final at Wembley and secure a place in the English Premier League for next term. The build-up and hype surrounding this game is quite phenomenal, the value placed upon being £120 million. Staggering, given the Champions League Final a few days before at the same venue, was apparently worth just €10.5m to Bayern Munich.

Palace can look forward to £60m next year, even if they finish bottom of the English Premier League, and subsequent ‘parachute’ payments over the next four years (if relegated) of £22m, £18m, £10m and £10m respectively. Puts that TV deal for Scottish football in perspective …

No sooner has Sir Chris Hoy told BBC Radio 5 live he does not want to get involved in the “hornet’s nest” of the Scottish independence referendum debate than he is being stung by criticism following his observation that Scots could find it harder to compete at Olympic level if the country were independent.

Sir Chris Hoy

Sir Chris Hoy

Given that he probably knows more than most about what goes in to producing elite athletes, and presumably an independent Scotland would be interested developing such talent, Hoy’s opinion surely should be considered rather than condemned. No?

Well, no. Despite saying “I don’t want to get drawn into it” Hoy found himself labelled ‘a traitor’ in some quarters for voicing his concerns, and for the merest mention of his pride at being both Scots and British.

Funnily enough, Rangers new boy Jon Daly was also branded ‘a traitor’ by some this week, and he’s neither Scots or British. What’s that all about then?

And Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley won’t appeal against his 11-week ban after being found guilty of verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final against Leicester. The Saints’ captain was sent off for swearing at Barnes and calling him a “cheat” after a penalty went against his team. And Hartley’s decision not to appeal ruled him out of the Lions tour to Australia. Costly or what.

Just a suggestion. But if you want some discipline back in football, look at rugby and the penalties they impose. And I don’t mean three points either.

Cardiff City FC LogoA mixture of fan power and intense lobbying on social media has forced Cardiff City owners in to giving supporters a say on what colour of shorts the team will wear in the Premier League next season. While Cardiff’s home shirt remains red, the original shorts in the new design were shown as an even darker shade of red. Now fans will be asked if they want to keep that unpopular combo, go for shorts matching the shirt colour, or opt instead for either white or black pants.

I wish there had been a fifth choice – inspired by Sammy Nelson. Younger readers may want to Google him …

Walter Smith is now Chairman of Rangers. I suppose it was inevitable given that the man he assisted for many years, Dundee United’s Jim McLean, also rose to achieve such office. Radio and TV reporters however, will be hoping Walter doesn’t end his tenure in a similar fashion to ‘wee Jum’ …

Audley HarrisonI think I’ve written this before. But Audley Harrison’s professional career looks to be at an end after he was knocked out by American Deontay Wilder after just 70 seconds in Sheffield. Actually, I have penned something not too far removed, when he was decked by David Price last October. But, back Audley bounced and victory in February’s Prizefighter series had him believing again that he could, one day, be heavyweight champion of the world. In fact, he probably woke up on Sunday morning still thinking it, until he realised why his head still hurt as much from the night before.

I once bumped into Harrison in the gents at Wembley. True. Back then he was still living it up as an Olympic gold medallist from Sydney. Thirty-eight professional fights later, he is still an Olympic gold medallist, although you have to keep constantly reminding yourself of that fact, as all that really currently lives in the memory are those seven losses he suffered while being paid. I do wish him well for the future, and really hope someone, somewhere, can do a bit of spin doctoring and rebranding on him, and have people remembering him for how tall and proud he stood in Sydney, not how he looked in Sheffield …

Jonny WilkinsonThe semi-final of the Heineken Cup matched the Grand Wizard against the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Toulon’s Jonny Wilkinson versus Owen Farrell of Saracens. In the end, youth had to give way to experience, Farrell managing 12 points, but Wilkinson kicking 24 for the French outfit, including one outlandish drop-goal just as he was nailed by the young pretender. Wilkinson, on his back, watched as the ball flapped its way over. The cheer from the travelling French support let Farrell know Wilkinson had succeeded. The pat on the back from the World Cup winner also let Farrell know that he still has a bit to go to match Wilkinson in terms of match-winning, and, sportsmanship.

If it had been a tense affair at Twickenham the same couldn’t be said for the glitzy PFA Player of the Year awards. Nails remained at a decent length, because before anyone at the dinner got near to chewing them in anticipation, results of the poll started landing by text and Tweet, telling them Gareth Bale had won. So much for keeping embargoes!

But finding out ahead of the game appeared to have been the least of the problems at the PFA Awards Dinner, with upset, consternation and embarrassment in abundance after the performance of star turn Reginald D Hunter. The American comedian thought it would be mildly amusing to include the word ‘nigger’ in his set, leading not so much to belly laughs as stifled sniggers of disbelief, especially with everything the PFA have done in anti-racism campaigns and in light of incidents involving John Terry and Luis Suarez. PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle said hiring Hunter was a ‘huge mistake,’ although I’m not the first to let you judge how shocked and perplexed members of the audience were left afterwards.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the league reconstruction debate is finally on its back, kicking its legs in the air, with one last, desperate communiqué from the SPL’s head of paper shuffling, Neil Doncaster, that play-offs could be introduced to decide promotion and relegation. You mean Mr Doncaster, like what we had in the mid-90’s? Yet again, Scottish football defying human mechanics but making giant strides backwards …

Aston Villa LogoAll season Aston Villa have threatened to put 90 perfect minutes together. And last night they did just that, a 6-1 trouncing of fellow strugglers Sunderland. Needless to say, Villa fans would have woken up with a smile on their face, although that might have become a look of disbelief if they had been tuned to ESPN’s sports news bulletins, who announced a crushing victory in the English Premier League for ‘Aston Vee-ya’ (as in David, Ricardo or Guillermo), not once but twice. Of course, we have to remember, America did give soccer to the world!

And Ronnie O’Sullivan says he’s only playing in the Betfair World Championship at The Crucible to pay school fees he owes. As one journalist asked, could he not try a state school? Snooker

‘The Rocket’ (a proper nickname dreamt up by the master MC Alan Hughes and not one planned and plotted at a BBC humus and dips party) had reached the last four in his defence of the title he won 12 months ago. But, once again, he used a post-match press conference to voice his uncertainty, and even unwillingness, to continue in snooker. It might all sound original and fresh to those who are still dazzled by the TV lights. But to be honest, it’s just the same old record being played over and over and over again. Oh, and before anyone tells me to get with it and refer to MP3’s or CD’s, Ronnie’s ‘I quit’ whine dates back to when vinyl was still it!

So despite their best efforts to unseat him, unnerve him and leave him in no doubt that he was unwanted, Rafa Benitez steers Chelsea to a second-successive European final. Perhaps a come down from the main event, especially for the Champions League winners of 12 months ago, but most, including Chelsea, would gratefully welcome a place in the Europa League final, and a chance to make some history. There, Chelsea will meet Benfica, who I have to admit while watching their game and subsequent highlights, looked mightily like another team I recognised from European competition earlier in the season.Europa League Logo

But no, they were knocked out, weren’t they? And thereby hangs an inbuilt (some would say inbred) problem with the Europa League; this ‘catchall’ mechanism in place to give those not good enough to progress in the Champions League some additional interest, both sporting and monetary, into January and beyond. How far beyond was evident again this week, with all four semi-finalists – Chelsea, Benfica, Basel and Fenerbahce – refugees from the big Euro cup, where you get at least six chances to get it right through the group stages, and even then if you muck it up, they give you another bash at it in another competition.

Cut throat European football is. If you are willing to wait …

I can’t help notice the speculation that Rangers manager Ally McCoist could be interested in bringing Queen of the South’s prolific striker Nicky Clark to Ibrox in the summer. Neither can I help notice one broadcaster, quick to make the association between the current Rangers boss and Clark’s father Sandy, who, apparently, former a successful partnership with McCoist at Rangers during the 80’s. That will be the duo so successful they were nicknamed ‘Alison & Sandra’ – and that was by Gers fans.

There are some things Wikipedia just don’t tell you!

Their future in question….?

We’ve been discussing the issue which most concerns us Scots…..money. The Chancellor George Osborne came north on Tuesday to warn us that if we vote for independence next year we could not count on remaining in the Sterling zone, our banks might no longer be allowed to issue Sterling bank notes and we would probably be reduced to using groats and bawbees as our economy slid the way of Greece and Cyprus.

Pound CoinsActually, he didn’t quite say that last bit, but others did, as they drew inspiration from the Iron Lady’s son. What he did say was scary enough: “Abandoning current arrangements would represent a very deep dive indeed into uncharted waters.” He suggested it might not be “worth it” for the rest of the UK to agree to a currency pact with an independent Scotland.

The Osborne Treasury has brought out a paper outlining four options an independent Scotland might have as regards its currency. We could try to negotiate our way into the Sterling zone – perhaps with a place on the monetary policy committee. We could just use Sterling anyway, without a currency pact. We could join the Euro zone. Or we could issue our own currency, and this is where the “groat” suggestion comes in ( the Scottish four pence piece first introduced in 1357) and the “bawbee” ( the six pence piece first introduced in 1537).

Chancellor George Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne

All of the above, the No campaigners say, would be to Scotland’s disadvantage and would tie our hands more than the present Unionist arrangement. But at first minister’s question time in parliament on Thursday Alex Salmond laughed this off as “scaremongering” and said Scotland’s £50bn a year of natural resources would guarantee our currency’s future. He waved a thick blue report in the air, a report from his panel of economic experts, which recommends that an independent Scotland should do what George Osborne seems to be ruling out: namely, negotiating a place in the Sterling zone.

Highland-Spring-LogoBut politics is the art of the impossible. And so is economics it seems, for while most of us are struggling through hard times, Scotland’s richest 100 citizens have seen their wealth grow very nicely, some by up to 60 per cent. We now have six billionaires in Scotland, according to the Sunday Times rich list. Top of the pile is Mahdi al-Tajir, said to be worth £1.6bn. His business interests are worldwide, mainly in oil and metals, and often in interesting places like the United Arab Emirates, Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands. Born in Preston in Lancashire, Mr al-Tajir is classed as Scottish because he owns an estate in Perthshire and the bottled water company Highland Spring.

Next on the list comes the whisky families, the Grants and the Gordons, then Sir Ian Wood the Aberdeen oil magnate, then the Thomson family, owners of the Dundee Courier. The last two to make it into the billionaire bracket are the transport tycoon Alastair Salvesen and boss of the engineering company Clyde Blowers Jim McColl. But Lord Laidlaw, the conference organiser, is pretty rich at £770m. So are the bus entrepreneurs Brian Souter and Ann Gloag. JK Rowling is number 9. And the poor old Duke of Sutherland comes in at number 10 with a mere £525m to his name.

Giant Panda Tian Tian at  Edinburgh Zoo

Giant Panda Tian Tian at
Edinburgh Zoo

Strangely missing from the Sunday Times list is Sir Tom Hunter, the sports shop entrepreneur and philanthropist but perhaps he’s given away all his money. And Sir Tom Farmer, another famous philanthropist, appears to be down to his last £132m.

But these aren’t the only money spinners in Scotland. Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas appear to have restored the zoo’s financial fortunes, making it the second most visited tourist attraction in Scotland, after Edinburgh Castle. Visitor numbers were up more than 50 per cent on the year before the charming couple arrived in a diplomatic bag from China. This week, incidentally, they “mated” with a little help from zoo staff.

And since we are following the money, I suppose I have to mention football. Yet again, the professional clubs have failed to agree on a reform of the league structure. Largely, I gather, it’s a dispute over money but in the impenetrable babble of the game it’s difficult to tell . And the shenanigans at Rangers Football Club have taken another strange twist which would challenge the best shake charmers in India.

The man who “saved” the club Charles Green has resigned as chief executive amid claims that he was in cahoots with the former owner Craig Whyte over the purchase of the club. Mr Whyte in turn is now claiming ownership of Rangers’ assets and , through another company, has reported Mr Green to the Serious Fraud Office. Meanwhile, a new chief executive has been appointed, businessman Craig Mather from Nottingham, who now has to steer Rangers back to respectability and up from the third division to which it was consigned last year because of its financial chicanery.

The absence of Rangers has meant a more or less automatic victory for Celtic in the Premier League and it duly took its title last weekend with a resounding 4-1 win over Caledonian Thistle. The manger Neil Lennon declared he was the “happiest man in the country” and I hope he was not talking about money.

Hampden Park
Where Maggie Thatcher was jeered — then forgotten

It’s the last round of matches before the SPL divides into a top and bottom six. Kilmarnock’s failure for a second time in a week to gain the win that would have kept them in the top half of the table, this time against relegation favourites Dundee, enables Dundee United to sneak into the upper echelons thanks to a stoppage time winner against Aberdeen. Kilmarnock FC CrestThe United players celebrated as if they’d won something when, to my mind, the reality was they’d traded a mid-table berth and assured mediocrity. And this in a year when there was no Rangers to worry about and when some believed turning up would be enough for second place. A bunch of United fans took exception to my take on events, pointing out that United had indeed won £500k thanks to their top six status. Yes, like players run around worrying about bank balances and profit and loss accounts.

Jings, and to think just 30 years ago nothing but the Championship would do for the Tangerines …

If sixth in an under-strength SPL is worth celebrating, what can we expect next season if we end up with a bigger separation. Players running around joyously at finishing eighth? Don’t laugh. When the bar is constantly lowered in Scotland as to what constitutes ‘achievement’, eighth in some people’s view will be the new first …

Grand National LogoThere are plenty of sports that are described as ‘the toughest’ or ‘hardest’ but in all my days of covering sport, few match up to the dangers and risks faced by boxers or jump jockeys. Today is a classic example. Less than 24 hours after winning the race of his life, the Grand National at Aintree onboard 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore, Scots jockey Ryan Mania is being airlifted to hospital having fallen at the fourth flight of the St John Lee Handicap Hurdle at Hexham when riding Stagecoach Jasper. His celebrations (if you discount those at Gala Rugby Club on Saturday night) had to be out on hold as he recovered in hospital from his spill. Even then, he’d still tell you he was one of the lucky ones.

Broken bones, concussions and battered and bruised bodies are the norm in this game, the kind of injuries that would have some sportsmen sidelined for days if not weeks. Yet these guys are back in the saddle as soon as possible, because, like boxers, they don’t earn when they’re idle. Making their chosen ‘game’ doubly difficult …

Today’s news is dominated by the death of Baroness Thatcher, who for a decade (and more if you listened to some), touched all parts of British life, even Scottish football. I recall the late Jim Rodger once announcing to anyone who would listen, and even those who weren’t rightly interested, that he’d just called the Prime Minister and she’d agreed to do the Scottish Cup draw. It was only when she turned up at Ibrox that most of us (who’d been given Home Office clearance) actually believed him.

Her most famous involvement though came in 1988 when she was Guest of Honour at the Scottish Cup final. Cries of ‘Maggie, Maggie get to f*ck’ rang out around Hampden, although while I recall that, I don’t remember it being as poisonous and full of hatred that some would have you (or like you to) believe. The old press box was busier than normal, full of Special Branch officers with binoculars, surveying the flats that looked into Hampden at that time. And when it came time for the PM to present the silverware to Celtic captain Roy Aitken, there was nothing but cheers and celebrations.

So there you have. No matter how much she was hated and despised by some, she was ignored behind a cup tied up in team ribbons …

Three days after the final whistle blew on the pre-split SPL, the post-split fixtures are announced. But why the delay? Most would have pointed the finger at the TV companies trying to get their way over the schedule of games, as did Celtic in some quarters after Neil Lennon’s plea to have a home game first up after the split. In the end Celtic did get their way, I mean their wish, but that rendered a game against closest challengers Motherwell at Fir Park (what press and neutrals wanted) null and void.

Police at Tynecastle

Police at Tynecastle

But the decision making process was, if truth be known, less about broadcasters and the champions-elect and more about the polis, and when the Friday night matches would be. Dundee police have no worries about Friday night fitba. Edinburgh’s finest by contrast, just won’t entertain games on a Friday evening. A little over a year from now, when Edinburgh could be capital city of a new, fresh-looking, independent nation, it is served by a police force that can’t accommodate Friday night football.

League Division Third World if you ask me …

Bayern Munich LogoBayern Munich wrap up a 4-0 aggregate win over Juventus to book a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League alongside countrymen Borussia Dortmund. Similarly, Barcelona do just enough to beat PSG on away goals, joining counterparts Real Madrid in the last four. Just so I get it right, that’s two representatives from the Bundesliga, and two from La Liga.

So that will make the English Premier League the best in the world, won’t it …

Meanwhile Rangers chief executive Charles Green apologises “unreservedly” for comments of ‘an offensive and racist nature’ in a newspaper article that led to a Scottish FA notice of complaint. As I mentioned to Mike Graham on talkSPORT, If the entire Rangers saga has been the story that keeps giving over the past year, then individually Green is certainly showing similar generosity …


Victor Wanyama (Creative Commons)

Victor Wanyama
(Creative Commons)

Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama successfully appeals the red card received in the 1-1 draw with St Mirren last month. This follows St Mirren striker Esmael Goncalves accepting a two -match SFA ban for the dive that earned the Paisley side their equalising penalty in that match. Good to see that decisions made after that game have been better than those referee Bobby Madden made during it. Although that wouldn’t be difficult …

Not any great surprise to find Scotland have fallen eleven places in the latest FIFA world rankings after World Cup qualifying defeats by Wales and Serbia. That takes the Scots down to joint 77th place, alongside those giants of world football, Congo.

McBookie offer 3/1 on Gordon Strachan’s team becoming the worst-ever national team, although they’ll have to sink lower than 89th to achieve such notoriety. Of course, Scotland’s slide is entirely down to our run of horrendous World Cup results. Now, who was it who described that Group draw when it was made as being ‘not bad.’

That’s it, it was Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. You have to believe she knows more about things other than football .

Ibrox Stadium

Rangers win the Scottish Football League Division 3 title, something they were expected to do all season, although when it arrived it was something of an anticlimactic moment. Nearest challengers Queen’s Park lost to Elgin City at Hampden, handing the championship to Ally McCoist’s men who earlier in the day had drawn a blank, both in terms of score and inspiration, at Montrose.

rangers1-300x300Still, nothing should be taken from the fact that Rangers did what had been expected of them all along, and by a margin and a half. Performance wise, yes, they could have been better, much better. But the end result, rather than the manner it was achieved, is all that the record books will show.

Amongst the fans, there were those trying to show how much it meant to them, stating they would and could party just as they had done on similar days when the Ibrox club had won in the top flight.
There were many others however, who were just happy to say job done, now for next season and whatever that may bring. All in all, I found the celebrations all rather subdued, and I even had something to gauge it by. In Larkhall, even with more sets of signals added in the village since the last title was accrued, not one of the green traffic light lenses was removed post-victory. Progress.

Or maybe just as a mark of respect to Charles …

You can but marvel at Lionel Messi. Against Celta Vigo on Saturday evening, the Barcelona legend became the first player in Spanish football history to score against every other team in La Liga consecutively, 19 games on the spin. People again ask the question just what has made Messi so good, and the BBC website suggested that it could have been made easy for him by playing futsal during his formative years. For the uninitiated futsal is like five-a-sides, with a slightly smaller, heavier ball. In fact, the BBC do a decent sales pitch for the game

Sorry to break the news though, but this futsal theory is nothing new. That was probably why I and others met Brazilian legend Jairzinho at Love Street umpteen years ago. It sounded a perfectly good idea then, it sounds the same now. We must just be slower than others on the uptake …

Chelsea FC LogoEaster Monday, and while the other ITV regions across the land get to see the Chelsea-Manchester United FA Cup replay, Scotland are treated to a double-helping of death, firstly with Murder, She Wrote, then with an episode of Midsomer Murders. As a nation, we are just over a year away from deciding our destiny. Yet, we cannot be trusted to watch foreign football on the off chance it turns us against our domestic product which fewer people than ever actually get to see on the telly.

Scotland, in 2014, will be held up as some kind of centre of sporting excellence, with the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. But yet the people cannot see prime-time soccer? Better, obviously, to give the common people ideas on how to solve murders and mysterious deaths. Or maybe it was to make us feel safer on Police Scotland’s first day.

And I find myself in the company of Archie MacPherson in the Scotland Tonight studio as we discuss the appointment – and fall-out – from Paolo di Canio’s arrival at Sunderland. I commemorated his departure from Swindon Town back in February, But the hiring of di Canio was all too much for some in the North East given the Italian’s fascist tendencies. David Miliband, or the losing brother as some might recognise him, and the one who is giving up on politics and the UK, gave up on his club, standing down as vice-chairman after di Canio’s signing.

Stadium of Light, Sunderland afc CroppedMeanwhile the Durham Miners’ Association demand the return of the Wearmouth Miners’ banner, on permanent display at the Stadium of Light (so called in honour of the Davy lamp), located on the former site of Wearmouth Colliery. “Our banner represents the Durham miners’ long struggle for the rights of the working class, rights which were annihilated by fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain and Chile,” said current miners’ union leader Dave Hopper. “We have a sacred obligation to the millions who were wiped out by Hitler, Mussolini and Franco to oppose fascism wherever and in whatever context this evil creed raises its head.”

An honourable stance, one I am not too far removed from personally given my late grandfather sailed around the oceans chasing Germans. But extreme politics at either end of the spectrum has the ability to cause devastation. Take the coal industry itself. And no, I’m not talking Mrs Thatcher here, more the fanatical socialism that started an unwinnable strike.

Archie and me don’t have the hours it would have taken to properly answer the questions posed by host Rona Dougall, but I do get the chance to make my point that there is a certain hypocrisy within the media, that having basically said nothing about di Canio’s arrival at Swindon, they are over the story like a rash now he has become ensconced at Sunderland.

And the reason? Look no further than the attraction, and the circus, that is the English Premier League. If it doesn’t involve England’s top flight, then basically, it’s hasn’t happened, as no-one is rightly bothered what goes on elsewhere. Even when it comes to fascism in Wiltshire …


Fran Sandaza (Creative Commons)

Fran Sandaza
(Creative Commons)

Rangers terminate striker Fran Sandaza’s contract with the club having been suspended for the previous 12 days following details of his telephone conversation with a bogus agent. That this entire episode has ended with the player sacked only shows the supreme disregard some deranged, attention-seeking individuals have for people’s careers. No wonder the prankster is wondering if this time, he is in just too deep. Certainly, there is some telecommunications law or another that he’s breached. There also might be a few unwritten rules he’s broken. Time will tell.

But Sandaza is hardly blameless, a victim of his own stupidity and perhaps, desperation. Sandaza’s misdemeanour has come at a time as Rangers gear up for next season. Given the non-return on Rangers investment, costing £4.5k a week and £1.5m over the next four years, the wrong time for the Spaniard. And somewhat fortuitous, or just coincidental in terms of timing for the club …

This Saturday’s Football Focus comes from the (English) National Football Museum in Manchester. To mark the occasion, the BBC had asked viewers and readers to recall their favourite strips of all-time and gave some examples of the most famous, and infamous.

Anyone who has watched football over the years will instantly recall their most memorable shirts. As a kid, Udston Primary’s ‘Blackburn Rovers’ kit took a bit of beating, although St Ninian’s red tops with yellow and green bands was always the one you wanted to wear having a game doon the park. God help you if any teachers, jannies or priests saw you!

I remember thinking ‘wow’ when seeing my first Ajax kit when the St Ninian’s boys arrived back from an Easter trip to Holland, and the first time I witnessed live the famous, big ‘D’ on the Moscow Dynamo jerseys. Very plain in white and blue, but hugely emotive.

Of the current crop, St Mirren’s black and red away number is quite smart, as was Motherwell’s recent blue shirt, probably made more attractive because they are a contrasting alternative to the norm.

Borussia Monchengladbach Historic ShirtMy all time favourites had to come from the 70’s. Borussia Monchengladbach had a smasher with the green and black panels down the front, not dissimilar to one Crystal Palace had with the claret and blue with amber trim. My favourite (only because I had one which eventually disintegrated after 200 machine washes) was St Etienne, circa ’76, emerald green with the blue, white and red Adidas stripes down the sleeves.

The kind of football top that made you stand out from the crowd – not what you wanted sometimes growing up in South Lanarkshire! And the worst? Dead simple. ‘That’ Celtic away top, from 1991, when they were sponsored by People’s. I was never sure if Umbro had given the design job to school kids in primary one, or if they’d got a job lot of material from Remnant Kings and patched it together, or if someone just did it as a piss-take to see if a club would actually wear it.

Once seen, never, ever forgotten …

Celtic manager Neil Lennon will defend himself against an SFA charge of misconduct for “repeated use of offensive, insulting and abusive language” during Sunday’s SPL match with St Mirren.

“I’ll speak to the club officials and lawyers. We’ll come up with a defence to defend myself as best I can,” said Lennon.

I’m not certain or sure what Lennon allegedly said. I didn’t hear it. What I will ask, is was it any worse or more offensive than what many tuned into on Sunday afternoon in the aftermath of the 159th University Boat Race? Those who tuned in early for Songs of Praise would have been upset to hear winning Oxford cox Oskar Zorrilla coax his crew to triumph on the Thames.

“Be f***ing tenacious”, “that’s the f***ing stuff” and as his team crossed the finish line, “f***, yeah!”, and a few other encouraging expletives, were all part of his repertoire, hardly what most viewers expected.

So while Lennon faces the Hampden beaks and a possible ban, again, Zorrilla had the Beeb apologising on his behalf. Is that what a f***ing University education entitles you to?

The conclusion to 2013 Six Nations Championship was one to remember as WRU Logo Chamions 2013Wales beat England handsomely to land the title, and deny Stuart Lancaster’s team a Grand Slam. It was one of those games that made you smile, not just because of the manner in which the Welsh won, but because so many experts called it so completely wrong.

The word ‘narrow’, or the phrase ‘just a few points’ were regularly used when it came to predicting what might separate these sides at the end of 80 minutes. The 27-point winning margin the Welsh achieved kicked all predictions in to touch.

“England’s bubble has been burst,” said World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward. And he would know. For there was a man who regularly had his balloon pricked as he went for titles and Slams while in charge of England. In 1999 it was Scott Gibbs who did the damage at Wembley, while a year later in the rain at Murrayfield, Andy Nicol led the Scots to a memorable, if unexpected, Calcutta Cup win, so denying England the Grand Slam. In 2001, with the competition fragmented by foot and mouth, England fell at the final hurdle again when confronted by Ireland, and the following term, while it wasn’t in the final game, France halted English title ambitions. Sir Chris HoyWoodward came good in 2003, delivering the World Cup. So, Stuart Lancaster, that’s how you overcome disappointment.

Down Under, the F1 season starts in Melbourne, albeit a damp one which means that final qualifying isn’t completed until the morning of the race. As part of the big day, a bunch celebrities raced around the Albert Park circuit in Mazda 6’s, amongst them Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy, who managed to finish second in his race, but only after knocking the corners off his car during practice. The phrase ‘one careful owner’ doesn’t apply to these cars, especially the one in Frame 3!

Seldom on March 17, is St Patrick ever overshadowed by another saint. But today it’s St Mirren’s day as they beat Hearts 3-2 to take the Scottish League Cup, the club’s first major trophy since 1987.

St Mirren LogoWe’ve all known for sometime that the Cup competitions present the best opportunity for clubs outside Glasgow’s big two, to collect some silverware. St Mirren’s success at Hampden meant that six different clubs have won the last six domestic knockout tournaments. So it can be done. It would just be nice, in the case of the league Cup, if some teams – and some fans – took it a bit more seriously at an earlier stage.

Any poll, survey, chart or Top 10, 20 or 100 is likely to cause disagreement of one sort or another. The Herald, in what is a quiet week leading up to an unimportant World Cup qualifier against Wales, decide to reveal their 50 Greatest Scottish Footballers.

Davie CooperOn day one, ‘the humble jury of Herald journalists’ create a bit of a stooshie by naming Davie Cooper at No.48, three places behind Pat Stanton. Whether this was an attention-grabbing ploy, or an attention-deficit disorder, I’m not sure. Personally, I wouldn’t have had Stanton on the same page as Cooper, let alone ahead of him. But again, football is about opinions, and they cover themselves by claiming the criteria for inclusion must necessarily be vague.

Interestingly, they quote the great Bob Cramspey. “Once players reach a certain level an appreciation of their relative worth is subjective.” Crampsey, who I sat with for many an hour as he compiled his ‘Ask Bob’ column for the Evening Times, also reckoned Cooper was one of the few players who would be considered watchable by any generation. Which, I think, would be enough alone to see him better than 48th by any standard …

Having already sacked Steve Kean in September and Henning Berg in December, Championship side Blackburn Rovers axe manager Michael Appleton after 15 games and just 67 days at Ewood Park. It would appear every manager Blackburn employs is of the interim variety. Either that, they’ve signed up to one of those day-to-day rolling contracts …

I wake up to find one of the tabloids proclaiming that a movie is to be made about Celtic founder Brother Walfrid with none other than Daniel Day Lewis in the starring role.

Brother Wilfrid StatueOf course, when it comes to Scottish football at the movies, nothing, not even Greegory’s Girl, can come close to A Shot At Glory, which starred Holywood great Robert Duvall and the legend that is Ally McCoist. The BBC’s Rob Maclean concurred, suggesting the movie even had a cult following. I’m sure that’s what he tweeted.

Whether Brother Walfrid’s tale, about how he set up a sporting club to help poor families in the East End of Glasgow (or the Kelly’s and White’s as they were better known), ever reaches the production stage, it is unlikely to be as bewilderingly surreal as the making of A Shot At Glory, and the sideshow that was Scottish football’s lesser lights being drawn towards the bright lights.

There are certain things you see in life that make you blink twice and look again. Seeing wee Bob Duvall at the Scottish Football Writers Association’s annual dinner in the company of former Airdrie assistant manager John McVeigh was one such moment, as was witnessing Batman (Michael Keating) at Boghead, or Hermann Goring (Brian Cox) at Rugby Park. As my now-deceased former Evening Times colleague Alan Davidson made mention, “this travelling circus might be more entertaining than the movie itself.” Who am I to argue …

Pietro MenneaSad news today that Italy’s former 200m world record holder and Olympic champion Pietro Mennea has died, aged 60.

At the Moscow Olympics in 1980, Mennea denied Scotland’s Alan Wells a golden sprint double. Talking to Wells about that race, he once told me; “He (Mennea) was capable of anything. You were never sure what he was going to do. Sometimes, I don’t think he did either.”

It is a measure of Mennea’s ability that in 1979, he set a then-world best over the distance in Mexico, a mark still not bettered by a European athlete. Indeed, it took 17 years before his time of 19.72 secs was beaten by Michael Johnson at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Johnson’s record since bettered by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt.

Farewell to a true sprint great!

The Craig Levein Effect is still alive and kicking. Still adverts being fired around on social media telling us tickets are still available for tonight’s World Cup qualifier at Hampden against Wales. And to think the lengths people went to just to get briefs for Anfield in 1977 or Cardiff eight years later.

According to former Wales star Mickey Thomas, this is the worst Scottish team ever. Thanks for that Mickey. Yes, Scotland might not be enjoying the qualifying successes achieved a couple of decades ago. But when did Wales last qualify for a World Cup or European Championship finals tournament? Not even in my living memory. You need to go back to 1958 to find a World Cup finals event that featured Wales, a nation that invented the Eisteddfod just so they could win it.

It has always appeared easier than it looks over the years, playing for Celtic or Rangers in Scotland’s top flight and winning most of the shiny prizes on offer, especially to those who have never really witnessed it up close up.

Celtic LogoThe latest to fall into the trap was some unsuspecting scribbler for The Times, who praised Celtic’s Fraser Forster to the hilt for his efforts over the piece against Juventus in the Champions League, then threw in the comment about just what an easy day the Englishman would have in Dingwall, “an idle afternoon twiddling his thumbs.” Those who saw the second and third Ross County goals as they defeated the SPL champions-elect, may heartily agree with Matt Hughes’ ‘Darlinda-like’ prediction of how Forster would spend part of his day.

If that outcome was a shock, what was shocking was the attendance at McDiarmid Park where just 2,425 turned out to watch St Johnstone beat Kilmarnock and go fourth in the table. If that’s what securing a place in the top six attracts to your abode in mid-March, how many do you think would take an interest in the Saints if they happen to miss out on the top eight of the new proposed league set-up this time next year?

And no, I don’t believe the theory of those missing souls being last-minute Mother’s Day shoppers …

There is a good chance the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo broke off from what pandas in zoos around the world do badly, and even an outside chance a few Welshman sobered up sufficiently long enough to watch in disbelief as Leigh Griffiths smashed home Hibs Logoa free-kick in the Edinburgh derby to give Hibs er, a 0-0 draw against Hearts at Easter Road.

Yup, the goal, the great goal, that never was. The one get-out for the incompetent officials was that goal-line technology would have probably missed it was well, given the cameras would have been focused on a foot either side of the line and not five-foot over it. After such a catastrophic error, something good must come out of it. And it looks as if it will, for although results are still at an early stage, we might never see Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ against Germany in the World Cup ever again …

HampdenParkAfter a lengthy meeting at Hampden, the Scottish Premier League clubs announce they will vote on league restructuring on 15 April. Keep that date in mind. Because I bet you now, not a day will go past without some twist or turn being reported, or some club or another changing their mind or jumping ship. Or, as my money is on, the whole thing being scuppered by disillusioned SFL teams who will kill-off the proposal by talking it to death and running out of time …

Poor Kyle Hutton. He’s a Rangers player if you didn’t know. And maybe those who support the club, and believe they pay his wages, were still a bit sore at the weekend loss to Annan Athletic at Ibrox, and were just waiting for any unsuspecting player they knew to Tweet around lunchtime on Tuesday that they’d finished training for the day, and were heading off home to watch the rest of a DVD box set. Not what the Bears wanted to read. And some of the responses were certainly not what young Mr Hutton wanted to read either.

Back in 2011, Niall McGinn, then at Celtic, Tweeted he was consoling himself for not making the pre-season trip to Australia with a jaunt to the local Nando’s with a mate. It didn’t take long for Nandos Logosome of the Parkhead faithful to suggest he spent less time scoffing chicken and more time training. It would appear you can’t win.

I don’t have a problem with sportsmen chilling after they’ve trained or practiced. I spent much of my weekend in the company of current and former professional rugby players who knew exactly what they needed to do to stay in the best physical shape possible and how much rest and recuperation they required. Some could have been better at certain things, and some were better than they ever thought possible. But to a man they all knew how much work and dedication they had put in to achieve that standard.

So without really knowing all the background to Kyle Hutton’s day, it’s hard to be too critical. What I do know is that those who have made it to the very top of their profession, didn’t take too Jonny Wilkinsonmany afternoons off to laze with a remote control in their hand.

Like late on afternoon, watching ball after ball after ball split the posts at Newcastle Falcons ground, when eventually I had to ask Doddie Weir who that was that didn’t miss. “That’s young Jonny,” nodded Dod. Jonny Wilkinson practiced himself to a standstill on occasions. But he made himself the best. Made? Because, while he was naturally left-footed, practice made him just as deadly with the right boot. Remember that World Cup winning drop-goal?

I noted over the Festive period one Olympian claiming they had been out and trained on Christmas Day. Well done to them.

Daley Thompson used to do the same, morning and afternoon, so that even if his greatest rival trained on Christmas Day, the double-Olympic champion had still put twice the shift in his closest challenger had. Or then there was Stephen Hendry, who used to practice on a Saturday morning, not because he had to, but because he could. That repetition became second-nature, whether in practice or sinking balls for money at The Crucible. And of course, we all know David Beckham, Gareth Bale and that Ronaldo bloke all woke up one morning to find they could hit unstoppable free-kicks. Well, actually no.

Just like practice made perfect for them, so former Rangers winger Tommy McLean’s accuracy with a dead-ball came from hours and hours of rehearsal, pinging the ball off the crossbar at the local park. If he missed, he would have to chase the ball down a hill. So he didn’t miss. And obviously, given the career he had with Kilmarnock and at Ibrox, didn’t miss having a DVD player either …

I’m left wondering what the next stunt will be from those trying to steer Scottish football towards their utopia, or 12-12-18 as most people know it. Today it’s the news that clubs bidding for promotion to Scottish football’s top flight would not be required to have any seated areas in their stadiums under league reconstruction plans.

This is 2013, isn’t it?

Even a whisper of this news had the nostalgia brigade calling for standing at all football matches, and for new, purpose-built all-seater stadia to be converted to something from a bygone age. Like Football Terracingevery football fan of a certain age, I once stood to watch football. And I’m sorry, but unlike some, splashing around in other people’s piss never appealed to me then, and doesn’t enthuse me for the future. Neither does struggling to stay upright when a goal is scored. Yet some hanker for those good old days.

It didn’t take long for some to claim that removing seating would make space for more fans. What, like St Johnstone would leap from 2,425 to 3,000? Or 5,000? Or just stay the same?

And what would the cost be to convert back to terracing, once the seating was removed, and the levels re-engineered, and new barriers installed, and more stewarding paid for, and local authority licensing regulations met? I imagine quite a few quid. Jeez, going retro will almost cost as much as that modern day goal-line technology we can’t afford …

The price of watching live sport varies around the globe. Compared the Bundesliga for instance, the cost of a ticket in the SPL is considerably more expensive, for what is an identical product (i.e. 22 players running around, chasing a ball, with a referee blowing a whistle.) The same could be said of F1. It’s the same sensation at every race track on the planet, getting your eardrums perforated while seeing unrecognisable cars flash past at high speed. Yet some charge a bit more for the privilege. Guess where? While the cheapest race ticket in the championship costs just £13 (for the Malaysia GP), next Sunday’s season opener in Melbourne can be watched for £66, compared to a whopping £145 for the British GP at Silverstone. Who shouted ‘rip off’?

Only races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi are more expensive than Britain, although they come with guaranteed sun …

So loads of column inches and web pages dedicated to Craig Brown following his decision to stand down As Aberdeen boss at the end of the season, if not before should a replacement be enticed down from Dingwall. A non-exec position awaits on the Aberdeen board for wee Broon. And there is always the after-dinner circuit.

What a billing, “the last manager to take Scotland to the World Cup finals.” That could see him alright for the next five years at least, or given recent history, possibly longer.

Twitter gives players a voice they often aren’t so keen on letting the mainstream media hear.

Picture by Jon Candy

Picture by Jon Candy

Today. Leeds United and Scotland striker Ross McCormack (right) decides to use the social media platform to make his excuses for missing a penalty against Millwall. The former Rangers and Motherwell man said; “Ronaldinho missed a pen. Roberto Baggio, Lampard etc the list goes on. We won, I won penalty and was happy with my performance. #3points”

He is indeed correct to mention the famous Brazilian, the Italian legend and arguably the English Premier League’s all-time most consistent performer amongst the sinners who have missed from 12 yards out. It is also possibly the only time McCormack will ever have equality alongside that triumvirate …

In snooker, Mark Allen wins the Haikou World Open. The Ulsterman is a capable player, but for the Chinese, this is another worrying result for their structure. SnookerRemember just a few years ago how the Chinese were going to be so dominant in terms of titles, world champions and players in the top 16, that the World Championship itself would eventually have to decant behind the Great Wall.

Such predictions have proved optimistic if not completely unfounded. Instead, the Chinese are looking to improve their coaching and talent-spotting of future stars, proposing a youth training scheme geared to producing winners. There is something mildly amusing that even with 1.3 billion of a population to pick from (give or take a few million), China haven’t come close to finding a world champion.

Maybe they just don’t get the same rain as we do in Scotland …

Neil Doncaster attracts controversy whatever he does, from his disappearing routine when key questions have to be answered, to the barber with a sense of humour that he uses. Today, criticism is rife after its reported his annual salary is to rise to £200,000 a year. VFM (value for money)? You decide.

For one individual, it is all too much. “I would think most fans would ask how the directors can justify that inflation-busting pay rise,” said a spokesman for the recently formed SPL Fans United, a pressure group campaigning for reform of the Scottish game.

SPL Logo“How?” Because they can.

When was the last time anyone in power in the SPL ever listened to fans, except when they were looking for fall guys (or should I say customers) to help make a decision on Rangers. Don’t worry, You might have your say again very soon. It’s called Hearts.

Oh sorry, you won’t get a say. Because their possible fate is already set in history …

I first became aware of Dunfermline Athletic when they beat West Bromwich Albion to reached the Cup-Winners-Cup final in 1968. The next time I heard of them, they were turning down a £50,000 bid for Rangers for striker Kenny Mackie. What happened to him?

Today, the Fifers are making the news for unwanted reasons. They own the tax man £134,000 and could go bust within a matter of weeks.

Dunformline Athletic LogoThe Pars have been in trouble for years. The warning signs have been there for a while, even last season when alarm bells sounded when they were owed money by Rangers. That wasn’t obviously seen as being of any significance when the SPL decision makers decided that – despite Rangers’ demise – Dunfermline were still going down. As I say, Dunfermline had their problems before last term. But relegation has hardly been financially helpful.

On the same day, rumours are rife that Hearts have been warning staff that administration could be imminent, strenuously denied of course, as is everything of a financial nature at Tynecastle. Hearts need money, and selling players could be a way of generating some finance. In Scotland, buying players is a thing of the past, unless you are Celtic.

But Rangers could now be back in the market as buyers. Alas, they are still in the middle of that imposed embargo. Another decision arrived at last summer to penalise the Ibrox club, but which could indirectly now be harming another of this country’s great clubs. Of course, what I’ve said could be deemed speculative or hypothetical. But Hearts fans I’ve spoken to this week would be delighted to accept hypothetical pound notes, even if they arrive in weekly instalments from those with a bad credit history.

When you’re desperate, anyone’s cash is good.

And Celtic lose 2-0 in Turin to Juventus, completing a 5-0 aggregate loss. Plenty of plaudits for Neil Lennon’s side, plenty saying there was never five goals in the tie. I’m not one of them.

Needless to say, there is flak coming in my direction on Twitter, the majority of it no different than what used to arrive in snail-mail form 20 years ago. Originality ain’t what it once was. I was reliably informed that the 5-0 deficit wasn’t close, but apparently it did flatter the cynical and clinical Serie A giants. Sorry, I didn’t see that either. And it was also brought to my attention that Celtic were just unlucky over the two legs having had (so I was told) 32 attempts on Gigi Buffon’s goal. Sorry again, but if you can’t convert one opportunity out of that glut of chances, you deserve what you get.

Celtic LogoCeltic’s run in Europe was (and if you don’t understand this part feel free to invite someone to read it to you) a tremendous effort on a number of counts; to first come through the qualifying rounds, then the quality of opposition they had to overcome to reach the last 16, and in lifting the gloom that had beset Scotland, domestically and internationally.

It’s no slight on the manager, or the players, but against Juventus, Celtic were at times outmuscled, outplayed and outclassed where and when it mattered. That’s why it will appear as a record loss in the history books, not recorded as a ticket to the next round …

In rugby, Scotland and Glasgow Warriors flanker John Barclay announces he will be leaving the club at the end of this season. Or, as one rugby wag greeted the announcement; “That’s another testimonial dinner we don’t need to worry about …”

News breaks that Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez has been arrested on suspicion of driving while disqualified. The Argentine striker was banned from driving for six months in January this year after failing to respond to police letters about speeding.

Tevez is not the first to have regular correspondence with the locals courts, or DVLA in Swansea.

I remember back in the early 90’s when a well-know car dealership and sponsors of Motherwell donated a car to the player of the year. The worthy recipient then collected the keys and posed for pictures, before driving off with his new wheels. A few weeks later, his wife was doing all of the driving after lost the licence he never had in the first place!

Not-such a worthy recipient then …