Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Brockville Four Decades Ago

10,000 to see Falkirk play Cowdenbeath more than forty years ago. The Falkirk Historian will know for sure but I think this was a second division game too.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Book Review - Scotland On This Day

If, like me, you love history and football and enjoy recalling events of yesteryear, you will love this new book from Derek Wilson. Derek is a Motherwell fan - we all have our cross to bear - and has already published two other books Motherwell On This Day and Motherwell Miscellany (Pitch Publishing)

Scotland On This Day is  a wonderful collection of history, facts and figures from every day of the year. It is one of those books that you can read while having a quick coffee or while the missus is having her usual rant about when you're going to redecorate the bedroom. However, I found that once I picked it up I found it difficult to put down again!

Did you know that on 13 February 1961 Scotland's Under 23 team, containing Denis Law and Ian St. John defeated the British Army 3-2 at Fir Park? You might think it should have been a better score against  a team of soldiers - until you read that a young Jim Baxter was in the Army team at the time!

Fascinating snippets like these are contained throughout the book. I highly recommend it - it would make the ideal Christmas gift!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Jim Weir

In 1993 Hearts weren’t short of top class quality defenders with Craig Levein, Alan McLaren and Graeme Hogg all vying for places in the first team. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when manager Sandy Clark paid £300,000 to Hamilton Academical for centre half Jim Weir.

Motherwell born Weir began his professional career at Douglas Park in 1987 and his fine form attracted some of the country’s leading clubs. He made nearly 200 appearances for Accies and much was expected of him when he moved to Tynecastle. He made his debut in a 1-0 win over Hibernian at Tynecastle in August 1993 and he was a regular first team member throughout season 1993/94 although with Levein and McLaren the established central defensive partnership, Weir was often played in midfield where, perhaps, he was less effective.

When Tommy McLean took over as Hearts manager for season 1994/95, he accepted an offer from St. Johnstone for Weir who moved to Perth in exchange for Colin Miller. Weir was a big success at McDiarmid Park despite incurring a serious injury that caused him to miss much of season 1998/99. His return from this injury was triumphant as he scored a rare goal in a 3-1 win over Rangers in April 1999.

Weir continued to be blighted by injuries and a serious knee injury all but put paid to his playing career in 2004. He turned to coaching and assisted John Connolly and then Owen Coyle who managed the Perth Saints. In 2007, Weir was appointed manager of Third Division Montrose but with the Angus club third in the league, Weir was sacked after a disagreement with those in charge of the club. In November 2009, Weir took over at Arbroath but he angered the Red Lichties officials and fans when he left at the end of last season when the Gayfield Park team were relegated to the basement league. Within days, Weir was appointed manager of Brechin City.

City, with former Jambos Neil Janczyk and Craig Nelson, have high hopes of securing promotion.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Spartans 1 East Stirlingshire 2

Scottish Cup Third Round, Saturday 20 November 2010 - Ainslie Park, Edinburgh

Tempted though I was to head to Tynecastle today and join in the tributes to Jim Cruickshank, I chose to stick with my original plan and watch East Stirlingshire for the first time this season. The Shire were in the capital city on Scottish Cup business against non-league Spartans. Despite the incessant rain I'm glad I went as it was a fine game and a tribute to both teams that they served up a typical cup tie.

After last season's fine season which saw them reach the promotion play-offs, Shire have struggled this term, due to the number of players who upped sticks during the summer. Jim McInally's team have struggled to score goals  - indeed they recently ended a run of eight games without a goal. Around this time last year, Shire were sitting top of the Third Division. Now, with a much changed team they are sitting third from bottom. With this in mind it was no surprise that many people made Spartans favourites, particularly as they had home advantage.

This was my first visit to Ainslie Park and I was mightily impressed with Spartans as a club. More than 600 fans turned up, most of whom were in the small but impressive grandstand. A few Shire diehards opted to stand in the open and throw themselves, bare-chested, to the elements. But that's the Shire fans for you - small in number but there are no more passionate fans in the land.

The game itself was a real end-to-end affair. Spartans dominated the early stages with some neat passing play but gradually the visitors came more into the game. Just when it looked like we would have a goalless first half, Shire's Paul Weaver placed  a fine effort beyond the home keeper from twenty yards to open the scoring three minutes from the break.

As you would expect Spartans came out with all guns blazing in the second half and were rewarded when McLeod equalised on 54 minutes. It seemed like Shire would be hanging on for a replay but fifteen minutes later, David Dunn rifled home a superb free-kick to put the visitors back in front. Despite sustained pressure from the home team, the Shirey Pirey hung on for a fine win.

It was a hugely enjoyable afternoon, despite the rain. Spartans are an ambitious club and good luck to them for the future. For East Stirlingshire, they'll be keeping their fingers crossed for a big club when the draw for round four takes place.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Cruickshank is the Goalie

Sad news today of the passing of one of the true legends of Heart of Midlothian FC – goalkeeper Jim Cruickshank.

Cruickie joined Hearts from Queens Park where he played as an amateur in 1960. Queens, themselves, had a tradition of producing great goalkeeping talent such as Jack Harkness – who also went on to play for Hearts - Bobby Clark and European Cup winner Ronnie Simpson. Cruickshank followed in the footsteps of Wembley Wizard Jack Harkness. Cruickie’s first big break came in astonishing circumstances – in the 1961 League Cup Final replay against Rangers at Hampden. Marshall had played in the first game – a 1-1 draw – and it was expected that Hearts would field the same eleven who came so close to lifting the trophy first time around. But Marshall sustained a late injury and 19 year old Cruickshank was drafted in for a cup final appearance. He couldn’t be blamed for any of the Rangers goals as Hearts lost 3-1 but a cup final appearance was to prove, sadly, an all too rare experience for the Glasgow keeper.

Cruickshank had the mentality of not being happy at being second best and while he knew Gordon Marshall would be back in the first team when fit it was not a state of affairs the young Cruickie was prepared to settle for. Hearts did win the League Cup in the following season with Marshall in goal but late that season came the first of many battles Jim Cruickshank was to have with the Hearts management. Marshall was injured again with Cruickie drafted in once more but with a Scottish Cup tie against Celtic coming up, manager Tommy Walker elected to reinstate Marshall in the team – much to Cruickie’s annoyance! He walked out of Tynecastle, threatening never to go back until assistant manager Johnny Harvey persuaded him otherwise. As it turned out, Marshall moved to Newcastle United at the season’s end and Jim Cruickshank was now the established number one at Tynecastle.

Cruickie went from strength to strength with Hearts and he won his first cap for Scotland in 1964 against West Germany. Inexplicably, given the great man’s talent, Cruickshank would be capped only five more times for Scotland. Inexplicably? Well, there’s no doubt in this writer’s mind that if Cruickie had played for either of the Old Firm he’d have had at least fifty caps. And he almost did – soon after Hearts had sold star striker Willie Wallace to Celtic, Jock Stein had his eye on Cruickshank as a replacement for the ageing Ronnie Simpson. When, after another row with the Hearts manager – Johnny Harvey had by now taken over from Tommy Walker – Cruickshank was dropped to the reserves to make way for Kenny Garland, it seemed the goalie was Parkhead bound. But, thankfully, Jock Stein didn’t pursue his interest and Cruickie remained at Tynecastle until the end of his career, although his petulant nature meant he wasn’t always first choice!

With Cruickshank in the team, Hearts lost the league championship in agonising fashion to Kilmarmock on the last day of the 1964/65 season. Killie had to win the last game – against Hearts at Tynecastle - by two clear goals to snatch the title from their rivals. A numbed Hearts support watched in disbelief as Killie duly won 2-0, amid stories that the Hearts players weren’t at all happy about their win bonuses. More disappointment followed for Cruickshank and Hearts when they lost the 1968 Scottish Cup final 3-1 to Dunfermline Athletic although this came the year after Cruickie’s heroics against Hibs at Tynecastle when he made an astonishing triple save from a penalty taken by Hibs Joe Davis. Those who witnessed that exceptional piece of goalkeeping still talk about it to this day.

As the 1970s beckoned, Hearts were on a downward spiral but Jim Cruickshank continued to excel in goal. Indeed, it’s fair to say that had it not been for the likes of Cruickie, Eddie Thomson, Alan Anderson and Donald Ford, Hearts may well have fallen from the top flight of Scottish football sooner than they did. 1976 was to prove a landmark year for the Hearts goalie. He made another Scottish Cup final appearance but Hearts were woefully outclassed by a treble chasing Rangers side and lost 3-1. The last of Cruickshank’s six Scotland caps also came that year when he faced Roumania and by now Jim’s place in the Hearts team was under threat from a young keeper called Brian Wilson. Cruickie did play in the European Cup Winners Cup tie in Leipzig which Hearts lost 2-0 and kept his place in the side for the return leg, which ended in a remarkable 5-1, win for the JTs. It’s unclear if Cruickie had had another of his ‘fall-outs’ with manager John Hagart but Brian Wilson was back in goal for the second round tie with SV Hamburg – which Hearts lost on an 8-3 aggregate. It was the writing on the wall for Cruickie’s Hearts career. John Hagart promised him a testimonial at the end of the season as a ‘thank you’ for seventeen years service to the club. Unfortunately, Hearts were relegated for the first time ever; Hagart was sacked and with the manager went Cruickie’s chance of the testimonial he so richly deserved.

No longer wanted at Tynecastle, Cruickshank moved to Dumbarton in 1977 but, to all intents and purposes, his career had ended.

No matter what those who ran Hearts thought at the time, Jim Cruickshank will always be remembered by those who matter most – the supporters – as a Tynecastle legend. Scarcely will such a gifted player be so ill rewarded for a lifetime with one club. But for those of us who had the privilege of seeing him play, Jim Cruickshank will always be a winner.

The world is a poorer place for the passing of Jim Cruickshank.

Derek Adams

New Hibernian assistant Derek Adams says he turned down the chance to manage Scottish Premier League clubs because they lacked ambition and funds. Adams refused to name any club, but Kilmarnock and St Mirren were both looking for a new boss in the summer.

"I had the chance to go, but the clubs I had the opportunity to go to were not the right clubs," he told BBC Scotland. "They didn't have the finance to go forward and they didn't want to be played the way I wanted to go forward."

From the BBC Sport Website

I suspect I'm not the only person who was surprised Adams joined Hibernian as assistant to Colin Calderwood. There's an irony in him claiming those clubs who approached him to be their manager 'lacked ambition'.

However, this story does add weight to the theory that Aberdeen didn't sack Mark McGhee because Adams turned them down...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Airdrie United Will Not be Allowed to Forget

This is the Airdrie United programme from last Saturday's Second Division game versus Livingston. The game was played the day before Remembrance Sunday and club officials used the above image from the Second World War with the words 'Lest We Forget.'

Admirable sentiments - although no one at New Broomfield seemed to realise the photograph is of German soldiers. A club official said 'We thought they were Austrians'.

Wasn't Adolf Hitler born in Austria? Lest we forget indeed...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Kevin Kyle Update

'Hello? Mrs Kyle? Aye, it's Jim Jefferies here. Listen, I thought I would let you know that Kevin's away for a couple of pints again. I know he did the same last week after the Hibs game and he did it last month in Aberdeen so I thought you ought to know he's away again tonight.

What's that? The pub? No, no, Mrs K - you don't understand. Big Kev's away to the blood donor unit for a top-up...'

Blowing the Whistle

To say being a referee has never been an easy profession would qualify that assertion as a leading contender for understatement of the year. These last few weeks have been a wretched period for the men in black with yellow facings. The Dougie McDonald incident has turned into a saga with errors being compounded by admitted untruths and the integrity of the game - something football’s ruling bodies believe is sacrosanct - being tarnished some might say forever. However, it doesn’t help when some players add fuel to an already raging fire with comments that are, at best inadvisable.

I suspect I wasn’t the only one who read the comments made by Celtic’s Gary Hooper with a degree of incredulity the other week. The striker said at a press conference that he thinks referees "want" to give decisions against Celtic because they are 'one of the world's big clubs'.

"The referee wants to give a decision against us so he can say something after the game. I think all the big teams get it. Maybe because referees want to give decisions against Celtic, I don't know," he said.

Over the years football fans of clubs outside the Old Firm could write about so many decisions that have gone against their team it would destroy a a fair percentage of a Brazilian rain forest. Moreover, many of these decisions have been when their team has been playing Celtic or Rangers.

Now, with the greatest respect, I would venture the opinion that the standards of refereeing in Scotland may not be at its highest right now. In years gone by, I hurled verbal abuse towards the likes of Hugh Dallas, Willie Young and Brian McGinlay. It's only now that - and I never thought I would say this - I appreciate Dallas and co. for the qualities they had.

We all like to have a go at referees but no one can seriously believe they're biased towards the Old Firm. Gary Hooper might want to revisit his remarks when he stumbles in the penalty box, sixty thousand Celtic fans roar for a penalty kick and the referee duly obliges (as an example take Celtic’s recent 9-0 demolition of Aberdeen at Parkhead - three of the goals were penalties…)

It’s a terrible indictment on Scots society when a referee gets abusive telephone calls and an assistant referee sees his family targeted for verbal abuse just because they give decisions some fans don’t like. At the risk of sounding like an old-timer from days gone by, there seems to be a lack of respect throughout society these days. Officialdom seems to be a prime target. We hear more and more stories of fire fighters being attacked on their way to incidents, of nurses being attacked at hospitals and police also coming under attack. It is said football is a reflection of society. We may be dismayed by the lack of respect by some footballers to referees and their assistants, the haranguing of the men in the middle and the verbal attacks after the game, particularly through the media but should we really be surprised?

As in any other profession, referees can make mistakes. With the huge sums of money in the game, one can argue that such mistakes can prove costly, the difference between winning and losing, of winning trophies and not winning trophies. However, decision-making is what makes football the game it is. So a referee makes an error. Does it really need to be replayed again and again, analysed by pundits who have never refereed a game in their life, and dissected by feverish tabloid newspapers eager to sell copy? If so, what about the player who misses an open goal, misses a crucial penalty or the manager who selects the wrong team? This happens every week and is mentioned in dispatches but is generally considered part of the win as a team, lose as a team philosophy.

The authority of the referee has never been questioned as much as it is at present. Perhaps players, managers and fans should think back to the days of Tom ‘Tiny’ Wharton, a larger than life referee who stood no nonsense from the footballers of the 1960s and early 1970s. Celtic’s Bobby Lennox once chased after Tiny during an Old Firm game insisting he had been fouled and that he should be given a penalty kick. Wharton refused but Lennox continued his argument insisting it was a penalty.

‘I think you’ll find, Mr Lennox’ Tiny Wharton said firmly’ ‘if you check the newspapers tomorrow that it wasn’t…’

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Heart of Midlothian 2 Celtic 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Wednesday 10 November 2010 - Tynecastle

Hearts recorded only their second SPL win of the season at Tynecastle - and in doing so inflicted Celtic's second defeat in the SPL of the campaign. After The Hoops put nine goals past Aberdeen last weekend it's fair to say there was a bit of apprehension among some of the home support but in the end Hearts thoroughly deserved their victory.

After an initial flurry from the visitors, Hearts began to take control of the first half. After the tireless Stephen Elliott saw a header come back off the crossbar, Hearts were finally rewarded after half an hour when Ian Black's effort on goal from twenty yards out took a deflection off Majstorovic and spun over keeper Forster for the opening goal.

Some of the Celtic challenges were tousy to say the least and one such 'tackle' early in the second half earned Ledley a straight red card for a horrendous challenge on Ian Black. Seconds after, Rudi Skacel found David Templeton with a superb cross and the youngster, as he he did against Hibs at the weekend, finished superbly to put Hearts two goals ahead. When Hearts substitute Ryan Stevenson appeared to handle the ball in his own penalty box shortly afterwards we all expected a penalty kick to be awarded to Celtic. But referee Craig Thomson didn't blow his whistle and this was all too much for Celtic manager, the ever popular Neil Lennon, who was sent packing to the stand for his assertion that he didn't quite agree with that decision.

Hearts saw out the game safely enough for a valuable three points. However, the behaviour of some Celtic fans was quite simply a disgrace. Pro IRA songs and sectarian bile emanated from the Roseburn Stand all evening. Will this be included in referee Thomson's report? Don't hold your breath. Will Hearts make a stand against this outrageous and unacceptable behaviour and ban Celtic fans from their team's next visit to Tynecastle? Again, don't inhale.

For Hearts it was a fine performance and an excellent result, coming hard on the heels of last Sunday's victory at Easter Road. Man of the match for me was the excellent David Templeton. What a season this young lad is having.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hibernian 0 Heart of Midlothian 2

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 7 November 2010 - The Two Stands Too Many Stadium

Hearts seem to be choosing alternate weeks to produce positive results. Their third Edinburgh derby win in succession was achieved this afternoon rather more easily than the 2-0 scoreline suggests.

It was Hibernian manager Colin Calderwood's first home game in charge of his new team but the home support didn't seem particularly impressed given the large numbers of empty seats in the home end of the new look Easter Road Stadium. 

Hearts have played better and lost games but they did enough to canter to victory. David Templeton produced a quite brilliant goal after nineteen minutes. The 21-year-old winger set off on a mazy run, shrugging off the challenges of Galbraith, Hart, Bamba and Liam Miller before tucking a cool right-foot finish low past Brown from just inside the penalty box.  It was a stunning goal and if it doesn't get goal of the season then something is far wrong.

Hearts dominated the game from there on in. With twenty three minutes left Stephen Elliott scored his first goal in a maroon jersey. Kevin Kyle headed the ball into the box following a free-kick, Templeton got in front of his markers to stab the ball on and Elliot swept the ball home from ten yards.

Hibernian's day of misery was complete when captain Derek Riordan was shown a straight red card with three minutes to go for a quite atrocious lunge on Rudi Skacel. There is a bit of 'history' between the two players but Riordan could have caused the Czech star serious injury.

So, Hearts record their fourth away victory of the season. Celtic are next up - the problem is the game is at Tynecastle on Wednesday night. And they scored nine against hapless Aberdeen on Saturday. Ho hum...

Lest We Forget?

Remembering those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country apparently cuts no ice with some Celtic supporters. And perhaps someone should get a spellchecker before their next 'protest'...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Infamy, Infamy...

I suspect I'm not the only person who read Celtic striker Gary Hooper's comments about referees today with a fair degree of incredulity. Hooper said he thinks referees "want" to give decisions against Celtic because they are 'one of the world's big clubs'.

"The referee wants to give a decision against us so he can say something after the game. I think all the big teams get it. Maybe because referees want to give decisions against Celtic, I don't know," he said.

Over the years football fans of clubs outside the Old Firm could write about so many decisions that have gone against their team it would destroy a a fair percentage of a Brazilian rain forest. And many of these decisions have been when their team has been playing Celtic or Rangers. Now, with the greatest respect, I would venture the opinion that the standards of refereeing in Scotland may be at its poorest right now. In years gone by I hurled verbal abuse towards the likes of Hugh Dallas, Willie Young and Brian McGinlay. It's only now, given the standard of present day referees in Scotland, that - and I never thought I would say this - I appreciate Dallas and co. for the qualities they had.

Nevertheless, poor as the current men in black with yellow facings are, I have never felt the need to question their integrity. Okay, I did back in 2003 when Dougie McDonald sent off two Hearts players at Rugby Park. Then Hearts manager Craig Levein said he lost count of the number of mistakes McDonald made at 97; having been present at the game that afternoon I harboured suspicions there were more sinister goings on particularly when a rumour went round that Edinburgh based McDonald had leanings towards Hibernian. Levein was fined for his post match comments but famously took on the SFA and won.

In general Scots referees may be lacking in pace, common sense and tact. However, no one can seriously believe they're biased against the Old Firm. When Celtic signed Gary Hooper they clearly believed his paranoid frame of mind would fit in perfectly at Parkhead.

Celtic play Aberdeen in Glasgow this weekend. Hooper should perhaps try out his theory by ambling into the Aberdeen penalty box and falling over when a visiting defender looks at him the wrong way. When 60,000 Celtic fans then bawl 'penalty, referee!' there's a more than reasonable chance the official will point to the penalty spot.

And make Gary Hooper look even more foolish than he does now.

David Hagen

In the mid early to mid 1990s Hearts revitalised youth policy was beginning to reap a rich harvest. However, while youngsters such as Allan Johnston, Kevin Thomas and Gary Locke were given their chance, Hearts also spent some money in the transfer market for young talent. In December 1994, manager Tommy McLean paid Rangers £150,000 for centre forward David Hagen.

Hagen was seen as a promising youngster at Ibrox but with the Glasgow giants continuing to wield the chequebook for big money signings, his chances of becoming a regular were somewhat restricted. He readily accepted the move to Tynecastle and the opportunity for regular first team football. He made his debut in December 1994 as a substitute in a 1-1 draw against a Falkirk side containing Davie Weir and Stevie Fulton.

Hagen became a regular first team player at Tynecastle but it’s fair to say he struggled to make an impact as a striker. He opened his Hearts account against Partick Thistle on Boxing Day 1994 but then scored just twice more that season, albeit one of those was the winner against Celtic in Glasgow towards the end of the season. Although a willing worker, Hagen’s lack of prowess as a goalscorer meant he was not going to be part of new Hearts manager Jim Jefferies long-term plans in the summer of 1995 and Hagen joined Falkirk in October of that year. He was more successful at Brockville and went on to make over a hundred appearances for The Bairns. In 2000, he joined a resurgent Livingston before enjoying spells at Clyde and Peterhead. In 2006, the striker joined leading junior side Bo’ness United.

Today, the 37 year old has retired from playing but is now youth coach at Third Division club East Stirlingshire.