Sunday, 27 March 2011

John Colquhoun

A vital component of the re-emergence of Hearts as a major force in Scottish football in the mid 1980s was John Colquhoun. The Stirling born forward began his career at his hometown club Stirling Albion before Celtic paid £60,000 for his services in 1983. However, his first team opportunities at Celtic Park were limited somewhat due to the established presence of winger Davie Provan and in May 1985 Hearts manager Alex Macdonald paid £50,000 to bring Colquhoun to Tynecastle.

Macdonald had a reputation for bringing the best out of players discarded by the Old Firm and Colquhoun blossomed into one of the finest Hearts players of a generation. ‘JC’ as he was affectionately known was equally effective playing on the wing or through the middle and along with John Robertson and Sandy Clark formed a Hearts front three that caused problems to any defence. Colquhoun was a goalscorer too; his two goals at Ibrox in a 2-0 win over Rangers at Christmas 1985 followed a month later by his memorable winning goal at Pittodrie against reigning champions Aberdeen spring to mind as well as a spectacular volley against Dundee United in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden later that season.

JC won two Scotland caps during his time at Tynecastle, both coming in 1988 against Saudi Arabia and Malta. Joe Jordan replaced Alex Macdonald as Hearts manager in 1990 and less than a year later, Colquhoun moved to Millwall for £400,000. He spent a year in London before Sunderland paid £220,000 for his services but his time at Roker Park wasn’t a particularly happy one and having sold JC two years earlier, Joe Jordan brought him back to Tynecastle in 1993 as part of the deal which took midfielder Derek Ferguson to Wearside.

Colquhoun’s second spell at Tynecastle was equally impressive and he scored Hearts only goal in the Scottish Cup Final defeat to Rangers in 1996. At the end of the following season Colquhoun, now aged 34 joined St. Johnstone for a brief spell before retiring from the playing side of the game and beginning a career in sports journalism. He was a regular guest on the now sadly missed Scotsport show on Scottish Television. He was also chairman of the Scottish Professional Footballers Association and Rector of the University of Edinburgh.

Today, John Colquhoun runs the sports management agency Key Sports Management, which he helped set up in 1999 and includes the likes of Theo Walcott, David James and Steve McClaren among its clients.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A Change in Attitude

Three weeks ago, STV began a second series of their excellent recall of Scottish football, The Football Years. The first programme was about Scotland’s World Cup squad of 1974 who returned home from the finals in what was then West Germany as the only country undefeated (the West Germans won the competition but lost to East Germany in a group game) The Scots beat Zaire but draws against the reigning world champions Brazil and Yugoslavia were insufficient for progression and so the boys in blue went out in the first round group stage on goal difference (this wouldn’t be the first time this would happen) The STV programme interviewed players who took part as well as journalists who were there.

I remember 1974 very well, being just 12 years old at the time, but what struck me on watching the programme was the attitude and preparation - or lack of - of the Scots and the ‘wha’s like us’ mentality that would be frowned upon today. Scotland manager Willie Ormond had gone to watch opponents Zaire in an African Nations Cup match against Ghana - and according to journalist Rodger Baillie left the game after just 15 minutes stating Zaire were no good and would pose no threat to the Scots. He then invited Scots journalists present to accompany him for a wee dram or three back at his hotel. True, Zaire didn’t pose any threat to Scotland in their opening World Cup game but the image of captain Billy Bremner playing keepy-uppy with the ball in his own half as Ormond’s men settled for a 2-0 win rather than a more emphatic victory is an enduring one, particularly when one reflects on the Scots going out the tournament on goal difference. I have stated in these pages before how I believe Hearts Donald Ford would have been a better option up front instead of an ageing Denis Law but Fordie remained on the sidelines alongside, incredibly, the best Scots player I have ever seen - Celtic’s Jimmy Johnstone. ‘Jinky’ appeared to pay the price for some high jinks as the team prepared - although I use the term loosely - for the finals a few weeks earlier.

Willie Ormond would become Hearts manager three years later and it’s difficult to imagine his laissez-faire attitude to preparation being adopted by today’s Scotland manager, Craig Levein who, of course, also managed Hearts. Zaire were managed by a Yugoslav, Blagoje Vidinic, and when the Africans lost their next World Cup game to Yugoslavia 9-0 questions were asked although the answers weren’t given until several decades later when it was alleged some of the Zaire players were given ‘incentives’ not to give their all in the game. The fact Brazil only managed to put three goals past them indicates there was some substance to those allegations.

The day after the STV broadcast last month, Hearts played out a less than enthralling goalless draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie. I didn’t find the idea of leaving Edinburgh at eight in the morning to head to the Granite City particularly enticing so I opted to watch the game on television in a pub. However, I was interested to hear Aberdeen manager Craig Brown’s post match assertion that it was a sign of how much his team had progressed that they had secured a nil-nil draw against the high-flying maroons (or turquoise and white stripes in this case) True, the goalless affair was, for The Dons, a big improvement on their last meeting with Jim Jefferies’ boys when they endured a 5-0 thrashing at Tynecastle a fortnight before Christmas. Nonetheless, it was another example of how football has changed over the years.

A decade after Scotland’s adventure in the 1974 World Cup, Aberdeen weren’t just the third force in Scottish football - they were the force and by some distance. I recall Hearts first season back in the Premier Division after securing promotion in 1983 and being at Pittodrie towards the end of season 1983/84 when Hearts secured a 1-1 draw against a side who were at the time the European Cup Winners Cup holders. Wee John Robertson scored a second half equaliser and I recall leaving Pittodrie’s Beach End as it was then thinking how much progress Hearts had made under manager Alex Macdonald. Twelve months earlier, Hearts had been playing the likes of Dumbarton and Alloa Athletic in the First Division; now they had drawn at the home of one of the finest teams in Europe.

Someone once made the wisecrack that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be and there’s no doubt football has changed a lot in the last thirty odd years. Craig Levein certainly would never dream of leaving a game featuring Scotland’s next opponents after just 15 minutes and heading for the pub while nowadays Aberdonians consider themselves satisfied with a goalless draw against Edinburgh’s finest. One thing remains a constant, however. The joy of seeing Hearts and Scotland triumph and the wellbeing that creates. Now that’s something that will never change!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Respect - Just a Little Bit?

A couple of weeks ago it seemed as if war had broken out in Scottish football. Celtic and Rangers met for what seemed like the umpteenth time this season, this time in the Scottish Cup and having drawn at Ibrox, the sides reconvened at Celtic Park for the replay. The furore during and at the end of this game tainted Scottish football further which, given the state of the game in this country, was the last thing the football authorities needed. Next weekend the Old Firm meet yet again - this time in the Co-operative Insurance Cup Final at Hampden Park - and despite the nondescript nature of this competition, this may turn out to be one of the most important Old Firm fixtures in years.

The Scottish Cup debacle prompted a summit by Scotland’s First Minister, no less, and involved the chief executives of Celtic and Rangers as well as high-ranking officials from Strathclyde Police. I’m not sure quite what this achieved, particularly as Celtic’s Peter Lawell and Rangers Martin Bain were both of the opinion there was little more their clubs could do in relation to the abhorrent violence from supporters of both clubs that usually occurs in the aftermath of almost every Old Firm fixture both in the vicinity of Celtic Park/Ibrox and domestic incidents across Glasgow and beyond as mindless morons take the consequences of defeat out on those they supposedly love and cherish. However, we live in an age when politicians have to be seen to be doing something when a crisis blows, particularly when there’s an election on the horizon…

Bigotry, sectarianism and its associated hatred has been a poison that has blighted not just Scottish football but society in this country for far too many years. And, for years, the same question has been asked by far more qualified people than I - what can be done to eradicate it? Disturbingly it seems there is no definitive answer. Worse, it seems to many observers this cancer on Scots society will never be eradicated.

In the 1970s football became a convenient outlet for hooliganism not only in Scotland but also around Europe. The seeds of social change, planted in the aftermath of the Second World War, harvested the right to be heard and more freedom for all. However, some morals such as decency, tolerance and respect for others were trampled underfoot in the process and hatred became more prevalent. When black footballers first made their presence felt in the UK at this time, racism was rife and much - but not all - of the nation was rightly appalled at the abuse the players received in what was supposed to be sporting arenas. There weren’t so many black players in Scotland as there were over the border but this didn’t mean Scottish football was immune to racist abuse. The treatment of the Rangers player Mark Walters in the late 1980s was sickening but he was far from alone in being subjected to this.

Thankfully, campaigns such as Kick Racism Out of Football and Show Racism the Red Card have proved effective and, thankfully, racist abuse at football games in Scotland is rarely heard these days. With Scotland now a multi-cultural society, any purveyor of such abuse will almost certainly be pointed out to the police by decent, law-abiding fans and likely to be banned from football for life. Why, then, is sectarianism still rife in Scotland? And what can be done to try and address it?

Football showed its responsible face when it took the issue of racism full on. That remains a work in progress but few could doubt its effectiveness. Celtic, Rangers and the Scottish Football Association not only face a huge challenge in addressing sectarianism but they also have a huge responsibility. The competitive nature of football means tempers can flare at any time during a game. In most games, bust-ups between players and officials amount to little more than a few words of righteous condemnation in the press and a slap on the wrist from the football authorities. However, when it happens during Old Firm games there can be more far-reaching consequences.

At the end of the aforementioned Scottish Cup replay at Celtic Park, Celtic’s Neil Lennon and Rangers Ally McCoist squared up to each other right in front of the Sky television cameras, eager to broadcast such a confrontation around the world. We were told a couple of days later that before the evening was over Lennon and McCoist settled their differences over a bottle of beer. A pity, then, that no one thought it would be a good idea for the two men to meet publicly the following day, shake hands before a press conference, and apologise for their irresponsible behaviour. Instead, a baying press stoked the embers of their fiery joust and speculation reached fever pitch about what was said and by whom.

Celtic admitted that Neil Lennon had displayed behaviour that was not of the standard expected of a Celtic manager and he had apologised to the board of directors - although Peter Lawwell thought it wise to add ‘there were mitigating circumstances’. Across the city Martin Bain said Ally McCoist ‘was acutely aware of representing Rangers in the best possible way’ but then could not resist adding ‘he was acting in the defence of our players’

In fairness, the Old Firm have agreed on a six-point plan that came as a result of the summit chaired by the First Minister. However, I suspect I’m not the only person who thinks there is so much more Celtic and Rangers could do. How about Peter Lawwell and Martin Bain holding a joint press conference this week, in the build up to next Sunday’s cup final and both condemning bigotry and violent and abusive behaviour? Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist holding the cup together at Hampden, before a very public embrace? Each player leading out a child dressed in the opposition colours just before kick-off next Sunday? Players from both teams holding up ‘Kick Bigotry Out of Football’ cards in the same way as the Show Racism the Red card campaign?

Small things, I know. Nevertheless, respect for others and decency have to be resurrected in Scotland. For the sake of the game and society in general, there has to be a starting point somewhere.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Stephane Adam

In the summer of 1997, Jim Jefferies was still in the process of rebuilding the Hearts team, something that had been a work in progress since he arrived as manager two years earlier. He knew legendary striker John Robertson was, by now, in the twilight of his career and it was to the Auld Alliance that Jefferies turned to for someone to take on the number nine shirt. He recruited Stephane Adam from French side FC Metz just days before the striker’s 28th birthday and the Frenchman would go on to become a legend in the eyes of the Hearts support.

Adam made his competitive Hearts debut on a Monday evening coming on as a substitute at Ibrox as Hearts lost their first league game of season 1997/98 3-1; however, by the end of the season Adam and Hearts would have the last laugh over Rangers. The Frenchman’s intelligent forward play was the perfect foil for attacking midfielder Colin Cameron and winger Neil McCann. Adam scored ten goals in his first season at Tynecastle - including three in the Scottish Cup. His last goal of the season is one that will never be forgotten by those Hearts fans lucky to have witnessed it. It came in the Scottish Cup Final when Adam pounced on an error by Rangers defender Lorenzo Amoruso to strike a magnificent shot beyond goalkeeper Andy Goram. Adam ran to the ecstatic Hearts support with outstretched arms. It gave Hearts what turned out to be an unassailable lead and end a thirty-six year wait for silverware in Gorgie - and wrote the name of Stephane Adam into Tynecastle folklore.

Adam would become a regular goal scorer for Hearts over the next four years although he was affected by injury that, at times, limited his effectiveness. By May 2002, Craig Levein had taken over as Hearts manager and it became clear the injury prone Adam would not be part of the Fifer’s long-term plans for Hearts. Adam was given a free transfer and returned to France. In 2006, he returned to Scotland for a brief spell to assist his mentor Jim Jefferies in a coaching role at Kilmarnock.

Today, Stephane Adam is coach of French side Lille OSC’s under 19 team - and is still an occasional visitor to Tynecastle.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

East Stirlingshire v Dundee 1981

A blast from the past for Shire and Dundee fans. The Dees clinched promotion to the Premier Division that day, hence the packed crowd at Firs Park. Commentator Alistair Alexander refers to 18 year old Dundee forward Ray Stephen. About three years later Arsene Wenger would sign Stephen for French club Nancy.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Heart of Midlothian 0 Kilmarnock 2

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 5 March 2011 - Tynecastle

There has been talk recently of the Old Firm leaving Scottish football and trying their luck in England. I suspect I'm not the only person who would welcome such a move. However, after their second win at Tynecastle this season, may I respectfully suggest Kilmarnock also move out of Scottish football - I, for one, am sick of the sight of the men from Ayrshire...

Last October, Killie came to Tynecastle, played Hearts off the park and thoroughly deserved their 3-0 victory. Today, the match was a much more even affair but Hearts could not make their territorial advantage in the first half pay and, inevitably, paid the price. After last week's dour display at Aberdeen, Hearts sprang out the Tynecastle traps and in an impressive opening period had chances to score through Bouzid, Skacel and Templeton, the latter seeing his looping header bounce off the woodwork with Killie keeper Jaakkola well beaten. Killie looked dangerous on the break and after weathering the storm came more into the game and Pascali should have done better with a free header which he out wide.

Hearts hopes of making an early break through at the beginning of the second half were in tatters when the visitors took the lead with a fine goal in the 50th minute. Silva ran at the Hearts defence from the halfway line and with no challenge from a home defender forthcoming, the Portugese player drove the ball past an unprotected Marian Kello to give Killie the lead. Six minutes later Eremenko played a one-two with the aforementioned Silva and finished clinically to double the visitors' lead. There was more than half an hour still to play but Hearts fans had seen it all before and we knew there was no way back even after Killie were reduced to ten men when Eremenko was shown a straight red card for raising his hands to Zaliukas.

Strangely, Hearts played better than they did last week at Pittodrie but ended up with nothing. Then again, Killie are a different proposition to Aberdeen - it's staggering to think they lost 5-0 in the Granite City a few weeks back. However, Hearts lack of depth in their squad is beginning to show. They have struggled since they lost Kevin Kyle to injury a few weeks ago. Inexplicably, Jim Jefferies opted for Calum Elliot up front today - the laddie does his best but, frankly, it's nowhere near good enough. KK would rumble defences up but Calum is not the same imposing figure and is easily bundled off the ball. Hearts also missed Lee Wallace and Andy Webster while Andrew Driver didn't even make it off the bench today.

The gap between Hearts and Killie is now down to 13 points but Jim Jefferies men should still be good enough to take third place - and a place in next season's Europa League. But the style the maroons displayed earlier this season has sadly gone AWOL - they need to find it again sooner rather than later.