Wednesday, 28 March 2012

One Rule For Some...

Last month I had something of a dilemma. Valentines Day doesn’t normally mean much to me but this year was different and I planned to treat a special lady in my life. Then Hearts threw a spanner in the works by allowing St. Johnstone’s Cillian Sheridan to score a late equaliser in the William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round tie at Tynecastle and therefore necessitate a replay in Perth. I knew the way my luck goes that the replay would be on Tuesday 14th February rather than the following night when one wouldn’t need an excuse not to say it with flowers. However, it seemed the fates offered this ageing Hearts supporter a rare break when it was initially announced the replay would not be on the Tuesday but on Thursday 16th February instead as Sky Sports had opted to show the game live on television. Halleluiah I cried. I can take my beloved out for a romantic meal and still head to the game. Then, it wasn’t fate that intervened - it was the suits at UEFA who told Hearts and St. Johnstone their game could not be shown on television on the Thursday as this was in direct competition to Europa League ties being televised on the same evening.

This rather bizarre ruling meant I didn’t get to Perth as the game was switched back to the Tuesday. My distraction at checking my mobile phone under the table at the swank restaurant was picked up by my acquaintance who wasn’t the slightest bit amused. Especially as the game went into extra time and Hearts waited until three minutes before the end until netting the winner. Punching the air with my fist and shouting yes several times wasn’t quite the romantic end to the evening she had anticipated…

My disappointment at missing the Gorgie Boys cup triumph - sweet revenge against the team that knocked us out the cup last year - intensified some weeks later (stay with me on this one) when ITV televised Birmingham City’s FA Cup replay with Chelsea - in direct competition to UEFA Champions League games also being televised that Tuesday evening. UEFA stated the English FA hadn’t informed them the cup replay would be on television that night - although it hardly took a genius to work out that a tie involving one of the biggest clubs in England would be on television - but said they would be investigating the matter.

This was small consolation to both St. Johnstone and Hearts who, it is believed, lost more than £80,000 each as a result of the SFA doing the right thing and obeying the rules laid down by UEFA - while Chelsea, one of the richest clubs in the world, were paid handsomely by Clive Tyldesley’s employers. We all know we live in financially difficult times - one only has to look at the plight of Rangers and the very real threat to their existence - and a not insignificant amount of money was lost to the Perth Saints and the boys in maroon last month.

Will UEFA take action? In fairness, they probably will but it will almost certainly be in the form of a fine for both Birmingham City and Chelsea and likely to be far less that the money they received for the game being televised in the first place. This seems to me to be yet another example of one rule for the rich, money-laden clubs of the world and another for those who have to budget on a month-to-month basis.

Television has a hold on football like never before. Sky has led the way, particularly in England, and the fees they pay to clubs in the Barclays FA Premiership are like Monopoly money. The BBC and ITV, to a lesser extent, are also aboard the gravy train and coverage of the national game on the small screen has never been greater. Now we don’t want to go back to the quite ridiculous situation of several decades ago when the Scottish Football Association would prevent terrestrial television channels in Scotland showing a European Cup quarter final live because Albion Rovers were playing East Stirlingshire in a bottom of the league clash and therefore the attendance of three men and a dog might be affected to the extent just the dog turned up. However, a modicum of common sense surely has to be applied here. I seriously doubt if there was anyone in Bucharest on the night of 16 February who would have been torn between going to watch the local team Steaua take on Twente or heading to the pub to watch Hearts taking on St. Johnstone on satellite television.

Hang on, a man in a suit from UEFA has just passed me a note. It’s from Jim the Jambo in Bucharest…

Monday, 19 March 2012

Heart of Midlothian 2 Hibernian 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 18 March 2012 - Tynecastle

The Monopolies Commission have today intimated they may investigate the Edinburgh derby after yet another win for Heart of Midlothian against Hibernian. While conceding Hearts are a bigger club with more trophies won, bigger support and a prouder history, the Commission are of the opinion Hearts still have no right to dominate a fixture intended to provide some cheer for both sets of supporters from Scotland's capital city...

Hearts duly made it three wins out of three against their city rivals yesterday with a fully deserved win. A high noon kick off it may have been (thanks ESPN) but Hearts leapt out the traps and had the visitors on the ropes before inevitably opening the scoring just before the half hour. A quite magnificent crossfield ball from Ian Black was controlled brilliantly with one touch by Craig Beattie. The former Celtic striker strode in on goal before poking the ball through the legs of Hibs keeper Stack to give Hearts the lead.

The visitors threatened briefly after half time but striker Leigh Griffiths swallowed the bait fed to him by teasing Hearts fans and proved as ineffectual in front of goal as he was to ignoring taunts about his looks. Hearts scored the second goal their dominance deserved in injury time when substitute Suso Santana skipped into the Hibs penalty box before slotting the ball beyond Stack to complete the scoring.

That's now ten games in a row Hearts are unbeaten against their city rivals, a run going back three years. It's almost certain now that the next Edinburgh derby won't be until next season - unless the pair meet in this season's Scottish Cup Final. Given Hearts record this season, that would be the derby to end all Edinburgh derbies...

Chant of the day - 'You could have come in a taxi' - Hearts fans towards the section of the Roseburn Stand that didn't have empty seats.

Top man: Craig Beattie - he may have tired towards the end but this was hardly surprising given his awesome work rate. And what a goal...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Wanna Bet?

‘Away up in Gorgie’ begins one of Scottish football’s most famous anthems. A change in my personal circumstances recently has meant I recently moved from living in the heart of Midlothian to a short stagger away from one of Gorgie’s finest watering holes i.e. The Athletic Arms aka The Diggers. Yesterday, I was ambling along Gorgie Road. Being a Saturday morning, my brisk walk was not in any way to do with me clearing my head from partaking in too much alcohol the night before. Oh, no. I just happened to pass a well-known bookmaker and, unfortunately, my long established medical condition - turf accountant constipationitis - was triggered (cannae pass a bookies…)

I have been known to place the odd bet or three over the years. On very rare occasions, I actually win. My gambling habit is mocked by friends and family alike. Shortly after Hearts won the Scottish Cup in 1998, my then 12-year-old daughter was rushed into hospital with appendicitis. Recovering at the Sick Kids’ Hospital a couple of days later, one of the teachers from her school very kindly paid her a visit - and duly cast me a disapproving eye as he realised I was playing cards with my daughter with her pocket money at stake (I was winning too, when he came in…)

Now, I have to say I don’t often bet on Hearts to win. This has nothing to do with not having faith in my team but more to do with putting the mockers on the boys in maroon securing victory. Those who know me will tell you my record at the bookies is not a particularly good one. The last horse I backed that actually won a race was Shergar (as your parents, younger readers) In fact, in years gone by, it seems the more I bet against Hearts, the more likely they are to win. Moreover, the bigger the occasion and the bigger the bet, the more success seems to come the way of the Gorgie Boys. It’s nearly six years since the greatest Edinburgh derby of all - the Tennents Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park when Edinburgh’s finest put Hibernian to the sword, a Paul Hartley hat-trick helping to secure a 4-0 win and a place in the Scottish Cup Final. I would like to think I was as influential as Mr Hartley was in that game as I had placed a crisp ten pound note on Hibernian winning the game. Now before you castigate me, I should explain my glass half-empty thinking was if it all went Pete Tong and Hearts lost, at least I would have the very small consolation of picking up a few pounds from the bookies afterwards. And spending the winnings on drowning my sorrows. As events transpired, I was more than happy to part with ten pounds to see the maroons triumph. That game had a lunch time kick off and it was around 4.30pm that I toasted Hearts success in the Tynecastle Arms. The rest of that evening is a blur…

When the Gorgie Boys have been to Europe, I have usually placed a small sum on Hearts losing. The 1-0 victory in Bordeaux in November 2003 was one of the greatest experiences ever for those Hearts fans who were there. The two ten pound notes I placed on a home win were never seen again but it was a price worth paying. Similarly, a ten pound punt on SC Braga to defeat Hearts in the Portuguese city was safely deposited in the bookies’ vaults when Mark de Vries scored twice to secure a 2-2 draw on the night.

Getting back to the events of yesterday, the odds of 9/2 for Hearts to record an admittedly rare win at Ibrox looked particularly tempting. Rangers troubles are well documented and Dundee United and Kilmarnock have both won in Govan in recent weeks. I entered said bookies and filled in a slip that read £10 on Hearts to beat Rangers. Then, I considered the implications of my actions and thought better of it. Winning at Ibrox is difficult enough without having the additional burden of me backing the Maroons.

Sure enough, Hearts did the business with Jamie Hamill scoring a late winner. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as more than £50 passed through my fingers. Of course, had I placed a bet on Rangers to be ahead at half time and Hearts to win at full time, not only would I have been able to have a pint in The Diggers on the way home that evening - I would probably have won enough to buy everyone in the pub a drink.

Perhaps I should place a substantial bet on Hearts to lose every game next season. With my track record, there would be a reasonable chance Hearts could win the league…