Roger Mitchell may be less the name of
the SPLs Chief Executive than a statement as to
what some of its clubs would like to do to him. Over the past
few months Mitchell has been the man in charge while the SPL
has lurched from farce to disaster and back again. To be fair,
not all of the tragedy that the SPL has become can be laid at
Mitchells door. But he is certainly responsible for more
than his fair share of misfortunes.
To begin with there was Mitchells arrogant attitude towards
the national team. Hardly helpful at a time when Scotland
are desperately trying to rebuild. Then came the Partick
Thistle dope-smoking faux pas. So far
so bad. But in trying to explain why there were no SPL fixtures
on the Saturday of the Easter holiday weekend, Mitchell excelled
The bold Roger explained that last year the SFA had used
the weekend for the Scottish Cup so he assumed the same
thing would happen this year. Consequently, there were no SPL
games. Astonishing. The SPL operate out of the 6th floor
at Hampden Park. The SFA can be located on Floor Six of the
same building and, for good measure, you can find the Scottish
Football League on Floor VI. We wont go into this
ludicrous situation of having three governing bodies here, but
it does strike the casual observer that the opportunities for
one branch of Scottish football to speak to another arent
exactly hampered by geography.
What Mitchell didnt say when challenged over the lost
weekend was that the SPL need to have a free weekend to allow
clubs to make arrangements for the post-split fixtures. Even
so, the SFA, as the senior body and UEFA and FIFA
affiliate, take precedence just as the FA does
in England. So when it became known that they were playing
the Cup semis on the weekend of 23rd/24th March, (i.e. last
July) there was ample time to re-arrange the SPL fixture
This would also have been fairer. As it stood, the Old Firm
played and won their League games in midweek prior to the
last pre-split fixtures. This meant that Hearts knew
their top six place was guaranteed and that Dunfermline
were aware that a victory over Dundee put them into the
top half. Had the Old Firms games against Motherwell
and Kilmarnock also taken place that Saturday, there
would have been the prospect of the title being decided as well
as three clubs fighting for two top six places. A much better
scenario than what was served up. Can anyone imagine Hearts
going down 3-1 at home to St Johnstone in such circumstances?
In some ways Mitchell has been lucky. All teams are supposed
to go into that final pre-split match without any unfair advantages.
Imagine that Motherwells midweek defeat against
Celtic meant that they would be relegated if both Dunfermline
and Dundee needed a point for survival in their game on the
Saturday? Or if a Hearts V St Johnstone draw put both sides
into the top six and squeezed out Killie in the process?
What ructions then?
Or if, as in a more normal season, there had been four SPL sides
in the cup semis. What a farce that would have been with four
midweek games before important cup ties and only two fixtures
left for what is meant to be a showpiece Saturday.
Mitchells lame attempt to pass the buck to the SFA wont
wash. There is no excuse for not providing a full card for
what would have been one of the best attended weeks of the season.
And trying to say that the blank Saturday helped the others
doesnt ring true either. The entire SFL card attracted
just over 22,500 spectators. Only three clubs recorded gates
significantly above their average. Two- QOS and Brechin
could have expected big rises anyway, given their
League positions. Only St Mirren, with 500 more fans
than normal, benefited from an SPL-free weekend. Partick
Thistle, top of the 1st Division, fresh from a cup semi-final
and with Glasgow all to themselves, actually drew about 300
fewer spectators than usual. SPL fans just wont watch other
clubs in any significant numbers. Sad, but true.
Now Mitchell faces up to his biggest challenge yet. His own
position may even be on the line as the farce called SPL
TV nears its denouement. Only two options seem to be available.
Either the Old Firm gobble up all the cash, leaving the rest
to battle over scraps in games which few will be able to see.
Or its back to SKY with tails between legs, where
the Old Firm will gobble up all the cash etc.
I never thought these words would ever flow from my trusty laptop,
but for what its worth, here they are: None of this would
ever have happened under Jim Farry.
After the recent doom and gloom surrounding the game
spectator violence, clubs in danger of folding, collapsed TV
deals, Scotland getting humped in Paris
its good to take some time out to reflect on the more appealing
side of football. Even if it means digressing from purely Scottish
soccer for a moment.
Normally, when a club prepares for an influx of visitors twice
the size of its average home gate, it does so with a sense of
trepidation. Happily that was not the case in West Cornwall
on Good Friday 2002. Penzance AFC usually play in front
of around 150 fans the sort of crowd that even East
Stirling would consider poor. But the gate for their fixture
against Bodmin Town was swollen to 479, thanks
to around 300 groundhoppers.
This is a strange breed of supporter. The groundhopper starts
off by visiting all the league grounds in England. Then he (and
over 95% of hoppers are male) will collect Scottish
grounds, then maybe Irish grounds before starting out to go
through the English non-league pyramid.
So by the time these visitors descended on Cornwall they must
already have visited several hundred football grounds. For the
South Western League lies seven levels
below the Football League. And surely only the most dedicated
will spend their entire Bank Holiday weekend adding nine
of the most obscure and isolated grounds in the UK to their
list. Truly, these are footballs trainspotters. As this
writer was recently described as an anoraks anorak
in the Sunday Herald, I can assure the hoppers
I am not insulting them by using this term.
For there was something wonderful about this occasion. Accents
from all over the British Isles. Hearts centenary shirts
sitting next to Sheffield United tops. Lilting Irish
accents being responded to in broad cockney. And one lone figure,
resplendent in a Scotland tammy circa 1955 comparing
the local pasty favourably with the Forfar bridie.
The one thing they all had in common was a love of the game
for the games sake. No hero worship of £100,000
per week prima donnas. For, strangely enough, amidst the shirts
of many colours on display it was the big boys who were missing.
Macclesfield were there but not Man U. Aldershot
not Arsenal. And of Scotlands Ugly Sisters,
not a shirt in sight. There are plenty of them in this part
of the world and they will descend on the pubs in their droves
on Cup Final day. But to ask them to part with £2-50
on a sun-kissed afternoon to watch a decent game of football
that didnt involve tribal chants and centuries-old violence,
well, thats asking rather a lot.
For the record the home team won 3-0 despite having a man sent
off. And the friendly army of groundhoppers departed as peacefully
as they arrived, happy with what they had seen, and eager to
hit the next small town on their weekend trail. Mad? They may
well be. But its the kind of madness Id love
to see repeated every weekend.
Coming (Mc) Clean
McLean in his playing days
For close on 40 years now, Jim McLean has been involved in
Scottish football. Firstly as a player, thoughtful, skilful,
intelligent, sometimes unappreciated on the terracings, often lauded
by the games connoisseurs. Then he was a manager. Along
with Alex Ferguson he took on, and beat, the big two. A League
title, two League Cups, six (unsuccessful) Scottish Cup Finals.
All with a team which had never played in a major Final or finished
higher than 5th in the table before McLean took over.
Latterly there was McLean the Chairman. Widely perceived
as arrogant and tyrannical, forcing players to sign ridiculously
long contracts on pitiful wages. What looked like the final chapter
in his long career appeared to come to an ignominious end with a
well-aimed right hook on a BBC reporter.
But now there is a fourth manifestation of McLean, appropriately
enough as a member of the fourth estate. McLean has recently embarked
on a career as a columnist in the Daily Record on Fridays.
Now we all know the kind of thing the packs a punch
headlines which merely trail banal observations on the game,
either from ex-players unwilling to damage old friends by revealing
their inadequacies (Murdo McLeod) or failed managers who
seem to think that they can still do a better job than the men currently
in charge (Mark Hateley). All of it ghost-written. All of
it pap. None of it fit even to wrap up a fish supper
But McLean is different. Whether its his own stuff or filtered
through a Record journo is immaterial. At last someone is prepared
to tell it like it really is. Maybe its because Jim has no need
to be beholden to anyone anymore. Perhaps he just likes getting
his own back. Who cares? Lets just enjoy him while we can.
For it cant be long before the Records lawyers start
looking at his articles more closely. It may just be a matter of
time before he is quietly shunted aside for the paper to deliver
the big-name banalities it does so well.
For anyone unfamiliar with his writings over the past
few weeks, go out and get the Record on a Friday. If you cant
do that then log on to the Record
and take it from there.
McLeans first column attacked those professional leeches
the agents. Not the general criticisms of them as a breed that we
are all familiar with. He actually named names. Gordon Smith,
Bill McMurdo, Raymond Sparkes. He cited their indiscretions,
their greed. He quoted circumstances. McLean is a man the agents
cant touch anymore and he let them know it.
Similarly, in his latest column (Friday April 5th) he lays into
the Old Firm. Heres a few choice quotes:
For years they've been killing the competition by buying
up the best players and taking the lion's share of TV money.
The Old Firm are helped by weak refereeing. They will get
more important decisions going in their favour over the course of
a season than other clubs.
If they shared the money around equally then other clubs
would have a better chance of putting out teams capable of giving
them a decent game.
They've got to make up their minds if they want to be big
fish in Scotland or small fish elsewhere - if anyone will ever take
them. If they're still part of Scottish football they should start
acting like it.
Now while most non-Old Firm fans will regard these statements as
simply self-evident truths, no one can deny that it is anything
other than unusual to read such refreshing honesty in the Scottish
press. Nor that they carry more weight coming, as they do, from
someone who has spent a lifetime progressing through all levels
of the game.
Jim McLean: A Scottish legend. Enjoy him while you can. Before
the lawyers have him muzzled.