Archive for category Sport

Total Politics Blog Awards 2011

The main beauty of the beauty contest blog rankings is that most bloggers that are involved in them say on the outside that ‘they’re just a bit of fun’ but on the inside they’re boring their eyes into you thinking ‘Vote for me! Vote for me!!’. So, as much as my co-editors will tut, sigh and think a whole lot less of me for this, and now that the Total Politics Blog ranking 2011 voting lines are open, let me just beg of you this, it’s only a bit of fun vote for us!

As electoral tactics go, pleading to lend us your votes simply because we put in a good bit of blood, sweat and tears to keep this blog going, kept the energy up during a lacklustre election campaign and provided a new resource for #sp11 election results (oooh, shiny!), is probably not enough so let me try this instead….. Tom Harris cannot win Scotland’s top blog award for the umpteenth year in a row. End of.

Seriously, this is the West Lothian question turned on its head that we’re dealing with here. Tom’s multi-award winning, platinum ‘And Another Thing’ blog scooped the prize in recent years on the back of predominantly English readers (as Tom, being an MP working in London, understandably tends to stay away from devolved issues). This may be less of an issue now that it is Labour Hame that is in the running, a distinctly Scottish beast, but how would you feel if Mr H was top of the charts once again?

Now, don’t get me wrong, this poll is deeply flawed, it’s even worse than the d’hondt system. What is to stop anyone from creating numerous email addresses and sending in their votes collecting 10points per email? Nothing but the belief in the common decency of our fellow man (and the last few days alone has put paid to that). However, this is the only show in town. Wikio is flawed due to its unfair reward of the group of blogs known affectionately as ‘circle jerk’ (or Lib Dem blogs if you really want to be specific about it) and there is nothing that is going to stop Total Politics from hosting this exercise every year (as I would prefer, at least until they have a decent system in place). So, if there are to be rankings, all blogs might as well get involved, all bloggers might as well aim to be as high as they fairly can and all Scots should be crossing their fingers that MacBloggers are well represented, not to mention that Scotland has a new champion in a few weeks’ time.

There are several Scottish blogs that could topple the lovable rogue from Glasgow South and I like to think that this here is one of them. So, if you don’t do it for you, for us, for your nation or for democratic duty itself, at least do it for whatever satisfaction the sight of Mr Harris slipping down the rankings will provide.

NB – The rules have changed in that you must complete this survey in order to vote.

(Tom, if you’re reading this, don’t be put off; please also vote for us!)

So you thought it was all over?

Eek!  Whatever happened to the close season?  Less of a stop, more of a pause really.  The last football season ended with the Scottish Cup final played on 21 May and the new one starts this Saturday 23 July – eight short weeks apart.

There’s something faintly obscene about this rush to return to winter pastimes in mid summer.  And given the inglorious end to last season, and events this summer, a longer period of contemplation and respite might have done us all the world of good.  But no, common sense and football are distant companions these days.

The legislation might have been put on hold for more considered deliberation but the JAG – that’s Joint Action Group for the uninitiated – on Football has met and agreed 40 – count em! – points of action which aim to “improve the game”.  It’s a slightly misleading headline, because having scoured the recommendations on your behalf, dear reader, nowhere do I see proposals to clone Kenny Dalglish.

No, these recommendations aim to improve the conduct of football by players and spectators alike.  Some of it is so obvious the burd is frankly perturbed that it isn’t already commonplace.  Indeed, it is remarkable that after years of huffing and puffing by the powers that be, to the effect that the computer says no, the SPL has agreed upfront to significant changes in the scheduling of matches.

New Year’s Day football for the Old Firm is a thing of the past – the traditional derby will now be played on 28 December.  The police will have a say on the scheduling of the post-split Old Firm clash, Chief Police Officers will be consulted before the fixtures list is published each year to identify and consider any problematic fixtures and there will be only one mid week fixture round after the annual split.  This last one is welcome news for fans who get fed up being expected to get from one end of the country to the other on a working evening, just because an SPL computer deemed it necessary.

Of course, all of this is fine and dandy in theory but while the JAG can try to control a range of elements, there is one – the weather – which is sadly still outwith its control.  It better not snow on 28 December or the weather gods will have the First Minister to answer to.

Other proposals smack a little of of being seen to act instead of just acting.  Apparently in order to co-ordinate better policing of games we need a new national football policing unit with a wee bung of nearly £2 million to help it on its way.  Couldn’t they just all pick up the phone and speak to each other before and after “key games”?

Moreover, did we need to drag the SFA to a big meeting to get them to agree to develop rules preventing comment by club officials on appointed referees before matches, to reintroduce a Laws of the Game/refereeing decisions area to its website and to develop a “formal reporting protocol” for referees to “ensure absolute clarity and consistency in the reporting of all match related incidents”?

But for the main part, these are well-meaning, thoughtful efforts not only to clean up the vilest aspects of our national game, but also for the first time, attempt to link its role and impact on some of our other less edifying national pastimes.  Many of the proposed measures take a long term view and consider how we can change the culture surrounding football so that it can make a better contribution to the common weal.

Especially welcome is recognition of the role of supporters and bodies like the Supporters’ Trust in reshaping this culture and also of the needs of the long-suffering, well behaved majority.  For example. the coaching badge will contain a spectator safety element in the future, supporters will get their own code of conduct, minimum standard provisions will feature in all ticket sale conditions, and a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of police and stewards inside stadia will be developed.  The burd respectfully suggests that the first lesson should be that shrugging shoulders disinterestedly when a complaint is made about offensive fan behaviour is not the required response.

Anyone hoping to see a permanent marginalisation of football to the sidelines of life should look away now.  The JAG recommends that “there is early identification of the role that football/sport can play when initiatives are being considered at policy level, and that consideration is given to the early classification of the type of programme involved (Prevention, Early Intervention, Enforcement, Rehabilitation), supported by accurate identification of the target audience – recognising that unacceptable behaviour occurs throughout Scotland.”  Nope me neither.

Roughly translated, football can play a positive role in a wider social policy context.  Thus, one of the recommendations suggests that offenders who are also football supporters should be required to attend football-based programmes as part of their rehabilitation.  Also welcome is the plan to undertake research into the relationship between football and domestic abuse, as are the proposals to restrict alcohol consumption.

But there is a gaping silence at the heart of this plan:  it fails to address the need for football itself to clean up its act.  For years now, players have gotten away with behaving badly:  the cases that reach our eyes and ears for drug misuse, inappropriate sexual behaviour, drunkenness, speeding and the like are only the tip of a very big iceberg.   For every role model who is the archetypal family man, there is a team mate who indulges in all the excesses a large wage and a privileged position confer.  Whenever one oversteps the mark, ranks are closed, excuses are made and indiscretions are glossed over.

To fail to address this aspect of football, to leave it to clubs to agree a single code of conduct for everyone in Scottish football, to not make a clear and firm statement on the need for those inside football to adopt a zero tolerance approach to violence, drinking, inappropriate sexual behaviour and law-breaking represents a missed opportunity at an open goal.

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I’m going green.

Green HeartsMy parents moved to Edinburgh when I was seven, and before that my dad and I used to go to the second half of Chesterfield Town games – they opened the gates at half-time and anyone could go in for free. He’d been a part-time Hearts fan when he was younger, and once back in Edinburgh he took it upon himself to go with me to Tynecastle a few times, not because he was hugely into football, but it’s just what you do with a young son.

There was a great spell in the mid-80s, and I was a pretty serious fan of players like John Colquhoun, Gary Mackay, Craig Levein, the absurdly-coiffured Henry Smith, and of course the immortal John Robertson. Like many a fair-weather fan, 1986 rather knocked the stuffing out of me, but I’ve been back a few times since. Not many. Just when the weather’s nice. And it’s not on telly. You know.

Then Romanov arrived. He saved the ground, for how long who knows, but screwed up the best team Hearts had had since the mid-80s, and (I’m going to try to be careful to avoid libel here) his decisions became increasingly flawed and perverse – the classic dictatorial mix of egomaniacal and bombastic. So sue me.

Today saw a new low. Defender Craig Thomson found himself on the sex offenders register last week, for perverse offences involving young girls. I’m not clear why he avoided a custodial sentence, personally, yet astonishingly he remains on the team. Queue here for the youth programme, parents. A role model for local young people anyone? The taunts from the Hibs fans next season will be “interesting” to say the least.

Then came the statement from the Board. Actually, it’s from Romanov alone, clearly dictated to some mewling functionary. Utter insanity. Let the final two paragraphs speak for themselves (they follow a bizarre blaming of the aforementioned Mackay, now an agent):

“Mafia are dragging kids into the crime, in order to blackmail and profit on them. It is not possible to separate these people from pedophiles, and you don’t need to do that. Each year we are forced to fight against these maniacs harder and harder. We are standing in their way not letting them manipulate the game of football in the way they want. As such they undermine us in every possible way they can.

“The task of the club is to tear these kids out of hands of criminals.”

Er, no. Not even vaguely in my name. I can’t support this club again until both this player and that owner are gone. I’m going green, just for just now, which is consistent with some of my other interests, and I’d urge other Hearts fans who feel aggrieved at the barbarism the club has fallen into to do the same. Mebbe Eddie and Kate can take me to the wrong end at Easter Road sometime. I’ll not be chanting along when Hearts come, though.

That’s the Minister on a yellow..

Straight RedLast night’s tussle between Alex Neil and Andy Kerr on Newsnicht was hardly edifying. The tone was not raised, the debate was not had, and by the end Gordon Brewer joined them in all talking over each other. No civilian watching could have been impressed by either of them. In the argot of the playground Alex Neil did start it, and Andy’s first “I listened to you” was entirely justified, but by the end no-one was standing on the high ground.

As Twitter had it..

Paul: Well, I, for one, am glad that this tax issue has been sorted once and for all after that insightful and thoughtful discussion on #newsnicht

Cowrin: They should put them both in the same studio next time, with a couple of handbags on the table in front of them #newsnicht

The public aren’t served by hearing politicians ranting away on top of each other, nor will they all unilaterally start behaving either. Perhaps instead BBC and STV could agree some rules, and enforce them. Give Gordon Brewer and other interviewers a red and a yellow card to use.

Anyone talking over another person in the studio could be warned, and repeated offences could lead to a yellow. Perhaps a Michael Howard-style failure to answer the question might also lead to a card. A particularly egregious performance despite warnings from the referee presenter could be a straight red: mike off, interview over. The PO does it in the Chamber.

Anyone sent off either for a second yellow or a straight red could then not be invited onto that network for a fixed period – a month? Six months? I’d certainly like to see if MSPs would play a cleaner second half knowing they were in danger of being sent off. And if it works out, perhaps Gordon Brewer and Hugh Dallas could try a jobswap once the strike’s been sorted out.

Two Treatises of Sport and Identity

When you reference John Locke in a blog title, you give the reader an expectation on quality which you are never likely to live up to.  Nevertheless, I’ve done it anyway – mainly because it worked as a title but partly as a device to emphasise my point.  So now, as you read on, expectations are raised as to the quality of prose – but I’ll leave you as the judge of whether the result is an almighty effort which results in heroic failure or produces a positive result only to be hampered by the sizeable expectations laid upon it to begin with.

Anyway, the reason I’ve regarded this as “Two Treatises” is that I’ve already seen a first (though not written by me).  Read it here.  It is written by the enlightened (well, for a No.8 at any rate) John Beattie, a former Scottish rugby international, whose son is a current Scotland back-rower and his daughter is a Scottish football international.  I guess if there’s a family who know a little bit about sport and representing your nation, it could be Mr Beattie’s.  So when he asks: “how Scottish people beat the Australians, New Zealanders, and indeed the English, at anything?” I feel we need to explore the question a little.

His post is a summary of Scottish success (oh yes – there was some of that!) at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi (9 golds, 10 silvers and 7 bronzes – 26 medals in total).  He points out the huge disparity in population between Scotland and Australia (we’re 25% of them) and the fact that they have more swimming pools in Melbourne than we have in total as emphasis that we shouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in… erm, an Australian summer of beating them in the pool.  And yet it happened.

But I don’t buy that.  I was going to use this post to emphasise the same point – that for a nation of just 5 million Scotland punches above its weight.  But then I looked at the new FIFA World Rankings.  We’re now #57= in the world, and started counting the countries above us with a population smaller than ours. I gave up at 10, but there are more.  So that can’t solely be it.  Similarly in rugby – New Zealand are the best team in the world and arguably have been for some time (Rugby World Cup competitions notwithstanding) yet their population is less than ours (and indeed, they have more – 13 times more – sheep than people… just saying).

So if its not how many people we have – as John Beattie suggests – that impacts upon sporting success, then what is it?  Well, pick any number of factors – government funding for sport, sport in schools (PE), lack of decent facilities, the invention of computers and computer games.  But if those are actually good excuses for us, then surely the rest of the world should be suffering the same?  Well, perhaps they are – and the quality of sport has taken a dive in recent times.  I’m not really talking about elite sports level (world class pro footballers are probably more skilled –  but less smart with it – than previous generations; rugby internationals are massive) but the depth of talent is probably less than it has been.  And having a smaller population will inevitably impact upon this.

John Beattie also points to us being pessimistic, to us talking Scotland down and being negative, as a national trait.  I have to be honest – I’m as guilty as the next at that, particularly when it comes to sport.  But just as sport is part of our identity, so is, I think is this pessimism.  Not a healthy aspect of identity – and one which rightly sees politicians taken to task when they imply we’re too wee, daft or poor to survive on our own (a caricature of a unionist position to be sure, but perhaps a fair criticism).  But I’m not convinced it is this attitude that is holding us back.

Honestly (and here’s a surprise for Jeff and James who have me down as a sporting pessimist) I think Scotland are as good as we can be at the moment in sporting terms.  Sure we can only marginally beat Liechtenstein and draw with Lithuania, but that is perhaps our level.  It is only because our expectations are so high – because we’ve historically been spoiled by the over-achievement of our small nation – that we see these results as poor.  And this is where I have one-up on my co-authors.

I’ve watched Scotland performances with them in the past (Netherlands in the last qualifying campaign stands out) and both hoped (expected?) us to win.  I think James even had us, optimistically, to beat World and European Champions Spain last week!  I, on the other hand, am much more pessimistic.  But I find that a good thing – it makes for less heartache in the long run.  You see, if you expect Scotland to be good and we’re not, you get incredibly frustrated when we struggle against minnows of world football.  If you are more pessimistic (some may say “realistic”!) then when victory comes, it is perhaps all the sweeter for its surprising nature.

So I think what I’m saying is this – by all means be ambitious.  But temper it with some realism.  Raising expectations is only going to disappoint.  Be a little more pessimistic, a little less expectant, and we, as fans, will enjoy the experience more.