Launch of SFSA Fans’ Survey

LAUNCH OF THE FIRST INDEPENDENT EVALUATION OF SCOTTISH FOOTBALL GOVERNANCE BY THE SCOTTISH FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS ASSOCIATION (SFSA)

 

Representatives from various fan groups, including the Scottish Football Monitor took up the invitation to the above event which is largely self-explanatory. The scene was set with the following agenda

 

 

 

 

 

Media Briefing.

SURVEY TO SET BENCHMARK FOR FUTURE EVALUATION OF NATIONAL GAME

 WHEN:                             Thursday, 20TH July 2017 at 11AM

WHERE:                           Scottish Parliament – Committee Room 4

WHO                                Simon Barrow (Chair of the SFSA), Henry McLeish (Board member of the SFSA), Richard Leonard MSP (member of Scottish Parliament for Central Scotland and host of event) and Dr Joachim Lammert (The Department of Sports Economics and Sports Management at the University of Leipzig)

 

The first independent evaluation of Scottish football governance will be launched by The Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA).

 

The SFSA’s nationwide survey will assess, for the first time, supporters’ views on the current position of the game, including the performance of the game’s governing bodies in Scotland.  The research will become an annual benchmarking & reporting exercise looking at all aspects of the game.

 

The SFSA’s online survey has been created in partnership with Prof. Dr. Axel Faix and Dr. Joachim Lammert, two experienced German academics who have undertaken similar evaluations on a national level in Germany and on a European level on topics including 50+1 (German football’s rules that a parent club must own at least 50% plus one share of the football company) and Financial Fair Play.  Their research has been backed by Football Supporters Europe and by German fans organisation, Unsere Kurve.

 

Fans will also be able to provide comment on their own club’s performance.

 

The SFSA, whose board includes former First Minister Henry McLeish; former MP and MSP Cathy Jamieson and Maureen McGonigle, Founder of Scottish Women in Sport and first female Scottish FA Council Member, has over 67,000 members supporting clubs across Scotland.

 

The SFSA is Scotland’s fans’ representative in The Football Supporters Europe network (FSE), an independent, representative and democratically organised grass-roots network of football fans’ in Europe with members in currently 48 countries across the continent.

 

The SFSA might be best thought of as movement appearing at a time when Scottish Football supporters are desperately seeking an alternative to the attitudes and events that have seen our game at best stand still and at worst decline, as changes in the way football has grown as a global industry  have left us marooned on our own small patch of God’s earth.

 

If the two maxims that

  • a problem cannot be solved by the mind that created it and
  • if you cannot manage (and therefore improve) what you cannot measure

are true, then the SFSA professional idea to making change happen offers a different approach to the past by introducing new thinking and using tested scientific metrics on a survey model used successfully in Germany, where the game is light years ahead of Scotland’s by any measure.

The arrival of this movement is crucial, and in the words of SFSA Board member Henry McLeish, ex footballer and former First Minister of Scotland; “Scottish Football is at a Watershed”.

Few if any who love our game would argue with that. We love football because it is in our blood, it plays a key part in the social interplay of Scottish society and it is too important not to now say  “Enough!”

It is clear that the medicine of the past, an approach to the game which excludes it’s life blood, (no wonder it is ill) is no longer efficacious – if indeed it ever was.

To continue with that same prescription would fall foul of that other maxim; “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

Thus the SFSA, who are independent of current Scottish football authorities (SFA/SFL), offer an opportunity to break that insane cycle by offering a new approach, which sees it’s first duty as asking the fans what they think, and they are seeking to do exactly that by enacting a comprehensive nationwide survey of fans’ views and attitudes. The survey, created by a team of research academics at Leipzig University will present, in a cohesive way, the views and thoughts of Scottish football fans concerning the health of the game in Scotland through their own own clubs, the SPFL, and the SFA .

The higher the number who complete the survey and articulating their views, the more weight and authority the survey’s outcomes will carry when the SFSA presents them to current authority and government.

 

SFM hopes that as many people as possible will take part in an exercise that offers real hope of change by clicking below

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/sfsa-benchmark-2017

and visit the SFSA page at

http://scottishfsa.org/have-your-say-now/

where the survey is explained and you can join the SFSA individually.

 

This may be our last chance as lovers of Scottish football to restore its integrity and trust in our football authorities who have lost sight of those values in pursuit of commercial concerns.

 

To the cynics whose past experience of calling for change discourages them (and who can blame them for it’s taken lifetimes) one last maxim.

 

If you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the lottery.

 

Roll Up, Roll Up https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/sfsa-benchmark-2017

Big Pink Comment:

Like Auldheid, I am encouraged by the birth of the SFSA and its determination to procure the views of supporters. There are enough people involved in the initiative with clear views about the harm that inherent self-interest on the part of the clubs has brought to our game.

I was less encouraged by the conciliatory tone of Henry McLeish, in public at least, towards those in power at Hampden. For example he said that Scottish football folk viewed outside bodies with suspicion, and that was often understandable.

My take is that they only view anyone wishing to become proactive with that suspicion (and fear). They have never viewed my cash with anything other than hungry eyes, far less suspicion.

The feeling in the room, when less formal discussion was taking place, was that the authorities and the clubs have refused to take fans’ views into account for too long.

Governance (particularly the lack of and the ‘making it up as we go’ varieties), FFP and Strict Liability were all subjects of those discussions. These are all nettles that MUST be grasped in public, and the sooner the better, if fans’ views are to be properly reflected.

I am hopeful that the weight of dissatisfaction I expect to see as a result of this ambitious survey will compel a change in tone by McLeish and his colleagues.

One final note of concern is that a group like SFSA, which after all hopes to represent fans at the top table, appears to have a board overly comprised of folk from the political, business and academic spheres. Some grass roots participation is vital moving forward. Hopefully that is also on the agenda.

Time for Scots Government to Take Bull by the Horns

In the aftermath of the recent election and whilst those of us who voted one way are still hoping that our way continues to count, the horse trading has begun. No matter your politics, the fact that a party wholly representing one part of the United Kingdom is suddenly having such a massive influence, coupled with a lack of detail in the public domain over their negotiations, causes people some nervousness; because of the nature of the DUP, for some they claim it terrifies them.

Can we imagine if football was run that way? Can we imagine if it wasn’t?

Having people who have one focus deliberating and influencing your life has always been an issue at the core of the United Kingdom. Proud Scots do not like the power of the English, some English have begun to resent the growing independence of the Scots, the Welsh have turned out to have their own independence and as for the Irish; the Trouble has always never been far behind.

The recognised method of dealing with these issues has now become to allow, where possible, organisations within the domain of the domicile to grow on their own. For some it sows the seeds of an increasing independence as the locals realise they can do it for themselves. It also does, though ensure the organisation is close to its own people and is truly representative of them.

In Scotland, and throughout the last election, the big two – Conservative and Labour parties – have suffered under the accusations of being a “branch office” of their London centric big sister. It has led to people making choices based on the assumption that, at times, neither of the leaders up here have autonomy. When there are policies that will be unpopular in Scotland, they say, the high heid yins in Edinburgh have no choice but to toe the party line.

We do not like that thought.

Nor should we.

I suggested that football has a similar issue. And so. It does…

The views and opinions of the Scottish fans who last Saturday threw up their hands in joy and held their heads in despair all within 90 seconds or so suffer from that lack of representation. As deals are done in secret and “announcements” made over innovations and changes they are collectively silent through the funded organisation established to represent them; at best that organ is muted.

Never has it been more important for the Scottish football fan to feel the importance of their view being heard. Never has it been more important as Project Brave is being undertaken, chairmen are being fined £3,000 for having a bet, we look as though we are going to miss out on another World Cup, expansion of our cup competitions is growing apace, play offs and promotions have delivered their verdicts and handed their budgets to managers who bemoaned last year it was hard, that one of our two giant clubs seems unable to keep itself out of the court room whilst supplying the accused, the defence lawyer, the pantomime villain and a circus or at least two premiership clubs appear to be on the verge of administration.

Supporters Direct – Undemocratic?

The time has come to ensure that the voice of the footballing nation does not come from around the Isles but around the corner. Whilst the work of Supporters Direct has brought a great deal of support and aid to a number of clubs and supporters groups, the fans need something that is much more than a branch office of a bigger organisation.

In the recent past, SD have seemingly been forced to be more visible but let us not be fooled, if you are an ordinary fan, SD have no place for you. You cannot join, you cannot vote, and you cannot influence; so there is not much point. Building a democratic and fair vocal chord for Scottish football fans needs commitment from the bottom up to engage, enlist and enrich the chorus and chanting of disapproval or support for Scottish football.

That’s why I am in the SFSA – isn’t it time for the Scottish Government to take the bull, grasp the thistle and make the clear choice of removing money going all the way to London and giving it to a fans based organisation that represents them here in Scotland?

We think so… don’t you?

Join the SFSA today! It’s free

Time to Make Things Happen

In the light of the SFA President’s unfortunate remarks in the MSM today, relegating every Scottish football club other than Celtic or Rangers to support role status, this blog by Auldheid on the need to have a conversation about the leadership and governance of the Scottish game is remarkably prescient.

It is also important in that it shows there are people out there (and not just us at SFM) who are engaged in finding workable solutions to our problems – solutions to which involve the major stakeholders in football, the fans (or customers as most boardrooms would have it).

The people involved in finding solutions are well-connected and not without influence, but most importantly they seek to give fans a greater voice in the game – and they do not represent a paid-for voice with a seat at the SFA table or a funding source that depends to a large extent on saying nothing when fan interests are damaged.

SFM is more than happy to endorse Auldheid’s sentiments. 

Tris

 

The following extracts have been taken from an earlier SFM Blog (The Lost Voice of the Armageddon Virus), to emphasise the fact, if any were needed, that something is rotten in the state of Scottish football. Continue reading Time to Make Things Happen

Towards a More Professional SFA

When the Scottish Premier League (SPL) and the Scottish Football league (SFL) merged in 2013 to form The Scottish Professional Football League, the word “professional” has been accepted as applying only to the football side of the business.

However, should supporters, the ultimate paying customers, not expect the administration and governance of the game to be a lot more professional than is evident from the handling, by both the SPFL (SPL/SFL) and the Scottish Football Association (SFA), of the descent into liquidation of Rangers FC, which started in 2000, as well as the subsequent damage limitation attempts from March 2011, that  have had serious consequences for the reputation of  Scottish football of being a professionally managed business?

Most folk would not argue that there is a glaringly obvious need for a more professional form of football governance, but the question is how can that be achieved? One way towards   achieving that aim is the subject of what follows.

there is a glaringly obvious need for a more professional form of football governance

Back in the 90’s the Government embarked on yet another an exercise to modernise the Civil Service using a technique known then as Market Testing. The idea was that units, like Information Technology, Human Resource or Office Maintenance within large Civil Service Government Ministries, should be compared with what was available in the private sector to see if the service the internal units provided in a Ministry could be provided more efficiently from external sources.

At the time, internal units operated to their own standards and were answerable only to themselves for the level of service they provided to the users in other internal units.  As a consequence there were no defined levels of service, the users were largely dissatisfied with the service they were receiving, the perception of the IT or HR or OM units was poor damaging their moral and, unlike the private sector, the customer was not the king but the serf.

Before such internal units could be tested there was a lot of preparatory work needed, the most important of which was a change in the culture to one where the customer became king. This was done through the reluctant acceptance that change was necessary in order for those in internal units to hold on to their jobs, followed by the joint establishment in discussion with service users of the level of service that was acceptable to them and the cost in financial terms to the Ministry of that service.

It was a painful and effort intensive process of itself but it did result in a change in culture that not only helped internal staff hold on to their jobs but changed the perception of those both inside and outside the units for the better.

All very fine you say but why am I reading this on Scottish Football Monitor, what is the relevance to the lack of professional governance?

 

Well I think it fair to say that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) has never at any time in its history been held in such low regard by their ultimate customers, the football supporters, without whom there would be no SFA.

In the public perception, measuring both football and governance performance,  the SFA would be lucky to score 10 for incompetency rather than the more likely and damning similar score for  corruption, where 10 was the worst possible score.

In spite of this and protected by the inertia in SPFL clubs who should be voicing the concerns of their paying customers to the SFA, there appears no appetite or indeed mechanism for change.  This is where market testing comes in.

When viewed from a business perspective the SFA is a service provider to the customers via their clubs. In a sense the clubs act, or rather should act, as agents for their supporters and become the “customer” with whom the SFA provide a number of Services. These services should not be hard to identify, for example.

  • Refereeing Services
  • Disciplinary Services
  • Licensing Services
  • Auditing as in Policing Services.
  • Fit and Proper Person Services.

 

 

The Refereeing Service

Given the current, one might even say perpetual, dissatisfaction of refereeing standards, it, is one activity that could benefit from being treated as the kind of service the SFA might provide to the SPFL.

Under such an approach

  • Refereeing would be split into two parts.

 

  • The SFA would be responsible for the recruitment, wage structuring, training and match appointments as the service provider (having taken the nature of the game to be officiated into account and after discussion with SPFL).

 

 

  • Monitoring and evaluation of a referee’s performance would be the responsibility of the SPFL as the customer.

 

  • Referees or ex refs from anywhere (not just Scotland) hired by SPFL would evaluate performance to a standard set by the SPFL after agreement of standards with SFA.

 

 

  • Splitting the appointment and evaluation process. would prevent any one person being able to exert any undue individual influence on referees which protects the integrity of individuals, the service itself and referees appointed.

 

  • It would lead to a higher standard of referee because the customer would be setting the standard not the supplier (as happens everywhere in business but football)

 

  • If standards were not met over a period or a particular game required meeting a standard not possible at the time, the SPFL would be free to hire their own referees from wherever they could get them.

 

  • This freedom under a service approach would reduce, if not remove entirely, the burden of suspected allegiance that bedevils every decision made by match referees by supporters to the detriment of the referees and so of Scottish football.
  • The corollary is the SFA would also be free to offer their referees to other national associations encouraging the SFA to recruit and train to the highest level possible (and charge the other associations for the service).

 

  • Competition for appointments would raise standards and if Scottish referees consistently reached higher standards, they would be in more demand outside Scotland which gives them a financial incentive to be the best referee they can be.

 

  • Any national association could adopt this service provider approach leading to an international professional refereeing occupation in a world where football is almost a daily event somewhere requiring a steady supply of good referees.

 

Feedback

Refereeing as a service has been chosen as but one example of how to establish a customer/service provider relationship between the SFA and SPFL, but the principle would apply to the other services listed. SFM readers are invited to give their views not just on the potential hurdles, like inertia, no driving force etc, but also the benefits of overcoming such hurdles if the approach were applied to those services plus any not on the list that would lend themselves to the approach.

 

Small Price to Pay?

I think there has been an appreciable shift of opinion amongst fans of TRFC recently.

 

Unlike the ‘invest: speculate to accumulate’ rhetoric featured in the press and by ex-players, the ordinary fans are coming to the realisation that there is no quick fix. There are even murmurings that there may never be a fix which involves their club becoming a competitive force.

 

Poor management of fan expectations has long been an accusation levelled at the TRFC board by SFM. It is possible though that many fans are beginning to manage their own expectations rather better. There are certainly justifiable criticisms of the manager, Mark Warburton, but alongside that is a realism about the limitations and constraints that he is working under.

 

There is a rather misguided, and possibly not accurate assumption that another liquidation for a team out of Ibrox would result in having to start ‘yet again’ in the bottom division; but in fact there is a growing acceptance that consolidation in the top league is a much better solution than gambling on huge borrowing simply to stop Celtic adding more notches to the goalpost.

 

Could it be that the fans are about to do the job that the board haven’t had the balls to do –accept the gap between themselves and (at least) Celtic, and settle for mediocrity on the field as a short term price to pay for continuity?

 

During the 1990s, in the middle of the Murray/BoS fuelled spending spree, and with Celtic in the doldrums, it seemed to many Celtic fans that their club would never be able to bridge that gap. Of course they did, but at the emotional cost of losing the exclusive 9IAR record.

 

TRFC now find themselves in pretty much the same position, but their road to bridging the current gap is a more difficult one.

 

There are similarities of course. Like the Celtic of the 90s, Rangers have major infrastructure challenges to meet. Celtic had a stadium to build, Rangers have Ibrox (and Auchenhowie) to fix and improve. Both required massive investment to improve the team, although I would argue that Rangers have a steeper hill to climb in that area.

 

Unlike RFC of the 90s, Celtic’s accrued wealth has nothing to do with an intravenous hook-up between their bank account and the chairman’s pals at the bank. Their baseline advantage over the current Rangers predicament is a combination of a stadium which holds 10,000 more fans than Ibrox, no debt, a burgeoning cash balance and the current inflow of European cash.

The Euro cash and the cash balance could be depleted, but the 10,000 extra seats won’t.

 

It also seems difficult to imagine how TRFC can obtain seed capital – even if they were inclined to gamble – given the combination of barriers to achieving that;

 

  • They have a PLC with no stock market listing
  • They have NO executive directors on the PLC board
  • The current chairman is a convicted criminal, convicted of offences involving money
  • The current chairman and vice-chairman are both directors of a previously liquidated club, and therefore associated with the financial mismanagement which brought that about.
  • In that climate, sponsorship deals are hard to come by. Major sponsors want to be associated with stability, success and integrity. TRFC don’t tick many boxes in that regard.
  • Banks do not lend to football clubs. Pre Murray/Masterton, football clubs were cash businesses with modest overdraft facilities to cover modest cash-flow peaks and troughs. The banks have returned to that model. 1987-2007 was the exception, not the norm.
  • They are at war with a powerful and substantial shareholder in Mike Ashley.
  • There is still litigation pending on more than one front which could even call into question the ownership of the club’s assets.
  • They are in debt already (estimated at around £15m).
  • The current onfield situation may require yet another write-off in terms of contracts.

Any one of those bullet points could be enough to derail any plan to get to the top. In combination, there may even be an existential question to answer.

That is why the fans are starting to look a lot smarter than the board, and ultimately the good sense of the fans may well help the board to find a way out of their current dilemma.

But even with realistic expectations from the supporters, is it possible that they can find a way? Is there for instance someone with a magic wand or bag of cash who could come in and turn it around? Perhaps, but who would risk money on a precarious venture like a football club when one of the most powerful businessmen in the country is in dispute with you?

 

In order for serious inward investment to happen;

  • Ashley has to be reconciled with the board (needs King and Murray to go).
  • The debt has to be written off .
  • The new investor(s) has to be given control of the club (and this would perhaps require another 75% special resolution where current shareholders would be asked to vote to dilute their own influence).
  • If they achieved that (and it is a pretty big if) the new investor cash would go into the club’s bank account – not used to pay off the debt –  and they would be free to pursue new and better sponsorship deals, improve the merchandising contract with an onside Ashley, and add new revenue streams.

Even then, any new board would need to see the infrastructure challenges as paramount. Having one eye squinting in the direction of Parkhead will blur the bigger picture.

Their priority should be to reduce the losses (whilst increasing wages for better players), fix the stadium and the training ground (both in need of repair and improvement), build a scouting and youth infrastructure, and free up a (relatively modest) wad of cash to improve the playing squad.

In defence of the current board, the challenges facing them are almost vertical in incline. No matter how skilful they are, nothing other than someone with a barrowload of cash and a very long term outlook can put any kind of fix in place.

£50m might buy the debt and equity, and repair the stadium, but progress requires on-field improvement. It also needs stability, and therefore Ashley’s cooperation. The price of that is the head of Dave King.

Rangers will bring in more at the gate than Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs, but they have a considerably higher cost base than those clubs. With better players, recurring costs will be even higher – much higher.

To square this circle, however unpalatable it appears to be, peace has to be made with Ashley. That is the key to being able to embark upon a journey that has any chance of success. Otherwise, the clocks will have to be reset to 2022, and the end of the SD contract, before progress can be made.

However there is no chance it can go on that long. Rangers fans may be increasingly less demanding in what they expect, but they will need to see some signs – and not just words – that a plan is in place.

The board are getting ready to throw Mark Warburton to the hounds (the MSM lapdogs have already been armed with poison pens to effect that). This will buy them some time, but not enough.

 

We’ve said it before, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say it again;

 

For Rangers to have a fighting chance of competing at the top of football, King needs to be gone. If he does go, half of the barriers preventing the club raising cash are dismantled. 

So is King’s departure a price worth paying? If he really had Rangers in his heart, he would say ‘Yes’.

 

 

 

Good Try Mr. McKenzie

Guest Blog by Shyster and Shyster

Anyone hoping for some “on the record comments” made under oath in the Kinloch v Coral case is Court last week would have been sorely disappointed.

Like many people I followed James Doleman’s tweets from Court with interest. However, it became clear very early on in the proceedings that there was to be no seminal moment in the OCNC debate – despite the obvious defence available to Coral which would have made it so.

A tweet from Mr Doleman (see below) makes it clear that Coral sent a letter to Mr Kinloch explaining the reason why they would not pay out on his bet.

The reason, in a a sentence was that “Rangers were demoted, not relegated”.

Here is that Tweet from Mr Doleman.

I assume then, that an employee of Coral communicated this letter to Mr Kinloch without getting it “legalled” first.

That is extraordinary for a number of reasons; firstly, it is factually incorrect, and secondly it can be argued that this position leaves Coral open to exposure in other areas.

I find it difficult to imagine how this letter left Coral without the approval of their legal people, especially given that £250K plus legal costs was at stake.

If I was in Kinloch’s position, I would on the phone to the nearest no-win-no-fee lawyer I could find, because in the light of their explanation for refusing to settle the bet, and using terminology that Coral would understand, he is better than evens to win the case.

I think it would be fair to conclude this employee may be facing disciplinary action, and that this action will turn up as a case study in the training manuals sitting on shelves in every bookmaker shop in the country.

However just because the OCNC debate sat on the bench last week it doesn’t mean there wasn’t something juicy on show.  The SPL’s legal representative, Rod McKenzie – a defence witness in the case –   made some very interesting comments in his evidence.

Before I go into his comments further I would like to address some unfair criticism aimed at Mr McKenzie.  As most of us know, he is the lawyer who helped create in elusive 5 Way Agreement.

Nothing has blurred the lines of the OCNC debate more than this document, and Mr McKenzie himself is most likely to have authored the 5 Way Agreement, and provided a rationale for his client, the SPL signing up to it. But the SPL would have outlined what they wanted in the Agreement, so any anger directed at McKenzie is misdirected.  He was, quite rightly, looking after the interests of his client.  It is not his fault that his client is an idiot.

Notwithstanding this, Mr McKenzie said – or rather didn’t say – some very interesting things.

  • He told us that the 5 Way Agreement contains (what appears to be) nuclear grade confidentiality clauses.
  • He couldn’t – or wouldn’t provide a definition of Relegation.

The man who wrote the rules for the SPL says he cannot define relegation.  Well he can, but he chooses not to.

Conclusion? I can only infer that there is something in the 5 Way Agreement that precludes him from saying more.

I have seen (online) what are alleged to be draft versions of the 5 Way Agreement. In Football term though, and despite of existing Corporate Law,  the OCNC debate cannot be fully settled until the actual and final terms of this agreement are known.

If only there was a way to see that document.

End of the Road for King?

Since Dave King & Co took over TRFC a year and a few months ago, there have been, almost daily, reports of the imminent demise of the club, or King, or both. At the same time, again on a daily basis, there have been those who proclaimed the imminent ascendancy of the club to the top of the pile.

Up to now I have subscribed to neither theory on the basis that the former was wishful thinking based on very little evidence, and that the latter was something that Santa had passed on just before he disappeared up the chimney. Continue reading End of the Road for King?

The Day I was on the Scotland U-23 Bench

It’s been a crappy year. If you don’t believe me, look at the two lists below this piece – full of people who have left us since Jan 1 2016. Some might say in a post Brexit/Trump world they are all better off, but that is neither here nor there.

In addition we have witnessed yet another year of the “black is white – new is old” suspension of disbelief argument from the football authorities. The same dysfunctional crew who gave us the 5-way agreement and whose cerebral CPU cycles are dominated by a strategy to choose the correct term to use for various concepts like; liquidation, Rangers FC, pitch invasion, independent inquiry, (to name just a few).
They now think we will be satisfied with what their crack investigation into child sex abuse – and its no doubt cherry-picked and narrow terms of reference – will come up with.

Still in place at Hampden, is a Press Officer who thinks he IS the SFA, and a chief executive who should BE the SFA, but who prefers, in his own words to do “nothing”. These are the people who, in the midst of a public debate over concerns for racism and homophobia in the game, have given a coaching job involving young people to a man who has been proven a racist and a homophobe.

These are the people who constantly have their hands out for public funds, including one to fund a grade-A bonkers facial recognition scheme to root out sectarianism (and all the other ISMS that they have just endorsed by appointing Malky Mackay).

Yet we complain about the Americans when they elect an insane man to power?

All is however not lost. Within living memory, and since it is Christmas, I’d like to relate a warm, cuddly, sentimental and very true story about the late Jock Stein. It is proof that there was a time before the madness that has enveloped Scottish Football when real people of quality, blessed with empathy for fans, roamed these lands.


Rewind to 13th May 1975. Myself and three great friends, two teenagers from each half of the Old Firm, decided to walk over to Hampden Park to see Scotland playing a friendly match against Portugal. Two of the guys – ironically the Rangers ones – lived in a wee street right across the road from Celtic Park, and we set out from ‘their bit’, walking through Strathie’s Park and down Springfield Road into Dalmarnock Road. We were a bit behind schedule and of course we were all skint so we had to walk. As my mates dithered, I walked on ahead shouting at them something like ‘hurry up!’ (although a tad less politely).

As I approached the junction of Dalmarnock Road and Adelphi Street, I absent-mindedly did a bit of jay-walking and was nearly hit on the backside by a ton of German tin making a left turn. The passenger window of the car was rolled down, and I prepared an impetuous come-back to what I was sure was going to be a rollicking.

Instead, a strangely familiar man in a thick Irish brogue poked his head out of the window and said; “Where you going?”

As my brain registered “Sean Fallon”, I made a quick connection, turned to the driver and saw that it was Big Jock. Thoughts of “what an honour to be knocked down by Jock Stein” flashed through my befuddled between-ear mass.

Recovering quickly;  “To the game” I said.

“Jump in!” shouted Mr Stein

“My pals are just behind me”

“Tell them to jump in as well”

I never asked the guys when they realised it was the greatest living Scotsman driving the car, but we didn’t know many folk with a Merc, so I suppose they knew it wasn’t a relative who had stopped me.

The four of us climbed into the spacious big bench seat in the back of the car for the fifteen minute journey. Immediate questions.

Yes Jock (we were pals by now 🙂 ) was going to the game and so was Sean, but they were going home for something to eat first. Yes, it was a great perk of being a manager that you didn’t have to queue, but what did we think of the team?

The chat at the time was that Kenny Dalglish hadn’t hit it off with Scotland because Bremner was cramping his style. Bremner was injured that night, so my pal Gerry Connor (permission to use his name has been granted!) told The Boss (we were really close by now) that we expected KD fireworks.

What did we think of Hutchinson? Since it definitely appeared to be posed in rhetorical fashion we chose “not very much”.
The Gaffer concurred.

One of the Rangers guys (Big Jimmy) wondered aloud why Alfie Conn, by then of Spurs, was not selected. It was a ridiculous situation said my mate. Probably keeping him for the U-23s he thought out loud, before realising that Jock was the then Under 23 manager.

“Oh, eh, um, sorry! I forgot that was you!” said Big Jimmy. “No worries, he’s a very good player” said Big John (by now we felt we had known him forever).

Truth is, we were scared shitless; totally in awe of the man driving, DRIVING US, to the match. He really wanted to know what we thought, who we liked to see play, who we would pick who wasn’t in the squad.

Another thing was that despite it being huge for us all, we all wanted it it over with as quickly as possible so we could talk about it. But it wasn’t over yet. The final flourish was when we got dropped off at the Beechwood. We got out of the car as the crowds were descending on Hampden. Stein’s car was noticed right away, but who were these young scallywags emerging fro the back?

“Thanks Boss, thanks Sean!” we all shouted so the bystanders could ear. Stein smiled, waved at us and sped off to Kings Park for his dinner.

“See you in the morning Gaffer!”

Chests puffed out, we all assumed the pose of Scotland Under-23 starlets. Scotland won 1-0, but I can honestly say I don’t remember a bloody thing about that match. I do remember being on the Scotland U-23 bench though 🙂

The moral of the story is clear to me. In the background of Dave Scott’s claim in our podcast that the SFA needed to get its act together, and to engage more with the fans, the men of the Stein mould, our greatest football generation, are perhaps the last generation to possess the ability to do that.

He could have just beeped loudly in frustration and went off home for his dinner that evening, but he saw four young fans – guys who loved the game anyway – and made us love it a bit more after that fifteen minute ride. For a few minutes out of his time, Jock Stein gave us all a lifetime of a cherished memory, which I have dined out on, and will continue to dine out on, forever.

Many years later, footballers of that era told me that it was commonplace for the likes of Billy McNeill and John Grieg to do the same in Glasgow, for Pat Stanton and Davie Holt in Edinburgh, and for Alex Hamilton and Jerry Kerr in Dundee.

Sadly, three decades later, I regularly witnessed footballers go to extraordinary lengths to avoid autograph hunters, ducking out of back doors and having stewards deliver their cars to remote places away from the public gaze.

Of the four lucky boys who chanced upon Jock Stein that night, I am still in touch with two. Big Jimmy has fallen of the radar, last heard of in England somewhere – as is Gerry, condemned to a purgatory of watching Blackburn Rovers!

Despite that, we will always share the bond of the night we were on the Under-23 bench seat in the back of Big Jock’s Merc.

We should remember that the game in this country prospered when it was more in tune with the people who followed it. Perhaps market equilibrium will one day bring it back, who knows, but for now, football is an industry where no-one in control at the clubs gives a flying doo-doo what we think.

 

At least we still have our memories. Of the great Jock Stein, to whom I was briefly related, of his assistant Sean Fallon, who I got to know a bit in later years, and of many football folk I was privileged enough to know, and who are no longer with us.

Just like the class of 2016 below, we miss them all.

 

Non Football Deaths in 2016

Date Name Age
04 Jan Robert Stigwood Producer 81
08 Jan David Bowie Musician 69
14 Jan Alan Rickman Actor 69
15 Jan DanHaggerty Grizzly Adams Actor 74
18 Jan Glen Frey Musician 67
28 Jan Paul Kantner Musician 74
19 Feb Harper Lee Author 89
28 Feb George Kennedy Actor 91
08 Mar George Martin Producer 90
09 Mar Robert Horton Wagon Train Actor 91
10 Mar Keith Emerson Musician 71
17 Mar Larry Drake LA Law Actor 66
18 Mar Joe Santos Rockford Files Actor 84
22 Mar Richard Bradford Man in a Suitcase Actor 81
24 Mar Garry Shandling Comedian 66
06 Apr Merle Haggard Musician 79
21 Apr Prince Musician 57
24 Apr Billy Paul Musician 81
19 May Alan Young Mr Ed Actor 96
03 Jun Muhammad Ali Boxer 74
14 Jun Ronnie-Claire Edwards Waltons Actor 83
28 Jun Scotty Moore Musician 84
19 Jul Garry Marshall Actor/Producer 81
13 Aug Kenny Baker Star Wars Actor 81
20 Aug Gene Wilder Actor 83
06 Sep Hugh O’Brian Wyatt Earp Actor 91
25 Sep Arnold Palmer Golfer 87
28 Sep Shimon Peres Politician 93
14 Oct Jean Alexander Coronation St Actor 90
24 Oct Bobby Vee Singer 73
24 Oct Pete Burns Musician 57
03 Nov Kaye Starr Singer 94
07 Nov Leonard Cohen Musician 82
11 Nov Robert Vaughan Actor 83
13 Nov Leon Russell Musician 74
25 Nov Fidel Castro Politician 90
06 Dec Peter Vaughan Porridge Actor 93
07 Dec Greg Lake Musician 69
08 Dec John Glenn Astronaut 95
18 Dec Zsa-Zsa Gabor Actor 99
24 Dec Rick Parfitt Musician 67
24 Dec Liz Smith Royle Family Actor 95
25 Dec George Michael Musician 53
27 Dec Carrie Fisher Actor 60
28 Dec Debbie Reynolds Actor 84

 

 

Football Deaths in 2016

Date Name Club Age
22 Jan Tommy Bryceland St Mirren 76
22 Jan John Dowie Celtic 60
04 Feb Harry Glasgow Clyde 76
24 Feb Jim McFadzean Kilmarnock & Hearts 77
11 Mar Billy Ritchie Rangers Goalkeeper 79
20 Mar Alan Cousin Dundee, Hibs & Falkirk 78
24 Mar Johan Cruyff Ajax, Barcelona 68
31 Mar Jimmy Toner Dundee 92
06 May Chris Mitchell Queen of the South 27
11 May Bobby Carroll Celtic 77
14 May John Coyle Dundee United 83
20 Jun Willie Logie Rangers, Aberdeen 83
03 Jul Jimmy Frizzell Morton 79
06 Jul Davie Nicol Falkirk 80
08 Jul Jackie McInally Kilmarnock 79
21 Jul Dick Donnelly East Fife Goalkeper/Journalist 74
05 Aug Joe Davis Hibs Captain 75
21 Aug Rab Stewart Dunfermline 54
05 Sep Max Murray Rangers 80
13 Sep Matt Gray Third Lanark 80
01 Oct David Herd Man United & Scotland 82
10 Oct Eddie O’Hara Falkirk & Everton 80
16 Oct George Peebles Dunfermline 80
18 Oct Gary Sprake Leeds United 71
08 Nov Ian Cowan Partick Thistle, Falkirk & DAFC 71
16 Nov Daniel Prodan Rangers 44
25 Nov Jim Gillespie Dunfermline 69
26 Nov Davie Provan Rangers 75
10 Dec Tommy McCulloch Clyde Goalkeeper 82
11 Dec Charlie McNeil Stirling Albion 53
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