East Fife’s First Live Televised Match

I can be a bit self-contradictory sometimes. Give me the choice between watching a Manchester United match on the telly and going to Old Trafford, and I’d bite your hand off for a seat in the Stretford End, despite their relatively terrible season. Today, however, I was far more excited about East Fife, my team since I was 6 years old, appearing on live television for the very first time. As such, my viewing was to be had in a pub in Edinburgh rather than in a cold seat in the east of Fife.

The match in question was against Rangers, who are of course currently running away with League 1 in their quest to get back into the Scottish Premiership as quickly as possible, while spending money far beyond what is necessary to get out of part-time leagues. The game was on BT Sport, who are of course the new kid in town as far as sport channels are concerned. Their presentation looked decent, with two of our players strangely being taken out on a car-drifting course during the pre-match build-up. The audience was also introduced to the East Fife squad and their various nicknames.

The match itself produced a gutting, last-minute penalty win for Rangers. While East Fife didn’t create a great deal, they kept Rangers at bay excellently until the last. It was fantastic to see my team on the telly, with Methil and its environs looking rather pleasant in the crisp wintry sunshine. Surreal it was, but I was a proud man to see my home town team put in an excellent display in their first ever live game. I hope it won’t be another 24 years before I see us live on the TV again.

World Cup Reminiscing – France 1998 – part 1

Having rather enjoyed going back in time in my previous World Cup posts, I thought it only right to continue this little series, and refocus on some of the best and most memorable moments of the 1998 World Cup.

Scotland

Little did we all know in the late 1990s that we’d be looking back now, on a group stage campaign where Scotland picked up one measly point, with great fondness. The last time Scotland qualified for a major tournament came in the France-based festival of football, and with it came the usual outpouring of carefree misplaced optimism and subsequent basking in the tepid glow of spectacular failure.

Scotland were even given the privilege of the opening game in France, against the holders and perennial Scotland World Cup opponents, Brazil. A creditable 2-1 defeat followed, with Tommy Boyd being rather unfortunate to give Brazil all three points, John Collins’ penalty having cancelled out Cesar Sampaio’s opening goal.

Stade de France

The Stade de France, host stadium of the opening match of the 1998 World Cup (Lionartois via Wikipedia)

In the Norway match, Craig Brown put more faith in younger stars Jackie McNamara, David Weir and Craig Burley (yup, it really was that long ago). Harvard Flo’s opening goal for Norway was cancelled out by a deft flick over the Norwegian keeper’s bonce by Burley. Scotland pressed for a winner but no winning goal was to come.

And then of course came that most terrible of Scottish emotions – hope. If we could beat Morocco, who’d been hammered by Brazil and lucky to draw with Norway, and if Brazil could beat Norway (surely they would), then at last Scotland would make the last 16 of a World Cup.

Of course, it all ended terribly. Scotland put in by far their worst performance of the three matches, losing 3-0 to a Morocco side who played with verve, style and panache. In the end even that result proved redundant as the Norwegians beat Brazil and went through to the second round with the South American behemoths.

And that was it. For those of us old enough to remember it, the abiding memory of Scotland’s last appearance at an international tournament involves Jim Leighton flapping a Moroccan shot into his net, and Tommy Boyd scoring for Brazil. There’s always France 2016.

Nigeria

African sides in the World Cup had been, and still are, jinxed by Pele’s proclamation that a side from Africa would win the World Cup before the end of the 20th century. The Nigerian side of 1998 were the African team who got closest to winning the tournament in the final World Cup of the last century.

The Nigerians’ first match came against then-eternal-underachievers Spain. Spain’s decision to stick with pensionable goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta proved their undoing as his mistakes allowed Nigeria to record a 3-2 win, an enormous shock.

This was swiftly followed with a 1-0 win against a Bulgaria side who were nowhere near their 1994 vintage.

Nigeria ended the group stage with their traditional “we’re already through so who cares if we lose” performance, being beaten 3-1 by Jose Luis Chilavert’s Paraguay. As a result, Spain’s 6-1 thumping of Bulgaria was rendered meaningless and the Spaniards crossed the Pyrenees in shame as Nigeria and Paraguay both advanced.

In the second round, Nigeria were to face Denmark. At this point the hype took over, with reference to Pele’s meaningless proclamation, in that Nigeria had a wonderful opportunity to make the quarter finals and match Cameroon’s performance in 1990 against the Danes, who were still themselves reminiscing about their Euro 92 win.

As it turned out, Nigeria were blown away by a double-Laudrup inspired Denmark, losing 4-1. Still, they briefly captivated the world with that win against Spain, and players like Taribo West and Victor Ikpeba were introduced to us all. Nigeria, at the very least in 1998, brought us some great hair.

the Netherlands

Finally in part 1 of this round up, probably my favourite side of that World Cup. The Dutch had been knocked out in the quarter finals of Euro 96, having snuck out of the group stages on goals scored ahead of Scotland. That 1996 side was, as ever, plagued with in-fighting, with Edgar Davids seemingly at the head of it.

By the summer of 1998, however, there seemed to be some harmony in the Dutch camp. Having done just about enough to reach the last 16 thanks to a thumping win over South Korea in the groups, they then rallied for a last minute winner against a strong Yugoslav side.

The Dutch only got better when the quarters came round. A match against Argentina which will live not only as one of the greatest World Cup matches of the last 20 years, but featuring one of the greatest goals ever seen at the summer fest du football.

In the 89th minute, a diagonal ball over the top reached Dennis Bergkamp on the right edge of the penalty area. He flicked the ball backwards, cut inside Ayala before deftly using the outside of his right foot to put the ball past Carlos Roa into the top corner.

Unfortunately, the Dutch were then knocked out on penalties by Brazil in the semi final, before losing the 3rd/4th place play-off to Croatia. In my view the 1998 vintage was the best Dutch side I’ve seen. They were certainly a lot better than the side which battered their way through the 2010 final.

I’ll leave 1998 there for now – more again soon.

Inverness CT v Hearts, 2 February 2014

A full East Stand, a not so full South Stand at Easter Road

A full East Stand, a not so full South Stand at Easter Road

I’ve lived almost a literal stone’s throw from Easter Road for nearly 2 years, yet hadn’t been to a match there since a Scotland U-21 qualifier some time in 2010. Until today, when on a bit of a whim and in the knowledge that a ticket would only cost me 20 quid, I decided to head for the League Cup semi-final between Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Heart of Midlothian. Easter Road was neutral turf for the day, although the 12:15 kick-off made it rather easier for fans to get there from Gorgie than from Inverness.

I decided to take a seat in the Caley end, given my reasonable Highland connection and, as I thought at the time, there being more likelihood of getting a seat. It was clear come kick-off that I needn’t have had this fear – Easter Road was little over half full despite it being a mere 30 minute bus-ride away for the Hearts supporters. I’ve been to a few Caley matches before, all of them in Inverness, and I’ve never been overly impressed with their supporters. Caley Stadium is, from my experience, generally quiet with the odd lame chant. There were still a few lame chants (singing along to “Titanium” isn’t a chant for a start) but for what the Caley fans lacked in number they did make up for in volume.

To the match then, and the first half was a bit bilgey to say the least. Inverness probably had the better of the game, but save for Ross Draper skying it early on and Billy Mackay forcing an excellent save from Jamie Macdonald, they didn’t have a great deal to show for it. Caley were a little pedestrian, taking too long to play the right pass, particularly on the counter. Hearts came slowly into the game as the half wore on, but it was with some relief that the half-time whistle came.

Inverness manager John Hughes had clearly put a bit of a rocket up his side as they stormed their way through the opening 10 minutes of the second half. This came to a head in the 53rd minute when Hearts failed to clear their lines (having had a bit of a shout on an Aaron Doran handball) and the ball sat up invitingly for Greg Tansey. The man who returned to the shadow of the Kessock Bridge during the January transfer window absolutely smashed the ball past Jamie Macdonald for a Caley lead.

The lead was not to last too long. A foul by Warren on the edge of his own area on Hearts sub McCallum brought him a second yellow card and a set piece opportunity for Hearts. A cleverly worked free kick allowed Jamie Hamill to bag a deflected equaliser and send the majority Hearts crowd berserk.

Two minutes later and Hearts were ahead. Another foul on the edge of the area led to another free kick which Jamie Hamill this time dispatched beautifully into the top corner, Caley keeper Brill getting a touch on it but to no avail. Hearts, despite their apparent lack of experience on the park, had turned the game on its head.

Inverness’s mission then turned all the more difficult as the game entered stoppage time, Josh Meekings rather harshly being given a straight red card for a foul no more than 20 yards from the edge of his own penalty area. Having seen the highlights this evening on the telly, it was a yellow at worse. Despite being down to 9 men, however, Caley were not to be denied. In the fifth of five minutes of stoppage time allotted, a last-ditch punt into the area fell to Nicky Ross. His first effort was blocked; his second bobbled off Macdonald and into the net. Cue some mentalism in the Inverness end, closely followed by the realisation that their side would have to cope for another half an hour with 9 men on the park. The equaliser also saw the arrival of the now seemingly obligatory smoke grenade, with which I was not impressed.

Some action from the shoot-out

Some action from the shoot-out

Cope, though, they did. Hearts did present some issues for Inverness, particularly at the beginning and end of the half hour; Caley however did have chances of their own, with Billy Mackay performing heroically in the lone striker role. Despite that two-man advantage, Hearts could only really tap timidly on the door without really throwing enough at their diminished opponents.  So then to penalties, with Graeme Shinnie and Paul McCallum’s spot-kicks being saved as both sides started nervously. Nicky Ross hit the pick of the penalties, his effort hammering its way into the top corner. Next up after Ross was Jamie Hamill, who made the slightly foolhardy choice of noising up the Caley fans before he hit his spot kick. Foolhardy, because he missed. Ross Draper was the man given the task of sending the 9 men to the final at a yet-to-be-identified venue – he made no mistake, and a few thousand Invernesians were delighted they’d got up early on a Sunday morning to go down the A9. Caley had performed heroically, though on listening to the Hearts fans chat on the way out they, understandably, could not fathom how their side had managed to throw the game away. It had been some match – £20 well spent, though I imagine not all matches at Easter Road are quite that exciting.

Some fairly pleased Invernesians

Some fairly pleased Invernesians

Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2-2 Heart of Midlothian (AET, Inverness won 4-2 on penalties) (Tansey, Ross; Hamill x2)