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.

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“Newco” Rangers v East Fife, 7 August 2012

After the fulfilling experience of watching football at the Olympics and not being overly bothered who won or lost, it was back to domestic duties. East Fife’s first round draw in the Scottish Communities League Cup had seen us drawn away to the “new” Rangers. It would be my first trip to Ibrox since 1997 (when I was a mere 13 years old), when we lost 3-0 in a Scottish Cup 4th round tie.

The match was of course of huge significance to Rangers fans, it being the first home game since the “Newco” Rangers had been established. A crowd of 30,000 grew to at least 45,000 by the time the delayed kick-off came along, despite the official attendance being announced near the end as a suspiciously low 38,160.

Companies House says otherwise. But clever marketing nonetheless.

No matter the number of fans, it was always going to be a loud, defiant evening, and that it was. The public address system pumped out song after song which the Rangers supporters shouted along to prior to the delayed kick-off. Sandy Jardine then came on to repeat the line on the Copland Road end (see picture above), and finish with a good old-fashioned “We Are the People” (I still don’t understand what this means).

What was clear from the off was that the Gers supporters either side of the rag-tag band of 600 or so East Fife supporters were spoiling for a bit of aggro. I guess with no Celtic to vent at someone has to be vented at, but it was a bit bizarre getting grief for the entirely ironic singing of “what a sh*tey home support.” I’ve never seen so many utterly bemused East Fife supporters. “You’ve got no history” and “we’ve won more cups than you” were similarly (perhaps a bit more understandably) well-received; one thing I’ve never understood about Rangers fans (particularly the die-hards), and probably never will, is the complete lack of irony in the way they support their team. As a fan of a “diddy team”, one thing our supporters do brilliantly (and have done in the 22 years I’ve been a supporter) is gallows humour. One would have expected after all they’ve been through in the summer that Rangers fans might have plenty of irony, and dare I say shame, at their disposal; twas not to be. I don’t think I could ever take football quite that seriously.

They are the people, apparently.

To the game, and after Michael Brown pulled off a fantastic save on 11 minutes from Andy Little’s header, things looked vaguely promising to the point that we might be able to keep Rangers out for a while. This feeling lasted for approximately 4 minutes, when Dean Shiels slipped a ball through for Lee McCulloch to side foot past Brown. After more sustained Rangers pressure, youngster Barrie McKay (who was excellent throughout – a real prospect, if he doesn’t get lazy) knocked one through the Methil defence for Shiels to dink over Brown for a second.

Right on half time, East Fife had probably their best chance of the match. A corner (our only one of the game) was spilled by Neil Alexander. The ball fell to Gareth Wardlaw, who unfortunately skied it, leaning back. 2-1 at half time would have at least been vaguely interesting; as it was, at 2-0 at the break we were rather clinging to the merest thread of hope.

Bit of Ibrox action.

That merest thread was snapped 2 minutes after the restart. A great driving run from McKay, cutting in from the right, led to a lay off to Shiels on the edge of the Fifers’ area. His shot pulled yet another decent save out of Michael Brown, but the rebound fell very kindly to Lee Wallace who made no mistake. 3-0 to Rangers. 15 minutes later it was 4, as McKay provided another assist, this time for Lee McCulloch, who again side-footed past Brown.

After that it turned into a bit of a training match for Rangers, combined with a sing-song (“You’re Only Here To See the Rangers” predictably arriving around the 70 minute mark). A Robert Sloan free kick was well saved by Neil Alexander, and there was the odd vaguely exciting foray forward from the men in Black and Gold, though it wasn’t to be. When our lot sang “Gordon Durie’s Barmy Army” for a full 15 minutes up to the final whistle, it was the Rangers fans’ turn to look bemused; presumably the notion of still cheering your team on when they’re 4 down is an alien one to the chaps and chapesses in red, white and blue.

Some people from Methil.

Full time came with a victory for Rangers on their re-birth, and something of a return to normality for their supporters, no doubt. To my mind, the Fifers were not embarrassed; certainly there was no player who made continuous glaring errors or looked massively out of their depth. Michael Brown was, as ever, a stellar custodian between the posts, while Darren Smith continues to look like the class act in the midfield for us.

On the way out, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a few friendly Rangers fans, one of whom shook my hand and thanked me for coming. From a look at our forum over the last day or so it would seem the Rangers supporters were, by and large, happy to see us all there, which I guess is decent of them. I still for the life of me don’t understand what “We Are the People” means, though. This result was no doubt the start of Rangers’ long but inevitable climb back into the Scottish Premier League; one wonders, however, how many of their fans will turn up on a wet December evening against Elgin City when that time comes.

Rangers 4-0 East Fife (McCulloch x2, Shiels, Wallace)

Some Rangers Precedents

The home ground of AC Pisa 1909. And former ground of Pisa Calcio. And Pisa SC.

The “newco” situation which the new Rangers FC (Sevco Scotland Limited) currently find themselves in is not a new one when we consider some of our European brethren. The SPL, on voting on the identity of “Club 12” today at Hampden, has the opportunity to do the right thing and select either Dundee or Dunfermline for the 12th spot in the SPL (or if they have any sense, have a play-off in the next week or two). If they pick Rangers, they make Scottish football look like an absolute laughing stock. We Brits often like to look down our noses at Italian football administration (perhaps with some justification given Totonero, Calciopoli and Calcio scommesse); when it comes to dealing with “Newcos”, however, they get it close to right.

Fiorentina

AC Fiorentina was founded in 1926, playing at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in the beautiful Italian city of Florence. They chased the dream in the 1990s, and briefly into the early 2000s, under the ownership of Vittorio Cecchi Gori. Top-notch players such as Gabriel Batistuta (Batigol himself), Luis Oliveira and Rui Costa meant for much of that time period, Fiorentina was a side to be reckoned with, though never quite at the top table.

Cecchi Gori chased that aforementioned dream to the point that, in 2002, with Fiorentina more than $50m in the red having sold Batistuta, Oliveira, Rui Costa, and indeed the whole shop other than Angelo Di Livio, the Viola was declared bankrupt.

What then, you ask? A fudged campaign from the FIGC (the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio – i.e. the Italian FA) to get the men from Firenze back in Serie B? Not quite. A new club (ACF Florentia Viola, who quickly became ACF Fiorentina) was told to start again in Serie C2. A win of their C2 group and a helping hand from some Catania-based controversy got ACF a double jump to Serie B. From there, a play-off victory ensured arrival back in Serie A, where they have since remained. Perhaps not a perfect example of how to run things after an insolvency event, but certainly fairer than a vote straight back into the top flight.

Pisa

Staying in Tuscany (what Tuscans seemingly lack in football administration skills they do make up for in pretty much everything else), the local team in the Leaning Tower town are currently in their third incarnation. The original Pisa (SC) was founded in 1909 and went bust in 1994. The team was to start again in the Eccellenza (the sixth tier of Italian football, 1 below Serie D). Things went relatively well (though never hitting the Paul Elliot-signing Serie A highlights of Pisa SC) until 2009. when the club went bust again, this time after trying to chase promotion to Serie A and ending up in Serie C1 instead.

The newest incarnation (AC Pisa 1909) started in 2009 in Serie D, and now plies its trade in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione (formerly known as Serie C1). Again, it would appear that our Italian cousins know how to deal with sides which go bust and are reformed.

SSC Napoli

A final example from Italy, and another (then) fallen giant which has since come very good again. Napoli went through its heyday in the late 80s and early 90s, with the contributions of the likes of Diego Maradona and Careca vital to 2Scudetti and a UEFA Cup (when it was still worth winning).

Much like their Tuscan friends, however, chasing the dream became rather a hefty financial burden and by 2004 Napoli was declared bankrupt, with debts standing at a relatively hefty €70m.  The club was subsequently reformed (by film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis) and forced by the FIGC to start again in Serie C1 (there’s a pattern emerging here).

Despite playing in Italy’s third tier, Napoli still attracted crowds of 50,000 to their behemoth San Paolo stadium (they seemingly don’t do walking away in Naples).  A failed tilt at promotion to Serie B in 2005 was followed by a successful one in 2006, with promotion to Serie A following the year after. Napoli has since again established itself as a fine footballing side, with quality attacking talent. They took the pill, and came back fighting.

RBC Roosendaal

A switch now to the Netherlands. RBC was again a fair to middling side who played for four seasons in the Eredivisie in the mid-Noughties. They also, on the back of their success, built a shiny new 5,000 seat (2.5 times bigger than New Bayview) stadium. Relegation from the Eredivise in 2006 led to floating around in the second tier until, on 8 June 2011, RBC was declared bankrupt with (comparatively) measly debts of €1.6m. RBC then proceeded to start again, playing the 2011-12 season in the wonderfully-named Vijfde Klasse, the eighth tier of the Dutch game.

Thus, there is plenty of precedent out there (most of it Italian) as to how a “Newco” club should be dealt with. The SFL chairmen made entirely the right call on Friday by putting the new Rangers into the Third Division (never mind that 4 divisions is far too many for a country of Scotland’s size). One hopes that today the SPL chairmen make a similarly correct decision. The argument could (and will) be made that the clubs above do not have the comparative commercial clout in their own countries compared with that of Rangers in Scotland. Nevertheless, Napoli and Fiorentina in particular are big clubs (perhaps not up there with Juventus and the two Milan sides, but big nonetheless); their reputation was not enough to save them from being bumped down the leagues on their re-establishment. The same must and should (and looks like it will) apply to Rangers, for the credibility of the Scottish game to remain intact.

Media Round-up: Craig Burley and Gordon Smith, with a bit of Henry McLeish

Craig Burley, yesterday (joke and picture courtesy of @countytactics on Twitter).

At various points over the last few days, I’ve wanted to do posts on here ranting about the utter ignorance and lack of respect displayed firstly by Craig Burley, then by Gordon Smith, and finally from former East Fife player and First Minister Henry McLeish in relation to the SPL/SFL/SFA/Newco/Rangers/Sevco saga.

Rather than dissect each one word for word, I thought I’d pick a few choice quotes. What chills me to the bone about these articles is that, if Scotland becomes an independent country, this is what will pass for informative “national” journalism in our independent nation. Man alive.

Turning firstly, then, to Mr Burley’s article in the Daily Record. Fresh from knowing nothing about Euro 2012 on ITV, he turns to knowing nothing about Scottish football.

Up first, we have this gem, in the context that the SFL chairmen “MUST” vote Sevco into the Scottish First Division:

“Chairmen of part-time teams who are nothing more than afterthoughts in the psyche of our national obsession, yet suddenly they have been handed the most important decision in the history of Scottish football.”

Now this quote is incredibly disrespectful (and wrong) on a number of fronts. Firstly, thousands of us (myself included) follow part-time teams – calling them “afterthoughts” is just a total misrepresentation. This line also discounts completely the work these clubs and their coaches do (often for nothing) in improving the grass roots game, bringing through young talent and giving kids in their respective towns something to do of a midweek evening. This applies not only to current SFL teams (again the one I support included – East Fife are about nto take on 12 modern apprentices) but further down the leagues; Spartans for example have 600 kids playing for them in various teams every week. To describe these efforts as an “afterthought” is frankly horrendous – these are the very core, the very root of our “national obsession.”

“I’ve heard comments from clubs like Cowdenbeath, Peterhead insisting they must start from scratch in the Third – who are these people and how are they qualified to make a decision that will affect clubs 10 times their size?”

Er, Donald Findlay QC used to be the vice-chairman of Rangers, and now he’s the chairman of Cowdenbeath? And all these clubs have been run within their means for a number of years and not gambling the house and tax compliance on success?

“So better to trim the dead wood than give them the power to kill off one of the two clubs that matters most. In short, it’s better them than Rangers when it comes down to a stark choice of who should go.”

Two points here. One, this isn’t particularly a decision the SFL clubs want to take; this has come about because of (a) the SPL no vote and (b) the dereliction of duty (other than bandying various disaster-inducing amounts of money about) of the SFA. Two, how dare Craig Burley deem which clubs are dead wood and which aren’t. Like what happened with the economy and the banks in 2008, the Rangers situation is a financial correction; no-one should be too big to fail.

Turning next to Gordon Smith’s magnum opus, again in the Record. This is worse than Burley’s, in that it’s completely ill-educated rather than just boorish. This coming from a man who used to be the Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association. The mind boggles. First up it’s this little beauty:

“It just wouldn’t happen. Real Madrid and Barca had massive debts of around £700million but came to an agreement with the Spanish government, who helped them clear it.

“Can you imagine that happening in Scotland with Rangers?”

This shows a total lack of awareness from a man who at one point was in charge of the commercial interests of Scottish football. Regardless of whether Real or Barca have been supported by the Spanish government (and given Barca are Catalonian first and Spanish second, this seems unlikely), they survive because they are in a position to service their debt. They earn millions from their TV rights, Champions League participation, stellar players and merchandising and the fact they have 80-100,000 capacity stadia to call on. All this means they (for now) can pay the mortgage, even if that mortgage is colossal.

“Manchester United are another club with a large amount of debt but you would never have a situation where club chairmen in League One or Two would be deciding whether they should get thrown out of the Premier League. It seems crazy.

Again, Gordon, Manchester United can service their debt through TV, merchandising, ticket sales, etc. etc. Also, the hypothetical situation you describe with League 1/2 chairmen (a) isn’t analogous to the current situation (the SFL chairmen can’t decide whether or not to let Rangers into the SPL) and (b) League 1/2 chairmen wouldn’t decide on that anyway, as the Football League and the Premier League (as in this country) are separate bodies. Cretin.

There is another big Scottish company struggling right now, Halls of Broxburn, and they employ a lot of people in their meat factory.

They are having serious financial difficulties but if someone comes in and takes them over, will they be penalised and punished?”

Few points here. One, Hall’s, if they are bought over, will be bought as a going concern. The new Rangers is a new company (hence “newco”) which must obtain entry to the Scottish Football League on the basis that it is an entirely new club. This seems to be something that various learned commentators (most of them writing in the Record) completely miss when dealing with the Rangers situation – it’s not the same company, and it’s not the same club, hence they have to be dealt with in the manner they are currently. Also, the analogy completely falls down on the basis that Rangers didn’t make sausages. Finally, the Hall’s situation is a serious one; 1,700 people’s jobs are at risk, and the closure could adversely affect both Broxburn and the wider West Lothian area. Linking the two in a “we’re all in this together” fashion is rather disingenuous.

Finally, turning to Henry McLeish, writing in the Scotsman. This is article angers for me for another reason; for a man who once called John Reid a “patronising bastard”, this article does patronising and then some. And as a former East Fife player he is not matching the views of his former employers!

“I congratulate supporters for putting integrity and good governance of the game to the top of the agenda. The fans have done a good job, but it’s now time for them to join us in 
addressing the other issues in Scottish football.”

So basically, thanks for shouting a bit, now let the big boys handle it. Great.Thisis the issue in Scottish football at the moment – how about we deal with that first before “addressing the other issues in Scottish football”? I’m pretty sure, Hendo, that integrity and good governance have yet to be dealt with, me old China.

“I don’t have any empirical evidence to justify it but, in terms of the research I did, there are a lot of clubs in a very precarious situation.”

I went on Google for a bit, then made my mind up that Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster’s rhetoric about “social unrest” and varying amounts in the tens of millions must be absolutely kosher. For that reason, Motherwell are doomed.

For some less cretinous views on the current situation, see here and here (and yes, I know Rangers Tax Case is written by a Celtic fan. He is rather impartial all the same).

My view on this situation? Rangers in the Third Division is the only credible solution. Gretna and Livingston were treated in a similar manner; Airdrieonians, Clydebank and Third Lanark disappeared entirely. The Rangers fans themselves seem to want it (those I know anyway – some of them for slightly thrawn reasons, perhaps); only the “guardians of the beautiful game” at the top want to see sporting integrity thrown to the wind for want of a farthing. What Regan, Doncaster and co don’t realise is while Rangers in Division 3 will cause short-term financial pain, the long-term financial pain of hundreds of thousands of fans being alienated from the game and going to the Eastgate, Union Square, the Buchanan Galleries, the Overgate, the St James Centre or the Burns Mall on a Saturday instead – should Rangers go straight into the First – will be a rather bigger, and more real, figure.

Idiotic Statement of the Week

As everyone in the world is aware, Rangers are currently in administration. This has led to the 10 non-Old Firm clubs holding discussions on a number of matters to change, among other things, the voting regime for various decisions the Scottish Premier League (“SPL”) has to make.

For any major changes, such as the structure of the league, a majority of 11-1 is currently required for a vote to pass. The “SPL 10” wish to change this structure so that 9-3 will suffice for a structural change.

All at least vaguely laudable – Rangers’ financial situation as at least given the other 10 sides a chance to take stock and consider their own financial sustainability. However, this “gang of 10” is being led by Michael Johnston, chairman of League Cup winners Kilmarnock, who this week likened the 10’s situation to…. the Arab Spring. So yes, residents of Homs, think of the plight of Inverness Caledonian Thistle not being able to fill their 7,000 capacity stadium next time you step outside your home, rather than selfishly avoiding those shells hitting your neighbourhood.

Johnston’s words were, for the record, the following:

“The Arab Spring has reached Scotland,” Johnston told BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound programme.

“So hopefully we can be as successful as some of the pro-democracy movements elsewhere. This is the pro-democracy movement. It’s not a gang of 10 or anything subversive. ”

If this is the level of the “SPL 10” ‘s PR initiative, expect that 11-1 structure to remain in place for the next thousand years or so.