“We had 18 corners though.” A regular, post-match exclamation on the back of yet another poor performance. That the result of the match was a 2-0 defeat, and the particular stat used to try and impart any kind of positive spin on a poor day at the office, has no relevance to the scoreline, seems lost on a manager under pressure. Press conferences reek of irony, as journalists gleefully thrust microphones under quivering chins, and all manner of recording devices sit on the table in front, blinking red and occasionally bleeping, just to let him know they are taking note of every, single word, awaiting the ‘foot in mouth’ moment that captures the headline.

It’s a self-preservation mechanism of course. No one likes losing and everyone, even the best, like to find excuses for doing so. The last thing you want to do when you go in front of the press after the game (although it would be refreshing to hear it more often) is hold your hands up and admit you were shit. They know their observations will be the following days headline and this is their opportunity to convince you, the punter, that what you’ve just suffered and just about managed to make it through ‘til the last, harrowing, minute of the 90 without losing your voice, wasn’t actually as bad as you thought. He clearly doesn’t realise that you’ve only just managed to keep your precious, 25-year-old ceremonial scarf that has seen many, many similar defeats over the years, around your neck rather than lob it trackside, frustrated at the lack of invention and quality from the aforementioned corner after corner.

Mark Twain summed it up perfectly with his immortal observation; ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics’ and in an era where we have more close up cameras than a Ron Jeremy movie, video analysis and the information gleaned from it have become both a useful tool and a comfort blanket in equal measure.

On a weekend where several managers have lost their jobs, it is far more important in my opinion that managers look beyond the stats. Fans will quickly see through an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes. One defeat in six, will suddenly become one win in seven on the back of another loss the following Saturday when the run contains four draws and they’re fed up with your defence losing soft goals and suffering through yet another drab, performance.


Whilst stats should NEVER be used in an attempt to cover up a poor run of results, or another defeat, there is no doubt that video analysis and the information gathered should be used in order to gain any type of advantage you can when preparing your team for a particular challenge. Indeed, as I alluded to last week, if you’re not using whatever means you can to give your team an edge, you are being contemptible. One incredible thing that came out from the weekend was that Liverpool players, under Jurgen Klopp, are running on average more than 1km more per game than they were under Brendan Rodgers. An incredible statistic at any level and I’ll leave you to make of it what you will.

But how do you use the information and the endless hours of analysis to your advantage?

As soon as the weekend’s match is finished, your mind immediately turns to your next opponent. As the manager suffers his way through the after match press conference, the assistant will usually be finding out who’s fit, who’s suspended and who’s likely to be available for the following Saturday. The video analyst will be sought out (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and a copy of the game you have just watched will be despatched into the Louis Vuitton (Primark) toilet bag.

You use every possible resource you can to gain an advantage and in Scotland, outside the big guns, things are ALWAYS done on a budget. We used our contacts at Dundee University to have intern production media students, film games for us. We were fortunate that the great Dundee broadcaster Dick Donnelly’s son Ian, a Dundee fan, had developed a sports analytical programme called Focus, that was being used by sporting organistaions worldwide, and we used our Dennistoun charm to convince him to procure his services for the best of ‘mates rates.’
All of this meant that by 6pm on a Saturday as we left the ground, we had DVD copies and a laptop programme of the match that highlighted everything from corners, free kicks and set-plays to turnovers, attacking plays and defensive situations.

Sunday nights would be spent poring over hours of video action, pulling what little hair I had left from its roots and screaming at defenders on the laptop screen. Taking notes in order to highlight individual errors and moments our ‘shape’ was awry and left us vulnerable. Our defenders must have dreaded the sight of me walking toward them, with laptop under one arm and pen in paper in the other before Monday’s training, seeking out that week’s hapless combatant. Because that’s it you see, players rarely enjoy video analysis, because there’s no hiding place. You scream and shout after a game and tell a player where he has gone wrong and they will stand up and deny it ‘til the cows come home, but when they are presented with the evidence in full, high definition, there aren’t many who would still argue that they weren’t picking the guy up who has just scored the last minute winner.


We also had two ex-managers – John McCormack and Dennis Newall – watching our following two weeks opposition. By Sunday night we had a dossier on them and by the time the players had arrived for training we had a match report sitting at their place, preparing them for the week ahead and giving them an idea of the opposition, their shape and their patterns of play.

We’d do deals with opposition coaches and swap DVD’s of matches, to give us a further insight into how they would play. We’d use the highlights on the BBC website. Club websites provided the most comprehensive coverage of previous games but were often password protected, but I’d use my contacts at the college to gain access to those clubs sites I used to work with, all so I could use the information to gain a little more knowledge of our opponents. To gain that extra one percent.

If they’d scored a lot of goals from crosses we might need to sacrifice our full backs and ask them to go tighter on wide players, giving centre backs greater than normal responsibility. If they scored a lot of goals from set pieces, we’d play higher up the pitch to avoid giving them away in more dangerous areas and if they lost goals as their lumbering defenders struggled with balls in behind, we’d have to consider playing with our quickest striker. Even though he often played like a braindead corpse. That’s why manager’s sometimes make changes in personnel that you, as a fan, never understand and play players seemingly out of form, or bring people in from the cold. Because the stats, and the knowledge and influence of video analysis, told him to do so.

And then, after Monday training, armed with more stats than a mathematician explaining Pythagoras Theorem and a video presentation George Lucas would have been proud of, we’d go through everything. What we could improve on, what we should have done better, what couldn’t have been any worse, the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and then, the formulation of the plan and how we, as a group of warriors, are going to beat them.


What was also important was always to finish on a positive. A 10-minute montage of all the good play, crosses and goals. Last ditch slide tackles and crunching challenges, alongside bullet headers and periods of dominance, would have them bouncing back out of the door feeling great about themselves again, without realising they had just been battered over the head with Captain Caveman’s club for the first hour. All that was missing was a Haka.

I sometimes wished we could have gone out and played the game there and then on the Monday afternoon.

And that’s why, on Monday night, Jose Mourinho said that he felt ‘betrayed’ by his players.
He had given his team all the information they required to win the game and had prepared them as best he could. Warning them of the opposition’s strengths and encouraging them to exploit their weaknesses. He had given them everything in the hope that they could turn that one percent in their favour, that the small margins, so often blamed by managers for a run of defeats, can be minimised to such an extent, that they take on little, or no significance.

But the game isn’t played by pen and paper, nor can it be won on computer screens with elaborate video presentations. It’s played by footballers, and whilst there is no question stats and analysis are a key element of modern day football, please don’t credit them for winning, never mind losing a football match. In doing so, you might just find you become just another statistic yourself.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available from on all formats and from most good book shops.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell


I was a sceptic. If it ‘wasn’t football then it wasn’t worth watching’ USED to be my mantra, but in recent months i’ve taken in the Glasgow Rocks basketball at the Emirates, Glasgow Tigers speedway at Ashfield Stadium, and this weekend, the latest venture into the unknown on ‘family Sunday’ was to visit Braehead, for my first ever taste of Ice Hockey.

Braehead Clan v the Edinburgh Capitals was to be my introduction to the fast, physical world of pucks, goal tenders and delayed penalties (thankfully I had a Clan regular in the row in front who explained that particular nuance to me.) I chose this game because in my ignorance, I assumed the two main cities would be engaging in a local derby. In fact, I was surprised to learn, again from the my new found Clan sage, that ‘our’ rivals, were the ‘spit’ Fife Flyers. Now there’s something novel for a start, a rivalry borne of competition from the two best teams, rather than tribalry. It’ll never catch on. There were 2,300 spectators in the Arena, which in itself was an admirable feat. To put that into context, more people watch Ice Hockey at Braehead than at any football ground in League Two, League One and the Championship (outside Hibernian and Rangers.) A feat even more remarkable when you consider they had played at Braehead just 20 hours previously, on the Saturday night, in front of over 3,000. We are truly blinkered as to what is going on right under our noses, and indeed, what is on offer.

The game itself lasts for 60 minutes, three periods of 20. Although with breaks in the game and a further 20 minutes between each period, the whole experience takes up two and a half hours. But it doesn’t feel like it. The interaction between fan and sport never stops with every break in play punctured by an MC/DJ, banging out a short musical interlude, relative to the previous play. An opponents indiscretion is met with a sombre, requiem march to the sin bin, allowing home fans to mock mercilessly, whilst an altercation or rough house tactics are met with ‘The eye of the Tiger’. All very staged, and yet all very entertaining as the ‘Purple Army’ buy into every idio-synchrosy.

The interaction doesn’t stop during the period breaks either, prize draws, giveaways, ice dance displays and opportunity to get your ‘Clan-gus’ selfie as the hairy, 6ft, ceremonial Highland coo’ of a mascot, tours the stadium to pose with adults and children alike.

And whisper it, there’s even a bar. A bar where you can buy a pint and take it back to your seat. But don’t tell the Scottish football authorities, because they can’t trust me to have a pint without thinking I might be about to start the next Hampden riot. I had four, and I enjoyed every, single one of them and at £3:80 a pint, not unreasonable given how much you can be fleeced at stadium bars, cinemas, concert venues and any other bastion of the ‘captive audience’.

One thing that did become slightly irritating (although only to me it seemed) was the continuous stream of ‘sponsored by’ announcements. Whilst being absolutely understandable and totally necessary to maximise revenue in an under exposed sport, the “assist sponsored by….”, “goal sponsored by…” and “sin bin sponsored by…” did become a slight distraction.

The only other minor negative I had was the fact that there wasn’t one, single fight! That’s what we all used to watch Ice Hockey at the Olympics for wasn’t it? I’m led to believe, that the fights, like thick footballers and the fact we’re all millionaires, are a stereotype that is rarely the norm in the game these days. No doubt for the better. The entire evening was both hugely enjoyable, and entertaining, and whilst we didn’t always know what was going on in terms of the rules, there was enough going on around the whole package, to keep us engaged.

We were guests of Braehead Clan, had we paid for our two adult and two child tickets, our overall admission price would have been £52. When you consider the average for SPFL top flight football is around £25, it has to be said that for two and a half hours entertainment, the value is there for all to see.

Samantha, Lewis, Hannah and I thoroughly enjoyed our day…. ‘sponsored by Taxi for Farrell’, and we would recommend to anyone to give it a try. Other, more publicised sports could learn one or two things about fan engagement, that would be to their benefit. They try very hard at Braehead Clan and as a west coast based team, delivering what it says on the tin to over 3,000 people every week, they deserve more exposure. Give them a try, have a beer, and if nothing else, enjoy the experience. I know we did.

Oh, and the Clan won 2:1, but there was so much going on I hardly noticed.


The pot is boiling. The lid is insecure and just about managing to maintain parity as it rattles and wobbles under the constant battering. Simmering, the ingredients are in the mix and the broth is taking shape, but still you can’t quite get it right. You’ve been working on it for weeks and here it is in front of you, but it still doesn’t look the way it should and the end result is disappointing. Should you change the recipe and be a little more adventurous in the hope that it brings about the desired outcome, whilst risking upsetting the balance and ruining it altogether?

All the while, the lid is still uneasy. Making that noise only releasing the pressure will ease, whistling and screaming in your head for you to do something. You’re standing there at the side of the pitch and your lid feels like it’s about to blow off. Looking lost and wondering whether to stick or twist on the back of four straight defeats and praying that the final 20 minutes of cooking time produces a feast, worthy of a king (or a chairman).

Pressure, that’s what it feels like.

The recipe

I’ve been asked hundreds of times what pressure is and heard an equal amount of times the old analogy that football management isn’t REAL pressure. “Putting food on the table,” that’s REAL pressure.

Whilst the reality of that particular social situation cannot be under estimated, it doesn’t mean that football coaching and management does not bring with it, its own, very real, type of pressure.

Where else can you literally be three or four weeks from losing your job on a regular basis and turning up for work every morning fearing the sack? Not everyone has the luxury of a million pound pay-off and a lucrative contract to fall back on. Football is a unique industry and whether your target for the season is avoiding relegation, mid-table mediocrity, the play-offs or a title challenge, the pressure builds in equal amounts when you’re not winning.

Throw into the mix that it’s almost December, with the busy Christmas period round the corner and, the madness that is the January transfer window. Chairmen up and down the country deciding whether to stick with the devil they know or put the meagre pay-off in Santa’s sack and give their loyal aide the heave ho-ho-ho.

Boiling point

There are tell-tale signs when a manager is feeling “the pressure.” After match press conferences are first port of call for the dead giveaway. A gaffer in the midst of a winning run and sporting one of the chairman’s newly gifted cigars in his top pocket will generally be composed, assured and as guarded as he always is. On the other hand, four defeats on the trot and simple, run-of-the-mill questions are met with terse, confrontational answers or long-winded rants. Referees decisions and performances are questioned, tactics are backed to the point of delusion and even the fans will get it in the neck.

It’s a release mechanism. Just the same as releasing that button on the top of the pressure cooker, you feel as if you are being backed into a corner and rather than have the power of rational thought, the natural instinct is to come out fighting. Swinging punches at the pitch, the linesman, the press and the board and it’s only when you wake up the next morning in the cold light of day that you read the headlines and see none of your haymakers has even remotely brushed its target.

And now, you’re under more pressure.

The old immortal lines about ‘not reading the papers’ and my own particular favourite – “I don’t look at league tables” are trotted out. Really???

In this modern age of tactical and performance analysis, if you don’t look at league tables and know how many goals you have conceded against how many you have scored then you’re not doing your job. I don’t know a manager these days who doesn’t know how many times his star striker farts in the warm up, never mind how many goals they’ve lost from set pieces. It’s an insult to the intelligence of every man, woman and child who follows football to suggest otherwise.

The ingredients

There are other more obvious signs ON the pitch. Chopping and changing of formations and line-ups and players playing out of position as managers under pressure, become so desperate for a result, they tinker and tamper so much that any kind of consistency and level of performance is less likely than flagging down a taxi on a Saturday night.

And then, there’s the greatest insult and possibly the biggest sign of all. A change from, flowing, attacking open play to football’s equivalent of a cup of Horlick’s. The dreaded 4-5-1. Safe, unattractive football. The most negative system of play ever created and generally employed by managers who, feeling the pressure, have decided that the best way to take something from the game, and cajole a team devoid of any defensive capability, is to hold on to ‘nil’ for as long as is humanly possible (or 90 minutes) in order to nick a point. In truth, by that stage, the nail, pinning the initialled coat to the dressing room wall, is usually no longer shaky, but is lying on the floor.

At Dundee, we were under pressure from the start. A couple of new kids on the block, trying to make their very own marky mark in the game. The club were languishing mid-table in the First Division, and we managed with a squad of free transfers, vagabonds and trialists to drag them up to third. The second season was much better and we were only just pipped for the title and finished, very respectably, runners-up. The expectation of the following season brought with it the pressure that we HAD to gain promotion.
Injuries, suspensions and an indifferent start to our third season all combined to ensure that by early October, we were under pressure. Nine points off the top and we were aware the heat was on.

And then, we did it.

The end product

4-5-1 against a mid-table Partick Thistle at Firhill, where we felt that a point away from home would keep us in a job for another week. We managed an awful 0-0 and in actual fact we COULD have nicked it, but as our star striker’s breakaway effort slipped agonisingly wide with 10 minutes to go, we were safe in the knowledge that we’d at least earned a point and a stay of execution, although predictably, there would be no let-up in the pressure.

We lasted a week.

After reverting back to our normal 4-4-2 the following Saturday at home to Ross County, we lost 2-1 and our fate was sealed as we were sacked three days later. The pressure had been mounting, but at least our last throw of the dice had been to revert back to the tried and tested formula that had brought us a modicum of success over our first two years.

The lid was now off the pressure cooker and the disappointment is almost matched by the relief that you no longer have to feel like that.

And yet, within days, there’s an aching and an urge to get back in there and turn the heat up again. Because no matter how crazy it feels, and how difficult things become, the pressure is just another one of those things, coaches and managers live with. And there’s one thing that is so much worse, and that’s living without it.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available from on all formats and from most good book shops.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell



That’s what we’re doing this weekend.

Not a single mince pie’s crusty edge, bitten off in unbridled footballing pleasure nor a ball kicked in anger, as the Euro Championship play-offs kick off.

We should be playing this week at the very least, looking forward and giving ourselves a glimmer of hope, stumbling our way through a home and away tie before falling at the final hurdle, gloriously and inevitably. Talk the game up we are continuously told. On the back of what? Realism and abject failure? The bottom line is we blew it because we were not good enough.

Don’t tell me that we’re producing players, because we’re not. The demise of Rangers and the ensuing financial fallout has allowed most clubs to get their fragile houses in order, but there are still very few players coming through to allow us to compete at elite level. As a country, our Under 21’s last qualified for the final stages of a major tournament 19 years ago. The National side then went on to qualify for France ’98 just two years later – sadly our last appearance in the latter stages among football’s good and great.

I wonder if anyone within the corridors of power has made that particular link yet, that an excellent feeder side makes a competitive National side and whether or not they are still prepared to say that we are producing quality from our youth programmes, because frankly, among all the bombast and bluster, it’s not happening.

Year after year of football ‘development’ initiatives failing to provide a glut of players the financial investment should have guaranteed. Trumped up performance schools and investments in playing the ‘Dutch’ way, have failed to secure us a place at the top table. They should be done under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Any club’s youth programme should be judged on the number of players it brings through to it’s OWN first team, not the amount of discards littering the lower leagues. Players who become REAL saleable assets, or at the very least given more than a paltry 20 appearances, whilst being lauded as the next big thing before being forgotten about quicker than an Amsterdam weekend. Celtic and Rangers are the biggest players and the biggest culprits. I’m sick of hearing about Aiden McGeady and Alan Hutton, the last two to roll off the youth development production line.

That’s ONE player each, from the big boy’s game of poker whose chips were able to be cashed in for more than the price of a set of tracksuits, a dozen balls and an initialled coaches jacket in 14, barren years, since the money pits of Murray Park and Lennoxtown were created. It’s no wonder our National team manager was toying with the idea of throwing in the towel.

Given the tools he has at his disposal, it’s understandable why he was twitching uncomfortably in his seat.

Ginger snap

Unusually, Gordon Strachan, found himself in the enviable position of being a manager in demand, on the back of, what was ultimately, a failed European Championships qualifying campaign. There can be no question that, given the circumstances, there were far more positives to be taken from this failed campaign than there had been from many others. Positive performances against some of the better teams in the group had meant that at least at some points during the programme, we had reason to believe.

Given that there were no credible alternatives swinging the Grim Reaper’s scythe and the very influential media had decided that on this occasion, the sword was mightier than the pen, his bosses at the SFA very quickly made it clear that they wanted him to stay, meaning there was unlikely to be any outcome other than continuity.

Certainly there were none of the outward signs that he had lost the players. There was no petty indiscipline on the pitch. No stupid kicking the ball away or needless cautions and no negative, front page headlines that often blight an International trip. These are all good signs for a manager trying to instil a spirit and togetherness into a squad.

Players talk and they, just like the managers, all have individual ‘go to’ guys in the media who will be more than happy to allow some gossip or team news to seep seamlessly from the team hotel. But even if all the signs were there that the players were happy enough to stick with the devil they knew, I’m not 100% convinced that Mr Strachan himself wanted to remain in the dark blue.

Had the final game been a dull, narrow victory over Georgia, in front of a half empty Hampden, where the crowd may well have been looking for a victim rather than the hero lauded by the alcohol fuelled Tartan Army on the back of a three day jolly to Albufeira, the decision to stay may not have been so straightforward.

The pictures of the group celebrating a 6-0 victory over Gibraltar, and the sound of the manager’s name being chanted among endless renditions of Flower of Scotland, may well have been replaced by an angry mob, baying for a scapegoat. Had that been the case, I’m not convinced Gordon would have been swayed to carry on by that particular Polaroid.

With there being no other viable candidates for the job, let us all hope that on this occasion, the loyalty shown on both sides, is rewarded with success.


Remarkably, given the circumstances of our failed campaign, Gordon’s assistant was in a similar position of demand as Mark McGhee returned to management in a club capacity at Motherwell. They always say you should never go back to a club, either as a player or a manager and there are many examples over the years as to why that old adage usually stands up, but what are the real reasons behind it? Why is it so difficult to go back?

The main reason is that generally, if you are being asked to make a return to a football club, you will have been successful first time round. That in itself brings a lot of pressure as clubs will very often have the same administrative staff, office bearers and groundsmen who will have worked with you before and, they will immediately expect the same level of success that you brought previously.

That in itself can bring instant, unrealistic demands, given that you are now sitting 2nd bottom, when you left them as they were sitting 2nd top.

There will have been the inevitable change in playing staff and that, alongside the familiarity of wee Jessie the tea lady, are the main reasons why it will be so difficult, second time around.

The previous manager has been sacked because the team hasn’t been doing well, you need to rebuild, bring in new players and harness that same spirit you had only a few years before. Crucially, you need to weed out the troublemakers, the guys who have had so much of a negative influence around the place that the previous manager would have been better instructing ACAS to do his half time team talks. And all the while, those trusted staff, the ones who you could have hung your Stetson on last time round are starting to question whether or not you are the same, successful manager they remember.

A team rebuild is what almost every incoming manager has to do, but against the backdrop of familiarity, those in and around a football club are a lot quicker to turn against you when they have already experienced how good your methods WERE.

I wish Mark McGhee every success at Motherwell. He has a very difficult task in winning over a group of players, battered almost into submission by the former regime. I was vocal at the time that I could not understand the powers that be there, employing someone who from the outside, seemed to have very little knowledge of the Scottish game. At least on this occasion, they cannot be accused of such folly, however, as soon as Mark hears those inevitable murmurings of “he’s changed” from behind the scenes, it will be time to look over his broad shoulder. I hope for his sake, as with any manager, he gets a few early wins and that those murmurings are still a long, long, way off.

Finally…. What’s going on at Chelsea?
Jose Mourinho, so long the ‘Special One’ is currently in the unusual position for him, of going through a very difficult period. Make no mistake about it, something is not right. A team as talented as they are, with the financial clout and depth of squad, should not be going through such a horrendous run.

Without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes at the Bridge, I can only speculate, but it is very rare at a football club that two such high profile spats as those with John Terry and Eva Caneiro, will not have had an adverse effect on spirit. There is no question that earlier in the season, Jose was looking to make a statement, by leaving out his captain Terry. Publicly decrying such an influential figure at a football club is a huge, egotistic call and, if Terry decided that he would become a negative influence around the dressing room, I’m sure he would not find it too difficult.

Gathering allies would be no Herculean task given his stature and power within the club and, on the back of a few dodgy results, it would seem that those within the dark blue dressing room are siding with Terry rather than the manager. One thing is absolutely certain, they will both deny it and say everything is ok, but their relationship, on the back of a public spat, will never be the same again.

The Eva Caneiro situation will only have exacerbated whatever rift there may exist between the players and management. I hear Miss Caneiro was a very popular figure among the players (get your mind out of the gutter) as more often than not, physios and medical staff at football clubs are viewed very much as friends and allies of the dressing room. A very high profile removal of someone so popular will have done nothing for what seems an already fractious relationship between Jose and the players.

He is an incredibly successful and experienced manager and has achieved things I could only have imagined in my wildest dreams, but he will have to quickly find a solution to the situation he currently finds himself in and re-invent the spirit and trust he is famous for.

Should results continue as they have been, the Special One, could, for the first time in his illustrious career, become the Chosen One, for all the wrong reasons.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available from As well as Waterstones Glasgow and on all other formats.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell


I’d sit mesmerised, watching the TV screen as the ball was launched from one end to the other. Back and forth; the quality of play wasn’t great, but just to be involved in it (albeit at living room level) was a whole new ball game. Manoeuvring your goalie – a very loose term for the animated rectangular, one-inch bar making its way up and down each side of the screen – to protect your end, whilst trying to fire it past the hapless nondescript at the opposite side of the telly.

FIFA 16 this wasn’t, but to me, Pong, was as close as I could get to playing football on the semi-colour, Ferguson 16-inch in the main room.

In truth, it was very little like football, and much, much more like table tennis (hence the name I suppose) but regardless, I had Peter Latchford at one end and Peter McCloy at the other, desperately trying to ensure that Latchford wasn’t having one of his off days, and if the score got just a little too one-sided, and the Girvan Lighthouse was having a stormer, there was always the reset button to take it back to nil-nil.

Funny that, but I never did manage to lose any of THOSE early derbies.


From there we moved on to the ZX Spectrum and Galaxians and my first taste of Football Manager. Graphics were a thing of the future as matchstick men moved around the portable TV with all the stealth of a Subbuteo player on crack. And finally, magnificently, the Atari. The console that spawned the immortal Sensible Soccer and my brother and I’s first taste of sibling rivalry. Tiny players, careering around a 2d pitch with the finesse of a ballerina and a shot like Mons Meg. It became an art to position your midfielder, in between the dark and light green lines of the pitch, just inside the line of the post and drill an unstoppable cannonball into the bottom corner.

The difference to then and now though, was that these games never took the place of our football. Playing after school for a couple of hours, up for dinner and then back out ‘til it was dark. Only then was there time for a game of Space Invaders. Occasionally you’d snatch an hour after dinner, cumbersome console in hand, whilst waiting on the rest of the boys to finish theirs. Staggered dinner times as fathers came home from work were always a bain, as it meant the three-a-side couldn’t start until all the rest were finished.
Nowadays it’s as much as you can ask to get them to leave their room and come down FOR dinner.

The world is evolving alright. The digital boom has created a generation who have so much else to do, where everything is at their fingertips and the bedroom has become a social hub. They watch each other on tablet screens, whilst playing against each other on TV screens as they talk to each other on mobile telephone screens. It’s entirely our fault of course, providing everything they need to become an online whizz, whilst bemoaning the fact that they “don’t go out enough.” And then, we wonder why we aren’t producing any footballers anymore.

Would you have gone out as much with all that very obvious entertainment at your beck and call?

It’s a difficult conundrum, and one that will be almost impossible to overcome, balancing the demands of peer pressure with doing what’s best.

I don’t have the answer to that one I’m afraid, but when I first started playing professional football, Social and Media were the names of two different nightclubs, and not the very obvious distraction they are today. Facebook and Twitter were as much a thing of the future as Marty McFly’s DeLorean and the internet was a figment of Bill Gates very virulent imagination. In an age where social acceptance has become very public, players need to recognise and be very wary of their responsibilities.

The world of social media is a perilous one and rarely discriminates between high and low profile


Recent cases including those of James McClean, Leigh Griffiths and Fraser Mullen, as well as past, high profile examples like Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Mario Balotelli and John Terry, all serve to highlight the dangers of the internet and social media.

Facebook and Twitter has become everyone’s ‘go to’ guy in times of need, want and boredom, and footballers it appears, are no different. However, why should they be?

I would never judge the rights and wrongs of what Leigh Griffiths said, I have always been of the belief that if footballers do wrong, then they should be dealt with by the appropriate authorities. If those authorities happen to be either the SFA’s disciplinary panels or the highest court in the land, then so be it. Trusting the judiciary system and taking your medicine is a fundamental of the democratic fabric.

Neither should it be for fans from any side of the football demograph to call for further punishment in some petty, ill-informed act of tribal retribution.

So have we come to the point then, when players need to stop using these very public forums? Frankly, yes. If players cannot trust themselves to attend a football match without singing an offensive song, or have a night out without sharing a shisha pipe with the next radical fundamentalist, KNOWING they are most likely to appear on Bebo, then they need to revert back to the attractions of the ten-minute freeview in order to amuse themselves.

As ridiculous as it sounds, clubs must also start taking responsibility and ban their own serial offenders from social media in order to save them from themselves.


If FIFA 16 and Sensible Soccer aren’t going to be enough to keep them occupied, maybe filling their time with media education and the odd visit to a local community programme in its place would be a better option. That one or two stray, and make no mistake about it, it is a very low percentage of footballers who have fallen foul, is no surprise, however it is usually nothing more than human nature. Misguided antics are rarely borne of deliberate harm, and as such, an understanding that few are being routinely provocative, should be taken into account.
In my day, social media and fan interaction amounted to no more than having a penpal in Malta and signing the odd autograph outside the ground.

Turning up at the Easter and summer coaching camps and end-of-season Player of the Year dinners was seen as part of your club duties. There is a common held myth among fans that players don’t like doing their club’s form of National Service. In my experience, it is only those at the very top level, earning Sky’s millions, who will turn their gold-plated noses up at such events. They’ll be happy to put an appearance fee in their over inflated pocket at a BT sponsored event, but such is their distance from reality and fan engagement, that, should they ever make it to a presentation night in the Tower Hamlets Working Men’s Club, they’d be back out the door quicker than Jimmy Carr’s accountant at the Taxman of the Year Awards.

Good honest Scottish pro’s are more than happy to appear at club events. People like Chris Millar, James McPake, Ross Draper and Kris Doolan will have no problem taking their place among the Lochee Social Club hierarchy. These guys are earning a ‘normal’ living from the game and know they will have to go and work in the real world at the end of their career.

Recognising the importance of the fans input to the club and showing that you are willing to engage and network, is all part of the next stage. Being seen in a good light, taking time with people and being seen to make the effort, can all help as you prepare for that walk into the wilderness of the working man.

There comes a time when those magnificent, fulfilling and occasionally crushing playing days are over and there is no longer time in the afternoon to work those fingers to the bone, trying to improve your rating on Call of Duty.

Preparation for life in the real world begins long before the time actually comes to call it a day. Having a well earned beer at the weekend is just as fulfilling after a week of training and a good victory, as it is at the end of a 48-hour week of manual labour.

Next time you are out, and you bump into one of your heroes, or maybe even one of your rivals’ star players and you pull out the latest iPhone to get an adoring picture with him, remember that he may NOT be earning the millions that you think he is, and that he is probably more than happy to be there, engaging and listening to your stories of how you’ve supported the club for 30-years and this is the worst team you have ever clapped eyes on.

And hopefully it will make you think twice about posting it the next morning in the hope that you get him into trouble, or, God Forbid, that you get your own 15 minutes of cyber fame. After all, his only crime might just have been that he was enjoying himself.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from All pre-orders before the November 1st release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

Online video previews and some funny stories are available to view here:

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell


Break a leg

Could there ever be a more ridiculous way to bring someone luck than by wishing them harm? Surely only the most perverse chain of thought would believe that wishing some good luck, is in fact bad luck and, as a result, decide that the only way forward is to double bluff the leprechaun.

Try telling that to Luke Shaw as he lies in a hospital bed, recuperating from that horrific double leg break, that we all seen so visually during TV coverage last week. Forget the fact that he is a very wealthy, ‘lucky’ young man. It’s the sort of injury that is more common than it seems, as up and down the country over the course of a season, many players suffer the dreaded ‘tib and fib.’ Snapping both the tibia and fibula shin bones is a career threatening injury, and even though he will be afforded the best medical help which the biggest club in the world can offer, his recovery will still be long, with huge mental and physical barriers along the way.

Mental strength and physical hard work during rehabilitation are the only way to get back to fitness from such an injury and to that extent, all the oxygen chambers and advanced medical science will help him no more than they would help the part-time player from the Conference suffering from the same, devastating blow.

The recovery position

High profile cases such as those of Luke Shaw and Henrik Larsson, only serve to highlight the vagaries and downsides of modern football. Injuries are the most difficult and frustrating side of the game for a player. Torn hamstrings, torn groin, torn calves and a torn quadricep (thigh) muscle. Torn ankle ligaments, a detached medial ligament, a dislocated kneecap, a fractured rib, a calcaneal heel spur and a ruptured plantar fascia (that’s the bit that holds the front and the back of the sole of your foot together), may sound like a chapter from the British Medical Sports Injury journal, but it is in fact a list of the serious injuries which I suffered throughout my career.

To say I was an expert would be stretching the definition to its limits. I was a walking episode of Casualty. You know that bit at the start when the innocent bystander crosses the road, and manages to get to the other side without mishap, and yet, you just know, something much more sinister is about to happen to him 10 minutes later, I was that man. I’m certain there were times they were filming me coming out of the tunnel and Charlie Fairhead was in the dug-out with the First Aid Kit and a magic sponge.

A lot of my career was spent recovering from injury, playing whilst struggling with injury or going through rehab until I got to the point where I was able to play again, ‘til the next injury.

Treatment rooms became my nemesis. They are lonely, difficult, mentally draining places where the daily double dose of shortwave and electro-magnetic pulses, become a ritual akin to that of a car battery being jump-started back to life, gradually regaining more power before finally managing to find the energy to motor into action. Albeit this was no 16-valve, twin cam, fuel injected, piece of athletic engineering. This was more like an old banger, desperately in need of repair and patching up, just so it could get through another pain-filled 90 minutes. It was a vicious, unforgiving cycle.

On track

The rehab has already started the minute the physio strides onto the pitch and straps the affected limb. Immobilising the break and encasing it in an inflatable splint to prevent further damage, is the first step on the road to recovery, providing of course, the relevant first aid men are capable of carrying the stretcher without as has often been witnessed, comical unforeseen mishap.

At that point the hard work really begins. Injured players are always first to arrive in the morning for their short spell of electro-magnetic energy, coursing through ruptured vials in order to aid the healing process. For a short while you feel normal again, a part of it all as the rest of the squad arrives for training and you can get in on the jokes and the banter for 30, glorious minutes and then it’s over as they head off to training and leave you to your very own solitary confinement. Months of it, gym work, strengthening, recuperation and double sessions without the hint of a ball. All so that on your belated return, the physical condition is there to allow you to get to performing at your best.

But the self-doubt creeps in and the inevitable two questions pop-up; Will I ever play again? Will I ever be the same player again? That’s when the mental side becomes a tougher test than the physical one. Watching your team mates, week in, week out, whilst sitting with a leg brace or whatever contraption the medical team have decided is the best way to protect your particular, damaged part of the body is difficult. Results may be good, but when you’re not contributing and playing, football clubs can be very isolated places.

Because that’s it you see; there is ALWAYS a doubt that you’ll play again. Even the strongest of players will have doubted themselves during the arduous months of rehab, pounding gym sessions and cycling contests against a bloody computer screen. Don’t believe all those players who say they never had any doubts that they would play again after a long term injury, because EVERYONE has doubts. It’s a human facet, whether it be Luke Shaw with the power of Manchester United’s medical department behind him, or the left back at FC United of Manchester, the brain doesn’t distinguish between the haves and the have nots.

It will be a long difficult road back to fitness, but the months of not seeing a ball, never mind kicking one are always worth it when you get to pull on that strip again, whether it be at the Allianz Arena, or Moss Lane, Altrincham.

Unlucky break

Through all those injury-laden seasons, I was ‘lucky’ to never have broken a leg. My ‘tib and fib’ were one of the few things that remained intact throughout my career, although there was one occasion when I was close enough to a player to hear the injury, rather than me having to feel it.

Edinburgh derby reserve games weren’t for the faint hearted. Young players scrapping to make a name for themselves, and senior pro’s revelling in the mini rivalry, determined to show they still had ‘it.’ On this occasion, Hearts had Sandison, Crabbe, Kidd, Neil ‘Chuck’ Berry and wee John Robertson among their ranks.

Robbo was a brilliant striker, a predator in the box and an absolute nuisance but one thing that was always overlooked about this wee man was that he was as tough as they came. He knew how to look after himself and was no shrinking maroon.

The game itself was a typical tight, tough affair and midway through the first half, Danny Lennon received a pass, only to turn and lose control of it, only slightly. At this point, as I’ve said on previous occasions, the player losing possession and now stretching for the ball, is the one under threat and at breaking point as he now has to reach, with no momentum, leaving himself open to the full force of a head on collision.

This was not so long ago remember, when you could throw the kitchen sink at a tackle, without the worry, like now, of being yellow carded just for turning on the tap.

Robbo, threw himself into the tackle, playing ball first and then catching Danny high on the shin in the follow through. It sounded as though wee Danny’s shin pad had snapped, but quickly became clear that it had been something less obvious. The ball broke to the side, and being only five yards away, I ran to help him. Most of the team could see it was serious and made their way over, and my first instinct was lift his leg and take some of the weight off it, protecting him and trying to ease some of the pain. The bottom half of his shin stayed on the ground and the top half, moved independently. It was clear at that point, his ‘tib and fib’ had gone.

Incredibly though, but not surprisingly, the only person in the ground not to have noticed was the referee. Waving play on, the ball was played to Tosh McKinlay who took one look up and smashed an unstoppable chip from the halfway line, into the empty net. Almost every player in our team was making our way to the stricken Danny, and that included big Stevie Woods, who by now was on the 18-yard line and running away from goal, without a thought for anything other than his team mate.

The harshest ever lesson in playing to the whistle!

Thankfully Danny, like many others before him and Henrik Larsson after, was able to show the mental strength and physical desire to overcome such adversity and have a good career, both in a playing sense and latterly, in a coaching one. I’m sure Luke Shaw, will recover in time and go on to have a great career, both in England and in Europe. It will be a long road and he has tough times ahead, he will have every possible machine, and medical expert available to help him, but nothing will help him recover more than the power of his mind and the strength of his character. One thing is for certain, it will be highly unlikely that you hear that immortal, good luck wish, ‘break a leg’ anywhere near Old Trafford, any time soon.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from All pre-orders before the November 1st release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

Some stories and video previews of the book are available to view online at:

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell


This weekend, Aberdeen and Celtic will battle it out, like warriors in a north east coliseum, to see if either can gain an early advantage in the SPFL title race. Locking horns at Pittodrie in a sea of red, and an islet, tucked away in a far flung corner of the ground, of green. It’s a raw, intimidating ground where the fans are on top of you and their ire often spills over to become twisted and vengeful. They don’t like Celtic and Rangers up there, but why should they on the back of west coast bias and a system that in their eyes favours the ‘big guns?’

Most of us, fans, players and coaches, the real soldiers of the game, wouldn’t have it any other way. It makes for a wonderful atmosphere and a day trip that away fans all over the country relish and look forward to, and yet, there’s always that niggling bit of doubt as the buses, crammed to the brim, head north, with all the trepidation of a sheep heading to the abattoir. It’s always been a tough place to win alright.

On Saturday morning, the Celtic fans, like many others this season, will make the trip; a trip I made many times myself during the early ’70’s and ’80’s and they’ll be hoping for better luck than I had on many, many occasions.


Back then, the motorways were in their infancy and it really was a day trip. Our bus would leave at 8:30 and arrive at 1pm for a 3pm Saturday afternoon kick off. This was pre-Sky, where kick-off times never needed ‘consideration’ and weekends all over the country were planned in advance to accommodate where your team was playing that particular day. No last minute changes, no cancelled ferry bookings and no Sunday evening kick-offs.

You could pre-book the traditional stop at Forfar on the way home with confidence and never need to worry about missing out on a bridie because of a last minute switch to a Friday night.

Four and a half hours of Heaven, sitting with my Dad and Uncle John, listening to the songs and lifting my feet occasionally to dodge the remnants of the open can of Tennent’s, now dribbling its way down from the back of the bus. My Dad and Uncle weren’t heavy drinkers; they’d enjoy a pre-match pint (Bacardi and Coke for Uncle John) and probably manage two cans for the game. We’d make our way to The Wellie Boot, where the bouncer would always allow my Dad to sneak me into the corner, on the promise of a half bottle next time we were up, and then make our way to the ground.

In those days, hostilities were no less friendly than now and the away fans were ‘housed’ in the smallest end behind the goals, known as the Paddock, before later, in the mid-80’s being shunted to the Beach End. Crammed in, hunched on numbered benches that barely allowed the stadium to preserve itself as ‘all-seater.’

This Aberdeen team were good, they were very good. McLeish and Miller, Strachan, Archibald, Rougvie and Harper, McMaster and McGhee. Leighton in goal, who incredibly along with Archibald would go on to become a team mate of mine. I could never have foreseen that as I watched battering after battering from the confines of my illustrious Paddock bench.

In six years, I hardly saw Celtic score a goal, never mind take a point. There were 2-0’s, 3-0’s, 3-1’s, and a 4-1, a Frank MacDougall masterclass and games where Miller and McLeish played keep-uppy with John Doyle. Doing after doing and then, after a few years of suffering at the hands of Fergie’s mobilised Red Army, it happened…

Your T’s oot

September ’81 and we had followed all our usual routines and made our way, as always, warily and with just a little bit of fear, to The Paddock. Two cans of Tennent’s down the jacket sleeve and a can of Coke for the boy, through the turnstiles and we were in.

The game followed a familiar pattern at Pittodrie as Aberdeen took an early lead from the penalty spot and Gordon Strachan, after scoring at The Paddock end and wheeling away in obvious joy, was accosted by a Celtic fan who had managed to clamber past the police and onto the pitch. What the police were doing, that it was taking up so much of their time and allowing him to get past them so easily, I didn’t know. However, I was about to find out.

Amid dual disgust at losing yet another early goal at Pittodrie and the first can of Tennent’s being almost finished, the old man thought nothing of it as he received a tap on the shoulder. This was the year after the 1980 ‘Hampden Riot’ and alcohol, was now banned from Scottish football stadia, which meant this was no friendly “word in your shell-like” and, as Tommy Burns scored the equaliser at the Beach End just minutes later, we were escorted outside to join around 100 or so other fans who either didn’t have a ticket, or were suffering the same fate as us and had been unceremoniously asked to vacate the premises.

The decision was made to stand outside and wait for the gates to open at half time in order that we could sneak back in, or at least give the turnstile operator, the opportunity to accept the same half bottle as was proffered The Wellie Boot bouncer. It was all to no avail and it would be five minutes to go before we managed to slink our way back in, as the gates opened to allow the Glasgow masses to leave.

A huge cheer midway through the first half and another that shook the ramshackle Paddock roof, early in the second, coincided with various hand signals from the fans leaning over the wall, making sure we knew that we were heading home on the back of a 3-1 victory.
After around a dozen visits to Aberdeen, and a few heavy defeats, I had at last experienced a win at Pittodrie. I had seen 13 minutes of it and the fact I had only HEARD most of it, meant very little and ultimately became just another part of my Scottish football adventure.


As fate would have it, nine years later I would make my debut, at of all places, Pittodrie. They were not the team of the early ’80’s but still had a formidable squad – Snelders, McLeish, Robertson and Robert Connor forming the backbone and Jess, Ten Caat and Gilhaus the undoubted flair, but the best of all was to be my direct opponent Jim Bett. He had technique in abundance and used to glide across the ground as if he was playing in slippers. His, was the type of player I could only dream of being like, and on this occasion, all I could do was admire as he strode purposely all over the pitch, directing the team like a composer conducting his orchestra.

Aberdeen won 2-0, but if it hadn’t been for Goram, it would have been six or seven. I lasted 70 minutes before I was spared the anguish of having my 20-year-old nose rubbed in it, which would have been as much as I deserved, had I been able to get near enough to him.

It was a valuable lesson that making the transition from being a supporter to being a professional footballer would be a difficult one. I had a long way to go, but I now knew how far it was and what I had to do and at least on this occasion, I managed to walk out the front door at the end of the game, rather than being ejected out of the back door during it.

On my next visit to Aberdeen, I was ordered off in a reserve game, to preserve my unique record of failing to see out a match on three different platforms, so whilst I have fantastic memories of those early day trips north, it’s fair to say that it was far from a happy hunting ground for me and yet I still loved the place.

It was Scottish football at its raucous, intimidating best and whilst Pittodrie is no longer the cauldron Fergie and his all-conquering side of the early ’80’s had made it, the Celtic support will be making their way up the A90, with that same excitement and trepidation as I used to.

And due to the ridiculous 12:30 kick off time, they’ll have to leave even earlier than our bus did to negotiate the long and winding road, to their isolated corner of the ground. All they need to do after that, is leave their cans at the front door and make sure they don’t miss as much of the game as I did.

To read more about my debut and many, many other stories and insights, my first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from All pre-orders before the November 1st release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell


Gordon Strachan’s Scotland are positioned on both sides of the camp when it comes to imposing this particular part of the game on their opponents, and it will remain to be seen whether or not the same tactic is used in both games against the average, Georgia, and the very good, Germany this weekend. There’s a certain way of doing it and rarely is it dependant on opposition. It takes time to hone and perfect and then you stick with it, seemingly through thick and thin. You protect it and fiercely defend it, even in the face of the harshest of criticism and occasional failure. Celtic are very staunchly in one camp, deciding to do it their way to their recent cost, while others are dead against that particular philosophy and would never dream of doing it, preferring to employ their own variation of it.

Rarely has a system divided opinion so widely between fans, players and coaches alike. No-one can decide what’s best, particularly now with the high profile analysis on Sky and the never ending dissection of autopsy proportions.

Zonal marking has never been more to the fore than in recent times as clubs, driven by the desire to succeed and the occasional warped sense of trying to be clever or different, implement their own brand of hari kari on players already muddled by formations of play that now, more than ever, resemble morse code, rather than basic instruction.

Whatever happened to ‘dot, dot, dash?’ That’s the good old 4-4-2 to you and I.


I have to say at this point that when I played, I enjoyed being a man marker at corners. I was good in the air and would relish the physical challenges and using every part of me and every trick in the book to stop the opposition centre back from scoring. I enjoyed, as most defenders do, the responsibility of pitting my wits against hairy arsed, 6ft plus centre forwards and making sure by fighting, jostling and being verbally intimidating, that the very most they got was a header that was at least interrupted by some part of my head or body, crashing into them. Most defenders, in my opinion, enjoy the responsibility of picking someone up. They enjoy defending.

Strikers in their own box on the other hand, now that’s a whole different ball game. Keith Wright was brilliant in the air and won many, many headers for us. Plonk big ‘Ted’ on the middle of the six-yard line and he’d attack the ball with the grace and power of the best, growling, centre back; but ask him to man mark? Like most strikers, he’d rather have gone in goal than pick up and that’s the key, finding the system of marking at set pieces that suits your personnel and circumstances and allows you to delegate equal responsibility throughout your team.

The Myth

Let’s examine the myth that zonal marking takes away that responsibility from the individual, because in truth, it doesn’t.

As a defensive unit, there are only three things that can ever be a threat to your goal at any particular time; the man, the ball and the space. As a defender, you must decide which of these is the biggest threat to you losing a goal. For example, if the ball is in a wide area about to be crossed and the striker is standing on his own at the far post, clearly HE is the biggest danger to your goal. If a striker is running through on goal with the ball at his feet, at that point the ball is the biggest threat and you must make a tackle. Conversely, if the ball is in the wide area about to be put into the box and the striker is outside it, waiting to run in, at that point the space he is about to run into is the biggest threat of all.

Accordingly, you adjust your position to try and cut the ball out and stop the striker from being first to reach the more dangerous area. Corner kicks are no different and the idea is, that when the ball is kicked, you must decide, which of the three is the biggest threat to your goal.

The principle behind zonal marking at corners is simple. You are responsible for the space in front of you. Players face the ball, with an open stance in order that they can see both opponent and ball. Celtic will generally line up, with Charlie Mulgrew in the front post area (to clear out that dreaded cross hitting the first man,) Van Dijk, Lustig and Boyata on the six-yard line covering front middle and back, Brown and Armstrong on the posts, Johansen, and Bitton 8-yards out, either side of the penalty spot, Forrest on the edge of the box and Griffiths threatening the short corner on the side the kick is being taken.

If the ball goes over the head of the player in front of you then it automatically becomes your responsibility. If it goes over your head, then it’s down to the player behind you, and so on.

Crucially though, it also means that if someone comes into the space in front of you and he becomes the main threat, you now have to deal with that. Zonal marking does not absolve you of that responsibility. Where Celtic came unstuck, was by being out-thought by the Swedes, as they cleverly deployed a player to either block, or jostle with their best header of the ball (Van Dijk) meaning he could not deal properly with his space, or anyone who came into it.

Where it becomes more complicated, and ultimately more difficult to keep a clean sheet, is when teams start to suss out that you are marking zonally, and deploy players to run from deeper positions to gain momentum and beat the standing jump. In this instance, players MUST have a good open starting position in order to see both man and ball. As the attacker gathers momentum, positions must be adjusted in order to block, jostle or derail the oncoming train as he passes through YOUR tunnel. Failure to do so will result in at the very least, a clear header, and at worst, the ultimate sanction of a goal against.

The answer?

Like Scotland, at Dundee we also used a combination of both man marking and zonal play at corners, whereby we would have two men on the posts, one in the front post area, one on the six yard box centrally (who’s responsibility was also for the opponent who was being a nuisance to the goalkeeper,) four main markers who would pick up their four biggest threats, one on the edge of the box and our quickest attacking player up the pitch. It was very successful for us, but that still does not mean that it was the right way to do it.

There is no right way, only the way that suits YOUR group of players.

When either zonal marking or man marking fails, it is almost always down to the individual, rather than the system. A player who cannot, effectively protect a zone, is just as likely to drop his man in a marking system, resulting in the inevitable post mortem. Whichever formation is employed, if it results in failure, the answer is not to say “well it’s worked for us before” but to say “how can we make it work for us again?” However, as a coach, if it continues to fail and you never look to change, then there comes a point when it is no longer the players who are most culpable, but YOU.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell


Furore. It’s a funny word isn’t it? Never sure how to spell it or how to pronounce it and it hardly rolls off the tongue. It reminds me of all those magnificent words those masters of footballing ceremony, Arthur Montford and Archie MacPherson used to purvey; ‘sensational’, ‘stooshie’ and the immortal ‘stramash,’ as they graced our screens on a Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon. Furore of course has two meanings – One, a great, widespread outburst of admiration or enthusiasm, or the other, a state of excitement or confusion, commotion or indeed, uproar. So what better way to describe the reaction to Nathan Oduwa’s audacious piece of skill than by saying, in true Arthur Montford style, “what a furore”. I just wonder what they would have made of it all.


There is no doubting young Oduwa has talent. The very fact that he should try such an act of footballing wizardry, that he knew was guaranteed to provoke a reaction, would tell you that this was not a one-off. He’s clearly ‘that type of player’ and he would have known, make no mistake about it, that his fellow pro’s would snipe and snarl at his audacity as well as accuse him of ‘taking the piss’. But did he really? This is a generation of footballers who have been brought up in a time when tackling is a dying art, and the physical side of the game is frowned upon. The staple of the community programme graduate and the academy trainee has become the rabona and the rainbow flick, just as mine was raw meat and sharp, metal studs.

These kids are encouraged from a very early age to express themselves in matches and are taught to use those skills and tricks, in order to both beat, and embarrass their lumbering, defensive counterparts. Surely then, we shouldn’t be trying to knock it back out of them as soon as they reach the first team? It is also important at this stage to dispel the myth that the rest are “gonnae get ye” or “try it with me and i’ll put you in the stand.” That unwritten code of honour among footballers that implies if you are disrespectful, you’ll get what you deserve. The game has changed to such an extent that any attempt to ‘even it up’ will normally result in at least a card, or the inevitable early bath. At that point I am certain that he who has sinned, will be the one facing the wrath of his team mates for disrespecting THEM by getting himself stupidly sent off.

Gone are the days of being able to get away with ‘one for nothing’ without any discernible punishment as it was in my day. Smashing into any fleet-footed forward who had the gall to take an extra touch, as he tried to skip past and bear down on goal in his fancy coloured boots is no longer feasible, nor acceptable.


But as i’ve said, was he really being disrespectful? Andrei Kanchelskis, 6:0 up at Hampden against Ayr United, standing on the ball and pretending to look out over the pitch, THAT was disrespectful. Jim Baxter, sitting on the ball at Wembley, as Scotland toyed with the World Champions, THAT was disrespectful. Both unnatural football movements, both ‘taking the piss’, but young Oduwa? He was only showcasing a skill he had learned and (almost) perfected through years of tippy-tappy academy football.

Sure, he may well have been better advised to leave the fancy footwork another week or two and play himself into Scottish football, rather than making himself a target for the Championship’s hammer thrower’s during that 10 minute cameo role. In my opinion though, he was only doing what came naturally to him, although I do have to say that I bet he was rather embarrassed at the ‘furore’ created, given he was unable to execute the move successfully and indeed, lost possession and had to give away a foul to try and gain it back.

Hardly Messi, as was portrayed in some quarters, but don’t mock him for having fun and trying it.


I was lucky enough during my career to play against two of the best players to grace Scottish football, namely Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup. Laudrup was the better of the two, possessing pace, power, skill and two incredible feet even the greatest would have been proud of. Gazza was different to that, without the blistering pace, but had an unbelievable bag of tricks allied to the strength of a cruiserweight and elbows that would jab you like knitting needles as he surged past. I remember a game at Easter Rd where the ball broke to me in the middle of the pitch and without hesitation, I stuck it in behind the Rangers defence for our strikers to run on to. As the ball ran aimlessly for a goal kick, Gazza sauntered over and said “calm down and pass it” “take a touch.” He wouldn’t have known me from any other fresh faced Jock, trying to impress himself on the game and make his presence felt, so little did he know, THAT WAS MY TOUCH.

Later in the game, he picked the ball up around 35 yards out and ghosted effortlessly past two players, before making his way toward goal. By now, my less than intimidating presence, just inside the 18 yard box, was all that stood between him and another majestic, solo effort. He jinked to go right and made a ‘legover’ movement, going over the ball and dragging it away from me with his left. Classic Gazza and unfortunately for me, so classic that I had failed to read the first ‘dummy’ and ended up on my arse with my trailing leg by now hovering like a trip wire. Had he been prone to going down easily, there would have been no need as, on this occasion, the trip wire done it’s job and sent him sprawling. A stonewaller, converted for a Rangers goal and as I stood there, stooped over, hands on knees, red-faced and trying to avoid eye contact with our bench and the inevitable manager’s glare, the pitch felt like a lonely, empty place.

Gazza’s trickery had done for me, although I needn’t have felt so alone as Paul Gascoigne had done that to many, many better players than me. At that moment, I caught a glimpse of him, as he bounced back to the halfway line and from the corner of my eye, just about raised my head high enough to see the trademark, Gazza wink. It was enough for me to know, that even though i’d been dumped on my Scottish backside, by nothing more than a moment of Gascoigne magic, there was still a respect for the footballer.

If Nathan Oduwa does manage to pull off some of his repertoire of trickery on one of Scottish football’s hardened pro’s, I hope he has the good grace and humility not to rub anyone’s nose in it. If he does that, he’ll show that not only does he have the ability to grace a higher level, he also has the class to go with it. Just as one of his legendary predecessors did.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell


The dreaded loan deal. Managers up and down the country will be scouring through their notepads and the back of their discarded bookies lines, checking to see if they’ve taken note of someone who can help them out before the emergency window closes. Clubs outside the Premiership, can still bring in some ‘emergency’ loan signings until the middle of March, in order to bolster a flagging squad, or compliment one that’s challenging. The emergency loan window, which operates beyond January, was supposed to be just that, “in case of emergency,” but nowadays it’s used more as a necessity when ailing squads need beefed up on a measly budget. Coaches will be looking over squad lists up and down the country, where all manner of waifs and strays will by now, have been deemed surplus to requirements. A striker from a Development Squad looking to make his way in the game, a midfielder on the fringes and looking to put himself in the shop window, or a senior player, coming back from injury and looking to get fit. All examples of the classic loanee. There’s still the matter of those players who are already on loan and have been since January to contend with and, whilst Rangers signing five players from Newcastle grabbed all the headlines, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Celtic too have dipped their toe into the not unsubstantial loan market, although in entirely less indignant circumstances.

The loan market is fraught with risk, although in general, the positives usually outweigh any negative impact on the team. But how does the process work and how do clubs come to agreeing all the contract details? Well it’s not as simple as it seems and in some circumstances it can be a lot more complicated than it should be, especially when dealing with certain chairmen.

The deal

So you’ve identified you need a striker; what’s next? Well there are two possible scenarios. The first; you contact the manager to see if the player from their squad you fancy is available. At this point it pays to have done your homework as it rarely goes down well if you make a loan enquiry about their star striker who has already scored 25 goals. The second option is to sift through piles of emails from clubs who regularly circulate details of ‘players available for transfer’ or ‘players available for loan.’ Quite often you could very easily substitute the word ‘player’ for ‘problem.’ When I played, if you got a player on loan he would be a prospect, or someone who had established himself at a level and was coming back from injury. Clubs would use the loan system to farm out young players who they felt could improve from the experience. That outlook has changed dramatically in recent times and in the current financial climate. I’m talking particularly about Scotland here, but generally now, if you are loaned a player, he will have been surplus to requirements. Someone not deemed good enough, contributing little to the squad, or a problem. Rarely will the big clubs lend you a ‘prospect’ anymore. Those ones are kept for themselves and catapulted into the first team in order that they become a saleable asset. Celtic’s policy in recent seasons has been to send anyone they felt may be an asset to the English Leagues. This was in order to maximise any resale value. If someone does well at Swindon, you are far more likely to get £100k for them than if they do well at Queen of the South. It’s important to state this is not a criticism but a fact of modern football life and good business. The lower Leagues in Scotland are littered with players who went on loan from bigger clubs and never, ever got anywhere near the first team. The ‘look after your own club’ mentality exists throughout football. Rarely does anyone in the game do you a ‘favour’ without getting a benefit for themselves. Whether it’s good for our game? That’s an entirely different question.

The contract

You’ve identified your player, now it’s the matter of wages. It used to be common practice that there was an even 50/50 split, more often now however, chairmen are pushing for a higher percentage. In certain cases, some have become so difficult to deal with, as they are now demanding full wages are covered. At Dundee we had to pull the plug on a deal after trying to negotiate a loan with a player who wasn’t getting a game for his Premier League club, whilst sitting on £800 per week wages and insisting we paid full whack. This would have made him our highest earner at the time. The chairman of course, conveniently forgetting that we were taking away one of his problems and solving one financially at the same time. We were new boys at the time, and we felt people in the game were trying to take advantage of our inexperience. As it was we stood firm and it meant the player was stuck in limbo, but it was important for our reputation in the game that we weren’t to be recognised as pushovers. For the club and for ourselves.

So with the deal done and the player now part of your squad, the risk again becomes a factor. There is a perception that loan players don’t care as much about their new club as they do their parent club. From my experience, it’s simply not true. It’s important to remember that players rarely get TOO attached to a club anyway as their next move/transfer/loan may never be too far away. I also have to stress at this point it is important not associate attachment with not caring. Most players generally just want to play football and whether out on loan, or playing for the club who owns their signature, their care and effort will be equal. Only when players are at clubs long term do they ever have a particular affinity or attachment. I’ve never known a loan player to try less or be less committed because he is on loan. If he’s not playing well, it’s very, very rarely for sinister reasons.

The Spirit

All of which brings me to the current scenario of Rangers’ five loan players and the issues on the back of that. When we were at Notts County, we took over an ailing squad which was fractured and not playing well. We managed to secure five loan deals, including Tom Ince, Lee Miller and Kevin MacDonald. These were all players we knew and we felt they could do a job for us and, initially things were very good and results followed. Their impact was excellent and we picked up enough points to put us in a stable position. However, when their loan deals were up, we were unable to replace them and we had to go back to relying on the players who had initially manoeuvred the club into a difficult position in the first place. It was like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound when a tourniquet was required. We couldn’t stem the blood flow and slipped back into trouble again.

Adding more ingredients to an already volatile mix, is rarely the long term answer and whilst the short term impact of a few wins may justify their inclusion, adding five temporary players to an ailing team, is never good for the long term stability of ANY club. There is also of course the matter of the players already there feeling squeezed out as these ‘st-rangers’ come in and inevitably take their place.

Looking from the outside in, it’s a dressing room which already looks fractured and vulnerable. Spirit looks at an all time low and it remains to be seen whether the addition of these five players from Newcastle will have enough impact to prove justified. We really will have to wait and see whether the positives, outweigh the negatives, of this particular arrangement…tonight will be the second big test of that. The jury is certainly out after the first.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL – FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell