LOUIS REACHES HIGH WITH DIAMONDS

Since I started this blog, many football fans have commented on how little they actually know of what goes on inside the dressing room or on the training pitch. They just turn up on a Saturday (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… thanks Sky) and watch their team, because that’s what a supporter does. Louis Van Gaal was quoted on Monday as saying that United will just have to “work hard in training” to turn things around. Working hard in training should be the bare minimum, a pre-requisite if you like. But it’s a throwaway phrase and gives no indication as to HOW you work hard in training, so I will attempt to give a small insight into a training week, from both the coaches’ and players’ viewpoint, because believe me, they are entirely different perspectives.

Shape

Different managers will have different ideas on how you should play and how you should train. Two whom I worked under, had played for the same manager for many years – Jock Wallace – and yet their approaches to the game were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Alex Miller and Alex MacDonald were two “winners” alright, but there, the similarities ended.

Miller was a thorough coach and an excellent tactician. We were very well organised and knew exactly where we should be on the pitch. We were drilled and disciplined and that came from many hours of what is commonly known as “shape” which means setting up your shape (4-4-2) against the reserves, running through repetition after repetition of what would happen at certain times on the pitch, and endless drills of what your shape/positioning should be. I loved it. Many players resented it and got bored, but it made us a better team and much more difficult to beat. Those who never bought into it, tended to be the ones who’s attitude to training wasn’t great anyway. There are also drills when you set up against no opponents and work through where you should be in relation to where the ball is, and how you can position yourself to avert danger. This in particular can develop your sense of reading situations and in this instance it changes from “shape” to “shadow” (for obvious reasons).

Alex was years ahead of his time when it came to preparation. We were working with Brian Ewing back then, who is now head of Sports Science at the SFA, and his ideas and developments were implemented to the letter. Blood testing, aerobics, swimfit sessions, fitness testing, weights sessions were all integrated into our training programme. This was 20 years ago don’t forget, some clubs don’t even do that now, although I’m willing to bet the entourage at Manchester United is as large and as contemporary as the best, but it won’t matter if the players don’t apply themselves and buy into what you are trying to do. Top players usually do, that’s why they are at the top.

We trained hard, and we made the best of what we had. And we didn’t do too badly on the back of it. It was intense, physical training, lots of small sided games at a high tempo, “match” tempo. We did double sessions which were virtually unheard of at the time, where we would work on our shape in the afternoon. Those “shape” sessions went on to become a big part of my coaching philosophy.

Alex wasn’t always popular with the players, he was a disciplined man, and some players can’t work with that level of intensity. He didn’t care, he was an incredibly driven, motivated, individual who went on to work with Liverpool at the highest level. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest.

Doddie

Alex “Doddie” MacDonald was a magnificent man. A leader, who had won everything possible with Rangers, his 5′ 5″ frame gave no clue to the desire and toughness of the man. It was a privilege to play for him. My football allegiances were entirely different to his, and make no mistake, there were times when he wouldn’t let you forget it. PC wasn’t a term Doddie was very familiar with.

He didn’t coach in the most literal sense. MacDonald was a “man manager,” his philosophy was that if you were playing against someone, then you had to be better than them, one-versus-one. Not necessarily a better player, but for that 90 minutes, you had to be BETTER than your opponent. They weren’t to play, but you were. You had to run faster, fight harder, be stronger than him and as long as you gave your all, his backing was unswerving. We had good players at the time, Jimmy Sandison, who in truth was a much better footballer than he was ever given credit for, Kenny Black, Gary Mackay, Owen Coyle, but nothing typified Alex MacDonald more than those players who would have run through a brick wall for him. He had an eye for that type of player, you know, the one that everyone hated playing against.

My first game was away at Falkirk and I was on the bench. We came in at half time a goal down, but had been awful. Doddie launched into them, his face red and twisted with anger, they hadn’t worked hard enough and that was a cardinal sin for that man. A tray of cups went flying in the direction of Stevie Cooper, who was no shrinking violet and in response Stevie picked up a flip flop and threw it, not at the manager, he just threw it. It hit the wall just above my head. He was saying sorry to the manager before it had even left his hand. I looked up at Alex and he looked at me as if to say “don’t even think about opening your mouth”. I said nothing, which was unusual for me, but in my head I was muttering very quietly “I think I’m going to like it here.” We managed to salvage a point.

At Airdrie we hardly trained and there was no emphasis on sports science and certainly very little “shape” done. Yet everyone knew where they should be and what their responsibilities were. It was a simple philosophy, if the guy nearest you scored it was your fault. If you weren’t marking someone, you better do it quick or you’ll be on the end of Doddie’s red faced “hairdryer.” And if you kept doing it, you didn’t play. Simple. As long as we worked as hard as we could, we would get Sunday and Monday off. The Monday was in truth a consequence of the wee man’s penchant for the Rob Roy Social Club on a Sunday. That aside, his players had so much respect for him he could have turned up for the first time on a Friday and still no one would have cared.

Tuesday was a “running” day, where we did all our fitness work. We’d start with a 30 minute Fart-Lek, a physically demanding run where the pace, dictated by Kenny Black, who was a fitness fanatic, went up and down in periods varying from 10 seconds to a minute. Fartlek was Swedish for “speed play” so contrary to popular football belief, it was not so named because it made you breathe out of your arse. After that it was four sets of 60-yard runs, 16 in total. Flat out. And the piece de resistance, eight half laps of the pitch. A brutal, physical day, but eased with knowledge that we had Wednesday off to recover. Yip, no sniff of the ball ‘til Thursday when we played small-sided games, crossing, finishing and shooting practice.

Friday was a short morning where we’d have a team briefing and a quick rundown of our opponents, a few short sprints and a 15 minute five-a-side. We were a full time club training part time, but let me tell you, with the respect we had for the manager, we worked harder in those few hours training a week, than some did in double the amount of training time.

The Van Gaal way

So the answer lies in how WELL you train. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you train. As long as you are doing enough to keep your fitness, the key is getting the best out of your players on a matchday and tailoring training to suit that. It’s in spotting and signing the right players who will buy into training and playing YOUR way. Because whether or not you are doing it correctly, it will only be judged by your supporters on how many games you are winning.

Mr Van Gaal has his work cut out at Man United, it might well take £200m to make what looks like a faltering squad, winners again. I wonder if he’ll do “hard work” the Airdrie way… Time will tell.

Onto this week’s Tips. We were undone last week by an under strength Celtic team selection and a dubious red card at Queen of the South, so here’s hoping we can finally get off the mark with a winner.
First up its Aberdeen to get back to winning ways at home to my old team Partick (8to13), Albion at home to Queens Park (4to6) and Morton away at Forfar (11to10). Fingers crossed for a 9/2 winning treble in the last chance saloon.

David Farrell

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JONAH – HOW TO BANKRUPT A FOOTBALL CLUB

Rangers financial problems over the last few years are well documented, and whilst being in a position of knowing some of what went on inside Ibrox through my various contacts, it is such a tangled web, that I doubt if even I can shed any more light on the situation. However, when it comes to clubs in financial trouble, there is NO ex-player more qualified.

Many of you, particularly gamblers, will be aware of the term “Jonah”. He was an Israeli prophet, who’s decision to send a boat in the wrong direction into a storm, meant the term became synonymous with sailors, meaning someone whose presence brings bad luck. A term which is now widely associated and recognised. No one wants to become known as “a Jonah”

Hands off Hibs

I signed for Hibs, as a scrawny teenager in 1988 and it was a well run, provincial club. However, almost immediately rumours of financial difficulties, mergers and takeovers surfaced. They were run at the time by two Edinburgh businessman, namely David Duff and Jim Gray. Being honest, I never really trusted them, the were a bit flamboyant for my liking and had the cut of a couple of “chancers”, but they were in charge so that was that. Wallace Mercer, Hearts chairman at the time, obviously felt he had their measure as he launched a bid to takeover Hibs and merge the clubs. Ultimately his target was to wipe Hibs out altogether, sell Easter Road and make Hearts a dominant force in Scotland. The fans however, were not about to let that happen and a magnificent “Hands Off Hibs” campaign was founded and ended any hope Mercer had of seeing the Hibs go under. I wonder if the current fans campaign will have as much success in getting their way

Save the Jags

After some very enjoyable years at Hibs, my time was up and I moved to Partick Thistle, who had just been relegated from the SPL. It was a perfect fit for me, just 15 minutes from my home and a club I felt very comfortable with. In truth, I felt I was going to be there for the rest of my career. That season wasn’t great though, and as the cutbacks started to bite, we were doomed to another year in Division 1. We came back after that summer and uncertainty reigned. The club had sacked Murdo Macleod who had signed me and rumours of financial troubles had surfaced. I felt uneasy with the new manager.

I had been a fairly popular figure at the club and could feel the new manager looking to make an example of me. That’s fair enough sometimes, but not when you don’t deserve it. The clubs financial plight became critical and various campaigns were launched to “Save the Jags”. As club captain I had to front various press releases and be the face of the players. After one of these, the Glasgow Evening Times ran a story on the back pages in which I said, that as the clubs financial plight was so great, the fans ALONE could not save the club but they had shown that it was worth saving. I was hoping businessmen would see this and be tempted to invest.
The manager saw this as his opportunity to make that “example”. I was told in no uncertain terms I had undermined the whole campaign by saying the fans couldn’t save the club. I was to train on my own and would never play for the club again. I knew this wasn’t the board’s thinking but also knew that I had to knuckle down and show my mettle. A meeting was called to explain the situation with the players and ask if anyone else was unhappy as they could go too. In truth, I’d hoped for more support from the players but understood their reticence as they had a fear of the manager and had contracts to protect. I was banned from the home dressing room, banned from the team bus and trained on my own. My guts were run out by the physio (who was only acting on orders). The team lost two games, which was no surprise as we had already been losing, when I was called back to the manager’s office two weeks later and told I was playing the next day at Falkirk.

I was astonished, but my professional pride would allow me to do nothing more than give my all. We won the match 1:0 and thankfully in the coming weeks the Jags WERE saved. However, having lost respect for the way I had been treated, it was my last game for the club and I negotiated my release the next week to Airdrie. I received a lovely call from the Thistle chairman at the time expressing his gratitude and wishing me luck. And of course, I understood his position as he had to back his manager. But the phone call alone spoke volumes and was a real credit to the man.

Airdrie United

So the Jonah strikes again. But this time it was different. Airdrie had been in the doldrums for a few years after an ill fated move whereby Broomfield was sold and they played at a ghostly Broadwood, Clyde’s ground. Initially things were great and we reached two Cup Semi-Finals from our new purpose built home, but the new stadium which was a long time in building, was beset by financial difficulties and due to the delays, many of the hardcore had long since disappeared by the time we moved back to “New Broomfield.”
The stadium became the very problem it was meant to solve and again, as only I knew too well being “the Jonah”, financial problems ensued.
We were called to a meeting and asked to take a 50% pay cut for one month to avoid the inevitable administration and redundancies. At the end of that period we would then receive our deferred payments and everything would be back to normal.
During this time I had a bad injury and had to pay for the operation myself with the help of my family.

I was fine with this as I knew the clubs plight and just wanted to make sure I could keep playing. However, 18 weeks later and having been on half pay for that time, KPMG (the administrators) called another meeting and told us time was up and the club would be liquidated. I had 4 months left on my contract and never received a penny in compensation. It left a very bitter taste indeed having initially been told if we took a pay cut, things would get better. The club went bust and I was owed the sum total of £14,199 in deferred wages and compensation. I will never see a penny of that and KPMG never covered themselves in any glory. It was 9 months before I played again. Jonah indeed.

Let me stress for the most part of my 18 year playing career, it was immensely enjoyable and an absolute privilege to be a footballer, but its sometimes a little more interesting to tell the parts of the story you don’t always hear.

Onto this weeks tips (and remember it could be the last). A win, a defeat and a draw for last weeks three teams and if I am not successful this week, i’ll call it a day. I am considering introducing a “Guest Tipster” spot for anyone who might be interested (hoping someone else can take the flak). So here goes….. Celtic (1to2) to beat Inverness, Queen of the South (4to5) to beat Livingston and Hearts (8to11) to Raith Rovers. The treble pays just over 7to2 with Hills

Here’s hoping

David Farrell

THE GOALIE HATER?

Mark Oxley. Some of you will never have heard that name before this weekend, but the Hibs goalie certainly came to the fore by scoring against Livingston on Saturday. Be that as it may, but how many of you saw the first goal he lost at Ibrox last Wednesday? I’ll be willing to bet he was angrier about that one going under him, than he was happy to score one. And if he wasn’t, he should have been.

All of which brings me to the perception that I am something of a “goalie hater.” In fact, nothing could be further from the truth; although I will admit to a hatred of losing ‘soft’ goals. It’s just unfortunate that whenever a goalie makes a mistake, a soft goal usually results. I do believe I am well qualified to criticise however, having played with and worked with three of the best Scottish goalkeepers of our time; namely Andy Goram, Jim Leighton and Rab Douglas.

They were three very different types of goalkeeper and three very different types of character.

Scotland’s Number One

Goram was an enigma, with a spring and athleticism which belied his frame. He read one-on-one situations brilliantly and he was great with the ball at his feet. He used to drive Alex Miller (then Hibs manager) mad because he always wanted to play outfield in the five-a-sides. I recall a game at Tynecastle where I had made the squad, but not the bench (as usual some will say) and Goram was incredible. We lost 3-1, but in truth it would have been 10 but for Andy. Late in the game, he pulled off another fingertip save and at that point, the old “shed” terracing corner – which housed the most vociferous and partisan HEARTS fans – rose to a man to sing “Scotland’s, number one.” A truly remarkable moment in a derby match. It was no surprise, that he went on to play a huge part in Rangers success and indeed, Scotland’s.

One of a Kind

Jim was the polar opposite to Andy. A quiet, unassuming man who’s stooped over, bow-legged appearance gave no clue to the strength of character of the man inside. He looked downtrodden at times, but when he stepped on the pitch, his desire to win and ability to keep the ball out of the net were unquestionable. I swear he never dropped ANYTHING. (I know, but that’s what it felt like). We played the League Cup semi-final at Tynecastle and with about 15 minutes to go, a cross came into the box which I managed to head clear. In truth, it wasn’t a great header and the ball landed straight at the feet of Freddy van der Hoorn, who lashed a brilliant volley which dipped and bounced just in front of Jim’s outstretched arms. In a flash, Jim gathered and smothered it to his chest all in one movement. It was brilliant, utterly brilliant and to this day I can still see Billy McKinlay tapping in the rebound and taking the game to extra time. Only he didn’t, because as I said, Jim NEVER dropped anything.

The only thing that separated the pair was kicking. The advent of the backpass rule meant that Jim’s only real weakness – which was something that Goram excelled in – allowed Andy to take over and become “Scotland’s number one” for many, many years. Just as those Hearts fans had predicted.

The Big One

The final member of the trio was big Rab Douglas. Rab was different to the other two in that he was a man mountain. A colossus of a goalkeeper, with hands bigger than Charles Green’s. A much bigger presence in the box, he would use every inch of his physical frame to stop the ball from going in. Where Jim and Andy had a natural agility, big Rab used his frame just as effectively. He was a great signing for Alex Rae and I when I was Assistant Manager at Dundee for two reasons – one; he was an excellent goalkeeper and for us to get him in the first division was a real coup, and two; he gave us an identity with the fans and the local community as he had already been a club legend. It was great credit to Rab that he signed for us at a huge financial loss to himself. He just wanted to play for his beloved ‘Dee again.

One thing I have to say though is that there are times in a dressing room as a Manager or Assistant when you have to be fearless. You can’t show any weakness in the way you treat the ‘big men’ of your team, both in stature and in importance. Sometimes they need to be made an example of, but it can be very difficult when you see someone the size of big Rab in front of you. In fairness, if it came to it Rab would take it as well as any man, which is just as well, because let me tell you if the big man had turned on us, the race to the door between myself and Alex would have been an interesting one.

So there you have it, the so-called “Goalie Hater” isn’t really a goalie hater at all. More of a “cheap goals given away” hater. I think that’s just the natural defender in me. So as long as all the TV cameras are covering games and highlighting these goalkeeping mistakes, my pals in the goalies union will continue to get it both barrels. Except for BIG Rab of course…

Now for this weeks Tips. A poor start last week with neither Peterhead or East Fife managing to win. I’ll give it two more weeks, but if my record doesn’t improve, the Tipster feature will become a thing of the past. Here goes; I fancy Morton at home to Stranraer (5/6), East Fife at home to Berwick (4/6) and Annan at home to Queens Park (8/13). Fingers crossed for a nice 4/1 treble.

David Farrell

A NEW DAWN, OR A FALSE ONE?

Well, here it is, my eagerly anticipated first football blog. And remember folks, i’m new to this so be kind, but most of all be honest

Where better a place to start than the new much trumpeted SPFL league season which starts on Saturday. Through all 4 divisions, players will have slogged their way through pre season (and believe me, it IS a slog) preparing for this Saturday and hoping that all their plans and their bodies in particular, hold up.

Pre season is about preparation, but the differences between what the top clubs can provide and the rest, is staggering. Sports scientists, nutritionists, fitness coaches, physios, dieticians, conditioning coaches, video analysts, et al are all at the disposal of the big boys. Compare this with the part time boys, who will be running thru public parks,  with the Gaffer, his assistant (who in fairness doubles as the social convener and marriage guidance counsellor) and a physio if the club can afford one. But I have to say, was taking a team of second string players to Finland, the entourage that goes with it, and getting battered 6:1, better preparation than the part time boys picking dogshit from their studs at Dunbeath Park?

Can anyone mount a challenge to Celtic this season in this fabulous “new dawn”? Not on what i’ve seen so far. The gap may close slightly, but Celtic will still romp to the title. Until clubs like Aberdeen, Dundee Utd, Motherwell etc are in a position to re invest in the TEAM rather than stabilise club finances, the Status Quo will continue.

And so to the dormant volcano that is the SPFL Championship this season.
I will get to Rangers in a minute, but what about my old club Hibs. Let me say firstly, there is no way, with the players that club had at its disposal that they should have gone down last year. There is no doubt the players underperformed when it mattered, but I wonder if Terry Butcher (a man I have huge respect for and with whom I spent many an hour at Largs on our A-Licence, turning pepper pots and sauce bottles on the dinner table into coaching drills) regrets telling 10 players in the middle of the season they weren’t good enough and could leave the club. These same players were among some of those to be relied upon at the sharp end of the season when the club couldn’t get rid of them. The disharmony created when such a scenario unfolded, could not have been good for team spirit and must have created a disrespect from both management and players to each other which ultimately led to a broken, fragmented club suffering the agony of relegation.

The tools and foundations are being put in place there now for a massive re building job with a new manager in and an impressive training facility, but in my opinion, even though financially it will work with the Rangers and Hearts games bringing in much needed income, theres not a worse time to be in there. Promotion is a MUST, but will be more difficult than ever. “Moneyball” won’t be the answer for the Hibees.  Investment in the team is a necessity, as languishing in the championship the following season, where, without this years profile, the volcano will become no more than a blot on the football landscape. Sometimes in football even the smallest gambles pay off.

I will leave the financial situation at Ibrox for another time and for now, will stick to the football. Rangers performances in “surging” through divisions 3 and 2 have been widely acknowledged as poor, and in some quarters as unacceptable. This season however, should at least provide a more accurate barometer of their mettle. They will struggle in defence at times, but as long as they are able to keep Waldorf & Statler fit (sorry Boyd and Miller) they should have enough firepower to see off what may amount to a challenge from both sides of Edinburgh. Whether that will be enough to tempt the Ibrox legions back, will be seen as the season progresses. As will the Rangers fans patience with the manager, whose status currently remains intact, but for how long?

Onto League 1 where I expect 4  teams to be challenging for the title. Dunfermline, Morton, Ayr Utd and Peterhead. The first two are obvious contenders with their illustrious name and scottish football history and both have very experienced managers in Jim Duffy and Jim Jefferies, but neither club should find themselves where they are. Morton have been the biggest “sleeping giant” of all in recent times and if ever a football man deserves success its Douglas Rae. A man who has ploughed a personal fortune into HIS club over the years, to see it continually fail. You have to question whether his football judgement is as good as his business judgement when he has allowed so many managers to squander so much for so little. Dunfermlines young players will be a year wiser,  Ayr have assembled an experienced squad and Peterhead have Rory McCallister whose goals will always guarantee you a tilt at the title, but overall, its Morton for me. Good luck Jim

League 2 may well be less competitive as I expect East Fife to have enough of a squad to bounce straight back up. The club has had a cash injection and they have signed a few part time players who really should be playing at a higher level. With a forward trio of Jon McShane, Kevin Smith and Ross Campbell they will have more than enough to cope with the “demands” of League 2.

As a footnote, the overall standard of play at the moment in the lower leagues has dropped alarmingly, due in no small part to the advent of the “plastic” pitch. Whilst I am acutely aware of the necessity for some clubs to use the facility as a community based money maker, it does nothing for the standard of football we are watching. Its great for teaching kids how to play the game, but not for first team football.

So the question remains – A new dawn, or a false one?

Well there you have it, my first football blog. Over the coming weeks and months, I will no doubt become more opinionated and maybe a little controversial and I will to comment on some of the major issues in football that week

I will also endeavour to occasionally relay a funny story, or just an observation from my time in the game which may be relevant and will hopefully give u an insight into the mind of the player and the coach. I will also be giving out a weekly football Tip in Scotland, something I think can win us all a couple of quid.

This week i’m going for a double of East fife at 11to10 and Peterhead at 4to7 which pays 9to4. Good luck everyone and if you enjoyed my Blog, please feel free to share, and if you didn’t, well isn’t that what its about sometimes !