LOWER LEAGUE PREVIEW

So here we are on the eve of yet another season for the less glamorous, League One and Two sides in Scotland. Glebe Park, Gayfield and Galabank Stadium sit proudly among the salubrious venues  our part time players will visit this season as always and, each and every Saturday (not for them the last-minute, thoughtless fixture changes to a Sunday) our well run part time clubs, will haul their entourage around the country in an attempt to gain promotion, avoid relegation, or maintain mid table mediocrity. I still can’t get my head round that we’re not calling them Division Two and Three as we were in my day, or at the very least, something a little more original than cloning the monickers from the Sky-laden English Premiership, but League One and Two it is.

So here’s my preview of the season ahead and in particular, which teams to look out for and which teams may face the dreaded drop.

As always there has been a huge turnaround of players in both Divisions, none more so than at Dunfermline who seriously under achieved last season by not even reaching the play-offs. They have recruited a young, hungry manager in Allan Johnston, who will be looking to bounce back up to managing at a higher level and proving he can be successful. There’s no better way of doing that than by winning a Championship. He has recruited well in the summer with two experienced goalkeepers and in particular signing two terrific full backs in Jason Talbot and Calum Fordyce from Livingston. Building from the back and relying on players with previous Championship experience will be key in the coming months and should they start the season well and bring the crowds back to East End Park, i’m sure the Board will back a final push in January and, for that reason, i’m tipping The Pars to end their lower League exile and top the Division (sorry League 1) come May.

Of the rest, the Angus teams, Brechin and Forfar will put up their usual fight. They are perennial challengers at the top of the League and I would see no reason either shouldn’t be aiming for the Play-offs yet again. Dick Campbell knows how to organise teams and get them into good positions and Darren Dods will be looking to prove himself as a rookie boss and with both having reasonable budgets, the play-offs should be a viable target. Ayr United and Stranraer should be strong enough to maintain mid table positions and as long as Peterhead retain the scoring prowess of Rory McCallister, that should be enough to steer them clear of any relegation trouble.

Stenhousemuir could be this season’s surprise package in League One. They have recruited well in the summer with Gilhaney, McShane and Smith all experienced forward players having played at a higher level and, with Colin McMenamin giving them their usual goal threat, they may well prove to be closer to the top than they were to the bottom last season. My old club Airdrie should have enough experience among their ranks to avoid flirting with the relegation play-offs, but in my opinion they won’t have enough quality to challenge at the top. All of which leaves Albion Rovers and Cowdenbeath to slug it out and preserve their League One status. Neither will have a competitive budget and Cowdenbeath in particular have had a massive turnaround of players this summer and I can see them struggling and facing the drop for the second successive season. Darren Young and Billy Stark will hopefully have the organisational skills and experience to overcome adversity at my old club in Coatbridge and steer the Rovers to safety against the odds.

League Two could prove a very tight affair with quite a few teams fancying their chances of lifting the silverware come the end of a long hard season. East Fife, Annan, Stirling Albion and Arbroath have all been busy in the free transfer market over the summer. East Fife were my tip for the title last season and they got it going all too late to secure a play off spot only to lose to Stenhousemuir. They will again be challenging this season but Gary Naysmith will be pleased to hear they’re not getting the Farrell donation this season.

Annan are always in or around the play-offs and I see this season being no different. The plastic pitch down there is always a guarantee of a few extra points for them and in Jim Chapman they have an experienced campaigner who knows the division well. Arbroath have lost their main goal threat from the past few seasons and will be looking for fresh impetus from players like Grehan and Coult, but whether they have enough firepower about them to take the title, i’d doubt. Stirling Albion, Queens Park and Berwick will have their usual flirt with the promotion play-offs before settling for a mid table slot. All three have the difficulties of a tight budget to overcome and it would be a surprise to see any of them sustaining a challenge for a play off spot throughout a long, arduous season.

Elgin have lost their main man up front, Shane Sutherland and that allayed to the geographical nature of the club making it difficult to attract players will see them struggle alongside fellow relegation candidates Montrose and East Stirling, but for me, it will be Elgin who have most to fear from the dreaded pyramid system.

So all that leaves us with my tip for the top, Clyde. Barry Ferguson now has a season’s experience as a manager behind him and he will be hoping to use that in order to gain promotion. There seems to be some money flying about Broadwood, judging by the summer recruitment policy. Bringing in players with the experience of Higgins, Mitchell, Linton, Smith and Campbell alongside Hugh Murray, Scott McLaughlin and Mark Roberts doesn’t come cheaply, and Barry will be looking for that experience to see him over the line.

With the obvious pressures that go with having a big budget (relative to the level), it will be interesting to see how they start, but I can see Clyde putting together a consistency that the others will find difficult to match. For that reason, it’s Clyde to win League Two for me.

And there you have it. My predictions for the League One and Two season 2015-2016 and now you know which teams to avoid, you can happily have your punt in the knowledge that having studied Farrell’s tips, you are now in a better position to know which ones to AVOID, rather than which ones to put the mortgage on.

GOOD LUCK

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

You can catch up with all my previous musings at davidfarrellfaz.wordpress.com
My first book, TAXI FOR FARRELL is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk. All pre orders will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

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PRE-SEASON STRUGGLES

I’ve just finished pre-season. After 28 years in the game, and one year out of it, I’ve managed to get through a gruelling pre-season schedule without the pains, the agonies and the muscle strains associated with that necessary torture.

This time though it was nothing to do with fitness as my very own preparation for what’s to come, consisting of 86,000 words in five months and the completion of the first draft of my book. You see that’s what my publishers told me, this was the tough part, getting it all down, all the stories and the stuff behind the scenes, all the politics from inside the dressing room that you never get to hear about and all the insights you seem to be enjoying from my blog.

My Way

When I was approached by Teckle Books about writing the story of my career and that of a journeyman footballer and coach it was important to me that I wrote it myself. My words, my experiences and my agonies. I promised I’d tell the truth, warts and all about what goes on inside football and I have. It wasn’t ghost-written and wasn’t beefed up with the minute details of what I had for breakfast or watched on TV the night before my debut. I know I’m not a big name and can’t sell a book on the back of an English Premier League career. I haven’t enjoyed lunch with royalty so I can’t describe that particular day of boredom that, despite the lack of real insider revelations, has people buying the book because the author, or at least the person dictating the story to a writer, played for Manchester United.

This is real football; the fights, the fallouts, the managers, the chairmen, the fans, the injuries and the team mates. It’s not been easy and I’ve fought an internal battle at every stage about how much detail is too much detail – what I was earning, if I should let you into my personal, family life and how difficult things were at times, and whether I should tell you which players, managers, coaches and players I fell out with and WHY I fell out with them. But I have, because what’s a story without telling the truth?

High And Dry Way

My publishers at Teckle Books have been incredibly supportive, especially through the biggest kick in the teeth of all when my father died in April. He didn’t ‘pass away’, he didn’t ‘go to a better place’, he died. He left me, empty and disconsolate, seven months before my book will come out. After 11 days in hospital and the ‘arrangements’ afterwards, it was three weeks before I could so much as muster the ‘Q’ in Qwerty. The support I received from them and those around me gave me the strength to lift up my beloved Blackberry again (I know but my fat thumbs just won’t do iPhone keyboard’s) and get back on the literary horse. I’m sure my Dad will approve when he does read it because he was the greatest influence anyone could have wished for, both in life and in football, all about integrity and honesty. Somehow, we’ll get a copy to him up there.

Then, a few weeks ago and with 70,000 words in the can, I got another, horrible, sickening feeling that my work was all going to go to waste. This book writing was starting to mirror my career, with kicks in the teeth and inevitable barriers being put up in front of me at every turn. You know that feeling you get, when you’ve put so much into something and it’s taken away from you before you even get the chance to complete the job, like tearing a hamstring the week before the Cup Final or leaving your final dissertation on a train? I’d had enough literal and metaphorical kicks in the balls in my football career to know what that cramp-like, nauseous feeling in my stomach was. I stumbled upon a story on Twitter about an English, lower League footballer who had decided to release a book about life as a Journeyman footballer, called, unsurprisingly, JOURNEYMAN. That was the name of MY book. What do I do now? I mean, he’ll have a different story to tell, but what kind of appeal will two books with the same name about the same subject have?

New Way

We decided to change the name but the book was going ahead regardless because, you know what, he won’t have the same story to tell. While I’m sure his book is a great read, he CAN’T have gone through the same experiences as me. He won’t be able to tell you how he scaled a 30ft fence and chased a local ned through the streets of Maryhill because he had stolen a ball during training only to be threatened with having a bull terrier set on him. He won’t be able to tell how one high-profile Hibs player refused to face Airdrie’s infamous Beastie Boys at Broomfield because he didn’t like the feeling of the nice, new strip hanging on his peg. He won’t be able to relay how the decision to hang up his boots came, after seven steroid injections and every muscle tear possible, as he stumbled around the stadium track on his own in the dark of the winter because the club could barely afford to put a light on. I can, because that’s part of my story.

My book will be released in November and, when all is said and done, I will be hugely proud of the fact I have written it and told the most important people of all, the fans, a lot of what really goes on beyond what you see on Sky. The people at Teckle Books will help me enormously over the next few months, as they have done from day one, to tidy up my story and make it a great read. I will continue my job, working long hours in the taxi, waiting as always for that elusive phone call that gives me an opportunity to get back in the game and when you read my story and hear about some of the things that REALLY go on, you’ll wonder why on Earth I even consider it. There’s only ever one reason, it’s in my blood. I love football and, as a player, a coach and now a fan, there is nothing I can do to change that. And I would never want to change how it makes me feel, the passion, the joy and the agony of it all, although one thing I have had to change, is the NAME of my story.

TAXI FOR FARRELL: Football Between the Lines is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk .

I’ll be returning to my blog davidfarrellfaz.wordpress.com over the next few weeks to preview the new season and get my teeth into all my usual opinionated ramblings. I’ll be looking for some subjects to cover and anyone with any ideas, or that burning question you’ve always wanted to ask about what goes on ‘between the lines’ please, get in touch via Twitter @davidfarrellfaz and use the hashtag #taxiforfarrell

Meantime, it’s back to the second draft. Pre-season training is over and we’re now in among the friendlies. You know that part where it’s not quite the real stuff but you know it’s necessary to cut out the mistakes and iron out the formation, before finally getting the end product out there, in peak condition for everyone to see? Well that’s me, mirroring a football club’s preparation before my book can finally see the light of day in November and is ready for the fans to read, assess and hopefully enjoy. Because just like our beloved football, that’s ultimately what it should really be all about, the enjoyment when it all comes together. It’s what makes all the hard work, the pain and the agony worth it.

David Farrell