THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

You’re shite and you know you are.

That well versed put down, usually sung as the third or fourth goal goes crashing into the net as you destroy your rivals. Gloating and mercilessly baiting as you wallow in the misfortune of others, less able than you are. Football does that, lifting your spirits to such an extent that you lose all sense of reality, forgetting that at some point, it might be your turn to take a beating. As (ex) managers and coaches, we are acutely aware of that, careful to the point of caution, thinking about every word that may or may not be distorted to make the headline. Some are less careful than others and few are brutally honest, but make no mistake, we are all waiting for that time when a loose word comes back to bite you.

John Collins had his very own “you’re shite and you know you are” moment this week and to say that I am surprised at the reaction and hypocrisy by some from both within and outwith the game, would be an understatement of ‘Houston, we have a problem’ proportions.

Firstly, it is important for me to state there is no question that John, MAY have chosen his words a little more carefully. However, having clamoured for years to get our players, managers and coaches to tell the truth and reach beyond the “game of two halves” and “crossing the white line” clichéd claptrap, are we now to pillory someone for giving an honest assessment on some of our game’s failings?

It is important however to give context to what John said. John Collins did not say that Scottish football is appalling and of sub-standard as some of the newspapers would have you believe. He did, however say, that Scottish football, does not test Celtic as much as European football does in certain situations (granted, in a slightly different way than I have). He wasn’t making a sweeping generalisation as has been portrayed in some quarters, indeed, if you read the full transcript of the interview, the tabloids have a very different emphasis to their side of the story than the broadsheets. There is nothing wrong with that. The journalists are only doing their job. They will enter a press conference with pre-conceived ideas about how the ‘presser’ will go. On many occasions they will already have an idea of their angle, pushing and pursuing a line of questioning until they get what they want. Or, as was the case on this occasion, the interviewee will hand them what they want on a plate. There is often a great amount of training and skill involved in that, because being able to spot the ‘story’ is what sells papers. But let’s look at what John actually said;

“they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers…”

Those nine words in isolation are now being taken to mean that Scottish football is awash with players who are of the football intelligence level of a miscreant schoolboy and may well be construed as disparaging. They certainly created the headlines that seem to have caught everyone’s eye, but if you look at the previous sentence and the one that comes after (which many of the newspapers decided, in their wisdom to leave out) then you can see that John was in fact talking about specific incidents on the pitch, situations and points of weakness that better players are able to exploit.

“…If you become open and detached from each other against good players and good teams you’ll be punished…that doesn’t happen to us in Scotland – no disrespect to the other Scottish teams, but they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers to punish us when we do become detached from one another.”

To suggest that John was being deliberately condescending to the standard of the Scottish game, rather than being very specific about the demands of European football, is frivolous. However, the stark reality, regardless of how the words may have been perceived is that had he meant to ‘down’ the Scottish game in a not-so-subtle manner, he would only have been telling the truth. The standard of play, and indeed, player when it goes beyond the first and second rounds of the European competitions, after weeding out the chaff, DOES become a much bigger test than what we can provide in this country. We only need look at ALL Scottish clubs results in European competition in recent times to see that.

There has also, in my opinion been a great deal of hypocrisy on the subject, with all manner of managers and coaches having their say on the matter, most of whom disagree with John’s assertion. I have known Derek McIness for a long time, having played against him and pitted my wits against him in a coaching capacity. He has achieved far more in the game than I ever will, but on this occasion I have to disagree with him, given that John Collins is saying no more than what almost every manager in the country will say in their team talk every other week when they arrive at Celtic Park. No? Let me fill you in.

“We need to keep it tight…”

“We need to stay compact and not become open and detached from each other, because if we don’t, Celtic have players who are quick enough and clever enough to punish us…”

Sound familiar? Does that counter argument therefore mean, that every manager in the country is being disparaging, disrespectful and demeaning to his own players, just as John Collins apparently was? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The Celtic assistant manager wasn’t trying to apportion blame for Celtic’s failings, he was stating a fact that in Europe, his players are given a greater test than they are at home. If Celtic fail in Europe, it will be down to Celtic, but John Collins wasn’t trying to waiver or deflect from that. He will be acutely aware of his responsibilities, and that of Scottish football, but neither was he trying to put down our game, nor sing “You’re shite and you know you are.”

So please, spare me the false outrage and the calls for his hanging. A wise man once said, “better to be true to yourself than to be false to others.” Something we should maybe all think about next time we see the headline and forget to read the whole story.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk 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

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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.

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

LOSING THE RIGHT WAY

The Goldstone Ground, a rundown remnant of the halcyon days of pre-Sky football. It was a tremendous, traditional ground with an old fashioned wooden stand and terracing on three sides. This was proper football, or at least proper reserve football. I had already played at Stamford Bridge, Highbury and White Hart Lane for the reserves as I fought to establish myself at Oxford and as we reached Brighton that Monday evening, the feeling of excitement and anticipation was no less palpable.

We had a very young Oxford side that night, the first team had a game against Manchester United midweek and so the Youth Team were sent to the south coast to represent the club in the Division 1 Combination League, like lambs to the slaughter. The reserve league at that time was regionalised, we were playing against teams from London and the south west and night games were fantastic under the lights as very often there’d be a small band of season ticket holders who’d gain free entry to the ground and those couple of hundred people would create an atmosphere worthy of a Wembley Cup Final, or at least that’s what it felt like to me, at 17. As I ran on to the pitch to warm-up, all that was missing was a Harry Carpenter commentary or a David Coleman trademark “one-nil” in the background. This was the stuff I’d only dreamt about. I was always allowed up late on a Wednesday to watch Sportsnight and now, here I was, treading the hallowed Goldstone Ground turf, that I’d seen many, many times on the 24-inch Ferguson in our front room in Dennistoun.

Old school

I passed a familiar, well worn face in the tunnel, big Doug Rougvie, an intimidating, colossus of a man, and as I used to do whenever I was in earshot of anyone of a Scottish persuasion down there, I’d say something in the hope of striking up a conversation with the token Jock.

“Awright big man.” I said it with an implausible mix of confidence and fear.

“The fuck you wantin’?” was about as much as he could muster through that familiar gap in his teeth and with that, I spluttered a “nothing’” and made my way out. As I looked around the pitch,  I was surprised to see more familiar faces in the Brighton side; Perry Digweed in goal, Gary Chivers and Keith Dublin joining Rougvie at the back, Alan Curbishley in midfield and Gerry Armstrong, Kevin Bremner and Steve Penney up front. That explained the big man’s reticence to enter into a conversation with a skinny, far too forward for his own good, youngster from the East End of Glasgow. This was Brighton’s first team and it turned out that after a poor result and performance on the Saturday, the manager, Allan Mullery, had made them play in the reserves on the Monday night as a punishment and clearly, big Rougvie didn’t want to be there.

Unfortunately for us though, we were to be their whipping boys as they took out their obvious anger on a naive, weak youth team and hammered us 8-0. It was to be the worst result in my 27-year career in professional football. The only other time I even came remotely close was when a Paul Gascoigne inspired Rangers put seven past us at Ibrox, although on that occasion, I was suspended and only had to watch the game through the gaps in my fingers in the stand. Thank heaven for small mercies.

The journey back to Oxford on the coach was a quiet one. Sure, we weren’t expected to win after pitting our inexperienced wits against their first team and, I’m certain we weren’t the first group of guys heading back from Brighton after having had their pants taken down, but it was no place for celebration. There was a silence, the same uncomfortable silence I always remember after a heavy defeat. Players talk quietly and even the inevitable card school is more sedate, which is an achievement itself given the obvious demands of three card Brag when a Run has just trumped an Ace Flush. Then there’s the worst thing of all, having to phone home when I arrived back in Oxford at 1am to inform the old man we had lost 8-0. He was of the belief that no professional football team should ever lose by such a scoreline, and rightly or wrongly, it always made that particular report home an awkward one.

So to see reports that our Scotland Elite Under-17 squad – after having had their own arses smacked 5-0 by France – were encouraged to “play the music loud and have a laugh” was, on the face of it, surprising.

New school

I don’t know Scott Gemmill and I have never seen him coach, although I have no reason to believe he is anything other than very good. Certainly within the protective corridors of power, he seems well regarded and I should also clarify that he was a far better footballer than I ever was and played at a much higher level, but is encouraging our elite, young players to enjoy the moment after a heavy defeat, really the way forward? I have no doubt that many of those impressionable young players would have been shuffling very uncomfortably in their seats as Gloria Gaynor reached the high notes in “I Will Survive” and the Tommy Cooper fez’s were being handed out, as they tried to recall the part they played in the match.

And so they should. Heavy defeat is a time for contemplation and reflection, dignity and humility. A time for self assessment and the inevitable looking in the mirror. Many footballers find looking in the mirror and being self critical the most difficult thing of all, continually blaming their team mates, the crowd, the pitch, the formation, the physio and the hair dryer not being hot enough. Some young players will jump off the team coach and immediately forget they had just played a game, their only interest being how quickly they can get home and get the X-Box on to see if they can boost their rating on FIFA 15. Giving them the opportunity to bypass that initial pain of defeat and chance to self analyse on a quiet journey back from Dingwall, is in my opinion, a dangerous precedent. I also understand the argument that there can be a level of ‘false disappointment.’ That sombre, uneasy position where one or two players are sitting, heads bowed looking to see who can outdo each other in ‘who looks the most gutted.’ Those types of player are thankfully, usually in the minority and surely it is better to afford one or two their apparent feeling of self pity than putting the whole squad through the charade of false joy.

Middle school

I’ve sat on many a team coach on the way back from a defeat and the displeasure I felt when certain players would break a smile and the disdain with which I held for a minority of others as they secretly laughed and joked their way through the defeat, hidden at the back of the bus, never went away. I can only imagine what people like Alex MacDonald and Billy McLaren would have said, if we’d asked if it was ok to fire on the tunes and dig out the Chubby Brown DVD on the way back from a 5-0 defeat at Pittodrie. On second thoughts, I don’t really need to, as we’d have been taken by the scruff of the neck and pinned against the back window, before being told unceremoniously to sit down, shut up and think about whether or not their performance was funny. That way might not be everyone’s cup of tea and there is no doubt that modern football and modern coaching methods are changing. You only have to look at FIFA directives on tackling and taking any kind of physical contact out of the game to see that. Win, lose or draw though, it’s still a beautiful game, but it’s got to hurt when you lose. I’m sure a lot of those elite young players’ club managers, were scratching their heads in disbelief when they read about the aftermath of that 5-0 defeat to France.

No-one is suggesting that the coach, or the players, don’t care, but in my opinion it sends out the wrong message to have a laugh and be encouraged to enjoy the journey. You’d have tried that on with big Billy or wee Doddie at your peril. There’s a right way to win, making sure you do so with humility and respect, but equally there’s a right way to lose, and to me, their way, and that of many, many more well respected others, is far more palatable.

My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk 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

WALKING ALONE

I lost my Dad last week. The man who was the inspiration behind everything I did and who instilled in me the socialist, working class values I have tried to live by to this day. As I’ve said, he was born and raised in ‘the Garngad’ which explains his, and my affiliation to supporting Celtic. It was a predominantly Catholic area and still is to this day; even more than that though, he was a football man. Like you and I, football and family were his life and many a weekend was planned around how we could get to and from wherever Celtic were playing. In those days he didn’t drive and very often he’d be working weekends and it would be buses, trains and Shanks’ Pony to make sure he got a morning shift in, made the 3pm kick off and got back again in time for Sportscene. The years in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s spent bunging the bouncers on the door of The Wellie Boot pub in Aberdeen a couple of bob, so I could be sneaked in to stand in the corner to allow him and my Uncle John a well earned pint before yet another thrashing from a great Aberdeen side at Pittodrie. He was also the hardest man I ever met.

Honour

Supporters used to think that I was quite tough on the pitch, but that was something I created to allow me to make the grade, to cover up my inefficiencies if you like, but my Dad WAS hard. He was only 5ft 6in but what he lacked in stature he made up for in heart and presence. He ran with the Shamrock and, as a teenager, he would be involved in many scrapes. He’d have taken on anyone in one-to-one combat and try and manoeuvre situations to give himself the upper hand. As a player, I took a lot of those attributes into matches as I played against many, many players who were better than me, but I’d do everything possible to make sure they didn’t GET the better of me, and that was him all over. I’d be stepping on toes, tugging at jerseys and winding players up by whispering in their ear that the next time they took more than two seconds with the ball, I’d be there, ready to make sure they didn’t do it again. Growing up in Royston, my Dad had to use all those tricks and more, to keep on top of HIS hard man reputation. Their main rivals were from Blackhill (and not as was to become the norm in MY teenage years, The Monks) and this time the leader of the Blackhill gang had challenged him to a ‘square go,’ a Glasgow term for a fist fight, no weapons, one-on-one. This also meant meeting on common ground, in an open space so you could see that your rival didn’t have anyone else with him as back up when he was getting a pasting.

The honourable way to do things was the only way my father would have been capable of as anything other than him turning up with just his Stetson for company would have been an affront to his status. Their top man wouldn’t come to the Garngad, so my Dad, being the man he was, went to Blackhill. He stiffened as he approached the spare ground and went hammer and tongs. My old man started to get the better of him as they rolled onto the spare ground and his enemy took blow after blow before my old man noticed, through a gap in the spread-eagled combatant’s legs, that this Blackhill hard man wasn’t quite the honourable foe he had envisaged.

The bastard had arranged for his cohorts to finish what he couldn’t, as he could see a crowd of the Blackhill team gathering like buzzards around a carcass. My Dad got one last punch in before rolling over and curling up to allow the bold boy a few sly digs at his now sprawling rival. My old man, lying motionless, had feigned taking a beating from one, rather than a hammering from six. They stood over him pointing and screaming “piss off and don’t come back to Blackhill” and as the cowards came walking over they embraced, taking their plaudits and fawning each other in equal portions.
As they were now about 10 yards away, my Dad squinted, opened an eye and seized the opportunity to get one last dig at his apparent conquerors. He jumped up and, as the Blackhill mob turned to have one last gloat, they witnessed the miracle of Lazarus proportions as he arose unscathed, other than some dusty marks on his clothes, and with outstretched arms ‘Broonie style’ proclaiming, “SHAMROCK!!!” He told me at that point he had no fear of being caught as, unlike my stealthy athletic prowess, he was very quick on his feet. He turned and ran, but made sure he was only just quick enough to keep them a few yards away whilst turning and taunting them with profanities and hand signals all the way to Germiston, the border between the Garngad and Blackhill that represented safe ground for the Shamrock and with that, the Blackhill mob turned and beat a hasty, broken retreat after both a physical AND mental beating.

Their leader wasn’t to be so lucky the next time he ‘bumped’ into my Dad though, as unfortunately for him, there was no set-up and no baying mob hiding round the corner to save him. I’d have loved to have seen that one…

Lesson

His principles were unrivalled; he would drum into us how to look after people, that you were to be honest and to treat people the right way. He didn’t have to tell us the difference between good and bad, or right and wrong, we just had to look at him, or listen to him, as an example. I remember sitting in the living room one night watching the highlights of a Celtic game on Sportscene. It wasn’t long after I had signed for Hibs and as a new professional I had started to pick up some of the little things from the older pro’s, the tricks of the trade. The sneaky, ugly, dishonest side of the game that we only ever pay lip service to. I could intimidate and manipulate situations with the best of them, but I wasn’t a cheat, although I was about to show, from my reaction to an incident on TV, that my principles would be tested to the limit in the professional game – but not if my Dad could help it.

Paul McStay took a pass and strode elegantly past the first defender and, as the next one came across to challenge, Paul managed to nick it from his dangling, outstretched leg. It was as clear a penalty as you’d ever see, proven and enhanced by one, single replay (as was the case back then) or at least it would have been had Paul gone over the centre half’s leg and made sure there was contact. But McStay being the man he was, skipped over it and in doing so, lost his balance just long enough for him to lose control and the ball ran harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s arms.

“What’s he doing?” I said.

He sat up, startled and a bit miffed at the same time because you didn’t interrupt my Dad in the middle of the football, least of all a Celtic game.

“He should have gone over his leg, made sure he got clattered and got the penalty.”

“What?” he said.

His tone and manner led me to believe he wasn’t happy, but I ventured further, hoping he hadn’t understood the technicalities of my assertion. I explained further…

“He should have bought the penalty, the defender left his leg there and gave him the chance….”

My explanation was brought to an abrupt end;

“Don’t ever let me hear you saying anything like that again…BOUGHT the penalty!!!”

I was severely chastised, in fact he slaughtered me. He was immensely proud of the fact I was a professional footballer, but would only continue to be if I done things the right way. At that moment, my mind drifted back to his ‘square go’ in Blackhill. You didn’t fake death unless you feared for your life, and diving or ‘buying’ a penalty certainly didn’t constitute that. It was a lesson learned in morality and integrity, attributes that are all too often lost in the clamour to succeed, particularly in football. I was as driven as anyone to be a professional footballer, but I wouldn’t sacrifice my principles to get there. James Patrick Farrell wouldn’t have let me.

Finally… Looking back on my predictions from one of my earliest blogs, I tipped Celtic, Rangers, Morton and East Fife to win their respective Championships. Two winners and two in the play-offs wouldn’t constitute the worst results ever tipped by anyone’s standards, but for those still in the mix, promotion is still a long way off. In the Championship in particular, the prospect of another SIX games will not be something an already tired looking Rangers will be looking forward to and for me, the team coming down from SPFL would have to be favourites on that alone. If Hibs can beat Rangers in the second play-off, momentum could well be enough to give them a real chance of promotion, but for either, it will be very tough to overcome the slightly better quality of the team from the league above. In East Fife’s case, I think they have the experience to negotiate their way through after maintaining a good end of season run to get there. It remains to be seen of course, and come 31st of May, when the dust has settled, we’ll quickly be thinking about doing it all again next season. And that’s why we love it.

My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk 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

CONTRACT HIT

£27.50. Thatcher’s Britain in 1986 and I had made it. My first football contract at Oxford United and I was on the glorious YTS programme that would spawn a generation of striking miners, and kids whom after two years went from being a statistical reminder of a world that didn’t care, to a nobody. But hey, the official unemployment figures were going down. Massaged by huge numbers of teenagers leaving school and going straight into training programmes that were neither suitable, nor sufficient. But I was different and I was also very lucky because at least I was training to be a professional footballer, doing something I loved. I had a two year contract, one that both the club and I had to honour, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be isn’t it?

There was one little tiny detail though that I had to keep a secret from the other trainees. I had been lucky enough to have been offered a YTS contract for Motherwell, but their offer came with a caveat that included a weekly payment of £12.50 for expenses, a provision of the YTS scheme that actually meant Maggie was bumping up my wages to £40 a week. Now Oxford United had made it very clear they were keen to sign me and during our long, drawn out protracted negotiations (consisting of a very amicable five minute telephone call and me shouting through to the other room to my dad) it was made clear I could have the extra £12.50.

“It’s up to you son,” was Dad’s reply.

And that was it. Oxford matched Motherwell’s offer of £40 a week and I was to become the highest paid first year trainee in the club’s illustrious history. You should have heard the fanfare in my head. Only problem was, could I keep my mouth shut long enough to make sure I protected my little expenses envelope every Friday? It was given to me in a more covert operation than a Mafia hit, because if I didn’t keep shtoom, it was made clear to me I would lose it, as there would have been turmoil among the trainees who were all getting a wee bit less than me. Of course I could do it. I was 16 and I was learning at a very young age, about what football was like. No one ever talks about their contract or the individual deal they have struck. You negotiate your own deal until both yourself, and very importantly the club, are happy. Don’t ever forget, no player ever held a gun to the head of a football club Chairman to make them sign on the dotted line or offer that lucrative contract the club can barely afford (well with the possible exception of the much sought after captain of Medellin United). It’s an unwritten dressing room rule – never discuss your personal terms with your team mates – contracts are sacred and any extras you can negotiate are kept within the confines of your head.

That Jackie MacNamara’s contract details were ever made public, will be much more a source of frustration and disappointment to him, than the revealing of a clause entitling him to a percentage of any transfer fees. Indeed, looking beyond the morality of the issue and seeing it purely from a business point of view, you have to admire the intuition and foresight of him (or his agent) to recognise the potential in negotiating such a clause. However, the morality of whoever leaked the information to all and sundry, must be seriously called into question.

Detail

Let me state before we go any further that is the NOT the sort of deal that, as far as I am aware, is commonplace in Scottish football. I have heard of some high profile managers in England on my travels who have had some sort of remuneration clause regarding transfers, put in the contract, but in Scotland I would say it is something of a rarity.
Whether you agree with the individual clause or not, it doesn’t matter. The manager and the club struck a deal they were both happy with. It was a win-win situation for the club. The manager gets a sweetener for developing players good enough to be sold on at a huge profit and the club fills its coffers.

However I’m not sure the club foresaw the backlash, when the news of the clause was leaked.

I can understand the fans’ perception that It could bring about a conflict of interest, but does anyone really think that Jackie would have been thinking about personal gain when the club was negotiating with Celtic about selling Mackay-Steven and Armstrong? Do they think he would be pushing the club to sell because he was to make a few quid from it?

From a moral point of view, there are of course nagging doubts that may make the whole thing not quite ‘sit right’ from a fans point of view. But what it also does is highlight the fickle nature of the football fan. Three months ago, Jackie was the best thing since the Arabs found oil. An unfortunate turn of results on the back of the sale of the two best players (for considerable money) AND the incredible run of four games in a row against the best team in the country, has turned the average United fan from being understanding of the situation to questioning it. Would this have been the case had the team continued on its good run pre-January? Somehow, I think there would have been a significant broom and a rather large carpet up Dundee way.

Fans

I’m a football supporter myself and it’s important to differentiate between the two types of fan. The ‘supporter,’ by the very definition of the word, supports his or her team and club, through thick and thin. Supporting the manager and the team through good times and bad, not changing at the first sign of adversity or the revelation of an unusual clause in a contract. That unswerving dedication and devotion to the club and it’s players. The passion will occasionally spill over into the odd screaming rant, but in the main, there is a controlled determination to help the club be as good as it can. In Scotland I would say this describes the majority of people who follow their team up and down the country, through all types of weather AND adversity.

The ‘fan’ however can be a little different. The very word itself is short for FANATIC. A word that to me conjures up all manner of extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm for a cause, and rarely stops to get on the rational bus. Maybe some of the ‘fans’ now starting to make a contractual issue of what I am certain would have been no more than a flea in the ointment had the club continued to win matches, could take a step back and look at the bigger picture; the team, the club, the financial reality and the future, the team can start getting back to making headlines ON the pitch.

One thing there can be no question of is that Jackie MacNamara is at a crossroads in his Dundee United managerial career. From what I have seen on social media, the newspapers and from talking to some of the Tangerine collective, they are split right down the middle on this one. Whether they decide to react in a supportive or in a fanatical manner, could well decide if Jackie remains at Tannadice beyond the end of this season. What you should remember though is that three indifferent months, on the back of losing your two best players, and a clause in a managerial contract, does not make him any less capable than he was before. Very often, when it comes to football management, it can be better the devil you know. There are many, many clubs’ ‘fans’ who will be able to vouch for that.

Finally….. As I’ve said I’m a football supporter (and occasional fanatic) myself. I’ve followed my team through good and not so good. Supporters are the lifeblood of the game and at the moment they are being taken for granted rather than being treated as an essential. Luckily there are people out there who are determined to do something about that. In my capacity of media whore and ex-professional footballer, I have been approached by the newly formed Scottish Football Supporters Association, to be a consultant on a voluntary basis on an Advisory Panel to see if we can give the supporters a greater voice and more prominent position in the game. The Chairman, Paul Goodwin, has worked closely with many clubs over the years regarding fan ownership and, has indeed been instrumental in the formation of highly influential supporters groups at clubs such as Hearts, Dunfermline and Rangers. It’s time that not only do the Supporters have a voice, but that they are heard. Hopefully I can help in some small way to working towards that.

My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk 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

PART TIME SUPPORTER

Many of you will be supporters of so called ‘smaller’ clubs and will continually be put out by the disparaging reference that clubs in financial difficulty, may have to go ‘part-time,’ as if that’s some sort of slur or put down. The truth is, that many of our part time teams, live within their means and are run on a much more business-like basis than many of the full time clubs they are supposed to aspire to. Thankfully, a recent report has informed us that some of our full time clubs have at last got their house in order and the tremendous financial kickback almost all of our part time clubs have received from Rangers making their way through the lower divisions, will see a lot of them continue to prosper. But is it really such a bad thing to be ‘part-time?’

Full time

I was a full time footballer for 14 years, before the ravages of a serious foot injury put paid to my ability to train every day and I had to go part time and apparently sell my soul to the football devil. Part time players get a raw deal in my opinion, with their commitment to the game and holding down a full time job which in many aspects puts some of our full time footballers to shame. I had a lot of things to get used to, not least of all the fact that I was suddenly having to get up in the morning and go to work for a living. I suppose I could have made things easier for myself had I not signed for Stranraer, with the logistics involved in getting to and from matches, but in fairness to them, they were a very well run part time team who recognised that getting players from their own catchment area would be impossible, which meant we were able to train in Glasgow. It was also fortunate that of the many part time clubs I could have chosen, Stranraer were one of the better payers at the time. This was a consequence of the geographical location of the town, meaning players had to be enticed into giving up some extra time to travel to matches on a Saturday. We were always very well looked after though, leaving at 10am on a match day and stopping at the local hotel in the Blue Toon for a pre-match meal, a luxury rarely afforded by any part time outfit. A final bonus was that I was able to work with Billy McClaren, a veteran of many part time clubs and the only manager I have ever come across who was able to skip seamlessly from amiable to indomitable in a matter of seconds. He was a highly intelligent man and to meet him in the street he was so softly spoken and well mannered you would never believe there were many times in my capacity as player/assistant manager when I had to convince him not to rip the head off one of his own players, but he was a wonderful, old school, football man. A part time football man in the loosest possible sense.

Billy had a very good full time job working in the tax office and his senior position allowed him the flexibility to leave early or manipulate flexi time to allow him to fulfil all his managerial duties. It always amazes me when you hear of the part time player who has a ‘sympathetic’ boss or the manager who is ‘very understanding’ when the player needs time off. I’m convinced a lot of it is anticipation of that day, when the wee team plays the big team in the Cup, and all week, the press are pushing for a romantic story. I’m certain a lot of those bosses are waiting to the hear old line being trotted out by their employee – “Aye, ma gaffer at Chunkerton, Phillips and Webb solicitors has given me the afternoon off so I’ve got time to get to Pittodrie.” Well we all love a bit of free publicity and our ego’s furnished now and again. It HAS to be the reason. Football does irrational things to people and even the most hardened supervisor on the shop floor, seems to fold in the face of a possible giant killing.
While there is no doubt that the standard of play in general as you go down the divisions drops, do not be kidded that the gap between the average full time teams and the better part teams is as big as our pundits and experts would have you believe. One thing it is absolutely not down to is fitness. There is a myth always bandied about when the bigger club beats the part time team that ‘full time fitness told in the end.” In my opinion, this is very rarely the case. When I trained part time, the Monday/Tuesday fitness session was as tough as any session I ever done at a full time club. There is a certain level of fitness your body can reach and a part time player having played 12 games in a row will be no less match fit than a full time player. Don’t we think the roles would be reversed if part time clubs were able to pay the full time players what they are used to? Do we think fitness would come into it then if a team of part time players were getting full time money and therefore attracted more quality? That’s what generally shows in the end. Sure, the high end Championship clubs as has been shown this season, will pull away at the top due to the different resources at their disposal, but as for the rest, I think it has been shown that at all levels, the part timers can compete and certainly have a place.

Wild rover

My time at Stranraer came to an end and after another couple of injections and a close season of doubt as to whether I would play for another year, I decided to give it a go. I had some offers from the Juniors of a tidy signing on fee and a few quid in my hip pocket but I declined as I wanted to finish my career, still playing in the Football League. My legs were going but I knew I could still play for two years as my mind would allow me to compensate for the lack of athleticism. Albion Rovers was to be my final destination in Coatbridge, in truth, it was a family decision as well as a football one for once as the ground was only 15 minutes from my home and 20 minutes from my work in Cumbernauld. For once I was thinking about my family as well as myself. Football does that to you. You become so engrossed in your own world of playing and coaching that you disregard people close to you and their feelings. It’s all about the football. Only now that I am no longer in the game, can I see that. The third division was easy, but I started to realise that even though it didn’t look like it, I was struggling to match players who in reality, shouldn’t have been on the same pitch as me. I was no world beater, but I was better than this although my left knee was now telling me that my head had a cheek to keep up the pretence. It started well, before I jarred the medial ligament again and struggled my way through ’til Christmas. It was a great wee club and the players were well looked after. Wages were always on time and although Cliftonhill was very rundown and dated, there was a tremendous sense of identity and don’t forget, I had played through serious financial difficulties at big clubs like Partick Thistle, Airdrie and even Hibs so there were times when being involved at Cliftonhill was something of a luxury. I played around 15 games before the highlight of our season came around, a Lanarkshire derby in the Cup against Hamilton. They were in Division 1 at the time and being full time and at Accies’ New Douglas Park, full time fitness was expected to take it’s toll as Accies would run out comfortable winners.

They took an early two-goal lead, although we managed to claw ourselves back into the game and get it to 2-2. We had them rocking in the second half as the fans got on their back and with about 10 minutes to go, a cross came in from a corner which I met full on the volley from about six yards, only to see the ball come crashing back off the bar. It went straight out to the 18 yard line to a Hamilton player and they launched a counter attack that resulted in the luckiest of volleys, driven into the ground AND deflected into the net. Of course, the full time fitness had apparently told in the end. Or had it? Well if the Rovers had just had a quality centre back at their disposal, one who could put a relatively simple volley into the net instead of onto the bar, then the apparent ‘part time fitness’ would never have come into the equation. Then again, if I’d have been fit enough to get back and stop that lightning quick counter attack, who knows what the headlines would have been. Either way, whether it was full time or part time, the best thing I could do, was call time.

Finally… On Saturday in the national newspapers I tipped Hibs to not only win the game on Sunday against Rangers, but to also win through the Championship play-offs. My prediction was based on current AND overall form throughout the season. Whilst I was left with egg on my face after Sunday’s result, I still believe Hibs can win through at the end of the season and it remains to be seen if Rangers can now maintain a level of consistency and gain enough momentum to capitalise on what was clearly a very good result and level of performance at the weekend. A more pressing question for Rangers fans though should be “where has that level of performance and more importantly commitment been all season?” There can be no doubt it was hugely improved on what has been served up during the League campaign so far on both counts.

With all the financial implications and cutbacks at Rangers, and the inevitable scaling back on luxury items at both Murray Park and Ibrox, I just hope that none of the cost-cutting measures has involved the removal of all the mirrors from the first team Changing Room.

My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk 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

MEN IN BLACK 2

So, after further scrutiny of laboratorial proportions, Sunday’s game at Tannadice only enhances further the viewpoint that officiating at Scottish football matches seems to have deteriorated markedly over the past couple of seasons. Whilst there can be no doubt the Sky cameras – and the intense thirst for every angle to be covered – make the job an ever increasing minefield, there can be no question that if so many mistakes and bad decisions were not being made, the cameras would not be picking them up. Sunday’s disastrous performance from the officials is the latest in a long line of high profile incidents that are either missed, or worst still, spectacularly wrong. Cup finals, semi-finals, crunch matches and high profile games rarely pass these days without incident. Work your way down through the divisions from royalty to ramshackle and you’ll hear the same thing reverberating through the corridors of the SPFL grounds.

Standards are dropping. Players, managers and coaches at all levels are all saying and seeing the same things, but to my mind there is very little acceptance of that within the secretive and protective corridors of power. The longer we bury our heads in the sand and continue to ignore what everyone else can see, the longer it will take to return standards to an acceptable level.

Whilst I understand it is a difficult job with the advent of media intrusion in football and fans expectations at an all time unrealistic high, I still believe everyone in the game has a right to expect better. Matches are ruined and career paths can be changed on the back of one blatant offside, missed handball or a goalscoring opportunity catastrophically denied. If it were only one, there would be no issue. Human nature dictates that mistakes are made, but where else are there continual, glaring errors and rarely does anyone seem accountable? The answer to that is an easy one. Nowhere.

Change

Player & Management/Referee & Official relationships are at an all time low. The ‘Respect’ campaign pays lip service and shows a united front, but clearly at ‘on pitch’ level, the cracks that have been appearing for many years have now reached Grand Canyon proportions. The trust amongst players and officials has all but gone on the back of some dubious high profile cover ups and tribunal decisions, and even more high profile mistakes on a weekly basis and the only way to get that back, is to start getting more of those decisions right.

I have to say here and now that I think our match officials are honest. The majority of bad decisions made are done so without favour. It is no coincidence that over the years, both Celtic and Rangers feel that referees favour one against the other. The truth is, both these bigger clubs have ALWAYS got more decisions, largely due to the influence of a large, vociferous support. To think they are not swayed by that, is to deny the blatantly obvious. However, my biggest gripe of all is that the officials don’t know the game. There are instances on a pitch that at times baffle me how a referee cannot see what’s gone on. The shot that has come off the defender with the goalie going the other way and a goal kick is given. The last ditch tackle were the defender clearly plays the ball. You can tell by the direction the ball has travelled that he clearly got a touch on it, and yet, only the ref didn’t see it. As a coach, in recent years, the officials had almost become unapproachable, aloof and arrogant and I know from speaking to many guys still in the game now, the feeling among many is still the same. It may well be a protective mechanism and there is no doubt some coaches and managers’ behaviour over the years does nothing to foster harmony, but unless there is a mutual mellowing of the ‘us and them’ mentality, there could be many more years of poor decision to come.

I also have a theory that one of the reasons for the decline, is the previous rule that referees had to be retired to the glue factory at 47. This meant that guys who were clearly at the top of their particular game; Rowbotham, Dougal, Dallas, Young et al, were phased out before they needed to be. Everyone will have their beef with each of these individual people, but there is no doubt in my mind, this was the last crop of officials, who made fewer big mistakes over the course of a regular season. Who do the present group have to aspire to? Surely it can’t be good for them, seeing the perceived top men making bad decision after bad decision. This has resulted in a fresh crop of officials, who have been rushed to fill the void left by their predecessors, without the knowledge, experience or know how to do it. I have also learned, that since the scrapping of the ‘overage’ rule, referees are no longer judged by age but by fitness. Are we to believe then that any referee over the age of 40, is being decided upon whether or not they are fit, rather than if they are fit for purpose? Unfortunately, in many cases, it looks that way.

Solution

So what can we do to extricate from this impasse? Well to my mind, the first and most obvious solution would be where applicable to use video evidence. The referee can still do the corners, throw ins and general decisions on the pitch, but key moments; dives, penalties, offsides that result in goals MUST be decided at the side of the pitch. 30 seconds to the fourth official replay and back again. In this age of technology, it can’t be difficult. Next, there MUST be accountability. At the moment, players and fans don’t see enough officials being punished for consistently poor performances. Sure, one or two are demoted for a couple of games, but does that really make any difference. We had the absurdity of our officials who made such a glorious hash of things at the weekend, refereeing in top games in Europe this week. Drop them for a month, and then phase them back in gradually, and pay must be altered accordingly. There should also be a system where they are removed from future UEFA games as punishment. It may sound over dramatic, but there are people’s livelihoods genuinely at stake on the back of some of the most spurious decisions. If nothing else, it will at least let the fans see that people are taking note of poor performance levels. My final recommendation would be that the referees watch more football. Attend practice matches, training games and league games at all levels, but don’t watch the referee, watch the players. How many of our officials are only ever at a match they are officiating in? How can they expect to see the obvious deflection or leg breaking tackle if they don’t know what it is (but make no mistake, they should).

There can be no other explanation as to why on so many situations, the only person in the ground who hasn’t seen the handball is the man in the middle. This may well sound like a rant, and in many ways it has turned out that way, but football runs through my veins, it is why I was at Celtic Park last Wednesday, why I was in Coatbridge on Saturday morning watching a kids game and why I was at Easter Road on Wednesday night. I wonder how many of our officials could ever say that about the game. I wonder how many have the passion for the game, you and I as a fan have. I wonder…

Finally… After having my say on the vagaries of our referee’s, it would be remiss of me to allow the situation to pass without comment on player behaviour. There is no doubt that players, on occasion, can help the officials with regard to their on-field behaviour. Surrounding the referee like a pack of hungry wolves does nothing to enhance the image of the game and nor, in my opinion, does it do anything to influence or alter a referee’s decision. Indeed, if I was officiating, I think I’d be more inclined to rebel against the madding crowd and prove that I was not one to be coerced into making any favourable decision. Feigning injury was a slight on your character back when I played and showing that your opponent had hurt you was a sign of weakness, not just as a footballer but as a man. A return to those type of principles among the players would certainly go a long way to righting some wrongs and teaching our young players some good habits for a change.
Diving has also become a scourge to our game, but I have a radical solution that I think may just rule out the propensity to throw yourself to the ground in one fell swoop.

If a player is deemed to have dived, the referee should be able to book the player and give a direct free kick in the same position at the other end of the pitch. So if a player dives in the box, a penalty is given at the other end and if a defender was to dive in his own half to get himself out of impending trouble, then the free kick is given right were the infringement took place. Of course, the referee would have to be sure, but surely the punishment alone would be deterrent enough to stop any striker from diving to gain a spot kick or dangerous free kick if the ball was shifted directly to the other end for the opposition to potentially score. It may be revolutionary and radical and no doubt slightly flawed, but without at least trying to erase this cancer from our beautiful game, and continuing to accept it, we are just as culpable as the players who perpetrate it.

Footnote: I started this blog after watching the Celtic-Dundee United game on Sunday and looking on at the aftermath throughout the week. I was almost finished it yesterday, when events from Hampden started to unfold and the sheer disbelief at what I was hearing started to sink in. I’ll give you my quick take on the incidents and leave it at that, but I have to say after the results of the appeals started to filter through, I felt so disillusioned I was going to pull it altogether. What’s the point, I thought. I can’t make a difference and it feels like I would be banging my head against the wall, but I owe it to myself to put my thoughts out there. I have not altered this piece since then, so here goes:
Van Dijk and Butcher: Both equally guilty, however, in my view, a yellow card would have been sufficient, but having given Van Dijk a red, Butcher should have been cited. Having not cited Butcher, it was inevitable, as I hinted at midweek, that Van Dijk would be rescinded to ‘even it up’
Connolly: Unequivocal dive
Cifti: Unequivocal and deliberate kick
Paton: Completely innocent
Brown: Reckless tackle, definite yellow, however under current rules, had the referee given a free kick, some may well have given a red and, had this initial incident been dealt with and play stopped, the whole sorry episode may well have been consigned to the annals of time.
So there you have it.

My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk
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

SPECIAL RESERVES

Over the last few days, our youth development programmes have come to the fore once again, with the publicity gained from the clubs in the latter stages of the Youth Cup and the Development League. The next generation of young players, expected to make the jump from u20’s football and playing with their contemporaries, straight into the cauldron of the first team. In the last two years, I have watched Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Motherwell and Partick Thistle all playing u20 football. What I see is tippy-tappy stuff, where no squad ever ‘hurts’ the other team. When I say hurts, I don’t mean in a physical sense (although there is no question in my mind it does lack a competitive edge), I mean in the sense of getting in behind the opposition, penetration and the desire to make runs beyond strikers and a determination to be better than your opponent. There is a lack of tempo to many of the games at that level and all I can see is football being played like it’s a training exercise. Balls continually being knocked across the back four, occasionally breaking between the line to midfield and then more square ball football until it’s back at the goalie.

Sure, we’re teaching our players the technical skills required for stepping up to the first team. Pass and move, dribbling, using both feet (another myth but I’ll speak about that another time), but how many of them are REALLY prepared for it, for the physical AND mental challenges that await them when they step up. Very few.

Development Leagues have their place, in developing talent, but I believe for many, it is too big a step to go straight from playing against youth players of the same age and, going straight into the first team. Of course, there are exceptional players who can comfortably make the transition, but they’d be even better having been prepared by being street wise in the ways of a hardened pro. How can you not learn ‘the game’ from going toe-to-toe with a John Rankin on his way back from injury or a Jim Goodwin trying to kick lumps out of you on his way back from suspension? With the current financial climate, we not only need to develop top talent, but also the ‘club’ footballer. The player who fills most first teams teams week in, week out. The sort of guy who, while at your club, will help develop those talented young players with his know-how and experience, showing them the football ropes and nurturing and aggressive, winning attitude among our young players. I’m well aware there is the capability to play a couple of over age players in the Development League, but it’s really not the same. I also know the financial argument of having bigger squads to cope with an extra game. But there are ways around it.

Bringing back reserve team football may not be the answer to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but I believe it will help us produce more players by bridging that gap between the Youth team and the first team. Even the superstars and the exceptionals will benefit from a grounding in the reserves; it may even knock some of their prima donna ways out of them before it’s too late. One thing I am certain of, very few negatives ever came from playing in the ‘stiffs’ and, the hunger derived from playing reserve team football, and the desire to see the back of it and force your way past the senior players you are playing alongside can only benefit the development of youth players. Much more than any ‘Development’ League.

Scraps

I’m well qualified to talk about reserve football. If caps had been given out for making 2nd and 3rd team appearances, I’d have more caps than the Hassan twins put together. In a lengthy career, I only made around 300 first team appearances. Disappointing, but understandable when you consider for the first five years, from the age of 16-21 I was a reserve player. It also wasn’t helped by the fact that once I reached 28, my individual leg muscles resembled a packet of Cheestrings and would tear just as easily. On the constant, painful, comeback from injury trail, there is no doubt in my mind that, as well as 300 first team games, from those early years to my ‘hamstring’ years, I equalled that number in reserve matches.

Back then at Hibs, the experience of reserve matches was incredible. When the first team played on a Saturday, the reserves would play the opposite fixture. That meant running out in front of a couple of hundred at Ibrox, Celtic Park, Tannadice and Pittodrie. You were still treated like a king though, experiencing the dressing rooms, hospitality and big, wide demanding (and sometimes overwhelming) pitches. I am aware these days, it may be economically impractical to have two squads playing on the same day, but what’s to stop them playing reserve games on a Sunday, or a Monday night or any other day for that matter? I’m certain the fans would support it too. A Sunday afternoon reserve game after the first team have played on the Saturday, where those players who missed out, get their fitness alongside half a dozen 18-20 year olds anyone? The clubs too have a responsibility to introduce their players to the stadium. Public parks and an empty Lesser Hampden are an insult to our young talent. Scrap the current under 20’s Development League where players are asked to play on junior grounds and training pitches in front of one man and his dog. Tell me they won’t get more from going back to playing in the big stadiums, travelling to the ground, mixing in the dressing room with senior pro’s. You’ll learn a lot more about your young prospects because if they can’t handle playing alongside big players at an empty Tynecastle, how are they going to handle the intimidation of a full one?

Surely the two years development money saved between the ages of 18-20, will be enough to make a return to the Reserve League an option? Filtered back in to bolster first team squads with one or two more experienced players and three or four more kids. The result? More kids through to the first team at an earlier stage AND with a better knowledge of the game.

Romantic? Maybe. Practical? I don’t see why not. But I know it’s got to be worth a try, because at the moment, our Development is not producing players. I wasn’t the greatest player in the world, far from it, but what I learned in those reserve games, stood me in good stead for the rigours of being a full time pro.

Lessons

I played in Ian Durrant’s comeback match at Ibrox, a reserve match in front of 15,000. Whether it would happen today, I doubt it as they would probably ease him back at Murray Park or Benburb Juniors. There were Reserve League East cup finals, derby matches where the fringe players would be going hammer and tongs in front of a few thousand fans. And it was in one of those early Hibs v Hearts Reserve League matches, I was not only to give out a lesson, I was to be on the end of one as well.

In my first Edinburgh derby reserve game, I was to pit my wits for the first time (but certainly not the last) against John Robertson. Robbo was a terrific striker. Not the quickest but he was sharp and had the mind of a predator, sniffing out goals with his guile and movement. But let me tell you, Robbo was no shrinking violet. He’d cut you in two as quick as getting across the front post to get a header in, given half the chance. I went on to become very good friends with Robbo over the years after we went through a lot of the same coaching courses together. It’s a funny thing that, and something that fans don’t always understand. Great rivals on the pitch can become good friends off it. There’s usually a respect there and it was during one of those courses we struck up a conversation about playing against each other.

Being the player I was I’d have ran through anything to get the ball and asthis was my first derby (reserve) match I felt I had to make my mark. Robbo went on to tell me that he didn’t know who I was before the game and his first recollection of me was after about 20 minutes. Hearts got a throw-in over near the corner flag, their left back took it and bounced the ball to Robbo. As it sat up, he chested it and at that point he recalls feeling a bump in his back and then a whooshing sound as my right boot came flashing past his right shoulder and clipped his ear, before following through and knocking the ball back out for another throw-in. All well and good. But what Robbo had conveniently failed to remember was I had already got my first lesson in Hearts hospitality after precisely four minutes and that mine was no more than a retaliatory act. The Hearts right back had stood a diagonal ball up and as it floated perfectly on to my head, I could see no other outcome but a comfortable clearance. That is, until I switched off for a second and as I glanced it away, I hadn’t set myself for the mini juggernaut coming just a fraction late and as I turned my head after contact, a shoulder coming from the opposite direction, connected square with my chin. Funny how he never remembered that part, but for me it was a lesson in senior, experienced players can not only take liberties with, they can teach you football lessons that live with you for years to come.

Would I ever have got a lesson like that nan u20’s Development game, I doubt it. Are we doing our talented young players a disservice by depriving them of this harshest of ‘school of hard knocks?’ Almost certainly. We’re not producing the level of sustainable footballer we did 20 years ago and whilst Development squads up to the age of 18 certainly have their place, there is no doubt in my mind a return to the Reserve League would plug that difficult gap between youth football and the first team. Surely it’s got to be worth a try. Even if, God forbid, it does mean one or two of them have to take a wee rap on the chin now and again.

My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk 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 NEXT CHAPTER

When I started writing this blog, I could never have imagined how much of a reaction it would get. My intention was two-fold; to tell a little bit about the story of REAL football, not the glamorous stuff we see on Match of the Day, backed by millions of pounds and an image that is more sparkling than a WAG’s engagement ring, but the grassroots, coalface of football, where working class values are still part of the game.

I was also intent on cutting through the cliche’d jargon, so prevalent among our columnists and ex players, the “Game of two halves” mentality that continues to perpetuate the image of the ‘not so bright’ footballer. I wanted to give people a look inside the dressing room and inside the game, at how players, coaches and managers react to certain situations and unusual situations that can crop up on a weekly basis, that few fans are aware of. For some reason, my writing seems to have struck a chord with football fans at all levels. I had never written before, in fact, embarrassingly, I had only ever read about 20 books, almost all sporting autobiographies. But for some reason I was able to latch on to what the fans wanted to read. 

Surprisingly, I’ve also found many, many players, current and former, who have been able to relate to my musings. I was very fortunate and privileged to be able to call myself a professional footballer. I played on every ground in Scotland, in every division and coached to varying degrees throughout the country, but I’m currently going through a period of great uncertainty in my football life. A life that has seen me go through varying degrees of pain and despair as well as joy and elation. Will I ever work in football again? I don’t know. But the game itself is such a horribly, addictive narcotic. When the phone rings with the offer of a coaching position, it’s almost impossible to say no. There has to be a masochistic streak in me somewhere.

But with uncertainty comes opportunity and, following on from my writing and my opinionated views on Twitter, I have received one or two offers of media work and incredibly, one or two offers from publishers, who seem to see potential in my writing, so much so that they have suggested a book. One such company is Teckle Books, a small, independent Scottish publisher and together, that book, with their support will be written. It won’t be the normal footballer type of autobiography. Conventional books from footballers are ghost written, dictated and then regurgitated to form the basis of the yarn. It will be my story, yes, but not in the normal sense. I will write it, all of it. You won’t read about what I had for breakfast, lunch and dinner but you’ll read about why I have more cortisone in my foot than a man should have in his lifetime. You won’t read about playing at the Nou Camp but you’ll read about making my debut for Stranraer in front of 119 people, a record low even for Stranraer. Nuts and bolts football laced with anecdotes, just like the blog. It won’t always make comfortable reading and some will feel uneasy digesting it, but it’s an important story to tell and hopefully one you’re looking forward to as much as I am.

I will continue doing the blog as I feel it’s still important to comment on many of the issues that are thrown up by the great game we love. Clearly, I will not be able to put one out as frequently, due to the demands of writing in between working full time, but believe me, if I feel there is an important subject that needs tackling, I will continue to give my view and the fans and football fraternity alike, an insight.

Finally it would be remiss of me not to thank the three people who have helped me most to put my blog together. Jim Burke, an old friend and serial blogger who gave me the impetus to start writing and a nudge in the right direction when I do. Paul McGeary, who whilst currently fighting his own personal leukaemia battle, still finds the time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on my weekly scripture and Sierra Godfrey who has updated my blog page and gave me a professional service at no cost other than goodwill.

Thank you and be sure you are all part of what is turning into a new chapter. 

All that needs to be said now is that I hope it turns out to be a good read for football fans and non-football fans alike.
My publishers are insisting I let you all know that ‘Journeyman; Football From The Inside’ can now be pre-ordered from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk
All pre-orders before the release date in November 2015 will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

A final thank you to anyone who has read my blogs. You have all given me the strength and belief that I can write this book.

David Farrell