Archive for December, 2008

Game Twenty One – Partick Thistle vs. Ross County

December 31, 2008

The home fans

Partick Thistle 0 vs. 2 Ross County

Irn-Bru Scottish League, First Division
Saturday 27th December, 2008 Kick-Off 3pm
Firhill Stadium, Maryhill

The Great Glasgow Alternative as Thistle sometimes like to be known.

I’ve been to Firhill many times previously as a Clydebank supporter, most often in the days of the old terracing. I remember in particular one awful match when Clyde were using the stadium as their home ground. Clydebank were trounced 5-1 and had two men sent off.

Today however I’m here to see Partick Thistle take on Ross County.

This season Thistle began an excellent policy of allowing under-16s in to league matches free of charge. Although some club chairmen feel this will hit them hard in the pockets, Thistle obviously feel like they’re creating fans of the future. And let’s face it kids want to spend their money, so I’m sure any cash that would have been spent on admission is getting handed over at the burger stall or in the club shop on the day in any case.

This does of course mean that you get groups of kids screaming, shouting, pushing each other and throwing one another’s things over the wall onto the side of the pitch.

This season Partick Thistle have also become famous for their new away strip a pink and grey shirt with grey shorts and socks. Apparently the strip is availble to buy not only in the club shop but also in the boutiques of Oxford Street and Carnaby Street. Apparently the strip has also been featured in the Italian pink-paged sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Sales at the club shop increased 400%. Here’s a video of the club launching the trip.

Today however they are in their familiar red and yellow shirts.

Being late December it’s absolutely freezing, which leads me to wonder why in every football ground (without exception so far this season) that has a toilet, is the water in the taps freezing cold. I guess the lack of hot water keeps costs down, but it does nothing to keep your hands from being freezing cold.

When the game gets underway Thistle are barely in it. Ross County look more competent in attack and sure enough they take the lead in 24 minutes with a nice 18-yard lob from Sean Higgins.

Partick Thistle vs. Ross County

With 18 minutes to go Marc Twaddle picked up a second booking that reduced Thistle to ten men. A late tackle on Strachan left the referee with little option but to give him his second yellow.

In the 84th minute it was 2-nil with Higgins bagging his second racing onto a through ball and lifting it over Jonny Tuffey in the Partick goal.

To say the home support were displeased is not to tell the whole story.

The PA announcer declared the Man of the Match to be Thistle’s Gary Harkins. The home fans met that announcement with a round of boos. I can only presume this particular MOM award is handed out exclusively to the home players as there’s no way anyone of them could justifiably be acclaimed as the best player on the pitch today.

But it didn’t end there. As the disgruntled Thistle fans start to troop out another announcement comes over the PA system. “There will be free pies in the Aitken Suite after the game.” This misguided Christmas gesture receives a further chorus of boos.

“Free pies?” mutters one fan in front of me on the way out, “What sort of mad pish is that?”

There is a very good report of the match on the One Team in Glasgow website.

Partick: Jonny Tuffey, Paton, Twaddle, Storey (McKeown 59), John Robertson, Archibald, McKinlay, Rowson (Chaplain 70), Buchanan, Donnelly (Roberts 64), Harkins. Subs Not Used: Hinchcliffe, Kinniburgh.

Sent Off: Twaddle (72)

Ross County: Soutar, McCulloch, Golabek, Watt, Boyd, Strachan, Hart, Brittain (Dowie 57), Higgins, Craig (Winters 80), Morrison, Dowie (Gardyne 87). Subs Not Used: Keddie, Malin.

Scorers: Higgins 24, 84.

Attendance: 2,465

Referee: Stephen Finnie

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Game Twenty – Celtic vs. Villareal

December 10, 2008

Villareal Fans

Celtic 2 vs. 0 Villareal

UEFA Champions League, Group E
Wednesday 10th December 2008, Kick-Off 7.45pm
Celtic Park, Glasgow

It wasn’t my intention to visit the Old Firm’s grounds one after the other. It’s just the way it turned out after Saturday.

When I bought my ticket for this game it was unclear if it would be an all-to-play for nail-biter or a dull, meaningless fixture fulfilment. As it turns out with Villareal securing their place in the last 16 and Celtic going out of the competition by losing to Aalborg in the last round of matches, tonight’s fixture has little at stake.

There is prize money of course. On the table for tonight’s victor is £520,000. Villareal also need the three points in order to top the group, providing Manchester United don’t win their match with Aalborg. Pre-match, Celtic gaffer Gordon Strachan is playing up the chances of it being a decent encounter. He told a press conference, “I think it will be a good game. They will try to get to the top of the table and we will be looking to keep our good home record going.”

Everything however points to it being a non-event.

While the Celtic players and management have been suggesting that the players will ‘play for pride’ and keep the good home record going, no one has suggested that they’ll be out to provide top drawer entertainment for the thousands of punters who have spent 40 quid on a ticket to come here.

That’s pretty much the highest bracket for live entertainment in this part of the world. The cost of tickets for fans just doesn’t seem to be a concern for sides who expect people to pay it just because they support the team.

The press in Scotland have been all over the fact that this is set to be Scottish clubs’ worst ever season in Europe. There has been not one victory among our entrants in European competition this season. Tonight’s game bookends the Scottish season in Europe for me, as I attended the first game for a Scottish club in Europe this season, while tonight marks the last.

If Celtic don’t manage a win this evening, this will be the first time in 53 seasons of European competition that Scottish clubs have failed to chalk up a victory. Still it’ll give the Scottish press plenty to write about.

Which brings me to a comment from this article in the Evening Times which puzzled me slightly. If anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.

“But it is the prospect of, for the first time in their history, going through an entire European campaign without a win which is driving Stephen McManus and Co.”

Now that got me thinking, ‘Surely Celtic played a season in Europe and got knocked out without winning a game?’ Just a brief glance at Celtic’s history in Europe confirms this. In their very first season in Europe, Celtic went out in the first round of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup after losing to, and drawing with Valencia. The season they defended the European Cup they did likewise when they came up against Dynamo Kiev.

I can only presume that by ‘entire European campaign’, Ronnie Cully, the author of the article, means several games. However a club’s ‘entire European campaign’ is just that. The campaign lasts however many games the side play before getting knocked out.

Of course he could mean ‘The Champions League’ as opposed to ‘Celtic’s history’, as many folk seem to think European football only really came into being in 1992/93.

If anyone can decipher what he’s on about I’d be happy to hear it.

The ground is heavy with frost as I make the walk to Celtic Park from Bellgrove train station. At the stadium in plenty of time I take a wander round to the club shop and then hang around the main entrance for a while.

A guy who looks like he’s no stanger to the runner-up prizes in bar-room brawls comes past shouting, “Anybidy want to buy a ticket for a tenner?” He gets no takers. A seasoned entrepreneur, he adds, “It’s legit. I’m sitting a couple of seats behind you so that’s how you’ll know it’s legit.” Unfortunately no one seemed to be taking him any more seriously.

Celtic vs. Villareal

My seat is in the Jock Stein Stand. When I get inside and go into the concourse I find that it’s a veritable shopping mall. There’s a Celtic Shop, a Ladbrokes and a pie stall with an extensive menu. Cod and chips is only £4.50. There are also framed pages from a book called Celtic’s Greatest Ever Team on the walls, which gives us a chance to read about some of the legends who have worn the green and white over the years. As well as many photographs and paintings of former players and managers there are a few newspaper cuttings from matches such as the famous 1970 European Cup semi-final against Leeds United.

The atmosphere in the ground is certainly a little bit stale. It feels more like a Scottish Premier League game against a mid-ranking side than a European night. Not even ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ really lifts it.

Oddly the stadium announcer reads out the Celtic team’s first names only. “Number five, it’s Gary!” I presume this has become the norm at Parkhead, but it feels a bit weird to me.

The game starts off well enough though with both teams showing a competitive edge.

With 14 minutes gone Celtic get in front as Mark Wilson’s cross is fumbled by Sebastián Viera in the Villareal goal. The ball slips out of his hands and onto the head of Shaun Maloney who nods it in for 1-0.

Maloney’s goal is Celtic’s 396th in all UEFA competitions, fact fans.

The game takes perhaps its defining turn in the 35th minute when the assistant referee calls the ref’s attention to something. The Celtic fans jeer momentarily as it appears the referee is calling for a free-kick to be retaken. However the assistant has noticed that Guille Franco swung an elbow at Gary Caldwell. This results in a red card. To be honest I think the assistant was the only person in the stadium who saw it. On TV afterwards I can see that he was right, even if it seemed pretty tame.

Villareal were never a serious threat to Celtic with only ten men.

Just as half-time approaches Aiden McGeady goes on a run, finishing with a low shot from 20 yards which lands in the bottom corner of the net.

At the interval I go to the toilet and notice that smoke swirls around the air. It seems more like the bikesheds at school as it’s being used as a smokers’ den, by about two dozen folk. It almost seems like it’s a designated meeting point.

In the second half we’re treated to some calm and assured play from Celtic as Villareal are barely interested. Villareal’s Bruno causes a few of us to ‘ooh’ as he shows off a lovely move out on the left wing. But that was about it from the Spanish side.

Nakamura shows a silky touch or two, although Samaras frustrates me with his lumbering play this evening. He takes the ball towards the halfway line more often than he sends it forward.

In the Celtic goal Artur Boruc makes a great save from Nihat Kahveci in the 70th minute and the cheers come from all around the ground. The Celtic fans went out of their way to give him their backing tonight, after his blunder against Hibs on Sunday.

On the way home I opt to see if I can get a bus into town, but after the driver of the number 64 pretends not to see 20 folk standing at the stop, I walk instead.

Celtic defend a corner

The report of the match from Celtic’s website is here. This is the report from the BBC’s website. The Guardian’s report on the match is here.

Celtic: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson (O’Dea 81), Nakamura, Scott Brown, Hartley, McGeady (McGowan 75), Maloney, Samaras (McDonald 81). Subs Not Used: Mark Brown, Loovens, Mizuno, Caddis.

Scorers: Maloney (14), McGeady (45).

Villarreal: Viera, Angel, Fuentes, Rodriguez, Bruno, Cani, Senna (Nihat 46), Edmilson, Fernandez, Franco, Ibagaza (Santi Cazorla 60). Subs Not Used: Diego Lopez, Eguren, Pires, Cygan.

Sent Off: Franco (35).

Attendance: 58,104

Referee: Claudio Circhetta (Switzerland)

Assistant Referees: Manuel Navarro (Switzerland), Beat Hidber (Switzerland)

Fourth Official: Daniel Wermelinger (Switzerland)

UEFA Delegate: Pekka Hämäläinen (Finland)

UEFA Referee Observer: Jaap Uilenberg (Holland)

Game Nineteen – Rangers vs. Hamilton Academical

December 8, 2008

Broxi the Bear

Rangers 7 vs. 1 Hamilton Academical

Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League
Saturday 6th December 2008, Kick-Off 3pm
Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow

With us now well into winter, heading out for a football match in Scotland is a precarious occupation. I had thought I could get along to the Edinburgh City-Brechin City cup-tie that was postponed from last week. However by midweek I concluded that if last week’s weather saw the game being called off, then this week’s even worst frost should see it off again. (The match failed an early morning pitch inspection.) So my decision was made to go along to Cambuslang Rangers’ Junior Cup third round clash with Irvine Meadow. Just as I was about to head off for my train I checked the Football Central website and saw that the Cambuslang game along with nearly every other junior match has been postponed.

So I’m looking to the seniors and their more reliable and expensive pitches and undersoil heating. Except two games in the SPL are off, prompting an “urgent and serious inquiry”. While a further three games in the Scottish League fall victim to the weather, as well as Forfar’s Scottish Cup tie. So I plump for a game I know will be on and head for Ibrox where Rangers entertain Hamilton Academical.

You can’t get much further away from the juniors than Rangers at Ibrox. As soon as you get off the underground the streets are buzzing. People are hoisting their spare tickets in the air and stallholders punt their scarves, flags and badges. On a bright and sunny (but cold) day like this Ibrox is good for a wee walk round the perimiter to take in the atmosphere and the sense of occasion. There is a good programme stall which has on sale many programmes and books from the club’s illustrious past.

If you really want to you can also find a stall where you can buy a William of Orange flag.

Rangers are currently seven points behind Celtic in the race for the league title. The rules in the Scottish press are whomever is currently in the lead is a shoe-in for the title. Press rules apparently dictate that Rangers and Celtic are both guaranteed maximum points in games that aren’t against one another, so whichever one of them does the impossible and drops points, that’s the team who is finishing runner-up.

Of course we could just enjoy watching the league season play out instead of eagerly predicting a new title winner every week or two.

Rangers players are in the press alternatively acknowledging that one more slip up could hand the title to Celtic and confidently assuring the fans that they can still win the league.

Andy Cameron is in the match programme telling the players to ‘Keep the heids up’.

A defeat today would be certainly be a big setback.

Hamilton Accies lie second from bottom in the league table and they know full well that despite a good start to the season, 2008/09 is all about survival.

The Rangers fans are in decent voice before the game. Lex MacLean‘s famous ‘Every Other Saturday’ is now belted out as standard again, just as it was in the 1960s.

When the game kicks off it’s Hamilton who go on the attack first. They seem to be playing the ball around nicely. A long ball gets hoisted into the Rangers penalty box and Alan McGregor makes a hash of it. James McArthur lobs the ball over him and into the net for 1-0 Hamilton after just two minutes. There is a stunned silence for a moment, until the Hamilton fans, who are at the opposite end, realise they’ve scored and go mental. As did the players.

The Rangers fans round about me take it well and continue to get behind their team. The last time I was at Ibrox the guy behind me kicked the back of my seat when Partick Thistle scored first.

Although now a shock looks possible, it’s far too early in the game to realistically expect Hamilton to hold out. Kenny Miller, who received a good reception from the fans, smacks in a nice shot from just inside the penalty box to level the scores on eleven minutes. From this point on there only looked to be one winner.

Kris Boyd puts Rangers ahead on 28 minutes with a lovely turn and finish. I’ve always liked Boyd as a striker and can’t understand why he gets a lot of stick from supporters. No one is on his back today however.

The referee is another matter. He gets pelters from the Rangers fans. By my reckoning he had a decent game. The home support though weren’t keen on his tendency to give Hamilton free-kicks while allowing Rangers to play the advantage.

Cerny saves

Sat behind me throughout the match is a young couple and their two kids. One of the kids sits at peace. The younger one, a toddler, spends practically the entire 90 minutes kicking the back of my seat.

In the second half the roof falls in for Accies. Seven minutes into the half and a clumsy challenge from Martin Canning brings about both a penalty and a red card. The sending off was possibly a little bit harsh, but Boyd makes no mistake with the penalty and Rangers, with the extra man advantage set out to make it count.

Boyd’s hat-trick is a simple tap in after a good long ball from Ferguson and a pinpoint cross from Steven Davis. Substitute Kyle Lafferty knocks in the fifth as Rangers start to score the kind of goals I bang in when I’ve got Pro Evo on the amateur setting.

Nineteen-year-old Aarón Niguez comes on a substitute to make his debut with eleven minutes to go. He wears simply ‘Aarón’ on his jersey. Eager to get hold of the ball he looked pretty imprressive in the short time he was out there. He sets up Rangers’ sixth for his fellow sub Nacho Novo.

On his return to the team Steven Davis knocks in the seventh right at the end.

The referee blew for full-time on exactly 90 minutes. This caused one Bear behind me to rant how disgraceful it was that he would do such a thing.

According to their official statistics Rangers have 14 shots on target and 13 off target during the match. Hamilton have 4 shots off target and that goal is their only shot on target all day.

Highlights of the game are available on the BBC website.

Rangers defend a corner

This is the report from the Rangers website. The report from Accies’ website can be found here.

Rangers: McGregor, Whittaker, Bougherra, Weir, Papac, Davis, Mendes, Ferguson, Beasley (Aaron 79), Boyd (Lafferty 76), Miller (Novo 67). Subs Not Used: Alexander, Edu, Broadfoot, Little.

Scorers: Miller (11), Boyd (28, 52 pen, 62), Lafferty (80), Novo (88), Davis (90).

Hamilton: Cerny, Canning, Swailes, McLaughlin, Easton, McClenahan (Graham 71), McCarthy (Gibson 71), Neil, McArthur, Mensing, Thomas (Lyle 71). Subs Not Used: Murdoch, Elebert, Akins, Ettien.

Sent Off: Canning (51).

Scorers: McArthur (2).

Attendance: 48,282

Referee: Calum Murray

Game Eighteen – Glasgow City vs. Boroughmuir Thistle

December 1, 2008

Glasgow City vs. Boroughmuir

Glasgow City 12 vs. 0 Boroughmuir Thistle

Scottish Womens Premier League
Sunday 30th November 2008, Kick-off 2pm
Glasgow Green Football Centre, Glasgow

That’s right 12 (twelve) – nil.

It’s a freezing cold afternoon at Glasgow Green, or more accurately Glasgow Green Football Centre. I’m here to see my third women’s football match of the season. This one is the highest standard I’ve seen so far, or indeed I’m likely to see as Glasgow City are the current Women’s Premier League champions. Earlier in November, Glasgow, formed in 1998, also lifted the Women’s Premier League Cup for the first time.

Boroughmuir were promoted from the First Division last season, their third promotion in a row. At this point they were called Dalkeith Ladies. In 2007 Boroughmuir was formed when a group of parents whose daughters attended four primary schools in Edinburgh, decided to form a girls and ladies football club. Dalkeith joined up after they had secured promotion in May of this year.

The move to becoming Boroughmuir Thistle allows the team to provide players from under-9s on up a steady path into the top level of the women’s game.

The newly promoted side are managed by 65-times capped Scottish international Pauline MacDonald. As a player she played with the legendary Arsenal Ladies as well as Central Fife Ladies, Cumbernauld Ladies, Cove Rangers Ladies, Stenhousemuir Ladies, and Atlanta Classic and Miami Gliders in the US’s semi-professional W-League. Amongst other honours she holds three league winner’s medals, five Scottish Cup winner’s medals and a FA Cup winner’s medal.

She was helpless today however as Scotland under-19 international Ruesha Littlejohn was the star of the show with a double hat-trick.

The first goal came in the 8th minute when the Boroughmuir keeper fumbles a shot to leave Littlejohn with a simple tap-in. She misses two good chances in the following five minutes before bagging her second in 17 minutes with a nice finish.

A textbook header into the top left hand corner of the net completed her (first) hat-trick in the 25th minute. Glasgow City and Littlejohn’s fourth arrives just before the half-time whistle when the Boroughmuir keeper makes a good save only to see the rebound tapped into the net.

When the teams come back on for the second half you would have thought it was Glasgow who were trailing by four goals, such was their eagerness to score again. It only took them about 40 seconds into the half before they got the fifth as Littlejohn chipped a nice left foot shot into the top corner from about 12 yards out.

It’s nice to see a team not wishing to ease off when they already have the game sewn up.

Four minutes later Clare Gemmell makes the score 6-0. Boroughmuir simply have no possesion to speak of in Glasgow’s half. They hold on to the ball very little anywhere on the pitch. The gulf in class between the two sides was obvious from early on and Glasgow managed to turn it into goals.

Littlejohn dribbles around the keeper to finish off her six goal haul in the 55th minute. She spends the rest of the game attempting to provide goals for her team-mates as she fires several crosses into the box.

It turns out that the other two spectators alongside me are her parents. (Hello if you’re reading.) Her dad tells me that she’s been provided with more passes today than in the whole season so far.

Boroughmuir defend a throw in

Despite the scoreline the Boroughmuir keeper didn’t have the worst game ever. She did manage to make a few decent saves along the way. She makes a good stop in the 60th minute and the ball falls to one of her defenders, who instead of launching it away from goal, takes it for a walk, only to be swiftly dispossesed. A second later and it’s now 8-0.

Seven minutes after that Littlejohn slides a pass into the box for Katharina Lindner to slip the ball into the net for the ninth.

I had to feel sorry for the beleaguered Boroughmuir keeper at the loss of the tenth goal. She races out of her goal to clear more danger and collides with one of her defenders, the ball spinning free to an attacker. She lies prostrate a couple of yards outside the penalty area as Glasgow make it into double figures.

Another two goals follow to complete the demolition. It’s a cracking afternoon’s entertainment and the women’s game has now provided me with a goal average of 7.33 so far this season with 22 goals in three games.

Glasgow City have one more game to play, next week at Forfar, before the league goes into a two month long winter break.

Although the scoreline and Ruesha Littlejohn’s goal haul are pretty impressive they’re both a long way off the club record. Glasgow City’s biggest win in a match came in February 2004 when they thumped Motherwell 28-0 in a Scottish Cup second round tie. Scottish international Debbie McWhinnie helped herself to twelve goals that day.

A report of the game (yes, a report of a women’s football match!) is at Glasgow City’s excellent website.

Boroughmuir defend

Scorers: Littlejohn (8, 17, 25, 45, 46, 55), Gemmell (49, 84), Ross (60, 82), Lindner (67), Brown (76)

Attendance: 6 Again I’m not counting the numbers around the sidelines who are clearly staff and out-of-action players. The number of spectators who presumably weren’t related to, or are friends with players I can safely number at one.