BY CHRIS MARSHALL
Hello and welcome to the first of a semi-regular review of the Scottish football season so far by your friend in pie Meat Filled Pastries (@MFPTasty). So what’s been happening up north, well apart from the whole referendum business in many respects it’s business as usual, well almost. Let’s review.
European competition is something that starts in July and finishes in August north of the border, St. Johnstone repeated last years feat of beating a team that some people of heard of only to be knocked out by a team only yours truly and anyone looking for Slovakian bargains in Football Manger will have heard of while Motherwell went one better and didn’t even bother winning a game against a team nobody had ever heard of. Aberdeen fared better comfortably beating Daugava Riga, who one assumes were part of Latvia’s attempts to integrate rugby into their national sporting curriculum, before perhaps getting the best Scottish result in Europe so far this season by beating Groningen over two legs. Unsurprisingly Real Sociedad proved too strong in the penultimate round before the group stage but The Dandies were no disgrace especially when you considered the farce that was Celtic’s Champions League campaign.
Guided by new manager, ‘the Norwegian Klopp’, Ronny Deila (pronounced Dial-a as in Dial-a-Bus) things started smoothly enough with victory over KR Reykjavik but then came a two legged affair against Polish champions Legia Warsaw and boy did things get interesting there. On the field Celtic were totally outplayed over two legs losing 6-1 on aggregate but off the field Legia Warsaw’s inability to keep their pens in colour order and their protractor tidied away in their pencil case saw their second leg 2-0 victory voided due to a players ineligibility due to a previous years suspension. Celtic were awarded a 3-0 win and went through on away goals. Fair enough you think, but then you hear the player involved only played five minutes of the second leg with the tie well out of Celtic’s reach. A bit harsh you’re now thinking, but rules are rules UEFA said. Legia didn’t like this though so they first appealed to UEFA and then went on to the Court of Arbitration for Sport who politely told them to go away. Still incensed the Poles launched a twitter campaign using the phrase ‘Because Football Doesn’t Matter. Money Does’ resulting in a fine from Platini and co. Legia even tried to appeal to Celtic’s softer side by asking for a replay in the name of footballing integrity which Celtic placed in a drawer marked ‘Not on Your Nelly’ within the Parkhead boardroom’s filing cabinet.
With this all going on they faced Slovenian side Maribor, somewhat of a hoodoo club for Scottish sides having previously disposed of Rangers and Hibernian. After a 1-1 draw away from home, Celtic were confident of victory especially now they could play their games at Parkhead following the social rehabilitation of Glasgow that was carried out by the Commonwealth Games. Things however did not go to plan and Celtic were forced to swap Barcelona, Chelsea and Bayern for an Energy Drinks Company Team (Red Bull Salzburg), a Romanian Used Car Dealership XI (Astra Giurgiu) and a Croat team with a ‘Z’ in it (Dinamo Zagreb). Legia’s response on Twitter to Celtic’s Champions League elimination, ‘Football Won’.
It’s a sad state of affairs when even Scottish teams aren’t sure they want to be part of Europe’s second biggest continental club competition. Ronny Deila however thinks they can win it though, so that’s nice.
Please excuse my flippant reaction to the Celtic manager’s statment but a look at the domestic season so far would suggest that Ronny was maybe a little high on orange sherbet when he made this proclamation as the reigning champions (at the time of writing) currently sit fourth behind top of the table Dundee United. The Arabs are as close to footballing hipster chic as you will get in Scottish football while newly promoted Hamilton Accies and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who are tucked in behind, have average gates that would only leave Accrington Stanley and Morecambe in the Football League looking on with envy. At the bottom St. Mirren have been dreadful but Ross County have been dreadfuller (yes, I know that’s not a word). In fact the men from Dingwall have been so bad that the Adams dynasty that had brought so much success to the club has now been removed and replaced with Queen of the South manager Jim McIntyre who then promptly lost his first game in charge 3-0 to an Aberdeen side slowly shaking off the Sangria based hangover of their European adventures. Continual over achievers Motherwell and St. Johnstone have struggled but will improve in time whilst Dundee manager Paul Hartley is the latest Scottish manager touted as hot property, recently turning down Cardiff City following his success in winning each of Scotland’s lower tiers in the last 3 seasons.
Ah the lower tiers, that’s where all the glamour would be this season we were told but its not taken long for people to realise that will not be the case. Rangers can’t even afford to spend time worrying about the fact their financial difficulties are no closer to resolution and unlike recent seasons are unable to console themselves with the fact they are coasting the league already. That in part is down to Hearts who seem to be giving Rangers a bit of a master class in fiscal recuperation whilst also winning games in the Scottish Championship, leading the table as they do. Meanwhile Hibernian continue to be rubbish and currently float about the lower reaches of a division which is currently being propped up by part time sides Dumbarton and Cowdenbeath.
Ayr are the surprise leaders of League One ahead of full time sides Dunfermline Athletic and Morton perhaps buoyed by the renovation of the pie stall located in Somerset’s Park main stand. The Steak & Ale Pie is an absolute must for any visitor. While Airdrieonians join Cowdenbeath and Ross County in being the only teams yet to register a league victory this season. In League Two, where 3 sides are managed by former Scotland internationals, Arbroath lead the way with last season’s Scottish Cup darlings Albion Rovers close behind. The much vaunted managerial appointment of Barry Ferguson by Clyde looks all style and no substance with The Bully Wee currently filling the position of worse team in Scottish professional football – one now attached with the added threat of relegation. Now the 10th placed side at the end of the season face a play off against either the Highland or Lowland League champions positions currently filled by Turriff United and Edinburgh City although many expect Brora Rangers to coast the Highland competition.
For those that fancy a trip to Selkirk you will be lucky enough to see former Scottish international Garry O’Connor strut his rather rotund stuff at Yarrow Park. Oh how the mighty have fallen but at least he’s got a club as Scottish football’s Berti-acclaimed cheeky boy, James McFadden, continues to find himself on the free transfer market although it will be a major surprise to everyone if he plumbs the depths that O’Connor has done. Should he retire tomorrow he’ll always have Paris. The Scottish Cup is underway with Junior sides, members of the SJFA, the mischievous nephew of the Scottish Football Association once again handing out their traditional early round beatings to their non league rivals with Hurlford United’s 7-1 away win to Clachnacuddin worth a special mention.
The national team continue their rejuvenation under Gordon Strachan and ran Germany mighty close in Dortmund while The Tartan Army still seethe at the prospect of paying £42 to see such glamour games as Scotland v Georgia and Scotland v Gibraltar. Here’s a fun fact. My accommodation and match ticket package for next months game in Warsaw against Poland has cost me just £1 more than a single match ticket for November’s friendly with the Auld Enemy. That’s going to be fun, not only will we most likely get beat or optimistically draw, but we get to sing a national anthem about rising again two months after saying ‘Nah, you’re alright’. At least women’s football is in far ruder health with Glasgow City coasting to the last 32 of the Champions League while Scotland await their opponents in the play offs for Canada 2015 after comfortably finishing second in a group won by World Cup frequent flyers Sweden.
I think that’s all for now, I’ll be back in the coming weeks with an update on the cup competitions, and how both the men’s and women’s national sides progress in their respective qualifying campaigns.
As you may be aware I run a site dedicated to footballs ultimate half time snack, the pie you can find it at http://www.meatfilledpastries.com and you can always give me a follow and say ‘Hi’ on Twitter @MFPTasty.