It’s all a bit academic


“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride – where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”

Perhaps the first time an article about football has started with a quote from Jane Austen.  But my rare football wanderings had taken me to Scotland where it was all about Pride.  Motherwell came into their home game with Celtic in 4th place but if other results went against them, they could finish in the bottom six, meaning that they would play out the final weeks of the season in the “relegation” group rather than the top six “European” group.  Sitting 15 points behind 3rd place and a Europa League spot, and 15 points above the relegation Play-off, the season is essentially over for ‘Well.  Not so for the visitors to Celtic who are just a few wins from their fifth consecutive Premiership Championship.

The whole Promotion/Relegation split for the final five games of the season has rarely led to any excitement in the Scottish game.  This season the clubs who entered the final five games in 4th, 5th and 6th had nothing to play for in terms of the title or European football, whilst those in 7th, 8th and 9th were safe from relegation.  If the concept of introducing the system was to stop a hatful of dead rubbers at the end of the season then I think it may have failed, with at least half of the league already on their sun loungers.  Still, it could be worse – they could have adopted the Belgian Play-off system which Stephen Hawking tried to describe a few years ago, gave up and published his book “A Brief History of Time”.

26341907565_0f2ae4073f_zLet me rewind just a few paragraphs and start again.  Hi! How are you?  So with Lewes already relegated, and an inevitable 2-2 draw on the cards for their home game with Staines Town (it end 2-2 as well), I took advantage of a work trip to stay on in Glasgow and “tick off” two more Scottish Premiership grounds.  Not just any old two either – two that are separated by just three miles a river, a motorway and a racecourse.  Motherwell have been an almost permanent fixture in the top flight of Scottish football without ever really having the golden period that clubs such as Dundee United or Aberdeen had had.  In fact, this May marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of their last major honour, when they won the Scottish Cup.  The absence of Rangers from the top flight had given them the opportunity to try to be the “best of the rest” and had finished runners-up, inevitably to Celtic, two seasons ago.

Thanks to those pesky people at Sky Sports re-arranging this game, I could see two games in my afternoon with nothing more than an eight minute train ride and a ten minute walk, with Fir Park my first destination for the 12.30pm start.

My train from Glasgow Central would eventually end up, some thirteen hours later, in Penzance so not one to just have a little snooze on.  Twitter told me to head for the Brandon Works, just a couple of minutes from the station, for a decent beer.  Alas, even at 11.07am, it was heaving with away fans as too were all the bars en route to the ground.  The Football Grounds Guide suggested the Fir Park Social Club next to the ground which was doing a good impression of Jessops when I arrived (i.e closed down).  I had to console myself with a new pair of football socks (£5 in the sale) and a greetings card that said “Get ‘Well Soon” before I headed into the ground.

26315943256_e18b61071e_zNot many people know that just over a year ago Motherwell manager Mark McGhee was sort-of assisting good-old Lewes FC in their quest for cup glory.  We had parted ways with our management team but had the small matter of a Sussex Senior Cup Semi-Final to prepare for.  McGhee, in his role as Assistant to Scottish National Team boss Gordon Strachan, living on the South Coast and a School run acquaintance of one of our directors agreed to help on a “let me give you a bit of my ample experience” basis – nothing formal you understand but a few pointers as to what we could be doing better.  We beat Loxwood 3-0 and that will forever see Mark immortalised as the most successful non-manager that we’ve ever had.

12 months later and McGhee is doing a fine job in what must be a less stressful environment than Sussex Non-League football.  Manager of the month for the second time in just a few months, Motherwell had more than held their own in the top half of the league, actually beating Celtic away earlier in the season.  Despite the futility of the league split in their current situation, pride meant that a top half finish was desired and that almost certainly meant needing a point, or more, against the champions elect.

My good friend Stoffers had told me prior to the games that I would “love” Fir Park and “hate” New Douglas Park.  Michael knows we well and he was not far from the truth.  Fir Park was rocking with noise as the two teams emerged.  Celtic had filled the gigantic South Stand with their voracious support, whilst the Motherwell band of hardcore fans in the corner nearest the visitors tried to raise the roof themselves.  Talking of roofs, on the opposite side of the pitch from me was the strange Main Stand, named after former captain Phil O’Donnell stand which according to Simon Inglis in his book ‘The Football Grounds Of Great Britain’, was supposed to run the full length of the pitch and the frame was built accordingly but due to a dispute with a an owner of a house beyond the corner of that ground (a dispute which the club lost) it was never completed as intended. And we thought NIMBY’s were a modern thing.

Motherwell 1 Celtic 2 – Fir Park – Saturday 9th April 2016
It was a case of what could have been as the full-time whistle blew.  The stats will show that the visitors dominated the game, with 23 attempts on goal to Motherwell’s 9, but it could have so nearly been a point apiece.  The hero and villain of the game was Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths who bagged two goals, one in each half, but missed an earlier penalty, given for a soft challenge on the promising Patrick Roberts.

25739132863_7471401bc0_zFor most of the first half it looked like Men versus Boys (as opposed to Bhoys).  Even the ultra-neutral BBC website said “Celtic lorded it early on”.  It’s fair to say that Motherwell keeper Connor Ripley was the Man of the Match, making a string of saves when Celtic threatened to run away with it.  Somehow they needed 44 minutes to open the scoring, with Griffiths finally getting his goal and then running the full length of the pitch, evading his team mates, shedding his shirt on the way to reveal a natty black sports bra thing and picking up a yellow card for his fashion show.  Pointless.

McGhee must have read to The Dossiers (surely one of the best football club nicknames ever) as they came out firing on all cylinders.  McDonald had the ball in the Celtic net on 55 minutes but a linesman’s flag denied them their goal. Five minutes later McDonald got his goal, against his old club, thumping the ball home from close range. A point was probably enough for Motherwell, but they could sniff all three.

26341900495_c604d81e8d_zCeltic’s players started to bicker among themselves.  Kazim-Richards should have seen red for his reaction to a challenge from a Motherwell player and nothing appeared to be going right for them.  The title was never in doubt – for them the small matter of a long-overdue Old Firm meeting in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final in eight days was on their mind.  However, Griffiths once again proved to be their saviour, finally beating Ripley to score the winner with fifteen minutes left.

“Well done ‘Well.  Blown it again” said a chap as we filed out of the ground.  Apparently, it now needed Partick Thistle, St Johnstone and Dundee all to lose for Motherwell to stay in the top half.  And that, as my new friend told me, was as likely to happen as “Lulu marrying the Pope”.

Hamilton Academicals 2 Dundee 1 – New Douglas Park – Saturday 9th April 2016
As you get off the train at Hamilton West you follow the path that runs along side the track to get to New Douglas Park.  You walk past Sainsbury’s which was built back in 1995 on the site of Douglas Park, Hamilton Academicals former home.  Despite the new ground having been open for nearly fifteen years, it is still only two-sided with skin-flint fans able to watch the whole game from the Sainsbury’s loading bays.  It simply doesn’t look right, and whilst the facilities are adequate for the club and its ambitions, the whole ground feels unfinished.

25739156553_1d6104a17a_zIt would be hard for even the most fanatical of fans to whip up an atmosphere here, especially in freezing cold and wet conditions but the Dundee fans tried.  After Motherwell’s defeat earlier they knew that a point could be enough for their top six finish, with Hamilton, without a win at home for six months, there for the taking.  Alas, it wasn’t until the final few minutes of this game that Dundee realised that when it was too late.

Hamilton started the brighter of the two sides and took the lead after fifteen minutes when Crawford turned the ball into the bottom corner of the net.  Ten minutes later they were 2-0 up when a harsh penalty was given against Extabeguren and Garica Tena scored from the spot.

25739155073_e114329094_zThe game wasn’t the best – in fact the most enjoyable aspect was watching the Hamilton “youths” in the main stand trying to flex their muscles with a group of stewards.  One accidentally knocked a cap off a steward and was meekly forced to go and fetch it.

Scores from elsewhere meant that Dundee now needed to win and they finally woke up with fifteen minutes to play.  The substitute Harkins scored at last with minutes to go but they needed a win rather than a draw to give them an unlikely boost back into the top six.

Alas, it was not to be and I joined the disappointed Dundee fans as they headed out of the ground, in the realisation they had nothing left to play for in the season.

Another successful mission accomplished in Scotland.  News of Lewes’s standard 2-2 draw didn’t fill me with joy but a couple of pints of Candy Kaiser in the Brewdog pub before I headed back to England soon put that right.

Advertisements

Birmingham banish the Blues and send the Scots packing


Making a welcome return as the new season is about to get underway, is Brian Parish, one half of the Daggers Diary team.  His first assignment – get to Birmingham and home again to see the Super Caley Thistle.

I am never quite sure about what to make of the Pre-season friendly games that take place at this time of year. Criteria that I apply to other teams never apply to my own, and while there are times when I reckon that opposition have played quite well, I am never that optimistic about my own team.

Of course, if you haven’t seen your usual football buddies over the summer, then these types of games are ideal for catching up. There have been many games in July, where a group of us have gone along and had only a passing interest in the game going on on front of us. I know of many that will refuse to attend friendly games and there are times when I can see why.

Today marks the one week to go stage, before the Football League gets going with its first round of games. The daggers are at home today in a fixture against a Tottenham xi, which if the premier league and Greg Dyke gets their way, could become a league fixture in the not too distant future. I have decided though that I am not going to pay to watch a possible Spurs reserve side, and so have taken the decision to travel to the midlands in order to get another ground tick, and to watch my Scottish team, Inverness.

A year ago, I had been to one ground in the midlands, which given my history of watching football, was a massive oversight on my behalf. I had been to Coventry (both at Highfield Road and the Ricoh), but nowhere else. Last October, I finally got to see Wolves at Molyneux, but I am still missing out on Aston Villa, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion, as well as Walsall. The last of those is particularly annoying as the daggers have played them a few times in recent years, but the arranged date for the game has always clashed with something else.

photoLuckily I am going to be able to tick Birmingham City off the list today. A return train ticket of £18.50 from London Euston has persuaded me to make the journey, as well as the match ticket being only £7.

Saturday 2nd August 2014, Birmingham City v Inverness Caledonian Thistle, St. Andrews

Looking at Birmingham from outside he club, last season looked to be a right old struggle. Maintaining their status in the Championship division was probably not what most had in minds when the campaign started a year ago. With relegation avoided, it is to be hoped that the club can move further up the table this year, and not give their support quite so many sleepless nights.
For Caley thistle, 2013/14 will go down as the year that they made their first major cup final, and although it ended in defeat on penalties to Aberdeen, there was plent to be pleased about. There have been no major departures over the summer, and while Richie Foran will miss the start of the season, the club have to be looking at trying to finally crack a top four place. Continue reading

Lennon’s European dream – haven’t we heard it all before?


Celtic’s emphatic 5-1 victory at Partick Thistle on Wednesday night ensured an equally impressive 45th Scottish league title with seven games to spare.

Unrivalled in the league since Rangers’ dramatic decline three years ago, the green half of Glasgow has dominated the Scottish top flight and there seems little sign of that ending.

Yet not all is rosy north of the border. Neil Lennon’s job remains in doubt despite a third straight league title because of another disappointing UEFA Champions League outing that saw Celtic win just one of six group games.

Although Lennon insists his side is ready to compete on the continent, a strong feeling among fans remains that the manager is not up to the task – and with Celtic forced to make the group stages through two tricky qualifying rounds, there is a lot at stake this summer.

Continue reading

Daggers the Brave


Whilst the rest of us spent an afternoon in the shops as our games fell by the wayside, the Daggers Diary team headed north to take in a couple of games in Scotland.

I know that I am quite lucky to be able to do what I do. Most weekends I attend a game, whether it be with the Daggers, or venturing slightly further afield. Take this weekend for example. A whole hour before the coach leaves Victoria Road for the Daggers trip to Rochdale, Dagenham Dan and I are sitting in Southend airport for the first time this month, waiting for a flight north to Edinburgh for a two game weekend.

Despite the fact that Scotland is next door (and for the moment) still part of the UK, this will be only my second football trip north, while this will be Dan’s first ever trip across the border. The only other game I have ventured to in Scotland was up in Inverness, for a comprehensive win against Dundee United, in September 2012. Hopefully our two games this weekend will be as good as that one.

Although we have done plenty of these trips, the early alarm is still a shock to the system, and when it shatters the silence at just after 4am, it is at a snail’s pace that I clamber out of my pit for our trip to Southend airport.

Our flight up is by not full, so we have plenty of space to spread out. We are also the first flight out, and leave roughly on time. With a flight time of an hour, it won’t be long before we are back on the ground, and in the Scottish capital.

Saturday 1st February 2014, Livingston v Queen of the South, Energy Assets Arena

IMG_3268Not only is this Dan’s first game in Scotland, but also his 1300th in total. It’s taken just over twenty-two years to get to this total, which works out at a fairly decent average number of games per year.

Having spent the morning at Edinburgh castle, we head out to Livingston around 1pm, for our first game of the weekend. The journey from Edinburgh is not too bad by train, with it taking only about twenty minutes to reach our destination station. The twenty-minute walk at the other end is thankfully completed without it raining.

As a club, Livingston FC didn’t exist twenty years ago. Ok, that isn’t quite true, as it was formerly Meadowbank Thistle (and previously Ferranti Thistle). Back in 1995, the club moved from the Meadowbank stadium in Edinburgh where they had been for twenty years, to the new town of Livingston, meaning not only a new stadium, but a change of name as well. The clubs history pages in their website makes it clear that the move was simply because the owner at the time, Bill Hunter, felt that there was limited potential sharing a City with Hibernian and Hearts, so the club was moved twenty miles down the road.

The early part of the 21st century were clearly good for the new club, finishing third in 2002, and winning the league cup two years later, but financial problems have beset the club in recent times. Now though, they appear to be stable and promotion back to the top flight of Scottish football must be the aim. Continue reading

Our Marathon Man takes on Loch Ness


Brian Parish choses Scottish Premier League football over his beloved Dagenham & Redbridge….but for more reasons than just a decent pie.

Last year, I jetted off to Toronto to run a marathon that turned into a bit of an ice hockey fest as well. Attending two games over the course of three days could definitely be marked up as “ambition achieved”. Last year though, I had the holiday from work to be able to fly across the Atlantic for an eight day trip for running and hockey. This year though, having spent a fair few days visiting Olympic Park for various sporting events, I am a bit lighter in the holiday allowance than I was twelve months ago, so I have looked closer to home for my marathon trip.

Having done a bit of research, I came up with a trip to Inverness for the Loch Ness marathon. A few people from my running club had completed it, and it sounded like a good idea, so back in March, I signed up, booked my flights, and sorted out the hotel.

Of course, signing up for a trip like this meant that I also needed the fixture list to be kind, and therefore needed Inverness to be at home the weekend I would be in town. Not only that, but I needed them to be playing a league game that I could get a ticket for.

With all of the Rangers stuff going on over the summer, when the fixtures did appear with “Team 12” included, I didn’t know what to think; whether the list would be re-done, or whether they would stay as originally announced. The original list had Inverness at home to Dundee United on the marathon weekend, so I kept a watch on the fixtures. When this was confirmed, I bought my ticket and so the day before running another twenty-six miler, I finally get to go to my first game in Scotland.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle was a club born of a merger between two clubs that had over a century of history each. Thistle FC (formed 1885) and Caledonian (1886) joined forces when the Scottish league was expanded from thirty-eight to forty clubs in 1994. As with many mergers between clubs, this did not go down well with the support of both teams, but at least it bought the Scottish Football League to a region of the country that had (by the looks of things) only encountered them when the Scottish Cup came around. Having spent half of their first season playing home games at Aberdeen while their original stadium was made ready for the SFl, they eventually got back to the capital of the Highlands in January 1994, and beat Dunfermline in their first game back. Continue reading