Begg To Differ Review

ALLY Begg is a well known name in the Football Broadcasting world having established himself at MUTV and Celtic TV en route to his Production role at BEIN Sports in Qatar.

He is also a fellow Aberdeen fan, who followed me on Twitter when I started blogging where I returned the favour, and he never hides his love for the Dons, occasionally blogging himself and doing podcasts for bytheminafc, speaking so passionately on how he wants to see his team approach again.

Ally has also written a book called Begg To Differ. He takes pride in posting reviews from his readers who’ve spoke kindly about it, including Aberdeen defender Andrew Considine, and I always promised to buy his book and see what the fuss was about. It took me a while, such is life with a toddler who is much higher in the priority list, but eventually bought the book and found the time to read it – and I wasn’t to be disappointed!

Ally talks about life growing up as a Dons fan during the halcyon days of Sir Alex Ferguson. The tales of how his dad always kept him sweating about getting Cup Final tickets and delivering, being soaked to the bone before that famous Cup Winners Cup Final in 1983, how he couldn’t concentrate at school ahead of a big European game he’d go to or listen to and the typical emotions he went through whenever Aberdeen scored or won a big game.

Having been brought up through the glory years, it must’ve been a culture shock to Ally to come to terms with Aberdeen going through two decades of mediocrity, from being regular title winners and Cup Final attendees to being content with a top four finish and suffering the odd cup upset and flirtation with relegation. Even though he was busy with his varying work commitments, he still made time to follow the Dons and always kept up to date, the act of a true fan.

Ally also talks about his brief music career with Bad Boys Inc and it was refreshing to see someone acknowledge the flip side to the public persona of an entertainer, where people perceive them as rich and happy. He speaks of how uncomfortable he found life as a pop star, to the extent where fans were camping out on his parents lawn just to get pictures of autographs with him at a point he wanted privacy. He also revealed that the band members didn’t make a lot of money during the three years they were together and that the majority of the cash went into the producers pocket rather than the people who gave them the top ten hits. It goes to show that life in the limelight isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be and Ally was big enough to admit he wasn’t comfortable with the publicity.

What I found really fascinating about the book was Ally’s constant reference to his late father and his undeniable gratitude to the man who brought him up, along with his mother of course. The Dons poem he’d written for an Aberdeen match day programme was brilliant and Ally speaks with pride every time his dad is mentioned, whether it’d be tales of games they went to or how he’d be there at a time where Ally was down to put his arm around him, such as the Bad Boys Inc experience.

I can relate to Ally in many ways. He supports Aberdeen, a very family orientated guy, played football (until a bad leg break ended that for him) and does the occasional writing when he can. The only difference is he’s managed to fulfil a career in the media, partly because of people he knows in the industry giving him the opportunity but mainly because of his talent, passion and determination to make something for himself. I would’ve loved to have had a career in football journalism, unfortunately I didn’t get the breaks but enjoy what I do now and I’m pleased to see Ally do so well and not forget his roots along the way. The book was thoroughly enjoyable, spoken from the heart and no bullshitting along the way. I’ll also add there is a touch of class in that he’s not naming people who’ve caused him grief along the way in his professional career, shows he’s not dragging himself down to their level.

The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson himself agreed to Foreward Begg To Differ says it all about how well respected a person Ally Begg is to the Football Media Industry!

Great book Ally, Merry Christmas to you and your family!


The Strachan Debate

THE fifteenth European Championship Finals in two days time marks another campaign that has passed Scotland by as we reflect, yet again, on what might have been.

Instead of preparing for a first finals in 18 long years, the Scots were used as warm-up opposition for Italy and France.

Judging by the performances shown by Scotland, both sides will face sterner opposition in their respective Euro 2016 matches.

Over the two friendlies, Scotland failed to register a shot on target and were fortunate to get away with just a 1-0 defeat to the Italians before the tournament hosts cruised to a 3-0 win in Nice.

The performances have once again brought the future of Gordon Strachan to the fore with fans torn as to whether he should stay or go.

It’s a far cry from the euphoria amongst the Tartan Army when he got the job where, unlike previous appointments, he was the fans choice.

For a while, things were improving under Strachan following an upturn in results and performances towards the end of the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign, having been as good as eliminated when he took over, and the Euro 2016 campaign started positively with 10 points from the first five matches.

In the last year, however, things have started to go wrong as Scotland ended up finishing fourth in their group and failing yet again to qualify for a major finals.

The decline began almost a year ago in Dublin when Scotland, then joint second in the group, faced an Ireland side dining in the last chance saloon in terms of their qualification hopes knowing defeat would end their hopes of going to France.

Instead of going for the win that would’ve killed Ireland off and keeping ourselves in touch with Poland and Germany, Scotland, having equalised two minutes into the second half and had momentum, didn’t try to win the game and settled for a draw.

I was slated on my Facebook page for being embarrassed at sections of the Tartan Army that day for celebrating that result. A draw against a bang-average international side there for the taking was nothing to celebrate, it shows small time mentality that you’re delighted at a draw. 

Had it sealed qualification, then yeah celebrating a draw would’ve been justified but there were still four games to go.
Defeat in Georgia was, quite simply, embarrassing. Going into the game saying “we don’t need to win” was not the sign of a confident side and our fear overcame us as we lost to a team who’d only won four of their previous 35 matches.

We then went down 3-2 to the World Champions Germany before a last minute Robert Lewandowski goal gave Poland a 2-2 draw at Hampden that, coupled with Ireland’s shock win over the Germans, killed our Euro 2016 hopes.

As the case with the previous eight World Cup and European Championship qualifying campaigns, many of us blamed a lack of good luck in our favour for our continuous failure to qualify for these finals.

That is a get out from the reality of Scotland’s position, the simple fact is we weren’t good enough, technically and mentally.

I’ll elaborate on the latter because that was a particular element in why our performances and results dipped in the second half of the campaign.

Going to Ireland being content with a point is Exhibit A. Whilst it can be argued that four points out of six against one of your main rivals is decent, with more ambition we could’ve knocked Ireland out of the equation in stead of letting them back in.

Saying that we didn’t need to beat fifth-seed Georgia was also the sign of a weak mentality that’s come into this Scotland side. If you’re going to qualify, you need to adopt the mindset that each game is a winnable one, even if the odds are stacked against you. The fact that Poland and Ireland both beat Germany emphasises that, yet we looked fearful that we’d come unstuck in Tblisi – and that’s why those two, along with the Germans, are in France whilst we are licking our wounds again.

Which brings me back to the main point of this blog – is Gordon Strachan the right man for the job going forward?

The case for him going, aside from the results, is that he’s fallen into the same trap as his predecessors by continuously picking players off form and lacking game time and by stubbornly sticking to one system because it suits the current group.

The case for him staying is the fact we did make progress following the horrific tenures of Burley and Levein and the argument that there is nobody who can do better with the players at our disposal.

For me, it comes down to the fact that it’s well known that the SFA will go for the first Scot who wants the job, therefore what’s the point in a “Strachan Out” campaign.

The SFA, media and elements of the Tartan Army have it stuck in their heads that, because Berti Vogts was deemed a failure, all foreign managers are not right for Scotland.

It’s this theory that saw the penny-pinching, short-sighted SFA to turn away Swede Lars Lagerback and plump for Craig Levein. Our loss is definitely Iceland’s gain.

So we will go into the World Cup 2018 qualifiers with Strachan, I’m content but not overly excited at that prospect but Scotland’s problems are far more deep rooted than at managerial level.

We don’t have players playing at the top level for the top clubs, we have average players who are squad players at most bottom half Premier League to Championship sides and there aren’t many young hopefuls knocking at the door.

The sooner we realise we’re not good enough the quicker we can do something about it from top to bottom so that future Scotland sides can flourish.

For now, let’s enjoy another tournament as neutrals and reflect once more on what might have been – we’ve had 18 years of practice!

Euro 96 – the last Euro qualification and 20 years of hurt

TWENTY YEARS, two decades since England hosted the 10th European Championships, marketing the event as “Football’s coming home” – that’s scary to think that Euro 96 was that long ago!

It’s also scary to think that the tournament was Scotland’s last appearance amongst Europes elite, with the World Cup in France two years later being the last of any major finals to grace the presence of the Tartan Army.

This years finals, ironically in France, marks the fifth consecutive Euros that have passed since Craig Browns men graced the finals on Auld Enemy territory that included a mouth-watering tie against the hosts at Wembley.

Although we were also drawn with Holland and Switzerland, it was the match with England that all Scotland fans were looking forward to the most and the prospect of turning over the Auld Enemy that boasted a talented squad with the likes  of Alan Shearer, Steve McManaman and, in particular, Paul Gascoigne, who was starring for Rangers at the time.

For me, this was the first European Championships I got excited about. Sure, I remember bits of Euro 92 in Sweden, more so the Scotland games and Denmark’s remarkable victory in the final against Germany, but I don’t recall much of the build up and taking anything in regarding the TV coverage.

Euro 96 was different, I remember being as excited as any Scot when I saw the draw in January 1996 and saw us drawn against our biggest rivals on their home turf and the build up to the finals was fever pitch.

The fact the tournament expanded to 16 definitely made the Euros more appealing than in previous years and, given the finals were in England, both the BBC and ITV gave it their full attention for three weeks.

Each tournament always throws up the debate on which station offered the best coverage and who came up with the best intro. In ’96, ITV’s intro with the Jerusalem tune and shots over some of England’s best landscapes was the better but, as with most campaigns, the BBC edged the overall coverage, fronted by Mr Smoothie himself Des Lynam.

Back to Scotland, I remember thinking, despite boasting a decent squad ourselves containing the likes of Gary McAllister, a title winner at Leeds four years earlier, and John Collins, who was about to join French side Monaco that summer, we were going to go out after the first two games.

The opening match against the Dutch at Villa Park changed that pessimistic view to one of optimism that we could actually progress. Sure we rode our luck, particularly when a goal bound header hit Collins on the arm that the referee didn’t notice, but we equipped ourselves well in the game and our solid back line in Colin Hendry, Colin Calderwood and Tom Boyd, backed up by the safe hands of Andy Goram in goal, gave us assurance that we would be difficult to beat.

Our unlikely point increased the hype as the Tartan Army marched to Wembley to face an England side under pressure given they’d only drawn their opener against Switzerland.

At half time, things were looking good as the Scots controlled much of the first half that ended goalless.

However, Terry Venables team talk had an immediate effect as they dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second half, culminated in Shearer heading the hosts in front.

Scotland rallied, created a couple of chance then came the break they needed when Tony Adams upended Gordon Durie in the penalty box.

This was it, the moment we needed to draw level and possibly go onto win this.

In Gary McAllister, we had one of the best penalty takers in the Premier League, off the top of my head only Matt Le Tissier and Eric Cantona had better records. I for one was confident that he’d score.

Unfortunately, the normally cool skipper opted for power over placement in that high-pressure situation and David Seaman flung his elbow up to divert the ball over the bar.

Two minutes later came the ultimate sucker punch delivered by none other than Gascoigne with, in painful admittance, a moment of genius as he lifted the ball over Hendry and lashed the ball beyond Goram to seal victory for the hosts.

It was, for me, the most heartbreaking Scotland game of all time, not just the defeat but that five minutes where we went from within touching distance of picking up at least a well earned point to despair, and at the hands of England!

Three days later, we faced Switzerland at Villa Park with a faint hope of qualification if we won by three goals and if our old foe could do us a turn by beating the Dutch.

Things looked promising as Ally McCoist scored a screamer to put us in front whilst a Shearer penalty gave England a half time lead.

1-0 in both games was not enough so a goal rush was needed – and it came at Wembley as they raced into a FOUR goal lead, meaning that our slender lead was enough to see us progress to the Quarter Finals.

It was surreal actually WANTING England to win but didn’t mind on this one occasion as we were on the verge of history.

Of course, this is Scotland and, when it looks as though we might achieve progression at a major finals, something cruel happens to deny us as Patrick Kluivert slipped the ball through Seaman’s legs. Suddenly, we needed a second goal and, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t deliver and went out on goal difference again.

Yet again, Scotland were going home to the echoes of “glorious failure” despite three decent performances that, ultimately, went unrewarded.

Given the pre-tournament expectations, nobody could say that we underachieved and did punch above our weight but couldn’t deliver that knockout blow when it mattered. 

Euro 96 was a special tournament that wasn’t just centred around the Scotland team. Some other fond memories include Davor Sukers wonderful chip over Peter Schmiechel, the emergence of a talented Czech Republic side that surprised everyone by reaching the final, that dramatic semi final between England and Germany and Oliver Bierhofs golden goal that won the tournament for the Germans.

But it’s Scotland’s efforts I treasure the most from Euro 96, even more so now given our 18 year exile from tournament football.

I’d love to sit here and say we can qualify for either the next World Cup and European Championships, however I’d struggle to convince myself let alone anyone else given the lack of Scots playing at the highest level, not at teams flirting between the tail end of the Premier League and top end of the Championship.

Until we start producing top players again, the Tartan Army will continue to watch these tournaments as mere neutrals.

For now, all we can do is reminisce on those times we did qualify and Euro 96 brings back painful but ultimately fond memories when Scotland put us through a roller coaster of emotions on Auld Enemy territory.

Scottish Cup Final – the great and the downright ugly of our game

JOURNALISTS and bloggers across the country should be talking about the story of how Hibs ended their 114 year wait for Scottish Cup glory after victory over Rangers in the best Cup Final since 1991.

They done it in the most dramatic fashion with an injury time winner from skipper David Gray clinching a famous 3-2 victory.

What should’ve been a celebration then turned into complete mayhem as Hibs supporters in their thousands ran onto the pitch, followed by hundreds of Rangers fans before, eventually, Police on horseback got the fans off the pitch.

Amidst the mayhem were scenes of sheer thuggery as some Hibs fans attacked Rangers staff, including pictures of Rangers captain Lee Wallace being punched, and fights between both sets of supporters.

This was not the ending the occasion deserved and these scenes are what people will primarily identify when they look back on the 2016 Scottish Cup Final.

First of all, the Hibs fans should not have been entering the pitch. Yes, they were euphoric at their club ending the longest running joke in football and, for the majority, they went on with the sole intention to celebrate. But going onto the pitch was always going to lead to trouble, especially at an occasion like the Scottish Cup Final and the animosity between both clubs.

Whilst the vast majority of those who ran on were rejoicing their clubs victory, there were a minority of complete idiots who overstepped the mark by attacking Rangers players, allegedly six plus Assistant Manager David Weir, and goading the Rangers fans.

Of course, the opposition fans reacted and thus also brought shame on their club as well. The argument of “they only reacted to players being attacked” doesn’t wash, they should not have went onto the pitch to attack Hibs fans, they should’ve stayed away and let the Hibs fans continue to shame their club and let the authorities sort them out.

By going on as well, in addition to their sectarian singing, they’ve put their club in a bad light despite the ridiculous statement from their club, released last night, blaming almost everyone but themselves, specifically Hibs, the SFA, the BBC and Nicola Sturgeon.

Hibs I agree with, fact is that had their fans stayed in their stands, this mayhem would never have started in the first place. The fact their Chairman Rod Petrie played it down as “114 years of exuberance” was ill-advisable, pitch invasions invariably lead to trouble, especially on an occasion like the Scottish Cup Final, and Petrie needs to have a proper look at what happened before he opens his mouth again.

The SFA, I partly see their point as they are, ultimately, responsible, in conjunction with Police Scotland, for the security at the ground. To be blunt, they failed spectacularly to do their job. Normally, there are hundreds of Police and Stewards aligned in front of the stands before the final whistle to prevent people going onto the pitch. There were nowhere near the normal number at the final whistle on Saturday and, as a result, it was the first pitch invasion at a National Cup Final since 1980.

There was some redemption with the Police intervention on horseback to prevent things getting worse than it turned out but their initial failures, along with the Stewards, contributed to the mayhem that unfolded.

The Rangers gripe with the SFA on not condemning Hibs though is harsh. At the time, Chief Executive Stewart Reagan commented on the overall scenes and, rightly, condemned them. He stopped short in condemning one club over the other, which is the right thing to do until the investigation into those shameful scenes are concluded, especially given there was more than one party involved.

However, their attack on the BBC and Nicola Sturgeon were, quite frankly, out of order. The BBC dig goes back to a long running dispute with the organisation and this was a cheap dig at them. As for the First Minister, this was because she tweeted that she was delighted for her Hibs supporting husband immediately after the game. Being offended by that tweet really is pathetic and, what Rangers are forgetting, she had a day off from her duties that she is entitled to. Today, her spokesperson condemned the mayhem and reiterated that the Scottish Government, along with the SFA and Police Scotland, are investigating what went on. They can’t do anymore at this stage, something that needs to be acknowledged by Rangers.

The statement smacks of sheer anger in the midst of the mayhem. I get their frustrations given the fact their players have been attacked and that they want those guilty to be punished. However, elements of their statement need to be retracted and, if anything, they should be working in tandem with the authorities not putting a massive wedge between them.

The people I feel sorry for in the drama that unfolded are the Hibs players and coaching staff. They’ve had to overcome years of ridicule, question marks over their bottle, taunts of “Hibsed it” to get their hands on the famous old trophy, only for their chance to do the lap of honour be taken away because of the trouble started by a minority of their own fans.

Yes they got to lift the trophy in front of their own fans but they couldn’t properly celebrate and, no matter how much the players try to hide it, it’s soured the day in many respects for them.

As the fallout goes raging on, debate is rife as to what punishments should be dished out.

In my view, Hibs should face a huge fine, going well into tens of thousands of pounds. Kicking them out of Europe, stripping them of the Cup would be a very harsh punishment, it would be unfair to punish the players for their fans behaviour and it is a first offence for the club, albeit a huge one. A hefty fine, which will affect their ability to attract better players over the summer, is sufficient enough with tougher sanctions in future should their fans not heed this warning.

Rangers shouldn’t escape punishment either as, provoked or not, their fans should never have entered the field of play either though their punishment should be a small proportion of the fine Hibs should get.

Hopefully, the Independent Commission, appointed by the SFA, will reach a swift and adequate conclusion so we can all move on.

It really is shocking that the climax to the Scottish Football season has been soured by a mindless of idiots, whatever their intention, breaking the law by running into the pitch with some overstepping the mark by attacking players.

There have been people campaigning to scrap the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, established in 2012.

After Saturday, is there a genuine reason to back up their campaign?

Playoffs are good but make them better!

FIVE days to go until the Scottish Premiership Playoff Final between Kilmarnock and Falkirk to see which side will dine at Scottish Football’s top table next season.

It’s the first meeting between the two sides since 2010, which, coincidentally, was a relegation decider on the final day of the season at Rugby Park.

A 0-0 draw that day preserved Killie’s status and sent the Bairns into the First Division, now renamed The Championship.

Now Peter Houston’s young side, buoyant after their dramatic Semi Final victory over Hibs, are after revenge on a Kilmarnock side who’ve toiled from the outset this season and are desperate to avoid falling out of the Premiership for the first time since 1992/93.

There is excitement from the neutrals as the sides 11th in the Premiership and 2nd in the Championship prepare to do battle to see whether their side will be going to Parkhead and Pittodrie or Cappielow and Easter Road next season.

It’s a far cry from just three years ago when the playoffs weren’t an option and Scotland’s second tier was the only senior league in Europe where second place went completely unrewarded.

Opening up the playoff system to Scotland’s top flight has generated much needed excitement in our game and given second tier clubs a better opportunity of promotion, unlike the monotonous one-up one-down system in force for 15 years.

However, there is one obvious flaw in the playoff system concerning the top flight that differs from the bottom two divisions.

The fact that Kilmarnock didn’t have to play in a Semi Final scenario unlike their opponents gives them an advantage having had the luxury of being able to rest players in preparation for the big game, having known their fate with two games to go.

It would’ve been a bigger advantage for them if they were to face Hibs or Raith Rovers, the third and fourth placed sides, who faced each other just for the right to face Falkirk.

In the Championship and League One playoffs, the second bottom side of the higher league faces the fourth place side in the Semi Final for the right to face second or third in that division for a place in the second or third tier in Scottish Football.

That system should be implemented in the top flight as well and it’s a mockery that the current system is heavily weighted in the Premiership clubs favour.

It is argued that the Premiership side do play two extra league matches and, technically, Kilmarnock’s season ended the day after Falkirk’s second leg victory, therefore have less recovery time to prepare for Thursday’s game.

However, that doesn’t get away from the fact that they have to play just two matches to survive whilst Falkirk had to play four for promotion, and had Hibs progressed they will have had six playoff matches just to earn their top flight status.

Of course, the only way the short-sighted SPFL Premiership Chairmen agreed to the playoffs in the first place was this system and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

It would be better if a similar system to the Championship and League One was implemented to the top flight and even make the final a one-legged affair at a neutral venue.

For now, though, we gave the prospect of two cracking matches between a young Falkirk side, very well organised by Peter Houston and have only lost four league matches all season, against a Kilmarnock team who’ve struggled for consistency and had to change manager when Lee Clark replaced the much maligned Gary Locke.

Given the negativity around our game, mainly driven by the ineptitude of our governing bodies and the lack of serious competition to Celtic’s title, it’s good to see that the Playoffs have added excitement and drama into Scottish Football, and that goes across all four divisions.

There’s no reason to suggest why Thursday and Sunday’s affair between Kilmarnock and Falkirk won’t be any different.

PS – congratulations to Edinburgh City on their promotion from the Lowland League into League Two. It’s about time there was new blood coming into our senior game, and a reminder to those content at loitering in the fourth tier that there are ambitious clubs ready to take there place and, potentially, progress up the ranks. 

Why sales over success proved costly for Dundee United

MONDAY 2 May 2016 will be a day to remember North and South of the border for two contrasting reasons.

Leicester City made history by becoming English Champions for the first time, a year since they flirted precariously with relegation.

Whilst, arguably, the greatest underdog story ever told was happening in the Midlands, one of Scottish Football’s biggest clubs, Dundee United, were relegated from the top flight.

The worst thing about United’s demise was that the final nail in their coffin was hammered in by arch rivals Dundee at Dens Park, the scene of United’s first and only title triumph in 1983 plus two League Cup triumphs.

United’s fall has been dramatic over the last 15 months and it’s fair to say that their decline began on 2 February last year on transfer deadline day.

The club, who had beaten Aberdeen in the League Cup Semi Final and were still challenging the Dons for second spot, sold key players Gary MacKay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong to their League Cup Final opponents Celtic.

That move gave the impression that Chairman Stephen Thompson was more interested in cashing in on his assets than lifting silverware.

As results started to go against the club, it emerged that then Manager Jackie McNamara was making a significant profit from the sales, which didn’t sit well with fans who, justifiably, believed that McNamara had a bigger incentive to sell players than deliver results.

United’s form, unsurprisingly, took a dramatic dip. They timidly lost the League Cup Final to Celtic and won only three of their remaining 15 matches, finishing a mammoth 19 points behind the Dons and falling to fifth in the League, thus missing out on European qualification.

For a club who’s target was to finish best of the rest, this was a truly appalling end to their season and they never recovered.

They lost striker Nadir Ciftci to Celtic and started the season poorly, resulting in McNamara’s sacking less than an hour after a defeat by St Johnstone. Whilst some argue his job became harder with the sales of his three biggest assets to Celtic, the fact he profited from those sales meant he’d lost respect of the fans and, arguably, his players.

United used the international break in October to recruit their new man and, despite Stuart McCall openly being welcome to an approach, Thompson went down the former player route in appointing Mixu Paatelainen.

Sure, he was a good player and respected where he went but, as a manager, he wasn’t what Dundee United needed in a tough battle to get out of trouble.

Five wins in 25 games tells it’s own story as United fell further adrift and never put their rivals under any pressure to overhaul them as they limped towards the Championship, unsurprisingly leading to the Finn losing his job.

Too often this season, United led matches but threw them away, ten in fact costing them 30 points, which would’ve seen them challenging for third place, a position meriting their budget.

But the players weren’t worth the wages as it turned out and it wasn’t a surprise when 8 out of contract players were told they’d be following Paatelainen out the door with several others being asked to look for another club as United seek to trim the wage bill.

It looks as though another former player, Raith manager Ray McKinnon who took his side to the playoffs inky to lose out to Hibs, is going to be the next manager. Given his work at Raith and his previous club Brechin, it’s understandable why McKinnon has been identified with his knowledge of the lower divisions and what it takes to win games at that level.

However, despite their stature, there is no guarantee of a quick return to the top flight. If Hibs bottle goes yet again where it matters, they’ll be favourites next season to go up and sides like Falkirk (should they not go up) and St Mirren are ahead in their planning, Queen of the South have flirted with promotion the previous two campaigns and Dunfermline being promoted means there will be stiff competition for a United side rebuilding as they ponder life in the Championship.

For Chairman Stephen Thompson, he knows that, if he’s to have any hope of winning back the Tangerine faithful, his sole focus must be on putting a promotion winning Dundee United side back on the park and not cash in on sellable assets, not that there are many left after their relegation.

It’s going to be a very busy summer for Ray McKinnon (presuming he takes the job) as he seeks to take his boyhood team back into the top flight.

Time will tell if he can bring in the players with desire to get them out of a tough division.

Hillsborough: why was it hard to say sorry?

TWENTY seven years, five different Governments, two inquests, costs of around £80m in public money.

All this hassle for the bereaved families of 96 Liverpool supporters, who never came home from Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, to finally learn what they knew all along – that those who lost their lives were unlawfully killed.

Over a quarter of a century of lies and smears were finally unraveled this week when the Hillsborough Inquest delivered a majority verdict, completely overturning the controversial 1991 ruling of accidental death.

For the families of the 96, it is quite simply unacceptable to wait nearly three decades for answers on why their loved ones died as a result of a fatal crush before the 1989 FA Cup Semi Final with Nottingham Forest.

They’ve had to face accusations that their fellow supporters caused the tragedy, forced open an exit gate, even urinating and stealing from the dead and the taunts of a minority of rival fans.

All of this pain and public expense could all have been avoided if South Yorkshire Police had said five words – Sorry, we got it wrong!

A simple statement admitting their own blunders in failing to close the tunnel leading to the over-crowded pens and lack of response as the disaster unfolded would’ve given the families immediate closure and an opportunity to grieve.

Sure, there would still have been anger towards the Police for letting the disaster happen in the first place but at least people could move on over a much shorter period of time.

Instead of admitting blame, South Yorkshire Police decided to cover the whole thing up and blame “drunken hooligans” for causing the crush, which was an easy option given English football fans reputation in the 80’s, culminating in Liverpool supporters (a small minority it must be pointed out) causing the death of 39 Juventus fans in the 1985 Heysel disaster.

Even from the first minutes after it became clear supporters were dying, Match Commander David Duckenfield told the FA that fans forced the gate open, a story that was communicated live on TV by commentator John Motson acting on information he had wrongly been fed.

That night, the late Peter Wright admitted that Duckenfield ordered the opening of the gate but put the blame firmly on the late arrival of drunken ticketless fans and the lies gathered momentum from there, heightened by The Suns famous headline “The Truth”, a headline that has cost the paper a substantial amount of sales in the City.

When the 1991 inquiry ruled “accidental death”, the Government and Police thought that was the end of their carpet sweeping move but the families refused to accept this verdict and continued their fight for the truth.

For many years, their pleas for a new inquest fell on deaf ears as the laws of the land and various governments turned a blind eye to the berieved desperate to find out the truth.

The pendulum swung when a campaign spearheaded by MP Andy Burnham, who’s speech at a memorial service was interrupted by chants of “justice for the 96”, let to the set up of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and access to review around 500,000 documents related to the disaster.

Their findings were off the scale and uncovered myths about the victims being dead, or as good as, by 3:15pm and the amendment if at least 164 police statements criticising the forces handling that dreadful day.

Tuesday’s long-awaited outcome may have vindicated the vast majority of us who knew Hillsborough was the result of police negligence, but it does beg the question why 27 years?

Why were half a million documents not reviewed at the initial inquest in 1991? Had this been done in the first place, the result would’ve come out much sooner and not have anyone wasting another quarter of a century to get the truth on what happened at Hillsborough. How South Yorkshire Police chiefs can sleep at night knowing they blatantly lied to the bereaved and made them suffer more rather than grieve is beyond me.

Of course, if they just said sorry in the first place, tens of millions of pounds would’ve been better spent elsewhere, including the improvement of police forces across the country, and everyone could move on, especially the families.

Now that the verdict is unlawful killing, there is now the chance for justice to be brought to those accountable for the events leading to Britains worst sporting disaster, most notably Duckenfield.

For the families at least they can start the process of moving on, their love ones at peace knowing that the truth of 15 April 1989 is finally out.

Justice for the 96!

How Dons have blown their best Title chance

TODAY is the first of my weekly football blogs, where I will write about a football topic at random and comment fairly and honestly on how I see things – well, I’ll do my best.

For my opening week, however, my chosen subject is my boyhood team Aberdeen FC on another frustrating weekend that saw us once again fail to put significant pressure on Celtic at the top of the table.

Despite being held at home to Ross County today, the Champions increased their lead to nine points over the Dons with four games to go thanks to a dismal Dons display at St Johnstone on Friday, who coasted to a 3-0 victory.

The pitiful Perth display summed up a frustrating season for the Red Army who had hopes of a first title in 31 years, breaking the Old Firm stranglehold on Scottish Football, or at worst pushing Celtic much closer than last season, where the Dons flirted with a title challenge before finishing 17 points behind Ronny Deila’s men.

With the Champions downsizing again, failing to qualify for the Champions League and losing Virgil Van Dijk to Southampton, Aberdeen were fancied to put in a genuine challenge to the Premiership title and had boosted their squad with the Bosman signing of Inverness left back Graeme Shinnie and the loan signing of Liverpool keeper Danny Ward.

Aberdeen could not have started the season any better by winning their first eight matches. This also included a 2-1 win at home to Celtic, who won all four meetings the previous campaign, and a stylish showing at Tynecastle in a 3-1 victory.

Unfortunately, the next trip to the Capital saw the Dons exit the League Cup to Hibs and that started a horrible period for Derek McInnes’s side. Aberdeen went onto collect just one point from five matches in a dismal run that included a shock 5-1 home defeat by St Johnstone.

Aberdeen did recover and went the next 12 undefeated but there were two home matches within that period, both over the Christmas and New Year period, that highlighted the lack of bottle to sustain a title challenge.

Twice Aberdeen had the chance to go temporarily top of the table before Celtic’s next match and twice they failed, firstly by drawing 2-2 with Inverness then being held to a goalless draw by Partick Thistle.

January didn’t start well either after a pathetic performance against Hearts saw us go out the Scottish Cup at the first hurdle for the second consecutive season. Days later, a further blow was dealt when Liverpool recalled Danny Ward, who was a commanding presence in goal for such a young lad, to be no.2 when Jurgen Klopp realised how useless Adam Bogdan was in an FA Cup tie against Exeter.

Transfer deadline proved to be farcical for Aberdeen. Though bringing in Simon Church on loan and send goal-shy David Goodwillie to Ross County was a good move, as proven by Church’s scoring record, the failure to add more quality to the squad, including not stumping up nearly £200k to Inverness for Greg Tansey, was galling and didn’t make any statement we were serious about mounting a challenge to Celtic.

Another home victory over Deila’s men gave hope but a second defeat to Inverness followed shortly afterwards and Aberdeen’s challenge slowly evaporated thanks to further defeats at Motherwell, Hearts and St Johnstone.

So why has the Aberdeen title challenge faded?

Many factors have been identified. The early start to our season hasn’t helped, for the second consecutive season we’ve been involved in a Europa League qualifier in the first week in July and fatigue, mentally as much as physically, was bound to set in. On the flip side, there has been ample opportunity to recover, especially given our failures in Cup competitions, and that hasn’t always been taken.

The failure to boost our squad in January was definitely a factor. Aberdeen only brought in two loan signings, Church and back up keeper Adam Collin, and three first team squad members (Paul Quinn adding to the above mentioned Goodwillie and Ward) left the club, meaning our already small squad compared to Celtic’s was weaker. Rightly, the board are watching finances carefully to keep us debt free after a long period of uncertainty but an opportunity to back the manager to bring in one player to add quality and depth to the squad, which wouldn’t have bankrupted the club, was missed.

Which brings me onto the point about the considerable financial gap between ourselves and Celtic. Despite not attracting the same quality as before, they’ve spent in excess of £10m on transfer fees whereas we’ve not spent a penny and the players wage budget is five times the overall staff outlay at Pittodrie.

However, as Leicester have shown this season and Atletico Madrid done in 2013/14, superior finances is not always a factor and title-winning squads can be built on a fraction of your rivals budget, albeit it is much harder.

Leicester have an inner-belief that gives them a winning mentality and, ultimately, that’s something Aberdeen are lacking in order to overhaul Celtic. Quite simply, not enough players believe they can win the league and, therefore, lack the character to inspire the team in pressure situations which has cost us a massive opportunity to give Deila’s men a run for their money.

We might not get a better chance than this season of winning a league title.

Rangers return to the top flight will have implications, not necessarily that Mark Warburton is going to inspire them straight to the title in their first season back, but Celtic will up their game and spend money that’s been held back in order to hold off the threat from their bitter rivals.

Hearts will also likely improve their squad after a solid first season back up so the board will need to back McInnes with more funds which, given the January debacle, the Red Army have little faith will happen.

Mathematically, Aberdeen can still win the title but it would take a major collapse on Celtic’s part and a dramatic turn in form by us to overhaul a nine point deficit in the remains four matches of the season.

Realistically, the hopes of Aberdeen becoming champions of Scotland has gone and leaves us Dons fans pondering on what might’ve been knowing we may not get a better chance again. 

World Cup Draw verdict

THERE’S still some work to be done for Scotland in the Euro 2016 Qualifying campaign but already Gordon Strachan’s men know who they’ll face in a bid to reach the 2018 World Cup Finals.

The draw in St Petersburg on Saturday saw the Scots drawn Group F alongside Malta, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Auld Enemy themselves – England!

It’s a draw that brings so much excitement for the Tartan Army – and that’s not just the prospect of facing their fiercest rivals and a trip to Wembley.

Slovakia are opposition for us and, due to Slovakia not being in the European Union, cheap drink at just 79p per pint of beer or lager so that in itself will attract a fair number of Scotland fans to Bratislava.

They also will be tough opposition, as Spain have found to their cost in the Euro campaign, but, given that both Italy and France were in Pot Two, it could’ve been a whole lot worse.

Slovenia are a team we last faced competitively in 2005 (there was one friendly in 2012) and brings back memories of a thumping 3-0 win courtesy of stunning strikes in the one game by Darren Fletcher, James McFadden and Paul Hartley. 

Again the Slovenians will be tricky opponents, England found their recent trip to Ljubljana hard work before two late goals saw them emerge victorious, so no doubt that Strachan will be reminding his players of the task ahead.

Lithuania provide, arguably, the least appeal of the five opponents in our group given that we’ve faced them in the previous four European Championship Qualifiers (2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012) and their national stadium in Kaunas is rather old fashioned to say the least. 

However, knowing what the Lithuanians are capable of, we should be well prepared and confident of six points from six in the two matches.

Malta are the weakest team in the group, therefore don’t bring any glamour in terms of quality. What will be appealing to the Tartan Army is the sunshine in this Mediterranean Island South of Italy, making it potentially the most popular tourist destination for Scots in September 2016 (I’m for one looking at a family holiday to coincide with the match).

Then, of course, there’s England!

Quite simply, with no disrespect to the others, it is the standout fixture of the section and by far the biggest appeal for the Tartan Army.

Given that nearly 20,000 Scots were in Wembley for a friendly two years ago, it’s fair to say that a similar number will descend on London once again for a match of far more importance, though, for that reason, Scotland will get a significantly reduced number of tickets compared to that generous figure.

Even the timing of the game, around six to seven weeks before Christmas, won’t put the Tartan Army off, they’ve got a mere 16 months to make their plans.

So, to summarise, it’s a very exciting draw with new opponents, no long-distance travel to far-Eastern Europe, a good holiday destination and, of course, our fiercest International rival.

It’s not going to be easy to qualify for Russia 2018 but, when you consider that one group has Holland and France in it whilst Spain and Italy are in another section, Gordon Strachan has every reason to be happy with that draw.

Firstly, we still have a big job to do in the current qualifying campaign and ending 18 long years without an appearance at a major finals.

Here’s hoping that, by the time we kick off the Road to Russia next September, Scotland will have come off the back of a trip to France for Euro 2016.

MP’s pay increase is predictable and obsurd

DESPITE the differing views on a variety of issues, there is one thing that unites the UK Government and the opposition parties every year.

It’s not how to screw the public out of cash, though the only debate there is how much!

Yep, you guessed it, the MP’s are getting their annual fat pay increase of 10% and, the best of it is, it will be backdated to before May 8, the day after the General Election.

That means MP’s will earn £74,000 per year, that’s an increase of £7000 per year, and they still get to claim expenses.

The move comes in the wake of Westminster announcing that the Public Sectors annual wage rise will be capped to a meagre 1% as the Government seeks to save costs.

You look at that last statement and it really smacks of double standards!

One week, Chancellor George Osbourne is announcing cuts to tax credits and child benefit, the next a so-called independent body is pushing through this increase allowing MP’s to laugh all the way to the bank.

It’s just typical of UK Government to look after number one. This doesn’t stop at the Conservatives door either. Whilst leading the country into its worst ever recession, Labour were pushing through hefty annual wage rises for themselves and allowed expenses to get out of control – and not giving the public sector what they deserved!

The lack of respect given to the public sector workers, the NHS in particular, is a major bug bear of mine.

They work long unsociable hours, deal with all kinds of people from kids to the elderly and the well-mannered to the thugs, are given the most impossible conditions to work in yet still, nine times out of ten, deliver a great service through their dedication and care for the job.

Also to add, the types of job that they do (whether it’s in health care, in the police force or the fire service) are difficult to switch off from when they leave work after their shift.

Yes there are flaws in the public sector and they make the odd mistake, everyone in their line of work does, but they make far less mistakes than those in Parliament have in the past thirty years at least.

But public sector workers don’t get £74,000 per year plus expenses such as Sky TV, five-star hotel stays, brand new cars etc.

I’m not saying that MP’s don’t work hard but they don’t work nearly as hard in one year as public sector workers do in one week and they certainly don’t deserve a 9% higher increase than them.

If the UK Government are serious about saving costs then they could set an example by not giving themselves a hefty and unjustified wage rise. However, that’s on a par with Turkeys voting for Christmas, I.e. it will never happen, and, whilst there is no proper independent regulator monitoring their salaries, all future Governments (no matter who the main party is) will continue to give themselves a big top-up on their pay whilst those who truly deserve it will be by-passed again.

No wonder politicians can’t be trusted!