The Beast from the East

Scottish football saw sense on Wednesday morning when the SPFL decided to postpone the three top flight matches scheduled for that night in the interest of safety.

It really is a shame the powers that be didn’t smell the coffee 24 hours earlier.

That would have saved Clyde travelling to Peterhead for their League Two fixture on a night that many people I know wouldn’t have even put their wheelie bins out.

Instead, the Bully Wee had to make a 334 mile round trip on an evening that had motorway gantries telling people not to travel ANYWHERE.

But, at least Clyde got to play their game.

Poor Queen of the South had already travelled the 145 miles to Tayside from Dumfries to find out that their game against Dundee United wouldn’t go ahead.

That’s not the type of thing you want to ‘discover’ on arriving into the city that built a ship famously known for it’s Antarctic expeditions. Ironically, the Doonhamers team bus would have experienced more demanding conditions going back down the M74 than Captain Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton encountered on some of their travels.

It makes you think when are we eventually going to see sense and play summer football?

Now, as a player I actually enjoyed playing through the winter and even experiencing chilblains on some of my extremities and my more private parts – yes, that’s right – didn’t change my mind.

But, as society has changed, so have my thoughts on this matter.

We are cheating the paying customer by being so stubborn about changing the calendar.

I actually can’t see one good reason why it shouldn’t happen and I’d be happy to hear anyone who can tell me one that couldn’t be overcome.

Sure, there would need to be some consultation about when that calendar should be but one thing is for sure, January and February are historically the coldest months of the year so let’s start with the assumption that those months would be the close season.

Freak weather and rain we can cope with but the cold is what causes the biggest issues for postponement and the travel consideration of the fans.

How we then work the season to accommodate European competition is one for the league to consider but I’d defy anyone to tell me that our league being in full flow by July and August wouldn’t help the clubs playing early qualifiers at that time.

I’ll put it another way, how many times have we heard about how difficult it is for the clubs playing preliminary rounds in Europe BEFORE the Scottish season has started?

With warmer weather and better pitches we might even attract more fans through the gates during the summer months when historically the game has shut down.

On the rare occasion that Scotland qualifies for a major tournament – remember those days – we could make a provision for the clubs who have most players involved.

In short, the time has come to grab the bull by the horns and make a decision.

If we were starting football from scratch and had a blank canvas, who in their right mind would suggest playing football through the winter?

It wouldn’t be me.

The Gaffer..

Billy McNeill. Gordon McQueen. Jimmy Bone (twice). David Provan. Michael Oliver. Billy McLaren (twice). Tommy Gemmell. Tom Spence. Rowan Alexander/Mark Shanks. Tommy Bryce. John Lambie. John Connolly. John McVeigh.

14 men with one thing in common – they all managed me during my playing career.

And, the point is, that is probably ALL they had in common.

Football management is not prescribed and there is no magic formula out there that guarantees results for the man in the dugout. There is literally no Sat-Nav to success.

Sure, coaching courses and seminars can provide guidance to budding gaffers but it is ultimately down to the individual to come up with his own route to eminence.

What works for one guy might not work for another and vice-versa. Management is about what works for YOU. End of.

Were all of my managers the same? No. Did they all have the same technical and tactical aptitude? No. And, did they all have the same man-management styles? Definitely not.

Some were more concerned with coaching and camaraderie while others majored on fitness and formations.

The bottom line is that success will always be relative and governed by a number of factors including; the quality of players recruited and the identification of a formation to suit them, the group’s understanding of the shape and strategy, the physical ability for the players to perform, the desire of the squad to execute that strategy, and the belief of those players in the guy who is asking them all to do all of the above.

Get those factors right and you won’t be too far away.

It is not a science – and that applies to any team in any workplace.

On the same night last week that the news of Alex McLeish’s appointment as Scotland manager was breaking I was having dinner with a good friend who has been hugely successful in business.

We had chatted about his experiences of building a business, managing employees and putting together a board of directors.

He emphasised about NOT needing to have everyone in your team on board with your vision and views but, to have any chance of success, you MUST have the majority.

Football dressing rooms are no different.

It is impossible for every player in a squad to be happy with the manager because some of them don’t get picked. But, those who are selected can influence them.

They can ultimately change the behaviour of any doubters or dissenters very quickly and, if that happens, everyone at the club can benefit.

Look at what Brendan Rodgers has achieved at Celtic in his 20 months in charge?

You NEVER hear publicly about players being unhappy about being left out of the team. That doesn’t mean that they are not unhappy – they just know that they need to work harder to get back into the side and hold onto the jersey when they get that opportunity.

The one thing that has never changed about managers is that they dictate what standards are acceptable at their football club. That’s their bag.

From the way the players behave at the club and out with it’s confines to the way they apply themselves in training and in games the gaffer alone calls the shots.

He is THE most important person at the football club and everything else derives from how well he does his job.

Attendances, sponsorship deals, media coverage, marketing opportunities and other revenue streams are all affected by how the manager performs.

Quite simply if you get it right on the pitch you should reap the rewards off of it.

A new beginning..

After 18 years as a columnist with the Scottish Sun it is now time to share my views on football and the ever changing world of the beautiful game on a new platform.

From as early as I can ever remember I have loved football.

All I wanted to do as a kid was to play the game with my friends on any spare piece of ground that we could find. Growing up in the 1970s and coming from a working class background meant that the ball we used during those kickabouts varied day on day.

It didn’t matter to us what condition the sphere we were using was in. From ‘real leather’ balls and plastic blowaways to patched up bladders and tennis balls we just got on with it as we played five-eleveners, headers or World Cup Willie.

Those were magical days when EVERYONE I knew wanted to be a footballer.

I was one of the fortunate ones who actually managed to live the dream when I was offered a contract at Celtic by Parkhead gaffer and Lisbon Lion Billy McNeill.

That happened after a reserve fixture at Dens Park where I was lucky enough to play as left-back behind the late, great Tommy Burns who was returning from injury. I have said many times that Tommy playing that evening was the difference for me – he literally coached me through every step of the 90 minutes and I couldn’t fail to impress.

Signing for Celtic changed my life forever – it gave me credibility as a player in an era when players who left a club the size of Celtic were guaranteed a contract elsewhere.

Inevitably, my career started at the top and I worked my way down. Not that I’m complaining; there were better players than me who never kicked a ball professionally.

In truth I was NEVER good enough to play for Celtic’s first team and even though I elected to only sign on a part-time basis that didn’t matter – I could have trained 24/7 without the extra training being enough to allow me to make the ‘big time’.

Instead, my journey in football began in the Reserve Leagues under the watchful eye of Bobby Lennox and alongside others who would go on to have very decent careers – Stuart Balmer, David Elliot, Gerry Britton, Stevie Fulton, Mark McNally, Andy Murdoch, Alex Mathie and Gerry Creaney were just some of the boys I had the pleasure of sharing a changing room and pitch with.

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So, yes, my football life started on the streets and spare bits of grass in and around Milton of Campsie but it was on the pitches of Barrowfield and Helennvale astroturf that my professional career was spawned and developed in the first instance.

As well as sharing memories of my time in the game I’ll comment on the pressing matters within Scottish football and the wider football community.