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New Cup, New Laws

I see from the club website that the Challenge Cup has been given a revamp so that it will now include more Scottish clubs from outwith the SPFL, top division under 20 sides and even clubs from Wales and Northern Ireland. The format looks like a right dog’s dinner.

I note that Tier 2 clubs won’t be joining till Round 3. It won’t make any difference to us. We always lose in it anyway. (I doubt being seeded will alter that at all.)

What concerns me most is the inclusion of the top division under 20s sides. This feels like the thin end of a wedge that will eventually see them allowed to play in the lower leagues. I know similar provision happens in Spain etc with reserve teams but the Scottish scene has unique characteristics that make me uncomfortable at the thought.

Edited to add. I just took in the fact that the draw will be regionalised. Fat chance of me getting to a a game then. (But maybe we’ll be in the North for that too.)

There have also been changes to the laws of the game. We’ll need to see how those work out.

Rangers 2-3 Hibernian

Scottish Cup Final, Hampden Park, 21/5/2106

And so the long running saga of Hibs not winning the Cup has ended. Well, I did suggest this might happen.

Looking at the chances created and shots saved you have to say the result was the correct one. But it did look like Hibs had Hibsed it when they went 2-1 down. Rangers didn’t press their advantage though. Maybe they Rangersed it.

The Things You Miss When You’re Away

As I’ve been away I only caught up with the news of the demotion of East Stirlingshire from the SPFL late yesterday.

61 years in the SFL/SPFL gone in a flash. It’s sad for them but they’ve been living on fumes for seasons on end now. It was always most likely that it would be the Shire that would be the first to fall victim to the play-off system.

Congratulations, though, to Edinburgh City. The role of third (or fourth) largest football side in Edinburgh has been taken in the past by St Bernard’s (defunct since World War 2) and Leith Athletic (demised 1955, reconstituted 1996 and as a senior team in 2008.) As those statistics suggest, surviving in the shadow of Hearts and Hibs is not easy.

Then there is the case of Meadowbank Thistle (Ferranti Thistle as was) admitted to the Scottish Football League in 1974 but weren’t satisfied with the sizes of crowds they were attracting in the capital and decamped to Livingston in 1995.

Speaking of Hibs, I see they managed to muck things up again. Hibsing it indeed. Then again they’ll probably win the Cup Final now and so put to an end the longest running “will this be the year” saga in Scottish football.

Leicester City’s fairy tale first top level title made the news in The Netherlands – as elsewhere I suspect. There was a newspaper article there about the length of time previous winners of their country’s football championship had been waiting to win it again. Schalke 04 topped the list at well over 20,000 days with Tottenham Hotspur second (also over 20,000 days.) Liverpool were about eighth on the list. I can just about make out some Dutch but a list is no problem.

I also divined from a radio report on the way back up that Roberto Martinez had lost the Everton job, paying the price for not getting enough out of a talented group of players. (An alternative possibility is that those players aren’t quite as good as their reputations would have them.)

And then there was the Scottish Parliament election, where the SNP paid the price of winning too many constituency seats and Labour actually did come second in the percentage vote in that element but not in the regional lists. We had voted by post before we left.

Time’s Ravages

On Match of the Day a few weeks ago the commentator on Leicester City’s game mentioned that seven years ago Danny Drinkwater (I think) had been turning out for Leicester against Stockport County in the third tier and now he was at the top of the Premiership, remarking what a contrast that was.

I thought, wait a minute, it’s not just Leicester whose fortunes have changed.

In that season Leicester won League One and began the journey back to the big time whereas Stockport County ended it 18th, partly due to a ten point deduction for going into administration.

The next season Stockport finished dead bottom and went down to League Two. (Norwich City won League One that season: yo-yoing up and down the divisions is second nature to some.) The season after that Stockport completed their descent through the Football League by also finishing bottom – of League Two – and so to relegation out of it.

Two more seasons and they even fell out of the Conference into the Conference North. This is the sixth tier of English football, a regionalised league, where they remain, 11th as I write. (Despite this regionalisation in its lower reaches the Conference is now called the National League.)

Football can be a cruel sport.

Notwithstanding this tale of woe Stockport have what on the face of it seems an unlikely fame in China once even having a Chinese team named after them. As that article reminds us at one time Stockport County were the second biggest team in the Manchester area, lording it over Manchester City.

They still manage to attract crowds of over 3000 to their Edgeley Park Ground (image from the link above):-

Edgeley Park

While researching this post I came across this Football League Fourth Divison (as it then was) top four from season 1966-7:-

1. Stockport County P 46 W 26 D 12 L 8 F 69 A 42 GA 1.643 Pts 64
2. Southport P 46 W 23 D 13 L 10 F 69 A 42 GA 1.643 Pts 59
3. Barrow P 46 W 24 D 11 L 11 F 76 A 54 GA 1.407 Pts 59
4. Tranmere Rovers P 46 W 22 D 14 L 10 F 66 A 43 GA 1.535 Pts 58

(For my younger readers the GA statistic is for goal average, the precursor to goal difference for separating clubs equal on points – for which in those days there were only two for a win. It’s an interesting quirk that the top two here had identical goal scoring and conceding records but Stockport had won three more games.)

Admittedly it’s forty-nine years on but all four of these clubs are now plying their trade outside the Football League, albeit in Tranmere’s case only for this 2015-16 season. Barrow and Southport have in their time also fallen to the sixth tier – more than once – but have managed to climb back up to the fifth level again.

Maybe Stockport can do so too some time. Whether they can ever outdo Manchester City again is more doubtful.

¿Qué pasa en Hartlepool?

This post’s title is adapted from an Argentinian newspaper headline (¿Qué pasa en Suecia?) I saw on a TV programme about the history of Argentine football when the national team was widely perceived to have underperformed in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and recieved a hostile reception on their return to Argentina. (See their Group 1 results if you look on here.)

AS to the meat of the post; after bumbling along just above the relegation zone for much of this season (unlike last where they were firmly rooted there before what seemed an almost miraculous escape) Hartlepool United have gone on a similar late run, not losing in their last seven games and winning five of those. (See League Two table and current form here.)

Of course, by mentioning this I’ll have jinxed it. The ‘Pool will most likely lose at Carlisle tonight, now.

Johan Cruyff

Oh dear. Johan Cruyff, once the greatest footballer in the world, undisputedly the greatest in the time between the careers of Pele and Maradonna, has died.

Together with the coach Rinus Michels, he was the most exquisite of the proponents of Total Football. The Ajax and Dutch teams of which he was the prominent member were a delight to watch. He is also one of the few footballlers to have a manoeuvre named after him, the Cruyff turn.

He has a particular place in the memories of Sons fans of a certain generation for at least having considered joining the club at one point. A short-lived Sons fanzine (remember fanzines?) was titled Cruyff Says No in tribute.

One of the greats has gone.

Hendrik Johannes Cruijff: 25/4/1947 – 24/3/2016. So it goes.

Serial Manager Slayers!

So, Livingston have sacked manager Mark Burchill.

That’s three opponents in a row whose managers Sons have seen off.

First Alloa, then St Mirren and now Livingston.

Can we dare hope to polish off the next two as well? Falkirk’s Peter Houston and Rangers’s Mark Warburton?

No; me neither.

Well, maybe Warburton.

Jimmy Hill

I was sorry to hear today of the death of Jimmy Hill and especially that he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

As a player he was relatively undistingusihed (or is that perception of mine just because he played before football became plastered all over the TV?) but as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association he was instrumental in having the cap on footballers’ wages removed in 1961, leading to today’s high salaries in the upper echelons. As a manager he brought Coventry City up two divisions before leaving for a career in TV.

As a pundit he was always worth listening to but famously annoyed Scottish football fans by describing David Narey’s goal against Brazil at the 1982 Word Cup as a “toe-poke.” Both sides played up to the supposed antipathy his remark engendered but in reality he got on very well with any Scottish fans he encountered.

James William Thomas “Jimmy” Hill: 22/7/1928 – 19/12/2015. So it goes.

Salford City 1-1 Hartlepool United

FA Cup Round 2, Moor Lane Stadium, 4/12/15.

I posted about Hartlepool United this time last year at the same stage of the competition and again when the club miraculously retained its football league status in April.

So once again Pools were on live television courtesy of the BBC and its FA Cup coverage but apart from converting a penalty weren’t much in the game first half where Salford had much more possession and looked more threatening especially with the dead ball – culminating in a goal when their player reacted quickly in a second ball situation from a free kick.

Second half there was an improvement by Pools perhaps catalysed by the wonderfully named sub Rakish Bingham who looked very lively. Unfortunately he missed a header from five yards as did Scott Fenwick both of which would have removed the necessity for a replay. Salford also had their chances but couldn’t get past Trevor Carson in Pools’ goal.

1-1 at the end. At least I’m not a televisual jinx.

Manager Ronnie Moore was scathing about the performance after the match. His assessment was spot on. If Pools play for 90 mins in the replay they ought to get through.

Despite a winning start to the season Pools still lurk towards the bottom of League Two. I’m still nervous about that.

World Cup Draw

Hmmm. Interesting.

England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.

It’s tricky. Not as tricky as Group A though; or G. And it might have been better to be in Group B.

The England games will take care of themselves, I suppose, but we’ve come unstuck against Lithuania before.

We’ll just have to make the best of it.

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