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Stevie Chalmers

Barely a week after the sad demise of Billy McNeill comes news of the death of his Lisbon Lion teammate Stevie Chalmers.

But Chalmers wasn’t just a teammate. He was the scorer of that goal. Not the best, not the most spectacular, not the most intricate, but perhaps the most precious goal in the history of Scottish football. It was the foot of Chalmers that deflected the course of Bobby Murdoch’s shot into the Inter Milan net and so made sure that Celtic would become not only the first (and so far – and likely forever – the only) Scottish, but also the first British (and first North European) team to lift the European Cup.

Bill Shankly is reported to have said to Celtic’s manager that day, Jock Stein, when they won the trophy, “Jock, you’re immortal.” Well, so too is Chalmers; or at least his memory is.

Looking at his Wikipedia page I see Chalmers turned out for the Sons of the Rock (for one game; as a trialist. Looks like we missed a good one there.) Our loss was Celtic’s gain. He ended up the club’s fifth highest ever goalscorer.

Thomas Stephen (Stevie) Chalmers: 26/12/1935 – 29/3/2019. So it goes.

Billy McNeill

The word legend is bandied about very frequently in football circles usually about players who have not really done much to deserve it.

Today, though, came news that someone who truly warrants that accolade has died.

Billy McNeill will live in history as the first British man to lift the European Cup. The whole 1967 Celtic team can be described as legends – that was an incredible achievement, to win that trophy previously only acquired by teams from southern Europe, with players all born within a tewnty mile radius from the stadium of the club for whom they were playing. It was almost inconceivable at the time. It is utterly impossible now.

McNeill himself always came across as a gentleman – though doubtless the centre forwards he played against may have a different perspective. He presented as articulate and thoughtful in interviews.

Such a pity that his later years were blighted by dementia. I don’t suppose all those years heading a heavy rain-soaked leather football can have helped in that regard.

Not that I wish to end on a sad note as his life and achievements ought to be celebrated.

But words are inadequate.

William (Billy) McNeill: 2/3/1940 – 22/4/2019. So it goes.

Alan Gilzean

So Alan Gilzean, whom Jimmy Greaves said was the greatest foootballer he had ever played with, has gone.

I never saw him play in the flesh, his time in Scotland being before I started watching football regularly and he was in any case in a different division to Dumbarton but he was a byword for accomplishment.

Before his move down south to Tottenham Hotspur Gilzean played for a great Dundee team, so great it won the championship of Scotland in 1962 and a year later reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. That was, of course, in the time when other Scottish clubs could compete almost on a level playing field with the two Glasgow giants. That success came in a remarkable 17 years when Hibernian (1948, 1951, 1952,) Aberdeen (1955,) (Hearts 1958, 1960,) Dundee (1962) and Kilmarnock (1965) became Scottish Champions. An incredible sequence: between the wars only Motherwell, in 1932, had broken the monopoly of Rangers and Celtic on the League Championship and subsequently only Aberdeen (1984, 1985) and Dundee United (1983) have performed the feat.

The power of money and the lucrative nature of European competition for the big two brought all that to an end. We’re unlikely to see anything like it again.

I’ve strayed somewhat from the point.

Gilzean was a great player, one whose movement on the pitch (from televisual evidence) was deceptively effortless looking, he seemed to glide over the ground in that way that only accomplished players manage to achieve. His scoring record isn’t too mean either; 169 in 190 games for Dundee, 93 in 343 for Spurs, 1 in 3 for the Scottish League and 12 in 22 for Scotland.

Alan John Gilzean: 22/10/1938 – 8/7/2018. So it goes.

Steven Gerrard

One response to his getting the job at Rangers is, “You’re having a laugh.”

Appointing a totally untried manager when you’re in a position of catch-up? That really went well for Celtic when they gave the post to John Barnes.

On the other hand he might just give them the gee-up they are obviously looking for.

Gary McAllister as assistant could be a decent move, though even if as a full boss he hasn’t quite set the heather on fire.

Tommy Gemmell

One of the Scottish footballing giants of my youth, Tommy Gemmell, has died.

Famous for that goal for Celtic in the 1967 European Cup Final which immortalised not only Jock Stein (as Bill Shankly said about the team’s manager) but the entire 11 as Lisbon Lions. It’s impossible to imagine a team composed of 11 players all born within thirty miles of their home stadium achieving anything similar these days. As it was nothing any of them did after that could ever surpass it.

Celtic did reach the European Cup Final again in 1970 and again Gemmell scored but Celtic lost that one in extra time.

Here’s some colour footage of the 1967 game along with interviews with the players from many years later:-

Thomas “Tommy” Gemmell: 16/10/1943 – 2/3/2017. So it goes.

The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper by Jonathan Wilson

Orion, 2012, 351 p

If football is symbolic, if the ball is a substitute sun requiring to be buried (in the goal) to ensure fertility, what then are we to make of the one player in the team whose primary object is to prevent that desirable consummation? Such is the question with which Wilson starts his history of the goalkeeper, who in this context can be seen as the outsider, an anti-footballer.

While not denying the goalkeeper’s essential difference I immediately started thinking, what about the stopper centre half, the holding midfielder, the midfield destroyer? Aren’t their roles equally anti-football in that sense? Of course these players may advance into the opponents’ half, even score the odd goal or two, but the goalkeeper generally isn’t expected/permitted even to do that. Except what, then, to make of the Paraguayan great, Jose Luis Chilavert, who took penalties and free-kicks and scored 62 goals, 8 of them for Paraguay and all while playing as a goalkeeper? (Brazil’s Rogério Ceni has since overtaken Chilavert as the highest scoring keeper.) The South American attitude to goalkeepers has tended to be less restrictive, though. In Europe keepers generally only charge upfield in desperate circumstances.

In any case Wilson’s title partly goes against the thrust of the history. When football was first codified it started with all players able to handle the ball in certain circumstances. That dispensation quickly became restricted to the designated one, who was detached from the team – and made to stand out by virtue of wearing a different coloured jersey/shirt. A gradual process of goalkeepers playing beyond the penalty area – the change of rules in 1912 which forbade handling outside the box (up till then they had been allowed to anywhere in their own half) delayed this process – by intervening with their feet or initiating attacks has reduced this difference. Arguably the keeper’s reintegration into the team was finally more or less institutionalised by the back pass rule. (Even before that, though, the custodian was not totally estranged, was a vital component of retaining possession. I remember reading elsewhere that Liverpool’s long domination of the European Cup was predicated on passing the ball back to Bruce Grobbelaar as much as possible during away legs. The sweeper-keeper had evolved even prior to this, though.) In Jose Luis Chilavert’s case the reintegration of keeper with team was surely at its most complete.

Wilson mentions that the first ‘Prince of Goalkeepers’ was Dumbarton’s James McAulay. Another Sons keeper to be mentioned in the text is Joshua Wilkinson, whose father was convinced his death from peritonitis in 1921 was due to a blow he’d received in a game against Rangers the previous Saturday.

In the very early days it had been almost open season on goalkeepers. The famous William ‘Fatty’ Foulke – reputedly 28st (179 kilograms) when he played for Chelsea – often took his revenge on physical forwards, turning them upside down and depositing them on their heads. Despite the obvious dangers – Celtic’s John Thomson (to whom a section of Kirkcaldy’s newly refurbished museum is dedicated – he came from nearby Cardenden – there was also a tribute to him there before the modernisation) received an accidental but fatal knee to the head in 1931 also against Rangers; Sunderland’s Jim Thorpe died in 1936 after several blows in a physical game in 1936 prompted a reccurence of a diabetic condition – it was not until after Bert Trautman’s broken neck and several other injuries to keepers in FA Cup finals in the 1950s, though, that British goalkeepers began to receive extended protection from referees.

Goalkeeping is not, in the end, a simple business. He/she is not necessarily only a shot stopper; there is a difference between the reactive keeper and the proactive. The former expects to make saves (spectacular or mundane) the latter’s best game is the one in which she/he has no saves to make at all, because the way he/she has organised the defence ensures, in an ideal world, that no danger occurs.

There are even national differences in approach. Both Brazilian and Italian defences tend to play deeply and so breed reactive keepers. In other countries a higher line is adopted, a goalkeeper’s play has to be more attuned to that. In Russia, Soviet Russia in particular, goalkeepers have been the subject of a reverence that borders on love.

Africa is represented here by the Cameroonians Tommy Nkono (who inspired Gianluigi Buffon) and Joseph-Antoine Bell, the Spanish, German, Italian, English, Brazilian, Scottish and US traditions are covered in detail. From Asia only Ali Al-Habsi gets a mention and that in passing. Oceanian custodians escape Wilson’s purview completely. Maybe no notable keepers have as yet been bred there.

So many great goalkeepers seem to have had unfortunate debuts, on the end of drubbings of various sorts. What distinguishes them all is that they are liable to be remembered, their careers defined, not for their great performances but for one, or – in the case of David Seaman – two mistakes. (My abiding memory of Ray Clemence is of him allowing a soft one from Kenny Dalglish to evade him in a Scotland-England game at Hampden. Proof if any were needed that there is no national tendency to persistently outstanding goalkeeping.) Poor Moacyr Barbosa of Brazil was forever blighted by conceding the winning goal in the 1950 World Cup final. In 1970 a woman in a shop said to her young son, “Look! There’s the man who made all Brazil cry.” Barbosa himself later complained that in Brazil, “the maximum sentence is 30 years. My imprisonment has been for 50.” That loss to Uruguay was perhaps, though, the single most traumatic moment in Brazil’s history as a nation. It was only founded in 1889 and has never fought a war.* Brazilians apparently are not really football fans. It is winning they like.

Wilson makes the point that the existence of a highly proficient one or two goalkeepers from one country at one time is not evidence of strength in depth, nor any guarantee of continued excellence. The apparent decline of English goalkeeping is a case in point.

The author certainly knows his football history – there is even a digression into the treatments of the sport in literature and film, most of which lean heavily on the goalkeeper; a further nice touch is that the book’s back cover is decorated with a “1” – and he thinks deeply about the game. Having read the book I’ll observe goalkeeping in a different light.

One final note. Even if a book is about football it might be thought a touch insensitive to describe the Spanish Civil War as “perhaps the clásico to end them all” – even more insensitive when Wilson observes that Real Madrid didn’t become Franco’s team till the 1940s.

*Edited to add. I have since found out that this is only true of the Brazilian Republic and not of the Empire which preceded it.

East End Park, Dunfermline

Dumbarton are due to play at East End Park, home of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club, on the 23rd, a week today. We last played there on Jan 5th when I took these photos.

The Pars, as they are known, are in financial trouble; so take a good look at these as they may become historical curios.

East End Park, Dunfermline, From North

Yes, there’s a cemetery over the wall from the ground. This is a stitch of two photos to get the whole ground in.

East End Park from Halbeath Road
From Halbeath Road.

East Stand, East End Park, Dunfermline.

East Stand. Not used, except for big matches. (Celtic and Rangers, then, or when the Pars play a decider against Raith Rovers. So not often.)

West (Norrie McCathie) Stand, East End Park, Dunfermline
Norrie McCathie Stand (West Stand; at far end.) Named for a former player. Home support.

North Stand, East End Park, Dunfermline
North Stand. Home support here too. (The cemetery is behind it.)

Main Stand, East End Park, Dunfermline, from away section
Main Stand. Away support in foreground, home support in bulk of stand.

Oh, Hell

SP Hell.

I see the proposals for a reconstruction of the Scottish football leagues have advanced to the point they are now to be voted on.

I haven’t commented up to now as I’ve been resigned to gloom all season. The 4-3 at Falkirk and 3-0 at Morton did cheer me up, though.

The proposals would see a merger of the SPL and SFL with a top league of 12 clubs (as now; so no change at all!) The second tier will also have 12 clubs (an enlargement of 2.) The third tier will have 18 clubs (effectively a merger of Divs 2 and 3 of the SFL minus 2 clubs.) The fourth tier disappears (but there is a mooting of introducing relegation to/promotion from a pyramid below it.)

There is in addition to be a “split” after the top two Divs have played 22 games (home and away against each other) with the 24 clubs divided into three sections of 8,8 and 8 where again there will be home and away games against each member.

There is an air of indecent haste about this as it seems to be envisaged that this will start in season 2013-2014. That would mean changing the finishing post halfway through this season (and also effectively kybosh the play-offs for this year.)

As far as the top two “new” Divisions is concerned how is this different in essence from the SPL 2 which was shot down in flames about a year ago?

And I wonder how many promotion/relegation places will there be between the third and the second. Not enough I would suggest.

It all sounds to me remarkably like a way to hike Rangers up to tier 2 a year early. They will undoubtedly win Div 3 this season and I can see the argument running that they won their league; so deserve to be promoted. The Div 2 winners (Queen of the South?) would be going up to the second tier anyway.

In this regard it would be nice to have Rangers saying that if their promotion to the second tier in one go was advocated they would refuse to accept it – but I can’t see them making that refusal: even if they have described the plans as an abomination.

By all means have a merged league – provided there are equal voting rights across the Divisions. (Otherwise how long will it be before the top two Divisions vote away the lower completely?)

Very few fans, however, want to keep the present system where clubs play each other 4 times a season. The proposals do not really address this point. Under them 20 clubs will still be doing exactly that.*

The main trouble is that Rangers and Celtic are too dominant within the Scottish game. I have frequently said that unless and until the gate income is once again shared between the two competing clubs, along with more equal division of TV monies, no other club will have a hope in hell of challenging the big two.

I do know one thing though. Whatever and whenever league reconstruction happens Dumbarton will be demoted. That’s what always happens.

1922: third bottom Div 1. Three clubs relegated to adjust division sizes. Previously only two clubs had been relegated. It took us 50 years to get back up.

1975 : fifth bottom Div 1. Only the top 10 clubs stayed in the first tier. It only took us 8 years to get up to that level (for a brief one season visit.)

1994 : fifth bottom Div 1. Three Divisions rearranged to four, bottom five in Div 1 demoted to new Div 2. Promotion the next year saw us then have our worst season in living memory (and beyond) before tumbling down the leagues. 16 long years later we finally got back to Div 1.

Demoted
Under
Materiallly
Biased
Arbitrary
Regulation
Thrice
Over
Now

*Edited to add. The 24 “top” clubs will all play four times against at least three teams.

Administering Rangers

Whatever the temptations to paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s comment about the death of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop (“One would have to have a heart of stone….(not to)…dissolv(e)…into tears…of laughter.”) when thinking about the administration of Rangers FC I nevertheless do feel for the genuine fans of that club. Not the hangers-on, not the glory hunters who desert at the first sign of adversity on the field, but those who have a long and deep connection – perhaps going back generations in their family.

There does, however, have to be a tinge of schadenfreude. After all, this is a club that, along with its great rival, has parleyed their mutual financial muscle into an effectively unchallenged dual hegemony, ruthlessly bought promising players from their competitors in the SPL (and before that the Scottish League as was) and buried them in their reserves to prevent any threat to their domination, pushed through changes that ensured they would receive much more than the lion’s share of any monies coming into Scottish football, perenially exercised undue influence on the governing body and (without even a nod and a wink nor anything direct, merely by their outsized prominence) on the referees who supervise their games. That such a club has been brought low by financial problems (in a misguided attempt to match those whom they regarded as their peers but were in fact always their superiors) could be regarded as karma.

I have no sympathy whatever for those in charge of the club – now and in the past – who ought to have known better: none of whom I hope will derive any financial benefit from the present state of affairs. Compounding their failures in regard to their own club – what amounted to in effect cheating their opponents – £80,000 is said to be owing to Dunfermline Athletic for tickets sold by Rangers on their behalf for Saturday’s upcoming game with a similar amount due to Dundee United for a previous away match, with Inverness Caledonian Thistle also unpaid. Hearts are owed £700,000 for a transfer fee. These are moneys the Pars in particular and Hearts with their recent difficulties could well be doing with. (Not to mention us all by way of the taxman.)

That Scottish football as a whole would be better off (in a competitive sense) without the Old Firm is probably the case but it would be in an even direr state than now were only one of these giants to remain.

And yet…. I do not wish to see the demise of anyone’s football club – even such an overblown leviathan as Rangers; even if I cannot feel that followers of Rangers know what it truly means to be a supporter (of which they may have the merest inkling now.)

The best outcome would be for the club to survive, to live within its means, and for its management (at board level) and fans not to be so greedy (for money/honours respectively.)

That’s never going to happen.

PS. I was amused that Celtic took umbrage at First Minister Alex Salmond’s comment about them finding it difficult to prosper if Rangers were to go under. Chip on the shoulder or what? Without the rivalry to sustain them wouldn’t Celtic’s fans soon grow tired of an endless series of mismatches? They might well drift away. At least at the moment there are four domestic games every season where there may be the possibility of referees being biased against them. (That last sentence was sarcasm by the way.)

Not The Death of Scottish Football

I see Celtic have made it to the Europa League group stage.

By the logic of last week’s media outpourings, that must mean that Scottish football is now in quite reasonable health and there is no need to panic.

(Unless Sion win their appeal, of course.)

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