Tuesday 24 September 2013

Alloa - past times

I think that the hardest shot I ever saw from  an opponent at Douglas Park was Stewart Beedie's match winning volley for Hibs in a League Cup tie on a balmy August evening in 1986. Joe McBride's penalty in 1966 for Celtic in their lucky 7-1 win may have run it close, being described admiringly as a "shell" by a nearby Accies fan.

The hardest hit shot by a Hamilton player, however, came incongruously  from none other than wee Jose Quitongo at Alloa's Recreation Park in December 2003. But for the restraining qualities of the net, it is impossible to say where, indeed in what county, the ball otherwise would have come to a halt. Precise calculation was admittedly  made more difficult  by the fact that Jose was actually standing on the Alloa goaline when he unleashed his piledriver.

It may be my failing memory which makes it difficult for me to recall the precise chain of circumstances which led to this startling outcome. Jimmy Greaves once said that Accies players should take the field with miners helmets between the months of November and March, and  in fairness the standard of Alloa's floodlights was even worse than ours. For what it is worth, I remember peering though the gloom and noticing that an Alloa passback had been completely missed (or perhaps not seen) by the Alloa goalkeeper, and Jose running through decided to test whether it was possible to lash the ball over the bar while standing on the goaline- the answer was no....just.

Jose was unperturbed by his exercise in self indulgence and celebrated his goal by leaning nonchalantly on the goalpost, refusing to move, and demanding that his teammates join him to celebrate. Steve Convery  completed the scoring during his  injury break ( ie break from injury), and then ran menacingly towards the Accies fans in the covered enclosure. We were all about to scarper, the cowards that we were, when it became clear that celebration was all that Stevie had on his mind.

The second fixture there saw Hamilton reduced to ten men, then fashion an equaliser - a feat they repeated a week later at Airdrie after Jim Sherry was sent off for a slight foul on Willie McLaren. The controversy at Alloa arose when Stuart Callaghan, not a player afflicted by great self doubt, tangled with Brian Carrigan, who was then somewhat suckered into retaliating against the former Accies man.

That aside, matches between the two have been played out in relatively good spirit in recent years. This was not always the case, however, as in the early 1970s Alloa were alleged with some justification to be one of the dirtiest teams in football. Chief prosecutor was again Accies former programme editor Alan Dick. In December 1973 after two defeats in quick succession, Alan thundered in best London Times editorial style that it had all been worth it, because Accies would not have to play against Alloa again that season. If I remember rightly, Alan surprisingly escaped the wrath of the SFA beaks on this occasion, a rare example of him dodging the rap.

What qualities do you want to see in a football manager?

I was listening to the BBC Scotland football phone in on Saturday night on the way home and was interested in an Aberdeen supporter praising Derek McInnes (not Adams!) for showing much more passion than his predecessors.  This, and the recent antics of a certain former Sunderland Manager has led me to think about the qualities I want to see in the manager of my team.  I'm not sure I do want to see obvious 'passion' on the touchline.  Too often that seems to end up being arm waving and incessant shouting.  A manager should be a leader too and that precludes, for me, some of the more outlandish behaviour we see week in week out on the touchlines up and down the country.  A leader should be able to accept 'challenging' decisions by officials and rise above inevitable playing rough and tumble during a game.  I prefer a manager who can look on dispassionately, analyse the match as it unfolds, act accordingly to revise tactics during play and at the interval and direct matters in the expectation that players will carry our their instructions, revised during the game or not.  I expect the manager to carry out thorough post match analysis and being able to explain to players where they went right and where they went wrong.  This will allow players to develop a better understanding of the issues they faced in the match and being able to do better the following week.  If they cannot do that then they don't have a future at their current level, whatever it might be, never mind any higher level.

Of course this is made all the more difficult when the manager is actually on the field throughout the game!   How do the manager and the captain interact on field during play?  What role does the Assistant manager/coach fulfil?  Have Accies got it right this season in this respect?  Time will tell, and that time may start with St Johnstone tomorrow night.  Good luck to all in the hoops.   

Monday 23 September 2013

Accies v St Johnstone, Scottish League Cup, Tuesday 24 September

Great preview on the BBC site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/24122136

They're the favourites, and as Alex Neil says, we can just enjoy the game, as anything we take from it will be a bonus.

Some bonus, though, with a chance of a quarter final place. Dare we dream?

Sunday 22 September 2013

St Johnstone - past times

St Johnstone's  Muirton Park was often used as a venue for semi finals, particularly if Aberdeen or one of the Dundee teams faced a team from the central belt. However possibly its  most famous fixture was the final match of the 1961-62 season when Dundee required a draw to win their first ever League title, and the home side also a draw, but to avoid relegation.The outcome was a 3-0 win for Dundee and demotion for the Saints, including their young forward, Alex Ferguson.  Ferguson, a horrible opponent even then, would crop up against us from time to time ( - he played against us, and scored, on his wedding day!).

Not so St Johnstone as, following their immediate promotion in 1963, they met us only twice until November 1976, when Jamie Fairlie's early goal gave us a 1-0 away win. The day will perhaps be better remembered as the day of the League Cup final when Ally McLeod's Aberdeen beat Celtic 2-1, and our supporters' bus north met upwards of 100 buses going the other way, part of a mammoth Dons support, not usually associated with a provincial club at Hampden.

The return fixture against the Saints resulted in an improbable 6-0 victory for us. It was a dreadful match in the middle of an otherwise uninspiring set of results. Last day drama in this fixture still lay many years ahead.

St Johnstone were also our opponents when Jose Quitongo played one of his most memorable matches for us. His arrival had transformed our performances during  what still proved to be a relegation season. Our fixture in January 1996 on a rain sodden  day saw him perform a sliding tackle, nick the ball from Allan Preston in mid slide, then slalom up the park. Preston understandably lost his composure completely at this piece of audacity, and lashed out at wee Jose. Jose was able to ride the "tackle" but still managed to fall theatrically in exaggerated fashion ( Jose never dived), and Preston was duly sent off. Paul Hartley then lashed a punt/Hoddlesque exquisite pass  into the roof of the net, and Accies went on to  win 2-1.

Two of the matches in our promotion season of 2007-08 stick out. In the first, and immediately after the famous Cup win against Kilmarnock, our progress towards the title came to a juddering halt with a 4-1 defeat. The second, on 22 December,  was of huge significance - having been caught by Dundee, anything less than a win against a very good Saints side would have allowed them to pass us. As it was, a James McArthur goal was enough to secure a home victory in a difficult match, and we never  looked  back.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Crowd figures - The only way is up

Last season our home average attendance for the season was 1231 which was a 30.45% drop on Season 2011 - 12's average of 1770. As I have previously commented success breeds success and should attract increased crowds. Equally after a relegation season and two seasons where the team was being restructured around youth and results were poor our slump in support is not surprising. So what will success on the park for 2013 - 14 and a potential title challenge mean for Accies and attendances. The season is still relatively young and to date we have had only 2 home games . Total attendance for the two is 2462 which somewhat spookily averages out at last years' figure of 1231. I had hoped that the successful conclusion to last season might have given some momentum to crowd figures early on but not so. However given the significant increase in the price of a season ticket which is rumoured to have led to a drop in uptake then if we are currently holding onto last years average figure perhaps thats a positive. Looking ahead if this good run of form continues then I would expect there to be a steady increase in attendance figures. The last time we won promotion in season 2007 - 2008 our average attendance was 1715 so I cant see us exceeding this. Perhaps some local advertising and match day promotion might help but would an advert in the Advertiser make any difference compared to the impact of lengthy articles, I doubt it. Anyway I have persuaded my daughter to go on Saturday so at least I'm contributing +1

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Accies vs Cowdenbeath - SPFL Championship, Sat 21 Sep 2013

Eight competitive games into the season is an arbitrary time to be taking stock, but it’s a while since we went into a home game that most Accies fans and nearly all neutral observers expect us to win – and that alone speaks volumes.

Alex Neil took charge for seven league games at the end of last season, won 5, drew 1 and lost 1 – the loss coming in our previous encounter with Cowdenbeath, when we led 1-0 until a red card for Ryan saw us play more than half the match with ten men and ultimately lose 3-1. The points tally of 16 was a significant contribution to our year’s total of 51 – more than 2 points per game, versus just over 1 point per game for the season up till then.

It was hard to judge Neil as a manager on just those seven games, but the eight so far this season have exceeded them, in terms of points, goals, performances and bravura.  Who would exchange Neil’s exuberant Accies for the same group of players who struggled last season under Billy Reid?

Neil himself admirably keeps his feet on the ground.  In his post-match interview at Kilmarnock, following our League Cup win, arguably the highlight so far of his time in charge, he said it was all right as long as we are winning.  This remains the question mark – football is all about confidence, and what will happen to this young team’s confidence when we lose a couple on the bounce? Not that there’s any sign of that, but over a long season, injuries, suspensions and luck all inevitably play their part.

It is astonishing how much better the team looks, and the credit for that lies chiefly with Alex Neil.  I was among those who defended Billy Reid to the last – I felt he deserved it, given his record as Accies' most successful post-war manager – and I feared managerial change could set us back. Neil was a risky appointment, untried and unknown, but he has exceeded all expectations: his fifteen game record in all competitions so far is won 11, drawn 2 and lost 2 – the form of title challenges and cup runs.

Our very young defence looks remarkably settled, with Cuthbert and Canning marshalling the youthful trio of Gordon, Devlin and Hendrie; in the middle, Gillespie, Crawford and McKinnon all look brighter, with Andreu a more than useful addition; and Keatings up front has staked his place. Who misses Stevie May? There suddenly seems to be depth to this squad, and competition for places all over the park. Most significantly, we carry a range of attacking threats that our opponents must fear.

Cowdenbeath might have been more motivated than Accies on the last day of last season – needing a win to stay up, while for us it was about little more than pride, but that will be different this time.  Accies will want revenge, and I predict a reasonably comfortable Accies win – perhaps 2-0.  With pretty much a full squad to choose from, and in impressive form, that is no less than we now expect.

Congratulations in advance to match mascot Duncan Ryrie.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Cowdenbeath - past times

It is not widely known but the first ever match at Douglas Park under floodlights was against Cowdenbeath - in January 1973, which we won 3-0. The stanchions were placed along the front of the terracing, and what with the existing pillars, the spectating experience for the next 14 years was like watching a match at Checkpoint Charlie ( one for the teenagers !).

There had in fact been feverish speculation for some time  before this, when holes were cut in the shed roof. Unfortunately the only visible result of all this activity was rain sweeping in on top of the already disgruntled  punters below.

Cowdenbeath unusually at the time wore a sort of pinstripey shirt, a foretaste of the kit monstrosities to come in the 1990s. And they weren't a bad team either, having been in the top league only 2 years earlier.

Equally there was a definite respect for  the standing of Cowdenbeath and the other Fife clubs. All of them had  their unique history, and were welded into the fabric of their local community. For all that Cowdenbeath are now known as "The Blue Brazil", this is a relatively recent moniker. For most of their history they were known as "The Miners", a nickname which is now sadly obsolete.

Central Park is also a venue where Newcastle-like post match breakdowns are not practicable. No sooner have  the tears started to  flow than the whole ground is shuddering with an ear bursting cacophany as the stock car racing literally gears up for its start.

The most famous encounter between us occurred in August 2002, when the opening day fixture took place only as a result of public subscription, in the form of wages contributions- a far cry but yet not so long before the days of McCarthy million pound transfers. The outcome was a 3-1 win for Accies, and a Marouane Fellaini like performance from.................big Ally Graham, who marked his debut with two headed goals and an assist.

 Big Ally was no shrinking violet either as a player or as a man, and at a previous club had confronted its fanzine writer about poor "notices", the tone of  which was immediately transformed into something approaching  sycophancy - no doubt purely by coincidence.

In conclusion, Cowdenbeath is an exceptionally well run club. Under the stewardship of the colourful and unapologetic Donald Findlay is a team of talented and well connected directors- even if most of them happen to be solicitors! The progress in the boardroom predictably has been matched by achievement on the field with various promotions in recent years for which Danny Lennon and current manager Colin Cameron take great credit. Having been turned over by them in May, a difficult fixture is anticipated this Saturday.

Friday 13 September 2013

Dundee - Past times

Mention is often made of the famous Accies v Montrose Cup tie from 28 February 1973, when the attendance is now reputed to have reached Seville like proportions ( Montrose incidentally at the time - like Southend, used to play in a Chelsea strip!).

Had we won, our quarter final tie would have been against Dundee, and their status at that time can be seen from the fact that Montrose's biggest ever crowd of 8983 ( apart from when the Town Hall burnt down!) was achieved at that match. As befitted one of Scotland 's top clubs, Dundee swatted away a good Montrose team fairly effortlessly, and in fact went on to win the League Cup the following season.

Dundee were truly big hitters at that time. In the following year's Cup quarter final, the 3-3 draw at Easter Road attracted over 35,000, and the replay at Dens 30,888. Therafter it all went horribly wrong, and they contrived to slip into the relegation zone in the final week of the first season of the Premier League in 1976. And so, they did finally show up for a match at Douglas Park on a cold rainy night later that year, and promptly lost 4-2 to us, and after taking a 2-0 lead. I can't tell you anything about any other matches, as for many years there hadn't been any !

Even in the midst of all this despondency Dundee helped set the  record attendance for a First Divison match, which still stands to this day, over 20,000 at Tynecastle in January 1978. But that first fateful relegation, on goal difference allowed neighbours Dundee United ( and Aberdeen) to survive in the top league,and to this day Dundee have never  properly recovered from it.

Dundee United had been very much  poorer cousins in Dundee, and had won absolutely nothing of note in their history. With Dundee now exiled in the lower division, and ironically under the stewardship of former Dens coach (and player, and Accies player, and boxer) Jim McLean, United pressed ahead, and for 37 years have never looked like being caught. Dundee meantime had to be content with welcoming a rich assortment of  ludicrous characters into their boardroom, and whilst this did admittedly add hugely to the merriment of the rest of us, it did  little to add to the reputation of what had been one of Scotland's  finest clubs.

We have three further fixtures against Dundee to come this season, and time then to bring matters  up to date, during a period when we were finally able to establish a rivalry with them.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Dundee vs Accies - SPFL Championship - Sat 14 Sept 2013

Accies return to action after a 2 week break with a visit to Dens Park to play 3rd placed Dundee.  Dundee have signed former Scotland striker Craig Beattie since last week's penalties defeat by Stenhousemuir in the Challenge Cup, but whether he will be fit to play on Saturday is anyone's guess.  Accies are on a fine run of form and I look forward that continuing, with the starting XI likely to reflect our success at Falkirk a couple of weeks ago.  While that game was not without its difficulties for Accies, it is clear that when we play well we have little to fear from any other team in this league.  Consistency will be the key to a good run in the Championship this year.  We have reinforced encouragingly in the last few weeks with Garcia Tena finally signing in the last week.  I don't expect him to feature as anything other than a sub on Saturday, but he certainly seems to have made an sound debut as Accies' u20s defeated Dundee Utd on Tuesday. 

This game will be provide another indication of the likely strength of our fledgling promotion challenge.  Would I take a draw if it was offered now?  I'm not sure, really, given the last few weeks… 

Managerial Merry Go Round

Only a few weeks into the season the first casualty that I am aware of has taken place. Richie Burke of Livingston has left the club citing personal reasons to be replaced by the highly experienced and respected ex Raith Rovers and Hearts manager John McGlynn. Burke was only appointed in March but this season, after 4 league games, Livingston sit bottom of the Championship with one point after losing three games and drawing one, shipping 10 goals to only 3 scored in the 3 all draw with Queen of the South. In the League Cup they have done somewhat better beating Elgin and Airdrie to earn a home tie against Motherwell later this month. This was a position that some Livi fans were touting Bill Reid for but somehow I can’t see Billy being tempted to join a club, which has had 5 managers in just over 18 months. John McGlynn is certainly credited by most Raith fans as having turned the team around earning them promotion from old Division Two so expect Accies to come up against a well organised Livingston team that will be difficult to break down and score against. Couldn't they have waited until after we had played them!  Who’s next?  Well an Accies win against Dundee must put a bit of pressure on John Brown whose squad is certainly expected to be challenging for the title. Or will it be Danny Lennon of Premiership St Mirren?

Tuesday 3 September 2013


As the transfer window closed last night, one of the last deals was James McCarthy from Wigan to Everton in what the BBC report as a deal worth £13million. Speculation regarding the percentage sell-on clause for Accies has never led to the figure being confirmed, but we do know there is a clause, and there is no doubt Accies will land a seven figure sum. A substantial windfall for the club. And a great opportunity for James.