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Archive for April, 2013

It’s two Scottish Premier League titles in a row for Neil Lennon and Celtic. A 4-1 home victory over Inverness Caley Thistle clinched the club’s 44th championship with a stylish second half performance. And the celebrations were long and loud at Celtic Park.

After a stuffy first half where the visitor managed to frustrate Celtic, it was top scorer Gary Hooper who eventually got the opening goal. A second from captain for the day Joe Ledley was soon followed by another for Hooper. Substitute Georgios Samaras added a stunning solo fourth and a late ICT consolation goal did nothing to spoil the party,

The detractors will say that this championship was inevitable with a certain former football club now out of the game. Within hours the BBC was even asking whether the title win was credible! A league won fairly by a well run, well managed and financially stable club? That sounds credible enough to me.

Any championship is worth winning – and the old adage in sport is that you can only beat the opponent in front of you. There is still a cup final to come for Celtic in May, with the chance to make it a double, on top of a Champions League last sixteen place. A successful season by any measure.

Neil Lennon was absurdly under a touchline ban after swearing during a game. Something I’m sure no other manager has ever done, of course, or they would have been banned too. Unless some managers are treated differently from others by the Scottish footballing authorities …

But the SFA’s strange rules that meant the Celtic manager could not join his players on the field until 15 minutes after the final whistle simply created a great dramatic tension in the ground. The scoreboards at either end showed a countdown to the moment that Neil Lennon could join the party, and the cheers from the Celtic Park faithful when he eventually did were immense.

And the manager was as eloquent as ever when he took the mic in the middle of the pitch to pay tribute to his players, the Celtic fans and his family for their support over the season.

The statistics of 2012/ 13 will show a title won with four games left to play – one game later than last season’s championship was clinched at Kilmarnock. Six games have been lost along the way, but what does that matter? No one, apart from the real stattos, will remember anything other than a successful defence of the title.

So congratulations to Neil Lennon’s Celtic: Two in a row Scottish Premier League Champions.

125 years of unbroken history have given many high points supporting a great football club. And there is a lot more still to come.

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Goodbye Margaret Thatcher

I can honestly say I’ve never before celebrated a death. But for Margaret Hilda Thatcher I will make an exception. The world is quite simply a better place without her in it.

Back in May 1979 I was a teenager in the midst of a Marxist phase I would soon grow out of. At a school outdoor centre for a week of canoeing and sailing we awoke to a teacher telling us, “Get up boys, you’ve got a woman prime minister.” I can remember thinking that the class struggle would become much fiercer with Thatcher in charge.

There is no doubting that Margaret Thatcher is the dominant figure in British politics from the time of her election through to the present day. She changed the face of the political landscape with a radical shift to the right that has led to all major parties rethinking their basic stances. The post war consensus that saw Tory and Labour as near-centrist parties agreeing on much was as dead as the idea of compassionate Conservatism.

The savage ideology behind the Iron Lady’s revolution, based on the monetarist economic philosophy, was clear. There was to be no such thing as society. The state should be rolled back. Direct taxes should be lowered and interest rates higher. Greed was good and helping others a sign of weakness. Deregulation and privatisation were the way forward. The market was king. Council houses were sold off at discounts and the powers of local authorities reduced.

Recession and mass unemployment were the results. The rich got richer while the poor paid the price. Many lost their jobs and their homes as unemployment of over three million people was a price she was more than willing to pay. Entire industries were destroyed, communities left devastated. The Poll Tax was unleashed in Scotland first, leading to mass non payment campaigns.

New laws to shackle trades unions were introduced. A confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers was provoked and a year long strike resulted in defeat for the miners. The consequences for the coal industry were devastating, with the number of pits closed exceeding even the claims of NUM leaders, dismissed at the time as fantasy.

In foreign policy, Thatcher was always close to US President Ronal Reagan. In those cold war days, American Cruise Missiles were brought to the UK and Trident purchased. The UK became a massive USAF base. In Ireland, hunger strikers were allowed to die as Thatcher refused to negotiate and a shoot to kill policy was introduced. She also called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, resisting sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Isles led to war, and Thatcher took the decision to sink a cruiser, the General Belgrano, that was sailing away from the islands at the time, resulting in hundreds of needless deaths.

Margaret Thatcher was always a divisive figure. No politician has ever stirred such strong emotions right across the political spectrum. But she won three general elections, one on the back of the Falklands victory that saved her, and was Prime Minister for more than ten years.

It is unfortunate that it was her own party rather than the electorate that defeated her in the end. Despite attracting more votes that Michael Heseltine in 1990 she did not have a sufficient majority to win the Tory leadership contest outright. Initially she vowed to fight on to another vote, but was eventually persuaded to resign. Thatcher always saw the way her cabinet ministers lined up to tell her it was to go as a massive betrayal.

So Margaret Thatcher is finally gone. There will be many newspaper editorials and television programmes devoted to her legacy over the coming days. But for the millions who suffered because of her destructive policies there is only a quiet satisfaction that she has finally departed this world.

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We’ve reached the time of year where the twelve club Scottish Premier League splits itself in two. And that means anomalies and uneven fixtures lists benefiting some teams over others will be with us once again.

For the uninitiated, here is a short guide to how one of the sporting world’s silliest league structures operates. Anyone who understands the basic principles of quantum mechanics should have no difficulty in understanding how it all works.

Firstly each club plays the other eleven clubs three times, meaning that it will play some twice at home and once away, while meeting others once at home and twice away. Based on the total number of points accumulated in this uneven set of 33 games, the league then splits into a top half and a bottom half. Clubs then play the five other sides in their mini league once more, giving a season of 38 games.

The final five rounds of fixtures will be scheduled by the governing body rather than being randomly generated in the normal fashion. Now this gives considerable power to a few people in deciding in what order the crucial final games of the season are to be played.

But the bizarre system also throws up anomalies, meaning that they have even greater power.

At the time of the split some clubs will have played 17 home games and 16 away. Others will have played the opposite. In theory, the final five games will even this up. But in practice it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes a club will end up playing 18 home and 20 away games (or 20 and 18) over the season. Hardly fair, is it? Especially when a point or two here and there can make the difference between winning and losing a title or success and failure in European qualification.

In order to try to avoid this anomaly, those who schedule the final set of fixtures will first try reversing home and away fixtures within the final five sets. But this means that the four games between two clubs over a season will often end up with three at home for one club and only one for the other. This is equally unsatisfactory in my book – and potentially gives a huge advantage to one club over another where points totals are close.

To illustrate let’s look at the potential final set of fixtures for Celtic this season.

After Saturday’s game against Hibs. Celtic will have played 33 games of which 17 will have been at home and 16 away.

Let’s assume that the top six teams stays as it is now (which is very likely given the final fixtures). Celtic have already visited four of the other five top clubs twice this season (Motherwell, Inverness CT, Ross County and St Johnstone) while playing Kilmarnock twice at home.

Celtic then should now be given four home games and one away in the final five – but this would mean a final total of 21 home and only 17 away fixtures! So presumably two of the fixtures will be reversed, meaning that Celtic will play three away matches and only one at home against not one but two different clubs this season.

This is manifestly unfair, both on Celtic and on all of the other teams involved. It means that league officials will be able to decide which of these teams, all of whom will be chasing a money spinning European place, will have the advantage of three home games and only one away against the champions.

One of the basic principles of a league system is that teams should play the same set of fixtures over the season. Clearly this will never happen under the current Scottish set up. And obviously some will end up with an easier set of fixtures that others. How can that possibly be fair?

It’s not at all difficult to devise a league system that works properly. Look at Spain’s top division. There are 20 teams, so each plays the other 19 in the first half of the season. They then start over again, with the fixtures reversed for the second half of the season. Simples!

There is much talk at present of another reorganisation within Scottish football. Quite how the league structure might look next season is a complicated question and another discussion entirely. But can I make a plea?

Surely it is not beyond even the manifestly low collective intelligence of those who run the Scottish game to come up with a fair and simple system akin to that used to good effect in Spain?

 

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