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Archive for July, 2013

The Scottish football season has now kicked off, for lower league clubs at least. The SPL and SFL have merged to form a new single governing body under the name of the SPFL – the Scottish Professional Football League. But questions over one club’s attempts to circumvent a ban on registering new players until 1 September 2013 continue to be asked.

To recap, as part of the deal that allowed new club The Rangers (established 2012 as Sevco Scotland) to join the Scottish leagues, a prohibition on registering new players until after the current transfer window ends on 31 August was agreed. Let’s not go back through the rights and wrongs of the whole sorry situation – we are where we are now.

The Rangers cannot register new players until 1 September. And as no transfers can be completed outwith the window, the club will only be able to sign free agents – players without a club or a contract – after that date. Normal transfer conditions will apply as from the January 2014 window.

But – as so often seems to be the case with any football club that has the word Rangers in its title – things are not always as they seem. So will there be new names on the team sheet when The Rangers begins its second season at Livingston’s stadium in the first round of the Ramsdens Cup against Albion Rovers this afternoon?

Eight players have been unveiled over the summer as signings by the Ibrox club. Now while all of these players have accepted contracts of employment with The Rangers, none is eligible to play football until registered with the governing body. And that cannot happen until 1 September.

So that’s where football’s Trailist comes into play.

Much loved by lower league clubs, it is not uncommon to see the name Trailist on team sheets. The logic is simple – a club is considering signing a player, but wants to see how he would perform in a match. So he is played for a game or two as a Trailist and then a decision on whether to offer him a contract or not is made.

Now trailists, like all players, need to have an International Transfer Certificate (ITC) to play in any game. That is held by the football association of the country that the player last played in, and can only be moved to a new country when a player is properly registered with a club in that country. And as the Rangers cannot register any new payers until 1 September, anyone whose ITC is held outside Scotland cannot play until then.

So, from the summer signings down Ibrox way that rules out Bilel Mohsni, Stevie Smith, Richard Foster and Arnold Peralta, all of whom last played outside Scotland.

But what about the rest of the eight: Cammy Bell, Nicky Law, Nicky Clark and Jon Daly? Well, as all previously played for Scottish clubs, their ICTs are held in Scotland, so no impediment there.

The next issue is that individual competitions have different rules on the playing of trialists. For the Ransdens Cup, two trailists can be played in the first round only. For the League Cup, no trailists at all can be played. And in league games, two trailists per match can be played, but no individual trialist can play more than three games.

The Rangers’ manager, Ally McCoist, is confused by the situation. Now it probably doesn’t take much to confuse McCoist. But quite why different competitions have such different rules is actually a reasonable question.

Mind you there is an even better question that McCoist avoids: quite how can players who have already signed contracts ever be considered as trailists?

The point of a trial is so that a club can decide whether or not to sign a player. Kind of moot when he has already put pen to paper, isn’t it? There is no purpose to such a “trail”; no evaluation will take place, no decision will be made. The club is already committed – and therefore the player is not in any sense of the word taking part as a trialist.

But the new SPFL does not seem to have any rules on the matter. And they do not seem to be acknowledging, let alone answering, e-mailed questions on the subject. So I would assume that a lenient attitude will be taken, the issue swept under the carpet and the name Trailist will appear a couple of times on The Rangers’ team sheet this afternoon.

Rather than fretting over exactly which players he can play as trailists, McCoist should actually be thanking the footballing authorities for giving him the latitude to play any of his new signings at all while his club is under a registration ban.

 

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The vast majority of schools in Scotland are run by our 32 local authorities. So education policy and practice is decided by the Councillors we elect? Well, not entirely.

Because a law called the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 stipulates that three (four in an islands area) unelected religious representatives must sit as full voting members on every council’s Education Committee.

And the Church Of Scotland has stated that these undemocratic, unelected and unaccountable appointees hold the balance of power on the Education Committees of 19 out of the 32 local councils.

Think what that means.

In the majority of Scotland’s local authorities, decisions affecting the schooling of our children are being unduly influenced by people we have no say in electing, and who are responsible not to the electorate but to the governing bodies of their religions. The policies they vote for and the votes they cast are based not on manifestos submitted to voters and endorsed by winning an election but on their religious beliefs.

A total of 91 religious representatives currently have voting powers within Scotland’s local authorities. Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Edinburgh Secular Society have revealed that most of these represent the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, which was perhaps to be expected. But there are also appointees from the Episcopal Church, the Baptist Church, the Free Church, various Mosques and even the Salvation Army.

And in South Lanarkshire, one of the appointed members of the Education Committee is Dr Nagy Iskander from something called the Westwoodhill Evangelical Church. Dr Iskander is known to be a prominent promoter of creationist views, believing that the myth set out in Genesis is in fact the literal truth. Apple, snake and all.

So just why do these unelected people have an influence over education policy? Surely the practice is untenable in a democratic system where the make up of local authorities is supposed to represent the views of voters. What can the justification for giving religious bodies influence by right in such an undemocratic fashion possibly be?

We elect councillors to run our public services. They should be one ones responsible for the management of public services and the spending of public money, not those appointed for no other reason than their religious beliefs.

It is time to challenge this undemocratic process – and to end it.

 

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It may only be the middle of July – but Celtic’s first competitive game of the new campaign is upon us already. Just a few days after Fair Friday, and with the sun still shining, the 2013/ 14 season begins in earnest this evening in Ireland.

The early start comes courtesy of Scotland’s falling EUFA coefficient, meaning that three rounds of Champions League qualification must be successfully negotiated to make the lucrative Group stage once more. Tonight’s opponents Cliftonville may not be the most challenging that Neil Lennon’s men will face this season, but the early start and a lengthy injury list make this one a little more difficult than it might appear.

Transfer talk over the short summer break has concentrated on players who may leave Celtic. While much of this may be generated to sell newspapers, there are certainly players in demand, and a couple have moved on. Victory Wanyama has left for Southampton, ready to try his luck in England. Good luck big man – thanks for the memories and the huge profit. Gary Hooper, top scorer for the past three seasons, looks likely to drop down to the Championship with QPR. A strange move perhaps – thanks for all the goals, Gary, and good luck with ‘Arry. But no bids have been reported from another prized asset, goalkeeper Fraser Forster, as yet.

There have been players coming in to Celtic Park too. Dutch under 21 international Virgil Van Dijk is the latest to wear the number 5 jersey. Much is expected of the commanding centre half who, like many from his county, is also confident on the ball. Money has also been spent on striker Amido Baldé, born in Guinea-Bissau but representing Portugal at youth level. It remains to be seen whether he will become the “big centre forward” fans have been crying out for since the days of Hartson and Sutton. And former Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-back Steven Mouyokolo has also been recruited, joining on a free transfer after a successful trial.

Others will in all likelihood join too. Another striker will be required as Hooper leaves, a left sided player has been identified as a gap and a creative midfielder tops many fans’ wanted list.

A number of young players will be looking forward to playing time during the lengthy season ahead. The likes of Tony Watt, (if rumours of a loan move away prove to be just that), Dylan McGeough and Australian Tom Rogic will all be trying to establish themselves in the first team. And there are talented youngsters behind them too.

Europe is the stage on which Neil Lennon and his side will be judged. Qualification for the Group stage of the Champions League is a must, in financial as well as footballing terms. Beyond that a last sixteen place for the second season running would make this a very successful season indeed. A place in the latter stages of the Europa League for a third placed finished would be very much second prize, but a decent one at that.

Domestically the main goal is to secure the inaugural SPFL Premier League title. And Paddy Power’s price of 1/66 on Scott Brown lifting the new trophy doesn’t seem overly generous. 4/5 for the Scottish Cup and 5/4 for the League Cup are not exactly long odds either. So the goal has to be a clean sweep of all three main domestic prizes on offer. It’s certainly a realistic aim, but will require just a little more consistency than was shown last season.

So the season begins in Belfast. Where will it take Celtic? It’s difficult to make too many predictions while the transfer window is still open – but there is much to look forward to over the next ten months or so. If European qualification is achieved then travel plans for Madrid, Milan or Munich may be being studied before too long.

Certainly beats a trip up the A90 to Forfar, doesn’t it?

 

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Congratulations to Andy Murray on his victory at Wimbledon on Sunday. His second grand slam title is now secured, as is a place in sporting history. But what is the political significance of this sporting triumph?

Now that might seem a strange question to ask. It would appear though that many people want to drag the world’s number two male tennis player into a very different arena from the one he is used to.

Andy Murray, you see, is the first British man to win the singles title at Wimbledon for 77 years. Or the first Scottish man to take the title for over a century if you prefer. And that’s where the politics comes in. Rather than simply rejoicing in Murray’s victory, it seemingly has to have some sort of wider significance in the independence debate.

Now perhaps Andy Murray is simply the first man from Dunblane to win a grand slam title. Or the first Wimbledon men’s champion to be called Andy. (Andre Agassi doesn’t count, pedants.)

But Scotland’s First Minister was in the Royal Box for Sunday’s final, sitting just behind the UK’s Prime Minister. And when Murray celebrated, so did Alex Salmond. He did so by producing an outsized Scottish flag, which had apparently been carried in his wife’s handbag, and appeared to claim the win for Scotland. David Cameron also celebrated, apparently unaware of what was happening in the row behind.

Was Salmond simply being patriotic? Or was he attempting to make a nationalistic point?

Frankly, a whole lot of newspaper column inches have been wasted debating the issue. A man won an important tennis tournament, beating another man who happened to come from a different country. A sporting triumph for sure, but its political significance?

Absolutely none as far as I am concerned.

Wimbledon is an individual tournament. Andy Murray wasn’t playing as a representative of Scotland or of the UK, but simple as himself. His victory did not mean anything at all in the context of Scotland’s forthcoming independence referendum. And Murray himself would no doubt point out that his Czech coach Ivan Lendl was very important to his victory, and remind us that most of his early training was done is Spain.

So does Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory mean anything at all in terms of Scotland’s politics? Of course not. And anyone trying to claim that it does is simply trying to play a populist card and attempting to ride on his coat tails.

 

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