Tuesday, 24 December 2013
BY JIM BLACK
IT was Christmas Day at the golf club, the coldest day of the year.
The members’ hearts were full of joy, their bellies full of beer,
Then up spake the most important member, face as bold as brass,
Cameras away, phones off and don’t dare interrupt whilst I’m talking!
Who exactly was this rather corpulent figure dressed from head to foot in flowing red robes and a blonde beard?
It couldn’t be, could it? No, surely not THE Colin Montgomerie!
Had Big Col really morphed into Monty Clause come hot foot in his spikes from his rich pile in the Perthshire hills to dispense much merriment?
Not even yet another year without a major could dispel Big Col’s sense of festive spirit and fun.
Soon, after clearing his plate of the last morsel of a splendid turkey dinner washed down by several cans of diet (?) Coke, it was time for Monty Clause to dispense gifts to the little children – at least those he had not already trampled underfoot in his rush to reach the jelly and ice cream first!
“And what did Santa bring you for Christmas?” he enquired of one little chap who had already soiled himself in terror-filled anticipation of meeting Monty Clause.
“Come on, speak up,” Monty Clause sighed as only he can sigh while also screwing up his face and doing a passable impersonation of a warthog licking p... of a nettle.
“What?” he bellowed on learning that the unfortunate youngster had, in fact, received a copy of “A History of the Majors.”
“I suppose you think you’re being smart,” he growled in a menacing tone all too familiar to the Scottish golf writers.
With that the youngster took to his heels and was last seen heading into the nearby hills.
Once the remaining gifts had been dispensed – in matter of seconds, I might add – it was time for Monty Clause to perform his party piece.
To the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” it went something like this:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love (self) gave to me a major in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six juicy burgers, five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven large Kit Kats, six juicy burgers, five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight cans of Coke, seven large Kit Kats, six juicy burgers, five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a nine order of merit titles, eight cans of Coke, seven large Kit Kats, six juicy burgers, five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten lords a leaping to my every whim, nine order of merit titles, eight cans of Coke, seven large Kit Kats, six juicy burgers, five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers playing “Love, Love Me Do”, ten lords a leaping to my every whim, nine order of merit titles, eight cans of Coke, seven large Kit Kats, six juicy burgers, five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
On the twelfth days of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming up support for a fresh Ryder Cup campaign, eleven pipers playing “Love, Love Me Do”, ten lords a leaping to my every whim, nine order of merit titles, eight cans of Coke, seven large Kit Kats, six juicy burgers, five senior majors, four fawning scribes, three 59s, two more majors and another in a pear tree.
With that Monty took his leave, brushing aside autograph hunters as he went and trampling underfoot those few remaining children who had survived the jelly and ice cream scramble.
But there were those who swore they heard a lone voice drifting across the chill evening air singing “For I’m a Jolly Good Fellow” before being accosted by the smell of burning rubber as a top-of-the-range Lexus roared out of the car park.
Merry Christmas, Monty.
And to all of you, 24-handicappers, burgeoning amateur stars and seasoned pros alike, festive good wishes.
Monday, 23 December 2013
By ANDY RITCHIE
THERE will be a few people trotting out the poacher-turned-gamekeeper line as I make my Christmas analyses of the men whose job it is to bring goals to Scottish football.
And they’d be absolutely right, except for one important factor: I was never a poacher in the first place simply because the penalty box was a virtual no-go area for me. I’m afraid I contributed to the art of heading what Jim Baxter contributed to the culture of monastic living.
There were compensatory factors, however: I could kick that old pudding of a ball with a fair bit of venom - I must have been a mule in a previous life - from all sorts of distances and angles. Someone once remarked that I wasn’t a great goal-scorer, but that I scored great goals.
That’ll do me. Trying to score from corner kicks, in fact, was one of my party pieces for Morton. Even then, the facts suggest I didn’t need to be a penalty box specialist: I hit the onion bag 133 times in 246 games.
Anyway, back to the point of this exercise. We’ll set the ball rolling with a quick look at a couple of Celtic incomers. Only a quick look, mind you. There’s a lot of good things on telly this time of year, so we don’t need eye strain.
It’s claimed that Neil Lennon is looking to bring in more strikers. He needs to, ’cos he’s never replaced Gary Hooper in any shape or form. They say Teemu Pukki is promising to deliver the merchandise. They can say what they like. It looks to me as if he’s Harald Brattbakk in disguise. Amido Balde? You would need a radar system to find him. Sat-nav if the radar is too expensive. The stats tell it all: four-year contract, nine appearances, two goals.
Let’s be more positive for a minute. What about this intriguing guy Billy McKay up at Inverness? As evidenced by his performance against Aberdeen, he seems to have retained the knack of scoring goals. I imagine the big Yogi Hughes goes to bed praying that he doesn’t get injured, or that someone takes a real fancy to him and puts in a bid that cannot be refused.
Hey, I don’t see too many others taking up the scoring challenge at Inverness. If they were to lose Mackay, I don’t know where the goals would come from.
You might say the same thing about Kilmarnock. There you have the resurrection of Kris Boyd. He looks as if he’s got himself in shape and has rediscovered his appetite for the game. I remember him playing at Pittodrie last season, and the home crowd getting after him, suggesting he was built along the lines of a Sumo wrestler. Not any more.
He will always get goals: they just come naturally to him. But, with his regained fitness and a new and welcome maturity, he’s putting in the yards out with the box. It looks good from here.
Up at Dundee United, they’ve brought back David Goodwillie, but he’s been less than impressive. When he left United to go to Blackburn, his record couldn’t have been better, but these days it seems doubtful if he could hit a bull on the backside with a big stick. Mind you, United should worry: with their marvellous crop of youngsters, they’re getting goals from all quarters.
It’ll be interesting to see, meanwhile, what influence Terry Butcher can bring to bear on his striker, James Collins. For someone who cost £200,000 - a lot of money in these depressed times - he’s started with a whimper. But maybe Butcher will work out a system that will be beneficial to him. Whatever, Collins has much to prove. The Hibs supporters expected a lot more, after their times with guys like Griffiths, O’Connor, Fletcher and Riordan.
I’m sure some of the Motherwell fans favour a dander down memory lane, too. They said farewell to five really good players at the end of last season, but perhaps the loss of twin strikers Henrik Ojamaa and Michael Higdon was most felt. However, John Sutton has done a fair job in making people forget Higdon. And Henri Anier looks as if he’s just about to turn a corner and become a player.
Stevie May, of course, has already made his admirable mark. He’s been a revelation for St Johnstone ever since he returned from his loan spell with Hamilton Accies. He and the wee guy, Nigel Hasselbaink, have punched well above their weight, but May represents the business: he looks as if he could be a 20-goal-a-season man.
I can’t say anyone else has really caught my attention. I tell a lie: I forgot about Calvin Zola. Someone recently asked me what I’d have said about him on my report - I scouted for Aberdeen in Craig Brown’s last year as manager. Put it this way: if I’d been sent the run the rule over him and he’d played like he does for the Dons, there would have been only one visit!
To my mind, he’s been the worst signing as far as Scottish clubs are concerned. Wardrobe size, he’s a big plank of wood up front who looks as if he has little or no ability. Now Aberdeen have returned to Scott Vernon and that tells you plenty.
I understand former Dons player Zander Diamond said that his former Burton Albion colleague was unplayable on his day. I think Zander - he might not be the brightest star in the sky with that remark - got Calvin mixed up with Gianfranco Zola.
No, I don’t see him as any better than the ones who were up there when I was scouting for them. It might have been a salary that Aberdeen could have used better. Hey, with the amount of players who are in England’s lower divisions, they certainly could have got themselves somebody who would have scored goals and performed better.
Who does he remind me of? Did I hear someone say Adebayor? Eh, no! It’s hard to tag somebody who cannot play, ‘cos you’re automatically tagging somebody else who cannot play.
Maybe, of course, I’m being a bit harsh. Some players take time to settle into a new club. Calvin has a couple of things in his favour: he’s been there only a few months, and also when someone has a blast at someone like him, he suddenly becomes first scorer for Aberdeen on everyone’s coupons. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong and he’ll go on a run and score 25 goals this season.
If he does, I’ll be the first to blog that I was wrong.
Saturday, 14 December 2013
BY ANDY RITCHIE
CELTIC’S 6-1 defeat by Barcelona was an embarrassment and it may also turn out to be the moment when Neil Lennon decided that it’s time to move on.
Lennon’s stock was never higher than it was 12 months ago when Celtic progressed through to the last 16 of the Champions League.
That would have been the ideal time for him to have actively sought a job in the Premiership and I don’t know whether he chose to remain at Celtic or there were no managerial offers forthcoming.
But one thing’s for sure, his stock is not nearly so high a year on. Celtic’s results in Europe have been disappointing to say the least and that will have impacted on Lennon’s chances of landing a job in England.
It used to be that simply being manager of Celtic and Rangers was sufficient to guarantee you a job down south if you made it known you wanted one. Not anymore.
But there’s nothing to keep him at Celtic that I can see. He punched well above his weight last season as far as Europe was concerned but this campaign has been a huge let down not even qualifying for the Europa League.
And if he has any sense – and I believe he does – he will seek pastures new over the coming months.
It’s clear that the sort of money required to achieve a level of success in Europe isn’t going to be forthcoming from Peter Lawwell and Lennon understands that he needs a different type of player for Europe, and they cost big bucks.
He lost three players at the end of last season and tried to replace them with something like seven others who proved to be less than effective in the Champions League and maybe even the SPFL as well.
So, I think he’ll be saying to himself that he has probably gone as far as he can at Celtic Park and as the situation stands in Scottish football, the Premiership is a bigger deal, even at the clubs lower down.
If you have genuine ambition you must want to test yourself by flexing your muscles in the Premiership, and that applies to managers as well as players.
I suspect the Norwich job will become available soon although I hear that Malky Mackay is in line to take over there, and, if so, there will be a vacancy at Cardiff, while there may also be an eventual opening at West Ham.
It’s getting to that time of year when chairmen and owners start becoming increasingly twitchy, as we saw in the case of Fulham, so there will definitely be opportunities.
It all depends on how much Lennon wants to test himself at Premiership level. If, as I suspect, he does, then he’ll let it be known in the right circles.
Meanwhile, the so-called Green Brigade isn’t doing Celtic, or Scottish football for that matter, any favours.
They have caused mayhem in recent weeks and while they are clearly a minority of the support, there is a sizeable enough number to cause concern and they appear to be gathering momentum.
I have no idea exactly what their agenda is or what they are trying to achieve. Maybe if they declared their aims something could be done to tackle the problem before it gets completely out of hand.
The situation can’t be allowed to continue and if their aim is just purely vandalism then the sooner they are kicked out of football the better.
At £55 an hour for each constable, the SPFL clubs have been examining ways of reducing policing costs for some time now and selective matches have been police-free within the stadium.
By that I mean the stewards have carried out policing duties and taken on responsibility for ejecting unruly spectators and handing them over to officers stationed outside the ground.
I was the SPL delegate at the first ever police-free match, a 2-2 draw between Motherwell and Hibs at Fir Park several years ago, and the hope by now was that the majority of fixtures would be policed by stewards only.
But events at Fir Park have opened a fresh can of worms with the throwing of flares and the ripping out of seats. in addition to various other health and safety issues.
The bampots responsible have effectively set the whole policing issue back years at a time when the clubs are desperately trying to reduce their outgoings.
After all, with all due respect, you are not going to get stewards earning a fifth of what police officers receive risking serious injury trying to deal with the thugs who are hell bent on causing maximum damage and disruption to the game they profess to be fans of.
The Green Brigade may also have hastened Neil Lennon’s departure from Celtic Park.
BY JIM BLACK
IT is that time of year to be merry and extend peace and goodwill to all on earth.
That being so, I would like to take the opportunity to spread some festive charm of my own, starting with a rant about the dual disgraces that are the A9 and the A96, the two main arteries linking Inverness with the central belt and the west and Aberdeen, in the north.
We are assured that the “killer” A9 will be completely dualled by 2025. Meanwhile, barely 30 of the torturous 108 miles from Perth to Inverness are currently dual carriageway.
At best it is a two-hour drive on a good day, considerably much longer when the tourists hit the trail, especially those who desire to spend a fortnight living in a cramped square box on wheels!
The result is frustration, risk taking and, sadly, in some instances, death by crazed driving.
As a regular user of the “Gateway to the Highlands” for the past two years I am appalled by the standard of driving and the complete lack of regard for other road users.
Now we have the mad cap suggestion that average speed cameras are part of the answer to reducing the annual carnage.
And these are the same Holyrood mandarins who want to make the country Independent! God help us all if their wish is granted.
In some instances the journey from Inverness to Aberdeen can turn out to be even more hair-raising, taking anything up to three hours to complete 102 miles of twists, turns and blind corners.
But average speed cameras are most certainly not the answer. Imagine the growing frustration of regular business users queued up behind a trail of heavy goods vehicles and happy-go-lucky, don’t give a damn, caravaners exploding into suicidal overtaking manoeuvres and sudden bursts of speed exceeding the ton.
But then what do I and thousands of others know? Wee (Sometimes Big) Eck and his SNP cohorts knows best, but there again, how often does he and they get behind the wheel of a car and experience the hell for themselves?
Instead of wasting time and a small fortune on hairbrained average speed camera schemes, they should be digging deep to find the necessary finances to ensure that dualling the A9 and A96 become a matter of immediate priority – not 12 years from now in the case of the former.
RANT TWO concerns the thorny subject of parking on the mean streets of Inverness.
Local councillors and MSPs have expressed concern that Traffic Wardens are being dispensed with in parts of the Highlands, notably Inverness, as a cost-cutting exercise.
Why? The Highland capital already appears to be operating a “park where you like” policy. That is the only conclusion to be drawn from the way motorists simply abandon their vehicles on the streets of Inverness.
For some considerable time now I have observed vehicles parked on double yellow lines on a daily basis, largely without incurring parking tickets.
One evening, not so long ago, one inconsiderate clown actually succeeded in partially blocking one street by the banks of the River Ness.
Presumably a guest of the Premier Inn Hotel, this unfortunate creature considered it acceptable to park on double yellow lines outside the establishment’s front door, directly opposite parking bays, with the result that vehicles were forced to perform a delicate manoeuvre to execute an escape with inches to spare.
An hour after I had made a telephone call to police headquarters informing them of the impediment, the offending vehicle had not been moved.
Was I surprised by the lack of urgency? Not a bit of it.
Having by chance followed police vehicles along Castle Street on several occasions and witnessed the occupants ignoring a line of traffic parked illegally, blocking an entire lane, I would expect nothing less.
So, good riddance to the wardens, whoever you are! You will not be missed – if indeed you were ever noticed in the first place.
RANT THREE is an attack on the producers of HOLLYOAKS, the teenagers’ soap that is aired daily at 6.30 on Channel 4.
Having had the misfortune to watch the omnibus edition, I was aghast at the content – an unrelenting mix of rape, pillage, illicit sexual liaisons, drunken excess, duplicity, rank bad behaviour, disrespect, theft, major crime, drug-dealing, murder and general mayhem.
Is this really the diet of life society wants to feed to our youngsters? Can we really blame them when they ape the appalling behaviour of those actors that portray the goings on of a modern Sodom and Gomorrah?
I am no prude who has lived a squeaky clean life, far from it. But it seems to me that those responsible for filling TV air time also have a responsibility for NOT glamourising the worst excesses of life.
Society is currently headed for Hell in a handcart – without also fitting the vehicle with turbo jets!
And, finally – you’ll no doubt he delighted to learn - RANT FOUR and the season of amateur drinkers.
I refer to those who consider it acceptable to get miraculously drunk for a three week period over the Christmas and New Year period and behave badly.
On behalf of those of us who enjoy a drink 52 weeks of the year I say this: Get real and get a life, otherwise you may wake up nursing a sore face - or worse!
Right, that’s it – compliments of the season to one and all.