A Nice draw for Scotland?

Written by Hamish Carton.

European football’s royalty were in Nice on Sunday for the EURO 2016 qualifying draw. The tournament, held in France, will be the first finals to be contested by 24 teams, rather than 16. This change has led to widespread condemnation by fans and pundits alike with concerns about loss of quality at the forefront of their argument. One positive may come out of the expanded format though - Scotland might actually qualify for a major championship finals.

It will have been 16 years since Scotland last qualified for a major tournament by the time this summer’s World Cup kicks off in Brazil. A whole generation of Tartan Army fans have grown up not knowing what it’s like to watch their country play at a World Cup or European Championship. I’m one of them. We’ve gone through our childhood supporting only one team at these major finals - whoever plays England. That in itself tells its own story.

Things may be about to change though. We currently have a team with a good mix of youth and experience, a team virtually all playing in the English Premier League or with Celtic. We also have a manager in Gordon Strachan who seems to have given the impetuous back to the players. They want to play for the country again. The days of peculiar injury call-offs seem to be gone. A victory over Poland next month could see us enter the dizzying heights of the top 25 in FIFA’s world rankings. We seem to be on the up. Things are looking good, dare I say it?

All we need to do now is qualify for a major championship, and preferably soon. EURO 2016 offers our first chance and what a chance it is. 24 teams will be packing their bags for France. UEFA only has 54 members meaning it’s almost harder not to qualify. Saying that, in Scotland we have a knack of doing things the hard way. Making the hard possible and the easy complicated. We need all the help we can get and any luck will be welcomed.
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Falkirk and the title race

Written by Robbie Copeland.

Top of the league after 22 games.

A position I can guarantee you any Falkirk fan would have bitten your hand off for back in August.

Falkirk's progress since my last appearance here has been drastic, to say the least. When I last wrote for The Away End  back in November, Mark Millar had just returned and after going 3 league games without defeat, Falkirk looked to have turned a corner. Signs of progress were evident. However, not even the most optimistic Bairns would have at that point, honestly, predicted that their team would not lose for the next 2 months, and concede only 2 goals in the process.

Central to this, without a doubt, is their solidity at the back. Such have been the performances of Will Vaulks as a ball-playing centre-half so far, it came as no surprise when various clubs from down south expressed clear interest in signing him last month. To our relief, though, nothing came to fruition. He has displayed everything you'd like to see in a centre-half, good in the air, strong in the tackle and rarely caught out of position. You could say he pays testament to how a good attitude can get you far in the game – last season, he signed for free from English non-league side Workington Reds, on the basis that he would play for no wage. That gesture has certainly paid off for both player and club as he looks almost certain to move on to bigger things in the summer. Steven Kingsley is another who has attracted external interest - Swansea city amongst others are reported to have had various bids rejected for the left back. He has unquestionably been one of the leagues most consistent performers so far. He has looked assured with the ball at his feet, keen to hit the by-line when possible and makes his defensive duties look easy in the same breath. Thankfully, again, no move surfaced for him.

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Rangers: Bears with shares

Written by Jim Thornton.

SO, the big boys with all the money trumped the wee diddy shareholders at the Rangers AGM.  Not fair, say the Bears with Shares.  Undemocratic.  But isn’t that how the SPL worked before Rangers imploded?

Look out, Ally!  They’re behind you!

In the lead-up to the Ibrox pantomime, sorry AGM, Ally McCoist unsurprisingly reprised his role as the multi-faceted town hall clock.  He really does deserve ten out of ten for trying to be all things to all men.  Perhaps Ally should have joined the Diplomatic Corps rather than taking up football.

He first of all said it would be suicidal for him, as manager, to vote against the reigning Rangers regime.  However, he then appeared to have second thoughts once he saw the depth of the fans’ feelings against the board, but was still loath to put his cross in the ‘out, out, out’ box.  So, caught between the Devil and the light blue sea, he took the easy way out and gave his proxy to his pals in the local Rangers supporters club.  A case of two masters, one servant, if ever there was.

Super Ally may well have appeased the Ibrox masses, if you’ll pardon the expression, but I fear the Rangers board will be less impressed by his attempted sleight of hand.  No matter how relaxed they claim to be in public, they know that while McCoist didn’t actively pull the trigger and vote against them, his fingerprints are all over the smoking gun.  They may not do anything in the short term, but they have long memories.  One slip from Ally – a drubbing from a big side in the Cup, an off-message statement to the media - and out will come the Magnum P45.

It may not have been a case of suicide as such, but Ally’s Wishy-Washy impersonation has surely propelled him to the top of the waiting list at Dignitas.

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Celtic: Going through a bad spell?

Written by Jim Thornton.

The Bhoys Brigade’s mea culpa over the shenanigans at Fir Park the other night was certainly contrite - but was it genuine?  Because I didn’t spot any spelling or grammatical mistakes in it.  Did youse?
And haven’t the Parkhead protesters simply defecated in their own nests?  They want legislation outlawing offensive behaviour at games rescinded.  They want safe standing areas.  They want to set-off flares to provide ‘atmosphere’.  If you ask me, what they really want is their heads looking at.  And as for those advocating the re-introduction of drink inside grounds, well, the pictures in the papers showing the damage to the Fir Park seats should be enough to send them pubward to think again.
Celtic, to their credit, have come out and suspended some of the offenders for their misdemeanours at Motherwell.  They’ve yet to say what they’re going to do about the banner-wielders at the game against AC Milan, though.  Fingers crossed the Parkhead club don’t try to conflate the two in the hope that everyone forgets about the earlier contretemps, and it thus gets swept under Peter Lawwell’s Axminster.  But I’m sure Celtic’s Witch-Finder General has already got the message – he, for one, doesn’t need it spelled out to him.

Well Out of Order

Motherwell supporters, you will recall, weren’t any better behaved themselves when their team went down to the mighty Albion Rovers at Douglas Park the other week.  So far, and surprisingly for a club owned by the fans, the Fir Park side haven’t gone public with what sanctions, if any, they intend to impose on the culprits.  Indeed, the match report on the club’s website doesn’t even mention the vandalism.  Perhaps they’re trying to pretend it never really happened and it was all just a bad dream.  It’s known as ‘Pam Ewing syndrome’.

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Falkirk: Mid-season review

Written by Robbie Copeland.

The Millar Effect: mid-season review

Ever the optimist, when the season began I believed that Falkirk stood as much a chance as any in the chase for promotion. My last article cited the quality of Gary Holt's signings and the positive effect he would have on the club.
Six weeks ago it looked as if that positivity was poorly placed. The Bairns midfield was non-existent, defence unsettled and the vibes coming from the club, were poor, to say the least. Despite a bright start to the season, with 7 points coming from the first 3 games, we began to show what appeared to be our true inconsistent colours. After the excellent 3-0 win away to Livingston, with Phil Roberts tearing the home defence apart time after time with his blistering pace and bewildering footwork combined with somewhat clinical finishing, Falkirk lost pace and went on to lose the 3 games that followed.
The 2-1 home defeat to league leaders Hamilton may have been put down to bad luck, taking into account a reasonable performance and the 100% record the visitors boasted, but what was to come could certainly not. Back to back 1-0 defeats in Fife, firstly to Raith Rovers in the Challenge Cup, and then inexplicably in the league, away to lowly Cowdenbeath.
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Rangers: Bears and Bans

Written by Jim Thornton.

Of Bears and Bans

Paul Murray and his Ibrox insurgents warn that the current Rangers board could lead the club into a second round of administration if they continue to spend money like water – or even worse, like David Murray.  Mind you, that would still be one round further than Ally McCoist took them in the League Cup.

The Weans of Walter, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, are therefore threatening a boycott of official club merchandise if shareholders don’t vote-out the existing directors at the AGM later this month.  OK, so who’s going to be the first brave Bear to tell Big Jig that they’re not going to rush out and buy his latest DVD?  And what are Santa and his elves supposed to do with all those ‘Simply the Bust’ tee-shirts they’ve got stockpiled in their warehouse, then?

The Colours they are Fined

A banner belonging to one of the earliest Celtic supporters’ clubs is coming up for auction next week.  Experts estimate that potential purchasers will have to cough up £15,000 or so to get their hands on it – plus the same again to cover the fine from Uefa.

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Scottish Football Survey 13/14

Written by The Away End.

The Away End would like to ask fans a few short questions regarding the current state of Scottish football.
The survey is heavily geared towards Rangers currently being outwith the top flight, and whether fans feel Scottish football is better or worse off with one of the Old Firm now missing from the top division.
Other questions ask about the winter break, the League Cup, and what your voting intentions are in September's Scottish referendum.
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Celtic - Keep Calm and Carry On

Written by Jim Thornton.

CELTIC fans are understandably disappointed that their club has gone out of the Champions League - and indeed Europe altogether - after their defeat against AC Milan and Ajax’s unexpected win over Barcelona.  However, they should think twice before they start throwing their toys out of the pram.  Trust me, there are better times ahead - I say that after every Clyde game.

There’s absolutely no disgrace in finishing behind Barcelona and Milan.  And the Parkhead side are much of a muchness with Ajax, as the results between the two showed.  Next time round they’d have every chance of finishing above the Dutchmen.  So why all the weeping and wailing?

Supporters’ expectations were perhaps foolishly built up before the Milan game by those pundits who were keen to proclaim that the Rossoneri were in turmoil and effectively there for the taking.  What’s the Italian for ‘Aye, right’?  No Scottish side can afford to treat a Serie A club with anything other than the utmost respect.  Perhaps some papers should have toned down their over-exuberance.  A Tally ban on the worst offenders would be appropriate.

Celtic fans are now accusing Peter Lawwell of being Ebenezer Scrooge’s secret love-child, but do they really want to end up like Rangers?  And Neil Lennon has broken the world land speed record in going from Messiah to Muppet in only ninety minutes.  As for Fraser Forster, he’s no longer England’s Number One: indeed, he couldn’t keep Miranda Hart out of the team if some Parkhead punters are to be believed.

Fingers have also been pointed at Scott Brown for needlessly getting himself suspended; and, yes, he does need to learn there’s a difference between passion and petulance.  But come on, Celtic aren’t a one-man team, and even if they were, Broonie’s not that man.

So, Celtic fans, get your scarves back out of the bin, toddle off to Tynecastle on Sunday to support your team in the Cup - and keep your fingers crossed you don’t get the Bully Wee in the next round.

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