The Pink Yin

Scottish Fitba 2020/21

We played our first SPL games on the same day that in England they were playing last season's Cup Final, and we've now we've had ours, and a belter it was too. 

19 December was the start, and probably also the finish, of my season. I got a ticket for Stranraer v Albion Rovers at Stair Park. For sure, I'm lucky to be living somewhere that was, for a week or so, in Tier 1. I'd guess that about 100 spectators were at the match, but we'll not be seeing another for quite a while.

By the way, football is just a game. It's meant to be fun. If people are going to take it so seriously that they start fighting and protesting when their team doesn't win then they are missing the point. I doubt very much that Bill Shankly ever made that comment about fitba being more important than life and death but if he did say it I'm sure he was only joking. 

Some SPL players have demonstrated contempt for the lockdown measures that have been, and are still being observed by most of the population, but Celtic's decision to fly to Dubai to train is the first time such arrogance has been demonstrated by a club rather then by individuals. While their season continues, all football other than the SPL and Championship has been suspended from midnight on 11/12 January.

The League Cup reached the quarter-final stage without the holders, who were ambushed on their own ground by a bunch of gallant Highlanders, and then we got to the semis without their only serious rivals thanks to some heroes fae Paisley.

 

Both semi-finals were scheduled for Hampden this weekend:

23 JANUARY

 

St JOHNSTONE  3-0  HIBERNIAN 

Hibernian's reputation for failing when they are favourites was enhanced by this defeat. The Saintees won easily with goals by Jason Conway, Shaun Rooney and Craig Conway, and bagged their place in the Final.

24 JANUARY

LIVINGSTON  v St MIRREN

PREMIER LEAGUE

20 JANUARY

LIVINGSTON  2-2  CELTIC

Scott Brown came on as substitute and lasted for 5 minutes before being sent off, as Livvy & Celtic drew for the second time in a week. 

23 JANUARY

ABERDEEN  2-0  MOTHERWELL

RANGERS  5-0  ROSS CO

Zzzzzzzzzz.

 

                           P       GD       Pts     PPG                             

Rangers           25      +58      69      2.76

Celtic                22      +30      46     2.09

Aberdeen         23       +7       42     1.83

Hibernian         24       +9       40     1.67

Livingston       23       +1        32     1.39

Dundee U         24      -10      28      1.17

St Mirren          21      -8        23      1.10

Kilmarnock      23      -4        24      1.04

St J'stone         24     -11       23      0.96

Motherwell      23     -16       19      0.83

Hamilton          23     -26       19      0.83

Ross Co            25     -30       20      0.80

The 3-0 wins awarded to Motherwell against Kilmarnock and St Mirren, and the 3-0 win for Hamilton against St Mirren, are now under appeal so are not included in the table.

CHAMPIONSHIP

 

22 JANUARY

ARBROATH  1-1  DUNDEE

Ricky Little's header rescued a useful point for the Red Lichties, in a game they were widely expected to lose, and in which they fell behind very early on.

23 JANUARY

DUNFERMLINE  0-0  AYR UTD

HEARTS  2-3  RAITH

INVERNESS CT  P-P  ALLOA

QUEEN o th SOUTH  2-1  MORTON

That's a great win for Raith. The game was less close than it looks; Rovers were 3-0 ahead at one stage and Hearts' second goal didn't arrive till deep into injury time. Since Queen of the South closed their doors to George Galloway they've taken 13 out of 15 points and moved away from the danger area at the bottom of the table.

                             P        GD      Pts      PPG

Hearts               12      +18       27       2.25

Raith                  10      +10       18       1.80

Dunfermline     12       +7        21       1.75

Dundee             12        +2        20       1.67

Morton              12       -3         16       1.33

Inverness            9       +3        12       1.33

Ayr                     12         0         14      1.17

QoS                    13      -11       14       1.08

Alloa                  12      -16         8        0.67

Arbroath           12      -10         7        0.58

 

LEAGUE ONE

It's unlikely that Falkirk will go down, or Forfar up, but the rest of the division is so tight that all 8 of the teams in the middle could be considered promotion/relegation candidates.

                          P      GD      Pts        PPG

Falkirk            11      +10      21        1.91

Cove               11        +6       19        1.73

Montrose       11        +4       18        1.64

Airdrie            10        +6       16        1.60

Partick           10        +3       15        1.50

E Fife                9         -1       13        1.44

Dumbarton      9         -4       11        1.22

Clyde                8         -8         9        1.13 

Peterhead      11        -3       12        1.09

Forfar              10      -10        6         0.60

 

 LEAGUE TWO

Newly full-time Queen's Park are unbeaten in the League this season. There's  a pack of chasers behind them, including Stranraer, who went 53 weeks without a League win but haven't lost since they brought that terrible run to its end. Brechin were saved by the virus last season; maybe they'll be lucky again. 

                         P       GD      Pts        PPG

Queen's Pk     9      +13       23        2.56

Elgin                9       +9        18        2.00

Stirling            9       +9        18        2.00

Stranraer      10       +8        18        1.80

Embra C          9       +7        13        1.44

Stenny            9          0        12        1.33

Cowden           8       -9          7         0.88

Annan            10       -6          8         0.80

Albion R          8      -11         6         0.75

Brechin           9      -19         4         0.44

 At this point it's impossible to know whether the season will be able to be played to a finish, but it's looking unlikely, particularly in the semi-pro and amateur leagues.  

The 2021 Scottish FA Cup couldn't start till November, but we've now completed the First Round, plus a small portion of the Second. Sometimes, a summer season in Scotland looks to be the way forward. For myself, I'd definitely rather sit in the stand at Stair Park watching the sunshine over the loch than freeze through the winter months and go home in the dark.

 

Most of the First Round was played on Boxing Day. Camelon v Brora was abandoned at half time, and swas the last one to be finished.

11 JANUARY

CAMELON  1-2  BRORA

Considering that Brora usually trounce their Highland League opponents in League games this was a very decent result for wee Camelon, who were leading at half time but finished the game with 9 players after two were sent off for desperate fouls.

SECOND ROUND

8 JANUARY

QUEEN'S PARK  0-3  QUEEN of the SOUTH

If you watched this match on television you'll know that Queen's Park let themselves down. The Doonhamers were no better till Willie Gibson belted in a goal just before half time but in the second half they played with confidence and a bit of skill, while the Spiders laboured and never looked likely to score till Jai Quitongo came on as substitute too late to make any difference.

9 JANUARY

ALLOA 2-3  COVE

DUNDEE 3-2  BONNYRIGG (aet)

EAST FIFE  5-1  TRANENT

FORFAR  4-1  LINLITHGOW

FRASERBURGH 2-1  BANKS o DEE

KELTY 2-3  STRANRAER

The televised match between Dundee and Bonnyrigg Rose was as tense and exciting as Friday's had been dull. Rose were within seconds of going through before Dundee scored a 95th minute equaliser. Stranraer struck a blow for the SPL by coming back from two down to beat Lowland League champions Kelty Hearts at Stark's Park. Ruairi Paton's last minute goal was the difference in the end. Not only did all 12 sides score in the 6 ties that were played on Saturday, but in every one the team that conceded the first goal went on to win the game.

10 JANUARY

AIRDRIEONIANS  0-1 EDINBURGH C

A header by substitute Ouzy See saw off the home side and sent underdogs City into the Third Round.

TO BE RE-ARRANGED

ARBROATH  v  FALKIRK

BUCKIE  v  INVERNESS CT

DUMBARTON   v   HUNTLY

ELGIN AYR UTD

FORMARTINE   v   ANNAN

KEITH  CLYDE

MORTON  DUNFERMLINE

NAIRN  v  MONTROSE

PARTICK COWDENBEATH

PETERHEAD STENHOUSEMUIR

STIRLING A   v   RAITH

The draw for Round 3 has been made, but is a bit of a mess with most Second Round ties not having taken place yet, so we might as well wait before printing it out.

The Highland League season is planned to be much shorter than usual. Each team is scheduled to play 15 games and Forres Mechanics won't be there because they are taking a gap year.  It will be the first time in over 100 years that the Can Cans will be missing, but they'll be back again next summer.

 

The season had barely begun before it stopped again, but there was enough time for Brora and Fraserburgh to run up double-digit wins against Fort William and Turra respectively. Strathspey haven't managed to play a League match at all; we can only hope that they get at least one in before the summer.

                            P      GD       Pts       PPG

Brora                  3      +19        9         3.00

Fraserburgh      3      +15        9         3.00

Buckie                2       +5         6         3.00

Formartine        2       +5         6         3.00

Inverurie            2       +4         6         3.00   

Rothes               2        -3         3         1.50

Huntly                3        -1         2         0.67

Lossie                2        -2         1         0.50

Deveronvale      2       -5         1         0.50

Clach                  1       -2         0         0.00

Keith                   1       -2         0         0.00

Nairn                  2        -2         0         0.00

Wick                   2        -5         0         0.00

Fort  W               1       -10        0        0.00

Turriff                 2      -16        0        0.00

Strathspey         0

The Lowland League kicked off on 10 October even though the virus has caused more problems in the Central Belt than in the Highlands.

Kelty have won every game but one, a home defeat against East Kilbride. EK are one of the teams bubbling under and waiting for Kelty to slip up again, but it's proving to be a long wait.

Should the season reach a conclusion Vale of Leithen's only hope is to beat Embra University twice, because there's little chance of them getting any points against anybody else.

                           P        GD        Pts       PPG

Kelty                 13      +36        36        2.77

E Kilbride         12      +26        29        2.42

Bonnyrigg        12      +21        29        2.42

BSC                   13      +22        30        2.31

E Shire              12      +18        26        2.17

Gala                12      +2        22      1.83                                      Bo'ness             10       +9         18        1.80

Stirling Uni      14        +7         23       1.64

Spartans          12        +5        18        1.50

Berwick            13        -4         16       1.23

CSS                   14        -2         17       1.21

C Braves           14       -6         13        0.93

Gretna               11     -10         10        0.91

Cumb Colts      14      -13        11        0.79

Dalbeattie        10      -12          5         0.50

Embra Uni        15      -47          5         0.33

Vale                   12      -53          0         0.00

           

At Step 6 the West of Scotland League looked likely to be the one with the highest standard. Auchinleck Talbot were, once again, probably the best non-league team in the country in 2019/20. Unfortunately, coronavirus in the West of Scotland scuppered the plans for the new season, and several clubs, including Auchinleck announced that they are taking the year off. The new-style WSL is a welcome development but has arrived just at the wrong time.

 

Clydebank are the pace-setters and Cumbernauld United the stragglers, but United deserve some sympathy. Several weeks ago they had 3 points, only to lose them again when Benburb decided they preferred to give the season a miss after all.

                          P         GD        Pts       PPG

Clydebank       7        +17        19        2.71

Darvel              5        +12         12        2.40

Troon               7          +5         16        2.29

Kilwinning       7          +5         15        2.14

Meadow           6         +2          10        1.67

Largs                7         +4          11        1.57

Blantyre           7           0          10        1.43

Hurlford           7         -4          10        1.43

Beith                 5         +1           7         1.40

Rossvale          9         -1           9         1.00

Kirkie RR          7         -6           6         0.86

Bonnyton         8        -12          6         0.75

Glencairn         6          -8          3          0.50

Cumb Utd        8        -17          0          0.00

 

The East of Scotland League is now well under way, and all three divisions are settling into a pattern.

It's a good year for Perth, with both Jeanfield and Luncarty topping their respective divisions. The Swifts have been setting the pace all season, while their rivals have been nicking points from each other. The bottom three seem to be a long way adrift but all three were showing encouraging signs before the season came to a halt.

                                P        GD        Pts      PPG

Jeanfield           9      +20         23       2.56

Tranent             12     +19        28        2.33

Camelon           10     +20        20        2.00

Lithgae              11     +10        22        2.00

Penicuik             8      +10        16        2.00

Musselb'gh       11      +7          22       2.00

Dundonald         8       +4          16        2.00

Lothian              10      +2         19        1.90

Hill o Beath      10       -2         15        1.50

Broxburn           11      +1         16        1.45

Nitten                 12      +2         16        1.33

Sauchie             11      +5         14        1.27

Tynecastle        11        0         14        1.27

Crossgates       11     -10        10        0.91

Dunbar               13    -18         11        0.85

Inverk'ing          10     -26          3         0.30

Blackburn         12     -23          3         0.25

Whitehill              9     -21          1         0.11

DIVISION 1 A

Leith have a 100% record. It would be a shame if the pandemic were to rob them of a chance to keep that proud run going.

                          P        GD        Pts        PPG

Leith                 9       +31        27         3.00

Hadd'ton          9       +20        23         2.56

Kenn SH           8      +15        18          2.25

Embra Utd      10      +10        19         1.90

Embra Sth      10       +2         18         1.80

Thornton          9        +7        16          1.78

Rosyth            10      +10        16         1.60

C'royston          9       +4         14          1.56

Coldstr'm         8        -3         12          1.50

Dunipace          9     +14        13          1.44

St Andrews      9      -13        10          1.11

Dalkeith          12      -8         10           0.83

Arniston           9      -18          7           0.78

Kirkcaldy        10      -22         7           0.70

Ormiston          8      -19          3           0.38

Tweedm'th       7      -31          0           0.00

DIVISION 1 B

Luncarty were looking too good to be stopped till Glenrothes took a trip to their lovely ground by the railway viaduct and beat them 2-1. Inconsistency has dogged their nearest challengers, while down at the bottom poor Eyemouth's only purpose seems to be to ensure guaranteed points for their opponents.

                            P        GD        Pts         PPG

Luncarty            7       +18         18         2.57

H-W Uni           11       +20        24         2.18

Oakley               8        +11        17         2.13

Kinnoull             8       +15         16         2.00

Burntisland       8       +11        16          2.00

Glenrothes        8        +4          14         1.75

Newburgh         9        +4          15         1.67

Stirling  U II     10         0          15         1.50

Easthouses       8        +7          11         1.38

Peebles             8        +1          11         1.38

Preston              8        -4            6          0.75

Lochore             8        -5            6          0.75

Lochgelly           8     -14            5          0.63

Hawick               8       -9             3          0.38

Eyemouth          8      -59            0          0.00

Hawick deducted 3 pts. Glenrothes awarded 3 points.

 

The South of Scotland League (aka the Sooth) is the weakest of the three potential feeders to the LL but it was up and ready to begin on schedule on 10 October.

The League was now back from its  2 week winter break on 9 December, but all the games were postponed because of the weather.

                            P        GD       Pts        PPG

Threave             7       +23        18         2.57

Stranraer II      11      +27        26         2.44

St Cuthbert       7       +10        16         2.29

Nithsdale           8        +3         15         2.14

Abbey Vale        8        +6         14         1.75

Newton               9        +7         15         1.67

C Braves II         6        +5         10         1.67

Wigtown             8        -5         12         1.50

Uppers                9        -2         12         1.33

Lochar               11       -6         10         0.91

Lochmaben        8      -15          6          0.75

Mids                    7      -11          4          0.57

Creetown            7      -21          4          0.57

Heston               10     -21          4          0.40

 

 

Ye didnae think I'd forgotten, did ye? The women's season returned in the autumn, after a false start in February. Normally the SWFL is a spring and summer competition but this year the players (but sadly no fans) have been feeling the cold.

The League went on a break before Xmas, and so did Shelley Kerr, ousted as national team manager on 24 December. Shelley was absent and self-isolating for the last 2 miserable defeats but she got the boot regardless. From what I saw, 11 new players rather than a new team coach are what's needed to improve Scotland's side. Shelley won't be back, and it's doubtful that the domestic season will return either. 

 

SWFL 1

If Glasgow City's last result, a 5-0 thrashing by Rangers, isn't the sign of the start of a new era I'll be very surprised. After dominating for years, City might be on the point of becoming the Queen's Park of the women's game.

                             P     GD       Pts      PPG           

Rangers              7    +21        18      2.57

Glesga City        7    +15        18      2.57

Celtic                  7    +19        16      2.29

Hibernian           7      +3          9       1.29

Spartans            7      -1           9      1.29

Farmington        7      -8          7       1.00

Motherwell        7     -24         3       0.44

Hearts                7     -25         3       0.44

 

SWFL 2

 

Aberdeen have won all their games except one, an inexplicable 5-0 defeat against Partick.

                                P       GD     Pts      PPG

Aberdeen             10     +33      27      2.70

Dundee Utd         10       +9       21      2.10

Hamilton              10      +16     19      1.90

Partick                  10     +11     19      1.90

St Johnstone       10        0       16      1.60

Glesga W              10       +7      13      1.30

Queen's Pk           10       -7       13     1.30

Boroughmuir       10      -16       9       0.90

Kilmarnock          10      -18       9       0.90

Stirling Uni           10     -29       1       0.10

 

CHAMPIONSHIP NORTH

                          P      GD       Pts       PPG

ICT                    2       +7         6        3.00

Montrose         2       +6         6        3.00

Dryburgh          2       +5         6        3.00

Dundee W        3         0         6        2.00

Dunfermline    2       +4         3        1.50

East Fife           2       +1         3        1.50

Buchan             2       -1         3        1.50

Grampian         1       -3         0        0.00

Westdyke         3       -7         0        0.00

Stonehaven     3     -12         0        0.00

Fixtures were planned for 22 and 29 November but were not played because of the Covid-19 rules, and that was that.

CHAMPIONSHIP SOUTH

Still not started! As above, there were schedules planned but the games never happened. The chances of the South section being completed with a full set of teams and all its matches was receding week by week even before the latest shutdown. It's a shame but it cannae be helped.

The 14 teams hoping to get to play are Airdrie, Ayr United, BSC Glasgow, Clyde, Edinburgh Caledonia, Edinburgh City, Falkirk, Gartcairn, Livingston, Morton, Renfrew, St Mirren, Stenhousemuir and United Glasgow.

 

Round-Up

RUGBY UNION

The news that Rob Laidlaw has dementia at 67 is upsetting. Even more frightening is that former internationals Steve Thompson (England) and Alix Popham (Wales) also have dementia and both are in their early forties. Steve Thompson played in the 2003 World Cup Final but can no longer remember anything about it.

If footballers are being told not to hug each other after scoring goals it's difficult to see how rugby can continue to be played, since jumping on top of and grappling with opponents is the very nature of the game. There's not much social distancing at a scrum, or when a player dives over the line with a mass of players on top of him.

SNOOKER

​​

The UK championship was won by Aussie Neil Robertson, who beat Judd Trump by the tightest margin, 10-9, in the final at Milton Keynes. No spectators were allowed in to see the match; they would have been late home if they had been there to see it because the Final was a slog that finished just before 1 o'clock in the morning.

The wee Highland village of Milton Keynes also hosted the Scottish Open championship, which was won, for the second year in succession, by Mark Selby.

ATHLETICS

South African Caster Semenya is banned till she takes drugs to reduce her testosterone even though it's not her fault that her body makes too much. She doesn't cheat, unlike some other athletes we could mention who are officially still clean. It's ironic that performers who are caught taking drugs are normally sanctioned but Ms Semenya suffers the same punishment for not doing so. It's like telling a basketball player he is too tall and forcing him to play in bare feet.

RUGBY LEAGUE

An experiment that should really never have been attempted is now over after Toronto Wolfpack were told they would not be allowed back into Super League. There's no reason why American and Canadian clubs can't organise their own competition over there. Now, a Scottish team in Super League would make much more sense. There's no sign of one, though, and the vacancy has now been filled by Leigh.

The Grand Final had no fans inside the ground to watch it but still provided a thrilling finish, with St Helens scoring the winning try after the hooter had sounded against their old rivals Wigan.

Former Leeds star Kevin Sinfield ran a marathon every day for a week to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and as a tribute to his team mate Rob Burrow, who was diagnosed with MND shortly after he retired from the game last year.

DARTS

The PDC World Champion for 2021 is Gerwyn Price. In a nervous final the Welshman defeated our laddie Gary Anderson 7-3.

FITBA

With 5 games of the season to go, Bodø/Glimt's 18 point lead confirmed them as the first team from within the Arctic Circle to become champions of Norway.

CRICKET

India's formidable batting side were bowled out for 36 by Australian quickies Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins in a Test match in Adelaide. India had a first innings lead but their second innings was short and not very sweet. Australia won by 8 wickets.

The Aussies didn't have much time to celebrate. In the Second Test India gave them a pure pasting, and in the third batted out the final day to earn a draw.

In the deciding match, despite injury absences, India successfully pulled off an exciting run chase and won the series 2-1.

In Galle, England beat Sri Lanka by 7 wickets. The first innings was decisive. Sri Lanka made a low score and England captain Joe Root scored 228 in his side's reply.

CHEATING

A Sinophobic tweet by an Italian WADA official has led to the setting aside of the 8 year ban on Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, an unrepentant cheat who has been suspended before for using banned drugs and avoided testing in order to avoid being caught again. When Sun won gold at the 2016 Olympics he was shunned on the podium by the other medal winners.

The head of Africa's fitba confederation has been banned for 5 years by FIFA for bribery and corruption. Insert dodgy observation about pots and kettles here.

Remembering Nancy Riach

The Kenneth Roy post-war year by year history of Scotland entitled The Invisible Spirit is a great read but it's not always 100% accurate, and his tale of young Nancy Riach going to bed with a paralysed arm and never waking up again doesn't explain her death properly by any means, but for those of us who had never heard of Nancy because she was famous before our time the story was certainly an encouragement to check out what really happened.

Born in Motherwell in 1927, Nancy was probably the finest competitive swimmer Scotland has ever had. At the age of 18, while specialising in freestyle swimming, she was a champion in other disciplines as well and by the time she was 18 she held 28 British and Scottish all-time records. There were no Olympics between 1936 and 1948 but she did take part in international competition and would have been an odds-on favourite for gold medals in the 1948 Games, which were to be held in London.

In 1947 Nancy was in her prime, or at least as close to it as she was, unfortunately, ever to become, and won the freestyle championship in the World Student Games before moving on to the European Championships in Monte Carlo. As was by no means uncommon in those days, she contracted polio (referred to at the time as infantile paralysis) while she was there, but still insisted on competing. At the end of her 100 metres freestyle race she collapsed, and was never to regain consciousness. On 15 September she died, aged 20, tragically before her parents, who had been summoned by team officials and had flown from Glasgow, could get to her bedside. At her funeral 5 days later thousands walked the route taken by her hearse on a dreich day in Airdrie, the sad event being filmed and shown in cinemas by Pathe News.

Typical

Everybody knows that Scotland aren't very good at team sports these days. Neither the men nor the women's national fitba team have ever gone beyond the first stage in an international tournament, and when it looked certain that the women were about to do just that in last year's World Cup, a 3-0 lead was tossed away against Argentina with a twice-taken injury time penalty kick delivering the coup de grace to our hopes. Since the Rugby Union 5 Nations became the 6 Nations 20 years ago Scotland have never won the title, and it's probably just as well that shinty isn't an international sport because we'd probably get beaten at that as well. It's a good job we have the women's curling team but even their successes have tended to come under the GB banner rather than as Scotland.

But in 2017 we had an unlikely place on the international sporting stage Down Under when Scotland took part in the Rugby League World Cup. The side looked magnificent in their blue shirts and tartan shorts, and were led by respected Super League star Danny Brough, whose grandfather came from Scotland. While expectations weren't high, nothing could go really badly wrong, could it?

Unlike the 1978 World Cup football team, who were widely expected by Scots (and nobody else) to do really well and subsequently slunk home in disgrace after the flops against Peru and Iran, no-one thought Scotland had a chance of success in the '17 RL equivalent, and how right they were. Drawn against New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga, the team may have hoped, at least, to put in a respectable display. In 2013 Scotland beat Tonga in a thriller at Workington but by half-time in the first match in Cairns against the same opponents it was evident that things weren't going to turn out well this time. Tonga scored 7 tries in 40 minutes and the Scots trudged off the field for the break losing 38-0. In the end the final score of 50-4 wasn't too disgraceful considering the hammering that was dished out in that first half. One thing that was definitely not in our side's favour was the non-Scottish weather. It was such a humid and hot day that quarter time drinks breaks were ordered. The heat mattered not a jot to Tonga's players, but Scotland laboured to a sweaty defeat, which, as it was to turn out, was only to be expected given the probability that not all the squad were entirely match fit .

On to Christchurch 6 days later, and a game against New Zealand. The NZ Rugby League team isn't as famous or as dominant as the All Blacks Rugby Union side but they are, nevertheless, one of the top teams in the world and were playing at home, so in the circumstances Scotland didn't do badly to hold them to 28-0 at half time, but the expected avalanche of tries occurred in the second half and the final score of 74-6 meant that the Bravehearts, as the team were dubbed, had conceded 124 points in 160 minutes of action.

All that was required to make this a classic Scottish sporting story was a Willie Johnston moment and, as could have been foretold, one came along when the team arrived at Christchurch Airport to catch their plane after the game. Skipper Brough, along with fringe players Jonathan Walker and Sam Brooks, was deemed too drunk to fly and all three were immediately axed from the squad and sent home along with their hangovers.

As we might have expected, that wasn't the end of the story. In the final match the team took on a Samoan side who were, themselves, out of favour with their public after losing against Tonga, their fierce rivals, but were still strong favourite to win. However, there were memories of Archie Gemmill in 1978 when Lewis Tierney dived onto Danny Addy's clever punt to give the Bravehearts an early lead. Addy was in Brough's place at stand off and played so well that he was given the Man of the Match award. By half time, although Samoa had equalised with a try of their own, Frankie Mariano had bagged another for Scotland and Addy had kicked three goals, making the half time score 14-6 in Scotland's favour.

Could the team hang on for a famous victory and progress to the next round? Well, not quite. The final result was a 14-14 draw, with Scottish players making 3 goal attempts in the final minutes, all of which looked to be going between the posts only to drift and fade wide. It was a fine performance, certainly, but that old familiar experience of gallant sporting failure was all that the team brought home from New Zealand in the end.

Danny Brough never played for Scotland again, but he might do so yet. He no longer drinks alcohol and at the age of 37 recently left Wakefield Trinity and joined the Bradford Bulls, who are hoping he'll be the man to lead them to promotion next season.

The First Rugby International

Celebrations are due on 27 March 2021 because it's the 150th anniversary of the first ever international match. The two competing sides on that day in 1871, naturally, were Scotland and England and the game took place before a crowd of 4000 at Raeburn Place, the home ground of Edinburgh Academicals.


Rugby League had not yet been invented, but it would be a mistake to think that there was only one variety of the game. For starters, each team in the Raeburn Place match fielded 20 players, and the Scottish and English versions of the rules were different enough for the referee, HH Almond, to threaten to walk off the field and abandon the game should the Englishmen not stop complaining about not being allowed to kick the ball out of their opponents' hands.

England's team was, basically, the Blackheath side. The English RU had ignored the challenge from the Scots to take part in a match but Blackheath were a law unto themselves in those days and happily picked up the gauntlet, although the players were probably less thrilled when they were forced to pay their own train fare and to sleep on bare boards in a third class carriage. Their team took to the pitch in the all white with a red rose which is still England's default look today, while Scotland's XX wore brown shirts decorated with a thistle.

The game turned out to be a bit of a bourach. Many spectators, who had paid a shilling each to see the match, actually saw little or nothing of the action because of the size of the crowd, and referee Almond's Scottish interpretation of the rules annoyed and frustrated England's players.  The reason a try is called a try is that in those early days all that grounding the ball over the line won for a team was a chance to try to kick a goal. Tries that weren't converted didn't count, and there were no penalty goals because the players were gentlemen and so, by definition, would not dream of fouling an opponent on purpose.

Scotland achieved two tries and England one, but only one of the three was converted into a goal and that's why Scotland won the match 1-0. Mr Almond confessed that the try that led to the goal should probably have been disallowed; he hadn't seen for himself whether or not there had been a knock-on in the build up, but he worked on the premise that the side making the most noise was probably in the wrong. Since England's players protested so loudly he decided that, according to his own unique interpretation of the laws, the try was legitimate.

On Christmas Day 1872 England and Scotland met each other again, in Calcutta. The local worthies were so pleased and grateful that they created a new trophy made from melted down silver rupees and called it the Calcutta Cup. This is the very same trophy that Scotland and England have competed for since 1879.

There Will Be Blood

Boxing.

 

I'm reluctant to talk about it here because it's not sport as I recognise it. It seems to me that the bigger and more vicious the fighters the more folk enjoy watching it even to the extent of paying huge amounts of money to see it on a sports channel they are already paying for. Tune in later, everybody, and watch the blood begin to flow.

There's no problem with wee boxers jinking and feinting and wearing headgear to prevent damage but the daft spectacle of professional boxers pretending to hate each other at the weigh-in, and the provocative things they say about one another, all seem more like mediaeval shenanigans than something that belongs in the 21st Century. The chatter around Tyson Fury seems to consist of admiration for his sheer brutality and apparent lack of inhibition. Fans like their boxing heroes to show signs of mental instability;  it appeals to their lust for blood to imagine their favourite bludgeoning the other lad to a pulp.


Here's a deliberately provocative statement: people enjoy watching heavyweight boxers smacking each other because it satisfies their own violent fantasies. Who hasn't, at some time, wanted to punch their boss? I know I have! Jealous and insecure men that live in fear of bein dumped by wives and girlfriends can relish the vicarious thrill of imagining that they are actually tough guys who don't give a damn for anyone; they would actually like to bash their womenfolk to punish them the fact that they are so dependant on them. As Wilder fell to the canvas on the end of Fury's fist in January with his ear burst all over the place, they saw their significant others, just for a second or two, writhing in pain. That'll teach them to be indispensable! 


Boxing is so greatly associated with masculinity that Sonny Liston's grave tribute simply reads "A man." It could just as easily have read "A gangster who was probably murdered over a dispute with other gangsters" and Freddie Mills' and Oscar Bonavena's headstones could say the same thing. Chuck in the homophobia, which Tyson Fury is notorious for and once led to Benny Paret being battered to death in the ring by Emile Griffith, and the racism involved in rich cigar-sucking white businessmen in dickie bows taking their women to watch predominantly black men punching each other for money in the name of entertainment and you've got an unattractive package all round.

If youngsters are no longer allowed to head a football why are teenagers and growing lads allowed to bash one another in the ring?  I'm sure that, person for person, boxers are killed or badly injured far more frequently than footballers. There's an argument, and I understand it, that if people want to take up boxing and accept the risk of being killed or brain-damaged then it's their own business, but why stop there? We could professionalise fighting with chibs and baseball bats too. Show it on Sky TV and charge £50 a head to watch. Hear the crowd's disappointment if all the participants are still alive after 5 minutes.

 

We don't charge a fee to watch people taking crack or heroin even if we accept that it's up to the users themselves to decide whether to keep doing it. If we are to accept boxing as a sport, we can at least reduce the risk of injury and take the bloodlust away by putting a stop to the professional game and making it all amateur, with mandatory protective headgear. It would still be a contest of skill but with a greatly reduced danger of causing brain damage and we would no longer be staging legalised thuggery, which is what professional boxing frequently amounts to. 

This year we've been told that Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr are planning to climb back into the ring for a scrap. Hey. I saw Chris Waddle play fitba in his fifties an he wasn't up to it; he was fagged out after 5 minutes. We can't expect Tyson v Jones to provide much entertainment; it's more likely that at least one of them will drop dead in the ring.* 

There was a big locked down fight in an Aberdeen hotel in July, and to make sure that social distancing was observed there was nobody allowed into the room to watch and the ref wore a mask and gloves. Hello there! Boxing is a lot more dangerous to individuals even than Covid-19 and the chance of somebody being killed by a fist is greater than the likelihood of dying from the virus. The fighters would have been better off, and safer, sitting down together in the pub. Instead, Scott Harrison battered Paul Peers into yielding after three bloody rounds. 

In December, sports broadcasters switched seamlessly from discussing whether football teams should be allowed additional substitutes, in order to protect players against the effects of concussion, to showing us Anthony Joshua beating the living daylights out of his opponent in the ring. The defeated fighter would certainly have benefited from being replaced by a substitute long before he was finally knocked out.

* Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr did get into the ring together, on 28 November, but thankfully it was just a bit of fun and both survived. 

R.I.P. Tarff Rovers

Here's a funny thing. The River Tarff, so most folk believe, is a tributary of the River Dee in Kirkcudbrightshire and has no connection with historic fitba club Tarff Rovers. The stream that flows by Rovers' old park in Wigtownshire, according to all the maps including the OS, is the Tarf Water, with only one F. But a notice on the bridge next to the old ground outwith Kirkcowan says RIVER TARFF so there we go. The folk that stay there should ken how to spell their own stretch of water after all. This means that the maps are wrong and that there are actually two River Tarffs in Dumfries & Galloway.

Tarff Rovers disappeared because of a lack of local interest in 2003 but Kirkcowan did see South of Scotland League fitba again in 2009/10 when Creetown FC spent a year there while Castle Cary Park was being upgraded. In 1969 Rovers beat Alloa Athletic in the Scottish Cup, but when they were drawn against Partick Thistle in 1954 the Glesga papers had to explain who they were and where they came from.

Partick won the game, 9-1.

Most of the blame for the Rovers' death has been laid at the door of a man called Robert Burns (!) who enticed players from far away, including Chic Charnley of Partick Thistle notoriety, leaving no place for local players. When Mr Burns decided he no longer wanted to flash the cheque book the local lads, according to popular rumour, told him to shove his team where the sun disnae shine. According to Chic Charnley himself, he got £10,000 for signing up with the team in 1998 and was on £400 per match, but not for long because after a few weeks he was off to Portadown, leaving Mr Burns poorer if no wiser.

 

There's not much evidence that they were ever there,  now. The old ground, once known as Balgreen Park, is just like a common or garden farmer's field that happens to have goalposts in it and an old broken down bothy that, on closer inspection, turns out to be the dressing rooms and stand. The thought that this wee bit of land down a farm track once was home to a semi-professional fitba club is a difficult one to take in. It's only 17 years even now since Rovers vanished, after 129 years of providing fun and recreation for the folk of Kirkcowan.

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