Scottish Fitba 2020/21
One or two folk in Scotland are campaigning for a package of financial support from the government to help smaller clubs to survive the loss of income caused by the pandemic, but unfortunately there are a lot of demands on funds at the moment and football is less of a priority than some other causes. It's likely that some will go bust and have to start again after the crisis has passed, as has already happened in England where Macclesfield Town have joined Bury in the great penalty box in the sky.
It would have been nice to have been able to see the national side in action but this isn't possible for me because the SFA sold its soul to a satellite TV station that I can't afford to watch, so I'll say no more about them, except for being glad that they won, naturally.
We played our first SPL games on the same day that in England they were playing last season's Cup Final. You might have forgotten but we've not finished our own Cup yet, with Hearts, Hibernian, Aberdeen and Celtic waiting to play. With Hearts in the second division it wouldn't have been fair to just chuck them in after no preparation, so the provisional dates for the semis are 31 October and 1 November.
If fans had been allowed into stadiums to see the beginning of the season in the SPFL's three lower divisions. I'd have been at Stranraer v Elgin for sure, but it wisnae to be, and the matches took place in front of the privileged few and the ball boys/girls only.
Down at Stair Park social distancing is never a problem; the manager and directors perform a lap of honour if 300 people turn up, but the club have come up with a clever plan. All home matches will live-screened, season ticket holders can watch for free and anyone else can pay £7.95 per game or £99 for the entire season.
The drawback to the scheme is that it might represent such good value that fans don't bother going to the ground anymore, in which case the team might as well play its home games in Glesga, where most of the players stay. But then there would be no point in calling the club Stranraer FC and the fans would no longer have any connection with them so they would stop watching. Luckily, compared to the real thing watching streamed football is crap so this scenario is likely to remain nothing more than a dystopian fantasy.
CELTIC 0-2 RANGERS
DUNDEE U 0-0 ABERDEEN
HAMILTON 3-5 St JOHNSTONE
LIVINGSTON 1-3 KILMARNOCK
ROSS CO 0-0 HIBERNIAN
St MIRREN P-P MOTHERWELL
ABERDEEN v HAMILTON
The table (PPG):
P GD Pts PPG
Rangers 11 +23 29 2.64
Celtic 10 +18 25 2.50
Aberdeen 9 +4 19 2.11
Hibernian 11 +6 21 1.89
Kilmarnock 10 +3 14 1.40
Dundee U 11 -8 12 1.09
Ross Co 11 -9 12 1.09
Livingston 11 -5 11 1.00
St J'stone 11 -7 10 0.91
Motherwell 9 -6 8 0.89
St Mirren 10 -9 7 0.70
Hamilton 10 -10 7 0.70
A succession of routine wins for the Auld Firm has already made the SPL a two-horse race. There are far more teams involved in the fight against relegation, for sure.
What got into the St Johnstone at New Douglas Park? After scoring 1 goal in their last 7 League games they hammered 5 past the Accies. The Saintees got their mojo back in front of goal against Brechin in the League Cup last week and suddenly there's no stopping them!
Celtic v Rangers matches nearly always end up with the pundits saying that there is a crisis somewhere and that it's time one of the managers was sacked. After Rangers' win, we can now pencil in Parkhead and Neil Lennon.
Livingston turned down a request from Kilmarnock to postpone their match, so Killie will be especially satisfied to have come away with three points. There's definitely a lesson in there, somewhere.
KILMARNOCK v HIBERNIAN
MOTHERWELL v ROSS CO
St JOHNSTONE v DUNDEE UTD
St MIRREN v HAMILTON
ABERDEEN v CELTIC
RANGERS v LIVINGSTON
HEARTS 6-2 DUNDEE
Live fitba on BBC Scotland! And it was entertaining too. Dundee fans won't have enjoyed watching their side's ropey defending but for the rest of us it was good fun.
AYR UTD 2-1 QUEEN o SOUTH
DUNFERMLINE 3-1 INVERNESS
MORTON 1-0 ALLOA
RAITH 3-0 ARBROATH
Those pundits tell us that Dunfermline and ICT are two sides with high expectations for the season and they met on Saturday with the Pars coming out on top in spite of going a goal behind. For Queen of the South a trip to Ayr is about as close as they get to a local derby this season. After bad defending in the first 20 minutes helped Ayr into a 2-0 lead the Doonhamers rallied well and might have equalised, but one of their players was sent off for diving and after that the comeback was too difficult to complete. Raith may have been lucky to be promoted but they certainly made a bright start with three goals before half time against the Red Lichties.
ARBROATH v HEARTS
ALLOA v DUNFERMLINE
DUNDEE v MORTON
INVERNESS v AYR UTD
QUEEN o SOUTH v RAITH
AIRDRIE 2-0 PETERHEAD
CLYDE 1-0 PARTICK
COVE 3-1 EAST FIFE
FORFAR 0-0 DUMBARTON
MONTROSE 1-3 FALKIRK
Falkirk probably feel that they shouldn't be in this division any more, while Cove Rangers are now playing at the highest level they have ever achieved. Both made bright starts on Saturday. Partick also have reason to be aggrieved about being dumped into the third tier but their opening match in Cumbernauld went Clyde's way with a second half goal making the difference.
DUMBARTON v CLYDE
EAST FIFE v MONTROSE
FALKIRK v FORFAR
PARTICK v AIRDRIE
PETERHEAD v COVE
ALBION ROVERS 1-3 STENHOUSEMUIR
BRECHIN 1-5 EDINBURGH CITY
COWDENBEATH 0-3 ANNAN
STIRLING 0-0 QUEEN'S PARK
STRANRAER 1-4 ELGIN
Just as well there were no home fans at these games! Following Stranraer isn't always a joy; it's not far off a year since the team last won in the League. Still, it could be worse. Brechin have spent 3 consecutive years at the bottom of various divisions, would very probably have been demoted to the Highland League but for Covid-19 and have begun the new season as cannon fodder.
ANNAN v STRANRAER
EDINBURGH CITY v COWDENBEATH
ELGIN v BRECHIN
QUEEN'S PARK v ALBION ROVERS
STENHOUSEMUIR v STIRLING
We've had the League Cup to haver about an aw:
Hearts, Inverness, Cowdenbeath, Raith, East Fife
Hibernian, Dundee, Forfar, Brora, Cove
St Johnstone, Dundee United, Peterhead, Brechin, Kelty
Ross Co, Arbroath, Elgin, Stirling, Montrose
Kilmarnock, Dunfermline, Clyde, Dumbarton, Falkirk
Hamilton, Ayr, Stranraer, Albion Rovers, Annan
St Mirren, Morton, Queen of the South, Partick, Queen's Park
Livingston, Alloa, Stenhousemuir, Airdrie, Edinburgh City
The first games were played 6 October, in empty grounds. The winners of each group and 4 best second-placed teams go into the next round along with Motherwell, Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers. The match between Kilmarnock and Falkirk was awarded 3-0 to Falkirk because the SFL didn't consider the fact that the entire Killie squad was in quarantine to be reasonable grounds for a postponement. On the day the ties were supposed to be played Forfar also forfeited their match for the same reason.
Some clubs have used the opportunity to give their reserves a chance to impress. Dundee United were one of them, but the second-string lads didn't do themselves any favours with their contribution to defeat against Peterhead and the United manager Micky Mellon was particularly grumpy after the match. Brechin's form has been reminiscent of Berwick last season. They have had 3 tough games but conceding 16 goals doesn't bode well for the League season.
Taking shots from the penalty spot to decide who gets a bonus point after a draw devalues a proper win in 90 minutes in my opinion. Still, Albion Rovers and Stranraer used the exercise to practice their technique after a 2-2 draw at Stair Park. The first 28 attempts from the spot all went in the net before Connor McManus hit the bar and Rovers scored to win 15-14. Both goalkeepers scored but neither of them managed to make any saves.
Now there's a break till mid-November. When everyone comes back Hearts (Group A), Hibernian and Dundee (Group B), St Johnstone (Group C), Elgin (Group D), Dunfermline (Group E) and St Mirren (Group H) will all be defending 100% records.
The Highland League season will be a short one. Each team will play 16 games if, that is, they play any at all. The start date for the season has been put back from 17 October to 28 November, but the Lowland League kicked off on 10 October even though the virus is causing more problems in the Central Belt than in the Highlands.
In the LL last season Kelty Hearts and Bonnyrigg Rose were the title contenders. Kelty have a lot of money to spend and persuaded Nathan Austin to join them rather than his local side East Fife. He responded with 37 goals in only 25 games. Now they have added the experienced and well-travelled Kallum Higginbotham to the squad as well they are probably going to be even harder to beat.
There are 17 teams in the League so Caledonian Braves had the first Saturday off, Kelty were occupied elsewhere in midweek and it was Cumbernauld Colts' turn to stay at home this weekend.
BONNYRIGG 3-0 GRETNA
C BRAVES 0-1 BERWICK
CS STROLLERS 2-3 KELTY
DALBEATTIE 0-4 E STIRLINGSHIRE
EAST KILBRIDE 3-0 GALA FR
EDINBURGH UNI 0-4 BO'NESS
SPARTANS 1-3 STIRLING UNI
VALE of LEITHEN 4-6 BSC GLASGOW
P GD Pts PPG
E Kilbride 3 +9 9 3.00
Bonnyrigg 3 +9 9 3.00
Bo'ness 3 +9 9 3.00
'Shire 3 +7 9 3.00
Kelty 2 +5 6 3.00
BSC 3 +3 7 2.33
Stirling Uni 3 +2 7 2.33
Berwick 3 +1 6 2.00
Spartans 3 0 6 2.00
Gala 3 -6 3 1.00
CSS 3 -2 1 0.33
Cumber C 2 -2 0 0.00
C Braves 2 -3 0 0.00
Dalbeattie 3 -6 0 0.00
Vale 3 -7 0 0.00
Gretna 3 -9 0 0.00
Embra Uni 3 -10 0 0.00
Embra Uni, Gretna, Vale of Leithen and Dalbeattie were all strugglers last season and although it's early days none of them has managed to notch a point so far so it's probably realistic to expect a similar 4-team battle against relegation this season.
It couldn't be much closer at the top.
BERWICK v EAST KILBRIDE
BO'NESS v C BRAVES
CUMBERNAULD C v EDINBURGH UNI
GALA FR v CS STROLLERS
GRETNA v BSC GLASGOW
KELTY v DALBEATTIE
STIRLING UNI v VALE of LEITHEN
At Step 6 the West of Scotland League looked likely to be the one with the highest standard by far. Auchinleck Talbot were, once again, probably the best non-league team in the country last season. While Kelty were riding high in the LL, and Nathan Austin was scoring goals left right and centre, Talbot went to Kelty's ground in the Cup and slaughtered them 3-0 on live TV.
Unfortunately, coronavirus in the West of Scotland has scuppered the plans for the new season. Several clubs have announced that they are taking the year off, including Auchinleck. The new-style WSL was an exciting development but came at the wrong time. Hopefully it will be ready to start, with all its best clubs in place, next year.
The East of Scotland League is up and running, though. One or two of its Premier League sides made themselves famous in the Cup last season; the two Athletics Penicuik and Broxburn in particular gave their fans so much enjoyment it will be a shame if the local folk don't get the chance to support them again till next year. Jeanfield Swifts played their first ever Scottish Cup tie and made it a memorable one; they went to Coldstream and inflicted a 9-1 defeat on the dozy borderers.
Lithgae Rose brought Jeanfield back down to Earth with a 5-2 win in their next tie, and went on to the Third Round and an appearance on the BBC. Disappointingly, the sandwich-munching audience watching the game from their sofas saw the Rosey Posey beaten 4-1 at home by Falkirk.
BROXBURN 3-0 NEWTONGRANGE
CAMELON 6-0 DUNBAR
CROSSGATES 2-3 TRANENT
DUNDONALD 0-2 LOTHIAN THV
HILL of BEATH 2-1 BLACKBURN
INVERKEITHING 0-3 PENICUIK
JEANFIELD 6-3 WHITEHILL
MUSSELBURGH 5-3 TYNECASTLE
SAUCHIE 1-1 LINLITHGOW
Poor Inverkeithing HS suffered a big anti-climax in their first game in the ESL Premier Division after promotion; a 6-0 defeat was hardly what they had been hoping for during the long wait. I've not been to Inverkeithing but it looks like an attractive town so at least the local fans had other options to keep them distracted on the Big Day.
The team didn't do a great deal better in their first home game either.
WHITEHILL v MUSSELBURGH
BLACKBURN v MUSSELBURGH
LINLITHGOW v INVERKEITHING
LOTHIAN THV v HILL of BEATH
PENICUIK v CROSSGATES
TRANENT v DUNBAR
TYNECASTLE v DUNDONALD
WHITEHILL v CAMELON
The early league table looks like this:
P GD Pts PPG
Lothian 3 +7 9 3.00
Penicuik 2 +6 6 3.00
Tranent 3 +3 6 3.00
Jeanfield 3 +9 7 2.33
Hill o Beath 3 +3 6 2.00
Broxburn 3 +2 6 2.00
Dundonald 3 0 6 2.00
Lithgae 3 +2 5 1.67
Musselb'gh 2 +1 3 1.50
Camelon 3 +4 4 1.33
Tynecastle 3 +2 3 1.00
Dunbar 3 -7 3 1.00
Crossgates 3 -1 2 0.67
Sauchie 3 -3 1 0.33
Nitten 3 -4 1 0.33
Whitehill 2 -4 0 0.00
Inverk'ing 2 -9 0 0.00
Blackburn 3 -10 0 0.00
The apparent loss of the West of Scotland League season has at least allowed space for the second tier of the ESL to get its results on this page. The tier is divided into Division 1 A and Division 1 B, and tradition tells us that A is the best place to begin. Here are the latest scores and tables:
DIVISION 1 A
ARNISTON 1-5 HADDINGTON
COLDSTREAM 2-1 DALKEITH
DUNIPACE 1-2 LEITH
EDINBURGH STH 2-0 St ANDREWS
EDINBURGH UTD 1-0 KENNOWAY SH
KIRKCALDY & D 0-2 CRAIGROYSTON
ORMISTON 2-1 ROSYTH
TWEEDMOUTH 0-5 THORNTON
P GD Pts PPG
Thornton 3 +10 9 3.00
Leith 2 +5 6 3.00
Embra Utd 3 +3 9 3.00
C'royston 3 +8 7 2.33
Hadd'ton 3 +7 7 2.33
KSH 3 +6 6 2.00
St Andrews 2 0 3 1.50
Embra Sth 2 -1 3 1.50
Ormiston 2 -1 3 1.50
Dunipace 3 0 3 1.00
Coldstr'm 3 -4 3 1.00
Rosyth 3 -4 3 1.00
Dalkeith 3 -4 0 0.00
K&D 3 -7 0 0.00
Arniston 2 -7 0 0.00
Tweedm'th 2 -11 0 0.00
Plenty of goals have been hitting the net so far. Even at this stage we can probably make an educated guess about which teams will be looking for promotion and which will not, but as we all know not everything always goes to plan. At this level it's not unusual for clubs to find their creditors bashing the door down and when that happens things are sure to go wrong on the field too.
CRAIGROYSTON v ARNISTON
DALKEITH v TWEEDMOUTH
HADDINGTON v EDINBURGH SOUTH
KENNOWAY SH v DUNIPACE
ROSYTH v COLDSTREAM
St ANDREWS v EDINBURGH UTD
LEITH v KIRKCALDY & DYSART
DIVISION 1 B
BURNTISLAND 2-4 NEWBURGH
EYEMOUTH 2-11 HERIOT-WATT
KINNOULL 3-0 EASTHOUSES
LOCHGELLY 3-2 HAWICK
LOCHORE 2-5 PEEBLES
LUNCARTY 1-0 PRESTON
STIRLING UNI II 0-3 OAKLEY
P GD Pts PPG
H-W Uni 3 +11 9 3.00
Luncarty 2 +8 6 3.00
Kinnoull 2 +8 6 3.00
Oakley 2 +6 6 3.00
Newburgh 3 +3 6 2.00
Easthouses 2 +5 3 1.50
Stirling U II 2 -1 3 1.50
Hawick 2 0 3 1.50
Peebles 3 -4 4 1.33
Lochgelly 3 -4 3 1.00
Preston 3 -6 1 0.33
Glenrothes 1 -1 0 0.00
Burntisland 2 -4 0 0.00
Lochore 2 -6 0 0.00
Eyemouth 2 -17 0 0.00
Eyemouth Utd had last year off. Insert facetious remark here. It's far too soon to write off anybody's season, though. Last weekend Peebles were trounced 9-2 at home but now, a mere week later, are comfortably in mid-table and have enjoyed a decisive win of their own.
HAWICK v LOCHORE
HERIOT-WATT v LUNCARTY
NEWBURGH v EYEMOUTH
OAKLEY v BURNTISLAND
PEEBLES v STIRLING UNI
PRESTON v GLENROTHES
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.
HESTON 0-2 UPPER ANNANDALE
LOCHMABEN P-P C BRAVES II
MID-ANNANDALE 2-3 St CUTHBERT
NEWTON STEWART 3-1 CREETOWN
NITHSDALE 2-4 STRANRAER II
THREAVE 3-1 LOCHAR
WIGTOWN 3-1 ABBEY VALE
That's 2 Caledonian Braves Reserves matches that have been called off. I've not been able to find any mention of them resigning from the Sooth but its notable that the club website mentions the first team and the academy but the word "reserves" doesn't seem to feature. The League's own site says not a dicky bird on the subject so I suppose we shall have to wait and see. It's possible that their matches have simply been postponed for virus-related reasons, although their first XI did play on Tuesday evening and again on Saturday afternoon.
P GD Pts PPG
Threave 2 +9 6 3.00
Stranraer II 2 +5 6 3.00
Wigtown 2 +4 6 3.00
Newton 2 +3 6 3.00
Abbey Vale 2 +2 3 1.50
St Cuthbert 2 0 3 1.50
Upper 'Dale 2 -1 3 1.50
Nithsdale 2 -1 3 1.50
Mid 'Dale 1 -1 0 0.00
Lochar 2 -3 0 0.00
Heston 2 -4 0 0.00
Lochmaben 1 -4 0 0.00
Creetown 2 -9 0 0.00
C Braves II
When the League froze in March, Threave Rovers were top and Creetown at the bottom so Threave's 8-1 win last weekend at Castle Cary Park surprised nobody. The only other team in with a shout for last season's title were Stranraer Reserves, who also started again with a big win. Stranraer's second XI met the first team in a friendly a few weeks ago and lost 7-0 so that does put the standard of the Sooth in perspective somewhat. Abbey Vale got off to a sensational start a year ago and were third when the season ended. They come from the sweet and historic village of New Abbey, where tourists love to visit but not usually to watch the team play. If they did they would probably never find the wee ground, which is so well hidden away you'd think the club were trying to keep their presence a secret.
ABBEY VALE v UPPER ANNANDALE
LOCHAR v NEWTON STEWART
MID-ANNANDALE v LOCHMABEN
NITHSDALE v HESTON
STRANRAER II v ST CUTHBERT
The match between Caledonian Braves Reserves and Wigtown & Bladnoch is off, probably for ever. I think it's safe to say that CB Reserves aren't going to be playing this season.
Ye didnae think I'd forgotten, did ye? The women's season is back again after a false start in February. Normally the SWFL is a spring and summer competition but this year the players (and hopefully eventually some fans) are going to be cold. The League's second tier has had to re-arrange its fixtures so the early ones are all, as much as possible, local derbies, in order to reduce the necessity for travel during the pandemic. Whether the teams will be able to make those longer trips at all remains to be seen, but the new plan seems like a sensible one in the circumstances. Nevertheless, St Johnstone v Kilmarnock was called off in advance because of Covid-19 at Killie.
Dryburgh v Kelty in Championship North was off as well for the same reason.
The opening fixtures took place on Sunday 18 October.
HIBERNIAN 2-1 SPARTANS
GLASGOW CITY 2-0 CELTIC
FORFAR FARMINGTON 4-2 MOTHERWELL
RANGERS 5-1 HEARTS
Spartans were playing away on their own pitch in the live internet game, and put in a fighting performance in a match featuring some talented young players. On BBC Alba, Glasgow City treated viewers to some neat football but missed a shedload of chances. When they finally got the vital first goal after an hour it didn't come from a flowing move; it was a fluke. A centre from the right dropped into the net just inside the far post and just out of reach of the Celtic goalie. City went on to get a second shortly afterwards and chalked up a comfortable win. London Pollard of Forfar Farmington celebrated her 16th birthday with 2 goals against Motherwell. The visitors will be disappointed but a score of Forfar Farmington Four is always a treat for everybody else.
The League returns on 1 November.
ABERDEEN 4-3 DUNDEE UTD
GLASGOW WOMEN 4-0 STIRLING UNI
HAMILTON 3-1 BOROUGHMUIR
St JOHNSTONE P-P KILMARNOCK
QUEEN'S PARK 0-3 PARTICK
Always good to see independent women's teams competing and Glasgow Women (pink/black) and Boroughmuir Thistle (purple/white) add some colour to the second division too. The Glasgow side are part of a community club and call themselves The Pride of the East End. They can be even prouder now because after the first week of the new season they are top of the table.
BOROUGHMUIR v ABERDEEN
KILMARNOCK v HAMILTON
PARTICK v DUNDEE UTD
QUEEN'S PARK v GLASGOW WOMEN
STIRLING UNI v St JOHNSTONE
EAST FIFE 4-0 DUNDEE WEST
DRYBURGH P-P KELTY
GRAMPIAN v COVE Cancelled
INVERNESS 5-1 WESTDYKE
DUNFERMLINE 8-1 STONEHAVEN
Grampian would have played their first ever competitive home match at Banks o Dee but unfortunately their scheduled opponents Cove Rangers have been forced to quit for financial reasons, so they played a friendly against Aberdeen Under-19s instead. The three matches that did get to be played all ended in thumping home wins.
DUNDEE WEST v GRAMPIAN
KELTY v EAST FIFE
MONTROSE v DUNFERMLINE
STONEHAVEN v DRYBURGH
WESTDYKE v BUCHAN
AIRDRIE v AYR UTD
BSC GLASGOW v EDINBURGH CITY
CLYDE v STENHOUSEMUIR
GARTCAIRN v EDINBURGH CALEDONIA
LIVINGSTON v FALKIRK
MORTON v St MIRREN
UNITED GLASGOW v RENFREW
Le Tour de France went ahead a couple of months later than usual, amid fears that it wouldn't last for the whole 3 weeks, but it did so and was just as much fun as ever, except for Team Ineos, who left out past winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. Egan Bernal won the race in 2019 and was the obvious choice as top man in the team, but he had a bad, injury-affected race and didn't manage to stay the course.
There was no Mark Cavendish this year either and it's likely we have seen the last of the Manx Missile. After finishing 74th in a one-day event on 11 October he was in tears, and told reporters he had taken part in his final race. He changed his mind after sleeping on his performance but time and the Epstein-Barr virus have taken their toll and his days at the top are surely over. Great memories, though.
Le Tour's GC competition went all the way to the time trial on the penultimate day, when Slovenian Tadej Pogačar made sufficient time to overhaul the leader, his countryman Primož Roglič, to take the yellow, white and polka dot jerseys. Sam Bennett of Ireland left the usual champion Peter Sagan a long way behind in the green jersey competition and it looks very much as if, like Cavendish and Andrei Greipel, Sagan is past his best at last.
There was a lot of pleasure to be gleaned in the third place in the GC going to veteran Richie Porte, but there would have been even more joy had he won, and with no evidence to support me other than 1+1=2 I believe that, in reality, he probably did.
I'm not going to pretend not to be very suspicious that two Slovenians, Roglič and Pogačar, have quickly become the top riders. Since Lance Armstrong admitted that he and his team were cheats we're always going to find it hard not to be cynical. The Jumbo-Visma team, led by Roglič, were the prominent team in the race, and all of them were taking ketones, that help to create energy. They're not banned, but they should be because they are obviously a performance-enhancer. Why would they take them otherwise?
As for young Pogačar, I'd never heard of him before and it strikes me as a very strange thing that the top rider in the tough days in the Alps should also be the quickest by far in the time trial. He didn't just win it by a second or two; he obliterated the rest of the field. This seems to me to be the equivalent of a top goalkeeper switching to play up front and scoring 6 goals in his next match. Many folk smelled a rat when Chris Froome started to pull off the same feat after previously finishing nowhere and that same stinky rodent was hanging around the Tour again this year.
The women's and then the men's road race World Championships took place in late September and the winners were Anna van der Breggen and Julian Alaphilippe.
A dreadful crash in the Giro d'Italia has left Luca Wackermann with a broken nose and a suspected broken bone in his back. Two of the teams in the race have withdrawn because of Covid-19 among their riders and officials but the organisers still insist on carrying on to the bitter end.
A medical tribunal has heard that Richard Freeman, who used to be doctor to Team Sky and British Cycling, destroyed a laptop to keep its contents away from doping investigators. Dr Freeman claims he was intimidated into prescribing testosterone by the head of British Cycling, Shane Sutton.
Thrilling comebacks were the theme of the US Open championships. A lot of the top players gave the event a miss because of concerns over Covid-19, but Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem took full advantage and won the women's and men's titles.
Andy Murray didn't last long in the French Open at Roland Garros. Drawn against Stan Wawrinka, the once-mighty Scot was slaughtered in three brief sets. A much longer match took place between Lorenzo Giustino and Corentin Moutet. 6 hours and 5 minutes had passed by the time the Italian qualifier took the fifth set 18-16.
Serena Williams, the best player in the women's game for as long as most folk can remember, struggled in the first set against Kristie Ahn but whitewashed her in the second to win 7-6 6-0. Sadly, she then had to withdraw from the tournament because of a heel injury.
Rank outsider Nadia Podoroska enjoyed a thrilling giant-killing streak and made it into the semi-finals but was then beaten by another surprise contender, Iga Swiatek, the youngster who earlier dispatched the number 1 seed and favourite, Simone Halep. Sofia Kenin defeated Petra Kvitova in the other semi-final. In the final the unseeded Ms Swiatek pulled off a surprise win in straight sets.
In the men's event, veteran Rafael Nadal was as hard to beat as ever and won the title without losing a single set along the way to the final, in which he demolished his old rival Novak Djokovic 6-0 6-2 7-5.
Lamine Diack, former head of World Athletics, has been found guilty in France of covering up cheating by Russian athletes who were using drugs. He has been sent to prison but is likely to be allowed to serve his sentence at home because he is 87 years old.
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. It's ironic that performers who are caught taking drugs are normally sanctioned but Ms Semenya suffers the same punishment for not doing so.
Two long-time world records were broken on 7 October in Valencia. The men's 10,000 metre record is now held by Joshua Cheptege and the women's 5,000 metres by Letesenbet Gidey.
Mitchell Claydon, a Sussex fast bowler, has been suspended for 9 matches after he was caught cheating by applying hand sanitiser to the ball during a match against Middlesex. Cricket balls have been sabotaged many times by bowlers and fielders using several different methods but this is the first recorded case of a player rubbing one with disinfectant in order to help achieve that deadly swing.
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.
Everybody knows that Scotland are rubbish at team sports these days. Neither the men nor the women's national fitba team has 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 won the title a total of no times, and shinty is not an international sport, which is probably just as well. It's a good job we have the women's curling team but even their successes have 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 no-one 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 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 it 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 is still playing in the Super League for Wakefield Trinity.
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.
On our side of the big pond hardly anybody cares about American sport, or, as they always say over there, sports. This means that no matter how many times we're given information and hype on the subjects we don't give a hoot for basketball, baseball or American football, in all of which the players are shockingly overpaid and over-exposed.
The Super Bowl? Naebody's fasht. I don't want to know who won and have less than no interest in who was miming at half time or what they were wearing at the time. The same goes for basketball. With all due respect to his daughter and to the other people who were killed in the same helicopter accident, Kobe Bryant would most likely have still been serving a prison sentence for rape were it not for the fact that he was wealthy enough to pay off his accuser.
Baseball makes no sense to me. It seems to be an unnecessarily complicated version of rounders. The fans clearly love it and it seems to create a good a good atmosphere but I don't have a clue about the rules. Still, Americans (and a lot of Scots) probably feel the same way about cricket, so if the people of the USA love their baseball then fair play to them, but that's no reason to bore the rest of us by telling us who's winning the World Series, because we're not interested.
And then there's ice hockey. It's just daft. I've been to a game and it was impossible to keep up because the players continually jumped in and out of the playing area and the puck is so tiny that unless you're watching on television it's invisible. It's like some crazy ballet in which men in crash helmets rush at each other, wave coshes and then bash each other against the fence. Then, after 20 minutes of fighting, there's another 20 minutes spent eating hot dogs before they come back on, go through the same rituals again, go off again while the crowd eat yet more sausages till finally there's another 20 minutes of apparently aimless violence.
To be fair, the game I saw took place not in the USA but in Sweden. It attracted the very dregs of the town of Växjö, who were largely drunk and aggressive and made Sieg Heil salutes while singing the Swedish national anthem. We left after the second 20 minutes, partly out of alienation but mostly because of pure boredom. It was rubbish.
Daddin fowk in the Gub
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.
For myself I can cope perfectly well 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 lacked humanity and was probably murdered," 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 an 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 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.
The 2019/20 Fitba Season ends
(almost) at last
Partick Thistle and Hearts fought to the end but it's all over. The Jags were unfortunate to be relegated when they were only two points behind Queen of the South having played a game fewer but Hearts, and also my own local favourites Stranraer, can't really yammer about it. If they'd not played so badly they'd not have been at the bottom of the League tables.
Celtic are the champions again but it's nothing to boast about. If any other club gets hold of a decent player it's but a matter of time before Celtic or Rangers come along to predate him. Nobody else has a chance. We might as well have a 2-team League.
There's no better example than Jake Hastie, who was plucked away from Motherwell by Rangers last summer. He lost a year of his career apart from a few games for Rotherham and now he is back at Fir Park on a loan. If only he hadn't left he could have been playing for the Steelmen all last season. David Turnbull has now left Fir Park and moved to Celtic. I wonder when we'll be seeing him again.
My son is 35 this year and he wisnae born the last time a club other than one of the Auld Firm won the title.
Covid-19 has caused misery to a great many people, and to a few football clubs as well. The most unlucky are Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts. Brora looked to be the best team at the 5th level and it's likely they would have beaten Kelty and then massacred Brechin to win a place in the SPFL. No sensible explanation has been given for why Hearts, Partick and Stranraer should have been demoted, but not Brechin.
A 14-14-16 system would have allowed all clubs to avoid being relegated and at the same time would have let Kelty and Brora be rewarded for their good form during the season, but too many top clubs would have lost money had they missed a game against the Auld Firm, so it was a plan that was never very likely to be passed.
I suppose it's but a matter of time before the two big Glesga clubs take over the women's game as well. I foresee Glasgow City being the Queen's Park of women's fitba; a team that were pioneers but were left behind by the clubs with all the money.
Hearts could have saved themselves by beating St Mirren in Paisley on 11 March but they were defeated 1-0, so instead of climbing above the Buddies by a point they finished 5 points behind them. No matches were played in the Premier League after that one. Thay had their chance and they wasted it.
Dundee United and Cove Rangers were rightful champions of the second and fourth divisions. Both led the table by far, but Raith were really jammy to be promoted from the third, a point above Falkirk, whose goal difference was better by 20, and with the two teams due to play against each other at Falkirk on the final day o the season. They were no doubt dancing in the streets of Raith on the night that Rovers were awarded the title and promotion.
In the Highland League, Brora led the table by a mile. Things were closer at the bottom. Fort Wullie finished 17th of 17 but only after playing 8 games fewer than Lossiemouth, and they might well have overtaken them. 3 more points would have been enough.
Whether Brora could survive in the Scottish League must be in doubt, mind. The entire population of the wee town wouldn't fill Cliftonhill in Coatbridge, and they would be making long and expensive trips to every away match
Bonnyrigg Rose were giving Kelty a good fight in the Lowland League and it was a pity they never got the chance to battle to the end.
Auchinleck Talbot were awarded the final "old" West of Scotland League title for all that they didnae want it! They thought that Kilwinning's claim to be champions was as valid as their own.
Bonnyton Thistle have quit the South of Scotland League to join the new style semi-pro West of Scotland League, whose top teams will play-off at the end of the season with clubs from the East and South for promotion to the LL. Of the three, the West looks by far the strongest; most of its teams are probably better than the LL's already. Auchinleck and Kilwinning will be among a few with their eyes on the SPFL in a couple of years.
The 2020 women's season ended after the first round of matches because of the lockdown, but started again from scratch 9 months later.
UPDATE Sadly it looks as if the West of Scotland League is unlikely to start this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has been (and at the time of writing still is) particularly affecting the West.
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 don't shine. According to Chic Charnley himself, he got £10,000 for signing up with the team in 1998 an 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 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.