Archive for the ‘Football’ Category


Boys outside the Ground

The Boys outside the Ground

This firsthand account of a weekend in the Bosnian capital has been kindly donated by my good (Celtic supporting) friend Chris Tait, following his trip earlier in the year.  Following on from the Internal War earlier in the month with my Koln article http://thebhoymcclay.com/2012/06/15/civil-war-in-the-cathedral-city-the-fans-review-fc-koln-2011-12/ – this piece recounts an unforgettable journey to a city recovering from its own past struggles for independence.

The average tourist wants to go somewhere where there are no tourists. I am no different. However, the paradox for the modern traveller is that whilst the emergence of budget airlines has transformed accessibility to new places, it does so to the masses making it difficult to find a truly unique destination. So after studying the route map in the in-flight magazine en route to London Gatwick, I realised that as my final destination was in the grey area of an otherwise easyjet orange Europe, I knew this trip was going to be different.

An overnight stay in London and a connection in Budapest later we arrived in Sarajevo. This was not the stereotypical weekend city break and it had raised a few eyebrows before we set off. At the heart of our trip was to be the local derby between FK Željeznicar Sarajevo (Željo) v FK Sarajevo, a fixture, prior to 1992 played within the Yugoslavian league, now the biggest derby in Bosnia and widely considered one of the main city derbies in South Eastern Europe.

Our host and former Strathclyde University classmate, well connected within the Bosnian football, picked us up from the airport. On the way to our city centre hotel it was clear that the outskirts of the city are still divided into ethnic enclaves and that legacy of the war was still etched on many buildings. However, there were more than a few modern buildings, standing tall, proud, reflecting the autumn sunshine and perhaps the hope of a population with deep emotional scars.
With barely enough time to check in to hotel, we quickly made our way Stadion Grbavica to catch a glimpse of Željo’s final training session before the derby the following day. The fact that manager Amar Osim had delayed the session, risking training in the dark (insufficient funds to switch the floodlights on), to ensure we could attend was the first sign of the unbelievable hospitality we would go on to enjoy throughout the trip.

At stadium the team were training on a muddy pitch, not atypical of Sunday league pitch in Glasgow in December, adjacent to the main stand. A few fans peered through the fence watching their heroes, whom included Hearts record £850k signing Mirsad Bešlija. If it wasn’t for the intervention of Amar, the security guard would not have let us in. Apparently pre-match security had been heightened in an attempt to eliminate the threat of fireworks being smuggled into the stadium in advance of the derby.

We watched the training session before entering the stadium itself. It was clear to see that Stadion Grbavica was symbolic of Sarajevo, with the modern North stand, in keeping with post Taylor report stadia in the UK, in stark contrast to the open aired South stand which, in the misty dusk sky, looked as though it had a haunting story to tell. It was quickly explained that the stadium suffered heavy structural damage during the war as it occupied a strategic position between the first front lines. The South stand, embedded within Šamac Hill, was proliferated with Serb forces who used this position to burn the wooden terraces and target the citizens of Grbavica area behind the North Stand.

Getting ready to mix with the locals at the Tuborg

After the stadium tour, we headed to a couple of bars before settling in Tuborg Café. Tuborg Café is popular with the Maniacs (Željo ultras) so it was the ideal place to get further immersed in the big match build up. Both the cheap beer and the ‘healthy stuff’ (an unknown Balkan shot!) which accompanied every round had a notable impact on both our balance and ability to talk coherently. This actually worked to our advantage as we were soon integrating well with the Maniacs, even making a credible attempt to join in their singing and dancing! They were delighted to welcome us and even went to the effort of arranging for exclusive maniac merchandise to be brought to the bar for us.

Amar, sporting his Željo tracksuit, and his management team soon appeared at the bar. We politely declined his offer of tickets for the North Stand explaining our preference to join our new friends in the South Stand! Amar sat mingling with the Maniacs for a couple of hours before leaving. This guy eats, sleeps and drinks football and, having managed Jef United in Japan, it is obvious that his current tenure is out of love and loyalty for his home town / club rather than career progression…unless of course this is part of a strategy to become the next Bosnia manager!

The following hours were somewhat blurry but we got back to the hotel to get some much needed rest. No sooner had we gone to bed than it was match day and we were up reviewing the memorabilia and pictures which enabled us to piece together the night before. We were all in agreement that the ‘healthy stuff’ may not be so healthy after all and we made a pact that we would not be indulging today.

Our next challenge was to go to find Ćevapdžinica “Željo”, a famous traditional place specializing in the local delicacy of Bosnian ćevap. As we walked through the Austro-Hungarian quarter into the old bazaar it became obvious as to why Sarajevo is often referred to as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. Until recently, it was the only major European city to have a mosque, cathedral, Orthodox Church and synagogue within the same vicinity and we encountered this rich cultural and religious heritage in the short 5 minute walk to Željo Ćevapdžinica. Our efforts were rewarded with the ultimate hangover cure that is ćevap (little meat balls made from a mix of beef and lamb served in bread with a natural yogurt on the side) which did not disappoint.

Inspired by the religious epicenter and our new found meat miracle we convinced ourselves that Tuborg Café, our rendezvous point for the big game, was a pleasant strong along the Miljacka River so we set off by foot. During our walk we stumbled across the location where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, in 1914, an event which ultimately started the First World War.

We continued along the course of the river, along what was once known as Sniper Alley, pausing frequently to survey war damaged buildings, roads and pavements. Some still appear like raw open wounds, while others have been healed but remain with permanent scars. It is difficult to comprehend what happened in Sarajevo and our pre-match conversation, as we walked, was somber and contemplative.

The most notable site we encountered on our walk was the Holiday Inn Hotel, the famous location where the first shots were fired, by Serb forces, to break up a peace rally. Shortly after this incident 18,000 Serb forces and the Yugoslav People’s Army encircled Sarajevo from the surrounding hills. As his family in Sarajevo faced Serbian bombardment we reflected upon Ivica Osim’s decision to resign from his position as manager of the Yugoslav national team: a team led to the quarter final of the World Cup Finals less than two years earlier. “My country doesn’t deserve to play in the European Championship (1992),” said Osim, “On the scale of human suffering, I cannot reconcile events at home with my position as national manager.” Yugoslavia was subsequently banned from the tournament and their replacements, Denmark, went on to with it.

Opposite the Holiday Inn we stopped to pay our respects at a memorial site for Zeljo’s legendary kapo (Dzevad “Djilda” Begic). We saw a graffiti mural of him at the Stadion Grbavica the day before but this time where were confronted with the exact spot where he was shot by a sniper whilst trying to help an injured female pensioner 2 months into the siege. It seemed a somewhat fitting tribute that three guys from Glasgow had embarked upon a journey to support his team and with that we were reminded that we had people to meet, beer to drink and a South Eastern European derby to go to.

 

The Sarajevo Derby

We arrived at Tuborg Café where we received a warm welcome from our host, his friends and the maniacs from the night before. Before we could utter the word ‘hello’ we were presented with a beer and shot of the ‘healthy stuff’. We reluctantly accepted and before long we had fully embraced the highly charged atmosphere. We had been advised that individuals within our company had been physically wounded during the conflict but it did not seem appropriate to raise the subject. What struck me though was that these were normal guys, like you and me, and what they lacked was choice. They did not go to war, war came to them.

Tuborg Café, in what is essentially, a housing scheme, felt like the heart of Bosnia as the maniacs sang along to the club anthems booming out of the sound system with pride and passion. Still daylight, a few of them tested their cache by setting off a flare in the street outside as the build-up reached fever pitch.

A few drinks later, it would have been more if we had not walked from the city centre; we negotiated our way around a few tower blocks to be reintroduced to Stadion Grbavica. The eery silence of the night before had been replaced with a bubbly inferno of tension and excitement. The perimeter of the stadium was guarded by a line of riot police. With a ban on away fans in the Bosnian league (brought about by an attack on the Željo team and fans at an away game a couple of weeks before) there were rumours that the FK Sarajevo fans were still going to attend.

The entrance to the South stand was basic and akin to a junior football stadium in Scotland. After filtering through the turnstile (where we presented our £2 match ticket), passing a security check, walking across a derelict basketball court (yes, inside the stadium!) and climbing up a 2 foot ledge of cracked and crumbled concrete, we were in. A glance to the left, the South stand was curved around the pitch like a packed amphitheatre. To the right, beyond a replica locomotive (there as an acknowledgement to the fact that the club was formed by group of railway workers) the North stand had indeed a pocket of 750 or so away fans whom had paid at the gate and shepherded themselves over to the area they would ordinarily be entitled to. An ad hoc police and steward team had formed to ensure the stand was segregated.

Despite the religious tensions in Bosnia and indeed Sarajevo, Željo v Sarajevo is more of a neighborhood and class based rivalry focused on an old difference between the town’s elite and working class. During the post-conflict Sarajevo had close ties to current political elite in Bosnia as it did with local municipal leaders prior to the aggression on Bosnia and Željo is rooted in the working class, this derby came to represent the “conservative centripetal forces”. Although today both clubs enjoy the support of the rich and poor, the legacy still runs deep. Religious tension is more profound when Zeljo play last season’s champions FK Borac Banja Luka.

The South Stand is two tiered with the seated area and terracing divided by a 10 foot wall lined with banners. We walked around the terracing area before entering the seated area. In the South stand, the tradition, if it has not been melted by a flare, is to stand on the seat so we duly assumed our perilous positions. The kapo and his deputy were organising proceedings from the terracing area. Complete with a sailor hat and a sound system they patrolled the terracing area to conduct their choir of thousands. Amar, whom is nonchalance, personified, in his derby day attire of shoes, denims and a jumper orchestrated his team from the sideline.

It was clear from the start that football is an outlet for Željo fans. The guy directly next to me, whom was on his own, literally sang his heart out. For long periods, his eyes were closed with his head transfixed on the crisp night sky. He meant every word he sang. This was raw emotion which transcended the beautiful game. At various points during the game, in following the instructions of the kapo, I jumped, locked arms and cuddled this guy. There was no small talk, no smiling, this was about football and the story behind the words to the songs.

The game itself was a poor spectacle and the current Zeljo side, I imagine, are a shadow of the team Ivica Osim led to the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup in 1984 / 85. However, I will be forever grateful for the own goal scored by Sarajevo in the 34th minute. A cross from the right deflected off of the defender and looped into the net right in front of our position in the South Stand. Bang. The place exploded! The pre match security efforts had clearly failed as 10, 20 or maybe even 30 flares lit up in a spontaneous bonfire. The scarves we got from the maniacs came in handy to mask the cloud of smoke that had engulfed the South stand. I couldn’t fathom whether this was heaven or hell! As the smoke refused to lift, all you could see were more and more flares sparkling like matches. When your visibility is obscured your other senses take over and although I was comfortable with the sounds of traditional rockets I was not prepared for the air bombs which provided deafening explosions.

Boom! The noise echoed around Sarajevo city offering the sound of celebration rather than the sound of death. Ironically it was the 5th November and I never would have thought that I was going to be a Guy in the middle of a bonfire.

BOOM! – Doesn’t quite do it justice……

Over 5 minutes passed before the pitch was visible and it was a relief to see Željo were still leading 1-0. The passion and enthusiasm from the home fans continued and we left ruing what might have been if Željo converted a 74th minute penalty. Having been reduced to 10 men the Sarajevo fans, resigned to losing the game, started their own pyrotechnics display from the North stand. Flares and rockets landed on a small area of the pitch and a, part brave and part stupid, steward had responsibility to remove them from the less than impressive playing surface. As he performed his duties, more flares and rockets rained over his head. At one point, a Zeljo player beat two players and a flare to get a cross in!

After the full time whistle we remained in situ to catch our breath and, in the now clean air, reflect on an unbelievable experience. Our voices, hoarse from singing a combination of Željo and Celtic words to familiar tunes (i.e. Artur Boruc, the holy goalie), and limbs fighting off cramp, I glanced at the scoreboard and realised that Stadion Grbavica, once a place of sorrow, for today, was a place of unbridled joy for Željo and its supporters.

There were minor skirmishes as we met where the Sarajevo fans had exited the stadium but it was well controlled by the intimidating looking riot police and things passed off fairly amicably. The emotional and physical exertions of the day left us with enough energy for some local food and a couple of beers away from the partying fans.

The next day, Amar arranged for us to watch the Motherwell V Celtic game in Tuborg Café. For once, the football coverage in the bar was accompanied by commentary, rather than Europop, and this was a subtle mark of respect for which we were most grateful. We sat and talked about the Zeljo game, Japanese football, Koki Mizuno (whom he managed), Bosnia’s chances in the Euro 2012 play off against Portugal, Edin Dzeko (the best player he had managed) and of course Glasgow Celtic Football Club. We then celebrated our weekend wins in a beautiful restaurant in the hills overlooking Sarajevo and since then both clubs have surged to the top of their respective leagues.

On the Monday, before flying home, we had time to revisit Željo Ćevapdžinica for one last ćevap as well as meet with footballing legend Ivica Osim. I had met Ivica a number of years ago at Old Trafford where his Sturm Graz team, whom knocked Rangers out, faced Manchester United in the second group stages. He then went on to manage Jef United (Japan) and succeed Zico as the manager of the Japanese national side where he retired through ill health. Last year he was appointed head of an interim committee to run the Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina after it was suspended from all international competitions for refusing to replace its three-member presidency – made up of a Bošniak, a Croat and a Serb – with a single president. This situation epitomises the current situation in Bosnia, where to keep the country at peace and avoid potential conflict, decision making is devolved to a local level or shared when it comes to nationwide interests.

We had a weekend to remember in Sarajevo and I would argue that it is one of the safest European cities I have visited. Despite high levels of unemployment, there is no obvious, lurking underclass. The people were genuinely delighted to meet us and proud that we had come to their city. The accommodation, food and drink are cheap and there are plenty of interesting places to visit. It is not the easiest place to get to but it is only a matter of time before this fascinating city is made more accessible from the UK. I hope this happens sooner rather than later as, after the recent suffering, the city deserves a fairer hand and the injection of tourist income would offer a glimmer of hope for the future.


& The Evil Superpowers out to curtail its mission.

That’s one way to stop him – Iniesta takes on Croatia

 

I am amazed at the current crop of journalists and fans who have now become ‘bored’ & disillusioned with the pure, passing game of the Spanish national side and the most-widely associated protagonists of  ‘tiki-taka’ football,  FC Barcelona. They say these sides are killing games with their passing, putting teams and viewers to sleep with their monotonous, robotic combinations.

But I believe the reason behind this sudden negativity aimed at the beautiful game, is the negative anti-football set-up which is becoming a regular theme in the new battle for silverware. How ever many times the pundits at the European Championships compared a team with a defensive mindset to doing “a Chelsea”, and no matter how annoying it was, part of the annoyance was that they had a point.

I was publicly slated on the evening of the Champions League final for my purist beliefs about how the game should be played, & how the Blues had now ruined what could have been potentially, three great games in the lead up to, & including the Allianz arena showpiece.

Roman Abramovich has bankrolled an impressive cast list at Stamford Bridge during his tenure as owner, and no way is every purchase aimed at a negative or defensive footballing mindset. They have great players, they have firepower, and they should utilise this. You are playing in UEFA’s elite club competition and representing English football in the most prestigious final of the calendar. For that reason alone, you should give your opponents and fans the respect they deserve by at least attempting a foray upfield before the eighty minute mark.

The historical beacon of bigotry, cheating and evasion that was Rangers FC, I think deserve a slither of credit for the shocking lack of attacking intent they portrayed at Ibrox against Messi and his beautiful Barcelona bandwagon in the Champions League in 2007. Under Rijkaard, the monopolisation of possession was starting to take shape prior to the leadership of Pep Guardiola through 2008-2012, who highlighted the style & introduced it to the masses.

Bayern captain Lahm aims to breakdown Chelsea

Walter Smith’s side were not able (that particular year anyway) to financially match the wages or go toe to toe on any level of talent or class with the Catalan giants – therefore their only option was to allow the football to be played out in front of them and for an embarrassment of possession to be forsaken in the hope their goal was not breached.

Lionel Messi was very aggressive in his post-match comments about anti-football, but we have witnessed Celtic ride their luck in the Camp Nou on occasion in a similar vein and not complained about the outcome when it was a positive one for the Hoops. What we require, is a new direction in the ongoing struggle against pure, beautiful, inventive football – and I think actually attempting to play football may, to a certain extent, work.

France were a massive disappointment  during these Championships – they came into the tournament on a great run competitively, with Laurent Blanc installing a belief in the players and the country, that they could replicate the past glories of World Cup ’98 and the 2000 European Championship in Belgium & Holland. Looking through their squad list, there was an abundance of great  flair players who could light up any game – and I’d lost count at the number of punters who had wagered Karim Benzema adding to his Real Madrid club total of thirty-two goals last season, by becoming the tournament’s top scorer.

Watching the quarter-final on Saturday against Spain was not only upsetting for the neutral, like myself, but bewildering for the French team it seemed who looked stuck between a rock and a hard place at times. At points during the match they looked threatening going forward, and when they put Spain under pressure, del Bosque’s side made mistakes.  Then they would remember the game plan outlined at the outset of the match to contain their opponents, and have to fight the natural urge instilled in themselves to exert their fluency and offensive charms.

On the domestic front, Real Madrid managed to stop Barcelona from a fourth consecutive league win last season aided by a glut of goals from a certain Portuguese superstar. When the El Clasico came about though – the tactics shifted slightly, and it seemed their main ploy was to dismantle Barca rather than go toe to toe.  Last season even though the possession statistics were heavily stacked in the Catalan sides favour, Los Blancos attacking prowess was almost identical and their daring was rewarded with a two one victory in the Camp Nou which all but finished off Guardiola’s side in the title race.

So are those now rebelling against their former love, bored with the actual tactic or frustrated with the antidote which has spawn in an aid to curb the success? The problem surfaces when teams are too scared to lose, rather than wanting to win. This in turn has produced an agenda focusing on the incessant and somehow, robotic, pass and move style modelled by Xavi & Iniesta et al, rather than further criticism which should be heaped on the men trying to eradicate the beauty of it.  If more managers and teams broke the shackles of their destructive strategy, and stood toe to toe with the tiki-taka culture – the positivity could return, and the winners would be two-fold. I expect Portugal to rise to the challenge on Wednesday – I hope the magnitude of the evening does not cause them to retreat into their defensive shells.


It is a year since I left Cologne after a long weekend spent, in the main, testing kolsch and integrating into the city and culture with my fellow travellers. A city which has never left me since, and for which my psyche harks at me to return at my earliest convenience. In the month’s leading up to that trip, we took the obvious choice of adopting FC Koln and keeping abreast of their present status – unfortunately, our trip was arranged the week following the final game of season 2010/11 and the Billy Goats had safely navigated their way to tenth place aided by the 30-goal haul of Milivoje Novakovic and Lukas Podolski.

A year on, black smoke engulfs the stands and the air of the North Rhine-Westphalia – through the smog “Poldi” attempts a somber farewell to the fans who have never doubted his love and endeavours during his two spells, while we await the white puff which will signal a new dawn.
The Billy Goats are so readily open house for negative press – some of which is brought upon itself – but it seems too easy to stand from afar and take pot shots at the wounded animal. In an attempt to readdress the balance, here is the remnants of the season from the heart of the club – the fans, the loyal inhabitants of the RheinEnergie stadion and the cities brauhaus’.

At times, they admit the responsibility of being a supporter, more akin to a soldier being drafted for war rather than a fruitful experience.  Stormy Cologne – storms in the sky, in the stand and within the squad and boardroom. The atmosphere seemed toxic during some games. A number of fans grew restless and rebelled early on – fighting, behaving unlike followers of the club at away games and attacking opposition buses. What were they trying to achieve or furthermore, prove? They preempted the decline and reacted with an unnatural and uncharacteristic showing of hatred – they were not taking the “decline” well – Andy (45) noted the behaviour as outrageous. Köln need a fresh injection of life and spirit – they are forever being publicly dragged through the mud, the tyre tracks leave behind a debris of self-destruction and bad blood sifting through the very core. “Oda” – the fan who was the inspiration behind the story – doesn’t care about returning straight back to the top league if it’s not going to be progressive for the long-term ambition of the club.
Early November & in a break from my domestic blogging duties from the East End of Glasgow – the strong reverberations of departure surrounding the prodigal son of a German city not long visited, captures my immediate attentions. I dissect the players’ past, present & future and focus on the impact in Cologne and further afield, should this talk become a reality. To my amazement, the article is received well in many corners, including in Germany, where natives, fluent in both their own and English tongue, thankfully and graciously took the time to engage and review. Oda, became a regular crux during the season and her friends, now included, give their version of an eventful and eventually, exasperating campaign.
21.11.2011 Currently with sixteen points from a possible thirty-six – Köln are performing admirably if not inspirationally, as Jörn (41) reflects on a team spirit visible then, but totally defunct in 2012. The club is due to play at home to Mainz – when all other games have kicked off in the afternoon, I check the updates and am dumbstruck to find the match was postponed. The referee, Babak Rafatti, was found in his hotel room prior to the match, alive but in a desperate state due to an earlier suicide attempt. Even though it was such a heartbreaking and horrendous event, it seemed almost coincidental that it would happen to this team – Oda noted Rafatti is one of the more constant and favoured referees of the Köln faithful after the dust had settled.

Earlier that week, club legend and former West German international, Wolfgang Overath, bewildered the FC Faithful by standing down as club president along with his two vice-chairs. Not only was the scenario described to me as “haywire” – in the aftermath of the board meeting in which Overath had resigned, he described the “close working relationship” of Volker Finke & head coach Stale Solbakken, and his prediction of “future successes with this partnership.” At the time it didn’t add up, and reading the reflections of the fans, many of whom brandished the Norwegian as “stupid”, & “stubborn”, it seems to add weight to the rumours of internal disruptions which were crippling the infrastructure. Next up, Derby time against Gladbach!
25.11.2011 The fans are in mood for revenge – previous meetings do not bode well, and Köln are looking for retribution for last season’s 4-0 & 5-1 nightmares. But there is a strong sense of confidence and excitement in the Cathedral city air – despite the off-field disruptions, the Billy Goats must be due some good luck on it.
25.11.2011 (A few hours later) “Oh my f***ing goodness!” I received this e-mail halfway through watching a film starring Gina Carrano & Michael Fassbender in which the tagline read “They left her no choice” – much akin to what Oda was doing as she watched on in the stands. The title of the film has already been utilised in this article to describe the club’s season – its hard to disagree. The rest of the week was spent licking wounds – old ones not yet healed, but brutally opened again and doused in acidity as Monchengladbach inflicted their rivals to three of their best with little or no resistance.
She later describes “Micha” the goalkeeper, as again, “the poorest Bugger on the pitch” – I take this as double-edged, as he not only deals with the heavy burden when picking the ball from the net on many occasions, but also of playing behind a desperate defence, light on protection for their number one. The keeper himself comes out publicly, in hope of a reaction, to condemn the side and insist they have “no balls for the fight!” – it seems to have an adverse reaction.
From this period on there is a worrying lack of communication, with a heavy calendar in December before the winter break, it seems the virus working its way through the team has hit Oda. She doesn’t have the fight or reserves to maintain an outlook for outsiders never mind her own. The team itself musters up a recovery of sorts fearing an all out backlash from the fans with two score draws sandwiched between an impressive and out of character four nil resounding win at home to Freiburg – although few & far between, for a side with the history and reputation of FC, victories like these against teams newer to this environment should have been a necessity.
One last tie on the 16th of December & it was a seasonal gift come prematurely for Bayern Munich – who also received the crown of winter champion. Even with an early red card for Franck Ribery reducing Der FCB to ten, FC Köln refused to spoil their hosts finery and left the Allianz virtually untouched, keeping their paws away from the silver and leaving their advisories to sign off with a resounding three nil victory. The game never seemed in doubt & the psychological and physical edge an extra pair of legs gives a side seemed lost on a disjointed Köln side. Their fans left in small numbers, deflated and with no sense of pride left for their team. Things would need to change in the rueckrunde, attitudes especially had to be looked at, and the lacklustre performances had to be addressed.
This was the turning point for the article, if there was no further communication between now and the end of the campaign, this would be nothing more than an outsiders perspective on the season. I sent an e-mail with just under a week until the Bundesliga was underway again asking for the fans expectations for the remaining matches. Thankfully a response was forthcoming – the fans are now excited despite the start of the slump in form recently and hopeful of acquiring a mid-table berth come May. The faithful were also looking to next season, the development and introduction of a youthful set-up would be key to the long-term goals of the club. In May, the outlook although bleaker was of a similar belief – the short-term future of the team would be bedding in younger players with the drive and sheer determination to resurrect FC, also to fill in the positional gaps left through the departures of more senior and experienced players.


The narrow loss away to Wolfsburg barely seemed to register as the rumours surrounding the cities’ most famous son resurfaced again – this time from a far more unlikely source than previous stories had emerged. The frictions which remained between Russia & Poland – with Podolski being of Polish decent himself – seemed to suggest a move to the former USSR and the emerging oil wealth country, was a remote one. Poldi stayed in the news that week but unfortunately, Köln’s wall was now ready to crumble.

Despite opening the scoring for the team at the RheinEnergie stadion, the clubs number ten fought through the pain barrier for the majority of the Schalke match which neither aided the side in the short or long-term. The ’04 eased their way into the game & eventually ran out comfortable winners by four goals to one. The ramifications of this match shook the clubs foundations to breaking point as news of Podolski’s injury reverberated around the city – a month without their talisman beckoned.

Oda tried to remain positive, hopeful that the German internationals absence would be an opportunity for others to stake their claim for a start and for the rest of the team to begin taking more responsibility. Andy was fully aware and worried about the lack of responsible aptitude which was displayed throughout the campaign, with none of the players accepting their tasks – which was borne of a culture throughout the team where no punishments were forthcoming no matter the crime.
Again an away win against a truly desperate Kaiserslautern side did little to convince fans or onlookers of Köln’s resolve or ambition to remain in the top-tier. Oda admitted the three points were an almighty struggle to obtain, but she was still hopeful the team were willing to fight – perhaps the confidence which a win brings would carry some momentum.
18.2.2012 Fingers, toes and whatever else can be crossed, are, in the hope of back to back wins for the first time since late September as the Billy Goats travel to Nurnberg. In the cities’ squares, brahaus’ and beer gardens there is a sense of joviality as the carnival is in full swing. The previous evening, pictures circulated with Poldi and Köln native Michael Schumacher enjoying themselves with what seemed like, no troubles in the world. Under the surface, for many like them the festivities added only as a temporary distraction from what was becoming a fairly tumultuous period. On the bench for the Lautern tie was Jong Tae-Se – a Korean forward from Bochum – ,who was brought in not by the coach, but general manager Finke without even a consultation with the man seemingly in charge of footballing affairs. Georg (41 ) summed up Solbakken as a stubborn man, who acted like a child when he did not get his way – the manner in which this transaction was carried out would do little to suppress this.

In retrospect Oda and the gang were confident going into this match, the two one defeat although not entirely surprising, dampened the carnival atmosphere in the city. A group of the players perhaps also still in a state of bemusement, choose to unwind at a nightclub at the tail end of the weekends celebrations. The trouble which flared at this juncture was one brought on by underlying tensions not just with the players but the fans as well. At any other time this may have blown over harmlessly, the professionals would have acted in a manner which was apposite – the intoxicated supporter eventually seeing sense through a peacekeeping associate. As Andy (45 ) pointed out – the attitude which ran through the side was one of nonchalant disregard for the consequences – this was now becoming an off-field issue as well as a footballing one.
25.2.2012 The outlook of the regular FC fan for matches was now of the negative variety – there was no hope, no rituals or prayers which could turn things round. Positive thoughts & energies can breed positivity – the flip side, well, that doesn’t instill much confidence let’s say. The e-mail is titled – “In my head – defeated again” as Oda prepared to head to the stands for conscription No 12.
26.2.2012 Another defeat – truly devastated is all that is mustered, further review would only bring to the surface any rage or heartbreak which was locked away. The unrelenting ties which bind you to your football club are as strong as the padlocks which adorn the cities’ main bridge over the Rhein. The only three certain truths in life are your mother, father and football team Frank points out, no matter how bad they feel – they will live or die by their side, the red and white will always run through them.
1.3.2012 One of the first notable anxieties facing a fan worried about the drop, is despairingly waiting and hoping on other results going your way. It is already red alert in Köln before the one all draw in Hoffenheim, as Freiburg and Hertha Berlin record wins and with their extra two points, move FC closer to the lower seats. The subject line prior to the match was amended from “defeat” to “win” and despite the results elsewhere, the avoidance of a loss was good for morale within the fans, if not the team itself.
10.3.2012 The energy coming from the latest mail obviously reverberated to the pitch – the excitement hard to contain, perhaps nerves also played a part in the jovial pre-match notes. Back in front of their own fans, Köln faced their faced real six-pointer of the season against fellow relegation candidates, Hertha Berlin. The one nil victory was succeeded with a quite uncharacteristic outpouring of emotion from Solbakken as he ran onto the pitch, arms raised defiantly, congratulating his players and soaking up the adulation of the vehement support.

What followed that evening was a great surprise to the fans, but perhaps not to the manager as the man who brought him to the club, Volker Finke was sacked as sporting director. At the time I wrote an article in the aftermath of the events which dominated Köln’s weekend, noting the removal of Finke as a message from the board that they had nailed the colours truly to the mast for Germany to see, firmly putting their weight behind the Norwegian boss for the foreseeable future. No love was lost between the two since the normally friendly, calm & collected Stale Solbakken, arrived in the summer – he complained to the board about the amount of influence Finke was trying to have on his decisions, and also his eagerness to openly discuss in-house discussions with the all too involved press hounds. Later on I was commended for my piece with Oda adding about the change in attitude and direction that those recent 90 minutes had positively had on the fate of the club.
17.3.2012 One of the toughest trips of the Bundesliga season came with what would have previously been the not so daunting trip to Hannover 96 – Mirko Slomka and his Reds – up until the end of the campaign, recorded the only unbeaten home record in the German top division. FC kept with their coat tails for the first forty-five but ended up on the end of a four one demolition in the second half. Hopefully the players weren’t beginning to wave the white flag. Next up though, BVB, who were playing like an unstoppable bullet train, only stopping momentarily to discard the remnants of their most recent victim’s – and the next approaching stadium was the RheinEnergie Stadion. Hope you’re sitting comfortably…..

26.3.2012 Oda is living in a nightmare, which is being played out horribly by a cast of amateur actors – the last act was a train wreck, Dortmund weren’t in any mood to stay behind and clear up. They had done irreparable damage. She was lost, and still is, lost for words – a royal horror show, where we know who ends up with the crown and who is living off precious little scraps. Again, frustratingly, Köln make a more than decent showing for the first half – holding the league leaders a goal apiece going into the break. Now is the time for manager’s to make their impact – the half-time team-talk – forcing their displeasures, rules, admiration, crockery, and whatever else on their troops who are soaking up the instructions, gearing up and focusing on the 2nd part of the battle. The rearguard held out for not very long at all, as holes behind the defence were probed and prodded with little resistance as five Borrusia attacks were comfortably converted to leave the home fans dumbfounded and dejected.

In the last six home matchdays, the Billy Goats had went into the break either in an advantageous position or held the other side and only taken four points from a possible eighteen – nowhere near good enough for a side looking to maintain their Bundesliga status. As Andy described the season as a rollercoaster – the unpredictability and ups and downs the fans were even experiencing during matches themselves must have left them feeling like they were going through an emotional wringer.

Things on the home front in Paradise were not making my German friend feel much better – she wishes she had my worries, which were at the time coming to terms with a domestic treble dream ending in a League Cup final defeat to Kilmarnock, and losing out on the chance to clinch the league title on your greatest rivals backyard – not the greatest week in my own 2011-12 diary, but certainly not as desperate as facing possible impending demotion. Next Saturday she now bills as the most important of the whole season – to watch or stay below cover?

31.3.2012 FC Augsburg were not mathematically safe, but they had put themselves on a good footing with a series of impressive outings since their promotion last season. Would the pressure of a surely fired-up and desperate Köln eleven, be a bridge too far for the new recruits of the Bundesliga? Unfortunately for our FC faithful, Augsburg again performed admirably and without fear, winning two one and sending Koln to a third straight defeat. Our group of fans sit in disbelief – as they nurse their Kölsch’s – the thick air of despondency is broken with a rallying call, – “A New Game means New Luck!” – hopefully they were not running on empty.

07.4.2012 The fighting spirit which had been evident in the earlier part of the season, showed some resurgence at home to Werder Bremen. This was one of the things Jörn was proud of then, and a break from the listlessness he had endured in the rueckrunde was a nice change in this one all draw. The business end of the season is not referred to as such for no reason, the players need to roll their sleeves up and buckle down to ensure every blade of grass is disturbed and the paying public are assured the determination they put in is reciprocated.

10.4.2012 Pathetic. Lost for words. Sick. Disgusted. Disarray. Lack of discipline. Do these players want to stay here? Playing the big matches, paid handsomely, and enjoy life? Mainz – the carnival club – make a mockery of their visitors racing into a three goal lead before taking it easy in the second period and inflicting only one more dagger to the heart of this side – then again, perhaps that organ was not beating through the team? The fans have had their share and want out, but there is no early escape clause – we can’t fast forward to the summer and find out the result. As I said to Oda, whatever performances are produced, in these final stages of the season the next four games are vital – and the fans have to stay strong.
15.4.2012 The illness is spreading, we are in a critical state and Borussia Monchengladbach turn up to play, Marco Reus dazzling the tired and weary FC players with some succulent skills. Solbakken is gone – too little, too late? A new coach is brought in, but he is an old head and had been in charge before. I feel like saying that perhaps this decision should have already been taken, or left till the end of May – but what use is this, like teaching a fish how to swim.

21.4.2012 The new man in charge issues a defiant and strong call to arms – the club, the fans and the players need to stick together – a siege mentality has to be implemented. Oda admits her responsibility and heads to her seat for the penultimate home fixture of a tumultuous season. She would rather stay in bed, hear and see nothing. My fingers are crossed – Regards from – in every respect – stormy Cologne….

22.4.12 Home to Stuttgart – the team, the fans fought back positively. Gave place a lift and looked as though performance could kick-start a revival scene – the point was well deserved and the energies from the stands and players were relentless from the first whistle – the excitement is building for the trip to Freiburg with Köln sitting out of the bottom two but in the play-off position. A draw, I feel would be good as SC have a good record in front of their own fans – with Gladbach playing Augsburg, it is not impossible that FC could drag themselves out from the desperate situation they have played themselves into.

28.4.2012 The final whistle has just gone – all I get in my inbox : I AM FED UP! (There were more exclamations than that but it looked untidy.) It was a tough one to take, Podolski dragged his team back into the match in the second half but again, the defence was unable to absorb any penetration and they capitulated again. A win next week and FC avoid immediate relegation and have the saving grace of two matches against the third placed side from Bundesliga.2 who will be foaming at the mouth for the wins. As the carrot dangles for them, Köln have their own next week, at home to the runners-up in the league – FC Bayern Munich. They are due to star in the Champions League final and DFB Pokal showpiece finale after this last league game and have already been resting.some star players. These preparations stand Köln in good stead, but already on numerous occasions this season – the team have been guilty of shooting themselves in the foot.

05.5.2012 Not since matchday three, have Köln been occupying either of the automatic relegation spots – even now, in the thirty-fourth and final week, they are still in sixteenth position and two points ahead of Hertha. It’s them or FC, Kaiserslautern are long gone and awaiting their companion to ease the journey into the tough world of 2.Bundesliga. Wishing the day away, Oda has been contemplating life out of the top-tier all through the night – the many connotations and permutations causing her brain to not even allow the contemplation of sleep. The weather is in the home teams favour, Rain – which will make for an unpredictable surface and hopefully curtail the more gifted Bayern players and assist in evening out the playing field. But could the extra weight drown the already weary souls in white & red who have not at all points looked worthy of wearing the prestigious jersey?

A week later 11.5.2012 “……deeply upset. Devastated.”

As the fans dejectedly sift through the rubble, looking for any hope or salvation, they can be satisfied that they will still be in the stands however long it takes to return to the Bundesliga. Although a banner unveiled at the Bayern Munich game read – “Bye Poldi! We would leave too – if only we could!” – Oda, Jorn, Andy, Georg, Henrik, Frank and the thousands of other fans will all return next season and beyond, and travel to cities that previously they may never have heard of or knew existed. The reconstruction of Koln from board room level all the way through to the pitch, was already underway by the time I had begun this commentary, but hopefully the recovery is tread on a less treacherous path for all involved.


Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas has become another victim of Roman Abramovich’s crazy lust for instant success as he exits nine months into the Stamford Bridge hot seat. Seven have been axed by the owner during his tenure and with former Liverpool boss, Rafael Benitez, installed as the bookies favourite to be the next Chelsea manager, you can’t see him lasting much longer.

AVB as he became known, emerged on Abramovich’s radar following his domestic and Europa League treble winning feat of 2011 with FC Porto –any comparisons becoming clear yet? (He also was part of The Special Ones’ backroom team at Internazionale & Porto). Onlookers predicted he may follow Jose Mourinho’s European success by taking his Europa League winning graduates one step further to the Champions League –but Chelsea came calling for the new boy on the block, possibly too soon, and the crazy goldfish bowl of the English Premiership beckoned. He inherited a squad which was in a quandary and disorderly in its age and abilities. Something he also took on was some rather meddlesome experienced first-team stars and an owner with ideas above his station on how “his team” and “his players” should be playing.

Villas-Boas required a clear-out and if he had any hope of succeeding, John Terry and Frank Lampard had to go –their constant actions and undermining of the ex-bosses has hamstrung the club from the undoubted potential they have to contend for major honours in England & Europe. This combined with the Russian tycoon appearing at training and interfering in the dressing room would drive anyone to the brink, and the young Portuguese man has been on the back foot since last June. A season in the Premiership is hard enough to get to grips with –never mind doing so with the harsh media spotlight and criticisms which are lurking behind every dropped point or defeat. The ex-Porto boss required time to stamp his authority and footballing beliefs within the Blues team –to clear out the deadwood and the players which didn’t fit, and incorporate his own cast list on the Chelsea starting IX.

Out of the previous six bosses, only three delivered major trophies whilst Claudio Ranieri, Avram Grant and Guus Hiddink all made reasonable inroads in the Champions League without providing Abramovich with the holy grail of European elite success. Power struggles at a club are one thing – but in-fighting between coaching staff, lack of respect and resent for your first-team coach and colonial groups of squad players is a situation of unmanageable proportions of which the club dictator needs to shoulder the burden of responsibility for. I am certain that within the next few years, Andre Villas-Boas will emerge again as one of the most wanted men in European football –where Chelsea go next, is not as clear-cut.


1899 Hoffenheim v 1.FC Köln (04.03.2012 – 16:30 GMT)

The curtain will be drawn on Bundesliga Matchday 24 when under pressure Koln, travel to the Rhein-Neckar Arena for Sunday’s encounter with Hoffenheim.

Hoffenheim, under the guidance of newly appointed coach Markus Babbel, are looking for back to back wins after an impressive victory away to Wolfsburg on Matchday 23. The Sinsheim side are now undefeated in four and will see this home tie against a Koln side, low on confidence, as a great opportunity to grab another morale-boosting victory. Last week’s victory was their first since December, and you have to go back to Matchday 10 in October for their last win in Upper Rhine country. Currently sitting mid-table, Hoffenheim are still in danger of being dragged into a relegation dogfight by some sides, including this week’s visitors, but could with a couple of victories, consolidate a healthy 7th or 8th in the table.  FC Augsburg have ventured out of the relegation zone in recent weeks could leapfrog Koln if their poor form continues – The Billy Goats are heading in the wrong direction and have lost six out of the last seven Bundesliga matches shipping thirteen goals in the process.

The return of talisman Lukas Podolski to Solbakken’s team did little to inspire Koln, as Bayer Leverkusen easily dispatched their Rhineland Rivals last week amid further rumours of the German internationals’ possible departure from the RheinEnergieStadion in the summer.  This may well have been unsettling the fan’s favourite but further developments this week suggest Poldi has now agreed personal terms with long-term admirers, Arsenal, and that he will be set to join the Gunners in the summer.  General Manager Claus Horstmann has also issued under-fire manager Stale Solbakken the dreaded vote of confidence amid rumours the clubs recent poor run of form would see the end of the Norwegian managers’ leadership prior to Matchday 24.

One positive to take out of last week’s defeat for Koln was Mitchell Weiser, who became the youngest ever player to turn out for the side in the Bundesliga at the ripe age of seventeen years, three hundred & ten days – but even his youthful exuberance could not inspire his side as they lacked any real purpose and appeared very lackadaisical in defence.

1899’s German defender Matthias Jaissle is still out with an achilles tendon problem and joins Andreas Ibersberger on the sidelines for Hoffenheim. Bosnia-Herzegovina international, Sejad Salihovic has been ordered by Babbel to train with the under 23 squad and sits this out due to the disciplinary measure. Salihovic, who will miss out against Bayern Munich next week as well, was recently banned for four games by the national team due to “unsporting behaviour”.  Koln midfielders Petit & Adil Chihi are still long-term absentees along with defender Henrique Sereno, however Slawomir Pezko and Miso Brecko are available again after sitting out the Leverkusen match through suspension. Left-back Ammar Jemal started light training again on Tuesday while captain Pedro Geromel could return to the Koln midfield after nursing a calf problem. Kevin Pezzoni is also back in training and should be available for selection following a successful operation on his broken nose –Pezzosustained the injury after being attacked in a nightclub following the cities’ carnival a fortnight ago.

Die Geißböcke have the upper hand in the most recent encounters taking eight points from a possible fifteen in the last five – with the only defeat, a heavy one at that, back in the Rhineland in November 2009 when Hoffenheim ran out comfortable four nil winners.

Last 5 Matches

2009/2010      21.11.2009          1.FC Koln                   1899 Hoffenheim       0:4

2009/2010      10.04.2010         1899 Hoffenheim     1.FC Koln                     0:2

2010/2011       24.09.2010         1.FC Koln                   1899 Hoffenheim       1:1

2010/2011       19.02.2011          1899 Hoffenheim     1.FC Koln                     1:1

2011/2012        25.09.2011         1.FC Koln                    1899 Hoffenheim     2:0

Key Battles

Sven Schipplock v Kevin McKenna

The young German striker has only had 128 minutes of Bundesliga action so far this season, but repaid the faith shown in him by the new coach by coming off the bench to grab the winner at Wolfsburg.  Hoffenheim’s number nine will be hoping his impressive display has done enough to give him the nod over Croatian forward Srdan Lakic, who recently came on loan from the Wolves but has failed to find the net in his last three starts. Canadian defender Kevin McKenna will be hopeful of using his vast experience to keep the youthful 1899 front line in check.

Daniel Williams v Slawomir Pezko

German born US international, Daniel Williams will be looking to control the centre of the park and dictate the tempo for Markus Babbel’s side as he did last week, turning in a masterful performance at the Volkswagen arena. Pezko returns from suspension and his slick passing and interplay could give Koln the upper hand in the attacking third – Leverkusen were able to capitalise on their  poor ball distribution last week and bossed large parts of the game.

Bundesliga Football Prediction 2:1


As you may have noticed, another man by the name of Ken has started writing on here – & you would be correct in thinking he is not me, as I am me. But he hasn’t hacked on and just started rambling away at my behest. As part of an ongoing development within thebhoymcclay blog I have taken Kenny on as a wingman of sorts and his clever, witty and thought-provoking articles will be a great asset to the site. Hopefully with articles and previews such as this, we can also continue to explore new and fresher pieces which will hopefully benefit not only the blogger, but also the reader. Enjoy

This is my second matchday preview for Bundesliga Football and as I’m a reasonable lad,  I thought rather than you doing the research on one of the most exciting leagues in Europe – I would deliver the facts, figures and key players in the German top-tier directly to you.

Last week I managed to correctly predict Mainz 1-1 Hannover in Matchday 21, let’s see if we can make it two out of two!

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v FC Augsburg (18.02.2012 – 1430 GMT)

Bayer Leverkusen’s poor run of domestic form extended beyond the Bundesliga on Tuesday night, as a ruthless Barcelona side ran out three one victors at the BayArena in the Champions League – Matchday 22 however, throws up an altogether different prospect with the visit of relegation threatened Augsburg.

A battling display saw Bayer respond with a second-half equaliser through Michal Kadlec, but class eventually prevailed and the Catalan giants emerged with a two goal advantage to take to the Camp Nou in three weeks time. The visitors will be hoping these European exploits will enhance their slim hopes of taking anything back to Bavaria – but the signs are encouraging as Bayer were only victorious once in the league directly following their group stage encounters last year.

Augsburg played out a goalless draw last week at home to Nürnberg in the Swabian – Franconian derby and have shared the spoils in their last three encounters following the rückrunde, picking up vital points in their battle against the drop.  Their problem though has been finding the net – with only 19 goals in the for column in their previous 21 encounters this is in stark contrast to games involving Leverkusen, where goals are seldom in short supply.

Kadlec - a player once on Celtic's radar, swaps match shirts with Messi

 

Robin Dutt’s men routed Augsburg four one earlier in the season in their first ever Bundesliga encounter, and despite sitting sixth in the league, Leverkusen are struggling to capture any semblance of form which could see them claw back the ten points currently sitting between them and a Champions League spot. Matchday 21 saw them travel to the league leaders Borussia Dortmund and BVB found it tough against a well organised and stifling Bayer side. Die Werkself invited pressure and had Dortmund switching from their normal free-flowing style to a more direct route in order to make any headway, and in the end only a Shinji Kagawa gave the home side the 3 points.

Left-back Marcel De Jong and midfielder Tobias Werner are out for Augsburg after picking up injuries in the Nürnberg game and it appears both could be sidelined for up to ten weeks, whilst long-term absentees Nando Rafael, Moravek, & Dawda Ba are still unavailable. Creative spark Sidney Sam is still on the Leverkusen treatment table but Michael Ballack and Eren Derdiyok should make the squad. German midfielder Daniel Baier sits out a one match suspension for Augsburg for crossing the disciplinary threshold whilst Czech international Michal Kadlec returns to Bundesliga action for the home side.

Michal Kadlec vs Axel Bellinghausen

Bellinghausen will be hoping to impress on his return to the BayArena after departing at youth level in 1998. Returning from injury to replace Tobias Werner in the second half against Nuremberg last week, the German midfielder will looking for a starting berth in order to prove his fitness. If this does transpire, he could be facing Kadlec on his league return for Leverkusen following suspension, and he will be keen to showcase his own attacking prowess in the Augsburg defensive third. The tall left-back has been with Bayer now since 2008 and is now only five appearances short of his one hundredth game for the club.

Stefan Reinartz v Sascha Mölders

If Augsburg have any chance of staying in the top flight for any longer than one solitary season, Mölders has to add to his five goals so far this campaign. Having been an ever-present in his sides previous twenty-one encounters, his ratio of a goal for every nine attempted shots will have to improve. From the small & mesmeric Messi, to the tall and boisterous Molders – twenty-three year old Reinartz will enjoy a break from the Argentine superstar, but will have to endure a quite different test when up against the physicality of his compatriot.

Bundesliga Football Prediction: 3-1

Please visit http://bundesligafootball.co.uk For all this weeks previews and Special features on all things Bundesliga

You can also follow on twitter at @BLFuk 

Danke Schon


Hi, it’s me. Ken again. Ken… again. That rhymes! Oooh, look at the kitte- no; time to concentrate. So! Alex “Independence or Bust” Salmond has come out and suggested that Rangers exist for the good of Celtic and the good of Scottish football. Ok, that’s a bit sketchy. More sketchy though is the way he’s trying to influence the HMRC to be lenient with Rangers:

“We’ve certainly been arguing to HMRC on one hand, and indeed to Rangers, to for goodness sake get a settlement, get a settlement and a structure over time whereby Rangers can continue because Rangers must continue for the future of Scottish football and for the fabric of the country.”

Oh dear, Eck! Alex Salmond isn’t really in a position to comment on businesses in financial trouble (hello 2000) anyway, but there’s been a lot of talk about how this would be a bad move for Alex Salmond and the SNP to make politically. The term ‘political suicide’ has been thrown around, though I really don’t think this is the case.

I want to say at this point that I am not an admirer of Alex Salmond’s SNP or their politics. I think independence would be economically suicidal for Scotland and no amount of yellow smoke and mirrors will prove otherwise. I’m a great believer in ‘the facts’ and the SNP haven’t been able to provide any financial or political analysis or representation of facts that would suggest Scotland would be better off as an independent nation. Have people got such short memories that they have forgotten what happened to Ireland when they left the Union? Eurozone bailouts, anyone?

Salmond wants independence for Scotland, and sees Rangers (an extremely pro-Union establishment) as a demographic he can win favour with by urging the HMRC to be lenient with over potentially devastating tax concerns. Come time to vote, Rangers’ extreme large fanbase will have greater inclination to support the man who tried to help them out of a tough situation. But elections are a while away and while this has potential to cost them electorate support they’ve got a long while to ‘make amends’ for that. It’s a case of balancing short-term outrage against long-term loyalty.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour are so unbelievably weak and fragile that they don’t dare contradict anything the SNP has said for fear of looking in any way like they’re not “for Scotland”. Yes, that makes them idiots. The Scottish Conservatives are falling apart. Their numbers halved from 16k party members to 8k party members in the last 6 years. The Scottish Lib Dems are entirely insignificant and as such there’s nobody in a position to challenge the SNP for the Scottish Parliament unless one or more of the above seriously up their game.

So Salmond thinks he’s bullet-proof. And all this does is gain him favour for a cause he believes in with a group who’d otherwise not think to offer it. Rangers are in big trouble, it’s a national issue – and like all national issues the First Minister had to weigh in at some point. And like everything else he does, there’s only one thing on his mind as he’s doing it.