Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Over the past weekend (7/8/9th July) (( In case you are reading this in the future!)), I have been taking a self-imposed break from the majority of my social interacting. That me be a slight mistruth, as my wife was the protagonist for the ban – but seeing as it was our first wedding anniversary, I dully done the right thing and gave in to her request.

It may well have been required anyway – human interaction and face to face time is something seldom seen as you wander aimlessly through carbon copy cities where everyone is glued to either their smartphones or earphones, or just sometimes glue sniffing (I stuck a black marker pen up my nose when I was around about ten, half-fainted and tripped over my bike – I also ended up with an ink spot under my right nostril that resembled half a Hitler mustache – not a good look!). And recently, not just due to my phone’s inability to undertake the most routine task without having a vibrating fit & turning itself off for a well-earned kip, I have been shamed with my excessive usage of social networks by people I really should have been having a conversation with at the time.

For many couples, at home or out and about, it is not uncommon at all to see both people tweeting, texting and basically just ignoring one another. And now, especially with the rise of the 140 character generation, it is even more ludicrous that this same couple may well be conversing or bonding over something with a complete stranger. But – therein also lies the beauty of the thing – the ability to find someone on the same wavelength, supporting the same team, reading the same book or having just watched the same film or television show and talking about it. The worrying aspect is that many people lose their own identity for a new online persona, which can mean not only be diluting relationships in real life – but you can end up being a droid from one of these metropolitan base units I was talking about earlier.

So what problems can an unhealthy obsession with constantly checking and refreshing your feeds bring about? Well apart from the aforementioned – studies show that social media is a major distraction during working hours and education classes, and trying to keep a constant handle on your online network well have a detrimental effect on your performance. Try telling me that on transfer deadline day though!

Another thing you need to take into consideration is the real life effect something you say, or show online could have on the person at the other side of the computer screen. Psychological effects on youngsters especially caused by the overuse of this social medium, has been shown to increase rates in anxiety and been linked to cases of depression. So next time you are about to tell a fenian/hun/fat person etc, to die or do something equally ridiculous – take a step back and think about what you will gain, and how you will make that other person feel. It might be a throwaway comment in your book, but these thoughts and words have the ability to lodge themselves deep in the psyche.

So coming back to my weekend, I was able to interact personally with family and friends without discussing or mundanely checking in where I was, and I felt better for it. Having a real conversation not just with your wife, but with neighbours, waiters and other forms of customer-based providers takes us back to a time when the art of conversation of banter was king! The monotonous usage of automated tellers, barriers and self-checkouts is further diluting real-time interaction as well, people feel safer and can relate to a situation more if they are faced with human interface – you can already see attitudes and personas becoming more robotic & bereft of any positive emotion.

In conclusion – take a break, read a book (It was actually the basic interaction methods of the late 80’s/early 90’s featured in Paul Larkin’s recent book “Poles ‘N’ Goals and Hesselink” which helped highlight the recent transformation), go for a walk, talk to someone, use the basket queue – however slow the old biddy is taking in front of you to locate her Clubcard! Don’t overdose online, as you may end up abusing the actual splendour and intricacies within & not reap its many benefits.


I now look forward to receiving your comments via post, telegram, or in person. Alternatively you can respond below.



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 – 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.

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 For all this weeks previews and Special features on all things Bundesliga

You can also follow on twitter at @BLFuk 

Danke Schon

Celtic cannot allow media outlets, pundits and commentators to overshadow this seasons’ achievements, in what is turning out to be a league campaign which will be secured through sporting integrity, diligence and hard work.

Notwithstanding the 10 point deduction, Celtic were four points ahead of the game and powering home like a thoroughbred. Neil Lennon’s’ warriors galvanized, confident and with the momentum of a runaway train – are on an unbeaten run which has not been emulated since a decade past when Martin O’Neill’s inspiration guided his own Celtic team – captained by the current manager – to a domestic treble. A swing in the Bhoys favour of seventeen points had already been overturned in a whirlwind period of fifty-three winter days and had left Ally McCoist and his Rangers team on the ropes. The knockout blow was to come, and everyone in green & white and across the city knew it – The Valentine’s day rebuff from HMRC has only brought the celebrations forward, and likewise with my experience from the closing stages of the 1999/2000 season – Rangers fans will want the curtain drawn on 2011/2012 as soon as possible. The only way Celtic can end this campaign negatively, is with a winning margin which does not reflect their on-field superiority.

Hours before the Govan Road was turned into a scene reminiscent of the Kim Jong-Ill funeral procession, Peter Lawell mirrored the viewpoint of the majority of Celtic fans when stating that the club does not, and will not need a strong Rangers side in the SPL for its own survival. Furthermore, Celtic would see this as a building block to a resurgent, and successful period in its history, where it would look to not only dominate in Scotland – but to take a significant step in European competition.

In Lennon, Celtic have a man who learned from one of the great managers of our times, and an individual steeped in hooped history. In his time as manager, Neil Lennon has, even this season, been close to the brink. At half-time at Rugby Park I was even doubting his managerial credentials, but again he battled back and from the depths of despair, Celtic resurrected their season beyond most fans own wildest dreams.

The squad built by Neil and his scouting network is young, dynamic and full of quality. Against Hearts recently, in the four nil Tynecastle victory, the average age of the starting XI was 23 – a statistic even the boss would have not envisaged at the start of his reign, feeling experienced individuals such as Jimmy Bullard and David James would be more beneficial than pure raw talent with little big game experience. Alex Ferguson was able to prove to Alan Hansen, that kids can win trophies – on top of last season’s Scottish Cup triumph, this Celtic team can gain an enormous amount of confidence and self belief with a domestic treble, the destiny of which, is very much within the teams control. A team which grows year on year, and can add silverware to its ongoing development – is conducive to building a historic and legendary legacy much, like the Lisbon Lions and Jock Stein created for themselves.

The next level of progression has to be the Champions League and the elite European competition has produced many Jekyll and Hyde results in the last eleven or so years staggered participation. Gordon Strachan, was able to guide his team twice to the knockout stages where even O’Neill could not, with a mixture of homegrown talent and experience from further afield. Bankier and Lawell now need to stand by their man, and with their full support and the stability of the team, they could be writing their own history.

Only time will tell how fulfilling any future domination can bring if the ongoing downsizing at Rangers continues – that is why it is up to the rest of Scottish Football to step up and show they can cement a challenge worthy of the leagues continuing funding and support.

" you come to mention it..."

One of the first occasions I set eyes on Mario, was during a highly-charged Champions League semi-final where the young eccentric number forty-five was having what appeared to be a touch-line rant at his own boss at the time, Jose Mourinho. Following Seville, many Celtic fans and neutrals have had an ongoing dislike for the egotistical Mourinho. He not only sent his Porto side out with barely a hint of sportsmanship that evening – but also, quite shockingly, neglected to acknowledge Martin O’Neills’ sides colossal effort in what turned out to be an enthralling struggle in the Spanish heat.

Therefore your sympathies at the outset, were with Balotelli. At first glance, even though you were totally enthralled at the theatre which was orchestrating itself out with the beautiful game on the pitch, there was a sense of worry as to why such an event had manifested itself during such a fixture? After a few minutes had passed it was revealed that the Italian youngster was asking the Portuguese boss for a substitution due to alleged racist chants directed at him from his own supporters wearing the black & blue from one half of Milan. A truly disgusting, but not unexpected act ,from supporters in Italy where unfortunately for a time this behaviour was accepted as the norm – Balotelli had only came on as a substitute twenty minutes from the whistle and ended the match by discarding his match shirt and throwing it to the ground in front of the vitriolic home crowd.

We fast forward twenty-months and to the Etihad stadium in last nights Carling Cup tie with Liverpool where the controversial star is returning after a knock which left him out of the equally polemically Manchester Derby on the 7th of January.

 “You can’t take your eyes off him”

Not a truer sentence has passesd from the lips of the much maligned, but mainly self-inflicted,pundit, Mark Lawrenson. From the team bus to the tunnel, pre-match warm up to the handshakes, to the pitch and the sometimes more encapsulating antics off it – Mario Balotelli is a character the type which has been missing from the spotlight of World Football for many years.  Last night was typical of his turbulent footballing career, City who were missing a few key men anyway, did not start the game or end it, in any sort of positive manner – the man in question could not control passes, at times stood statuesque and only broke a sweat chasing Charlie Adam after a foul and a clip on the ear from the ex-Ranger.  Thirty-five minutes into the game, he was replaced by Samir Nasri, gingerly leaving the field to muted and confused applause. Only a few days previously, social media was ablaze with Balotelli  trending following reports that on filling up his car with petrol, he held the pump overhead in jubilant exuberance and vowed to meet the costs of all other customers on the forecourt at that time.  Tales of this caliber are rarely given enough airtime within the media these days with the majority of stories focusing on the negative aspects of football, be it extra-marital affairs, drug & alcohol abuse or “illicit chanting” from supporters.

The Italian born forward seems to be singe-handily attempting to enhance the sports image, but with a fair share of his slightly idiotic actions he helps re-address the balance. That in itself is by the wayside, as a public figure he has entertained on & off the field so far this season and has helped catapult his side to the top of the Premiership – every headline that has centred around Balotelli this season has put a smile on my face whether it be football or firework related. Ian Crocker was against lambasted on Twitter during the week when the possibility of a Celtic Scottish Cup tie at Inverness arose following the few mentions he gave it during the defeat of Peterhead. For pundits, presenters and television companies, these upsets and “feel good” shocks are the lifeblood of keeping the neutral viewer South of the Border and further afield interested (we all know the rest of Scotland wants us to lose!), for the prosperity of ESPN, Sky Sports and Scottish football. So for “Super Mario” to be making such a name for himself after only just over a year in Britain, it keeps a healthy momentum of interest building around the beautiful game.

In the purest sense he probably isn’t the idea role model for children –  he is by far the worst and children from a technical aspect could not fail to be impressed with his skills – perhaps his temperament and work rate could be re-assessed in order to make a more rounded player, but I think trying to iron out his slight deficiencies would backfire on any respective manager looking to get a decent strike rate from the single-minded man. Not since the heyday of George Best, Paul Gascoigne or Frank Macavennie, has there been such spotlight and comment on one individual – the difference so far with Balotelli, is that he does not have the demons to go with it. Ill-mannered, stupid and sometimes irrational but his extroverted activities are for the most, comedic and done for no other reason than enjoyment and laughter – whilst his share in the City coffers have meant that his spare cash is not always frittered away, but often donated (see Petrol station scenario above) to others less fortunate than himself.  Driving around Manchester chucking notes out of his car window, giving a grand to a homeless man, and not to mention a couple of hundred to a local church – his good nature and love of life seems to shine through.

“The problem is because of his age, he can make some mistakes. He’s Mario. He’s crazy – but I love him because he’s a good guy.

They have not always seen eye to eye, but the words above of Roberto Mancini show that the Italian manager shows that the Italian manager has a real connection and belief in Balotelli’s abilities and maintains a fatherly outlook for the twenty-one year olds wellbeing. Mancini’s faith has been restored with a positive goal return of eleven so far this season, which is already one more than last term, and some startling performances to parachute the Blue side of Manchester into top spot. The return of the dark side to Carlos Tevez’s psyche has seen City’s three other star strikers given more of the limelight – which may in hindsight, have solved a possible selection headache for the manager. This positivity directed toward the Palermo-born star from the higher echelons is a far cry from his stint with Mourinho at the San Siro – a strained relationship which led to disciplinary problems and a public slaying by the Special One was not conducive to a productive player. If Balotelli can keep his focus on the pitch and enjoy his life in this country, I am certain he can fire his side to the Premiership title come May.

The majority of the football community were united yesterday afternoon in condemning the unjust red card which was brandished at Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany early in their third round FA Cup tie against their bitter rivals. The City defender cleanly took the ball with one boot in a committed challenge with the momentum of the tackle trailing his left leg in a similar motion. As Andy Townsend correctly noted shortly after on commentary, a players challenge cannot always be perfectly executed and the sole, or studs of the boot, are sometimes the first contact with player or ball.

The fact Nani yesterday did not react or shriek in horror at the Belgian’s force surely also tells a story – only the pressure and antics of Wayne Rooney seemed to bring the incident to the attention of the man in black.  The Portuguese star has been known to go down rather easily in the past with little or no contact and the honest  manner in which he reacted was a shock to many.

A two-footed challenge by the “letter of the law”, is deemed a punishable and illegal offence in the officials book – but how grossly it is viewed and how much excessive force is used in the tackle determines the outcome of the decision. Kompany was full-blooded and determined – but only to win the ball, & at no time did he make malicious contact or have any intent to injure the Manchester United player. A number of pundits, ex-pro’s and managers were lining up recently to condemn referee’s for being to card happy and insisting the art of tackling was dying – Mick McCarthy noted that,  “The fabric of our game is based on tackles. That’s why people come and watch because it’s exciting. It’s part of our game. If they take that out, it’s gone”. Despite a spirited second half display, the decision was made and City were down to ten after only twelve minutes – gone with it was their chance of FA Cup glory.

After witnessing several “hefty” challenges in Celtic’s cup clash at Peterhead yesterday afternoon which did carry intent, you have to wonder which wavelength some referee’s are on when brandishing cards out – in some instances yesterday, a yellow card was not even produced with Anthony Stokes having to watch & protect his own back.  All we really need is some common sense from the official’s and for them not to react to players brandishing imaginary cards in their faces or the partisan nature of the crowd – with so much pressure though, some mistakes will be made.  In what ways can the strain or demands on officials be lessened?

Henry Winter of the Telegraph this morning made a call for the sin bin method adopted in Rugby to be adapted for the game – obviously not everyone yellow-carded can be sent to the bench for ten minutes, but a possible reflection time for incidents when a referee feels the punishment is not quite worthy of a sending-off but deems it more serious than an initial caution, could be an option. A possible video replay of the incident during this  period could give a decision on the punishment straight away not just for the remainder of the game in hand – but for any future penalty and which could eventually render the current appeals process null & void. Certainly, some moves have to be made before we enter a no contact zone.

Best wishes firstly, to my followers and avid readers – all three of you helped immensely in my first venture into blogging which mainly focused on football, and primarily Celtic Football Club.

This will be partly a tongue in cheek post on what our Bhoys should be striving towards in 2012 to help retain the title, but with the added twist of real journalistic nuance and semi-knowledgeable comment.  This will also come as a surprise compared to the usual fayre which is dished out on this hallowed portal…..

First up, a tip for the new Swede in town – right-back Mikael Lustig should cut those wavy brunette locks. Only Sammy can get away with sporting such delicate, beautiful and flowing hair and he does remind me of the distinguished courtier-poet Sir Thomas Wyatt of Henry VIII’s reign with the combination of his intriguing facial mouser.

He needs to integrate himself with the team psyche as early as possible like such players as Adam Matthews & Victor Wanyama have done since joining. Listen to the history from fans & stalwarts alike and marvel in the club’s stature, whilst realising you are representing not just a football team & business – but a community.

Talking of the Kenyan King, Victor Wanyama hopefully sticks to his word and dismisses any talk of wanting out of Celtic Park by committing his long-term future to the club. My personal player of the season so far has been nothing short of spectacular in defensive and midfield roles, with a combination of furious combative hustling and a vision and understanding of the game which defies some belief given his tentative twenty years.

I honestly believe he only just gave the ball away for the first time at East End Park on Sunday – and that was gifted to the Dunfermline net. Comparisons to midfield legends such as Patrick Viera and Didier Deschamps have of course magnified the spotlight shone on Slick Vic by other teams and hopefully he can ignore the press pack rumours and pushy agents to carve out a successful and trophy laden Celtic career.

Further to former Celt, Aiden McGeady’s comments this week, I am in full agreement that James Forrest can & will become the Parkhead sides most effective weapon in the coming years. A major part of Celtic’s title race revival has been the direct running of the pacey young Scot who has chipped in with seven goals and six further assists – Since the departure of McGeady to the Russian League cracks Spartak Moscow, the Bhoys have not had such an explosive talent on their hands.

My advice to our number forty-nine, would be to stay grounded and not to let the headlines or plaudits boost his ego too much – we don’t want a Fleckaldinho type situation on our hands. Thebhoymcclay’s talent scouts at Lennoxtown often wax lyrical about young Forrest when it comes to end of training shooting practice – a bomb of a right peg which Zaluska & Forster combined, would struggle to stop.

Scott Brown – Keep up the intense Skittle-fuelled performances on the pitch. Combine with a dash of crazy staring pupils and a pinch of \o/ wherever applicable, and come season end you will surely be a title winning captain!

Charlie Mulgrew – If you see Michelle Mone, run!

Kris Commons Dust down Terry McDermott’s old “Social Convener” overcoat – you are the class clown of 2012 – as by the looks of it, your footballing opportunities at Celtic are over.

Mo Bangura – If you are still here by the time I have written this sentence, I’d firstly like to congratulate you & secondly advise you to treat every game like a bounce game.

Another player whose career we don’t want to grind to a halt again is Georgios Samaras – the Greek has been playing as consistently well for the Hoops during this recent run than at any other point during his few years in Scotland.

No matter how he or any of the team are playing at any point during a league season, you can always rely on Samaras to give his all to the cause and never hide in the shadows of players & opposing defenders. When self-confidence is low though, touches & passes go awry and the fans have an easy scapegoat again – But in the last month I have witnessed a change of some magnitude from the Celtic faithful towards the giant forward (the Kyle Bartley molligation on the 28th endeared a few more to #TeamSamaras), with a belief that he can be a part of Neil Lennon’s jigsaw. This belief and appreciation is now two way and I would ask Georgios & the fans to Keep the Faith with each other this coming year – and avoid a Greek Tragedy come May.
P.S. Don’t take any notice of that Swedish boys barnet – its not a patch on yours….& you’re worth it!