Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scotland 2009/10: How was it for you?

SO, there it is. The Scottish Cup final notwithstanding, the curtain comes down on season 2009/10, the 113th since that sunny day in August 1890, when Rangers defeated Heart of Midlothian 5-2.

Funny how history has a habit of (nearly) repeating itself. While this season Rangers kicked off against Falkirk and not Hearts, the end result was pretty much the same – Rangers champions (albeit joint champions with Dumbarton), Celtic several points behind them, St Mirren somewhere near the bottom. Taking the role of Falkirk in that first season where Cowlairs, a team currently residing in the “where are they now?” files.

Hopefully Falkirk won’t go the same way as Cowlairs, a team beset by financial and administrative problems and which eventually went out of business in 1896, but there’s many a nervous Bairns fan out there, wondering what the summer will bring.

But how was the season for you and yours?

You can’t say it’s not been exciting. Celtic, Dundee United, Falkirk, Hearts, Kilmarnock and Motherwell all changed managers at some point during the season. History tells us that changing horses in midstream is generally not a good idea, but with the exception of Falkirk, for the most part it’s worked out.

In the end, Rangers deserved their title. Despite all their problems, they won the league at a canter. A League Cup would have been matched by a Scottish Cup had it not been for United, and the less said about the European adventures the better, but worthy champions they are. The won the league against a backdrop of financial woes, but with every day bringing news of tax demands, a will-he-wont-he buyer and a bank-induced “buy one, get one free” players sale, it might not all be such plain sailing next season.

About the only team for who Rangers’ impending implosion is relevant is Celtic. Even with Lennon in charge had no chance of catching up with Rangers, but you have to credit the Northern Irish international for at least giving it a go. Unbeaten in the league since taking over from Mowbray, Lennon has made a good case for becoming permanent manager of the Hoops over the summer. Something tells me he’ll get the job, and you know what – why not? He’s a Celtic man through and through, he’s done a remarkable job in turning around a squad that just wasn’t performing particularly well and, if nothing else, at least he did something only two other teams did this season: beat Rangers.

Peter Houston, the initially reluctant Dundee United manager got off to a slow start, including a goalless draw with Killie, a 7-1 thrashing by Rangers and an away defeat at New Firm rivals Aberdeen, but he stuck it out to put together a series of results that kept them in the top half of the table (they never dropped lower than fifth) and got them into the Scottish Cup final.

Craig Brown and Jim Jefferies, two veterans of our game had seasons of differing fortunes. Appointed to their new positions within a month of eachother (Brown at the end of December, Jefferies at the end of January) both managers steered a steady course to keep their sides from straying too far down the table – though by a strange quirk brought about by the league split, seventh placed Accies actually finished the season with more points than sixth placed Hearts.

No one said Scottish football was perfect.

Fans of St Johnstone can look back on a solid campaign that, given a repeat performance next season, could well be the start of a lengthy SPL stay, if only they’d stop conceding so many goals. Jimmy Calderwood did was he was asked, keep Killie up, but his future, not to mention that of Killie remains in doubt.

Hamilton Accies did well to improve on their final finishing position from season 2008/09, finishing two places higher, and all that without their prize asset, Master James McCarthy. Whether they’ll do as well without James McArthur remains to be seen…

St Mirren managed to avoid the final day heart attacks of last season, but only just. A vital win at home to Kilmarnock and draws against Falkirk and Hamilton in the final weeks of the season kept the Buddies up, meaning SPL football will be played in their brand new stadium for another year.

Which leaves Aberdeen, easily the most disappointing team of the season. Picking holes in Aberdeen’s season is like shooting fish in a barrel, there was simply so much that went wrong. Terrible players, terrible results and a manager whose early-season PR with his own fans left many wondering about his sanity, not to mention longevity, all made up not so much a roller-coaster season as a fairly pacey downhill slalom.

Another highlight of the season has been the progress that Raith Rovers and Ross County made in this years domestic Cup competitions. Raith Rovers, somewhere below mid-table in the First Division made it as far as the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, beating Aberdeen and Dundee along the way, before coming unstuck against Dundee United. Ross County made it one game further. They took two big SPL scalps, those of Hibernian and Celtic (providing Neil Lennon’s only copybook blot). They also put nine past Second Division champions Stirling Albion in an earlier round.

They’ll play Dundee United next Saturday at Hampden.

And I couldn’t fail to mention an old favourite, Fort William. The Fort, once Britain’s worst football team, possibly, went from a team without a win last season to winning no less than 5 games during this campaign. They finished five points above the bottom spot, the wooden porridge spoon this year going to Rothes. Despite their success, The Fort still set two records this season: the biggest home win (champions Buckie Thistle won 8-0) and the longest run without recording a win (11).

There have been some disappointments too.

The national side once again failed spectacularly on the international stage. Failure to qualify for South Africa was one thing, but friendly defeats in Japan and Wales proved too much for the SFA who fired Burley, who had won just three of his 14 games in charge. The SFA moved quickly to poach Craig Levein from Dundee United, who got his tenure off to a winning start (a 1-0 win over Euro 2012 group-mates the Czech Republic). While the start looks promising, it may not last: Levein is one of the names in the frame for the Celtic job.

The other disappointment has been the McLeish report, the much awaited inquest into past, present and future of the Scottish game. Released without any fanfare whatsoever somewhere last month (I forget when, go Google) the report made some minor waves in the national media and the blogosphere, but most of us who care about the game stopped reading after we saw the line about needing £500m in investment to get things to where they should be. Quite where that amount of money is going to come from in this day and age is a mystery to me, and McLeish for that matter.

What follows on from this first installment (there are three in total) is completely irrelevant now, because by coming up with such ludicrous amounts, McLeish has made a mockery of his own report, and any further insights or recommendations – no matter how clever – will be met with even less hoo-la than I would have ever imagined.

So that’s it. A quick summary of my Scottish football season. We’ve still got a few games to go (a Cup final and the First and Second division play-off Finals), and before the next season kicks off there will be more talk of league reconstruction and league splits. While the format may change, the football remains the same and despite all I’ve had to put up with as an Aberdeen fan, I’m already looking forward to August.

Are you?

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