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Archives for December 2008

An Atlantic League would sink SPL

Chick Young | 19:45 UK time, Monday, 29 December 2008

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There is hope out there. Nearly 100,000 souls paid to watch the Scottish Premier League at the weekend.

The box office boomed with a little help from the fact that a Saturday fell two days after Christmas but the appetite for the game is in clear contrast to the waning interest in turkey.

A sell-out at Pittodrie and not a "Calderwood-must-go" banner in sight. It's a changing world right enough.

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Season of good will extends to referees

Chick Young | 16:33 UK time, Friday, 19 December 2008

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There is an acute absence of hot air about this deepest, darkest midwinter. And things could yet take a turn for the worse.

The Scottish Premier League have announced - in the language of the courts - that there was "prima facie" evidence of a breach of the rules by Kilmarnock and Motherwell in the postponement of their games against Aberdeen and Hearts respectively on 6 December.

The under-soil heating systems at Rugby Park and Fir Park couldn't have melted a single nougat that Saturday afternoon and the top brass are clearly cheesed off about it, although in the case of Killie not distressed enough to slap down a fine or a warning about points deduction.

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SPL think-tank's food for thought

Chick Young | 18:32 UK time, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

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Scottish Premier League unity has just gone up the clique.

The unbelievable decision to ostracise half a dozen managers from the league gang hut was a diplomatic nightmare.

It's as if they had invited Saddam Hussein's legendary spin doctor, Comical Ali, to handle their public relations.

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Saints must look to the future

Chick Young | 20:09 UK time, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

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So St Mirren Park it is. The new digs have been christened but to be honest I couldn't have cared whether the place was called Hame'lldaeme.

The First Minister will be asked to do the honours on 31 January by which time the flitting of Saints from Love Street a half mile or so round the corner will be done and dusted. The removal lorries are already revving up for action.

There will be tears of course. Saints fans, directors and maybe even one or two of the players will be greetin' at the emotion of it all on the final day, when Motherwell come to call on 3 January and the last man out the door switches the lights off. For good.

But when Alex Salmond unveils a wee plaque inside the main entrance at Greenhill Road shortly before kick-off time in the Kilmarnock game at the end of next month, Saints will be, irrevocably, well into the first days of the rest of their lives. And there can be no looking back.

Not even for a sneaky wee glance over the shoulder.

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Is the Hearts bank broken?

Chick Young | 16:35 UK time, Monday, 1 December 2008

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Five in a row for Hearts. If they can keep this running as long as one of Csaba Laszlo's answers during interviews, they could well win the Champions' League, as once outrageously promised by owner Vladimir Romanov.

Laszlo speaks like he has swallowed a box of Scrabble, but there is no doubt he is the inspiration behind this great spell.

If only they were equally adept at spelling PR.

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Just as everything in the garden seems to be coming up lovely, a right shower of bankers let Hearts down by failing to pay the wages on time.

The club claim it wasn't an issue, but try telling that to your building society when they, in turn, try to take the funds out of your account.

And just before Christmas too. Bah humbug.

Still, it would be crass not to give the club a thunderous round of applause for their soaring to third spot in the championship race and the underlining that Tynecastle is again a scary place for even the Old Firm to visit.

Their in-their-faces approach to Rangers was refreshing for Hearts fans who have watched too often as their team rolled over and purred as Glasgow's big two fired the three points on to the coach going back along the M8.

Laszlo ordered a Corporal Jones approach and, right enough, Walter Smith's side didn't like it up 'em.

The game passed Smith's midfield by and it is a long time since I saw Barry Ferguson so out of touch with everything that was happening around him. Of course, cock-up defending, where Rangers defenders couldn't have won a game of tig in their own six yard box, didn't help them, but analysis of Ibrox deficiencies is for another day.

This is a wee acknowledgement that, hopefully, at long last, Hearts might have found the straight and narrow again.

Christophe Berra was sensational against Rangers and it is, of course, only a matter of time before he is installed as Scotland's centre-half. Or flogged in the January market place.

News of his progress is being whispered in the boardrooms of England and no doubt Stuart Pearce, who was at the weekend game to monitor Andrew Driver's chances of being included in an England Under-21 squad, will be telling a few pals in the south about the defending abilities of the Hearts captain.

But, just this once, it would be awful nice if they could close the one player or more check-out and keep Berra around the place for at least another season or two.

If he goes then, hand-in-hand with Hibs, Edinburgh's Premier League clubs will have flogged off the best part of £25m worth of talent in the last few seasons.

Can you imagine what might have happened had Craig Gordon, Paul Hartley, Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Garry O'Connor and a few others still been reporting for work in the capital?

Meanwhile, back in the real world.

So why the difference? What has made it all go right with Heart of Midlothian?

I noticed one factor at the weekend. Only Marius Zaliukas in the starting line-up was of Lithuanian extraction, which is not at all a racist observation but one which suggests that the influence of Romanov may be diluting by the day, at least in terms of team selection.

Steve Frail, among others, might ruefully reflect on what he might have achieved had he too been freed of the owners' grasp on the team sheet.

Wee Vlad has either been persuaded to stop playing with his train set and watch it go better or his mind is elsewhere, like at Kaunas, for whom he has threatened to register himself as a player at the age of a mere 61.

Go on yourself, wee man, I say to that. If I owned a club, I'd make myself captain.

Of course, the testing time comes right now. Their revival doesn't seem strong enough to prise themselves between Celtic and Rangers, but they will face other challenges - from Dundee United and Aberdeen in particular - which must be matched if they are to be allowed to take a bow at the season's end.

That, and a consistent ability to fill wage packets on time, will mark progress.

For sure, Laszlo can talk the talk. I need to fire my ears into a bucket of cold water at the end of interviews.

But you know something? I suspect he might be able to walk the walk too.

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