SWPL1 – Rangers v Celtic

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An off colour Rangers were made to pay as Celtic produced a dominant display punctuated by three goals in six first half minutes as they cruised to an Old Firm Derby victory at New Tinto Park. Both sides were coming off the back of mixed results in the SWPL Cup last weekend and whilst the home side will be taking their place at Broadwood in a fortnight’s time it was the visitors who set their stall out early as they went on to dominate the majority of the game.

After an even start the game sparked into life on the ten minute mark. Good work from Sarah Ewens and Keeva Keenan on the Celtic left resulted in a ball being whipped into the area which the Rangers defence were able to hook clear. A minute later though the visitors were one up. From the resulting throw in Keenan launched the ball in to the box and with the home defence struggling to properly clear their lines the ball fell to Josi Giard who curled the ball into the corner from the edge of the area and four minutes later the lead was doubled. A left wing corner made its a way to a cluster of players positioned at the far post and from the melee Celtic captain Kelly Clark rose the highest to knock the ball in from a couple of yards out.

Rangers were unable to get a foothold in the game and found themselves 3-0 down with just 17 minutes on the clock. Rangers keeper Jade Baillie came rushing out of her area to deal with a ball but didn’t do enough to clear it leaving Natalie Ross with the opportunity to lob the ball into the empty net from 35 yards out. Rangers may have felt that there was a foul on Baillie in the build up but the Celtic midfielder should be credited with the composure she showed in putting away the long range effort. In attack Rangers were resorting to long range efforts whilst bouncing balls in their own area continued to cause problems.

Four minutes before half time they were handed a chance to get back in the game when a ball cut back in from the touch line was handled by the Celtic defence. Experienced midfielder Clare Gemmell stepped up to take the resulting penalty and whilst it was well struck and seemingly destined for the corner Megan Cunningham in the Celtic goal was able to get down to make the save. Rangers midfielder Chantelle Brown was then quickest to react to the rebound but could only watch as her close range effort crashed off the bottom of Cunningham’s left hand post.

As the game restarted Rangers came out quickly with the always game Brown denied again this time by Cunningham as the winger cut in from the left only for the keeper to push her shot wide and out for a corner. Those moments of Rangers attacking quality would however prove to be fleeting as Celtic were soon 4-0 up. On the 55th minute Kathleen McGovern became the latest Celtic player to benefit from the ball bouncing around the Rangers penalty area to stick a header home. Celtic continued to have chances with Baillie in the Rangers goal denying both Keenan and Ewens respectively but the fourth goal effectively killed the game. Rangers did get on the scoresheet through Brown who, having been unlucky to see her 35 yard effort strike the crossbar a few minutes previous, found herself in the box to nod home an injury time consolation for the home side.

Both teams now head into their next encounters against Glasgow City, in the SWPL Cup and the league respectively, with very different mindsets in what ultimately proved to be a fairly one sided encounter.

Celtic Captain and Goalscorer, Kelly Clark: “Delighted with the result, we were really disappointed with last week but we made sure we started fast and we scored a couple of early goals. Another massive moment was Megan’s penalty save, it wasn’t a bad penalty from Clare but she’s guessed the right way and got a strong wrist to it. I think if we had gone in at half time at 3-1 I would have been disappointed.”

“After a game like that you wish the next game is round the corner but we’ll train really hard and see what Eddie’s got planned for Glasgow City in the next game.”

Rangers Manager, Amy McDonald: “We weren’t good enough particularly in the first and we created our own problems but I have to say that the decision not to give a foul for their third goal has really hampered us. Why that wasn’t given as a free kick is beyond me.”

“It was another hard lesson for us as we need to learn that we have to perform for 90 minutes. We need to be improve and reflect ahead of the semi final against Glasgow City.”

For the full interviews with Kelly Clark and Amy McDonald visit the the Official Scottish Women’s Football Channel.

Rangers: Baillie, McCartney, Gallon, Coakley, Dalgleish, Gemmell, Muir, Napier, Brown, Pullar, Boyce. Subs: Ramsay, Inglis, Donnelly, Sinclair, Watson, O’Hara

Celtic: Cunningham, Keenan, Craig, O’Neill, Black, Clark, Giard, Ross, Hay, Ewens, McGovern. Subs: Farrell, Crosbie, Smart, Donaldson, Hodges.  

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SWPL: Celtic 0-0 Motherwell

 

 

It was a case of Women of Steel by name, Women of Steel by nature as Celtic were unable to break down a well organised and resolute Motherwell at K Park. The home side went into the game looking to build on last week’s 5-1 victory away to Spartans whilst the visitors were hoping to break a two game losing streak after an impressive first half showing against Hibernian ultimately ended in a 4-0 defeat last week.

The opening exchanges saw Celtic have the majority of the possession but early efforts from Kathleen McGovern and Cheryl McCulloch were blocked by Motherwell’s centre back pairing of Kirsten Rolph and Georgie Rafferty, a feat that was to be repeated throughout the game as Motherwell bodies block shots from all angles throughout the game. Although at times the act of clearing the ball from the box seemed a little chaotic, especially from Keeva Keenan’s first half bouncing long throws, the visitors were still dangerous on the counter and if it wasn’t for a heavy touch when through on goal from Lori Gardner they might have snatched the lead on the 21st minute. It would be Celtic though who would continue to dominate the play and the first clear chance of the game fell to McCulloch on the 26th minute after McGovern knocked a cross from the right into her path, again though the striker was foiled by another diving Motherwell body, this time in the form of a well timed last ditch tackle. Soon after McGovern was again denied by a block from the visiting defence. With half time approaching McCulloch was put through for another opportunity but this time she was thwarted by an on rushing Morgan Hunter in the ‘Well goal who managed to make herself big enough to see the shot pushed by the post.

As the second half started it appeared that a stalemate was inevitable with little action of note until the introduction of Josephine Giard to Celtic’s left-hand side on the 67th minute. She was soon causing problems and six minutes later she won the ball in midfield and proceeded to push forward only for Rolph to again block the ball’s path towards goal. Celtic’s best chance of the game though came with eleven minutes to go, a long range effort from Rachel Donaldson was parried back out into the area by Hunter but as the ball fell to Natalie Ross she could only skew her effort wide. This latest missed opportunity seemed to spur the visitors on with the midfield trio of Rice, Montgomery and McEachran constantly offering options on the counter. On the 86th minute a smart set piece move saw a long range effort from Rafferty deflected over the bar but the home side still had one chance to spurn when substitute Kat Smart’s low cross was pushed wide by McGovern.

In the 90th minute Motherwell could have won it, a speculative looping shot from Gardner went over the head of Celtic keeper Megan Cunningham but it bounced just wide of the far post. Whilst Celtic will feel they created enough chances to win the game the resoluteness of their Lanarkshire visitors, epitomised by the hard work of centre backs Rolph and Rafferty, meant they were more than deserving of a point in this Friday evening encounter.

Celtic 0-0 Motherwell

Celtic: Cunningham, Keenan, Crosbie, McCulloch, Black, Craig, McGovern, Clark, McLaughlin, Ross, Donaldson Subs Used: Giard, Hay, Smart

Motherwell: Hunter, Knox, Rolph, Rafferty, Rice, Crilly, Montgomery, Gardner McEachran, Russell, Adams Subs Used: Fyfe

Remaining Fixtures This Weekend

SWPL 1

Stirling University v Spartans KO|12:00 Ochilview Park

Forfar Farmington v Glasgow City KO|13:00 Station Park

Hibernian v Rangers KO|13:00 Ainslie Park

SWPL 2

Partick Thistle v Dundee United KO|12:00 Petershill Park

Hearts v St Johnstone KO|15:30 Oriam National Performance Centre

Hamilton Academical v Hutchison Vale KO|16:00 The Hope CBD Stadium

Kilmarnock v Glasgow Girls KO|16:30 Rugby Park

The Descendants of Djemba Djemba

With the news that former Manchester United and Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba Djemba has signed for SPFL Premiership side St. Mirren until the end of the season now seems as good a time as any to give a nod to some of Scottish football’s most fondly remembered African imports.

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1. Jose Quitongo

Former clubs: Hamilton Accies, St. Mirren, Kilmarnock, Hearts, Alloa Athletic, Albion Rovers, Partick Thistle, Dumbarton, Livingston, Stenhousemuir, Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow, Pollok and Muirkirk.

Any list about African football in Scotland would not be complete without the Angolan Pele/Maradonna/Platini/Laudrup/Charnley. A player with a trickery that seemed to often confuse him as much as it did his opponents who after moving to Scotland decided he loved it so much that he thought he would try to play for as many clubs as possible while his legs allowed him to do so. After starting his career at Benfica he found his way to South Lanarkshire and Hamilton Accies, a club that when all else failed would welcome back Jose with open arms time and time again.

Quitongo was a player who could play hopscotch with the line between terrible and brilliant all in a matter of steps but through it all continue to do so with a smile on his face, even when  blowing out his backside in almost every game he played. He also had spells in Sweden, Poland, Ireland, UAE and Italy but Scotland was where he would always call his footballing home, returning in 2006 with the hope of making it into the Angolan national team for the 2006 World Cup, unfortunately for us all that was one dream that didn’t come true. Towards the end of his career in professional football he was a one man game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ appearing at clubs across the central belt for trials and the odd substitute appearance.

Where is he now?: He’s still in Scotland and sports one of those wonderful accents that only a foreigner living in Scotland can obtain. After a playing spell in Junior football with Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow and Pollok amongst others he was this season appointed player-manager of Ayrshire District League side Muirkirk. Jose clearly loves Scotland and I think it’s fair to say we love him a little bit too.

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2. Bobo Balde

Former club: Celtic

Bobo Balde was a behemoth, strong in the air, quick on his feet and like all entertaining central defenders prone to moments of blind rage and calamity. A player who is as well know for his dominant displays in over 200 appearances for Celtic as he was for sitting on his bahookie and getting paid a handsome sum to do so. Not since Rangers Basile Boli had Scottish football seen a man who possessed the Guinean’s incredible combination of mass and speed, a skillset that led to Celtic fans chanting the phrase ‘Bobo’s gonna get ye!’ at opponents in celebration of his intimidating presence.

He was part of the successful Martin O’Neill side that reached the UEFA Cup Final only to be beaten by Porto by another man called Jose. Mourinho on this occasion. In Scotland he is without doubt Africa’s most decorated export, winning 5 league titles, 3 Scottish Cups and 2 League Cups whilst playing over 50 times for the Guinean national team. After falling out of favour with new manager Gordon Strachan moves to England failed to materialise and his departure was met with little fanfare or surprise when his contract expired in 2009.

Where is he now?: After leaving Celtic he had spells with Valenciennes and Arles Avignon at the foot of Ligue. 1 in France before retiring from the game.

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3. Cherif Toure Mamam

Former club: Livingston

Back in the golden days before Livingston were known for their frequent flirtations with administration they were one of Scottish footballs nouveau riche, well as nouveau riche as you can be in Scotland. A rebranded Meadowbank Thistle moved to that bit of the country between Glasgow and Edinburgh in the hope of attracting new support in the heart of silicon glen. Using their new wealth to move their way up the divisions names such as Oscar Rubio, Guillermo Amor, Rolando Zarate and eh…David Bingham were often seen at the stadium formerly known as Almondvale but none came with as much expectation upon them as the Togolese international.

After trials at Rangers and Fulham, a team who themeselves were going through their own financially backed revolution, the then 20 year old midfielder came with a hype that he never quite lived up to. Sporting the number ’91’ his lucky number and an homage to his basketball playing roots, the ‘Sheriff’ as he was called, until the SFA decide they didn’t like that, had a pedigree to match any young foreigner coming to Scottish football at the time with spells at Eintracht Frankfurt and Marseille under his belt and had a sheer athleticism that had not been seen in Scotland before. Brought in as a player with the potential to be sold on for millions a spate of injuries meant that his potential was never fulfilled and he was released in 2004 as the financial problems we all expected started to rear its head.

Where is he now?: Well he nearly ended up back in Scotland in 2007 but a trial with Hearts was unsuccessful. After being part of the Togo squad at the 2006 World Cup he took the root of many African players and had a spell in the Middle East. Most recently he had a spell with Ghanaian Premier League side Asante Kotoko where even at 33 he was still being billed as the next big thing.

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4. Hicham Zerouali

Former Club: Aberdeen

The man with the ‘Zero’ on his back is perhaps still to this day one of the most gifted players to grace Scottish football and one of the few successes of the Ebbe Skovdahl era. A menace anywhere in the final third when the mood took him and capable of scoring some quite incredible goals resulting in him becoming an instant hit at Pittodrie. A Moroccan internationalist during his time at Aberdeen an injury towards the end of the 99-2000 robbed him of an appearance at the Sydney Olympics but that didn’t tarnish the memories of Dons fans with a hat trick against Dundee perhaps being the pick of many a highlight.

When looking back at the impact he made it’s not too far of a stretch to say that he blazed the trail for North African talent to find its way to Scottish shores. In the years since his departure players such as Merouane Zemmama and Abdessalam Benjelloun came in often billed as the new ‘Zerouali’ without ever living up to the inevitable hype such a comparison brought. While players such as Majid Bougherra and Ismael Bouzid have left their mark at the other end of the pitch.

Where is he now?: Unfortunately ‘Zero’ is no longer with us. After his contract expired he returned to his native Morroco via the united Arab Emirates where he was killed in a car accident two days after scoring a double for FAR Rabat. His death prompted tributes and a memorial was held in Aberdeen with thousands in attendance. The ‘Morrocan Magician’ to this day is still one of the most gifted players to play in Scotland since the turn of the millennium.

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5. Momo Sylla

Former clubs: St. Johnstone, Celtic and Kilmarnock

If you were to ask the fans of the 3 aforementioned clubs to give a review on the impact Momo Sylla had on their respective clubs you will probably hear three very different stories. At St. Johnstone he arrived as a speedster capable of playing anywhere on the left hand side of the pitch. A bag of tricks with his feet sometimes moving faster than his brain and capable of producing a tackle that sent shudders down the spine of opposing players.

A key part of the Perth side’s success of the early noughties it wasn’t long before the Old Firm came calling with a £650,000 move to Celtic a just reward for a player who seemed to be consistently improving. However, like many players making the move to Glasgow things were not all that they were cracked up to be and as many predicted he struggled to find his place, never being anything other than back up to a team going through one of its most successful periods under Martin O’Neill and he was released when his contract expired. He then was part of Craig Levein’s ill-fated Leicester City revolution, before returning to Scotland for a short and unspectacular spell with Kilmarnock. Although born in the Ivory Coast he played internationally for Guinea although with only 2 appearances he, much like his career post McDiarmid Park, was nothing more than a bit part player there.

Where is he now?: A bit of digging shows that he had a spell in Moldova before seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet only re-appearing once prior to the 2012 Champions League Final to advise that he once told Didier Drogba he wasn’t good enough to play for Celtic. You can’t get them right every time, eh Momo.

Honourable Mentions:

Pa Kujabi – The Gambian Roberto Carlos, was apparently gifted with a wand of a left foot and a deadly free kick, those that attended his performances at Easter Road would beg to differ.

David Obua – Scottish football’s only ever Ugandan, a player who had more positions than the extended version of the Kama Sutra.

Madjid Bougherra – The Algerian Amo. For comment see Bobo Balde without the 3 years of sulking.

Sol Bamba – Now a mainstay of the Ivory Coast national team, during his time in Scottish football he tackled pretty much everyone, including his teammates.

Quinton Jacobs – A Namibian international who once turned down Ajax to play for Partick Thistle in the Scottish Second Division. Somebody must have done a really good job selling the concept of the Maryhill Magyars.

Will Eric Djemba Djemba be looked back on as favourably as some of these greats, only time will tell.

Let’s Break Football’s Last Taboo

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In the coming days and weeks, there will be thousands upon thousands of words written about how brave Thomas Hitzlsperger has been and while these words of support and praise are to be commended the stand out phrase from the interviews the former German international has given to date still remains:

I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.”

So let’s try our best to do it right now, not in a focus group years down the line, or when the next footballer, active or not, decides that the time is right to offer up his sexuality as a sacrifice for the discussion to be moved just another baby step further forward. It’s not going to be perfect but I’m going to give it a try. Firstly, let us not forget that, although he is the most high profile, Hitzlsperger is not the first footballer to reveal he is gay, both Anton Hysen and Robbie Rogers have made themselves involuntary martyrs for football’s last great taboo and they too were praised for their courage but how far has their courage really moved the debate forward?

Personally I think there are two ways you could look at this. In the first instance you could look at the way Robbie Rogers was actively encouraged back into the game as an indication of football’s growing acceptance of a lifestyle that has long been part of the norm in modern society. Conversely though you could say that the fact he only felt comfortable in making his revelation from the relative safety of early retirement as an indictment to the dated perception of homosexuality in and around our football grounds. At this juncture it’s worth noting at this point that at the time of his retirement Rogers was plying his trade within the United Kingdom and this is why we need to move the debate on from words and onto actions.

However with that said it is important to recognise that the football community in the UK has been at the forefront of the ‘acceptance’ movement with players, manager and even Match of the Day host Gary Lineker sporting rainbow laces in support of their colleagues. This, however, is not an issue that should be left to those involved in the game to solve, this is one that we, as lovers of the game, can help alter and change right now.

In the days following Hitzelsperger’s announcement, John Amaechi, the NBA’s first openly gay player labelled the culture surrounding football as ‘toxic’, and although a tad sensationalist in its terminology it clearly highlighted the feelings of many out with the game that football’s attitude to homosexuality would be placed on the evolutionary scale beside the man chasing a mammoth with a spear.

Football, however, has always proved it can change.

Think of a fan beside you hurling monkey chants and throwing banana’s at a player of African descent and the shock and horror that you are your fellow onlookers would feel at such behaviour. Has that shock and horror always been so prevalent? No.

To give another example, in Scotland, sectarianism still lurks in the shadows of the countries most famous derby between Rangers and Celtic, but efforts continue to close that divide. It’s staggering to think that it was only as little as 15 years ago that Rangers appointed their first Catholic captain in Lorenzo Amoruso. Should it have taken so long? No, but they still did it.

Am I saying that elements of racism, bigotry and other discriminatory behaviour are not still to be found in the game? Of course not, but the backlash for players and fans alike will continue to grow if such behaviours continue. It is no longer seen appropriate to have a laugh because a player is black or because a player crosses himself before stepping onto the field of player so why should it be any different if he’s gay.

As a member of the Tartan Army, known for championing just how great we are, I am privy to a repertoire of songs designed to help drive our nation to a level somewhere above the mediocrity we perpetually reside in. Amongst all the ‘Doe-A-Deer’s’ and ‘We’ll be Coming Down the Roads’ is an ode to former England international Jimmy Hill that goes like this:

“We hate Jimmy Hill, he’s a poof, he’s a poof.”

Now there is no doubt in my mind that for the dwindling number of fans that sing the words above it is done so with harmless intentions, but it should perhaps be seen as a telling insight into how far football fans have to come to catch up with the rest of the world around it. This doesn’t have to be solely in the form a song, it could come from the pensioners four rows behind shouting about a player’s ‘boyfriend’ as he lies injured on the pitch. It could even be as simple as a group of mates sitting in the pub, watching the game talking as if no one is listening.

While FIFA continue to trumpet their crusade for inclusion and diversity by hosting World Cups in Russia and Qatar, seemingly oblivious to the fact that in these countries homosexuality is perceived as a crime, it is up to us as fans to prove that football is indeed as inclusive as Sepp & Co. advertise. The actions of Thomas Hitzlsperger, Robbie Rogers and Anton Hysen should be praised as the catalyst for this debate, it is now up to us to turn this debate into actions.

King Kenny The Second

It’s Wednesday 14th August 2013, Scotland are at Wembley for the first time since Don Hutchison scored with a header to give them a memorable 1-0 win. It’s half time and the score is 1-1. 2 seats down the row I find myself located next to a red faced man in a kilt is taking a break from the barrage of abuse he has been directing at our sole striker. Within 4 minutes, said striker, spins the defender and fires a beautifully placed shot past Joe Hart sending over 20,000 members of the Tartan Army into absolute raptures.

I hug the man 2 seats down and say ‘He’s no bad him, eh?’. He looks suitably ashamed.

That my friends is Kenny Miller in a nutshell, derided by some but always just one touch away from proving his doubters wrong.  For all his flaws, he never failed to give anything but 100%, made himself available at every opportunity and has a goal scoring ratio when put into perspective is not to be sniffed at.

After 69 caps and 18 goals, Gordon Strachan will begin the unenviable task of finding Scotland a new first choice striker. Who should be that man is a debate for another day, when results are more relevant and hopes are freshly renewed for the ‘Road to France 2016’. For now let us reflect on a fantastic servant to Scotland after his announcement, at the age of 33, to retire from the international scene.

He was given his debut by Craig Brown in 2001 but it wasn’t until Berti Vogts called him up for a home qualifier against Iceland 2 years later did he cement his place as national number nine, scoring on his re-debut.

A goal against Germany one of many highlights.

A goal against Germany one of many highlights.

He was part of the team that so nearly separated Italy and France in Euro 2008 qualification and we can forgive him the occasional missed chances, like that one in one in Milan, when you compare it to the sheer orgasmic elation of the aforementioned second goal against England at Wembley, what turned out to be a fitting farewell moment.

Accusations that he did not score enough are far from the mark. His record stands up well against the likes of Joe Jordan (52games/11goals), Ally McCoist (61gm/19gls) and even James McFadden (48gms/15gls), all of whom are considered as some of the greats of the Scottish game. As much as we all love our national team, in today’s footballing climate Scotland are a 3rd tier European team, our primary tactic involves playing one man up front who’s job is to run until his feet bleed and to feed off the scraps the occasional punt up the park provides. Now hopefully this is a footballing ethos on the turn, but in Kenny Miller Scotland could not have had anyone better suited for that role.

In 20 years time Kenny Miller should be remembered as the man that provided the odd fleck of hope during the Vogts and Burley era’s whilst helping create some moments of ecstasy against the likes of Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England. As he has already stated it must be a nagging regret that he was unable to help Scotland qualify for a major championship but in a time of Soviet separations and the ever increasing fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia things have never been so tough for a nation of Scotland’s pedigree to make it to the play-off stages nevermind a finals tournament.

Not everybody loved him and not everybody rated him as a player but as far as I am concerned Kenny Miller deserves the upmost respect for the load he has carried for over a decade as Scotland’s first choice striker. Many would have folded, a few certainly did, I’m looking at you Chris Iwelumo, but when Gordon Strachan selects his squad for the first qualifiers of the 2016 campaign there will be a space far bigger than just one man.

Thank You Kenny!

Here is a link to your finest moment in all its glory for all to see.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKt6UXz4ljg