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.

quitongo

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.

balde

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.

toure mamam

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.

zerouali

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.

sylla

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

football-blog-homophobia-lets-break-footballs-last-taboo

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.

More Than A Black Mark

With five minutes to go, your team are drawing one each. A point is enough for to secure promotion, a win and your champions, your midfielder, who has been doing his best Steven Gerrard impression all season has already scored 20 goals and is clean through on goal with just the keeper to beat. It’s the last minute. He surely can’t miss, you slowly rise out your seat with your scarf clasped tightly in both hands, ready to jump in the air with a moment of pure ecstasy that only football can bring. He rounds the keeper, the angle is a bit tight but you already feel the scream of joy rise up through your throat, he pulls back his left boot and manages to balloon it 12 rows over the bar.

Sorry Chris, but this was a shocker!

Sorry Chris, but this was a shocker!

You sit down, disappointed that your team couldn’t quite win the first trophy for what feels like years, but still elated with a season that ended in promotion, when relegation seemed the only way out.

A few hours later, a man, who should be disappointed that he missed out on his ultimate moment of glory, is celebrating, not with the fans, or even his fellow teammates, but in a room alone in his home, sitting staring at a pile of cash won as a result of that missed shot in the final seconds of the game, because that star midfielder, the one that tens, hundreds, even thousands of fans has put their trust in has just thrown the game to win a bet where he didn’t want his own team to win.

Thankfully the story above is pure fabrication, a meandering piece of fiction that started in my head and ended up on the page before you. As you continue to read, I want to reassure fans of ICT, Hearts and Rangers that I am not dubbing Ian Black as a midfielder of great prowess, and as such the story above can bear absolutely no resemblance to him as a player.

Neither am I saying that this was the case in any of the 3 games in which he bet on his team not-to-win, an offence he has been deemed guilty of by the SFA. No, this is am example of the dark path that professional football, and our national sport, could go down, if serious action is not taken against those who feel the need to further compromise the ‘integrity’ of the game.

Would you now pass to this man with a minute to go?

Would you now pass to this man with a minute to go?

Ian Black was found guilty of three charges resulting in an immediate 3 match ban with a further 7 games suspended until the end of the season along with a fine of £7500 with the football matches in which he was not involved resulting in censure.

The charge sheet read as follows:

Guilty of betting on 3 football matches on a then-registered club not to win.

Guilty of betting on 10 football matches that involved a then-registered club.

Guilty of betting on a further 147 football matches.

So let’s go through each charge as above, building up the severity as we go, bearing in mind that all of the above are deemed as chargeable offences by the SFA.

betslip2

Charge 1: Betting on 147 Football Matches

It is ludicrous for some people to think that young men with varying degrees of disposable income do not enjoy a flutter just as much as the rest of us. Personally I have no problem with a player betting on a game of football that has no direct bearing on their current teams circumstances, or which they cannot be seen to have any influence over. There will be arguments made that why do players have to bet on football, why not bet on horse racing, boxing or snooker? Well from what my many, many years of sports consumption has proven is that in comparison to football, although each are not without their merits, the aforementioned sports are not quite as good, this is of course without reflecting on the various betting ‘scandals’ that have effected them.

What would concern me, and should not be neglected, is the friendships and associations built up between players across their careers, could a well placed word in another player’s ear alter the outcome of a match where their would be no apparent connection. Surely if that accusation is to be made then it too should be applicable to a player’s barber, aunt or landscape gardener? Perhaps the sensible thing to do is not to outlaw a practice that is almost impossible to monitor successfully but to instead create a set of guidelines for games that which a player can get their football betting fix, removing any doubt or suspicions about match outcomes where an association can be made. Logistically, is that possible? I’m just not sure.

Charge 2: Betting on 10 football matches that involved a then-registered club

On the face of it this seems pretty straightforward, especially if you take into consideration that the final charge we will look at is in relation betting on a then-registered club not to win. By the process of elimination, that would suggest that a player who is found guilty of these charges, is guilty of betting on his team to win, and as a fan if that’s the case you’d hope he puts everything he owns on a victory, in theory resulting in the optimum effort being input for the cause of your club.

However the intricacies untold in this situation could suggest that any bets made in relation to this charge may also contain wagers on correct score or number of bookings to name but two examples. In that respect any bet made can only lead to a compromise in performance by the player no matter what protestations the accused may make about always giving the magical 100%. Taking these points into consideration common sense should dictate to any individual involved in a game not to bet on it, irrespective of whether or not that you fancy your team to knock six past your opponents that weekend.

Charge 3: Betting on 3 football matches on a then-registered club not to win.

Let me start by saying this, as a professional, in any field, at what point should it be considered a good idea to bet against yourself? Whether it’s before an interview, during a big presentation or on a football pitch. Especially on a football pitch, the ultimate results business. To bet against the team that pay your wages, the fans that chant your name and the children who buy your shirts smacks of the highest level of disregard for all those parties. I know that was all a tad vitriolic but as a football fan to know that a player I pay to watch is willing to bet against a win, in ANY circumstance, whether its Barcelona or Brechin City is totally unacceptable.

Is good early season form going to be enough once the ban is over

Is good early season form going to be enough once the suspension is over? Is the trust gone?

And the above is just from the fans perspective, what about the coaches and players they spend their daily lives with. Earlier I mentioned the ‘magical 100%’ that every player should strive to give. How can those words be taken seriously by the teammates and management of Ian Black. When Ally McCoist looks at the options available to him when Black’s suspension is over will he be able to pick the player on his individual merits, throwing aside the shackles of doubt that surely must lurk wthin, no matter how many snappy supportive sound bites that may or may not come in out in the forthcoming weeks.

What about next time a teammate strides forward with minutes to play and Black is the only option, will the adrenalin rush of the game out think the fog of doubt that surely must surround him? Or am I being naïve and the camaraderie of fools that is professional football let this ghost by without a second thought? It shouldn’t but I feel the paltry nature of the sentence to be served does almost nothing to discourage the practice.

The Final Verdict

As previously stated the SFA punished Ian Black after he was found guilty of all three charges  resulting in an immediate 3 match ban with a further 7 games suspended until the end of the season along with a fine of £7500, with the football matches in which he was not involved resulting merely in a censure.

All decisions should be made on a stand alone basis, and to compare the ban given to Ian Black to that given to other players by other federations is to do so without taking into consideration the specific circumstances of each case. With that being said once again yet another indication has been given that when it comes to the big decision the SFA would fail to exert enough authority to announce its nap time at a nursery whilst armed with a box full of cookies and a Peppa Pig DVD.

Ian Black has been found guilty of betting against his own team. To ban him for only 3 games, knowing that barring a gross act of stupidity on his behalf, that the further 7 games will never be missed is a slap in the face to anyone who has worn the scarf of the clubs he has played for, the managers who put their trust in him and the players he played both with and against.  As he has been found guilty, of something that I believe to be just a few short steps shy of match-fixing, the punishment should have been given out as such, instead the SFA failed to take the opportunity to send a clear and concise message that behaviour of this nature will not be tolerated and should never be seen again.

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