Saturday, 31 January 2009

Mixed afternoon emotions

A 1-1 draw against Montrose this afternoon has to be regarded as two points dropped rather than one gained for Dumbarton, especially as Cowdenbeath and Stenhousemuir took the maximum from their matches. "Derek Carcary's first half opening goal was cancelled out late in the second half by Montrose striker Roddy Hunter to give the Angus side a deserved share of the points," writes Alan Findlay. My other informant reckons that part of the problem is that Paul McLeod isn't firing on all guns for the Sons. Meanwhile, the remaining personnel changes are falling into place at the Rock. Jim Chapman has released Liam Cusack, but has brought in trialist Patrick Boyle and 24-year old former Partick Thistle midfielder Ryan McStay. Yet another Jags man. This is getting to be a habit. (All the more reason why you should come to SHS when they're away, Kenny.)

As for Exeter, they snatched a 2-1 win against Barnet. The first half was tight, with Neil Saunders giving the Grecians the lead through a fabulously opportunistic dipping half-volley from 35 yards. Then Barnet grabbed a breakaway reply due to casual defending. In a more flowing second half, Steve Basham set up Matty Gill for the winner, but it was 'keeper Paul Jones who gave Exeter the points by saving Michael Neary's (softly awarded and not very decisively struck) penalty. Progress, but not entirely convincing. It was freezing, too. Let's hope the pitch survives for the re-arranged home game on Tuesday night against Port Vale.

Back on planet earth

First published in Sons View, 31 January 2008, Dumbarton -v- Montrose

Though there are still a few days left for the January ’09 transfer window, I think I can now definitively report that Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, better known as AC Milan’s megastar midfielder Kaka, will not be joining Dumbarton Football Club.

It was a close call, though. My Portugese might be even worse than my Spanish (which is going some, I should add), but when I found an email link on the boy wonder’s Brazilian website I couldn’t resist dropping a friendly note to let him know that if “football, not money” really was his goal, the Sons were clearly the best option.

The Mighty DFC have precious little cash for him to worry about right now, I explained, but a decent record in the beautiful game, especially during seasons 1890-1 and 1891-2. We clearly plan to build on those early triumphs.

“Before sending in a question or query, please consult the FAQ to find out if your question has already been answered”, the site helpfully advised. Nothing there about stellar opportunities in lower league Scottish football I duly noted, before pressing the ‘send’ button.

In view of the commercial propriety required of such delicate negotiations, I won’t go into the precise details of the remuneration package mooted in my little-publicised ‘informal approach’ – though it has been rumoured to include a rather good Sons memorabilia discount.

I still haven’t received an official response, but I suspect it took Kaka’s appointed representative (in this case probably the bloke who deals with interminable autograph requests) less than 30 seconds to bin it.

According to the Italian media, that, strange to say, is exactly the number of seconds Kaka took to dismiss Manchester City’s alleged £100 million transfer and £0.5 million-a-week wages offer to move from Milan. Probably while finishing off a quick game on PlayStation.

Now there are some who would say that there’s a world of difference between the curious headhunting activities of the Blues’ new multi-billion dollar owners and a tongue-in-cheek email from a barely solvent Scottish football fan. But they’d be wrong. Both are, in their own way, a bit of a joke. To those of us who still live on planet Earth, at any rate.

Make no mistake, our great game needs cash and business sense to keep it going. But when silly money starts to turn it into a real-time version of Fantasy Football, the wise are well recommended to shake their heads and walk away. This is why the collapse of the Kaka deal (and a few like it that didn’t make the same headlines) is good news.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Rock, the Sons face a testing match against fellow promotion seekers Montrose. The timing of today’s game is both promising and demanding. With two hard-fought victories against Stenhousemuir and Berwick in hand, Dumbarton have a chance to consolidate their place in the play-off zone… but the Gable Endies have an opportunity to begin to overhaul us, too.

On current form, it looks as if Cowdenbeath will pull away at the top of the division, leaving five teams to battle out the three crucial spots below them. But that’s not a foregone conclusion. Annan have been picking up again recently, having apparently run out of steam after a bright start to the season.

The turning point for the new boys was, regrettably, a snatched 2-1 win against us on a damp afternoon back in December. Still, the Galabankies could do us a favour by taking a point or three off the Blue Brazil or Stenny over the next couple of weeks. But that would also mean a tougher challenge to the Sons from them.

Whichever way you look at it, the top of Division Three is highly competitive this year and will remain so. That’s why we cannot readily depend on other sides doing us good turns. Consistent results are required of Dumbarton over the coming weeks, as we face sides in the lower half of the table who we ought to be able to beat, before tackling the current leaders again at Strathclyde Homes Stadium on 7 March.

That “ought to beat” is no presumption, either. It’s a comment on our necessary ambitions, not the opposition. Struggling as they might be, Elgin have already produced a couple of shocks. There are no guarantees in football, whether you’re waving a fat chequebook at Kaka or trying to get into the Scottish Second Division.

A real endurance test

First published in The Grecian, 31 January 2009, Exeter City -v- Barnet

As might have been predicted, the January transfer window has turned out to be a game of two halves. While the big clubs have splashed the cash (though with one eye to the credit crunch and another to the sustainability of their inflated wage bills), smaller teams have mostly gone out looking for good value loan signings – either known, solid performers or youngsters shaping up for the future.

Forget all that fuss-about-nothing over Kaka and Eastlands. Here at St James’ Park, Exeter City certainly look like we’ve landed a good ’un in Spurs defender Troy Archibald-Henville. Those Tottenham links have come up trumps once more. The 20-year-old started out for the Grecians in our recent 2-1 win against Dagenham and Redbridge. He also put in a very creditable display, winning plaudits from Paul Tisdale, the fans and the media alike.

City certainly need a few boosts like this at the moment. Mid-season is always a tough time of the year, and after conceding a late goal at fellow promotion contenders Gillingham we find ourselves needing to regain ground. Having slipped to tenth before a really hard mid-week game at Chesterfield, we now face Barnet this afternoon and Port Vale at home on Tuesday night as part of a run of four matches in eleven days. This is a genuine test of the team’s fitness, mettle and prospects.

Part of the extra heat we have been experiencing in League Two is down to the fact that there is less time on the ball than in the Conference, so mistakes are punished more readily right across the park. More often than not we have upped our game to meet this challenge, but points that shouldn’t have been dropped have slipped through Grecian fingers nonetheless.

The other part of the League Two challenge is sheer endurance, and from now through to April that will play a huge role in determining final outcomes. The sides that achieve their aims this term will do so through long-distance stickability alongside skill and cunning. So where does that leave Exeter?

Well, there’s no shortage of effort but we have a bit of an issue in the strike department at the moment. If you look at the Grecians’ goal tally at home, compared to the sides just above us, we are mostly down by four or five – with more slippage at the back, too. After we hit four past Rochdale during a marvellous home display on 20 December, we only managed the same number of goals in the following six matches combined. The weather may have been damp, but our difficulty turned out to be a dry patch in the penalty area!

This is no cause for despair, however. The same problem surfaced back in August and September last year, and we then went on a great run of 15 goals in five games. It’s a matter of confidence and organisation as much as anything, especially when (for a variety of reasons) a stable up-front partnership seems difficult to achieve. So following on from midweek, a few more goals would be a huge fillip.

Our opponents today, Barnet, are some ten places below us in the league and have been struggling this season. Things have picked up a bit (mainly through draws) since a disastrous start that meant just one point in eight matches, but the drop zone still beckons ominously – with Bournemouth seemingly determined to counteract their points deduction and an inspiring 3-1 win over leaders Wycombe making them look like serious prospects to do just that.

Meanwhile, Barnet have nabbed three loan players during the window, with two youngsters going in the opposite direction. Away from home they have actually scored one more than the Grecians so far. However the Bees have also conceded 50 in 27 games and have a goal difference that reads minus 22, the worst in the division. They will be determined to plug the gaps that have created that unenviable statistic, but hopefully not as much as Exeter’s strikers’ want to open them up!

A day of reckoning

This afternoon will be a significant test for Dumbarton. A home win against fellow promotion rivals Montrose would send out a very positive message about the Sons' intentions and capabilities in that department. But the Gable Endies are looking to turn round a mini-slump and have a new manager to impress. It's going to be tough. Meanwhile, fans got some good news about our Trust representative on the Club Board this week. But there's been no official announcement, so I'll hold any further comment for the time being.

Meanwhile, I'll be watching my locals Exeter City try to wrestle some points off Barnet at St James' Park. After two defeats, they will be needed... or mid-table obscurity beckons. The media have been focusing on missed penalties, but I think the Grecians have a bigger problem up front: lack of penetration and consistency. The changes are being rung again today. But the pattern remains uneven. It's still been a good season though, and it can still have a happy ending.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Money, but no class

Thank goodness the January transfer window is nearly over. Its just possible that we might get back to talking about football once more - though not likely. The national media here seems far more interested in English Premier League managers slagging each other off, and who's nearer the 'finished' line in the weekly sack race.

One can speculate variously about where Manchester City's coach Mark Hughes lines up in the list of those looking over their shoulders at job (in)security, but his Club have certainly been making monkeys of themselves recently. Being "the richest team in the world" can't buy you pedigree, loyalty or instant success, even in the surreal world of global football wheeler-dealing. Milan said that City's cash-flashing representatives "didn't seem to know what they were doing", and the scrabble for Kaka (and a few other megastars) was as absurd as it was indecent. That said, their actual signings have been strong, and could save the manager's bacon if they work out.

As for 'Sparky': well, he did a very good job at Blackburn, but when he took his new appointment, sky-high with expectations, it seemed to turn his head somewhat. City are creeping up the table now, but their results have been comparatively poor hitherto, and Hughes has not impressed some of the bigger egos in his dressing room. He's also consistently tried to push the blame onto the old regime - particularly the man who gave the side their best finish ever in the Prem last season, before being nonsensically sacked by a disgraced former Thai president... Sven Goran Eriksson.

Sven seems a prime target for wounded English pride, for some reason. Perhaps because he's quiet and, more often than not, good at his job. (He lost just 5 competitive games and achieved top qualifying place in all three international tournaments during his five and a half years as England manager. But that didn't stop the childish abuse at "only" reaching the quarter final in three consecutive tournaments. As if they deserved much more.)

But back to Man City. Not long after arriving, Mark Hughes said he was going to tighten up the "soft" regime he'd inherited. Then he announced that Club visitors would be restricted because Sven had been too hospitable. This was followed by allegations about fitness levels... after the close season. Since then he's stated or implied that his performance problems have been substantially down to the squad he inherited. Yeah, right... where do we start? Brazilian international Elano? Sure, City lost games towards the end of last term, when commitment went out the window while everyone was furious about the treatment of Eriksson, who was hugely popular as well as successful. And strengthening was bound to be needed. But using a crack in the barometer to test its overall effectiveness is a poor measure.

When Hughes has a management record to that's anywhere near comparable with the Swede's, currently being tested again in Mexico, he'll have a right to boast (though it would be better if he didn't). Until then, he'll need to get his head down and try to prove that Manchester City's past owner wasn't mistaken to put him in charge in place of Sven. [Footnote, today, Saturday 31st, the Blues' all-stars lost 1-0 to world-beaters Stoke City. Yes, yes... they've done quite well since then...]

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Sons back on track

It wasn't exactly a bravura performance, from what I gather, but Dumbarton claimed an important victory against Stenhousemuir - until this week the SFL3 leaders - at the Rock today. The BBC notes: "super-sub Iain Chisholm (pictured) tapped home from close range just after half-time when team-mates Derek Carcary and Paul McLeod combined to set up the chance." That was in the 42nd minute and against the run of play, says my informant Denise Currie. Sons were pretty much pinned in their own half.

"The Warriors almost equalised a minute later, but Paul Tyrrell's shot was punched over the bar by David McEwan. Neither side made many chances in the second half as the weather worsened." Phew. At least my attempt at a chipper programme note (below) wasn't left with too much egg on its face. This result keeps us in the promotion mix, though Cowdenbeath look as if they will pull away at the top.

Meanwhile, I was at St James' Park watching a rather poor first half between Exeter City and Bury, followed by a second period with much more action - but no taken chances. Richard Logan should have, er, buried a fast inswinging cross from Dean Moxey with only the 'keeper to beat. But he didn't seem to see it in time and skied instead. In the end a 0-0 draw was a fair if unexciting result, but the Grecians need a leg up to get back to contending for at least a play-off place in League Two.

A question of timing

First published in Sons View, 17 January 2009, Dumbarton -v- Stenhousemuir

These are testing times on and off the field for Dumbarton. Do we have the character and resources to pull through a difficult patch and claim at least a play-off spot in Division Three? There are those who will doubt it. But what we need right now is a dose of renewed commitment and togetherness, not more fashionable pessimism.

The combination of bad weather, postponed matches, post-holiday blues, loss of momentum, disappointing performances and two consecutive defeats either side of 1st January has put a dampener on what we all hoped would be a bright start to the second half of the season.

Even so, Sons are still holding onto fourth place and have games in hand over our biggest rivals. So things are far from calamitous, provided the team can gel again and claim some more points and places in what is bound to be a demanding programme heading out of winter towards spring. Everyone knows that an advantage in the ‘games played’ column counts for little unless it can be translated into results.

Having just lost a gear, two goals and three points away to Cowdenbeath, who are pushing hard at that crucial league-topping automatic promotion place, we now welcome recent leaders Stenhousemuir to the Rock.

Given recent woes, it could be said that the timing for this encounter is not great. With fewer points lost from late slips, this could even have been a contest for the New Year summit. But football is about taking opportunities, not craving comfort. A win today would change the mood at the Rock and heighten the Sons’ chances of strengthening our position.

Stenny pose a tough obstacle, for sure. But we claimed a point at Ochilview at the beginning of November last year, and the Warriors have suffered from uncertain form of late too – with a Cup defeat last Saturday, a draw against Annan and a defeat at Forfar framing their 3-0 victory over the Shire. This, incidentally, did Dumbarton a favour, maintaining our league position when we were in danger of slipping further.

Equally, when Stenhousemuir snatched an agonising victory with a 90th minute goal at SHS in August 2008, that result was part of a run of eight games unbeaten and five wins on the trot for them. They hit us when they were on the up. This afternoon there’s a chance to repay that defeat and repair some of our own recent damage at the same time.

Meanwhile, there’s the transfer window to attend to. Jim Chapman was incredibly busy last summer and the overall improvement has been present for all to see – in spite of setbacks. Not a bad achievement when you’re talking about the turnover of a significant part of the squad and the need to bed in a host of new arrivals in just half a season.

Fans and pundits alike are conditioned to expect instant results and solutions these days. But with a team game there are many more factors at work than the individual performances and stats we can all chew on. Sides with massive resources and stars galore struggle for form (Chelsea and Spurs in the English Premier League come to mind at present), let alone those of us with far less to spend in a season than the giants’ hospitality budgets for one home game.

There’s little doubt that the current structure of the transfer market benefits the already powerful. When wee clubs nurture talent, the chequebook wavers come hunting, determined to wring as much blood out of a small stone as possible. The credit crunch isn’t likely to change those realities, though it may even things out a bit in the higher echelons.

The counter-strategy for the ‘financially challenged’ is to look for promising prospects on the way up, players wanting to settle down later in their careers after a spell in bigger leagues, and loan deals that offer affordable value. Dumbarton have a manager who knows how to play this tricky market and we remain a club with both history and ambition.

Sons fans obviously lament the departure of Craig Brittain, an outstanding servant to the club. But we also welcome those who want to be part of making DFC mighty once more, including Keiran McAnespie, who brings us a wealth of experience. That’s a key part of what we need to make this a successful season.


Football in hibernation

First published in The Grecian, 17 January 2009, Exeter City -v- Bury

While it’s a safe bet that you won’t be making plans for a nice post-match barbecue this afternoon, we all hope that – after the frustration of recent games postponed and momentum lost – the ‘big chill’ will stay away from League Two in general, and St James’ Park in particular, for the next few weeks.

To add to the cold weather misery, last weekend saw the Grecians drop all three points in a 2-1 away defeat to mid-table Notts County at Meadow Lane. But the players have made it clear that they don’t intend to allow this to become a slump. Today’s encounter with Bury won’t be easy. But the possibility of launching a New Year push back to the promotion zone should be motivation enough to return to winning ways after only two victories in the last nine games played.

Meanwhile, what with the opening of the January transfer window and significant disruption to parts of the Football League programme over the past fortnight due to freezing conditions, it’s seemed as if football has been in hibernation.

When I turned to the sports section of my favourite newspaper last week it even took me six pages to reach any football news… everyone having gone crazy about the latest woes of the England cricket team and its troubled captaincy. Cricket stealing the headlines in winter? It really is a crazy world!

When Exeter City’s midweek game against Macclesfield was called off, no-one was that surprised. We had just endured over 48 hours of sub-zero temperatures. The Port Vale postponement the Saturday before caused much more furore, however – coming as it did after lunch and following the arrival of the away supporters’ coaches.

I live 20 minutes walk away from St James’, so for me this was a relatively minor inconvenience. But for the players and staff who had prepared themselves and the ground for match day (not to mention your hard-pressed programme editor!), it was a real pain. You had to feel for those disconsolate Vale supporters wandering around the town centre, too. It would be a long trip back.

That said, some of the reactions were a bit daft. Both Exeweb and the fans’ zone on the main Stoke & Staffordshire paper had more than a few correspondents accusing the club of half-heartedness or the officials of cowardice.

These days we are more sensitive than we would have been twenty years ago to the possibilities of injury on a hardened pitch where the real problem can lie just beneath the surface. But that’s no bad thing. And to suggest that anyone wanted anything other than to see the game go ahead is wrong. But the decision is still a matter of judgment.

It remains the case that England, along with Scotland and Portugal, is one of only three major leagues on mainland Europe not to have a winter break. In general, I’d favour one. The problem is that taking time out in January doesn’t guarantee that bad weather won’t occur in, say, November and February, which historically have had a habit of throwing up some of the coldest spells.

No doubt that argument will run and run. But at least things aren’t nearly as rough as they were (if my memory serves right) up to the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, when pitch preparation and technology was far less developed and matches were even more prey to the elements.

Those were the fabled times that gave rise to the ‘Pools Panel’, on which serious-looking men with alarming looking facial hair would pass judgement on what the results would have been in order to keep the betting on track. I remember some Saturdays when 80 per cent of the ‘results’ were inspired guesswork rather than the outcome of prowess on the pitch.

Grumble we may, then. But conditions for both players and fans have improved considerably over the years – just as we hope Exeter’s points, position and goals tally will have done after today’s proceedings.


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Thanks for the memories

First written for The Grecian, 06 January 2008, Exeter City -v- Macclesfield Town. The game was postponed due to a frozen pitch and will be played in February.

We may only be six days into the New Year, but the football seems to have been coming at us thick and fast in the past few weeks, including a fair few home games. This is a demanding time for players, manager, staff and fans alike. The Christmas period ends on the Twelfth Night, and by this time the reputations and dreams of many clubs have been buttressed or wounded by what has happened on the pitch as the cold and the wind bites.

Today, our guests are Macclesfield Town, whose own journey to St James’ Park will have been long but not, we hope, too eventful. The Silkmen, named after the craft of weaving that provided their town’s traditional backbone, had a long and honourable history in non-league football before becoming the Football League’s newest members in 1997-98.

Though we at Exeter don’t especially treasure our time outside ‘the league proper’ (we wouldn’t have wished that exile and the grim circumstances around it on ourselves), I hope that our time in the Conference did give us an abiding respect for all those echelons of football that exist below us. We made some good friends there, and the true passion and dedication of fans at lower levels of the game is part of what makes it so special.

Like the Grecians, Macclesfield have their hopes pinned on moving up these days. But things have not been easy for them. A run of four wins in their final seven games saw them escape a return to the Conference in 2003-4, for example. This season they have piled on the points rather more quickly, in spite of a series of defeats. They will be gritty opponents.

One of the undoubted managerial heroes in the 135-year history of our South Cheshire opponents is former Northern Ireland star Sammy McIlroy, a name likely to get you a smile anywhere in the vicinity of Moss Rose. He took the Macclesfield reins just after they avoided relegation from the Conference in 1993, having got there from the Northern Premier League six seasons earlier.

McIlroy had a pretty immediate impact. The Silkmen won the championship at the end of his first season in charge, but unfortunately they were unable to meet the requirements for a League-compliant ground, and had to wait a little longer before finally succeeding Hereford – who later returned to the top at the expense of Oxford… who the Grecians met in the semis of our unsuccessful promotion bid in 2007, before eventually triumphing in 2008.

Many sides in or around League Two are linked by this kind of yo-yo history, it seems. Not that Exeter City intends to be playing the relegation game again any time soon, or indeed at all. Our plans are consolidation and forward movement. That means aiming to take three points out of bread-and-butter games like this one.

While the focus right now is on League points, it’s worth mentioning that just as Exeter City is well known among more general fans for taking Manchester United to a replay in the FA Cup in January 2005, having drawn the first game at Old Trafford, so Macclesfield had their moment of ‘almost glory’ in the third round of the same competition in 1967, when they were a Northern Premier Club – champions, indeed.

Their famous tie was against Fulham, who had supplied full-back George Cohen for the England World Cup winners the year before. The game at Craven Cottage was shown on Match of the Day (not a regular occurrence in that era), and although the home side ran out 4-2 winners, it was said that the real difference was made by a dubious penalty.

Here at St James’ Park we don’t want any uncertain decisions playing a major role in today’s result. The Grecians need a clear win to keep them on track, and the fans want an open entertaining game to keep us cheering them on.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

A bit of cheer

Here's eight minutes or so of Dumbarton's 5-2 win against Berwick at the Rock earlier this season. I'd like to make the away game at Shielfield on 24 January, but it's a 'time plus expense versus odds of being called-off for bad weather' calculation. And the weather's not looking great.

Frozen assets

There were quite a few disconsolate Port Vale fans in Exeter this afternoon, with the League Two game at SJP being called off at 1.20pm - though it was another half hour before the message about the frozen pitch started getting through. I'd already left home, but I'm only a 20 minute walk away from the stadium, so I can hardly complain. Meanwhile, congratulations to Nottingham Forest, first love of my friend and colleague Jonathan Bartley, who whopped Manchester City 3-0 in the Cup. Barrow lost out 2-1 to Middlesbrough, but nearly grabbed an equaliser in the closing minutes.

Catching the spirit of youth

First published in The Grecian, 03 January 2009, Exeter City -v- Port Vale

It hardly seems possible that the 2008-9 season is now half over and that the New Year is upon us already. But here we are back at St James’ Park anticipating a serious push toward the third tier of English football, when a year ago the challenge was getting out of the Conference. How time flies and fortune shifts.

Part of the natural optimism of a fresh start, in spite of woes and recession in the world around us, is the energy of youth. When I’m watching the Grecians at home I am usually seated exactly opposite the section of the old stand where the school aged fans, youth team members, their teachers and families are gathered. The noise and energy they generate in support of Exeter City is an inspiration, and perhaps a gentle reminder to those of us who are inclined to wheeze and moan what it really means to get behind your team.

The same level of enthusiasm is produced when youngsters get out on the pitch themselves, too. Or it ought to be. City are among those clubs who have a ‘progressive youth policy’, recognising what are sometimes called the players of tomorrow as the players of today too, and not just ‘kids’ to be patronised and occasionally chastised. This happens through proper coaching, support, encouragement and structure.

There’s often a fine line to be drawn between offering young people, perhaps especially the 9-13 year olds, an opportunity to flourish and grow as players, and putting too much pressure on them or draining the joy from the game with a plethora of over-serious leagues and over-enthusiastic adult guardians.

This is probably one of the hottest topics in youth football at the moment. Trevor Brooking, the director of football development at the Football Association, has made some passionate observations about what can sometimes look like lack of accountability at club level. He has also pointed out that at an early age youngsters need to have their enthusiasm for the game enhanced, not inhibited. It can be really sad to see a 10-year-old ‘on the bench’ week in and week out because his team are desperate for results and he’s ‘not good enough’.

Trying out different roles, positions and styles is extremely important in your formative years. There are quite a few top class players entertaining us in stadiums and parks across the country today who would not be where they are if someone had decided too early what their ‘best position’ was. Flexibility and fun isn’t a luxury when you’re learning football, it’s essential.

Last summer there was a cringe inducing comedy show about youth football which you may have caught on telly. It was called ‘The Cup’, and it copied the spoof documentary format of ‘The Office’ in charting the progress of a school-aged team to a regional final in the Midlands. Not exactly classic viewing in the Ricky Gervais mould (the series was received without much enthusiasm by the critics), but it scored a few palpable ‘hits’ on the caricature front.

The joke, of course, was that the parents were as frightening as they were appalling, forcing a life of pressurised misery on their kids by trying to live out unfulfilled fantasies through them and behaving in ways that were hugely more infantile and absurd than those in their charge. I must admit that I thought it was way over the top until I took a wander through a park a few weeks ago (fortunately not in Exeter) and heard some touchline junior coaching which would have made Joe Kinnear blush!

Thankfully, the scenes were very different during the local half-term Football in the Community (FITC) roadshows played out over two days at Crediton earlier this season. There young players had a fantastic time showing off their skills, learning new ones and generally getting covered in mud. Those young lungs were well exercised on the field of play. Today many of them will be cheering on the Grecians to victory. Let’s tickle our own tonsils in supporting them.

A tragic loss

The New Year has started as disappointingly as it ended for Dumbarton, with another game off - this time away to Albion Rovers. It's the end of an era, too, with the departure of veteran Craig Brittain to Beith. His presence will be sorely missed, as Jack Deighton points out. With an enforced break and Alan Gourlay also moving on to Vale of Leven, manager Jim Chapman is no doubt plotting some changes in the squad to consolidate a serious bid for promotion in 2009. The fixture backlog and lack of match fitness certainly can't help, but in spite of some less than stellar recent performances and mounting games in hand, the Sons are still in third place in Division Three and the sides around us have also been throwing away needless points. So it's all to play for. The saddest news of all, however, far outweighing any football considerations, is the death of Fiona Lawrie, wife of Club stalwart and CEO Gilbert Lawrie. No words can compensate such a loss, but I'm sure all who know Gilbert will want to offer their deepest sympathy and support. I've only met him a couple of times, but the respect and fondness with which he's held by so many speaks volumes. (Picture of Gilbert and the DFC badge courtesy of Big Rab)

The New Year kicks off

I'm off to St James' Park again this afternoon - the first time in a number of weeks - to see Exeter City kick off the New Year against Port Vale. Thank goodness I have my thermals ready. It's going to be bloody freezing. A good start to 2009 is needed to regain momentum after the 2-0 defeat by Brentford on 28 December, brought about by a questionable penalty decision towards the end of the match.

I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for my Conference namesakes Barrow (pictured), who take on Premier League Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. It's much more important that they avoid relegation, of course. But this should be a great day out. Good luck to Kevin's beloved Orient, too. They were dire away against Colchester and now have some serious work to do to avoid the drop from League One.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Best foot forward in 2009

Sometimes (looking at the financial farce that is the Premier League in England, for example) I wish football could be far less conformed to the craziness of the world at large... but mostly, looking at the sadness and destruction around us, it would be great if we could kick our hatreds into touch and get on with playing the game, instead. So have a festive and peaceful New Year, whoever you are!

(As a positive start, Football for Peace (F4P) is a sport-based co-existence project for Jewish and Arab children has been running in towns and villages of the Galilee region since 2001. The work of F4P builds upon the experiences of South Africa and Northern Ireland in that it seeks to make grassroots contributions to football in Israel and Palestine while at the same time making a contribution to political debates and policy development around sport in the region .)