Saturday, 27 November 2010

Moving in the right direction

First published in Sons View, 27 November 2010, Dumbarton -v- Alloa Athletic. (The game was postponed- and again on 30 November and 7 December, due to the freezing weather. Since the column will be we well out of date when it finally appears, I am publishing it now).

A few weeks ago the mental obituaries were being written for the Sons. Since then, both performances and results have begun to turn around, starting with that hard-won 3-2 League win over Ayr United, continuing with the Stirlingshire Cup victory and then last Saturday with a determined showing against Morton.

There is still a long way to go, of course. The aim has to be to ensure that we are off the Second Division basement by the turn of the year if at all possible. Points against Alloa Athletic today would be a huge step in that direction. But it will also require a good deal of organisation and concentration on the ball.

The men from Clackmannanshire are perched mid-table at the moment. But they have clear aspirations to be competing for the promotion spots, and three points could bridge the gap – depending on how results go elsewhere. So the game this afternoon is likely to be a competitive affair, as was the 0-0 draw that Dumbarton fought out against Alloa at Recreation Park just over a month ago.

On that occasion the Wasps had more of the play, but Sons defended well to ensure that at least one point headed in our direction. At home, and with the added inspiration of ten goals in the last four competitive matches here at Strathclyde Homes Stadium, Dumbarton are looking to improve on that result.

Being edged out of the draw for the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup last week was disappointing, naturally. But the game was certainly not – and several media reports noted the promise of youth in Sons’ line-up. This season has been a steep learning curve for a number of our players. In spite of the setbacks, they have shown themselves prepared to learn and battle. That has begun to reap rewards, especially up front, where in the earlier stages of the 2010-11 campaign we lacked edge.

Coming into his first senior appointment on the back of an unpromising series of results, interim gaffer Alan Adamson has added greater solidity to Sons’ on-the-park mix, and has secured three wins to date. The one which will have created least stir in the wider football community was the 2-0 win against Scottish Premier League Falkirk’s reserves and youth on 16 November. For me it was a rather special occasion, however – the first time I have seen Dumbarton appear in a Cup Final of any kind, let alone win it for the second time in a row. That’s silverware in three successive seasons!

The Stirlingshire trophy, let’s not forget, is one of the oldest in the game, dating from 1883/4, and is competed for by six senior sides spanning three divisions at the moment. Yes, the tradition is to give youngsters an outing rather than first team squads, but there has been no lack of spirit in the matches I’ve witnessed this term, and in the case of our Final opponents Sons were still up against full-time players with a rigorous training regime and top-quality coaching.

Meanwhile, at least a side-glance is needed to matters off the pitch in Scottish League Football which could have a significant impact on it. Category One referees voted to strike last Sunday afternoon, after a resolution that received unanimous backing at their union meeting. The officials are concerned that their integrity is constantly being called into question by some clubs and individuals, not least in some of the high profile matches and in the media. They have even been receiving threats at work and at home after controversial decisions.

Former ref Kenny Clark told BBC Scotland earlier this week: "Referees are at the end of their tether, and it's not just how it's impacting on them but it's the impact it's all having on their families and business lives."

That it has come to a threat of withdrawn labour from people who love the game and devote a good deal to it for relatively scant reward is some indication of how serious things have got. Hopefully, by the time you read this, a conversation will have taken place to ensure that this grievance found does not imperil the six SPL games, two Alba Cup matches and SFL fixtures due to be played this afternoon. What the officials want, evidently, is for clubs to take theses issues seriously, and to be seen to do so.

There’s obviously an issue for supporters here, too. Decisions that go against our team can be immensely frustrating. But what gets to many refs and their assistants are the accusations of cheating. That’s plain daft, there isn’t a shred of evidence for it, and it is one thing that should be cut out from terrace banter.

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