Saturday, 29 January 2011

Prophet before loss

There had been some concern overnight and early in the morning that the sub-zero temperatures might deleteriously effect the pitch at Strathclyde Homes Stadium for today's match between rock-bottom Dumbarton and high-flying Brechin. Thankfully, by the time I arrived at SHS, in time for a 10.30am Sonstrust board meeting, it was clear that the surface was firm but playable. Club Secretary David Prophet, who regularly has to negotiate such anxieties during the inclement winter conditions, took me out to have a look for myself - while making one or two last minute adjustments, as my photos indicate.

A large number of people are involved in ensuring that the matchday goes ahead at a small club like Dumbarton. Not just players, coaching staff, fans and refereeing officials, but also club officials and ground staff, administrators, stewards, caterers, bar staff, programme sellers, the receptionist, the photographer, and more. It's a team effort as much off the field as on it.

On the football side, things are decidedly tough at the moment. Today Brechin looked much more assertive, mobile and in-control than the 2-1 scoreline in their favour might indicate. Without a moment of inspiration from Sons' Mark Gilhaney it would have been worse, and the Hedgemen missed several begging chances, including a penalty. They were more fluid in movement and distribution of the ball, as well as physically stronger (as Forfar Athletic had been in midweek, too).

Dumbarton's young side is making too many unforced errors, hasty decisions and hesitant responses. Three points away East Fife (who have two games in hand) and five from Stenhousemuir at the foot of the Second Division table, the men of the Rock are going to have to display some granite-like qualities in order to claim enough of the remaining 54 points to avoid relegation back to the fouth tier of Scottish football.

In spite of it all, I haven't given up hope. But the pressure and possibility of resignation mounts along with the losses. The coming midweek game at Airdrie United (New Broomfield is a ground I haven't been to before) will be another important marker, since the Diamonds are seven points ahead of us with a game in hand. They, Peterhead, Stenny and the Fifers are the ones we are now chasing, with the hope that we can at least get out of the automatic demotion spot, and preferably the play-off zone too, by May. Still possible, but you wouldn't put a lot of money on it right now.

Leith said, the better?

Spotted and snapped among the crowd at today's SFL Second Division clash between Sons and Brechin City at the Rock was none other than under-pressure Hibernian manager Colin Calderwood (pictured), who like me had made the pilgrimage to Dumbarton from Edinburgh (I live in Leith, about a mile away from Hibs' Easter Road ground), though with rather different intent.

Presumably Colin was there to check up on the Hedgemen's Number 5, Euan Moyes, who is on loan from the Hibees. He was also at Arbroath under manager Jim Weir Who (moved on to Glebe Park pre-season). Moyes is highly rated, as Andy Galloway notes in Sons View this week. Some weeks ago Euan scored his second goal of the season in Brechin's 3-1 defeat by another of his old club's, Livingston.

Colin Calderwood, meanwhile, has a mountain to climb with out-of-sorts Hibernian, having moved to Scotland to take charge of the famous SPL side after being appointed first team coach at Newcastle United two years ago this month (almost to the day), and having been assistant manager to ill-fated Chris Hughton as the Magpies gained promotion back to the English Premier League at the first attempt by winning the 2009–10 Football League Championship.

Hibs have yet to score a goal in 2011, and have not kept a clean sheet for two months.  But having signed Matt Thornhill from Nottingham Forest and Martin Scott from Ross County, Calderwood yesterday added teenage Icelander Victor Palsson from Liverpool to his squad, in an attempt to turning things round. I hope he succeeds. He didn't look to cheery (who can blame him?), but I imagine he had a more productive afternoon than us Dumbarton fans!

Sons prove no match for Brechin

This article was first published as Dumbarton outplayed as Brechin win 2-1 and then adapted as the match report on the official  DFC website.

Sons move out of defence
Brechin City comfortably claimed three points from Dumbarton this afternoon, running out 2-1 winners on a cold and cheerless day at SHS.

The visitors from Angus looked sharp around the box when they broke through early on, with David MacKenna side-footing over the bar from a central position towards the edge of the area on 9 minutes.

Rory McAllister had three further attempts on goal for Brechin just after the quarter hour, as Dumbarton struggled to gain control of the game in the middle of the park.

Then, as Sons came back, Mark Gilhaney, working hard out of defensive midfield, flashed a sweeping shot just past Craig Nelson's far post. But the Hedgemen struck back immediately. As the Dumbarton defence hesitated from a corner on 21 minutes, Dougie Hill leapt up to head Brechin 1-0 in front.

It could have been two by the half hour. Exposed Sons 'keeper Stephen Grindlay had to pull off a good double save after a skewed shot bounced back to the feet of McAllister, who should have buried it. Andrew Cook also failed to capitalise on a huge amount of space granted to him as he turned on goal minutes later.

As the second half got underway, Sons' new Motherwell loanee Jordan Halsman replaced Craig McLeish - while Cook blazed over again from the corner of the box for Brechin, as he steamed onto a sharply angled cross, unmarked.

On the hour Dumbarton's Martin McNiff received a red card for an infringement in the area. But Grindlay dived low to deny McAllister's penalty effort, before shielding out the rebound attempt.

Down to ten men, Sons seemed to take momentary heart from their reprieve, but Brechin pressed remorselessly, passing the ball with fluency as Dumbarton wheeled back.

The visitors' second goal came on 72 minutes as Craig Molloy struck the ball firmly beyond Grindlay's dive after yet another wave of attacks.

On 87 minutes, Mark Gilhaney struck back for Sons with a well-worked, well-taken and well-deserved solo effort. In the end it turned out to be a consolation, with only Brechin's over elaborate build-ups and missed chances sparing Sons a larger margin of defeat.

With Peterhead winning this afternoon, the 2-1 defeat leaves Dumbarton staring towards February firmly rooted to the bottom of the table.

It's time to take a stand

First published in Sons View, 29 January 2011, Dumbarton -v- Brechin City

By the time you read this, my training regime for the ‘Play for the Sons’ supporters match at Strathclyde Homes Stadium on 4 June should have started in earnest, leading to the daunting sight of a man in a distinctive gold and black shirt hurtling around the Leith Links in Edinburgh at breakneck speed. I wish. 

Yes, I know, the game is still over four months away. But when you’re about to reach the ripe old age of 53, haven’t touched a football in anger for many a year, and count “popping out to the shops” and “going to the recycling point” as the highlights on your regular exercise calendar – well, something has to give, and I don’t plan on it being my legs after 15 minutes on the hallowed turf!

My wife is fully supportive, of course. In her own unique way. When I mentioned that the afternoon match on 4 June will be followed by an evening of stand up comedy, she wrinkled an eyebrow and wittily observed: “Hmmn… It might take a rather discerning person to be able to tell the difference between the two events.” Thanks a lot, dear.

But despite the advance mockery, I remain undeterred. The chance to wear Dumbarton’s colours for a full 90 minutes at the Rock will be a special occasion for all of us taking part. Achieving a goal or sweetly struck assist would make it even more notable, naturally… though personally my main aim will be to avoid making a complete ass of myself. Or ending up in casualty.

The purpose of the ‘Play for the Sons / Stand up for the Sons’ Day is not just to show our sporting endeavour and to have a laugh (hopefully in that order), but also to raise funds and publicity for the Sonstrust. That’s especially important at the moment, because the Trust movement, organised through Supporters Direct, has a major task on its hands in getting those currently taking decisions about the future of the game in Scotland to take notice of what we, the fans, want. For that reason, joining or getting involved with Sonstrust is the key way that Dumbarton fans have to voice their opinions.

That’s also why we’re having a drive to increase membership well beyond the already impressive, record level of 313. If you haven’t signed on the dotted line or given us a tenner yet, please do. See Tommy Hughes or come to the Sonstrust table in the community suite. The larger the Trust, the more influence it has, both within the Club and as part of the wider debate about the proposals about the game coming from Henry McLeish and the SPL.

Alternatively, why not persuade a friend or family member to join the Trust?  It’s time  to stand up for the game we love – especially when a disproportionate amount of pressure is already coming from those whose main interest seems to be money rather than sport. For supporters, it’s the other way round. And rightly so.

Meanwhile, ‘pressure’ is a word we’re all too familiar with in an on-the-field sense at Dumbarton right now – as the matches start to arrive thick and fast, and the need to add goals and points to our meagre tally becomes ever more urgent.

The 4-1 victory against Alloa Athletic ten days ago was a huge boost, of course. We have a very young side, full of promise, which this season has often looked anxious in defence and uncertain at key moments up front. But that game against the Wasps proved that once things start to go our way and confidence builds among the players, some fine, flowing football is possible. The finishes were really classy, too.

Even leaving this week’s clash with Forfar aside, the fact that Sons also played well and won the Stirlingshire Cup against Falkirk on 16 November (as well as triumphing in midweek encounters with Stenhousemuir and East Stirlingshire in the same competition) might lead you to suspect that we are a “Tuesday night” team.  But Saturday remains the main staple, and a good performance and result against the Brechin City today would set us up well for the remaining half of the season.

Yes, that’s right, even though we remain at the foot of the table as things stand, there’s still all to cheer and play for through to 7 May. Together, we can do it.

Rolling back the decades

First published as Keeping with the programme on the Sonstrust website. 

Sons View editor Graeme Robertson is interviewed in-depth about ‘Ten Year at the Rock’ and his own two decades at the matchday magazine in the latest issue of the Scottish Football League newsletter.

The whole article, 202 not out for Dumbarton and their Programme Editor, is viewable here. These days Sons View is produced, promoted and sold under the banner of the Sonstrust, involving fans in one of the iconic elements of any Saturday afternoon (or, increasingly, a Tuesday night).

As you’d expect, Robbo tells some great anecdotes, and reveals that “I will soon have been responsible for over half of the programmes that the club have ever produced, as I have done 435 out of the 897 that have ever been issued.” Not that it’s in the nature of the beast (the proggie editor species, that is) to count, of course!

There’s also a suitably debonaire looking photo of Mr Robertson. As an additional keepsake, here’s another one I took towards the end of last year when Graeme and I met up in Leith for one of our occasional ‘strategy meetings’. The map behind him illustrates some of the exotic locales he has visited, or hopes to visit, as a loyal member of the Tartan Army. And yes, he’s laughing

Working for the future of Scottish football

First published in Sons View, 29 January 2011, Dumbarton -v- Brechin City

The proposals for the reconstruction of Scottish football put forward by the SPL and by former first minister Henry McLeish have attracted a huge amount of publicity and response. But so far it is the TV companies, banks and elite teams who seem to be driving the process – the fans, as ever, are being virtually ignored.

That’s something Supporters Direct Scotland, of which the Sonstrust is proud to be part, aims to change over the coming weeks. To this end, some 50 people from 33 teams at all levels of the game in Scotland met together at Falkirk Stadium six days ago.

The purpose of the gathering was to look at the changes being proposed, to compare them with the results of the Supporters Direct online survey (which many Dumbarton fans responded to), and to work out how organised supporters’ organisations like Sonstrust can begin to push the agenda in a different direction – alongside clubs and players.

So far, SD is the only organisation to directly consult ordinary Scottish football fans about what they want. And the results are pretty clear.

Analysis shows that the 5,000+ people who responded to Supporters Direct in a little over a week do not want to see a ten-team SPL. What’s more, among lower league fans, there is overwhelming opposition to the idea of being cut adrift in regional set ups and treated as a ‘training ground’ for a few SPL ‘colt’ or ‘B’ teams – which is what the SPL is proposing, even though much of what they are talking about is actually the provenance of the Scottish Football League (SFL).

At last Sunday’s SD meeting, there was overwhelming agreement that the plans currently on the table do not amount to a basis for securing a sustainable future for Scottish football. There was a resounding ‘yes’ to proper consultation with fans and clubs, to encouraging a proactive stance from the SFL, and to Neil Doncaster and the SPL being required to be transparent about the data and assumptions upon which they are basing their current arguments – so that reasoned and viable alternatives can be considered. That’s in everyone’s interests.

Importantly, from the perspective of Dumbarton supporters, who have been putting their views forward on the Sonstrust website, there was also a resounding ‘no’ at the SD meeting to regionalisation and to ‘colt’ teams being deployed in the lower league.

A commitment was additionally made to strengthen and build Supporters Direct and its member trusts to that football fans have a strong voice in the debate about which way Scottish football should be heading.

Indeed, bodies like the Trust here at Dumbarton and the Supporters Direct Scotland network exist precisely to enable fans to be participants and stakeholders in the game – rather than mere paying observers, complaining from the sidelines but unable to influence events.

So was the Falkirk gathering just a lot more ‘hot air’?  No it wasn’t. Supporters Direct are due to meet with Mr Doncaster again next week and have a clear mandate from a wide range of fan bodies for the key issues – outlined above – that they want tackled. SD will also be in touch directly with the SFL, and will be using the ideas and opinions from Sunday’s meeting to organise a campaign and media strategy over the coming weeks.

The Survey was a landmark and became headline news. But it is the beginning, not the end.

In my view, the broad agreement among Supporters Direct members (much broader and more agreeable than anything the SPL has come up with so far!) was both surprising and encouraging – given how incredibly diverse our clubs and interests are.

On the field we compete aggressively. Off the pitch we can be just as assertive in demanding that football development leads finance (not the other way round), and in putting forward alternatives (not just complaints). 

The Sonstrust Board was represented at the SD gathering by Trust director Alan Findlay, chair Brian Payne, David Powell and myself. I’ve agreed to be the regular campaign contact for the Trust here at Dumbarton

Friday, 28 January 2011

The view from the bridge

There's a great article in issue 25 of the Scottish Football League Newsletter (just published) about Sons View supremo Graeme Robertson, to whose blue pencil I am obliged when I write my regular 'Near Post' columns and other contributions. It's entitled '202 not out for Dumbarton and their Programme Editor'.

In his interview, Graeme reflects on a decade for Dumbarton at the Rock (a.k.a the Strathclyde Homes Stadium) following our departure from Boghead Park, then the oldest football ground in Britain. He, in turn, has been at the Sons View helm for two decades, and will soon have edited over half the home programmes Dumbarton have ever produced - the first was a friendly versus Stockport County in 1968, though there are aways going back to the 1920s.

Over the years, Sons have played some famous sides on home turf. The likes of Celtic and Rangers, of course, but also Manchester United in a testimonial for Alex Wright on 8 April 1991. However, Graeme still has a longing for a visit Liverpool. He tells the SFL Newsletter : “I have a huge soft spot for them as they were my English team when I was growing up in the 70s. I would love them to come here and be able to do a programme for that game. The closest we have come was Middlesbrough in the summer of 2009 and they were fantastic visitors.”

Oh, and the picture above was taken by me as a by-product of triple-tasking: selling Sons View at half-time, taking some pictures, and updating a match report. In an odd way, it works.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Why the "just banter" defence is pathetic (and dangerous)

The most regular (and vacuous) litany in defence of the comments made about women inside the Sky television environment, by Andy Gray and others, is that it's "just banter" and that people who don't like it should "lighten up" and "get a sense of humour". No it isn't "just banter". It's the social glue of a culture of routine bigotry and bullying, say those who have spoken to journalist Matt Scott. Three women who held prominent positions at Sky Sports independently describe a "lads' club" that has created a "climate of fear" for some within it - both women and those lower down the employment chain.

Fearing repercussions that could harm their careers if they were identified, the three spoke to the Guardian newspaper on condition of anonymity, says Scott. But despite talking separately, their views echoed each other's; each describing an intimidating and sexist culture cemented, they believe, by the behaviour of Gray and his co-presenter, Richard Keys. (There has been much speculation about who leaked the series of incriminating off-air tapes that have found their way to the media and onto YouTube. Those on the inside say that people on the receiving end of the "banter" and its associated behaviour finally had enough and decided to get their own back.)

One former Sky journalist said: "It came as absolutely no surprise to me to see this. The surprise is that we haven't seen more. It's the kind of language and vocabulary that is used within the Sky football department all the time."

Another, who still works for the organisation, declared: "There are many stories of their shocking behaviour... It's a climate of fear pervading. But as long as everyone is laughing and it's a joke it's all right isn't it? I believe sexism is systemic and not openly challenged but goes underground or disguised as jokes or 'just banter'."

The third separately cited how "just banter" is claimed as a defence, and explained why that claim holds no water. "Live football is well known as something everyone wants to work on. But no one wants to work with those two. They took the piss out of a runner for having no money. It's nasty bullying with an edge. It's not just banter."

The whole article is available here.

The other issue that has been raised concerns the due process (or lack of it) in Andy Gray's sacking. That may or may not get to an employment tribunal. I have no time for employers behaving in a high-handed or illegal way. But that is a distinct issue from the the question of degrading and insulting behaviour towards women in the media environment and across the football world.  That clearly needs tackling, and if these incidents bring us closer to stronger action of gender equality and respect within the game as a whole, so much the better.

Image acknowledgements and (c) Bryan Christie Design, whose work may be viewed and purchased here.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Time to stop the excuses for sexism in football

Even more depressing than the puerile, bigoted and deeply unfunny 'banter' that got Sky TV presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys into hot water over their comments about referee Sian Massey, is the number of otherwise decent people who are feebly trying to excuse it. Demeaning comments and behaviour towards women are still regarded as acceptable in many corners of the football universe. But as BBC journalist Jim Spence says in his eloquent blog, there is No place for sexism in Scottish football. Or anywhere else, for that matter. It's as simple as that.

Some are complaining about Gray's dismissal, but who would seriously want to (or should have to) work with someone who thought it was fine to dangle his mic at you, and tell you to "tuck this in for me, love" as he gestured towards his trousers during a commercial break? That's the kind of thing his colleague and co-presenter Charlotte Jackson had to put up with. What it illustrates is that 'normalising' prejudice segues readily into discriminatory and degrading behaviour. It's neither a 'private matter' (as some have tried to claim), nor something that can be simply pushed aside as the product of 'political correctness' (a lazy, catch-all dismissal deployed by people who don't want to be bothered with rational thought when faced with violations of decency and justice).

North of the border, Scottish referee Morag Pirie, who officiates in the Highland League and the Third Division, commented on the Gray and Keys affair: "They [made] the comments before the game even started. They hadn't even seen [Massey] perform. It's disrespectful to her as a person. It's hard enough to encourage women to take up refereeing as it is." Quite.

Meanwhile, Sian Massey last night found herself being stood down from running the line for Crewe Alexandra's match with Bradford, for fear of the reaction it might produce. That shows just how spineless our football authorities are in the face of prejudice against women.

So within a week of officiating (very well) at an English Premier League match, the recipient of the prejudice finds herself ruled out of participation in a Football League fixture and then reduced to refereeing in the sixth tier of the pyramid this coming Saturday: the Blue Square Bet North game between Corby Town and Eastwood.

Mind you, Corby manager Graham Dury is to be thoroughly congratulated for his own response. He told BBC Radio Northampton: "If they've dropped her to our level [because of the row], that's a shame. She stamps her authority on the game and she interacts with players well. We've got a top referee for this game... We've had Sian before and she had a fantastic game." Hopefully the publicity might at least increase the gate a bit.

Sons shine in Kenya

First published as Africa Connections on the Sonstrust website.

Dumbarton and Raith Rovers football strips were among the gifts two Balloch women took to share with kids in Kenya, East Africa, on a recent visit to Mashimoni – an extremely poor township of Nairobi.

Julie Ewing and Amy Neill told the Lennox Herald: “We worked long shifts helping with the kids, which is what it’s all about. There were about 450 children in the orphanage. We were teaching sports activities and we had about 130 in our class at a time.”

Julie, who works for West Dunbartonshire Council, added: “We also got in touch with Dumbarton and Raith Rovers football clubs and they provided some strips for us to take over, which the kids loved.”

The town and Trust have other Africa connections, too. Local Episcopal priest Kenny Macaulay (who comes to SHS occasionally, but mostly has to suffer as a long-term Partick Thistle fan, like DFC administrator Antonia Kerr) maintains an ongoing link with Gambia. I also raised a flag or two for the Sons during my recent trip to Ghana.

The picture is courtesy of the Kenya Institute of Soccer Education and the Kisumu Youth Football Association.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dumbarton throw away the game at Forfar

First published as Sons lose out to Forfar counter punch and adapted as the match report on the official DFC website. Also used in Sons View for the Brechin game on 29 January 2011.

Sons push forward against Forfar
After looking in control for significant periods of the game, and leading at half time, Dumbarton slumped to a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Forfar Athletic this evening, following two minutes of madness.

The game began in a pacey fashion, with Sons launching wave after wave of attack but not quite finding the final openings on goal. Pat Walker looked particularly lively for Dumbarton, and on 15 minutes Mark Gilhaney blasted just wide of Scott Gallagher's upright post on the right.

It was 20 minutes before the Loons pushed forward in a concerted fashion. A period of sustained Forfar pressure culminated in a desperate goalmouth scramble on 25 minutes, with only the bar and Grindlay's fist sparing the home side embarrassment.

Then Sons broke suddenly and rapidly. A swift-footed Pat Walker penetrated the away defence and slotted the resulting chance in with aplomb, making it 1-0 to Dumbarton. The goal came against the immediate run of play, but fairly reflected Sons' overall dominance.

Both teams wrestled to get control of the game in midfield as the half moved to a close, with Walker engineering two more near chances for Sons, but only the bar prevented a last minute Loons equaliser.
The two sides stayed evenly balanced in the opening period of the second half. Forfar sought to create fresh options up front with a double substitution on 64 minutes, but Sons remained initially solid at the back, despite several testing moments.

However on 71 minutes it began to fall apart dramatically for Dumbarton, with first the visitors' striker Martin Fotheringham and then sub Bryan Deasley bursting through to equalise at 1-1, and then make it 2-1 to Forfar. Both goals were the result of defensive slips. Sons looked shellshocked at the sudden reversal, while the Loons continued to push forward, scenting further advantage.

Dumbarton tried to regroup and counter attack, but as the minutes ticked away the frustration continued. With another defeat, Sons remain rooted at the foot of the Second Division table.

The only way is up

Well, until the end of the season, anyway! So Dumbarton continue their quest to gain the goals and points necessary to get themselves off the foot of the table with this evening's rescheduled game against Forfar Athletic. Tonight's Burns Day visitors will provide stiff opposition for Sons despite their recent lack of competitive action. It's been 66 days since 'the Loons' last played - a 3-1 loss to East Fife in the Scottish Cup, points out Alan Findlay in the official DFC match preview.

Interim Dumbarton gaffer Alan Adamson is facing a match which could define his future, too. He commented earlier today:  "Forfar are 8 points ahead of us and the league table does not lie. We have to concentrate on ourselves and we need to build our own momentum to get back into the pack. Given that we lost on our previous visit to Forfar this season then nobody is being fooled into thinking that any other than our very best will produce a victory tonight."

A matter of ownership

Modern football isn't just sport, it's big business these days - well, big business for some, and small business, survival or worse for many others (the majority, in fact). So the question of who owns and shapes the game in Scotland is central to the current debates about league restructuring and future development...

This article, 'Who really owns Scottish football?', continues here on my work blog, for the thinktank Ekklesia.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Far more than a 'talking shop'

Scottish football is undoubtedly under threat. Recession, lack of investment at the grassroots, falling attendances, lack of quality and variety in the game, the corrosive effects of massive economic inequality, vested interests, structural debt, mismanagement and poor governance are among the obvious symptoms and causes.

But Scottish football also has significant human resources. Even in these tough times, more fans turn out to watch live games in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe (per head of population). The commitment and sheer hard work demonstrated at every level - from the dressing room to the training ground to the terraces - remains remarkable. The goodwill is there. And most of the money still comes from the turnstiles.

But perhaps the most important development in recent years has been the growth of direct fan involvement and stakeholding in clubs - encouraged, backed and resourced by Supporters Direct in Scotland and elsewhere.

Yesterday I joined three other members of the Sonstrust and some 50 people from 33 clubs, along with SD staff and representatives, at a gathering in Falkirk aimed at enabling Trust and supporters to make an effective response to the McLeish report on the future of the Scottish game and the Scottish Premier League proposals for reconstruction - which in the view of many SFL fans more-or-less cut off smaller professional clubs and threaten to turn them into little more than junior outfits. (A fuller report is on the Sonstrust site here, and more will appear in the issue of Sons View being prepared for the coming Dumbarton game against Brechin City.)

At present all the 'reconstruction' running is being made by the SPL elite and their backers. The SFL seems to have been wrong-footed completely, the wishes of supporters have been disregarded almost completely, the second part of the McLeish review has not shown the independence of mind and willingness to challenge vested interests many were hoping for, and attempts to look at alternatives have been pushed aside with blether, spin and prawn cocktail diplomacy by Neil Doncaster and his cohorts.

But this is far from the end of the story. At Saturday's meeting, Supporters Direct Scotland were encouraged to push for genuine consultation, to press the results of their recent Survey (which said no to a ten-team SPL, and cast massive doubt an opposition towards regionalised lower leagues and to 'B' or 'Colt' SPL interlopers), to get the SFL to be properly proactive, to continue to develop financially workable and sustainable alternative proposals, and to challenge the SPL towards transparency and accountability in its dealings, data and negotiations.

It will be a tough haul. But it's definately worth the effort. Despite the current propaganda, what is on the table from the SPL at the moment is still far from a done deal. The bedrock of the game is with the supporters, and they are clearly dissatisfied. Supporters Direct can and should play a key role in making their voice heard and in galvanising a coherent response.

The meeting at Falkirk was a good start. There was little of the moaning that often accompanies these gatherings. The participants were thoughtful and determined. I did hear one person use that blessed put-down 'talking shop', but I think it was pretty clear to the great majority that (good quality) talking is precisely what we need to ensure that the conversation is enlarged, that those in power are held to account, and that some positive alternatives get onto the decision-making table(s).

There will, of course, be those who say "it can't be done". That's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it's exactly what those with vested interests at the top of the tree want to hear. Changing fan culture from moaning-on-the-sidelines towards change-making isn't easy. For years supporters have been treated as fodder, and have learned to respond to this with that lethal cocktail of loyalty and passive aggression which the status quo craves - precisely in order to remain the status quo.

Thankfully, SD and the Trust movement gives them (us) a different, positive way of responding. There are no guarantees that the present struggle can be won, and the odds stacked against are considerable. But if you aim at nothing, you are pretty sure to hit it. It's also worth remembering that the numbers (if not the influence at the moment) are clearly with the fans. Add some media savvy, campaigning guile and sheer hard work and you have a recipe well worth trying.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Hearts hype is way short of reality

According to much of the sports media, the Scottish Premier League title is now 'open' and a 'three-horse race'. My advice is not to believe the hype. 'Hearts on fire' reads the Scotland on Sunday headline (aping the famous song) after the Tynecastle club squeaked a 1-0 win over Rangers yesterday with a 77th minute goal from Ryan Stevenson. Even the BBC is telling us they are "genuine title contenders".

Nonsense. Far from being 'on fire' Hearts looked lacklustre for the majority of the match, with only Rangers' failure to take their chances giving them the opportunity to claim all three points from what was effectively their first shot on target from the game. Don't get me wrong. I was delighted to see the 'Gers beaten, very happy for Edinburgh, and extremely satisfied to have seen both Old Firm sides lose on my two live games in Gorgie this season (this one being made possible by the regrettable calling-off of Dumbarton's game at East Fife).

But there's no point kidding ourselves. The Jambos would (I'm sad to say) struggle in the second tier of English football, let alone the first. Rangers looked peaky too, especially in the wake of Kenny Miller's probably ill-fated decision to take the money and run to Turkey. And Hearts looked weak up front without Kevin Kyle, with Rudi Skacel looking less than his best - and with Rangers' Kyle Lafferty seeming lonely up front too, incidentally.

I'll be happy to be proved wrong and to see the Celtic-Rangers duopoly broken for the first time since the mid-80s with Alex Ferguson's high-flying Aberdeen. But the economic circumstances are much less equitable now than then (naive advocates of a ten-team SPL in the C21st, please note), the Old Firm depth of squad much greater, and the real test of Hearts' mettle will be the two away games at Parkhead and Ibrox which are just about to come up. My advance prediction is that they won't take more than one point out of those two encounters. Sadly. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

What comes around turns around

Something to cheer for a change...
If the match against Stenhousemuir on 15 January was a 'must-win' one for Dumbarton (that we lost), then last night's game with Alloa Athletic was a case of 'no, really, this time we must win' (and we did, 4-1). As Alex Ferguson once eloquently put it, "Bloody hell! Football."

Beforehand, the runes - looking rather more like ruins - hadn't seemed too promising, and many Sons supporters arrived at Strathclyde Homes Stadium with a barely disguised air of resignation about them. If we couldn't beat the second bottom side, how would it be against one in the top half?

But then we need to keep reminding ourselves: the Second Division is a ten club setup, and to be frank there's no side that looks streets above the others - not even current leaders Ayr United (who, incidentally, deserve hearty congratulations for beating SPLers Hibernian 1-0 at Somerset Park in the Scottish Cup tonight, having held them at Easter Road).  And so it proved to be. Alloa had flashes of superior skill and sharpness, but overall Dumbarton contained them, grew in confidence as the goals rolled in, and played some good touch football in the latter stages of the second half.

I gather that gaffer Alan Adamson reckoned afterwards that the decisive issue was the finishing, and that the performance was not much different from the one Sons put on against Stenny. I have to say that, from where I was sitting, I disagree. Not with the first point, but with the second. For much of this match Dumbarton looked a different proposition to the nervy outfit on Saturday who sometimes lacked shape, often missed their passes, and hesitated in their decision-making. "Who were those guys in yellow who turned up this evening?" asked one wag on the way out this evening.

Mind you, there was one horrid extraneous moment at half time, when smoke started to drift over the stand carrying the unmistakable odour of burning rubber. Ugh, a fire!  It turned out to be some tyres, and not too close to SHS. I confess that I had one of those embarrassingly revealing 'football fan moments', in that my very first thought was, "Oh no, please don't let the game be abandoned... not when we're 2-0 up for a change!" - followed rapidly by the correct response: "I hope it isn't serious, and that no-one is hurt."  (It wasn't, they weren't).

Since the printed programme (supplemented by an insert) was one dating back to the original postponement on 30 November last year,  I was also relieved that this convincing victory vindicated the wisdom of what had looked before the game to be a startlingly inappropriate headline on my article of seven weeks ago: Moving in the right direction.

So let's keep the direction charted against the Wasps at Methil this coming weekend, as we face  relegation rivals East Fife (who, from our perspective, were thankfully dumped 4-2 by Livingston tonight, having led 1-0 at the break). Meeting the Fifers gives Dumbarton the chance to make up ground lost against Stenny - and to capitalise on all that good work against Alloa.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A morale-boosting victory for Dumbarton

First published as Sons Sting Wasps With 4-1 Win on the Dumbarton FC website.

Sons are applauded off the field after a fine win
In a pulsating midweek encounter at SHS, Dumbarton bounced back from Saturday's defeat by claiming all three vital points with a 4-1 win over Alloa Athletic.

Sons started brightly. After just eight minutes Jon McShane produced a sweetly struck free-kick from the edge of the area. It clipped the inside of the Alloa post and came agonisingly close to being the opener.

Then on 14 minutes, after the Wasps began to cohere and look menacing, Martin McNiff cheered Sons hearts with a commanding 20 yard strike to make it 1-0 to the home side. Moments later he almost repeated the trick, only to be denied by a swooping reaction save from Stephen Robertson.

Dumbarton road their luck defensively at times as Alloa pushed forward aggressively in search of an equaliser. The industrious Darren Smith looked particularly threatening for the visitors. The game swung back to Sons again, but Wasps continued to make breaks from a well-organised midfield.

Five minutes from half time Sons almost increased their lead when Nicky Devlin pulled a near post save from Robertson and Derek Carcary was ruled offside on the follow-up. Moments later another storming Devlin run produced the goods for Pat Walker to slot in and make it 2-0.

In the second half things got even better for Dumbarton on 51 minutes, as Derek Carcary nimbly latched on to a loose ball in a tight goalmouth scramble to claim Sons' third goal. But Alloa came back immediately, with slack defending presenting a goalscoring opportunity to Wasps' Billy Wilson. He took it with relish. 3-1.

Alloa then enjoyed a period of resurgence, probing and stretching Sons at the back. But just as the pressure looked as if it might tell, Andy Geggan made it 4-1 on 80 minutes with a superbly judged 35 yard chip over the 'keeper.

The result is clearly important in Dumbarton's campaign to avoid the drop, and on the night the scoreline was just reward for a fine team performance in an absorbing game.

Time to rally again

It hasn't exactly been a good New Year for Dumbarton FC so far. Two games, two defeats, three goals conceded, none scored, five points adrift at the bottom of the Irn Bru SFL Second Division... and no money.

On Saturday we lost to our nearest basement rivals, Stenhousemuir, in the very last minute of the game. So, taking into account goal difference and the desire to avoid the play-offs, not just straight relegation, we are seven points (two net wins and a draw) from anything approaching safety.  Nine if  East Fife win one more.

On the positive side, Sons have a game in hand over Stenny (which only counts if we take something from it, of course), there are still 64 points at stake in the remaining 21 league games - more than half the season - and we've at least secured a deal for Pat Walker (pictured) until the end of term.

Even so, it's a rather bleak end-of-winter. A win against Alloa Atheltic this evening is, as they say in the favoured lingo of the workaday football pundit, "a big ask". But that's what we have to go for. Dumbarton's aspiring youngsters have promise, I'm sure. But we can't survive on promises alone. 'Mon Sons.

Straining the meaning of 'consensus'

First published as SPL 'Agreement' Leaves Big Questions on the Sonstrust website.

The ‘broad’ agreement claimed by Scottish Premier League representatives for a 10-team top league and a second tier of 12 teams still leaves a huge amount of work to be done in producing a workable plan and securing the consent of the SFL, the SFA – and even four or five existing SPL members.

Despite claims of consensus, three clubs – Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hearts and Kilmarnock – made it clear at the meeting that they favoured a 14-team SPL. In addition, two of the six members of the Strategic Review Group and one other large club had expressed concern or uncertainty, with St Mirren hoping for consideration of the 14-team option, Dundee United keeping an ‘open mind’ until the last minute, and Motherwell also hesitating. St Johnstone had preferred a 12:10 (rather than 10:12) split.  Indeed, opposition to the original 10:10 proposal had actually grown since the BBC surveyed SPL clubs on 13 December 2010 and found only two opposed.

Talking to the BBC afterwards, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster was forced to admit: “Clearly, when clubs haven’t got a detailed, finalised plan in front of them, then we need to understand that clubs want to reserve their final position.”

Meanwhile, “extremely disappointed” Inverness majority shareholder David Sutherland declared: “The fans have been ignored but in sport you have to take your defeats gracefully.  It’s a pity the 14-team wasn’t considered a little more seriously. We’ll get on with it but I think the SPL needs to take a good, long look at themselves and what they are doing to Scottish football.”

The media also remains sceptical, with the Scottish Daily Record mounting a rigorous push for a 14-team league, and The Scotsman reflecting the concerns of Gordon Smith and others about the impact of the current proposal – because, as Barry Anderson put it, “[small] leagues and repetitive fixture lists are not conducive to cultivating young footballing talent.”

However SPL executives are now going into spin mode and are set to continue their charm offensive in an effort to massage away dissent and exert pressure on those who have held out for alternatives, with finance rather than football appearing to be the main driver. (The Express describes their efforts so far as producing  “chaos and confusion”.)

After yesterday’s meeting at Hampden, Neil Doncaster claimed that the 10:12 plan was the “only way forward” – though his own organisation’s press release described it merely as the “preferred option”.
He additionally spoke of the need to benefit “the whole of Scottish football, not just the elite.”  But he did not spell out how his executive and the four main backers of the proposal (Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Aberdeen) can legitimately claim to speak for Scottish football in its entirety (other bodies are only being “consulted”, says the SPL), or how lower league sides like Dumbarton, threatened with being diminished to regional training leagues for the use of ‘big’ clubs, are supposed to see this as an enhancement.

Doncaster also dismissed the concerns of the 88% of Scottish football fans who recently opposed the ten-team SPL in a Supporters Direct Survey -  which indicates that 93% of supporters feel they have not been properly consulted.

So while SPL executives are heavily implying that the outcome of the strategy meeting on 16 January is a ‘done deal’, the evidence – and the voting system maths -  suggests that the tussle will go on for weeks to come. “Kilmarnock’s position has not altered,” said chair Michael Johnston. “We are still opposed to a ten-team top division. Significant adjustments have to be made to the current proposals.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Football League offered a cautious response. Chief executive David Longmuir said: Until such time something is formalised or presented to us, we cannot comment. The SFL’s position hasn’t changed. We are open to change if it is for the good of all clubs in Scotland.”
For the 20 sides outside the top 22, the time for bold thinking about how to keep League football alive and kicking is now on.

Supporters Direct in Scotland is holding a meeting of Trust representatives on 23 January 2010 to consider ‘what next’ from the grassroots perspective. Sonstrust will be there, naturally.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Don't fall for the SPL spin

If you listened only to Scottish Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster, you'd think that the SPL elite had their future pretty much sewn up after today's meeting at Hampden - which, we are told, "agreed" a plan for a ten-team top division, a twelve-team second tier... and to hell with the rest. Well, they didn't announce that last stanza, but that's clearly the idea. The 'diddy' teams just don't matter to the money men.

In practice, however, the situation remains rather more complicated ("chaotic" even, according to one paper), and there are still more public and private dissenters than will fit into the 10-2 voting requirement. Oh, and the Doncasterites don't actually have a worked-out or testable plan yet, either. (Oddly, this was the reason they gave for alternatives being "non-starters". The logic is a little hard to discern.)

But whatever the eventual plan they concoct (in around two months time) says, Mr Docaster has beneficently announced that SPL clubs "can give [it] their ringing endorsement", in a show of North Korean-style solidarity. This is because money and arm-twisting counts for more than principle or common sense in the kind of world he inhabits and fashions, it seems.

Meanwhile, of the SPL dissenters, Dundee United appear to have rolled over, but Kilmarnock and Inverness Caledonian Thistle look like they will push for structural revisions, and Hearts managing director David Southern says that although there is insufficient support to pursue a larger top league, "We believe that serious consideration is now being given to a revised income distribution model which will allow for a more equitable distribution of monies in the game."

All very noble. But, of course, such redistribution will be among the top two divisions, not for the likes of Dumbarton or those below us. That's clear. The SPL elite and those they favour (in their own interests, not those of the larger Scottish game) are not going to deliver for the "minnows". Which is why it is up to the Scottish Football League clubs, who are currently faced with being frozen out altogether, to take their future into their own hands.

Among other things, that means coming up with some fresh ideas, and rejecting regional leagues run for the benefit of SPL reserve or 'B' teams - which is a recipe for losing a credible, professional game below the top 20 or 22 clubs.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

More heartbreak for the Sons

First published as Sons lose out to last-gasp Stenny goal and the match report on the Dumbarton FC website.

Dumbarton press again
In a crunch game against fellow drop-zone rivals Stenhousemuir, Dumbarton looked to have taken at least a point from a hard fought encounter, but the visitors pinched the game 1-0 with virtually the final kick of the match.

The initial pressure came from the visitors. Eventual Man of the Match Stephen Grindlay pulled off a fine save within the first few minutes, before Sons regrouped and began to push back.

In conditions that made it difficult for both sides, a number of chances went begging at each end. Grindlay was called into action again on several occasions, as he laboured behind an anxious-looking defence.

However, on 22 minutes Derek Carcary floated a crafty ball in on the Stenhousemuir goal from outside the area and was within inches of the target while 'keeper Chris McCluskey looked on.

As the second half got underway Dumbarton went on working hard and running determinedly at their opponents. But with ex-Sons man Stevie Murray drilling the crosses in, Stenhousemuir continued to look threatening when they countered fast upfield.

In a see-saw 45 minutes of football it seemed as if only a crucial error or a flash of inspiration was going to break the deadlock.

With minutes to go Mark Gilhaney almost produced the goods for Dumbarton with a fast, flashing drive from the edge of the area that produced an instinctive off-kilter stop from a flying McCluskey.

But after another desperate scramble in their area, Stenhousemuir broke away again and Scott Dalziel shattered Sons hearts with a goal that stole the game in the 90th minute. Moments later the referee's whistle ended another disappointing afternoon at SHS.

Crunch game for Dumbarton

Today's foot-of-the table SFL Second Division clash at SHS between Dumbarton and Stenhousemuir is a big one for both sides. Sons returned from an imposed winter exile with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ayr United, and now urgently need points not only to get 2011 off to a better home start, but to gain a vital foothold in the four-month campaign to avoid the drop. At present Sons are two points behind Stenny at the bootom of the division, but a whole five points behind Peterhead. We hold two and one game in hand, respectively. But it is points in the bag that really count at this end. Finishing ninth would still mean survival play-offs, so winning over relegation rivals is key for Dumbarton. There will be a lot of anxious fans at the Rock this afternoon.

A plaything of the SPL? No thanks

First published as SPL Colt Plan Under Pressure on the Sonstrust website.

It seems that some SPL coaches are rather less keen than Henry McLeish or Neil Doncaster about the idea of putting top reserve or ‘B’ sides into regionalised lower leagues.

The idea that Old Firm and other ‘big’ clubs might have colt affiliates carrying their name admitted into the Scottish Football League  to play against the likes of Dumbarton has been met with outrage and concern by the great majority of fans in the Second and Third Divisions, especially.

Now Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov has declared (in the Scotsman) that as part of the revival of the game in Scotland “it is obligatory that the tournament of [SPL] reserve teams is resumed. Without such reserves competition, the youths will have no chances to get into the main teams.”  He has also indicated opposition to a 10-team top flight. The number 14 seems to be the new 10 for at least six SPL sides.

The ‘colt’ idea is seen by lower league fans as demeaning, making their clubs mere playthings of the top boys. Questions have been raised about its impact on the meaningfulness of competition below SPL level, the security costs, and the issue as to whether it will really lead to a sustainable increase in attendances as backers of the idea claim. There are also structural questions about the potential relation of such ‘B’ teams to their sponsoring clubs and to a reconstructed SFL set-up.

Now backroom concerns are being expressed about whether a diminished, regionalised Scottish Football League could possibly offer the quality the SPL colts will need to make the plan viable from their viewpoint too. They are not keen on speaking out at this stage. But Romanov has never had such inhibitions.

Twelve into ten may not go

First published as The Power of Ten Diminishes on the Sonstrust website.

What will emerge from the upcoming Scottish Premier League meeting about reconstruction? A few weeks ago some were talking about a ‘done deal’. But now things look much more uncertain, with the proposal for two ten-team top divisions attracting multiple dissenters.

Yesterday evening, Dundee United manager Peter Houston and ex-Dumbarton player and gaffer Murdo MacLeod (pictured), invited on as pundits by STV’s Sports Centre, both made strong comments about the need for a larger structure which nurtures talent and interest. Similar arguments about the importance of finance being based on football development needs, rather than the other way round, also apply to the Sonstrust‘s central concern: the future of the SFL, lower league football, and Dumbarton Football Club.

There’s a very good article raising these issues on the BBC Football website. Dunfermline defender Jack Ross has posted a thoughtful, articulate blog entitled ‘In Scottish football size does matter’. Jack’s observations are based on his experience of being released as a teenager from the SPL, entering the school of hard knocks in junior and part-time football, and then coming back in the direction of the top flight (with four years at university thrown in).

He doesn’t mince his words. Welcoming signs that the drive towards a top 10 is slowing, the Pars man declares: “I am amazed by the almost steadfast refusal to listen to those who make the game possible: players and, of course, fans. Football supporters are the customers, and would such strong customer-opinion be similarly ignored in other businesses or industries?”

He continues: My own career in the game has afforded me first hand experience of some of those who run football clubs and who are now charged with choosing the best way forward.
“While many are astute individuals capable of building hugely successful businesses, and whose conversation I have both enjoyed and learned from, there are others who are not the best individuals for our game to place its trust in.”

Amidst sensible comments about stadium-size obsessions and salaries (“perhaps the only way to ensure wages stay within sensible limits is to turn attention back to size again and agree a limit on salaries as a percentage of turnover”), Jack also bemoans the huge gap between boardroom and terrace perceptions of what is at stake in decisions about the game.

What he perhaps hasn’t sufficiently allowed for is that the development of Trusts and bodies like Supporters Direct is turning fans into more than ‘outside complainants’. It is giving them the opportunity (and the responsibility) to challenge the way football is run – and the narrow interests that dominate it – in a much more positive way.

Over the coming weeks and months, that will be a vital factor in shaping the outcome of deliberations about the future of the Scottish game.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Celebrating football in Ghana

First published in Sons View, 08 January 2011, Dumbarton -v- Forfar Athletic.

It wouldn't exactly be true to say that the Sons of the Rock are big in Ghana, but during my travels in West Africa, over Christmas and the New Year, I've been doing my best to spread the Dumbarton flame, as the eventual photographic evidence will show.

Football is everywhere in Ghana, from the big towns and rural areas through to the Cape Coast. Local teams and training centres advertise on the roadsides, kids kick balls in the street or through the dust, Milo high energy drinks emblemize celebrating goal scorers, Michael Essien smiles from posters, beer firms promote 'text and win' soccer challenges on bottles and cans... and of course the ubiquitous English Premier League 'big four' shirts are displayed on the backs of some of the local enthusiasts, plus a smattering of Barca and AC Milan kits, too.

One of our main hosts here, Dawn Zaney, works as an attorney for Standard Chartered Bank, which now sponsors Liverpool, so he has loyally added the Reds to his existing Chelsea allegiance. That should make for an interesting end of season! (The Real Madrid brand is the one that is most noticable by its virtual abscence, incidentally).

Of course, the 2010 South African World Cup has made a massive difference to the popularity and profile of the game, already very sizeable, on the Gulf of Guinea. Ghana's high performing 'Black Stars' became symbolic of the rapid expansion of football, against great financial and logistical odds, across this magnificent, sun-drenched continent.

Equally, Ghana had become just about everybody else's favoured World Cup 'second team' by week two of the competition, with the country's red, gold and green flags festooning bars across the globe. My own work poll put the Black Stars only just behind Brazil and fractionally ahead of 'Anybody But England' in the popularity stakes.

In Ghana itself, the progress of the national team, not least in vanquishing the USA and coming so agonisingly close to reaching the final stages of the tournament (denied only on penalties after a blatant last-minute Uruguayan handball and the subsequent spot-kick miss by erstwhile hero Asamoah Gyan) caught the imagination of the whole country.

Endearingly, there is much more pride in Ghana's considerable achievement than there is bitterness about the eventual outcome. Those two historic matches are still highlighted on TV here, where it seems you can find a full-length EPL match - or one from the Bundesliga, Serie A, the French league or the premier divisions in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana itself (excerpted) - at almost any time of day or night. Just as South African trade, along with oil discoveries, has reshaped the economic fortunes of the country since the darker days of the 1990s, so Super Sports TV has made global football part of the fabric of the national culture.

There are upsides and downsides to this globalising influence, of course. Unlike the situation in much of Britain, saturation TV sport seems to act more as a spur than a preventive to actual participation. And while there is a shortage of good quality facilities outside Accra, local youth football clubs are busily raising funds and support, not least from visitors, to pave the way for tomorrow's generation.

Overall football standards are improving at all levels of the game. The real difficulty is that worldwide attention has substantially increased the flow of scouts from the big European leagues, tempting emerging and developed stars away from Ghanaian football, lured by astronomic wages and the promise (not necessarily fulfillable) of glory and silverware on foreign shores.

But it is the vibrancy of the game at the grassroots level, sustained by many thousands of keen and aspiring youngsters across the country, which will determine Ghana's future role and status in the world football constellation. And on the (admittedly limited) evidence I have seen on my visit, this enthusiasm and commitment is not about to drain away. The real challenge is consistency and the ability to maintain football development in a country which is as stable and prosperous as it has ever been - but which still faces major problems of poverty, inequality and climate change.

Support for Ghanaian football from its growing band of international friends will continue to be important over the next decade or so, too. I'm hoping to develop some links for those who might be interested in Dumbarton. Who knows, we might even have our own Gyam one day - minus the crucial penalty miss in our moment of impending glory, hopefully!

Every one a winner

First published in Sons View, 08 January 2011, Dumbarton -v- Forfar Athletic.

Football loyalties are strange beasts. There are some fans who are strictly 'one team' followers, others who stretch to two or three sides (sometimes insisting that they should be located in different territories or countries), and others who seem to switch allegiances faster than spouses - which can be a lot these days!

I guess I have always maintained a strong personal distinction between 'my team' (Dumbarton, of course) and the 'local team' I may have shown a passing interest in for a defined period of time... because, well, they're down the road, I love football, I value community connections, and I just couldn't bear the thought of going from Saturday to Saturday without watching some live action.

Maybe that sounds a bit casual or condescending to the 'locals'. Not a bit of it. I still look out for Exeter City's results and I'm still in touch with several friends there. But not even while quite genuinely sharing the Grecians' most inspiring moments (two Wembley play-offs, two promotions from the Conference up to the third level in the English Football League) did I seriously doubt where my true loyalty lay - with Dumbarton.

I guess that makes me a one team guy with platonic friendships throughout the game, rather than a serial football monogamist - like those people who end up owning several clubs in one decade. And frankly, I'm happy to jeep it that way. As are the equally dedicated fans of the 'local teams' I've watched over the years.

Of course that differentiation between my team / local team only makes sense if - as in my case - you have lived many miles from the home of the mighty Sons, and simply couldn't afford the trek to Strathclyde Homes Stadium (or Boghead in the old days) more than a couple of times a season. Needs must, and all that.

These days Hibs and Hearts are the nearest senior football clubs to my regular residence, but there's no way you'd catch me down Easter Road or Tynecastle if there was sight or smell of a Dumbarton match within 200 miles. Maybe more. Sense? It doesn't really come into it!

Reading through the 'Fan of the Week' feature in The Sons View, it's evident that a high proportion of committed Dumbarton supporters come from the town itself. Then there are those who moved away but can't help coming back, those who've gravitated towards the area out of work or domestic arrangements - and one or two downright oddballs like me.

I ended up a Sons fan on what was essentially an inexplicable youthful whim, following the realisation that a dull spell following Manchester United (one of those fleeting fancies many impressionable young minds toy with in the first flush of their football addiction) was unlikely to provide the solid bedrock of misery and disappointment upon which all genuine football loves need to be founded.

I realise that this is a definitively 'lower league' perspective. Frankly, I've never really 'got' the idea of supporting a massive team stuffed with multimillionaires and forged on a regular diet of top-notch trophies. I mean, what's the fun in that? It's like buying the answers to a really tough quiz from a cheat site on the Internet, and then convincing yourself that you deserve to come first anyway, so it makes no odds.

No, for me Dumbarton are a real  football team, unlike the fantasy Old Firm / English Premiership / AC Real Barcelona kind. They just exist in some parallel plastic television universe where sponsors' logos compete with the over-green pitch to get you scrabbling for the colour contrast control, and the very notion of loyalty is spelled out in banknotes rather than blood, sweat, tears and two insane offside decisions.

Mind you, on a Saturday evening you'll probably find me checking out how Barrow did (my namesakes, obviously), Leyton Orient (a very good friend), Southall (so far down the pyramid they're more or less propping up the foundations these days!), Brentford (my dear 'ol grandad)... And Exeter, of course.

Then there's Saint Paoli in the lower reaches of the Bundesliga, because another friend and valued ex-work colleague has been lending them his vocal chords for many years - even when they slipped down into the third tier of German football and onto the brink of non-existence. Now that does take loyalty, especially when you've been reared to anticipate better things.

These are the types of club that deserve to have proper fans, rather than celebrity backers with an advertising deal on the side. But, nevertheless, this afternoon only one result matters above, beyond and before all else. 'Mon Sons!