Saturday, 14 May 2011

Shame among the prawn sandwiches

A corporate sponsor speaks...
So the FA Cup Final second half has begun, and nearly two-thirds of the executive and corporate hospitality seats are empty. Total respect to ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley for having a real dig at them, and pointing out that while they are disrespectfully ignoring the purpose of the event in order to do another business deal, stuff another prawn sandwich, or neck another drink... thousands of true football fans would have given their right arms to have their tickets.

In many respects, this kind of unedifying spectacle epitomises the problem of football in the top flight(s). It is run and funded for the benefit of those who aren't that bothered (except by status and money), while real supporters often have to make do with crumbs from the table, and people like the EPL's exceptionally well-paid  Richard Scudamore look on smugly at their "brand".

Mind you, prawn sandwiches aren't much of a temptation for me, I have to confess. I'm veggie. Not that I'd miss a second of any game for even the tastiest morsel. 'Aye, sad-sack. (Ooh, Mario Balotelli's throwing a hissy-fit for Manchester City, Stoke's free kick has been scrambled away, Carlos Tevez has missed, and it's end-to-end stuff. That's more like it. 'Mon Stoke!

Barely 'up for the Cup'

This afternoon, the first post-season Saturday for lower league fans, presented three choices. Watch an uninspiring nothing-at-stake Hibernian versus Aberdeen clash down the street at Easter Road (and pay £22 for the privilege). Watch the Stoke City versus Manchester City FA Cup Final on the telly (a ringside seat, but with ITV's irritating ineptitude twittering away). Or, well, get a life and enjoy Edinburgh's beaming sunshine.

Being a fitba man my "life quotient" was bound to be the one that suffered (after a coffee with friends in the morning and quick step-out to the legendary Christian Aid booksale), so here I am in front of the TV - cheering Stoke on.

I had to spend a bit of time deciding which, of two English teams I don't spend much time thinking about, I would back. You just have to support somebody. I know more Man City supporters, but with respect to them and their Club's determination to end a 35-year silverware drought, I cannot but lend my voice to the Potteries' underdogs. They really want the historic Cup, whereas many Sky Blues have spent the week saying that it isn't nearly as important as qualifying for the European Champions League or winning the English Premier League on the back of their new-found billions. That's very hard to sympathise with as a neutral, let alone a backer of a 'diddy team'.

"Fair enough," I find myself saying. "Let someone who actually appreciates this Cup's irreplaceable value and history win it, then!"

Meanwhile, Manchester City manager Carlo Mancini has singularly failed to convince anyone that it really matters to him either, other than as a means of avoiding the elbow. Besides, Manchester United are liable to upstage City this afternoon by winning the EPL, whatever happens at Wembley. So why not let the boys from Stoke achieve a dream far more unimaginable in the (post)modern era?

So far it's been an interesting, gutsy but not over-thrilling game, 0-0 at half-time. Stoke are struggling to keep up, but defending well. Manchester City - who at least have the distinction of being the only EPL side truly from Manchester [discuss!] - have missed a couple of good chances, but will probably get more. We'll see.

Ah, for the days when the FA Cup really was the highlight of the football calendar in England, and produced a whole day of magic...

Footnote [17.04]: In spite of all that - well done to Manchester City, and all those who are genuinely thrilled.  Someone in Manchester has won something at last *cough*. 

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Dumbarton finish seventh in Division Two

My match report first appeared on the official DFC website here.

Dumbarton ended a difficult season positively at SHS, claiming only their fourth clean sheet this term in a quiet 0-0 home draw against Forfar Athletic. The result also means that Sons have finished in a respectable seventh position in Irn Bru SFL Division.

Much ado about...
In an encounter that had a definite 'end of season' feel about it from the outset, both teams moved the ball around in midfield but created precious few chances throughout the first half.

Forfar's Bryan Deasley weaved around the Dumbarton defence on two occasions, running out of space and options the first time, and then laying off a header to Calum Smith which ended up nestling safely in the arms of Sons 'keeper Stephen Grindlay at the second attempt.

Mark Gilhaney engineered a couple of chances from 20 yards for Dumbarton. However the home team's first clear goal opportunity came on 38 minutes, when Pat Walker set up Jon McShane for a powerful shot that blazed just past Loons' last man Neill Duffy.

Jordan Halsman placed another good shot from just outside the area shortly afterwards, but it too ended up careering wide.

Neither side generated much more for the remainder of the first period, and when the wind and rain set in during the opening minutes of the second half it looked as if the stasis would continue.

However Dumbarton soon began to press again. The industrious and determined Pat Walker had the first real opening, latching onto the ball at Forfar's near post and whipping it towards the goal but into the side netting, almost opening Sons' account.

Mark Gilhaney swung a good cross in from the far side of the pitch a few minutes later, but there was no-one coming forward able to connect with it.

Then Mark Campbell had a further attempt for Forfar, before Walker forced a fine save out of Duffy, and Jon McShane used the back of his head to flick a short cross over the Loons' back two - but not their number one.

Stephen Tulloch came very close for Forfar on 74 minutes, connecting with a right-angled cross while feet away from the Dumbarton goal. He prodded the ball just wide with his head, however. Sons 'keeper Stephen Grindlay also made a good stop from the Loons' Barry Sellars.

Jordan Halsman was replaced by Keiran Brannan for Sons, and later on Pat Walker came off to huge applause from the home support. He gave way to Ryan Metcalfe.

The last quarter-hour of the season saw several niggling fouls but little in terms of further footballing creativity, until Sons launched several last minute attacks and survived a final one from Forfar themselves.

Hometown hero Paul Nugent was made Man of the Match for his defensive endeavours by game sponsors the Sonstrust.

The match was not the most compelling of the season, but it left Dumbarton supporters with a point, that precious clean sheet, and the sense of a job really well done in recovering effectively from a near disastrous start to the campaign back in the summer of 2010.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Supporters represented at the SFA Council

First published in Sons View, 07 May 2011, Dumbarton -v- Forfar Athletic

For the first time in the modern history of the game, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) has welcomed a fans’ representative to a meeting of their Council. In addition to Supporters Direct’s attendance there were also representatives of the players, managers, disabled sports and the media.

The Sonstrust has continued to play a positive role in Supporters Direct – which links together Trusts across the country. Our own recruitment drive, fans’ survey and promotional activities have been warmly welcomed by SD – and we’re also helping them to launch a new campaigning blog called Changing Scottish Football.

On attending the SFA Council, Supporters Direct Scotland development manager, James Proctor, commented “We welcome the opportunity for a fans’ representative to attend the this meeting and speak directly to those in control of the Scottish game. It is clear from the McLeish report that there is a need to modernise the game and make the decision-making processes more representative. We hope that this first step heralds the start of a new co-operative relationship between the SFA and supporters.”

The McLeish report into the running of the SFA recommended that representatives of supporters, players, managers, coaches and referees should be involved in the structures of the SFA in order to properly represent the sport’s diverse interests. Sons fans also voted overwhelmingly for supporter involvement in the game’s governing bodies.

A fourth clean sheet

My summary appeared first as Sons finish with a draw against Forfar on the official DFC website.

Rallying at the back...
Dumbarton claimed only their fourth clean sheet of the season at SHS this afternoon, drawing 0-0 against Forfar Athletic in a subdued match that nevertheless saw them safely claim seventh spot in the Irn Bru SFL Second Division

Pat Walker came closest to scoring for Sons either side of the break. But neither team created many chances, with much of the play contained to the midfield and both sides missing out on the few opportunities they did create.

Walker pulled a fine save from Loons' 'keeper Neil Duffy midway through the second half, and Stephen Tulloch came close for Forfar with a header that squeaked just wide some minutes later.

Dumbarton fans loudly applauded the players and staff as the final whistle blew, recognising the huge effort that has gone into salvaging what looked like a sure relegation season at the turn of the year. Attention now turns to rebuilding for 2011/12.

Take a bow, Sons fans!

First published in Sons View, 07 May 2011, Dumbarton -v- Forfar Athletic

When the light dawned on 2011, things looked pretty grim in football terms for Dumbarton FC. Rooted to the foot of the table, we clearly had a fight on our hands. Today there will be a deserved celebration for having turned it around. Everyone has played an important part in that achievement, not least Alan Adamson, his backroom team and the players themselves.

But whether you believe that old ‘twelfth man’ idea or not, both the gaffer and those who have worn the Sons’ colours this season have certainly appreciated the consistent, vocal support from the stands – especially on away trips. That was well illustrated at Livingston, where the Dumbarton faithful set new sartorial and choral standards – as you can see!

Even the Braidwood Motor Company Stadium stewards noticed the songs, the good-natured banter and the ‘helpful advice’ directed at our opponents. “At times it was like you’d won the title yourselves!” one steward commented.

The manager and players have already paid tribute to the Sons travelling support. But a big additional thanks is due to Tommy Hughes and the Sonstrust Travel Section organisers – whose hard work has kept the show on the road (literally) on good, indifferent and bad days alike!

Sons shine on Leith (hopefully)

First published in Sons View, 07 May 2011, Dumbarton -v- Forfar Athletic

Excuse me, it’s the end of the season already? It hardly seems last week that I was picking up my first ever Dumbarton season ticket, after 41 years of being stuck in England. Mind you, for much of this term it looked like it might be relegation we’d be confronting this May. Instead, Sons are heading for seventh spot, our youth players have done us proud, and we’ve won silverware for three seasons consecutively – thanks to that second Stirlingshire Cup victory in a row.

Going into last week’s encounter with Division Two champions-in-waiting Livingston, there was naturally a fair bit of apprehension. Few of us thought we would get much out of that match, leaving the likelihood that this afternoon’s one against Forfar would take place under the shadow of a possible relegation play-off. But Dumbarton’s chosen put in a fine, determined performance. That and defeats by Stenhousemuir and Alloa at the hands of Brechin and East Fife, respectively, saw us safe. And boy, was there a party!

A good part of the story of that visit to Almondvale was constituted by the away support, colourfully attired and determined to keep up a constant barrage of support for the Sons of the Rock. On the pitch, meanwhile, Dumbarton were determined not to be rolled over by the rampant Lions, whose own fans seemed relatively subdued. Perhaps with two titles in a row they were taking it for granted and dreaming instead of a challenge for SPL status? Who knows. What’s clear is that the sunshine, the singing and the roll of the turf went Sons’ way.

We should really have claimed all three points. But with ten minutes to go, Livi sneaked in an equaliser. It was a bit of a symptom of the downside from a bad season that ended well. What’s more, I had just finished getting the DFC website summary ready, referring to only our fourth clean sheet this term. It was not to be. So this afternoon we have chance to put that right and conclude a tough campaign on a winning note. Then it’s time to party once again, with the dance and awards event in the evening.

From the perspective of football’s sporting instincts (hardly getting a good press at the moment, what with another Spanish civil war between the millionaires of Barcelona and Real Madrid!), that 1-1 draw at Livingston put everybody in a decent mood. Sons fans stayed on to cheer out team, and also give credit where it was due to Livingston – who were evidently the standout team in the division. Earlier on the gap between them and the rest had not seemed that huge, but full-time status and deeper squad resources showed in the end.

Dumbarton, meanwhile, turned an early season drought into an attack-focused approach that delivered goals and entertainment on more than a few occasions this year. The problem was that we sometimes looked more leaky at the back than my dear departed dad’s classic Austin 1100 … and though you won’t have been around to see that, even if you were old enough, believe me: that car really leaked!

Newly confirmed boss Alan Adamson will no doubt have more than half a mind on ways of addressing some of this term’s problems as he seeks to reconfigure for August. But meanwhile, it’s time to try and end 2010-11 on an upbeat note, and have fun trying.

Then suddenly we’ll be facing the close-season football hiatus. Having attended 34 Dumbarton matches and a few other SFL and SPL ones since this time last year (more Sons games for me than in the past ten campaigns put together), I’m a bit more adjusted to football sabbatical than usual. I know my poor wife certainly is.

That said, for some of us there’s the small matter of a Play for the Sons match at SHS on 4 June to contend with. At the ripe old age of 53 it will be my first competitive game in 25 years – and you don’t want to know what happened in the last one! So after tonight’s celebrations it will be back to the strict diet and the training regime for me. Well, I say “back to”. But what I mean is, “time for my crash course in match fitness” - preferably without the crash. I need the Sons to shine on Leith for me!

As for this Forfar game: well, it’s the end of a difficult chapter for the Club. But it’s also a boundary beyond which we can look forward. The desire and spirit is certainly there. So have a great summer, and see you next season.

Big day 'oot!

It's the final day of the season for Dumbarton. It hardly seems possible! While the campaign has undoubtedly been difficult (and we only knew for sure that we would avoid the Division Two relegation play-offs last weekend, following Sons' heroics against champions Livingston), today there's the chance to end really positively.

But whatever happens on the pitch against Forfar Athletic, this evening's end-of-season awards and buffet/dance deserves to be really good knees-up!

Manager Alan Adamson told the DFC website, regarding last weekend's match: "I thought we played against the best team in the division. It was an open and attacking game - something that this season that has given us problems - but we coped well, got a bit of luck and we eventually dug out the point we needed.

"Pat Walker's goal was typical of the wee man who has been great for us since he signed. But singling him out would be wrong as all the lads have been tremendous for me. It's been a rollercoaster ride emotionally but we have again consolidated in the league and we now start some planning for the new season.

"Forfar, who visit SHS today, have done very well indeed and deserve their play-off position bit we won't be treating the game lightly tomorrow. We sit currently 7th in the division - at 4.45pm that's where I want to remain, so we will need to be concentrating from the very first whistle."