Saturday, 30 July 2011

A bit of football romance

First published in Sons View, 30 July 2011, Dumbarton -v- Dundee

The long road to Hampden and the Scottish Communities League Cup Final on 18th March 2012 begins here at Dumbarton this afternoon, with an ambitious first round tie against First Division opponents Dundee. It’s a match we’ve all been looking forward to for some time, ever since it was announced a full two months ago at the Ravenscraig Sports Centre in Motherwell.

For Sons this game against comes on the back of a positive pre-season programme, plus our first knock-out competition triumph for a long while – Saturday’s last-minute 3-2 victory against East Stirlingshire in the Ramsdens Challenge Cup, which has earned us a second round home tie against Berwick Rangers and the chance of yet further progress. Who’d have thought it?

That said, Dumbarton’s all-round performance will need to be ratcheted up more than a few notches from last weekend if we’re going to get anything out of this afternoon’s game. The first half against the Shire was a bit of a non-event. Things got exciting following the break, but then after Sons had established a comfortable 2-0 lead they almost threw it away through lack of concentration. Thankfully, Pat Walker’s final burst of inspiration rescued the tie.

But the men from Dens Park are bound to be a far tougher proposition. So more than caution will be required. Sons have to dare to go out onto the pitch believing they can take the game to Dundee.

Leaving aside the really big ones, which teams like ours play little or no part in, cup competitions generally have become something of a devalued currency in the world of modern football. Certainly league campaigns are a better guide to the real quality and status of a team. But there’s something energising about the unpredictability of a knock-out competition which it’s important not to lose: the luck of the draw, the light relief from routine pressures, the opportunity to play sides you don’t normally meet, the chance of an upset, the adrenalin rush… and, yes, the romance of a ‘shot at glory’.

So the great thing about a game like today’s is that it means everything and nothing. If we pull off a surprise and get a win, it’ll be a tremendous boost. If not, there’s no great damage done. The target for Sons in 2001/12 is undoubtedly to secure safety in division two as soon as we can, and then to look towards the play-offs. But a bit of cup excitement would add flavour to the main task.

Indeed, we shouldn’t forget that this year Dumbarton could actually end up winning silverware for the fourth season in a row. In 2008/9, Sons won the third division championship. Then there was the Stirlingshire Cup claimed in 2009/10 against Stenhousemuir, and retained versus Falkirk last term. This season we could make it three consecutive wins.

Yes, I know that many regard the regional trophy as a mere ‘tea cup’ event for testing out youth players. But it actually dates from 1883/4 (the year after Sons last won the Scottish Cup, incidentally), it’s one of the oldest cup competitions in the history of football, and the trophy itself – if you have a look at it – is fabulous. Like today’s outing against Dundee, what’s not to enjoy?


Unlike Dumbarton, who have never reached the final, today’s opponents Dundee have won the Scottish League Cup – which began officially in 1946/7 – on three occasions. Their last triumph was back in 1973/4 (1-0 against Celtic), and they also took the trophy in 1951/2 (versus Rangers) and the following season (against Kilmarnock).

More recently they have lost out to what was fleetingly the ‘New Firm’: local rivals Dundee United in 1980/1 (when the final was played at Dens Park instead of Hampden) and Aberdeen in 1995/6.

In the biggest competition, the Scottish Cup, both Dumbarton and Dundee have claimed the trophy once, Sons at the tail end of the nineteenth century and the Dee in 1910.

The Dark Blues had to work particularly hard for their silverware that year. History records that it took a total of ten matches for them to lift the cup, including two replays for both the semi-final against Hibernian and the final against Clyde. The epic started in the first round with a replayed tie against non-league Beith.

The League Cup, which is this year sponsored by the Scottish Government, started life as a development of the Southern League Cup – which was itself introduced in 1940, when wartime restrictions on football led to a suspension of the Scottish Cup.

The final of the competition has been played elsewhere than the national stadium on seven occasions during its 64-year history. Twice at Dens Park, twice at Ibrox, and three times at Celtic Park.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Getting set for the challenge

First published in Sons View, 09 July 2011, Dumbarton -v- Motherwell (Friendly)

The long weekends of ‘no football’ (other than relentless media speculation about multimillion pound transfer deals not involving Dumbarton FC) are over. So here we are at SHS once more, watching a reshaped Sons squad limber up for the 2011/12 season with a series of home friendlies against higher-level opposition – and then two away fixtures with Alloa (closed doors) and Clydebank.

Everyone says that you can’t read too much into a friendly. But that isn’t entirely true. While the result may not be a predictor, the coaching staff and players are always looking out for individual or tactical issues that need attention, and there are usually telltale signs of what is to come.

Last term, for example, Sons played good imaginative football against two of this year’s pre-season competitors. The 2-1 win versus Partick Thistle was a real morale booster, and in many respects the 2-2 draw against St Mirren was even more impressive. But then Dumbarton’s frailties were made manifest by English opponents Oxford United, and we also struggled with shape and fluency in the games against Annan and the Bankies.

The difference was between playing sides with a more open style that suited Sons’ best football instincts, in contrast to games where grit, grind and lack of space clamped our style. In retrospect, that pretty much summed up 2010/11. A dismal start and an uncertain ending (salvaged by an excellent display away to Second Division Champions Livingston) were clamped around a spell where Dumbarton suddenly started producing up-tempo, quality football. It was a strange mixture, but we were thoroughly relieved to stay up, and this time hope to build on the strengths and show rather more consistency.

In theory, playing against promotion aspirants the Jags, from the First Division, SPL survival-or-better hopefuls the Buddies, and Cup Finalists and regular dark horses Motherwell should really test our mettle – with the on-the-road fixtures providing a different type of challenge. It looks a good mix.

I last saw Motherwell live at Hampden, when they were well beaten by Celtic in a match that had moments of real quality but never quite took off. Like many I had been hoping for an upset. But since my seat was at the Hoops end, I decide to keep fairly quiet about that, and in the end had no cheers to suppress!

The ’Well are a side deserving the greatest respect for what they have been able to achieve on (for the top flight) relatively slender resources. But for a club like Dumbarton, what they, Partick and St Mirren have at their disposal in terms of players and budgets is something Sons can only dream of. That said, everyone in the Second Division will be in the same economically-straitened boat this time, and there is no reason why we should not be competitive. Starting right now.

Talking friendlies

First published in Sons View, 09 July 2011, Dumbarton -v- Motherwell (Friendly)

DFC's John Bell
Dumbarton 8, Celtic 0. How does that sound for a good result in a friendly?  No, you’re not dreaming. It actually happened. Though admittedly the year was 1892 and Sons were reigning Scottish Champions! Things may not have been entirely uphill since then, but we have more past glory to bask in than many. The Scotsman recorded Dumbarton’s triumph over ‘Buffalo Bill’s’ on Saturday 2 January – though subsequent research alleges that the Wild West man switched his allegiance to Rangers.

The report is a classic of its kind:  “Dumbarton came away occasionally in brilliant form, but the [Celtic] ground defence was at its best. Still they were beaten sometimes. Taylor scored for the Dumbarton in twenty-five minutes, and Boyle put on a second a minute after. Before other five minutes Bell put on a third. Duff’s goalkeeping was very indifferent. Dumbarton were fairly beating their opponents, who fell away considerably. With five minutes to go Thomson put on Dumbarton’s fourth. Dumbarton’s front play was brilliant, Bell’s considerably so. Another came from Thomson before the interval. Half-time: Dumbarton, five goals: Celtic, nil. After a brief interval the teams resumed, and Dumbarton began best, but Celtic struggled through to the end.”

Sons soundly beaten by, er... Sons

First published in Sons View, 09 July 2011, Dumbarton -v- Motherwell (Friendly) - a report of the Play for the Sons game...

An estimated 160 plus crowd, vocal in support, turned up at SHS to watch the first ever Dumbarton supporters’ fundraising game at the Rock on 4 June 2011. There was a smattering of youthful (and some not-so-youthful) talent on display, splendidly attired in the Sons’ 2010/11 home and away strips – which the players got to keep, in exchange for subscribing up to £250 each for the club.

The game itself saw a convincing win for Dumbarton Away, with the men in white pushing forward confidently in the opening stages of the game. Andy Scott in the Home goal made a fine outstretched save to his right on 9 minutes, turning a dangerous looking 20-yard shot from Alan Kennedy round the post, after the forward was set up by eventual Man of the Match Brian McMutrie.

But the big sticksman – who also had a fine game throughout – then found himself trapped off guard at the far post by a tricky inswinging cross on 14 minutes, following a good cross field ball from Alan Kennedy. The uncleared ball then fell for Ian McEwan to open the scoring with a close range header.

The Home side tried to regain some control in the middle of the park, but were finding it difficult to break through the Away backline, despite some good skill from Craig Campbell and Ross Black, and an effort on goal by Alex Stewart which did not really trouble Joe McCaughey in the Away goal. The match had started to even out a little when David Ferguson took advantage of a defensive slip to slot the ball just past the oncoming Andy Scott. 2-0 on 22 minutes.

Scott Mackie went on an impressive run as the home side tried to push back, creating an opportunity for Chris Whitfield, Tom McAllister and Paul Duffy were also full of running throughout. But it was the Away’s midfield moving into attack which continued to impress, with Gary McMurtie and Andrew McCulloch contributing to several build-ups, while Sean Bangs, Alan Smith, Allan Clarke and Andy Mackie played tidily and looked relatively untroubled for them at the back.

The substitutions were of the rolling variety throughout. For the Away side, Liam McVey was full of running and creativity. Alec Darroch tried to add sharpness up front for the Home side, and Simon Barrow came on in a defensive midfield role, but initially lost shape chasing a pacy attack before adopting a conventional right-back position in the second half. Robert Faulds made a couple of significant stops for the Homes and Darroch had a few half-chances in front of goal.

In the meantime, an extended sequence of cross field passes and sweeping moves from the Aways created another opening for Ian McEwan, but this time Andy Scott beat him to the post. McVey was rewarded for all his running on 34 minutes, as MacEwan burst through the Homes’ defence and the wily number 14 made it 3-0 for the Aways.

In the second half, Home centre-half Iain McPhee, who worked hard throughout, marshalled defenders Jordan Brownlee, Scott Mackie and  Simon Barrow to try to close down the Aways attacking prowess. Neil Jenkinson was keen to get forward for the Aways, who always seemed keen to push the game upfield, their confidence buoyed by going in three up at the break. 

While McCaughey continued to have a relatively quiet afternoon in the Away goal, Scott was kept busy for the Home side – who, despite a number of corners and near misses, succeeded in keeping their opponents out again until the 62nd minute, when the ever-threatening Ian MacEwan rounded the ’keeper who had denied him several times, and made it a decisive and deserved 4-0. 

Tom McAllister for the Homes had forced a stop out of McCaughey not long before that. But the gold and blacks never really looked like scoring. Jordan Brownlee was treated for cramp not long before the end, having chased and tackled hard in the Home defence, which was also backed up by Alec Darroch. He, along with Chris Whitfield, had come closest to forcing a couple of breakthroughs at the Away end. However, the final result was never in doubt.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A stroll in the Dolomites

As teams in Scotland get their training regimes into gear for the new season, Bayern Munich have set up camp again in the picturesque Dolomites. Last year they comfortably beat a select IX from the Italian administrative district of Trentino 5-1. This time it was more a gentle rout, televised by Eurosport in between bouts of the Women's World Cup. The German Bundesliga outfit came out 15-0 victors. Their hosts were drawn from Serie D side Trento Calcio 1921 (also nicknamed i Gialloblu or gli Aquilotti) and some even more lowly outfits. The locals looked like they were enjoying themselves, despite the result. Next on the card for Bayern is the Qatar national side - a rather different proposition. Good fun, though. And as you can see, some stunning views.