Cooney and Black

I’m in the dock for being in the dug-out at a ladies’ fitba match. I meet the compliance officer and tell him I can’t believe he’s doing this. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘it pays the mortgage!’

Dugout

byandyritchie

Did Englishman Barry Hearn paint an accurate picture of Scotland’s administrators recently? Blogger Andy Ritchie, an ex Footballer of the Year, football scout and SPFL delegate, suggests that affairs at Hampden may be even more depressing than first imagined, and that the pencil-sharpeners are defiantly calling the tune
TODAY, I’m going to tell you a story that is so fantastical it might have been written by the Brothers Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm, no less.But this is no fairy story. It’s a tale about everyday life at Hampden Park, home to the SFA and the Scottish Premier Football League. And it tells you, in fairly basic terms, why our game is on its knees and suffering from arthritis.

It highlights the pettiness, the nitpicking and the nonsense that runs through the administrative offices like a raging river.

Barry Hearn’s recent post mortem on our national sport, forensic though it appeared, only told you part of the narrative. Today, we’re down to specifics. So, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

It’s a Sunday morning in Glasgow – a cold one. My son has an amateur ladies’ football team which shall remains nameless. I go along with my other son to offer some support. We stop at a burger bar for a coffee.

We arrive a minute into the match. My son has arranged for us to go into what they call the technical area. I’ve just arrived when this character – from the opposing team – appears.

He is speaking with some authority, not to say aggression. Orders are barked out. “You cannae stand here. You need to move!” (I’m outside the dug-out at this time) My son tells him my name is down on the sheet for the technical area. He’s not having it. No, we need to move.

I’m reaching boiling point. An exchange occurs. He shouldn’t even be interfering with us. I tell him he is no more than a jobsworth, Then I say: “For two shakes of a lamb’s tail, I’ll knock those glasses aff yer face. Get oot of my road!”

I now move to go inside the dug-out. The guy goes away. But a couple of minutes later, he’s back and it all starts up again. We get pretty close together, like a nose to nose routine.

In true Glasgow tradition, I offer him a joint inspection of the car park, which is only 50 yards away. We need to sort all this nonsense out. I’m nearly 60 years of age, by the way. How old is he? I dunno. In his forties, I suppose. But I suspect it would take only 15 seconds for me to get a couple of good ones in and it would be over.

Whatever, he now knows that we’re getting to the tickly bit. He realises it’s serious and backs off. Away he goes. So, I sit in the dug-out and watch the game.

My son’s team wins and yet the fires are still burning within me. I approach the guy afterwards, call him an arsehole and suggest we sort it out. He’s standing next to the referee, who says nothing. He’s not having it and rushes into the dressing room.

I forget about it. Or try to. The next thing I know is I’ve got a letter saying that I’ve got to appear in front of a committee at Hampden. There’s been a complaint about me.

Now the story moves up a gear. I’m at Hampden for 11 o’clock. And I’m facing a panel of four guys who have been dragged in from all over Scotland.

My accuser says his bit, says that he felt threatened. I’m thinking: so he should have done, coming into someone else’s technical area and starting bossing folk around. He is being represented by one Vincent Lunny, the SFA’s compliance officer. We have a courtroom situation.

I make my point, saying that if the guy had wanted something done about it, he should have got the referee to come across. The ref was in charge of that game and if I wasn’t allowed to be there, he should have been the one to tell me.

I explain in the nicest possible way that I’m nearly 60. But if I’d been 30, there certainly would have been a tussle. Anyway, my explanation appears to be falling on deaf ears. Vincent Lunny has his say and I’m thinking at this time that I should have brought Tony Petrocelli (remember him?) along to defend me.

Anyway, the whole thing lasts for four hours, including a 90-minute wait for a verdict. I meet Lunny outside. “This is some carry on,! I say to him. “I cannae believe you’re doing this.”

His retort to me is this: “Well, it pays the mortgage!”

I’ve just wasted a small part of my life – the only reason I’ve turned up is just in case something happens to this wee amateur fitba club, which doesn’t have any money and which may very well get fined over an incident that my son doesn’t have anything to do with.

So, I say: “Vinny, can you get this sorted out, because if it hadn’t been for my son, I’d have left here three and a three-quarter hours ago.” He goes away, comes back and says the committee will decide in ten minutes. They do. There is no fine. But they find me guilty and I get banned for seven games for behaving in an aggressive manner.

I tell them I cannot believe their decision. I add that they needn’t bother banning me because I’ll not be back at any of these football games. I’m beginning to get pissed off by this time.

Anyone who knows anything about the game knows that you don’t go into anyone else’s technical area. I tell them it has been a farce and that when someone tries to evict you illegally from a place, you tend to get a bit angry.

They say that I shouldn’t have been aggressive and that you should never lose your temper. Oh, yeah? The guy convening the meeting is an ex bank manager. I spend the next five minutes interrupting everything he says.

He then loses the place, gets angry and shouts at me. I think I’ve made my point. I say: “You see, when somebody acts like an arsehole, he gets angry and shouts.” He just looks at me. He knows what he has done.

It’s time for a final speech. “Anyway, gentlemen, thanks very much,” as I prepare to leave. “I’ve been sitting here wasting my time and losing money. And you couldn’t care less because you’re getting paid for it.”

One of them says they’re not paid. I respond: “Yeah, but see the next junket that’s available for the SFA – I’m sure you’ll be sitting at the back of the plane when they fly over for some European match. There’s no way you’re driving down here and back up again for nothing. I’m sure someone’s paying your petrol.”

The ex bank manager, all prim and proper in his starched white shirt and dark tie with spots, tells me he is used to dealing with people. I tell him he is used to dealing with money. And then there’s Lunny, the lawyer. They are telling me about the game and its laws.

“Really? I’ve been involved in the pro game from the age of 14. Do you not think I’ve picked up a wee bit of knowledge myself?”

Anyway, a few weeks later, the bold Lunny is called into a situation between Billy Brown, of Hearts, and Derek McInnes, of Aberdeen. Brown goes in and allegedly threatens McInnes in the Tynecastle dug-out. It could have caused havoc among the 15,000 or so supporters. They get suspended sentences.

Lunny is the man who told me he was only there to get his mortgage paid. There he had the opportunity to do something when it mattered, but, no. He’s gone now from the SFA – which is a mercy. But if the man I call Dummer 1 is away, will his replacement be Dummer 11?

This partly explains what is wrong with Scottish football. The point is they spent all their money on what basically was a charade, presided over by people who knew nothing about football.

No wonder Barry Hearn, a guy who has probably seen very few Scottish football matches live, comes up here and, within about 15 minutes, susses the place completely.

Hampden has rooms full of highly-paid people and they can’t even get a sponsor for the biggest league in the country. They need leaders and leadership. Instead, they have pencil sharpeners. And they sit sharpening pencils all day.

You’ve got players who say they don’t want to play for Scotland – and yet in the next breath they’re back. All these things go on, all these moral issues. The trouble is they don’t bother their arses about those issues.

Sadly, they’re more concerned about the guy who turns up on a Sunday morning and stands in the dug-out of his son’s ladies’ football team.

 

 
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Grass Roots Grounds

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