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James Fowler – a testimonial, an appreciation

8 Aug

James Fowler (centre left, captains armband) lifts the League Cup. Source: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

There’s a very elite club in Ayrshire with only a handful of members, the members of this club are the men who have captained Kilmarnock FC to capturing silverware. The latest inductee to this, exclusive club is James Fowler. For on March 18th 2012 he lifted the League Cup for Kilmarnock and found himself joining this assembly – he was the latest man to captain Scotland’s oldest professional club to a major trophy. Tonight, at Rugby Park the place James Fowler has plied his trade for 15 years, he will be honoured with a testimonial match against Sheffield Wednesday.

In the modern era of astronomical wages and gross transfer fees, many football supporters will be ethically opposed to holding testimonial matches for these ‘overpaid’ footballers. And, it must be said who can blame them? As the football fan struggles from week to week why should they fork out to give a player who no doubt earns a more comfortable wage than most a cushy retirement? I don’t disagree with this sentiment on the whole – although, on this occasion I certainly do.

We have a generation of footballers now, who will be classed as fantastic servants to their clubs if they manage to hack it for 4 or 5 seasons. James Fowler has been grafting for Kilmarnock for 15 years, through highs and lows. He’s been played in almost every position imaginable – it was even said amongst the support that nobody knew what his best position actually was although in recent seasons it has become clear that Fowler excels in the teams engine room, underpinning everything that the midfield does.

Having surpassed 300 games – ensuring membership to another select group of players – it’s fair to say that in the blue and white of Kilmarnock, Fowler has experienced it all. UEFA Cup football in the 2000/01 season with trips to Glenavon and Viking Stavanger; heart-breaking cup exits at the hands of lower league opponents; the devastating League Cup final demolition at the hands of Hibernian; flirting with relegation on the final day of the season. And of course, most recently winning a major trophy.

Fowler is now working under his 5th manager at Kilmarnock and is arguably producing the best performances of his career. Earlier in his career he was linked with a potential move to Celtic, in spite of this Fowler remained at Rugby Park in the face of relentless and often ruthless budget cuts as the club struggled with mountains of debt and despite the uncertainty, James Fowler’s loyalty has never faltered. A fantastic role model for the young players at the club and indeed young players across the game at all levels, a more deserving candidate of a testimonial there will rarely be.

So, tonight, at Rugby Park Kilmarnock players and fans alike will gather to show their respect and appreciation for this rarest breed of footballer.

 

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Kilmarnock FC Season 11/12 Preview

20 Jul

After last season it’s hard to see how Killie could improve on their performance. A team who avoided relegation on the last day of the previous season went into the 10/11 season with the guts of the same squad from the previous year, a manager who had fared poorly in the SPL previously, plus a few additions. No addition was more prominent than Alexei Eremenko; the Finn stamped his quality all over the SPL and was intrinsic to the unique brand of ‘sexy’ football they bought to the SPL. The attractive, pass and move attacking play with the fullbacks overlapping a tight midfield feeding a revitalised Conor Sammon in attack saw Killie get results and do so with style.

January saw 15+ goals Sammon poached by Wigan and soon after Mixu was homeward bound to manage his national team. Even with the talismanic Player of the Year nominee Eremenko pulling the strings beside the ever improving Bryson, Killie could not quite match their early season form. Kenny Shiels led the side to a top half finish – their first since 2007.

Who’s in and who’s out?

IN:                                                                    OUT:

Patrick Ada – Crewe Alexandria____________Momo Sissoko – Udinese (Loan expired)

Danny Buijs – ADO Den Haag______________Craig Bryson – Derby County

Gary Harkins – Dundee FC________________Jamie Hamill – Hearts

Zdeněk Kroča – Luton Town_______________Rui Miguel –

Paul Heffernan – Sheffield Wed_____________Mehdi Taouil – Hearts

Rory McKeown – Ipswich Town_____________Alexei Eremenko – Metalist (loan expired)

Danny Raachi – York City_________________Benjamin Laurent – Released

_____________________________________Willy Aubemayang – Released

_____________________________________Frazer Wright – St Johnstone

The talismanic midfielder has left a void in the Killie squad

Who’s who in 11/12?

Kenny Shiels brought in his countryman, the experienced Jimmy Nichol, as his assistant for the season ahead. With SEVEN first team players, including the team captain Craig Bryson,  vacating the club the Northern Irish duo had the majority of a team to reconstruct if they had any hope of kicking off from where they left off last season.

With many fans questioning the ability of Shiels as a manager and a talent scout following the success of Mixu last season, Kenny has worked hard to dispel these qualms with a few eye catching signings.

Gary 'Zizou' Harkins

Gary Harkins, bagged on a free from Dundee has immediately caught the eye with his pre-season performances. A well taken goal against Linfield followed by a belter against Ross County has captured the imagination. The man, who’s been christened ‘Zizou’ after Zinedine Zidane by his teammates, on no small part due to his bald spot, has big shoes to fill in the midfield. Although the general consensus in the First Division is that Dundee will be a much weakened side without him and the rest of the clubs are glad to see the back of him. Harkins clearly has pedigree and it is surprising he’s not bagged a move to the SPL sooner. If he fills his potential he could prove the bargain of the season.

Killie fans have high hopes for the Dutchman

Another exciting capture is Danny Buijs. A product of the famed Ajax academy, the birthplace of ‘Total Football’ with 250 Dutch Eredivisie performances between Feyenoord and ADO Den Haag the pedigree of the Dutchman is clear. An aggressive fullback/defensive midfielder with a sweet set piece he has been signed to fill in the gap left by Bryson according to the Gaffer. Buijs has put pen to paper on a one year deal at Rugby Park and clearly is putting himself in the shop window for bigger sides. As long as he gives 100% in the stripes, the Rugby Park faithful will be pleased with his contribution whether it’s a 1 year deal or a 10 year deal.

New centre halves Patrick Ada and Zdeněk Kroča add to Kenny’s team of all nations as they hail from Cameroon and the Czech Republic respectively. Both players came from lower leagues in England and fans of both sides were sad to see them go. With the first choice central defence of Sissoko and Wright left for pastures new the new signings will form a reshaped defence. Kroča has met Killie before….scoring for Luton against the Ayrshire men last pre-season. Both Ada and Kroča seem to fit into the Killie mentality well- ball playing defenders who can spot a pass with confidence.

The hardest boots of all to fill will be those of Conor Sammon. Goals are vital, and a top half side needs a stiker bagging himself 15 goals a season to compete. Rui Miguel and William Gros tried to fill the void last season to varying degrees of success. With Miguel back in his native Portugal this left Killie with a striker shortage. Paul Heffernan was officially Shiels’ first signing of the new season and the Irishman came from Sheffield Wednesday with decent reports from the Owls fans. Whether or not he’ll bag the goals remains to be seen. Ben Hutchison has signed a short term deal after his release from Celtic. The Englishman showed much promise with Middlesbrough and a keen goal scoring ability with Celtic reserves. He never replicated this whilst on loan at Lincoln City or Dundee and found first team chances thin on the ground at Parkhead. Shiels brought him to Rugby Park and the Killie faithful are going to need some convincing with this signing. Clearly though, the lad has shown potential and if Shiels was part of the magic that turned Sammon into a goal machine maybe he can get the best out of Hutchinson too.

Another Northern Irishman came to Kilmarnock in the shape of young full back Rory McKeown. The left back comes in to a position that proves a problem for Killie. Garry Hay made the position his own after years of loyal service. He was displaced last year by Chelsea loanee Ben Gordon who shone brightly in a squad full of unexpected stars. After he went back down south in January, ‘Hooky’ struggled to fit into the new Kilmarnock system. McKeown comes in to the season on the back of some impressive pre-season performances. Whether he’ll be first choice at left back remains to be seen as Shiels still seems keen to strengthen that position further having had Mitchell Pique on trial and now Austrian Tomas Piersmayer.

Dayton could be like a new signing

Another major boost to the side is the returning James Dayton.

He showed some delightful ability before a horrendous cruciate injury saw him miss basically the whole season. The right winger has showed the form that he started with last year in pre-season and the right winger could be vital to any success Killie hope to have. He converted a wonderful goal against Preston in pre-season scoring straight from the kick off after very team member had a touch. If he can replicate that for real then defences will have a handful. Despite having played only a handful of games he’s already becoming a fans favourite and will hopefully stay injury free. Dayton is a direct wide man with no fear to run at defences and cause full backs a headache. Killie have lacked any real penetration on the wings in recent seasons and the return of Dayton will take some pressure off the full backs who were doing most of the supply for the front men last year.

With high profile midfielders, Bryson and Eremenko in the side last year and Harkins and Buijs being brought in this year, one man is fast becoming an unsung hero. The work rate provided in the middle of the park from Liam Kelly was vital to the side last year and will be more important this year. Kelly has come on leaps and bounds and has the potential to be even better than Bryson. As a tackler, passer and goal scorer Kelly shows great ability at all three and his work is often overshadowed by the more flamboyant players. He often picked passes that showed intelligence above and beyond his years last season that could only be rivalled by those of the Finn he played alongside.  Kelly takes the number 8 shirt this year but he has already sealed his place in the first team. It’ll be a big season for the midfielder as he has the chance to step into his own now beside Gary Harkins in the midfield engine room.

 Where now for Killie?

At the start of last season every Killie fan would have been happy if they steered clear of relegation. After flirting with European places and a top six spot I have the feeling scraping clear of the bottom won’t be enough for the Killie support this year.

In fact some would still be disappointed if they don’t better last year’s performance.

Breaching the top four does not seem likely for Killie – although with Dundee United having lost some key players and having an early start to the season they may not be guaranteed to be up there either. Hearts have made some interesting signings, although Hamill and Taouil worked with Jefferies at Rugby Park and now join him in Gorgie, despite Jefferies playing them both significantly out of position so whether he’ll get the best out of them remains to be seen. Hibernian and Aberdeen have made some interesting additions to their sides and will be keen to break into the top six after poor performances last term, despite this they still have a lot of dead wood in their sides which may hinder their progress.

Motherwell has the same nucleus of the squad that sealed them top 6 and a Scottish Cup final place last term. Having lost the goals of John Sutton they signed Michael Higdon to fill the void. The aging Keith Lasley and Steven Craigan add experience to a youthful squad and they could look good to build on their 6th place finish.

So….where does this leave Killie. Well, as much as I would be happy with any position above 9th, which is most likely just enough to avoid a relegation battle, Killie could do much better than this and secure another top six finish. They have an ambitious squad and have made some ambitious signings. The tactical know how of Shiels juxtaposed with the experience, determination and knowledge of Jimmy Nichol will be enough to drive the squad on. With Manuel Pascali taking the armband from Craig Bryson nobody can doubt the credential of the Italian to fill the role. Conservatively, however my prediction is an 8th place finish for Kilmarnock this season.

Will Killie better last year’s performance? Probably not. But they’ll have a damn good stab at it and it’ll be a typical blue and white rollercoaster ride along the way.

Grassroots Report

28 Apr

An audio report on the game in Scotland at its most important level. Grassroots football.

With Scotland set to be thrown in the worlds sporting spotlight with the Commonwealth Games in 2014 the importance of Grassroots sport is more relevant than ever.

At a grassroots level we are developing young people from the bottom of the sporting latter to allow them to ascend to become the best athlete’s they can be.

Football in particular relies heavily on cultivating youth at this level. With Scottish football at the top levels almost universally agreed to be in a poor state on and off the field the reliance on youth is more important than ever.

After investigation into Grassroots football it becomes clear that despite the resources at our availability in Scotland, we are not doing what we should or could be to help our youths and our game progress and there are many problems inherent in the system.

Click here, to listen

Gone Fishing

1 Feb

The inevitable has happened. Conor Sammon has completed his transfer from Kilmarnock. The young Irishman signed for Wigan in the closing few minutes of the transfer window, for a reported £600,000.

Credit where it is due, and I am pleased to see Sammon get his move to the best league in the world. As a regular on the Rugby Park terraces, I remember 12 months ago, even 6 months ago when Conor Sammon was a figure of ridicule. Not SPL quality was the general consensus, maybe he’d find his level and move down a few leagues some said. “You’ll be playing junior next year, Sammon!” was the cry from one disgruntled fan, as the striker blasted over against Celtic, just last year. That comment particularly stuck in my mind – because I feared it may come true.

Even this season, against Valladolid in pre-season when Conor Sammon was warming up the response from the fans was negative. Their opinion was clear, Conor Sammon was not fit for the SPL or the Kilmarnock front line.

Incoming manager Mixu Paatelainen had different ideas. Despite signing his own striker, Rui Miguel, he chose Conor Sammon to lead the line and prove his worth. The majority of Killie fans were sceptical to say the least. And for the first few games they seemed correct, until a fateful night against Airdrie changed that all.

Airdrie visited Ayrshire in the league cup, and Conor Sammon had looked out his shooting boots. Clinically, he put the visitors to the sword with a hat-trick. It was at this point the young man’s season skyrocketed.

Sammon: Zero to Hero

Everything he touched turned to gold. Scoring goals for apparent fun, including goals at Tynecastle and Celtic Park, no mean feat.

A bad player doesn’t magically become a good player overnight, clearly Conor Sammon always possessed the ability. His work alongside Paatelainen and assistant Kenny Shiels has clearly worked wonders. The tutoring from the former goal machine Paatelainen has got the best out of Sammon’s game.

When Sammon was brought on against Hearts at Rugby Park, the same day he refused a transfer to Scunthorpe, he was given a true heroes welcome. Just a few months earlier he would have been treated like an outcast by many. Nobody is as fickle as the football fan. 15 goals in 20 starts the catalyst for the change of heart no doubt.

Congratulations to Conor Sammon, who has propelled himself from the League of Ireland to the SPL and now the English Premier League in 3 seasons. Congratulations to Mixu Paatelainen who turned the supposed flop into a 500k+ player.

No player has worked harder or more consistently than Sammon to get where he is. It is with a heavy heart I see him leave Rugby Park, but I can’t wait to see him on Match of the Day.

Dundee dealt hammer blow

13 Jan

Dundee FC is a club still very much in financial turmoil. Two and a half months have passed since the Tayside club were plunged into administration, again. Off the pitch, improvements are taking shape. With star-man Leigh Griffiths likely to be sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers for £150,000 and the club taking steps towards an agreement with their creditors and HMRC, their financial health is improving. When this question was posed earlier in the year, 75% of readers expected Griffiths would be sold from under Dundee, in January.

Dundee FC

Dundee fans, almost unanimously are accepting of the fact that the club had to sell Griffiths. Their financial position alone dictates that fact.

Their anger lies with the SFL, who in the fans opinion seem hell bent on hindering Dundee FC’s progress.

After the, albeit expected, hammer blow of a 25 point reduction the SFL’s ruling that Griffiths couldn’t be loaned back to the club is seen by many as adding insult to injury. One Dundee fan summed up the views that many seem to share;

The 25 point penalty and transfer embargo is blatantly unreasonable. I am certainly not a conspiracy theorist. I just think we’re dealing with amateurs who are intoxicated by the excitement of actually making headlines and being noticed as powerful people when they are anything but. Our shocking mismanagement has given this motley crew the chance to be noticed. The SFL has a clear obligation to support member clubs. If we are talking about sticking to rules then I suggest these people are in clear breach of their primary aim. This latest measure is a cruel and unnecessary act. It is nothing short of disgusting, in my opinion. We cannot enter the minds of these chairmen who are overlooking tiny, unsuccesful clubs but the argument for the case that they are vindictive, is to me, entirely reasonable.

The consensus is that the SFL are making things unnecessarily difficult for a club already in dire straits. The sale of the striker, and having no ability to replace him is regarded by many as the final nail in the coffin for the club as one fan said.

The SFL been instrumental in forcing Dundee FC into the position they are in as of now. They’re digging our grave for us.

Selling star players is the bread and butter for most clubs. Dundee’s inability to replace them, enforced on them by the league makes their position unenviable and unique.

The Dens striker is on the move

Do the poll, and leave your comments.

Bhoycott

12 Jan

Following the Green Brigade debacle earlier this season, another group of Celtic Supporters have managed to infuriatine me, with their sheer ignorance. Below is a statement from the Celtic Supporters Association, written by Joe O’Rourke;

It would appear war has been declared on more than one front, not only are bullets being sent to the Celtic manager and two players, we are also getting bombs from the outdated SFA with their totally unfair and over the top six match suspension of Neil Lennon. Add to that the articles being written by that bitter bigoted clown Leckie in the Scottish Sun; I think we have a fight on our hands.

The threats coming from the North of Ireland are nothing new, they have been going on for a long time now; the only reason it got any media coverage at all was because the PSNI released the information to the press; there has been many occasions when members of Celtic’s staff have received threats; but obviously the media deemed those threats not as serious as someone making a phone call to a Scottish referee; or shouting at one in the street.

As for the Scottish Sun; I have said here on many occasions; the only way to stop these people is to stop buying their publications. That means not only you as a Celtic fan; it also means your family and friends; your work mates or people you see in the pub; in fact anyone you can influence to stop buying it; then do so.

That takes me to the SFA and their treatment of Neil Lennon yesterday. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the revenge for Dallas and Dougie; well they have now stepped up their unfair treatment of Celtic FC and our staff. Stewart Regan has been talking about the need for the overhaul of the systems; which we have been pushing for; well yesterday was another example of that unfair treatment when our manager was suspended for 6 matches for a first offence; as the Celtic statement said “Unprecedented”.

Celtic have already appealed and it’s in the hands of their lawyers, but we as supporters have a part to play as well. We keep saying we won’t accept unfair treatment; but we keep going back and doing exactly the same things as we have been doing; obviously in support of our team. But continuing to support the other teams in Scotland is just the same as continuing to fund the Sun newspaper.

I believe that one of the four man panel who dealt with Neil was the Kilmarnock Chairman Michael Johnston. Well we are scheduled to play Kilmarnock on March 2nd; a Wednesday night, ideal for a bhoycott by the Celtic supporters; it would give us the opportunity to let these people know exactly where they would be without the financial input of the Celtic support.

But let’s be honest about this, a bhoycott would only succeed with the backing of all the Celtic supporters; I know some people will say, I haven’t missed a game for twenty years, but there needs to be a sacrifice by us; to make these people realise that without us; a team like Kilmarnock would by playing against the likes of Dalry or Largs in the A*rshire Junior League.

At this stage the Association has not voted on this policy, I will put it before the EC and member branches very shortly. I would be delighted to hear the thoughts of all the other supporters groups; and of supporters who travel independently to gauge the level of support for such action.”

I have chosen to embolden part of the text, as this incensed me on a more personal level.

The fact that Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston was on the panel which disciplined the Celtic manager, was rather irrelevant. This tirade by Joe O’Rourke, and that’s what it is a tirade, fails to mention Stephen Thompson and Scott Struthers; Chairman of Dundee United and Secretary of Hamilton Academicals also sat on the board. Why focus on the Kilmarnock chairman? Regardless of the motive, they have singled this game out as perfect for a boycott. Interestingly, they picked out a midweek away fixture to Kilmarnock as a boycott last year. Until of course it transpired it would be Robbie Keane’s debut match, then any thought of a boycott went out of the window.

I’m sure the few thousand Rugby Park regulars would be more than happy to see the

Killie Chairman faces a boycott

Celtic fans boycott this game. The environment and atmosphere when either half of the Old Firm come to visit is antagonistic, unpleasant and intimidating. Maybe this no-show would encourage more home fans to come out, knowing they won’t have to suffer this horrendous atmosphere on their own doorsteps.

I would however like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Celtic fans for sticking to their principles;

But continuing to support the other teams in Scotland is just the same as continuing to fund the Sun newspaper.

That’ll be the reason they didn’t sell their allocation for the Berwick game then, good on them.

I am choosing not to respond to the remark about Kilmarnock FC’s credentials as a Junior team, as any self respecting Scottish football fan will dismiss this remark as the nonsense it so clearly is

The self proclaimed greatest supporters in the world, looking for yet another excuse not to support the team.

Leave a comment below or to the left!

Cup Fever

6 Jan

So with January comes the obligatory transfer rumours, as fans demand change to pick their clubs fortunes up, or in other cases demand they hold on to their best players. But, it’s an exciting month ON the pitch too. The 4th round of the Scottish cup kicks off, and the SPL teams make their first foray into this years tournament.

The so called ‘big teams’ won’t be expecting an easy ride though, as cup football goes hand in hand with cup shocks.

Here, I have a look at some of the big ones.

BERWICK RANGERS 1 RANGERS 0 – Scottish Cup first round 1967.

Still regarded as one of the biggest shock in Scottish Footballing history. Sammy Reid bagged the goal that knocked Rangers out of the cup, and bagged himself a place in Berwick folklore. The sides met again in 2002 at Sheilfield park, and the Borders side earned a replay at Ibrox after a 0-0 draw. This weekend Berwick face Celtic, could another shock be on the cards?

Sun Headline

CELTIC 1 – 3 INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE – Scottish Cup third round,  2000.

First division Inverness put the Hoops to the sword, who in turn axed manager John Barnes after this result. Which stands as one of the biggest in the history of Inverness and one which Celtic would like to forget. Inverness led for the entire game against a Celtic team in dissaray, prompting the famous headline; ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious’.

INVERNESS CT 1 CELTIC 0 – Scottish Cup quarter-final, 2003.

The Highlanders done it again, knocking out Celtic who were fresh from a win at Anfield. Martin O’Neill made changes to his squad, and lightening struck twice for the Glasgow giants.

QUEEN OF THE SOUTH 4  ABERDEEN 3- Scottish Cup semi-final, 2008.

1st division Queen of the South reached their first ever Scottish Cup Final, defeating Premier League Aberdeen in this thriller. A match which Dons captain Zander Diamond called his lowest moment in football. Playing for Aberdeen, that really is saying something.

CELTIC 0 FALKIRK 1 – Scottish Cup semi-final replay, 1997.

Falkirk looked to have blown their best chance of securing a semi-final shock over Celtic in the 1-1 draw in the first game. But in the replay, Bairns striker Paul McGrillen scored the only goal in the 19th minute to send the Division One side through to the final against Kilmarnock. Full highlights here.

STENHOUSEMUIR 2 ABERDEEN 0 – Scottish Cup fourth round, 1995.

A capacity crowd at Ochilview Park saw Second division Stenhousemuir saw striker Tommy Steele score twice. Inflicting one of the most embarassing defeats for Aberdeen in recent history, bagging Stenny a clash against Hibs.

CLYDE 2 CELTIC 1 – Scottish Cup third round, 2006.

Celtic feature again, as Roy Keane’s debut match for Celtic saw his side slump to a stunning defeat. Graeme Roberts’ Clyde side dominated, as Eddie Malone and current Killie captain Craig Bryson bagged the goals.

RANGERS 0 HAMILTON 1 – Scottish Cup third round, 1987.

An Adrian Sprott goal sank Graeme Souness’ side in a  famous Ibrox victory for Hamilton. The Glasgow side went on to win the league that year, and Hamilton saw themselves relegated.

Tell me your favourite Scottish cup shock below! Leave a comment saying why, use the ‘comment’ link below, or to the left!