Wednesday, October 10, 2012
This week in North of the Border, Third Division life gets crazy for Rangers while Hibs' Gary Deegan had an eventful day.
After drawing their first three away fixtures in the Third Division, Rangers' adventure in the bottom tier of Scottish football got crazy this week when they lost to the very worst team in the country. Stirling Albion had three points from their first six games. Their manager, Greig McDonald, was not at the game as he was getting married. Nothing about this made any sense.
Football usually boils down to that old addage associated with Bill Clinton: it's the economy, stupid. The rise of Chelsea and Manchester City to the top table of English football was powered by cash. The dominance of the Old Firm in the top league in Scotland for a quarter of a century is down to the fact that they emphatically outspent everyone else. Since Rangers left that party and reformed in the Third Division, their economic advantage over their competitors has become perhaps unrivalled in world football. They play to full houses of over 40,000 at Ibrox and pay their best players upwards of £5,000 per week. They play against teams whose attendances average in the low three-figures, whose players make most of their money in day jobs. Brian Allison, whose scrambled goal from a corner won the game, was sent home from his work on Monday when his boss lost patience with the number of congratulatory phone calls coming in.
This result has been in the post. The packed houses at Ibrox seem to remind the players Rangers signed during the summer of their stature. Away from that environment, the ramshackle stadiums of the Third Division apparently confuse their sense of self-worth. Clearly, opponents see each such fixture as their chance for a shot at the champ and come out swinging. Some of the challenges in the Stirling match were horrific - two of them should have produced red cards.
Yet Rangers would be wise not to mention refereeing decisions, excellent performances by opposing goalkeepers or bad breaks. They started the match in Stirling with five internationals, and brought two more off the bench. The all-powerful market places these players on a different planet to their opponents.
The same force dictates that Rangers will win their league and step up a division - maybe get even closer to the SPL if shadowy restructuring plans are rushed through. What we are seeing just now may amount in the end to little more than some kind of sociological experiment.
And as long as they are in a position to be promoted, there will surely be no pressure on Ally McCoist, the manager of Rangers, regardless of how little bang his players produce for their bucks. The club's all-time top goalscorer and assistant manager under Walter Smith, McCoist's endorsement gave Charles Green and his consortium traction with the Rangers supporters and allowed this show to get on the road in the first place. For now it remains unmissable viewing, but not for the reasons they had hoped.
Gary Deegan had an eventful little Saturday. He spent the afternoon bossing the midfield as Hibernian went top of the SPL with a 3-0 win over Dundee. The Dubliner's central partnership with Jorge Claros is tight and protective, a big part of the massive turnaround in the Hibs team this season.
Before Celtic had the chance to regain the top spot the following day, Deegan went out with several team-mates in Edinburgh. Outside a nightclub, at 3am, his jaw was broken by a man who is now being sought by police. Deegan ended his adventure in hospital, where he was operated on.
Hibs will miss Deegan for a number of weeks and be a poorer team for it.
Aberdeen's third successive win took them to third in the SPL and focused more attention on their breakthrough star, Ryan Fraser. Fraser was introduced into the first team during pre-season and is now a first-pick. He is 18, 5ft 4in tall and an old school winger who can go either side of his full-back and has a fine cross. Aberdeen's claims that he has already been targeted by opposition teams carry weight.
Their problem is that Fraser is already a target for more dangerous hunters. Aberdeen have opened talks with the player over an extended contract, but already they appear to be in deep and familiar waters.
Last summer, Fraser Fyvie, another academy graduate, was sold to Wigan Athletic as he entered the final six months of his contract with no intention to sign another one. Like Fraser, Fyvie was born in Aberdeen - exactly the kind of player the club has to retain until their early 20s if they are to maximise returns on the field and in the transfer market. Instead, Fyvie left at the age of 19, with only 58 appearances for the club who developed him.
Also this year, Jack Grimmer, a hugely promising midfielder, was sold to Fulham at the age of 18, before playing his fifth game for the club. Grimmer, too, was born and raised in the city.
Craig Brown, the Aberdeen manager, says that Fraser has more than a year left on his contract. However, the young player will not have to listen hard to hear voices telling him what riches lie away from Pittodrie - and Scotland - if he plays on without signing anything else. That would be another huge blow to Aberdeen, a loss to Scottish football and, in all likelihood, of detriment to the development of a promising but unproven talent.