I had a seat in the Main Stand at Meadow Lane yesterday, as I’ve got into the habit of late, for the Notts County v Fleetwood game. With yet another fresh season upon us, those with an interest will recognise the sterling efforts of the boys of 2013-14 to keep the old club afloat in League Division One before what seemed like an impossible task at regular intervals came to pass, with the team and manager eventually doing themselves proud – with the club seemingly readying itself for what appeared inevitable relegation.
So it was with some optimism, notwithstanding the huge turnover of players at Meadow, that I alighted the Nottingham tram at Station Street and walked alongside the canal by a busy London Road on a pleasant, part-sunny August afternoon. Meeting my friends at the busy Trent Navigation pub on Meadow Lane, adjacent the ground, it was good to catch up after what seemed a very brief close season.
Pensive – Notts manager, Shaun Derry
It wasn’t an auspicious start for the Magpies however, the first home league game of the season ending in an insipid and dull 0-1 defeat. Notts, in my humble opinion, lost some very decent players over the course of the close season and whilst it was always going to be difficult to adequately replace one or two of them, I expected a little more fight, urgency and determination from a side put out there by Shaun Derry, a man who’s attitude and integrity I’ve come to respect.
For the opening home game and considering Notts’ terrific and successful fight against relegation last term, I was a tad surprised at many supporters’ criticism of Derry at this early point, both in the ground and online afterwards. For me, he’s done a very decent job so far with few resources. Shaun, being a former Notts player and brought up a gritty local lad appears to ‘get’ Notts and the club’s fans better than most I’ve observed. Probably in common with many others, I’d originally viewed him as another, slightly strange, left-field choice – or more likely a cheap option – but I’ve enjoyed the way he talks about Notts and more importantly, what he seems to instil into the players in black and white stripes.
‘The Great Escape’ of 2013-14
For the event itself, there is little I can impart that would make it sound like an exciting affair. Notts, though reasonably secure in defence, manifested a great lack of creativity in the middle of the field in particular and were fairly toothless up front too with Jimmy Spencer-replacement, Jake Cassidy having a somewhat lean afternoon. In truth it was extremely poor fare, particularly in the opening half with Notts seemingly unable to string more than a couple of passes together. The Magpies’ engine room huffed and puffed but showed a lack of energy, drive and in particular, subtlety which does not bode well for the coming winter. Notts missed their wide outlets of last season, appearing for a good deal of the game to play a more compressed style. It must be said that there were few, if any, highlights or eye-catching individual performances.
The typically bold, Derry substitutions of bringing on Balmy and Ismail in the second half brought about a short-lived improvement in the side and a little more life to the proceedings but ultimately, Fleetwood ran out with a deserved single goal victory which could hardly have been denied them. It’s early days with the season but an infant currently, first signs however, appear that the level of player brought in will see the Magpies endure another uncomfortable season. One hopes for better.
Without major improvements, sad to say, Notts County will be ‘digging tunnels’ once more when the season moves towards the sharp end…
As a footnote. I’d like to pay tribute to club stalwart of so many years, John Mounteney who passed away last week. His stewardship of the club will be remembered and appreciated by all. John was that most rare of individuals in the modern game, a gentleman and one-club man for many, many decades. Sincere condolences go to his family and friends, Rest in Peace, John.
I’D LIKE TO ASK A QUESTION regarding Scottish independence – because I’m confused.
Every day I look at my Facebook page and Twitter feed, I read Scottish-based internet forums and online newspapers and come into contact many times daily with the views of a wide range of people in Scotland about all manner of things, obviously, especially the subject of independence for a good while now.
I see the polls and I look at the betting odds on the referendum. These consistently indicate a potential victory for the ‘No’ vote – not by much and certainly narrowing but consistent in their ratings of a few per cent in favour of staying together. They do not however, reflect what I am viewing and hearing from here – not even remotely so. I may have kindred views about many things with many of my friends in Scotland who I am in contact with regularly but by no means have my friends and acquaintances been chosen on the basis of their politics or opinion regarding the referendum. Indeed many of these people have been friends for a good number of years now and all we perhaps usually had in common outwardly originally was a liking for a certain football team in Edinburgh who play in green and white.
So here I am a few miles down the road in Nottingham, wondering exactly what is going on here? There is NOTHING about these forecasts that rings true to me from my personal experiences with the people I know who have a vote. To that end I have also observed every dirty trick in the book being played in the long run-up to this crucial vote that will decide the future of these islands and it leads me to believe that the above projection on the likely outcome on 18th September, 2014 is quite likely another piece of subterfuge – another grand lie intended to dupe the Scottish electorate into believing there is no hope of independence. Take the wind out of the sails of the ‘Yes’ vote. This and other Better Together strategies appears to have achieved little but galvanise the cause of independence, so insulting, threatening and condescending in tone have they generally been.
I’ve made my own views clear previously that I wish for independence for Scotland, I hope obviously then that the majority of Scottish people who read these words feel similar. Having said that this is still a democracy so respect to those that don’t share my view. In the meantime I’d genuinely love to hear an opinion or two on this conundrum? Am I inclined towards paranoia or is this the greatest lie of them all? After all, what part of the establishment can really be trusted now?
I’m not really looking for a debate on the whys and wherefores of Scottish independence here as others will debate that much better than me. The above is a question I’m curious as to other’s opinions about though.
ON THIS DAY that we remember and hopefully learn from the declaration of World War One, exactly one hundred years ago today, my thoughts go to my grandfather, Henry (Harry) Frew of Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland. Grandad was a Gordon Highlander who served on the Western Front in ‘The war to end war’ – that most honourable and decorated of Highland regiments with their proud motto emblazoned on the Gordon badge, ‘Bydand’, which means ‘Bide and Fecht’ in Scots – literally ‘Stand and Fight’.
In truth, it’s so very little of my father’s father I know and my memories of him are scant as he died when I was a young boy but those memories that have survived are incredibly vivid. A big man, one of the first images that set in my mind of him are when at his home one day he took out his old Gordon army kilt and showed me how he got into it in the old days. Laying down on the floor on what seemed to my young eyes like yards and yards of thick green plaid material, he belted it up and draped it over him just like he would have done in those former days.
It was an impressive sight indeed and one I have never forgotten.
Life was by no means easy for young Harry. His lost his wife Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Archibald who worked as Head Seamstress at the impressive and iconic North British Hotel on Princes Street in Edinburgh when they had a young family of two boys aged just four and six years old. Those young laddies were my dad, John and his older brother, Alexander ‘Sandy’. Eventually, Harry remarried and had no less than eight more additions to the family – all boys excepting one girl. The family spent some time near Bellshill in Lanarkshire with Harry, I understand, going about his old business as a coal miner.
Harry was an expert ballroom dancer and would give dancing tuition. My mother would often tell of the times he would take her to Barrowlands in Glasgow for the dancing.
In later life, to keep him our of mischief, he took a part-time job at the local cemetery near Bellshill. A man of very dry wit, I came across a beautifully hand-written letter to my mum and dad in England in later years. Asked how ‘business’ was at the cemetery he comically replied, ‘it’s alright son but we’d be a lot busier if they weren’t burning so many up the road at the crematorium’!
Living in Lanarkshire he didn’t get the opportunity so often to see his beloved Hibs and adopted nearby Motherwell FC as his ‘second team’. I guess for that reason I still don’t mind seeing the ‘Well experiencing a bit of success.
The word ‘Bydand’ is inextricably linked with his old regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, the regiment for whom he was highly decorated for bravery though you wouldn’t know it because he would never mention it, being a modest man. It holds great meaning for me as I see it as an honest approach to life itself – to stand and fight. We all of us have experienced our difficult and trying times – heaven knows I could write a small handbook on that of late – and the mark of us is what we do during those times and how we react. When the world and its workings appear against you, you must ‘stand and fight’ – face your problems with bravery, courage and honesty. Always stand and fight – never give in – face up and never run. Just like those Gordons.
That’s why my granpaw Harry, the motto ‘Bydand’ and the Gordon Highlanders mean so much to me.
In Loving Memory of Henry (Harry) Frew and his brave comrades. Lest we Forget.
Hibs played the second game of their pre-season programme at Berwick Rangers today – the ‘Wee Rangers’ and, as is often the case at this time of year, this was set up to be a slightly more taxing affair than the previous friendly fixture at Vale Of Leithen on Saturday of last week. I’m not sure what it is about these games but for me, apart from a very pleasant day out, they represent fresh beginnings and a renewed keenness to get back to the action after the summer break. Green shoots, indeed.
So it was today with a free and easy drive down the A1, music on, sunroof open, culminated by parking up curbside adjacent Hibs’ opposition today’s home, Shielfield Park. Spotting my friends as soon I walked over the grass into the park, we headed for a drink from Berwick’s comfortable social club, taking our drinks outside into the surprisingly warm sunshine. A healthy number of Hibees had evidently travelled to enjoy the day.
You see, this is the kind of thing I really miss at times. It’s not just watching the team, which is obviously the main point but the friendship and camaraderie of being amongst your ‘own’, enjoying the conversation with people who care about the same thing that you do and that understand why this club means so much. Why it is so special. I spent my afternoon with special people too – new friends and old. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated that as much as I do now, after the trials and tribulations provided by the first half of year 2014. The doctor appeared to order it for me.
Hibs, with a good proportion of first team regulars fielded, began the game brightly in their new bottle green strip which has split opinion. It is not my choice and it looks a little unfamiliar but hey, it’s still Hibs, make no mistake. This time next year it will be consigned to the past, such is modern football, awaiting it’s day as a ‘mint condition’ item on Ebay. It is what’s in the jerseys that matters of course and the little matter of over 130 years of history won’t disappear into the ether.
It will be recorded that Hibs ran out winners by four goals to nil with markers by newly signed right-back, David Gray, club captain, Liam Craig, Tom Gardiner and Lewis Allan. It’s always good to win any game but a pleasing feature of the ninety minutes was the Easter Road’s side’s willingness to play the ball along the ground, avoiding the somewhat crude style employed by Hibs’ previous management team. They’ll certainly court favour from me and a majority of fans, dare I say, if that continues.
A fond farewell to friends for a few days then and a cruise back down by the rugged and spectacular coastline, back over the border into Scotland. Yes, I do let out a little cheer when I’m heading the ‘right’ way. Spotting the familiar signs for Musselburgh, my family’s home town, from the main road I decided on a short redirect through the dear old place and a stop off for a little Luca ice cream from the Olympia Cafe.
You know what? Driving into the ‘Honest Toun’ I couldn’t help thinking my old dad would definitely approve of this allegiance it has been my lifetime pleasure to uphold – to Hibernian FC and yes, to Musselburgh. I couldn’t help but contrast the tough times my family knew here a century ago and me driving down the Musselburgh High Street in comfort in a shiny sports car. We are all the same though. I’m of them. He’d have been pleased to know where I was this afternoon, the people I was with and where I was afterwards. I know you’re watching, dad, I’m just keeping it in the family.
Saturday 5th July and as I was coincidentally travelling through the borders of Scotland, as my team played their first pre-season fixture of 2014-15 buta few miles away.
Just a point about the Hibs ‘Select XI’s victory by four goals yesterday at Vale of Leithen. Outwardly, the result doesn’t matter and on some levels that’s true. I recall sage words from Brian Clough however, who stated that maximum effort to win ALL games is the way to go. In his view, winning was habitual – it becomes a good habit – better off learnt and adhered to. In every single ‘tin pot’ game, Forest played in they were sent out to win and win well, with style.
I agree with Old big ‘ed. Well done to Hibs on a positive first day back and good to see the old, established, Vale Of Leithen FC in Scotland’s pretty borders swell their funds on the day. A pleasant afternoon out too for reportedly 1,300 Hibs supporters, getting back to some ‘proper’ football after all this World Cup business!
Onwards and upwards.
It’s ‘Flaming June’ 2014 version and my local running spot at nearby Bestwood comes into its own on these beautiful, sunny and relaxed evenings. Nominated as a country park a good few moons ago, it will always be plain old ‘Bestwood’ to me. A patch of the old Sherwood Forest which lies but a few minutes from where I live that is satisfying accessible.
In truth, I love the place at all times of year, the former royal hunting estate and retreat of many a notable over hundreds of years of history looks gorgeous when coated in a thick layer of snow for instance. Spring has its own translucent green freshness whilst some might say Autumn is the richest time of all. It’s the dog days of summer that most appeal to me though as I trot along the dry, dusty paths bordered by lush green fields and thick forestry of Oaks, Chestnuts and Birch to name but a few of the ancient trees.
Within a few moments in this place, I forget the hardships of the day and wind down with copious amounts of fresh air, the sound of skylarks and lapwings and the sight of an odd walker or horse rider. The air at this time of year feels invigorating and highly scented with the delicate fragrances of the old hedgerows. It is the perfect tonic and antidote to the unfortunate stresses of the day that never seem to go away otherwise
The sun finally sets over Bestwood, it is time to return home.
IN THE OLD IRISH TRADITION of Hibernian, a wreath of flowers in the shape of a broken harp would be presented at a funeral as a mark of respect. Yesterday’s events when, to quote the old ironic phrase, Hibs, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, was not a funeral but was nevertheless a sad and emotional culmination of several years of struggle for the club.
It’s difficult to write these word without showing anger at the catastrophic mismanagement of the team and the club as a whole but in the twilight of this ignominious period in Hibernian history that anger is reverting to the familiar frustration by myself and, dare I say, a majority of the support.
After angry scenes of protest outside Easter Road last evening we awoke to news that there are staff meetings scheduled at the training centre at East Mains today. Already the media informs us that no less than fourteen players are invited or ordered to end their association with Hibs. There are many fans that wished for this after one abject display after another over a series of months and who can blame them? For me though, the problem is that the man with a great shared responsibility for the club’s demise is the individual serving the ‘don’t come Monday’ messages in Manager, Terry Butcher. It’s an indication, however accurate or otherwise that he is being relied on to rebuild the Hibs – a gargantuan order that I don’t think he is fit be tasked with.
Since arriving at Easter Road I cannot think of one single positive that Butcher or his cohorts Malpas and Marsella have brought to the team. There is simply nothing. They have however brought disarray, discord, indecision and a brand of football that I can only describe as ‘prehistoric’. A (the) main tactic appears to be to dumping the ball into the opposite team’s corners in an attempt to create ‘pressure’. Former Hibs and Hearts midfielder, Mikey Stewart correctly identified this mediocre thinking on Sportscene last evening and added the sentiment that it’s the type of football that ‘deserves nothing’. I am much in agreement with Stewart.
The game itself against Hamilton featured a litany of managerial errors that cost Hibs dearly. cost the team it’s SPFL status in fact, and I remain amazed that this fact isn’t recognised by Rod Petrie and his fellow board members. Those questionable decisions included not selecting the old head and steady experience of Kevin Thomson for such a fraught affair – a man who might well have brought the ball down a little and protected his teammates. Butcher also mystifyingly returned Danny Haynes to the team from nowhere to replace out of confidence youngster, Alex Harris – a strange move indeed and surely either Cairney, who can play a similar position or the aforementioned Thomson would have been superior choices. Within minutes Haynes was being helped from the pitch injured so what did Butcher do? Yes, pitch Harris back into a white-hot relegation battle. For a man who proposes to understand a little psychology and use it with his players I found this, again, mystifying. Embarrassingly, he had to substitute his substitute later in the game. One hopes that Alex hasn’t been set back too far by his treatment by Butcher in general this season. How to ruin a young player’s development.
In the first leg, another youngster, Jason Cummings, happily broke his duck for the first team with a fine brace of goals. What did Butcher then do for this game? Play him further back in front of his own left-back in order that he could keep his treasured 5-4-1 formation, therefore rendering the keen young forward impotent as an offensive threat. Later in the game with Hibs having formerly clearly played for a draw and now desperately playing for a 0-1 defeat, the manager pulled the experienced and intelligent play of Heffernan from the action to be replaced by his favoured defensive midfielder Tudur Jones, leaving Hibs vulnerable with little goal threat should extra time have been necessary, which it proved to be.
Full marks should be given to Hamilton who played good, attractive, neat football at all times and passed it around and through their Hibs counterparts. It looked a sophisticated style when compared to Hibs’ leaden lumping of the ball forward, rendering possession to the opposition time after time.
After an excruciating two periods of extra time we finally came down to the almost inevitable penalty shoot-out and here again, Butcher showed his incredible lack of know-how for a man of his experience in the game. The club’s regular and arguably best penalty taker, Craig was not chosen to take the first penalty with Thomson gamely stepping up to take responsibility for getting the team on its way. The inevitable happened, with Thomson not being a regular penalty taker. Sadly, it came down to young Cummings again to take the do or die fifth spot kick and I felt this was a huge strain on an 18-year-old youngster – unforgivable really. He missed his kick, hid his face in floods of tears and Hibs were relegated. What a way to hang the young man out to dry.
So, the future and who knows, this piece may be out of date very quickly but it appears that at the time of writing the Butcher-Petrie axis remains with us. I have the strong feeling that the former Rangers man employs a somewhat ‘bullying’ style of management and this concerns me if so. There will always be players that can cope with that but others that cannot. That’s the way it is. I recall dear old Brian Clough at Forest terrifying some of his players at times – even to the point of the like of England international, Viv Anderson hiding under a desk when he heard Clough approaching but the big difference was that those same players had respect for their manager. I don’t think that exists with Butcher and the Hibs players. They appear to hate him and he them. The same feelings appear to surround coach, Malpas who has specialised in having run-ins with fans in the seats around the dug-out. Classy indeed.
I’ve said enough regarding this sad and disturbing part of Hibs history but of course there is one man culpable more than any other who I’ve barely mentioned – Rod Petrie. I have plenty to say about him for another time as it seems we are stuck with him still – even though he has brought in the interesting character of Leeann Dempster in order to deflect flak from himself. From the club’s owner, to him and his board, the management staff and the players, all have critically underperformed. In fact the only people who haven’t are the fans. I salute them – especially the ones who can find it in themselves to continue supporting this club after one abject humiliation heaped upon another.
God bless the Hibs.
THE ONLY THING that’s predictable about Hibernian is perhaps the team’s unpredictability and this was again shown (at long last) when taking on Hamilton Academical in the first leg of a crucial play-off decider between the Championship side and a Hibs outfit woefully short of belief and form over the past few tortuous months. Let it not be understated, the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Scottish Cup notwithstanding, this fixture and it’s second episode on Sunday are gigantic in their importance with defeat over two legs almost unthinkable. Clearly, such an outcome could set the Leith club back years – if not decades in terms of achievement and finance. ‘Absolutely crucial’ is the term dancing on my lips when considering the pivotal nature of the result.
Hibs’ Paul Heffernan
It’s recorded now, of course, that the Easter Road men finally remembered how to win again in the first leg. Heck, they recalled how to put the ball in the back of the net even. On this occasion, 18-year old Jason Cummings providing the firepower with a very welcome initial brace for the first team – something he’s promised for some little time. Well done him forgiving the whole club and it’s supporters a huge and timely lift.
Personally, I was stuck at home in Nottingham whilst the drama was unfolding at New Douglas Park. I did however have the very best and most reliable internet live stream I’ve ever had in a month of Wednesdays so obviously God was looking down favourably on my oasis amidst a Hibee desert. It’s been said by many that the performance was unimportant on the night and of course this has, for once, to be agreed with. Survival in the top flight is all and playing pretty and intricate football can wait for another time. Although many of the usual failings were present and let’s be serious, those shortcomings weren’t going to dematerialise overnight, there were some positive signs visible. I thought Paul Heffernan played an excellent, intelligent striker’s role, working the channels and giving the team different offensive options than the very basic lump-it-forward stuff that we have suffered for what seems an eternity. Alongside him, Cummings, apart from his two goals gave a lively, spirited performance and made himself a constant nuisance to the Hamilton rear-guard. Generally, there was a greater tempo about Hibs than in recent games, commensurate with the type of performance required on the night.
As I write, the Hibernian faithful are buying up tickets fast for the second leg at dear old Easter Road. They will be our twelfth man and no disrespect to Hamilton who play some neat football, I believe they will make the difference that see Hibernian over the finish line safely and looking forward with some expectancy towards next season’s campaign and a (hopefully) new broom with fresh ideas in the shape of Leeann Dempster overseeing operations at Hibs.
One last big effort lads.
God bless the Hibs.
1. You find that you talk to yourself in the absence of your partner. You wander around the house asking her questions. There are no answers.
2. You have upsetting images that flashback into your mind of when you had to identify your partner at the hospital. The images destroy you. You wonder if the sight of your breathless partner will ever leave you, to be replaced by the smiling image you remember.
3. You find yourself constantly asking yourself the questions ‘What if I could have done something?’ and ‘Why did you do this to yourself/me/your children?’
4. You feel so low at first that simple everyday things like keeping yourself clean seem like a huge task.
5. There are many times when you feel like taking your own life, so impossible do things seem. You consider different methods of doing this.
6. Eating becomes something to just survive. You don’t want to spend any time preparing proper food and you take solace in junk food. The microwave is your salvation.
7. Many of your long time neighbours avoid you. They push their children into the house when they see you walking up the road so that they can avoid talking to you because it’s ‘awkward’.
8. You wonder how you are going to be able to manage at work, ever, any more.
9. You cry when you least expect it, frequently. Even after a period of time when you think you’re ‘getting over it’ the tears squeeze out of your eyes unexpectedly when you have certain thoughts or are reminded of her in some unexpected way. You even cry at the nice things people say to you.
10. You find it difficult to listen to music because you associate the lyrics with you and your lost partner. The chords feel like a soundtrack to your broken life.
11. Even though you have friends and family you often feel so lonely, especially when you’re going back to that empty house once more. You can go a whole weekend barely speaking to anybody. You feel slightly powerless to do anything about this.
12. Anxiety is your normal state, you find yourself panicking about most things, often without specific reason.
13. Your life becomes narrow. Those country walks are no more, the meals out, the cinema. Holidays appear to be a thing that you used to do.
14. You become fatalistic about life and wonder if this is now all there is for you? That the game is over? You’re on your own until the lights finally go out.
15. You keep trying. You go to work on time, do your chores at home wherever possible, shop for food, tackle that garden as best you can. It all feels rather pointless. It isn’t for anybody else’s sake and you don’t care about yourself.
16. Your finances are in shock mode as you gain unexpected expenses whilst at the same time losing a household income.
17. You believe that you are not going to get through this ordeal. This feeling is revisited every day. Day after day.
18. Her clothing and possessions have to be sorted. This task feels heartless – like you are throwing your memories of being together away. Like you don’t care, but you do.
19. You begin to look at the people you know differently. Almost subconsciously you practise zero tolerance with people you feel have wronged you or ignored you at your time of need. Good people come to the fore, the genuine friends prove themselves time over. One or two new people enter your life, show caring and give you some hope.
20. You write a piece like this but don’t know exactly why. You’re almost beyond caring if anybody reads it. You could write twenty more.
IT’S NOT TOO OFTEN THAT you can experience a bit of pleasure from the simple task of waiting for a bus but that interminable wait has recently been made a little easier at Nottingham’s Victoria Bus Station. Not particularly impressive in any way, the building has just received a half-million pound facelift with a few visible improvements for commuters such as updated electronic screens etc. One nice little addition however is the inclusion of some piped music through the place and here they seem to really have it right! I really need to shake the hand of the person who chooses what we listen to!
I’m not going to say that waiting patiently for buses is my favourite pastime but I guess it just got a little bit more pleasant. Here’s the selection of sweet soul music regaling my ears this evening before the journey home.
1. THE TRACKS OF MY TEARS – SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES
First released in 1965, when I first began reading the music press in the mid-seventies this thing of beauty was regularly placed at number one in polls to determine the best-ever pop song. This song represents the absolute epitome of Smokey’s long career and it’s a song that still moves me personally. As an aside, Big Country did a fabulous version of it that’s well worth consideration.
2. REFLECTIONS – THE SUPREMES
Just two years later in 1967, Hitsville USA produced this glitzy, glamorous waxing by The Supremes, surely the stereotypical and best Tamla girl group of them al headed by soul queen Diana Ross. It still serves to send a shiver through the listener.
3. LET’S GET IT ON – MARVIN GAYE
For sweet sophisticated soul and (ahem) late night listening, it really doesn’t get any better than Brother Marvin’s Let’s Get It On, taken from the album of the same name. Marvin Gaye was of Tamla Motown’s royal family if there every could be such a thing. His troubled life ended too early but not before leaving us with a wealth of wonderful songs.