December 29th 2019. Celtic 1 – 2 Rangers. An incredible performance by Steven Gerrard’s side at Celtic Park who in truth blew Celtic away in central areas of the pitch on the day to thoroughly deserve their victory.

Crucially, victory at Celtic Park put Rangers within 2 points of Celtic with a game in hand. At long last, the chance for Rangers to be the torch bearers in the SPFL title race once again seemed upon us.

A jubilant Gerrard celebrated a crucial victory over Celtic at Parkhead on the 29th of December.

I even wrote an article at the time stating that Rangers won the Glasgow Derby battle and that Celtic simply HAD to win the January transfer window war. You can read that article here – https://cfbfootball.com/2019/12/30/rangers-win-the-battle-now-celtic-simply-have-to-win-the-january-window-war/

But when you look at Celtic’s business in January – the arrivals of relatively unknown Ismailia Soro and Patryk Klimala – you would hardly say that the Celtic board backed Neil Lennon and the club to such an extent that they had blown Rangers out of the park in the window.

Just as I said in my previous article, Rangers had to keep their key men fit and at the club – Jack, Morelos and Kamara – and they did. So what changed?

Both Celtic and Rangers ventured to Dubai for a winter break but only one of the sides has returned from that break looking fit and firing while the other has returned and performed as if they are at breaking point.

Since the break Celtic have scored 27 goals and conceded 3 and won 8 games on the bounce in all competitions. Meanwhile, on the other hand Rangers have scored just 12 goals, conceded 6 and have won 5 out of their last 8 games in all competitions- losing two crucial league games to Hearts and Kilmarnock while drawing another at home to Aberdeen. The question surely has to be why?

During the break, both Glasgow giants went to same location at the same time with the ascendancy seeming at the start of the winter break appearing to lie with Rangers. Furthermore, as stated earlier Celtic hardly blew their rivals out of the water in the January transfer market. So how can we now be in a position within a matter of weeks that Rangers trail Celtic by 10 points – albeit with a game in hand.

The responsibility for that – in my view – lies at the door of one man – Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard was a world class footballer – one of the very best in class – and he may well grow into being a world class manager as well. I would also add that he has undisputedly improved Rangers as a footballing entity to the point that they are rightfully considering serious challengers for the major trophies in Scotland again which wasn’t the case under Pedro Caixinha. So, in that regard he’s done his job to an extent but failure to win a single trophy this season – barring an incredible Europa League run- would mean that Gerrard’s position would have to be untenable.

No Rangers manager who succumbs to 9 in a row is surely the man fans would have confidence in to stop a potential 10 in a row? I could be wrong of course but that’s how I see things from the outside looking in regardless of much of a footballing legend Gerrard is.

If my prediction is true that a trophy-less season would result in Gerrard leaving Ibrox then there is only one many who I think could realistically galvanise Rangers as a club and a fan base to stop Celtic achieving a potential 10 in a row. That man is Walter Smith.

Whether Walter Smith would risk his status as unquestionably one of Rangers greatest ever managers to try and stop a Celtic bid for 10 in a row is ultimately unknown and only Smith himself could answer that.

However, one thing is for sure the question at the very least will have to be posed to Walter Smith in my mind if Rangers indifferent form under Gerrard continues. The next 3 months of the season are massive not only for Gerrard and his fate at Rangers but also for Scottish Football as a whole because if Celtic do win 9 in a row and are going for a potential 10 in a row then for me we will enter the most important and high profile season arguably in modern Scottish football history next season with so much to gain for one side and so much to lose for the other.

“What do teams like Hamilton and Livingston do for our image of football in Scotland?”

“Teams with low attendances don’t belong in our top flight!”

“It’s a shambles that big teams like Dundee Utd and Falkirk are in the lower leagues at the expense of Hamilton and Livingston.”

These are just some of the views you are regularly online or on message boards regarding the so called merit of smaller clubs like Hamilton and Livingston playing in our top flight.

However, when did attendances replace on the pitch performances as merit for a team in any league? Football without the fans is nothing as the legendary Jock Stein famously said and that statement is entirely true as fans are the game. But, at times I think critics forget that Hamilton and Livingston do have very passionate fans – albeit not as many as some of our so called bigger clubs like Kilmarnock, Hearts, Hibs, etc.

Critics of these clubs also forget that lower attendances lead to lower playing budgets and lower scouting budgets which should inevitably lead to sides like Hamilton and Livi with their fan bases being stuck in the lower reaches of Scottish football as that realistically should be their so called natural glass ceiling based on attendances. However, both sides have consistently shown over the last few years that such glass ceilings – thankfully – do not exist in Scottish football.

Both clubs might not always sell out their stadiums but that is irrelevant in regards to their on pitch performances.

Like attendances, Hamilton and Livingston have two of the lowest wage bills in the Scottish Premiership and even trail behind the wage bills of some clubs in the Scottish Championship yet that doesn’t stop them from competing year on year in our top flight and for me that should be celebrated.

Take Livingston first of all, under David Hopkin they were promoted from league 1 to the premiership in consecutive seasons with a nucleus of players who stuck together from the lower leagues. A wonderful achievement.

Follow that up with Hamilton, who regularly produce high quality young talents from their academy to help sustain consistent top flight football. An equally wonderful achievement.

Moments of success for both clubs in recent years.

Both clubs have shown that you don’t need a blank cheque book and 5,000 season ticket holders to be taken seriously within the top flight in Scotland and earn the right to stay there. Clever recruitment, local community values and believing in young Scottish talent are three major values that both clubs hold and have reaped the benefit of and I for one believe that this should be celebrated and praised in a footballing landscape within the UK were far too often we see unsustainable levels of money spent to try and achieve success – see Bury, Gretna and many others in the modern era as evidence of that and the stark consequences that brings for the fans of these clubs.

I would like to conclude by repeating my opening statement – performances not attendances represent footballing merit and both Hamilton and Livingston are incredibly well run examples of this in action. If only other clubs and critics of our game around the UK and beyond would take note. Football would be a better place if they did…

Can Raith finally return to the Championship?

The return of Raith Rovers?

Ant and Dec. Tea and Toast. Raith Rovers and John McGlynn.

Somethings are just better together for whatever reason.

John McGlynn in his first spell as Raith manager

Raith have suffered badly for quite a few years now following relegation from the championship under Gary Locke and then John Hughes in 2017.

Many football fans expected Raith to bounce back at the first attempt after they appointed Barry Smith as manager and announced the they were staying full time in a league with mostly part time opposition and Ian McCall’s Ayr looking to provide full time competition.

Overall, Smiths men lost fewer games than eventual league winners Ayr but it was a tale of far too many draws (9 in total) that left them in Ayr’s rear view mirror by a mere point when it really mattered. The disappointment of losing out on automatic promotion led to a hangover in the championship playoffs when they were beaten 4-1 by part time Alloa.

Fast forward to 18/19, surely now as the only full time side in the league Raith’s return would be sealed. However, the familiar tale of too many draws would again seal their fate of failing to return to the championship. 5 draws in the first 10 games of the season sealed Barry Smith’s fate as he left the club to be replaced by John McGlynn – a man who was very successful in his first spell as Raith manager with a win rate of 43% over six years from 2006 to 2012.

The question was: would McGlynn be able to work his magic with Raith again or would they be condemned to yet another few years in the dreaded league one bubble.

Well, McGlynn couldnt have got off to a better start with a 5-1 on his return away to Dumbarton that left many Rovers fans thinking their league one journey would finally end in season 2. Sadly for them, that wasn’t the case as the incredible Arbroath team put together by lower league legend Dick Campbell were simply too far ahead for McGlynn and raith to catch and they ended up winning the league by 10 points.

Another season of playoff disappointment ensued even under McGlynn as rovers fell to playoff final defeat to a Queen of the South side featuring the impressive Lyndon Dykes and the clinical Stephen Dobbie. Not that the season was a complete disappointment as the 3-0 hammering of rivals Dunfermline in the Scottish cup had fans daring the dream that the good times would be returning to Starks park very soon.

Jubilant scenes as Raith beat Dunfermline 3-0

This season though, things feel different. McGlynn has Raith sitting at the top of League 1 4 points ahead of big spending Falkirk – the side with all of the expectation considering their financial muscle in comparison to the feast of the teams in the league. Even a bad injury to Lewis Vaughan – one of the best lower league players in Scotland in my book – hasn’t halted their consistency. The side have played some very good football this season and have scored over 3 goals in 6 games so far this season and although they’ve conceded double the goals that Falkirk have their never say die spirit has kept them going even when times have got tough in games.

With only 12 games to go and their destiny in their hands, it would be hard to look past McGlynn taking Raith back to the Championship where they – at the very least – belong. Come what May, the question the return of Raith Rovers? will be answered one way or another but for what it’s worth, I believe that whether it’s automatically or through the playoffs that return is closer now than it ever has been over the last few turbulent years.

All Football CFB podcasts are available at https://anchor.fm/footballCFB and on the twitter @football_cfb

Tune in to the Morton weekly podcast HERE – https://anchor.fm/footballCFB

I sit down with Anton and David to discuss a range of issues from what their roles are with the club on a daily basis, how David Hopkin is shaping Morton now and for the future as well as this Callum also puts fans questions directly to both men. Enjoy!

All Morton weekly and football CFB podcasts available here – ahttps://anchor.fm/footballCFB

This weekend each of the Scottish cup games started one minute later than usual to promote the mental health awareness campaign: Heads up.

Such a campaign in football and in society in general has to be welcomed as the figures at the moment are stark: in the UK alone it is said that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue each year.

I myself have experienced a battle with mental health over the last 12 months and having started the Football CFB podcast in late 2019, I have further realised just how important it is to speak about mental health issues and to encourage those struggling to release that it’s okay not to be okay.

For example on my podcasts with Kerr Waddell and Christian Nade – both players spoke openly and admirably on their own battles with mental health.

On the football CFB podcast, Christian Nade described battling with mental health as like being in a car crash except those around you can’t see the bruises and the bleeding but internally you feel it and you hurt like many people would never believe.

His view was echoed by Kerr Waddell – on another episode of the football CFB podcast – who spoke about how tough battling with an injury is for a footballer both mentally and physically. Kerr explained that “Everyone told me it was quite a bad injury but I couldn’t accept it.

“I knew I couldn’t play, I couldn’t even train, I couldn’t run and I could hardly get out of bed.

“I couldn’t get out of bed because of the injury but there were days when, because I felt so down about it, I couldn’t get out my bed mentally either.

“I just wanted to lie there all day. There were days that I just sat in bed for three days at a time

“I didn’t speak to anyone at all. I shut out all my family and I actually lost quite a few friends over it.”

Both players also discussed how tough it can be at first to talk out on mental health but both players – like I have – would encourage anyone struggling with mental health to speak to a close friend or family member whenever they are struggling.

On my podcast – @football_cfb on twitter – I have discussed mental health in football in numerous episodes so far and the words of those who have experienced mental health are very inspiring.

Several charities are also doing incredible work to encourage people to seek help with their mental health through the medium of football such as Kick Mental Health, Back Onside and Time to Tackle. All of these charities can be accessed on twitter and online and I must say their work is very inspiring.

To conclude, I would like to finish by saying this: if you are struggling with your mental health please speak to a family member, a friend or your GP. I’ve been there myself, it’s tough but it does help. My email is also always open for anyone struggling with mental health – footballcfb@gmail.com

Are you a local/regional/national business looking for an ideal sponsorship opportunity? Why not sponsor an episode of the Football CFB podcast?

With a reach of 4.4 thousand listens in just 5 weeks of operation so far, this up and coming podcast can give your business the exposure you need and in turn help Football CFB grow even further.

If you would like to enquire about sponsorship please email footballcfb@gmail.com

Andy and Callum discuss his incredible footballing career from breaking through under Jim McLean at Dundee Utd, being a Scottish cup winner at 20, the challenges that come with being a professional player both mentally and physically and of course we focus on Andy’s time at Morton and he exclusively reveals why he left Morton. He even picks his 5-a-side team from players he played with at Morton. I hope you enjoy 🔵⚪️ LISTEN AT ➡️ https://anchor.fm/footballCFB/episodes/The-Morton-weekly-podcast-and-football-CFB-with—-Andy-McLaren-eajt60