Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

Those responsible finally saw sense this week, reversing the ridiculous decision to play both Scottish League Cup semi-finals at Hampden Park on the same day.

Celtic, one of the four sides involved, had indicated that a draw should be made to determine which game was moved to Murrayfield if the original plans were scrapped.

But the holders’ game against Hearts will now take place in Edinburgh at 1.30pm on Sunday 28th October. The Rangers v Aberdeen tie will be played at Hampden at 4.30pm the same day.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers described the process as “irrational and discriminatory”, saying he had never been to Murrayfield in his life.

This is the same man who could not offer any comment when quizzed at the weekend if it was unfair to ask Aberdeen fans to travel to Glasgow for a noon kick-off.

The handling of this by the authorities has been a shambles, and it was a bit rich to hear Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) chief executive Neil Doncaster say that the U-turn was because the situation had changed.

Initially Hampden Park Ltd had insisted on sticking to its contract to host all semi-finals involving Celtic and Rangers, Doncaster said. The SPFL was unwilling to breach that contract and risk legal action and apparently Police Scotland were okay with the original decision. Incredibly it was said to be “the best and most practical solution”.

But after the inevitable outcry, Hampden Park Ltd changed its mind and decided to waive the legal obligation.

No-one should really be surprised at such a monumental cock-up, however, as you’d be hard pushed to find two organisations with as little credibility as the SPFL and Police Scotland.

The idea of staging both games at Hampden on the Sunday, with Rangers taking on Aberdeen at noon and Celtic meeting Hearts at 7.45pm, was beyond belief.

Dons supporters were rightly up in arms, having been forced various times in the past to travel to Glasgow for lunchtime kick-offs. Unless Scotrail, another organisation not known for covering itself in glory, agreed to put on extra trains the first was due to arrive in the city 14 minutes after the match had begun.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes pointed out that the scheduling would have little or no effect on his team’s preparations which would just go ahead in the usual fashion. That may be so but for the fans it would have been a complete nightmare.

Hearts boss Craig Levein was more outspoken, which is becoming a regular feature of a man who was once seen as boring. He described the SPFL’s decision as absolute madness.

The Edinburgh club’s owner Ann Budge also voiced concern, given the difficulties that could arise from having over 100,000 supporters from four different clubs in Glasgow on the same day.

She was quite correct. The probability that it would deter younger Hearts followers from travelling, as it could be a very late trip back to the capital, was a very real one.

Budge was one of those who asked the SFPL to think again, saying the body should be encouraging fans to attend and not making it difficult for them.

If the first game had gone to extra time and penalties it could have been well after 3pm before the stadium was emptied. That would not have given much time to clear up the inevitable mess, get rid of 50,000 people and get another 50,000 in.

If any evidence was needed about what is wrong with Scottish football, here it is. The Scottish football authorities had placed all its eggs in one basket with Hampden and had no option but to try and justify the daft move. It really did beggar belief.

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Fortunes have been mixed for Shetland’s rugby teams so far in their mainland competition endeavours.

The men’s side began by losing all three games and finishing bottom of group one in the oddly named North Region Referee’s Cup, although they were only well beaten in one of the ties.

Then, on the back of a promising home league win against Aberdeenshire, they unfortunately came up short on Saturday after a long trip to the Western Isles, going down 26-7 to Stornoway.

The revamped Tennents Caledonia North 3 division looks very competitive, with the likelihood of most teams being able to beat anyone on their day.

Shetland, as we all know, will be a match for most at home. But it remains difficult to do the same when travelling, with so many players not able to commit due to one reason or another.

The depth of the squad is very important, which is why it is heartening to see more youngsters coming into the equation. They, after all, are the future of the club.

The women’s team, on the other hand, have enjoyed a great start to the season, beating both Banff and Inverness Craig Dunain and currently leading the Tennents North League table.

Last year’s league winners Orkney have already lost a game against Inverness, and a fascinating battle could ensue at Clickimin on Sunday when the island rivals go head to head.

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As someone who has supported Manchester United for over half a century, it pains me to see the state of the club under manager Jose Mourinho.

This week’s home peformance against Valencia was abysmal, with several players totally devoid of pace and urgency and obviously not doing the business for the man in charge.

The stunned silence among the fans was something that has rarely, if ever, been seen before. Many of them began leaving Old Trafford with 15 minutes still remaining, and you really can’t blame them.

The once-great club has been on the way down ever since the retiral of Alex Ferguson. The treatment of his replacement David Moyes was shocking, being sacked after only eight months in charge, and the appointment of the next incumbent Louis Van Gaal was a mistake.

The worst move of all though was to hand the job to Mourinho. Winning the Europa League and the League Cup in his first season obviously gave false hope to some but he really was an awful choice.

This walking advert for narcissism needs to go now before things become even worse. But the question is who will be next in line. Zinedine Zidane has been tipped because of his supposed “humility”, in contrast to Mourinho, although that was hardly evident with the infamous dismissal for head-butting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.

Others who have been tipped include Didier Deschamps, who led France to World Cup success a few months ago, or former United player Laurent Blanc who was recently in charge at Paris Saint-Germain.

While it will most likely be another foreign manager who succeeds Mourinho, I reckon the club could attempt to reverse the trend by appointing an Englishman.

Why not give someone like Eddie Howe of Bournemouth the job? He is one of the brightest young bosses in the country and has performed wonders at a club where the ambitions are basically to stay in the Premier League. But sadly I can’t see it happening.

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Contrary to my views on Mourinho, it was very disappointing to see the likeable Steve Bruce handed his marching orders by Aston Villa this week.

Bruce led the club to the final of the Championship play-offs last season, but was sacked on Wednesday after a 3-3 home draw with Preston North End the previous evening.

Villa are now 12th in the table but had they beaten Preston they would have risen to fifth equal, only five points behind the leaders. A couple more matches and things could have been on the up again.

Bruce had a cabbage thrown at him by a so-called fan before the game on Tuesday and later said the incident unfortunately summed up society at the moment.

“There’s no respect for anyone any more,” he told interviewers, a statement which was borne out by the actions of the Aston Villa board of directors the following day.


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