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Scottish Premiership

A Brighter Scottish Summer? The Positives and Negatives of a Summer Fixture List

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I am sure a good number of us have sat through a match in freezing conditions, in the pouring rain, and in gale force winds; played in a stadium that at best can be described as dilapidated. The standard of the football probably wasn’t much better as the game was undoubtedly slow-paced and not particularly easy viewing. Some fans would say you are lucky – others would say that you are worse off for not going through such an ordeal in order to watch your side play. These sentiments are also shared by the clubs that occupy the professional league system within Scotland; as some claim that no fan wants to watch a match in horrendous weather and attendances are suffering as a result of the current system. While others state that the current system is far more beneficial as moving to the summer months would interfere with other major international competitions.

Scotland is easily the most northerly country in the world that still operates in footballing terms in the winter months and Glasgow averages 170.3 days of rain per year – which is enough to make it the wettest city in Great Britain. Scotland itself is no stranger to seeing games postponed as a result of this, one fixture between Airdrie and Stranraer in 1963 was put back 33 times before finally being played. Similarly, a match between Inverness and Falkirk saw 29 cancellations in 1979. The most recent season in Scotland has been relatively tame with just 21 postponements put into force throughout the course of season – although this was helped by a particularly tame winter and a number of clubs now playing on synthetic surfaces which are largely unaffected by more extreme conditions.

In a recent survey issued by BBC Scotland, 10 out of the 12 SPL clubs said they would consider the introduction of summer football in order to combat the sometimes very grim conditions in which some matches are played. In addition, 28 of the 42 clubs that were asked also felt that summer football could be a suitable alternative to the current scheduling. In fact, only 7 clubs in the entire professional football system in Scotland decided that a move from the current fixture list would interest them.

The current Scottish football season runs parallel to the English one – from August until towards the end of May. There are already a number of clubs that play their football in the summer months; these include the likes of Sweden, Norway, and the Republic of Ireland. Whereas numerous other nations such as Germany and Russia operate using extended winter breaks as the colder months can leave football unsafe for fans and players alike. The new system proposed has identified a league season running from March to November would be the most beneficial to Scottish football as a whole.

The survey also looked to identify the reasons why clubs would or would not consider a move to the summer months. The SPL clubs that were offered responses stated reasons including increased media commercial revenue streams, a competitive advantage for Scottish teams competing in European tournaments. However, while teams would be able to take the qualifiers in stride as, for example, Stjarnan of Iceland used to their advantage to defeat Motherwell last summer – this does not help to explain how sides will do in the tournament proper if they were to qualify and be forced into playing deep into the off-season. Further reasons put forward include better weather and improved conditions for pitches, not having to compete against English football would help improve attendances and viewing figures, and the poor weather can contribute to damaging pitches as well as the reduced chance of injury to players. Among the other current supporters of a change in the current scheduling system are Supporters Direct Scotland who identified that a restructuring of the footballing season could result in savings for clubs through a reduced need for lighting, friendlier conditions to attract more fans, and sharing the sentiment of some SPL clubs in feeling that the potential for more lucrative TV deals for Scottish football due to not competing with some of the most dominant leagues in Europe.

However, there are also a number of issues that have being raised by numerous sources throughout the Scottish footballing system. Some feel that there would not be any financial incentives to moving to the summer months and that a good amount of the problems with playing in the winter could be solved by using synthetic pitches, some feel that many players at part-time level could struggle to find time over the summer for time with their family, and that Scottish football may struggle to compete with other summer sports. A further voice of concern is that of SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, who has labelled the issue as “complex” and that it could prove to be an issue if Scottish clubs are still playing their football while the likes of the World Cup and the European Championships are ongoing.

It is the opinion of many that moving matches from winter into the summer months would provide strong benefits financially to the Scottish footballing pyramid, among other benefits, as the matches would not have to compete with the leagues in Europe that can boast greater quality and financial incentives to TV companies. However, it would be a shame to see the loss of what some would believe to be a great football fan tradition of trudging out and getting absolutely soaked through. I, like many others, believe that football support isn’t necessarily meant to be easy and that it sometimes feels like as much a chore as it does an exciting way to spend a Saturday afternoon or a chilly midweek evening. While many will applaud the consideration of moving matches to the more friendly summer months and the exchange of a hot drink and a woolly hat for an ice cream and a pair of sunglasses. However, there is definitely something etched into the romanticism of footballing folklore which includes watching your team in rain or shine and traveling for 6 hours in a cramped car only to find that the game is called off by a steward who pulled the short straw.

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Calum is a Reading fan and has been a season ticket holder for many years. He is currently studying for a degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology.

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Exclusives

Greg Docherty – Realising a childhood dream with Rangers FC

After completing his dream move to Rangers, midfielder Greg Docherty sat down with The Boot Room to look back at his career to date and the excitement of his time ahead at Ibrox.

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Photo: Rangers Football Club

Last Saturday, Greg Docherty fulfilled a childhood dream by stepping out at Ibrox.

But this time, unlike his four previous visits to the home of Rangers Football Club, he was stepping out of the tunnel and onto the pitch as a home player following his January switch over to Glasgow.

Docherty’s home debut might not have gone exactly to plan – with Rangers falling to a narrow loss against Hibernian – but nevertheless, it was an afternoon that he is unlikely to forget anytime soon.

His move from Hamilton Academical, a Scottish Premiership side where he had plied his trade since joining their youth academy as nothing more than a nine-year-old with dreams, was perhaps as anticipated as it was justified considering his head-turning performances during the past 18 months.

For lifelong Rangers supporter Docherty it’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, and talking to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview he recounted the moment he discovered the transfer was in motion.

“Believe it or not I was actually on my way to the Hamilton game against Hearts [on January 24] and I received a phone call to say that the deal had been done and that I was now a Rangers player.

“It was all a bit mad. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be playing that night but after the phone call I quickly had a chat with […] who said obviously you won’t play because we’ve signed all of the forms, and it’s up to Rangers now to do their stuff.”

The confirmation of a completed deal before the end of the transfer window would have come almost as a relief for the 21-year-old, who admitted that he first heard of Rangers’ interest courtesy of speculation across social media platforms.

“To be honest that’s where you first find out most of it, because social media is so popular these days for breaking news. You hear something then ask around a bit to see if it’s true or not but it’s quite funny how you read news about yourself.”

Fortunately for Docherty this proved to be one social media rumour that came to fruition, and little more than three days after being officially announced as a Rangers player he was taking his place in caretaker manager Graeme Murty’s squad, coming off the bench in the 74th minute in a 2-1 win at Ross County.

A winning start in a Gers shirt was undeniably the perfect way for Docherty to settle any lingering nerves following his well-documented winter transfer, and reflecting on his debut he praised the supporters who immediately back him that night.

“It was special. The reaction I got from the crowd was great – it was an incredible following considering the distance from Glasgow – and even when I was warming up the whole stand and a half that Rangers had been allocated were clapping and saying my name.

“It’s something I have dreamt of for a long time and for that to actually happen was incredible.”

But when one door opens, another one has to close, and Docherty’s move to Rangers signalled the end of his 14-year spell at Hamilton.

The Scotland Under-21 international spent the young days of his career working through the ranks at Hamilton’s esteemed academy – an academy that has seen the likes of James McCarthy and James McArthur graduate and switch to the Premier League – before making his first-team bow at just 17.

After getting a feel for first-team football in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Docherty fully broke into the Hamilton side a year later and it’s fair to say that, from that moment, he never looked back.

He became a stalwart in the Accies’ midfield, going on to make over 100 appearances for them across all competitions, and he insisted that his decision to leave the Club was one that was ultimately made with a heavy heart.

“[I’ll miss] the people. I made a lot of close friends – some of my best friends are still there – and I’ll miss seeing them every day. It was a great place to be, a great place to work, and a great place to play football.

It was a joy for me, it was never a chore or anything like that, and I enjoyed every minute. It gave me a chance. I’ll just miss being in and around the dressing room, because it was a great dressing room, but it was time to move on and push on to the next challenge.”

There’s little doubt that Docherty will always be held in high regard by the home supporters for his efforts during his tenure at the Club, not least for his crucial goal that helped Hamilton edge past Dundee United in the two-legged Scottish Premiership relegation play-off in 2017.

It’s a moment that Docherty himself looks back on with fond memories, too.

“Scoring the goal to keep them in the league, that was it for me.

“Hamilton had shown a lot of faith in me through the years so for me to repay them with that goal to keep them in the league, that was special. Football’s funny sometimes with how it works and for me to score the goal after coming through the youth system was nice for Hamilton.”

It won’t be long before he’s back in familiar territory though, as Docherty and Rangers travel to New Douglas Park on February 18 in a match that’ll be rife with emotion for the academy product.

Football is often known to be an ironic sport at times, and there’s a certain amount of irony about the fact that the youngster from Milngavie all-but sealed the deal when playing against Rangers for Hamilton earlier in the Premiership season.

It was in Hamilton’s 2-0 win at Ibrox back in November – a match that gave the Accies their first victory at Rangers since 1926 – where the youngster excelled, earning an assist and generally catching the eye with a powerful midfield display, and it’s this that could have swayed the board of directors at Rangers into signing on the dotted line.

“In a way I hope so. I wanted to play well because it was against the team I support – it’s funny like that – but I wanted to prove that if I was to play for Rangers then I’d be more then capable.

“After that game I received a lot of nice messages from the fans congratulating me so I knew right away that they had taken to me a little bit. Then once the news came in that Rangers were interested in me the amount of support I received was incredible, and that was another factor in me signing.”

For now, though, Docherty’s time at New Douglas Park is a chapter of the past, and his firm focus remains on pastures new at Rangers – and more predominantly, getting them back to the very top.

Their return to the summit of Scottish football last season after four years of climbing back up the ladder has seen the club back where it belongs, and considering the plight that they have been recovering from since entering into administration in 2012, a third-place finish was an impressive feat on their return to Premiership football last season.

And whilst it seems that Celtic are once again set to reign supreme come the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Docherty is confident that Rangers will be right back on their heels again before too long.

At just 21 years of age Docherty has arguably already reached the pinnacle of the Scottish game by virtue of playing for one of the two notorious Glaswegian giants, and he admitted that he could already see himself spending the majority of his footballing career at Ibrox, aiding the club’s revival.

“You never know. If that was to be the case then I wouldn’t be disheartened by that at all.

“Rangers need to get back to the top, and one of my aims is to get them back there and competing at the highest level – and I’m sure the Rangers fans do too. There’s every chance of that happening over the next few years, I don’t see why not, you’ve just got to believe.

“If I was to stay here for the rest of my career then that would be brilliant but you never know in football and you want to play at the highest level possible.”

After achieving his dream move by the time he even turns 22 it’s clear to see that there’s a long and successful career there for the taking should Docherty avoid serious injury, and there is already growing talks that he could be in contention for a berth in the Scotland squad as the year progresses.

It is a testing time for the Scotland national squad at present, currently without a manager and with friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary looming in March, but with three Under-21 caps to his name – and with a big move under his belt – Docherty is well-placed to push for a first senior call-up.

Asked about his national team aspirations, Docherty replied:

“Absolutely, I don’t see why not.

“Obviously I’ll take each game as they come but I think that if I start off playing well for Rangers I can’t see why I can’t push into the international team. I’ve already completed one of my targets to get signed by Rangers – but first and foremost I need to establish myself in the Rangers team.”

And this could begin with a first start in a Rangers jersey when they travel to Scottish League One outfit Ayr United in the fifth-round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday, with a quarter-final spot at stake.

It would be a full debut that would no doubt be received well by Rangers fans if social media talk is anything to go by, with Gers supporters urging their new signing to be given the chance to impress in midfield.

If anything, that shows just how highly-rated Docherty is – he’s something of a hot commodity right now.

But he insisted that he’s aware of the competition for places and strength in depth at Ibrox, adding that he feels he is at the right club in order to develop as a young footballer.

“I feel like I need to score more goals, and I need to contribute more. I need to be a more all-round box-to-box midfielder. I think I’ve got the fitness and the strength to do it but I just need to be a bit more aware when I’m on the ball and speed up the play.

“I think that’ll come at Rangers though and I think that’s something they are good at – they’re a very fast-flowing team – and that’s why I’m excited to be playing with them and see what it’s like to play in a game with such high intensity.

“It’s always been difficult to play against Rangers. The movement is always good and they’re always very switched on with what they do – that was another factor in joining, as I wanted to be a part of that. They’re a great side that are building momentum at the moment.”

It is this concept of building momentum that couldn’t be truer on the blue side of Glasgow at this moment in time, with their current position a far cry from the desperate predicament of late 2012.

With Docherty and fellow midfielder Sean Goss arriving in January there’s real potential for a partnership to be grown – one that could be the backbone of this Rangers side for years to come.

The signs are good for the Gers as they strive to compete for a 54th league title, combining energy and youth with some seasoned heads that lends itself to some pleasing football.

As for the immediate future, it may just take another few games for the enormity of the move to fully sink in for boyhood fan Docherty, but it is a scenario that just goes to prove the old-school cliché that dreams can be achieved if you are prepared to work hard enough for them.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Will Celtic’s Moussa Dembele look to progress with a Premier League move?

Jake Jackman

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Dembele

The transfer window is fast approaching and Brighton look set to make an early breakthrough with the signing of Celtic striker Moussa Dembele. According to Sky Sports’ Kaveh Solhekol, the two clubs have agreed a fee of £18 million for the French striker. The Seagulls had been heavily linked to the player, but it will come as a surprise if a deal has been reached with the Bhoys. The Scottish Premier League club know that the 21-year-old is an asset that continues to increase in value and it could be that this story has been leaked to flush out more interest.

However, the transfer window is rarely clear cut and there are parties operating with different objectives. Every story needs to be treated with caution and The Sun have posted a contradictory report, with Celtic sources branding Sky’s story as ‘nonsense’. This is certainly a story to keep an eye on. The report from Sky may be premature, but they are a reliable source and it does seem like there is some substance to the transfer story.

Brighton fans will understandably be excited about the potential of Dembele, as they are in dire need of more attacking options. Glenn Murray has been their main striker for the first half of the season. Although he is doing well, there are doubts about his ability to be a starting Premier League striker for the long-term. The Seagulls are likely to be in a relegation battle and they need a more reliable source of goals to ensure they do remain out of the bottom three.

During their last seven Premier League matches, Brighton have scored only two goals. An organised defence has allowed them to continue picking up points, but they can’t expect to stay clear of danger unless they score more often. They have some excellent midfield players that are capable of creating chances, such as Davy Propper, Anthony Knockaert and Pascal Gross. If they can bring in a quality striker to help out Murray and chip in with a few goals, they will be in a great position to do well during the second half of the season.

His career to date

The Frenchman first came to England when he joined Fulham as a teenager from Paris Saint Germain.

He initially made headlines for his name, rather than his reputation on the pitch, with the Cottagers losing Mousa Dembele to Tottenham at the same time his younger namesake (a slight spelling difference aside) arrived at Craven Cottage. It was a great piece of scouting from the club and academy director Huw Jennings told BBC Sport why the striker had emerged on their radar:

“When Moussa was 16 there was no doubt he possessed all the raw ingredients you look for in a striker. He’s got pace and power, he can finish, use both feet and he is good in the air. He has got good intelligence.”

“What stood out for me was not only what you could see on the pitch but I felt a calmness and assuredness off the pitch. It is not easy coming across from a foreign country at a young age and the thing Moussa has had to demonstrate more than any others is resilience.”

It didn’t take long for Dembele to feature in the first-team, as he made his Premier League debut in November 2013 and featured on one more occasion during the relegation season. The drop to the Championship was a massive blow for the club, but it provided a chance for the young players to make a mark at senior level. The Frenchman grabbed that with both hands and was one of the best young players during the 2015-16 campaign.

He started 37 Championship matches and made a further six appearances from the bench as he began to develop a reputation as one of the best young players in the Football League. Dembele contributed an impressive 15 goals and six assists, with a goal involvement rate of one every 160 minutes. Unluckily for Fulham, he was in the final year of his contract and he opted to move on at the end of the season on a free transfer.

According to BBC Sport, he came close to joining Tottenham during the January transfer window, with a deal being agreed for £5 million. That deal didn’t come to fruition. but it underlines how highly-rated the Frenchman is in the game. He remained with Fulham for the rest of the season before joining Celtic in the summer. It was a decision that raised eyebrows, but he quickly became the best player in the division and the leader of the attack.

A lot of young players have been criticised for making the jump to a big club too soon, but Dembele’s career has been well mapped out and that shows his impressive temperament. Few 16-year-olds would choose to leave PSG to join Fulham, but the striker is determined to make it to the top and he isn’t afraid for it to be a slow journey.

Since joining Celtic, he has continued to develop and his role in their unbeaten domestic season cannot be underplayed, as he registered 27 goals across all domestic competitions. The Scottish league is not as good as it once was, in terms of quality, but it is still a huge responsibility to play for Celtic and Dembele has thrived under that. Brendan Rodgers has been a huge influence on his star striker’s career and believes that he can go to the very top:

“Moussa showed last year that when he’s fit he’s got that capability to play at that level and that’s all you want.

“Now it’s the case of over the next few years consistently showing that he can do that.”

Celtic and Rodgers will be realistic when it comes to their chances of keeping hold of the 21-year-old. The latest links to Brighton may come as a surprise, as it was expected that a bigger club would come in for him. However, his career path to date shows that he is keen to earn his way to the top and prioritises first-team football over club prestige.

In the modern game, a move from Celtic to a bottom-half Premier League club is a step upwards. It is important that Dembele proves himself in one of the top five European leagues and a transfer to the Seagulls would be a logical move for him.

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Celtic

Brendan Rodgers: Celtic’s unbeaten run may never be surpassed

Martyn Cooke

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Celtic
Photo: Reuters

Celtic’s 69-game unbeaten domestic run came to an abrupt halt on Sunday afternoon after they were out-played, out-fought and out-thought by Hearts, but Brendan Rodgers believes that his team have set a record that may never be surpassed.

And, he may well be right.

The reigning Scottish champions were emphatically beaten 4-0 in Edinburgh, something that their Northern Irish manager admitted following the contest, but the defeat was immediately followed by a glowing reflection on the previous 584 days. Rodgers told BBC Sport that his players had “set a record that may well never be beaten” – and it is hard to disagree.

The statistics that back up Celtic’s unbeaten run are astonishing.

The Hoops’ last loss prior to Sunday was in May 2016, a run of 69-games and 584 days without tasting defeat against Scottish opposition that transferred into four domestic trophies and an entire season unbeaten. Celtic won 60 of those contests, scoring 197 goals and conceding just 40, on their way to breaking a 100-year British record that had never before been challenged.

There are those that attempt to dismiss the achievement, tending to either point to the financial disparity between the Scottish champions and the remainder of the league or declare Scottish football as being little more than a ‘pub league’. However, that does little to explain why no one else in the past century has accomplished such a feat.

The reality is that Celtic supporters have been privy to witnessing Rodgers construct the most dominant Scottish team that the domestic game has ever seen and the club, manager and players should receive the praise that they deserve.

It is difficult to imagine any other Scottish team replicating or bettering Celtic’s achievements any time soon, especially considering the financial composition of football north of the boarder, and the feat signifies that Rodgers’ managerial reputation has been rebuilt.

He arrived at Celtic Park just over eighteen months ago battered and bruised from a turbulent final few months in charge of Anfield, despite the fact, barring an unfortunate Steven Gerrard slip, he would have guided the club to the title.

However, Celtic’s unbeaten run has rekindled his reputation and attention will now turn towards what the 44-year-old’s long term plans are.

Rodgers has already accomplished almost everything possible at Celtic. He secured the treble in his first season, something that he looks set to repeat this campaign, and in reality there is minimal opposition on the domestic front to challenge the Hoops’ dominance.

Furthermore, it is difficult to see the club making much of an inroad in European competitions, as demonstrated by the recent Champions League group stage, leaving the question: what more can Rodgers achieve at Celtic Park?

Maybe that is a question for the future. For now, Rodgers is focused on securing further silverware declaring that “We hit the reset button and look to get three points in our next game. Now that the run is finished, we want to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.”

Maybe the upcoming fixture against Partick Thistle will be the start of another unbeaten run…

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