Tag Archives: Rangers

Fan attacks on players will end in a stabbing unless action is taken now

Sitting in the office, dreaming of being outside instead of trapped behind a desk overseeing orders due to be delivered throughout the UK, something extraordinary happened.

A man from the street outraged that his favourite alcohol hadn’t been delivered to his local supermarket, burst into the room.

Absolutely seething, he ran up behind me and swung a punch that luckily for me only grazed the side of my face.

When I stood up to confront him, he kicked me and screamed expletives. As security dragged him out the front door, he blew kisses to nobody in the car park.

Okay, this didn’t really happen. But this wouldn’t happen because there’s respect for people in their place of work. Unless you’re a professional footballer, judging by recent incidents of abuse and assault by fans encroaching on the pitch.

Attacked: James Tavernier

Rangers skipper James Tavernier was taking a throw-in in front of Hibernian fans at Easter Road when a home supporter jumped a barrier, evaded a steward and then kicked both ball and player.

During the Birmingham derby, Aston Villa talisman Jack Grealish was punched from behind by a City fan.

The responses

Former Spurs and Blackburn midfielder Tim Sherwood was asked on BT Sport’s Saturday Morning Savage show what his response would be.

“If they come [on] with aggression, you’ve got every right to chin them,” he opined to laughter from the studio audience and fellow panellists.

Maybe not the best advice, but the fact remains that footballers simply doing their job have the right to feel safe in their place of work.

Tavernier said of the Hibs incident: “My wife was watching, and it must have been disgusting to see that on TV. She was worried a little bit.

“It shouldn’t happen, no player should be targeted by fans on the pitch, or coins thrown. These things shouldn’t happen. It’s down to clubs and their security to stop it.”

In his post-match interview, Grealish said “I was walking into position and I just felt a whack around the side of my face. There’s rivalry and stuff in football, but I don’t think there’s any place for that.”

Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster said: “I can use the word unacceptable but that isn’t strong enough. The person you saw is in custody. He won’t come to another football match at Easter Road. Ever.”

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard added: “When we’re getting to the stage with fans running on to the pitch, we’ve got a problem.”

Punched: Jack Grealish

Villa manager Dean Smith condemned the attack on Grealish, saying: “It should never happen at a football game, whether it be a local derby or not.

“Security should be better, it’s why we kick off at 12 pm on a Sunday to keep them out the pub. Unfortunately, some mindless moron has gone on the pitch and attacked Jack [Grealish] then you’ve got 15,000 idiots clapping him as well, which doesn’t help.”

What should the punishment be?

Cameron Mack, who invaded the pitch at Easter Road has only been charged with breach of the peace, while Paul Mitchell has been sent to prison for 14 weeks for his attack on Grealish.

Pundit Gary Neville tweeted about Birmingham City: “The club are going to have to take a huge punishment for this to act as a deterrent in the future. A points deduction or empty stadium for 10 games!”

Dempster said that with Hibernian “nothing was off the table” as a result of recent crowd problems.

A particular issue with punishments that target the fan base is that 99% of supporters would never act in this way. However, it’s the 1% that needs to be punished and prevented from being able to enter the stadium – let alone run onto the pitch – in future.

Financial punishments may urge the club to step up their security. But if a supporter has decided that he is going to enter the field of play, then it is really hard to prevent that.

An issue that we run into with potential punishments is who takes responsibility for these incidents? Is it the stewards?  Is it the clubs? Is it social media culture? Or is it the TV and radio pundits who whip fans up into a storm?

Ill feeling

It can’t be expected that a steward earning £8.70 an hour is going to really put himself in danger for a job that they only work at every two weeks.

Football clubs themselves are going to be unwilling to close stands or heavily punish their own fans in case the supporters revolt and boycott merchandise or even games.

Flashpoint: Hibernian’s Easter Road stadium

Social media has given fans a place where they can hurl the most toxic slurs, which must surely bleed into crowd behaviour on match days.

Meanwhile, the pundits – who have to have an opinion on everything and are often biased towards certain clubs or fan bases – foment ill feeling.

Ultimately, the FA and the SFA have to come down heavily on both clubs and set stringent rules to not only protect the game but guarantee the safety of players.

If they don’t, how long will it be until football witnesses an incident similar to that of Monica Seles, the former world No.1 women’s tennis player, who was stabbed in the back while seated during a break in play in 1993?

With growing concerns over the rise of knife culture in the UK, surely this is what the police and football’s governing bodies fear the most.

There should be punishments in place forcing the clubs to take responsibility for their fanbase.

Banning individual fans from football grounds is incredibly hard to enforce.

However, if there was an automatic behind-closed-doors game for every time a fan ran onto the pitch, or even a point deduction, clubs would clearly take more action than they are currently doing.

More training – and better pay – for stewards could help but it won’t fix the problems at the heart of crowd troubles. But a solution needs to be found before a player is seriously injured.

Although we are still a long way away from the hooliganism that blighted the game in the 70s and 80s – and no-one wants to see the return of fences at football grounds – something has to be done to stop these violent acts from becoming an increasingly regular focus of concern.

All photos taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Why is sectarianism still a problem in Scottish football?

In the past month, the ugly issue of sectarianism in Scottish football has been making headlines again.

Kilmarnock’s former Rangers striker Kris Boyd was struck by a coin and called an “Orange bastard” while he warmed up in front of travelling Celtic fans at Rugby Park.

At Ibrox, Boyd’s manager Steve Clarke had chants of “sad Fenian bastard” aimed at him during a Scottish Cup replay against Rangers.

The roots of sectarianism run deep in both Scottish football and society in general, and its most obvious manifestation is in the heated rivalry between Glasgow’s Old Firm rivals.

But why does it continue to disfigure the beautiful game north of the border when the religious divide that spawned it is no longer prominent in most people’s lives?

A city divided or united?

Located on the River Clyde, Glasgow grew to become a shipbuilding and steel-making powerhouse in the industrial revolution; its citizens take pride in the city’s history and what it means to be Glaswegian.

When tragedy strikes, its inhabitants are united. In recent years, the city has pulled together after the George Square refuse lorry accident (December 2014), which left six people dead and 15 injured.

The same community spirit was to the fore a year later when a police helicopter crashed into the Clutha Bar, killing 10 and injuring 31. In between these sad events, Scotland hosted the Commonwealth Games using the slogan of ‘People Make Glasgow.’

All the stranger then, that an animosity borne out of differing religious beliefs still features in the life of this cosmopolitan, cultured city.

Of course, other football teams are available in the greater Glasgow area, but for most, it’s a case of being either Celtic or Rangers, green or blue, Catholic or Protestant.

For a good many, the rivalry will be confined to jokes and banter, but for others, it’s all about recalling famous battles in the 1600s or the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Sectarianism

One simple definition of sectarianism is “excessive attachment to a particular sect or party, especially in religion.”

The anti-sectarian Scottish pressure group Nil By Mouth defines it as: “Narrow-minded beliefs that lead to prejudice, discrimination, malice and ill-will towards members, or presumed members, of a religious denomination.”

Essentially, it’s a form of hatred, and Rangers and Celtic fans have a long and inglorious history of hating each other.

Even today, the politico-religious undertones still persist. Rangers current third strip is bright orange, while Celtic’s away shirt features a cross on its crest rather than the usual shamrock.

But both clubs only date back to the late 19th century. The Catholic-Protestant animosity extends back to the Reformation of the 1600s and was later fuelled by waves of Irish migrants, first fleeing the potato famines and then searching for work in the newly industrialised west of Scotland.

For much of the 20th century, Catholics in Scotland – particularly those of Irish descent – viewed themselves as an oppressed minority and Celtic as a symbol of their identity.

Rangers, meanwhile, were associated with Protestant unionist-loyalist values. Their first major signing of a Catholic player only came in 1989, when ex-Celtic striker Mo Johnston joined them.

Still an issue

That was 30 years ago now, and things have moved on, particularly since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 mostly ended the Troubles.

Throughout this era of conflict in Northern Ireland, it was common knowledge that in Celtic supporters clubs, money was raised for the IRA, while Rangers fans were associated with loyalist political and paramilitary groups.

Orange walks, in the build-up to the June 12th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, were huge affairs that would happen across Scotland and still do in some Protestant areas.

These links to the hostilities across the Irish Sea fuelled the violence that was once commonplace at Old Firm games but is now becoming a thing of the past.

Safe seating and better policing have played their part in this, as have broader changes in the make-up of Scottish society mirrored in football.

It is also ironic that in a survey in 2017 that almost three-quarters of Scots identified as atheists. With religion supposedly going into remission in Scotland, why are over 100,000 Scots indulging in pro-Catholic or Protestant songs and chants every weekend?

Some would argue that sectarianism, and other forms of hatred, have simply migrated online with the advent of social media.

Anonymous

Social media platforms have allowed bigots of various kinds to hide behind made-up names and share their toxic views and/or aim abuse and threats at others.

Some commentators believe this web-based bile has led to a rise in sexism and misogyny towards woman in football, as well as racist remarks made to black players.

Of course, you could argue that being part of huge crowds at Ibrox or Parkhead also offers a degree of anonymity which makes people behave in ways they wouldn’t outside of a football stadium.

Calling someone a ‘Fenian’ or a ‘Hun’ dehumanises them. As Jon Ronson discusses in his book So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,  we hurl abuse at people with whom we have so much in common – the only thing that really separates us is our football teams.

Ronson also claims: “A crowd is only impressed by excessive sentiments. Exaggerate, affirm, resort to repetition, and never attempt to prove anything by reasoning.”

A football fan can shout and swear for 90 minutes and then return to their normal life. Both Old Firm clubs have supporters who are civil servants, lawyers, doctors and other professionals who will sit among those shouting what amounts to vile hate speech – maybe they will even join in with some of it.

Society’s problem

A rise in hate crimes and hate speech haven’t only affected Scottish football or Scotland itself. From 2016- 2018, hate crimes in the UK increased by 40%, seemingly demonstrating a growing lack of tolerance for other people’s views and values.

Roisin Wood, chief executive of the anti-racism group Kick It Out, has become concerned with the rise of hate crime in football especially in England’s top divisions. There were more than 500 reports across the top four league last season. Five years ago, there was under 100.

‘How do you remove something from the game that has been there longer than the sport itself?’

Bournemouth defender Tyrone Mings, on loan at Aston Villa, said: “On social media its all too easy to be racist. Just hide behind a fake picture, fake details and get away with it?”

It is difficult to find a solution to the rising tide of hate crime that isn’t only blighting football in Scotland but throughout the UK. With diverse communities behind each club, it is difficult to treat them all the same.

Pundits have suggested that the clubs should take more responsibility for rooting out the problem and if they fail to do so face either financial sanctions or point deductions.

But, in the context of Old Firm matches, how do you police or punish thousands of people in a stadium for singing sectarian songs or using chants that incite hatred?

Liverpool legend John Barnes recently said: “We all discriminate, and we have to admit it. Why I say that I discriminate unconsciously is because the environment that I’ve been brought up in shows me that and continues to show me that.”

Discrimination and sectarianism may be a part of everyone’s daily lives. However, it is something that we should strive to eradicate from our society as we strive to build an equal and free-thinking country.

It needs to be done on an individual basis, one by one, changing views and attitudes.

The hardest thing with sectarianism and its links to Scottish football is that anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant sentiments have existed since the 1600s. How do you remove something from the game that has been there longer than the sport itself?

Changes have to be made now. There has been far too much finger-pointing and blaming others from clubs who don’t accept that their own fans have issues. Clubs and fans need to accept that they have problems with racism, sectarianism and general discrimination and fix those from the bottom up.

Why are so many ex-footballers taking to our screens?

Since leaving Manchester United in the summer, Ryan Giggs has become the latest high profile ex-player to step into a TV studio and chance his arm at punditry.

The Welshman’s transition from Old Trafford’s left wing, to the ITV sofa, (via the dugout), is a path trodden by many in recent years. Tune in to football coverage, be it on TV, radio or the internet, and you’ll struggle to not find the opinions of a former player.

So why exactly are so many ex-pros finding their second careers within the media?

Peter Lovenkrands played at the highest level for clubs such as Rangers, Schalke and Newcastle United, and also represented Denmark in two major tournaments.

As is the case for many an ex-sportsperson, replacing the buzz of competition proved difficult following his retirement.

Struggle

Yet, while nothing can ever replicate the feeling of 90 minutes on a football pitch, for Lovenkrands, media work provides the perfect way to remain closely involved in the sport.

“I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching”

“For me, it’s the closest thing to playing. When I stopped playing, [punditry] was the thing that helped me get over missing it,” said Lovenkrands, who co-commentates on German Bundesliga games.

He explained: “There’s a thing in the football world, people who don’t have anything to go into after playing kind of struggle, and some people get depression, even.

“It’s something that a lot of players find hard. I even find it hard still sometimes when I’m sitting in commentary, you think ‘I want to be out there, I want to be playing’.

“But by sitting watching and talking about it, that’s the closest thing to getting the atmosphere in the stadium and being [out] there. I really enjoy it and that’s what helps me get over  retirement.”

Enhanced

Lovenkrands working as a summariser. Pic @lovenkrands11

Giggs may believe that coaching or management is the closest thing to playing.

After the disappointment of being overlooked for the United hotseat, some might argue that his regular appearances on our TV screens serve only to keep him ‘relevant’ in the eyes of fans and club owners alike, reminding us of his suitability for a role in management.

In his excellent book, Living On The Volcano, Michael Calvin discusses the way in which Tony Pulis left his post at Crystal Palace, only to find himself the new manager of West Brom, thanks to a little help from the media.

Wrote Calvin: “He maintained his profile as a media pundit, refused to enlarge on the circumstances which led to him leaving Palace by ‘mutual consent’, and watched the stakes rise. He would join West Bromwich Albion almost as soon as his gardening leave ended.”

Gary Neville, of course, is a fine example of an excellent pundit who enhanced opinions of his highly thought-of coaching ability, by educating (rather than patrionising) us on screen.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach”

Neville provides no catchphrases, no clichés and certainly none of the ‘faux-intelligence’ displayed by many of his peers on alternative channels.

However after three tournaments with England as part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff and a short-lived spell as Valencia manager, Neville himself feels it will be difficult for him to step from commentary box into the dugout once again.

But what about everybody else? Jamie Carragher once joked on Sky’s Monday Night Football that “no pundit on TV will ever get a job again, he’s [Neville] ruined it for us all”.

Praise

Lovenkrands, who now works for Rangers TV, makes the point that the demands and differences between working ‘on-pitch’ and working ‘on-screen’, may make it difficult for others to follow in Neville’s footsteps.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach,” said the 36 year old.

“He [Neville] was kind of the first one to go from being a proper Sky pundit, to go and take the Valencia job. Even though he was a pundit, he had the England job, but that’s not full-time.

“I praise him for taking the chance and trying to go and do his thing. I love him as a pundit, I think he’s fantastic. Him and Jamie Redknapp are two of my favourites.

“But I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching.”

Caution

Neville’s success as a pundit can be attributed to his obvious desire for hard work, his undoubted knowledge for the world of football from training ground to boardroom and, quite simply, his knack for talking honestly and passionately on air.

Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm Game
Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm game

Other pundits choose to go down a different route, offering controversy and sparking vicious debate amongst viewers, listeners and people within the football industry alike.

Neither approach is wrong or right; success for Neville could look different to success for Robbie Savage. Either way, they are both successful.

For Lovenkrands, controversy should come with a hint of caution.

“I’ve spoken about that with people before and a lot of people say you can go two ways. One is knowledge, knowing so many things. And then there’s the controversial side of it,” said the Dane, who still holds a close affinity with the fans of many of his former clubs.

“Chris Sutton, for example, has been quite controversial with a lot of things, especially up here in Scotland. He’s had a lot of criticism because of the controversial way he’s been talking about the game.

“But for me that becomes a little bit like the X Factor and Simon Cowell, where somebody’s being negative. The same as Strictly Come Dancing where one of the judges will be negative, it creates a lot of interest for people watching it because they’re thinking ‘what’s he going to say next?’.

Controversial

“I feel like you have to be careful when you’re going down that road because I don’t like being hated. I like to be positive, but of course you have to be honest if certain things don’t happen right.

“A lot of people don’t care about being controversial and that seems to have helped them in getting more jobs because people want to hear what they have to say, even if they maybe don’t like what they’re saying.

“My view on it is you can be negative and controversial, but try to put a positive spin on it and not upset too many people.”

The reality is that football is a sport in which no matter how positive one may be, someone will always be upset.

Like anyone, footballers can be sensitive to the comments of others; they are human beings after all.

Criticism

John Terry has been the captain of his club and country, played in major games in front of some of the most hostile supporters, and faced public disgrace over his racist comments to a fellow professional.

Yet for Terry, receiving criticism from Robbie Savage over his form last season was not something he planned on taking lightly.

He responded by comparing his own successful career to Savage’s, and insinuating that criticism offered by a less successful player was not welcome.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all”

Lovenkrands however believes that criticism is to be expected as a footballer, as long as opinions never become personal.

Having played with Joey Barton at Newcastle, the Liverpudlian’s current situation with Rangers could potentially have put Lovenkrands in a tricky situation.

“Sometimes it’s something you need to think twice about. But if you want to be in that kind of business you have to just say what you feel because you get paid to be honest and talk about what you see,” said Lovenkrands, who finished his playing career in the Championship with Birmingham City.

“If I feel like there’s certain things that have happened that I feel are negative, I have to say it and I have to just deal with it. To be fair, most people in the football world would understand.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all.

“I think that’s the fine line I’m finding as a commentator.”

Lovenkrands (right) prior to co-commentating on a Champions League match. Pic @lovenkrands11.

Allegiances

Carragher and Neville hold the prestige of being one-club defenders who gave everything for Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.

Whilst their rivalry on the pitch has turned to admiration in the studio, the passion they have for their old clubs still remains.

Yet a major strength of both, is that through their media work you would struggle to work out their allegiances.

Being fair and balanced is a must for any journalist, however, were the ex-defenders to work for their club’s own TV channel, would their approach be encouraged to change?

Shedding some light on the subject of bias, Lovenkrands said: “The Rangers commentary that I do, it’s for Rangers TV, so I don’t need to be biased in any way.

“I really enjoy that because I’m a Rangers fan as well so when they score I can celebrate and be part of it in that way. That’s really exciting.

“But when I do the German football, or sometimes when I’ve done Premier League games, or Scottish football for radio, then of course you have to make sure you commentate on both teams and be professional about it.

“I like that as well, that I have to be that aware.”

So to revisit the original question as to why football coverage is now saturated with former pros, each individual will have their reasons. Some will say the salary appeals, whilst the job security far outweighs that in management or coaching.

Others may see it as a profile booster, a public job interview every time the ‘ON AIR’ light is switched on. For those who have no interest in coaching, media work provides a no-pressure involvement with the game.

But for Lovenkrands, his reasons are far simpler. “I just love football,” summed up the former striker.

“I get carried away when I commentate so when a goal happens, no matter what team it’s for, in the Bundesliga for example, I get carried away and start celebrating.

“That’s the way it should be. It should be coming across for people to listen to that you’re excited about your job and what you’re doing.”

Millar contemplates life after the final whistle

Chris Millar was the golden boy once but, as he enters the latter stages of his professional career, he is becoming more like the olden boy.

At the age of 33, the St Johnstone midfielder is no longer a man in a hurry, content to play a waiting game and win back his place in the Saints’ first team.

The man nicknamed ‘Midge’, is undoubtedly one of the most colourful and passionate figures in Scottish football.

In a career spanning 13 years, which began training alongside the likes of Henrik Larsson at Celtic and is now approaching its end, Millar has never been too far away from the headlines.

Whether it was winning St Johnstone their first-ever Scottish Cup in 2014, experiencing European football in the Europa League or contemplating a move to Australia, his career has been eventful.

However off the pitch, the Glasgow-born player is forging as impressive career for himself as a sports journalist.

“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that”

After working for broadcasters including BT Sport, Millar is optimistic about the future and once he decides to hang up his boots.

The former Greenock Morton player is setting his sights high in a career in broadcasting.

“I think there is definitely a realisation that life after football has to be planned for,” admits Millar.

“Not every player earns the money that will keep them ticking for the rest of their days, especially in Scotland.

“Many players are aware of it and are making plans once their career is over, and the PFA are doing a great job in highlighting this issue.”

Chris Millar on duty as a journalist

Despite the criticism that former players get once they land a role in the media, Millar insists that he wants to try and change the views of professional footballers.

“I think at times some players think there is an agenda within the media to sell units,” he says.

“As a former player, I do not have an agenda to push. I just want to report the events as honestly as I can and try to open up the game more to the public.

“My main aim is to show the public about what goes on at football clubs with players, managers, etc.

“I enjoy most aspects of journalism like writing, broadcasting both radio and TV. I have done work in all three and I have held down a slot as a pundit on radio and I work for a national paper.

“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that.”

University life

For many players, their first port after retirement is to become a coach or manager. After initially contemplating this, Millar chose to broaden his horizons – and he says completing a degree at Staffordshire University was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I have always wanted to stay involved in the game,” he says. “It’s all I have known since I was a 17-year-old at Celtic so it is important for me to stay involved.

“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have”

“When I saw that I could do a sports broadcasting degree whilst still playing, it got me thinking, so it really came from there.

“Many players want to go into coaching so there is only going to be so many jobs going around. I enjoy using my brain and learning new skills so for me it is interesting to use a different skills-set.

“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have.”

Most individuals would struggle to manage their professional and academic lives, but Millar has balanced both and he says even though it was difficult, it was worth it in the end.

“It was tough, don’t get me wrong,” admits the Scot.

“Juggling footy, two kids and a degree takes time and effort. However, in the end it paid off as I gained a first class degree. By using my brain again, I enjoyed learning a whole new skill set.

“The funny thing is that I played some of my best football whilst studying. It gave my mind something else to focus on – it’s good to have a release from that.”

The return of the Old Firm 

With the return of Rangers to Scotland’s top division, the competition in the league has gained an intensity that it had been missing in recent years.

Despite the likes of Celtic, Aberdeen and Rangers being touted as the ‘big boys’, Millar’s St Johnstone have continued to progress under manager Tommy Wright, a journey Millar says will continue.

“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and as a club we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress as a team.”

“The return of Rangers has been huge for Scottish football,” he says.

“They bring a bigger spotlight to the league and obviously you have the Old Firm derby back which is a huge game. As a player, you want to play in front of big crowds and I have honestly missed playing at Ibrox.

“We [St Johnstone] have started well but ultimately I do not think we can win the league. However, I do not see any reason to why we cannot challenge for the other top four spots.

“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress.”

Scotland’s World Cup adventure 

Scotland and RB Leipzig’s Oliver Burke

Looking at the national team, Scotland’s qualification campaign for the Russia 2018 World Cup has not been going well, and in November manager Gordon Strachan faces a huge test – against England, at Wembley.

“Results have not been good enough ultimately,” says Millar.”I compare ourselves to teams of the other home nations and when I look at them, man for man we have as much if not more talent than them yet they have just been to the Euros and we have not. That is not good enough,” he says.

“The last two results in the qualifiers were poor and it means we must now go onto beat England. If we lose that then for me, Strachan must go.”

As Millar points out, Scotland have a number of star players and one of the most highly-regarded is former Nottingham Forest and current RB Leipzig player Oliver Burke.

His goal for Leipzig against FC Koln made the 19-year-old Scotland international the first Scot to score in the Bundesliga since Brian O’Neil for VFL Wolfsburg in November 1999.

“He has all the physical attributes needed in modern football,” insists Millar. “He is athletic, quick and he can score.

“He is still very young and he has a long way to go but I think going to Germany will enhance his learning. More players should try to play abroad as I think it can only enhance your development as a player.”

Not calling it quits yet

Despite his age and planning for the longer term, Millar insists he is not yet done with playing football.

“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone”

“I have an ambition to play as long as I can as I love the game and feel I still have plenty to offer,” says the midfielder.

“I had issues with injuries last season but that is behind me. There is still life in my legs yet and I do not feel that I am off the pace. When I do feel that, then that is the time to stop.

“I am fit now and have been for most of the season so far, so I am ready to play when called upon. I know when I get back in the team, I will play well and then get my chance again.

“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone. I have achieved things that I wanted in my career like playing in Europe, winning trophies and playing at the highest level in Scotland.

“It is a fantastic community-based club with loyal fans who have made me feel like one of them. It will always have a place in my heart.”

Chris Millar is on Twitter @MidgeyMiller

Falco hoping Kane earns his spurs as a title winner

In 1984-85, Mark Falco scored 22 times for Tottenham Hotspur in the old Division One.

Falco was, in the words of the song fans sing at White Hart Lane, the last ‘One of Our Own’ to notch at least 20 league goals in one campaign.

Until, of course, last season – where if you fast forward 30 years – Harry Kane achieved the same feat.

It was a long time coming for a club steeped in homegrown heroes – the kind that bleed the blue and white of Spurs and live by their motto: ‘To Dare Is To Do’.

Spurs legend Falco says the fact that it took three decades for his mark to be equalled speaks volumes.

“I’m very proud of my record playing for Spurs. It took 30 years for Harry Kane to be the next homegrown player to score 20 league goals, so you see it’s not that easy.”

Team spirit

“Not that easy” is still putting it pretty modestly, but then Falco is one of the gentleman of the game.

Aside from the obvious comparisons between him and Kane, there are also many similarities to the team Falco featured in during the 1984-85 season and the one Kane is currently thriving in.

“I think some of us played nearly 70 matches, so we just ran out of steam”

“The current team is doing extremely well and looks like it could be a very successful season,” said the Bethnal Green-born striker.

“They seem to have the same spirit that we had as a team and are playing some very exciting football which we tried to play.”

That Spurs side, like the current one, were pushing for the league title. Unfortunately, arguably due to the sheer amount of games including European commitments, they fell away in the closing weeks of an arduous season.

Accolades

Were Falco’s personal achievements in front of goal rendered meaningless as his team fell short?

“Obviously it was a very big blow not to have won the league as we were so close, but then we didn’t have the big squads they have now.

“We were also in every competition and into the final phases of the cups. I think some of us played nearly 70 matches, so we just ran out of steam.

“It’s always nice to have personal accolades, but the team is more important. Besides, if the team is doing well then accolades normally follow.”

Now 55, Falco can certainly be proud of his career at his boyhood club.

Disappointment

Making his debut for Tottenham in 1979, he went on to score 98 goals in 236 games for the North Londoners, helping them win the 1984 Uefa Cup with one of their successful penalties in the shoot-out against Anderlecht in the final.

“It was a very great honour to be chosen, considering how many great players have played for the club and didn’t make the top 50”

“Goals mean different things,” he reflected. “I suppose my best goal was when we beat Arsenal 5-0, but my most important was certainly scoring that penalty to help win the Uefa Cup.”

It was, Falco admits, a real disappointment when Spurs told him he was surplus to requirements in 1986, but he went on to join Watford, followed by a successful spell at Rangers and then QPR before finishing his career at Millwall.

“It was very difficult as I had joined Spurs as a 13-year-old and made my way into the first team and was leading goal scorer at the time.

Fondness

“It was a bit of a surprise to be told that the club didn’t need me anymore,” he recalled.

“But that happens when a new manager comes in and has his ideas on how he wants his team to play. If you’re not in his plans, it’s best to move on.”

However, what is certain is that this decision hasn’t damaged his fondness for the club he loves.

In 2009, Falco was voted by supporters as one of the top 50 greatest Spurs players of all time.

“It was a very great honour to be chosen, considering how many great players have played for the club and didn’t make the top 50.”

Falco remains a familiar figure at White Hart Lane, working as a club ambassador on matchdays.

Will his successor Kane be the next name to oust a great from that list – and perhaps go one better and do it with a league winners medal in his back pocket?

Image courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur