Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Wee Gers

The Easter international break which coincided with our birthday this year consisted of a trip to the Scottish borders to cover Berwick Rangers’ game against Elgin City. Not quite international but somewhere entirely different in any case.

Berwick upon Tweed is the northern most town in England. It is most definitely not in Scotland despite the assertions of a window cleaner of our acquaintance. It has been part of Scotland in the past and had the Scottish National Party Member of Scottish Parliament, Christine Grahame got her way in 2008 it still would be. Nevertheless, Berwick upon Tweed is now very much in England and has been since 1551.

Berwick Rangers, the town’s football club are unique in that they are the only English club playing in the Scottish Professional Football League. Founded in 1881, the ‘Wee Gers’ are currently in Scottish League Two, the bottom rung of the Scottish professional ladder and it is at that level they have spent the majority of their existence. However, despite their lowly heritage there have been sporadic highlights including a 3-0 cup win over Dundee in 1954, a twenty one game unbeaten run under the stewardship of Jim Jeffries in 1988 and a momentous 1-0 win over Rangers in the Scottish Cup in front of a record crowd of over 13,000 in 1967. Their lowest point was arguably in 1989-90, when on the brink of bankruptcy they were locked out of Shielfield Park and forced to play their games elsewhere.

John Coughlin
©Shutter Press
They are currently under the supervision of John Coughlin who is almost certainly the only person born in the USA to manage a British professional football club. Born in New York City on 11 April 1963 we are unsure how long Coughlin remained stateside but suspect it wasn’t long, as he embarked on his playing career with Scottish Junior Club Newtongrange Star, was capped by the Scottish Junior Football Association before signing for Meadowbank Thistle now known as Livingston in 1991 and Berwick two years later.

More démodé than contemporary, Shielfield Park is not only home to Berwick Rangers but also to the town’s speedway team Berwick Bandits. A name we mused over, eventually deciding that it was perhaps more alliterative than any connection with the "Wee Gers of Sin". The speedway track runs around the outside of a central, oval shaped, grassed area which houses the football pitch. Situated in Tweedmouth adjacent to Simpson’s Malt, the ground’s capacity is allegedly 4,500 with 1,366 of them getting a seat. On our visit there were 3,988 fewer but not all of them wanted a seat with some of the home support preferring to stand in the curiously named 'Ducket enclosure' opposite the main stand.
The Ducket Enclosure
©Shutter Press

The thirty or so opposition fans that made the 236 mile trip from Moray were seated in sections 1 & 2 of the main stand. As it was a typical 'dreich' Scottish or more accurately Northumbrian day our entry to the arena was via the tunnel, out on to the speedway track and straight in to the away dugout to shelter from the drizzle. At least until its legitimate tenants arrived. The playing surface itself is on an incline meandering gently upwards from the Maltings end towards the River Tweed and the Fish & Chip van end.

Prior to the game, Elgin City were lying third in the in the Second division table, well placed for a play off spot and a dozen points above Berwick. Nonetheless, 
Blair Henderson
©Shutter Press
Elgin’s boss Jim Weir was quoted as saying "Berwick have proven to be very mean in defence under John Coughlin and they have also turned Shielfield into a bit of a fortress so this will be a tough game to get the three points from." His assumption proved to be correct as with only five minutes on the clock Elgin’s Archie McPhee decked Steven Notman in the penalty area allowing Rangers’ tall, fair-haired, centre forward Blair Henderson to convert the resultant spot kick. Five minutes later Notman was again in the firing line taking the ball full in the face and having to leave the field. Elgin continually pressed hard for an equaliser but it was Berwick who took the plaudits and the points sealing their victory with header late in the second half which gave Blair Henderson his and their second goal of the game.

Our celebrations continued long in to the night but to be honest that was more to do with our birthday than the "Wee Gers" unexpected victory. 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Who is Boro's best ever manager?

Nine days ago in the midst of 'Karankagate' we tweeted the following;
"Here's an interesting stat - Aitor Karanka's win ratio @Boro is 51.9%, Jack Charlton's was 45.6%, Bryan Robson's 40.45% & Bruce Rioch's 40%."
Our information was based on an article we'd read but nevertheless the Tweet led to the inevitable question about which divisions of the Football pyramid those statistics related to. Other than being safe in the knowledge that Aitor Karanka's stats all referred to the second tier we were unable to answer the question. However, after a good deal of research, we can now reveal who is Boro's leading manager in each of the top two tiers of English Football.

The answer is (Cue drumroll)... Jack Charlton.

The statistics that support such an assertion are thus.

Top Division Pld Won % Win 2nd Tier Pld Won % Win
Jack Charlton 126 47 37.30 Jack Charlton 51 30 58.82
John Neal 168 59 35.12 Bryan Robson 92 50 54.35
Steve McClaren 190 64 33.68 Gareth Southgate 13 7 53.85
Terry Venables 22 7 31.82 Aitor Karanka 119 62 52.10
Bryan Robson 168 50 29.76 Lenny Lawrence 92 41 44.57
Lenny Lawrence 42 11 26.19 Colin Todd 48 20 41.67
Gareth Southgate 114 29 25.44 Tony Mowbray 137 50 36.50
Bruce Rioch 38 9 23.68 Bruce Rioch 84 27 32.14
Bobby Murdoch 42 8 19.05 Malcolm Allison 68 20 29.41
Colin Todd 12 1 8.33 Gordon Strachan 43 12 27.91
Willie Maddren 70 17 24.29
Bobby Murdoch 7 0 0

These figures are for League games only, no FA Cups, League Cup, UEFA Cup, Anglo-Italian, Zenith Data Systems or pre-season friendlies are included. Nor are Bruce Rioch's 27 wins in 46 games in the Third tier of English football.

So there you have it. You may argue that there should be a qualifying number of matches before these stats count rather like cricket averages. That might then preclude Bobby Murdoch & Gareth Southgate's 2nd tier performance and Colin Todd's effort in the old first division. Whatever the case I am minded of Darrell Huff's book recommended by an old university tutor of mine many moons ago.

The title of the book...?

"How to lie with statistics".

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A Hull of a Weekend

The Tigers' visit to the Riverside Stadium last Friday heralded Aitor Karanka's reincarnation as the Middlesbrough Head Coach. For us it was almost
'death by a thousand sideways passes'
Hull pressed and Boro failed to find a way forward let alone through the Tigers defence. Then out of the gloom, or more accurately the smoke from yet another incendiary device, came a moment of magic as the industrious David Nugent headed an injury time winner that sparked scenes of wild jubilation amongst the Boro faithful and indeed the not-so faithful. In spite of the three points Middlesbrough finished the weekend in third place, outside of the automatic promotion spots but with a game in hand.

As for us, on Saturday we went to Hull and back, well almost. To be precise we went to Brantingham near Brough in North Humberside to cover Darlington Mowden Park's oval ball game against the intriguingly named Hull Ionians.

For those of you who are interested, alongside the Dorians, Aeolians and the Achaeans, the Ionians were one of the four tribes of Ancient Greece. Born out of a merger between Hull East Riding and Ionians rugby clubs in June 1989, the Hull branch of Ionians' tribe ply their trade at the rather more modern and impressive Brantingham Park.

Warren Seals it with last gasp kick.
©Shutter Press
The game itself was dominated not by either side but by the referee and we mused that today
'death was to be by a thousand whistle blows.'

More enthralling than exciting Mowden won with the last play of the game, a penalty converted by Warren Seals which led to the inevitable headline of "Warren Seals it with last gasp kick".

This weekend we head north to Shielfield Park for the Scottish League Two match of the day between Berwick Rangers and Elgin City. Not to be outdone we'll be back before that with a piece on who is Boro's best ever manager...

Tuesday, 15 March 2016


Last night's statement from Middlesbrough Football Club in which they confirmed
"..that Head Coach Aitor Karanka will be resuming first team duties with the club with immediate effect."
was not only a massive u turn by both parties but an unprecedented move in football. It is difficult to recall another occasion when a manager has walked out, been refused entry to the training ground and missed a game only to return to his post a few days later. What happens next remains to be seen but if Boro are to secure one of the automatic promotion spots, something needs to change. Their performances at Blackburn, Rotherham & Charlton were abject and when the Tigers roar into town on Friday there needs to be a much better and bigger commitment from all concerned.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Manager Merry-go-round

McClaren out Benitez in, Freedman out and Karanka goes AWOL or does he? The football manager merry go-round is currently at full throttle.

Newcastle's handling of their managerial affairs was nothing short of shambolic and yet throughout it all Steve McClaren behaved with the utmost professionalism. Can the same be said for Aitor Karanka? Middlesbrough's Spanish manager allegedly stormed out of a players' meeting and was absent from their 2-0 defeat at relegation threatened Charlton Athletic yesterday. His relationship with certain players is supposedly almost at breaking point and speculation suggests that Stewart Downing, a favourite of club chairman Steve Gibson is one of those players. However, after a poor run of form it would not be difficult to make a case that Downing shouldn't be in the current starting eleven

Whatever has happened at the Boro it needs resolving and resolving quickly. In a quote attributed to BBC Radio Tees sport it was reported that

"It is inconceivable that Aitor Karanka will return to manage Middlesbrough."
and yet the majority of fans want him back. Gibson is due to meet Karanka within the next 48 hours. Who will be in charge for Boro's crucial game against Hull City on Friday will no doubt be decided as a result of that meeting.