There’s been controversy and drama at both ends of the table in the Scottish first division this week.
At the bottom end, with Stirling Albion already relegated, Ross County and Cowdenbeath now face a straight fight to avoid the play-off spot, and County took a three point advantage this week by winning their game in hand – the twice abandoned game against Queen of the South which finally went ahead at a neutral venue.
The game had first been played in Feburary, and a halt was called with the score at 1-1 on 65 minutes, when the floodlights failed. A subsequent investigation found no fault with the electrics, the failure was blamed on a power surge, and the lights were used without problems in subsequent games. Unfortunately, when County came back earlier this month to replay the match, the same thing happened, this time after 68 minutes, and this time with the away side leading 2-0.
County were understandably unhappy, and made noises about claiming the three points. The Scottish Football League quite correctly ordered the game to be replayed, initially at the same venue, but changed their mind a couple of days later for reasons that weren’t made very clear, and the game instead took place at Stirling on Tuesday, with County winning 1-0. That leaves Cowdenbeath unhappy, and considering a counter-appeal, as the games have not all been played under the same conditions. (Queen of the South themselves don’t seem to care either way, their season has unravelled on and off the pitch in the last few weeks, and they just want to get to the end of it.)
Cowden have a point, but probably not much of one, it’s hard to argue that the slight advantage of a neutral venue was sufficient compensation for, on the second occasion, the lost opportunity to play out a game with a 2-0 lead, while the decision to switch the game doesn’t seem unreasonable given that they still haven’t got to the bottom of the problem and couldn’t guarantee it not happening again. However the issue has once again focused attention on the sometimes haphazard and arbitrary decision-making processes of the SFL.
But most of the focus has been at the top end of the table, where Dunfermline took a big step towards the title and sole promotion place with victory over Raith in the Fife derby last Saturday. Billed as a probable league decider as well as a derby game, it created levels of interest that were unprecedented in recent years, and a sell out crowd of 11,000 or so. Dunfermline were good value from their win, recovering from a 1-0 half-time deficit that was very much against the run of play, to win 2-1 with a brace of second half goals from veteran midfielder Martin Hardie. Hardie has revitalised their promotion campaign since his signing mid-season, and the win leaves Dunfermline four points clear of the Rovers with two games left. They will secure the title this afternoon if they win at Morton or if Raith come a cropper against Queen of the South, but it could yet make for an interesting final day if results go the other way.
The game made headlines not just on the back page but even, on what must have been a very slow news day, the front page thanks to the pre-match antics of Dunfermline mascot Sammy the Tammy. Sammy is one of the more colourful mascots – almost alone among their genre he has been known to make me laugh now and then. The previous high point of his career came during the Winter Olympics when he upset health and safety officials by toboganning down the steps of the stand (at least until he fell off).
And last Saturday he excelled himself by making his way onto the pitch in a cardboard tank and firing a series of invisible shells into the away support. (Video footage is available here.) Coming in the week that Celtic manager Neil Lennon and others had apparently been sent bombs or bullets in the post, this caused one or two to get a bit hot under the collar, including a couple of Raith supporters who were latched onto for quotes.
The Raith Supporters Club have since issued a statement rowing back from these comments a little and seeking to draw a line under it, but for me this didn’t go nearly far enough. I don’t claim to represent all Raith fans but I am at least one myself, and I’d like to make my support for Sammy clear. At the time, admittedly, I didn’t think it was one of his better routines, but on reflection I now think it may be his finest moment yet.
Firstly, I’ve since had opportunity to see the footage and the photos, and to appreciate the quite exquisite detailing in the tank itself – a beautifully crafted replica which is almost indistinguishable from the real thing and must have taken many thousands of man hours to construct. But much more important is the reaction he’s elicited – not by any problems caused in the crowd at the time, of which there were none whatsoever and were never going to be, but among those who have entirely lost their sense of perspective over it.
And notwithstanding those quotes from a couple of Raith fans, the criticism has come almost entirely from those in the press box. Some of them I’m sure were just looking for stories, there are some sections of the press who don’t like football, who give football fans no credit and are happy with any stories that are based on the assumption that any football crowd is one tantrum away from a full-scale riot. But there are also many in the Scottish sports press who tend to view the entire world of Scottish football through the prism of Celtic and Rangers, and who like to imagine thay the problems that afflict that particular rivalry are not unique to them but represent part of a much wider problem in Scottish society and the rest of the Scottish game.
Mostly, they’re wrong. And Sammy knows this. Indeed, I don’t think he’s been given nearly enough credit here. Those drawing their laughable parallels between this incident and the bullets in the post have portrayed it as an entirely thoughtless act, but Sammy has a track record of basing his pre-match routines on events from the week’s news, and personally I see it as a quite deliberate subversion of the Old Firm situation, a reductio ad absurdum. His message was quite clear: through in Glasgow you do things your way and it’s all very nasty, but don’t project your problems onto us – through here in Fife, I can take a fucking tank onto the pitch and take potshots at the Raith support and nothing will come of it.
And nothing did. The upset has come entirely from those who claim the gesture could have been inflammatory, not from anyone who actually was inflamed by it. The game was played, as the whole season has been, in a great spirit of healthy rivalry. The act doesn’t need an apology or any plea of mitigation that he didn’t mean any harm by it and won’t do it again. It was a mickey-take of the excesses of football rivalry, not an incitement to violence. And if there might be some situations in which that might have been misinterpreted, this wasn’t one of them. Nor are most football matches these days.
So please, instead of the hand-wringing, let’s have more people in badly-dressed bear suits carrying cardboard tanks and pretending to shoot at one another on the football pitch. And let Sammy keep doing his thing.
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