Flushing The Toilet on 2018/19

Mark Murphy’s 2018/19 finished on 27 April, approximately eight months and a fortnight too late. Here’s 2019 words of therapy and updates on late-season events. Plus one “considered” view on a currently-rumoured prospect for 2019/20.

Kingstonian’s Calamitous Collapse

Last April, my relief when my team Kingstonian’s season ended was palpable. Three managers and 70+ players in 2017/18 earned Ks the sobriquet ‘Nebulous FC’ from our fanbase’s intelligentsia (hello, Ian). And the season was over-run with mud-splattered, guileless narrow home defeats as we ground-shared with league rivals Leatherhead, whose pitch was too adjacent to the River Mole to fully cope with the wet winter.

There were, we thought, three reasons to be thankful. One, we should always be thankful for Leatherhead’s help. But a new groundshare with Corinthian-Casuals returned us to Kingston Borough. Two, we hadn’t been a late season surge from relegation, as per 12 months further ago. And three, 2018/19 could not be as bad.

OK…two out of three… Despite winning enough points to avoid the drop this season by early January, “things” were not “as bad again” because they were worse. Ks took FOUR points from their final SEVENTEEN games, with Enfield Town surely scratching their heads as to how we took three off them. And EVERYBODY scratching their heads as to how we took the other point off Carshalton, who simultaneously surged into second place (if, ultimately, play-off semi-final defeat).

Ks “splashed the cash” last summer. But we didn’t get what we paid for until beating Folkestone 4-1 on 6th October. Then, as summer signings combined joyously with manager Leigh Dynan’s effective use of loanees, Ks surged, Carshalton-like, to second after a 1-0 win at Enfield on 24th November.

This was a false position. Ks’ execrable FA competitions’ record (the FA Cup was still going in October?) meant they’d played more league games than almost everybody. But beating Bishop’s Stortford 3-0 on 6th January left them genuinely third. Two first-half stoppage-time goals at eventually-promoted Tonbridge Angels brought Ks so dramatically back from 2-0 down that victory seemed likely. They lost 3-2. And the rest…oh God… Relegated Whitehawk were Sh*tehawk…but beat Ks 3-1 at a canter. And after a 7-1 loss at runaway champions Dorking Wanderers, a long-term “Dynan out” campaign finally, deservedly, won.

Ex-Hemel Hempstead and Billericay boss Dean Brennan was a surprisingly high-profile replacement (based on my “he must be good; I’ve heard of him” theory). Ks fans gave the Dubliner a fabulous welcome. Irish tricolors everywhere and traditional Irish music on the tannoy (OK, not all fab). A battling home draw with Carshalton was a decent start. But then…oh God…

Brennan introduced nine debutants in the next game. And having a pre-season in March was predictably disastrous. Whitehawk’s Ks-inspired lift out of the drop zone put Wingate & Finchley, Harlow and Burgess Hill in it. They played Ks on consecutive March Saturdays…and Ks lost the lot, a 3-1 loss at Harlow especially galling given Harlow’s propensity for conceding hockey scores (e.g. losing 7-0 at…Ks).

Brennan left by very mutual consent. And ex-boss (permanent and interim) Kim Harris steadied the ship to avoid too many humiliations. Before the 6th April Enfield game, the board warned fans about recent collective bad language. With Ks’ recent form, many noted, it was no wonder people were swearing. Then Ks…er…’won,’ causing relief and confusion (“Yayyyyy…er…what do we do now?”).

Yet Kim’s expressed hopes of permanent appointment were probably crushed by a final-day home loss to Leatherhead which replicate the season’s fortunes. Much promise after a slow start. Then terrifying collapse. Leatherhead won 4-0, with goals between minutes 57 and 72. Ks, in the top-five for months, finished fifth-from-bottom. Oh God. I have now, twice too often, re-assured myself that things couldn’t get any worse. Thus, for the first time in my 37-year Ks supporting career, I have no idea where we go from here. When I said “flushing the toilet” on 2018/19, I was thinking of Kingstonian. Although…

Sixty-Seven Minutes

Sixty-seven minutes and seven seconds into Celtic’s home league game against Kilmarnock on 27th April, Celtic’s number five, Jozo Simunovic, scored its only goal, on a day when the club mourned the passing and celebrated the life of Billy McNeill, number five and captain when they won the 1967 European Cup, the pinnacle of Celtic and Scottish club football history. And the reaction of certain fans and pundits? Typified by a Stefan Bienkowski of no fixed significance: “Guys, it was the 68th minute.”

Whether these people were nerds or neds, such a soulless reaction to such poignant co-incidence was disheartening. Technically, they were correct. Goal-machine Shane Long’s seventh-second strike for Southampton at Watford four days previously wasn’t in the “noughth” minute. But what soullessness produces such pedantry?

Kingstonian turnstile-operational duties meant I had to follow matters on the BBC website. And when the goal appeared as “Simunovic 68” I wished he’d scored a minute before. Then 14 years’ Non-League Paper match reporting kicked in and I recalled that 68 meant 67 minutes and seconds. I was, soppily, delighted it was only “seven” seconds. Yet I would far rather be soppy than soulless.

The toxicity of Scottish football support meant it was little surprise to hear of organised refusals to join in the McNeill tributes across Scottish league grounds. And that is more troubling tribalistic w*nkdom. But it remains disheartening when such a poignant co-incidence is so clinically dismissed. Sky Sports’ co-commentator Andy Walker’s punditry is not universally popular among Celtic fans.

But he emerged from the reminiscences about McNeill as a true friend of his ex-boss. And he saw the poignant significance of the moment immediately. Why couldn’t others just acknowledge that the goal came “after 67 minutes,” or, better still, just shut up altogether?

(Not A) Bad Boy Broony

The headlines on Celtic’s Scott Brown were telling “…not punished for Old Firm celebration” (BBC Scotland); “…escapes punishment over Old Firm celebration” (Sky Sports); “…escapes ban for behaviour against Rangers…” (Scotsman). And “escapes SFA ban” (talkSPORT). Aside from “WTF is an Old Firm celebration?” these begged the question: “WHY did he ‘escape” punishment?

In truth, Brown ‘escaped’ nothing. An SFA charge of “failing to act in the best interests of association football” during his post-match celebration of Celtic’s 2-1 win over Rangers at Celtic Park in March was “not proved.” For which the “punishment” is…SFA. Yet Scotland’s football media suggested otherwise.

The Beeb’s Jonathan Sutherland called the charge “not proven.” One letter out. But a different Scots law verdict. Both have legal implications of acquittal and freedom. But ‘not proven’ implies potential guilt. Contested SFA disciplinary charges are ‘not proved’ or “proved.” Ryan Kent’s breach in the same game, hitting Brown in the face, was “proved.” Sutherland said “Brown was also involved in incidents that led to red cards” for three Rangers players. But his ‘involvement’ was being twice hit in the face, and being charged at, sparking a melee in which Brown was ‘not’ involved.

The Scotsman newspaper’s Kathleen Oates said Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos saw red for “clashing with Brown,” a ‘clash’ between swinging elbow and stationary face. And talkSHITE’s Joe Coleman claimed, utterly falsely, that Brown “avoided punishment for causing several scuffles,” while not mentioning the “not proved” verdict, AT ALL. A journalistic achievement of sorts, I guess.

As I’ve said before, such work would automatically fail the basic journalism exams I passed. Yet it STILL gets to Scottish national print. You may reasonably question whether Celtic fans are paranoid over this stuff. But if it happened so blatantly, so often, to your team, what would YOU think?

Vale of Cheers?

Never tempt fate with Norman Smurthwaite. But since we were last at Smurthwaite-owned League Two Port Vale, there has been nothing to suggest that takeover talks between Carol and Keith Shanahan and Vale CEO Colin Garlick, announced on 2nd April, will fail. Promised media silence has been maintained. While Smurthwaite has had reported, though denied, interest in now-relegated Notts County.

In March, Smurthwaite threatened to put Vale into administration on 5th May if he couldn’t sell. Mercifully, that deadline passed without admin incident. Despite Notts County dropping down to the ‘Non-League Paper,’ Vale would still have to be rid of Smurthwaite for him to be significantly involved at the Magpies. Alas for all with Vale’s interests genuinely at heart, the Nottingham Post newspaper reported on 23rd April that Smurthwaite is not favourite, or favoured, to buy County.

The Post’s ‘Notts County Editor,’ Leigh Curtis, said an unspecified “South African consortium completing due diligence” was “a step closer” to completing the takeover. He called Smurthwaite’s “hopes of buying” County “remote” and “likely” to be “met with derision by fans.”

Less “remote” hopes were raised by James Nursey’s 24th April Mirror newspaper article claiming Smurthwaite was in County talks “after teeing up” a £4m “Port Vale sale.” A “source” called his bid “currently…the most attractive,” And Nursey fag-ended the piece with Smurthwaite’s ‘explanation’ of “recent appearances” at County: “I live close to the club and have been watching some games (as) it was felt I shouldn’t go to (Vale) because it gives them a security headache.”

This may be true as Curtis reported on Saturday that the “still to be confirmed” South African takeover was “expected to be completed in the middle of May.” But there has been no suggestion that Smurthwaite selling Vale is at all dependent on buying County. And given Smurthwaite’s history of abruptly dashing takeover hopes, no news on the Shanahan talks is (relatively) good news.

Still, never tempt fate with Norman Smurthwaite.

Delaney Drags On

No news on John Delaney is bad news. Despite near-weekly revelations in the Sunday Times’ Ireland edition about his financial ‘behaviour’ as Football Association of Ireland (FAI) CEO, and a promised collective resignation of the FAI board, Delaney remains merely “stepped aside” from the executive vice-presidency created for him when he resigned as CEO in March.

The oxymoronic concept of a ‘Fifa Normalisation Committee’ has been applied to ‘troubled’ FAs across Planet Football. But there seems little prospect of meaningful Fifa intervention in Ireland, particularly as some MIGHT say Delaney has followed a metaphorical Fifa financial behaviour playbook.

Ex-FAI General Secretary Brendan Menton appeared to agree when he recently referenced “a systematic dismantling of rules, procedures and checks and balances during the Delaney reign.” But Uefa, on whose Executive Committee Delaney still sits, have said: “….” And an FAI “governance review group” has been set up for cynics’ pleasure, with FAI president Donal Conway stating, above the derisive snorts from Gaelic Football and Hurling fans: “We are determined to ensure that we are fit for purpose as a modern and dynamic governing body for the biggest sport in the country.”

The FAI is being investigated from all angles, But some investigators are FAI-appointed and full FAI co-operation with ‘independent’ scrutiny is uncertain. In April, Ireland’s corporate watchdog, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), requested reeks of FAI documents, including all board and board sub-committee minutes since 2016. The FAI supplied them but claimed some material was legally privileged and put it in a folder effectively marked ‘none of your business.’ The ODCE has asked Ireland’s High Court to intervene.

Sunday Times revelations continue. Last Sunday, the €60,000 of “professional fees” allegedly paid in 2014 to Delaney’s then-girlfriend Susan Keegan was ‘revealed’ as an “’agent’s fee’ relating to a friendly between Ireland and England.” Keegan denies receiving it. So, the star of this FAI sh*tshow is then-FAI finance director Tony Dignam, currently a candidate to be FAI honorary secretary…because of course he is.

Dignam said he “tried to keep controls” on “John’s credit card expenditure” and “got him to refund anything personal.” He insisted “he did not know who Keegan was” but “did raise concerns.” Oh…and “it was approved by Michael Cody and Eddie Murray]” two FAI board ultra-Delaneyites who quit before the collective resignations.

“I was told the payment had something to do with the friendly,” Dignam added, unsettlingly vaguely. “That is my recollection…but it was five years ago, and I left shortly after.” It was “unusual,” he understated. And he “had questions but…I didn’t think there was anything more I could do.” Uh-huh.

The obvious solution remains for Delaney to **** off from the FAI forever. But that solution, currently, seems as distant as ever.

And finally… Mourinho to Celtic?

Oh…fcuk off. On EVERY level, fcuk off. In fact… fcuk RIGHT off. And when you’ve got there…fcuk RIGHT off again…