One of the benefits of having moved ‘down south’ is being able to watch the demise of Rangers from afar. I have no torch for either half of the so called Old Firm, although that term will have to be rethought. The less pleasant aspects of both clubs have spread throughout the country like Japanese Knotweed, choking off any chance of growth in support of clubs around Scotland.
Whilst there is no doubt something chastening for all clubs that one of the stature of Rangers can go to the wall, it’s mixed with amusement and dollops of schadenfreude. They did after all bring it upon themselves.
Most amusing has been the strident tones with which Rangers fan base have maintained that somehow it’s all the fault of Craig Whyte, a johnny-come-lately owner who purchased the club from Sir David Murray barely a year ago. Yes, he’s been complicit. He wanted to make a fast buck, but, one look at the various charges laid at the clubs door should tell even the most rabid of the “Follow, Follow” brigade (and that’s Blindly follow follow), that something has been amiss in the state of Denmark for some time.
In the early to mid 80’s Rangers were not the club most are familiar with. They were a mid table side, playing to crowds of half the number they’ve seen in recent seasons. Aberdeen and Dundee United were the successful clubs in Scotland at the time, using youth policy and shrewd management from Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean to become respected in Europe. Enter David Murray, rebuffed in his attempts to buy his boyhood team of Ayr United, he successfully purchased Rangers. Installed Graeme Souness as player/manager and things would never be the same again for Scottish Football.
Rangers embarked on a spending spree. Established international players Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, Trevor Steven et al were persuaded north, trophies were once again piling up and, loyal fans flocking back. Club after club spent good money after bad enticing third and fourth rate European players to their squads in an effort to keep up. Fergus McCann at Celtic had to do away with the infamous biscuit tin. The thing is, sanity gradually took hold. Clubs began to cut their cloth, yes, even Celtic. Not however, Rangers. Blinded by the need to one up their hated rivals, new and more elaborate means were found to continue bringing in the mercenaries. The sense of entitlement amongst their fans only grew.
And now, the house of cards has come crashing down. The financials don’t appear to have been wholly above board. Tax evasion, EBT’s, double contracts. Systematic cheating to further tilt a playing field that was never level to begin with, Rangers enjoy significant advantages over the rest of the SPL, except Celtic. More TV money goes the way of the big two than does the rest of the SPL, the numbers required in a vote to change anything in the SPL were skewed to ensure nothing could go against the big two.
Outside of the financial wrong doing (alleged), it amounts to cheating on the field of play. By not paying certain things everyone else was paying, they could pay more on players. Thus bettering their squad further and probably winning more than they would have done had they played fair. Not for one second do I imagine it would have been a utopian ideal, Rangers may well have won all the trophies over the time frame they did anyway, but, we’ll never know.
Has there been one word of remorse? From anyone connected with them? Err, no, just finger pointing and claims of a vendetta. The usual paranoid fantasies of Old Firm fans who believe everything is about and for them.
For any number of years now, both Rangers and Celtic have publicly claimed to be seeking entry to the English Premier League, for that way riches lie, and indeed Scottish clubs were reassured that the SPL would continue without them, for no club is bigger than the league. Suddenly, with the club facing the prospect of liquidation, it became, “Scottish football NEEDS us”.
And so, they have been liquidated. Rangers are no more; instead there is The Rangers, a club with no history and at the moment no league to play in. The SPL will vote on July 4th on whether or not The Rangers should be allowed Rangers’ SPL share and thus take their place in the SPL. This leads to further complications. Many Rangers fans point out that as The Rangers are a new club, with none of the history etc. of Rangers, they therefor should not be liable for any of the punishments to be meted out once the legal processes have taken place. This ignores a couple of things:
1. If no punishment is to be made that sets up a precedent whereby any club can just walk away from it’s debt and carry on as though nothing was amiss.
2. It’s a new club, therefor it should have to go through all the same application processes as any other new club would in order to gain league status.
The second of these is the most interesting to me. Assuming a vote is passed denying them access to the SPL, it seems to have been taken as read that the club will just enter the SFL in division three. This just glosses over the fact that there is a process to gaining entry to the SFL. Clubs like Cove Rangers and Spartans have tried and failed recently, and I’m sure there would be legal challenges should this be a mere fait accompli. There is no guarantee that SFL clubs would vote to allow them in anyway, quite apart from the due diligence angle, as Peterhead have already mentioned, why ruin the competition by allowing this club in. Once again turkeys, voting and Christmas spring to mind.
The new season fixture list was announced and it threw up some interesting discussion points. The SPL list contained “Club12” the designation given for whatever club takes Rangers place. Conspiracy theorists have been analysing the list since and the following points jump out:
1. Celtic face Club12 on Boxing Day. It’s normal at this time of year for there to be a Rangers v Celtic clash – is this a sign that The Rangers will be allowed in the SPL?
2. Celtic have a home game on the same day as Club12 once, Dundee United have a home game on the same day as Club 12 nine times. – another sign The Rangers are coming? It’s widely believed that Dundee are in pole position to take Rangers place, in this scenario that would require 9 games to be rescheduled on police advice. Does this make it more likely that The Rangers are Club12? I could be that Dunfermline get unrelegated!!
3. Whilst the SPL have taken a simple route and can just replace Club 12 with whoever, the SFL will face a bit of a nightmare reshaping their fixture list should Dundee/Dunfermline be in the SPL and should The Rangers pitch up somewhere in the SFL. Another sign that The Rangers are expected to go to the SPL?
Who knows? It just gets more complex and more surprising by the day. Walter Smith appeared to lead a bid to take over The Rangers, however his white steed had a panic attack and bolted with him still on board just a few hours later. News of another bidding team has been reported in the last day or so too. To top this though, stories have begun to circulate of the new ownership at the club hatching a plan to purchase Bury, an ENGLISH League 1 side. Bury would then be moved wholesale to Glasgow, renamed as The Rangers and presto! Goodbye SPL, hello, well ok, League 1.
This smacks of yet more, “we’re taking our ba’ away” posturing, the big “we dinnae need you but you need us” grandiose arrogant scheme old Rangers were very fond of. The logic of it defies thought!
Worst case in Scotland would see them entering Div 3 of the SFL with the likelihood being that with the Rangers name and new financing they would cruise through to Div 1 in successive years. Year 3 would be a bit tougher but they should gain promotion to the SPL then. That would also be the end of the 3 year European ban. So Year 4, when they are again eligible for Europe, they are in the SPL and probably mounting a challenge for trophies and qualification for Euro competition.
Assuming the myriad logistical issues and footballing boards in England, Scotland, UEFA and FIFA can be overcome, there is no guarantee of anything in England for them. League 1 can be tough to get out of, ask Sheffield United!, and the Championship even harder. They could slog for seasons just to get a sniff of the EPL, and Europe a pipe dream long after the ban is lifted.
Sadly though all of this seems moot, despite numerous SPL clubs having made noises about ‘sporting integrity’ it seems they are paving the way for a vote that would allow The Rangers into the SPL. Kilmarnock being the worst offenders here, tripping over themselves to kiss Rangers buttocks at every opportunity. Recent boardroom shuffles at Aberdeen can be interpreted wither way, but many feel it clears the way for a yes vote. Rumours are also emerging of a “compromise deal” that would see The Rangers accepted to the SPL and then immediately relegated to Division 1.
Whatever happens, we do indeed live in interesting times.
This post comes out of Twitter exchange with @LegsideLizzy, @ErikPetersen and myself on the subject of comments made by Muttiah Muralitharan on England’s domestic Twenty20 cricket competition. I hope I don’t misrepresent them in any way, and thank them for planting the seed in my head on a day when I had nothing better to do than end up thinking about this way to much.
The jist of the comments from Murali, which can be found here (the BBC website) are that the current T20 set up in England is “old fashioned”. He advocates a move to franchise teams and even merging counties.
To my mind, these are separate and distinct possibilities and are mutually exclusive. Both have enticing pro’s and both are fraught with potentially damaging cons, but both have the same end game, an English version of the IPL, with around 8 teams containing the cream of the county game and a half dozen of the world games top stars.
On the face of it, this would seem like a good thing, and indeed the model has been pretty successful around the world of the major cricketing nations. England however, may just be it’s nemesis.
In no other of the major nations is cricket so firmly entrenched. None of the other countries have an equivalent to the County Championship consisting of 18 teams. None of the other nations has such a small window of optimum weather to play all their cricket in. A window which seems to be opening and closing more over a longer period, but leaving fewer days where play is possible.
So, what do we need to get an “EPL” up and running?
On the basis that any team owner, whether it be a merged county set up or a franchise, is going to want to maximise their gate money and associated concession sales, then it would make sense to host these games at the existing venues. There are international class grounds available in Durham, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff, Bristol and Southampton with a further two in London. The issue here is that these grounds are in use by the resident counties, and also for international commitments. A merger of existing counties would bypass one of these problems, and the necessity for star players would also alleviate the second as there would have to be a time frame created for this tournament with no clashing international cricket being played.
One of the points put forward this morning would have been the potential, within a franchise based model, for minor county areas such as Cornwall to bid for a franchise. Whilst a laudable aim, the lack of facilities would be a stumbling block that would need time to overcome. An investment of that ilk would also likely need guarantees of usage beyond the short EPL season. Franchise owners will need to be able to negotiate use of these grounds. Opening up the potential for regular franchise movement as each owner looks to sign a sweetheart deal with a city eager for a piece of the pie.
This last is one of the reasons “franchise” is seen as a bad thing in the UK. Clubs in the UK have a history and a sense of place generally because the have grown up organically there. MK Dons are derided as “Franchise FC” because the parachuted in from elsewhere. Fans, set in their ways with their county loyalties are unlikely to take to a merged set up because of the tainting of their team by a rival, nor are the likely to have an affair with a franchise. The fear of it moving as ownership chase greener pastures of cash being just part of it. Yes, rules could be drawn up preventing that sort of cash grab, but, that would just make the investment even less attractive to any prospective owner.
Any league needs teams. Currently the T20 is made up of the 18 First Class Counties, split into 3 groups of six, each team playing ten games. There are then quarter finals, and a finals day where both semi-finals and final are played.
For any move toward an IPL model, 18 is too many. The talent pool is left thinner as the best players have to be spread between the clubs. Looking at the other world leagues, numbers range from 5 in Zimbabwe to 11 in Pakistan. Of the key competitions any prospective EPL would look to be modelling itself on, in South Africa they have 7 teams, Australia 8 and India 9.
The simplest thing to do would then be to follow Murali’s lead and merge counties. This could conceivably cut the numbers to 9 or 8 with minimal fuss. A quick scan of the county cricket map could give:
- Leeds – based on Yorkshire
- Manchester – based on Lancashire
- Durham – initially felt they could merge with Yorkshire, but as I had no-one merging with Lancashire, there’s no way Yorkshire would’ve taken “help” if Lancashire weren’t getting any!
- Birmingham – taking in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire
- Cardiff – Glamorgan based
- Southampton – joining Hampshire with Somerset and Sussex
- Nottingham – joining Notts with Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Northants
- North London – Middlesex and Essex
- South London – Surrey and Kent
Nine teams all playing at current international venues! Wait, did I say “with minimal fuss”? Hmm, anyone who saw the kvetching from the FA’s of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over Team GB at the Olympics, knows this bird will fly about as well as the Dodo did.
So, we have to go to a franchise set up, right? Nine new sets of colours, nine city identities no doubt with an animal mascot bearing no resemblance to anything seen in that city. Sorry Superleague, but the only Rhino’s ever to have been in Leeds are plastic and on the shelves in Toys’r'Us. At least the clubs can generate publicity by having a naming competition, just so long as the Durham Durhams is one of the teams.
The obvious source of players for any merged counties is the county squads themselves, augmented by the overseas stars. The main gripe against the current system is that only two overseas players are allowed, and no England, or by extension, touring team players are included. Merging could solve one of those problems, in that, the best of each counties squad would become available, long with the finance for multiple overseas players, up to a limit of five or six if the IPL model is followed. Getting the England etc players in would require a change in the calendar to make this happen. A fully franchised model would mean practically everyone being put into a put to be auctioned/drafted, which is fine for those selected, but what about those many who would be surplus to requirements? A county cricketer’s lot is not an easy existence without making him surplus to requirements for a month in the middle of the season. None of the counties are going to want to play any form of cricket if the are shorn of their better players during this time period.
Administrators and ideas people love to talk of the potential of untapped wallets just waiting to be emptied into their laps, and there is no shortage of deluded people in these industries. One look at the “Apprentice” illustrates that. This idea does not rest on the “County Tragic” being enticed along, it’s all about the new audience, the young, sexy, cash to burn professional types. Oh…..
On the face of it, having counties merge, pooling their T20 budgets and resources would appear to make sense. For many, the share of the profits would probably be higher than it currently is. The theoretical bigger gates garnered by them playing at the bigger grounds, the possibly increased TV money would all aid this. But would it? There is a potential for fans to stay away. They identify with their counties and are likely to vote on any dilution/pollution of their team by staying away.
Similarly, a franchise model may not bring the fans flocking. For reasons mentioned above they may struggle beyond the initial curiosity phase to attract an audience. The big ticket for franchisees is the TV deal. SKY are the existing broadcasters, but would have to renegotiate regardless of the model used. The change in number of games and format would see to that. They’d also be likely to have competition. ESPN have links to Indian broadcasters and given the IPL nature of this venture it would seem to make sense to capitalize on increased interest from the sub-continent by getting broadcast rights. Even little ITV4 who go a bundle on the IPL might look to dip a toe in.
However, this all relies on finding 9 men or women with money to burn on a cricket tournament. In the middle of a recession.
The final conundrum, is when to play it. The English domestic season is already a Dante-esque mish mash of little windows for it’s various competitions, interspersed with International cricket, and regardless of how the teams are formed, this is going to be the single biggest stumbling block.
This years T20 contest runs from 12 June to 8th July, with quarter finals on 24th and 25th July and finals day 25th August. This won’t work for either of the new models. In order to keep all the big name players around, the tournament will need to be structured so it starts and ends within a single timeframe.
The initially run of four and half weeks ought to be enough to get a reduced format tournament played. With 9 teams, each team would have 16 fixtures. Add in the knockout games and it’s a 5 week window.
In that time frame, England play 3 ODI’s and a T20 against the touring West Indians. They then spend roughly two weeks playing a bolted on series of 5 ODI’s against Australia. They have a week off before starting a test series with South Africa.
There are very few fans, administrators or broadcasters who would have that program put on hold to allow players from England, West Indies, Australia or South Africa to play in a hit and giggle contest. I’d surmise most of the players would rather play in the international stuff too.
To my mind, the timing of this is the biggest stumbling block, as no matter which model is used, the clash with international cricket needs to be worked out. Something for greater minds than mine.
As indeed was this “article”. Maybe someone can make sense of it, but I wrote it, and I can’t.
The three weeks following the home loss to Plumtree have seen a collection of largely positive results.
First up was a trip to Costa del Papplewick Hall, where having won the toss, skipper Hunt elected to bat first. Steve Allcoat starred with the bat, hitting an unbeaten 73. With backup from Mierkalns (35) and Bicknell (33) a total of 223 for 9 was posted. This felt maybe 20 or so runs short of par.
That assessment seemed bang on as Dowman (32), Vines (51), Nel (68) and Nelson (29) set about the chase. However, with Hindson and Muzaffar chipping away things began to slow down. Haines then struck twice in an over and it was nerves all round. Needing six off the final over, Papplewick were unable to get much, and requiring 2 from the final ball for a win, could get nothing and had to settle for the losing draw. A “burglary” indeed.
No matter the weather leading up to, or just after a game a Papplewick Hall, I always end up lobstered to thermidore proportions when we go there.
Just a week later, and what felt like a 20degree down shift in temperatures, the star-studded WI Cavaliers come to Caythorpe.
This lot are ridiculously loaded, Alex Tudor and Usman Afzaal both played test cricket for England. Bilal Shafayat has been around the county scene fro some time. A number of others have star performers at various clubs, and of course there is the legend that is Saqlain Mushtaq (208 test wickets, almost 1000 runs). Only weather can stop them winning the league. Toss lost and the hosts were inserted. The innings never really got going, Alex Tudor shaking things up with 4 wickets and a bruiser to the arm of Hunt. (Hunty hasn’t played since). Thanks to the lower order digging in, marshalled well by an unbeaten 30 from Usman, the homeboys made it to 172 for 9.
Jim Hemmings struck first ball of the Cavs innings, but this only seemed to rile Bilal Shafayat, or he had an early dinner date, as he wasn’t for hanging about. His 96not out coming from 91 balls and seeing Cavs home for the loss of 3 wickets in the 31st over. A chastening result, but not the first, or indeed last the Cavs will hand out.
Two days later and league leaders Cuckney came calling for a Holiday Monday fixture. With the start delayed by rain, the umpires elected to reduce the match to 48 overs per side. On winning the toss, the visitors chose to bat. A decision that looked suspect after a fine spell from Hemmings (3-27) reduced them to 46 for 4. Butler and Parkin righted the ship a little with a stand of 80, but this was the cue for Kafeel to enter and blow away the tail. His figures of 5 for 46 ending the innings on 155. Strangely that’s pretty much a par score at Caythorpe first up this year.
The reply started slowly. Mierkalns out early and a painstaking 50 stand between Hawley and Bicknell saw the scoring rate hovering around 2 an over for long periods. The plan for later acceleration coming unstuck as both fell in quick succession along with Landa and stand-in skipper Allcoat. Hindson and Oldham added 50 together, and as Jimmy O reached 50 it was looking good. Entering the final over with 8 wanted, Oldham was run out off the second ball. 5 needed off 3, single to Muzaffar. Kafeel, new to the crease got 2 from his first ball, leaving 2 needed from the last ball. Boot on the other foot from the Papplewick game, but no worries. A cut for 4 delivered the win.
The most recent fixture was a visit to the Notts Sports Ground to take on the Academy, now top of the league after Monday’s results. Acadamy captain, Parkin-Coates won the toss and invited Caythorpe to bat. Webster and Gamble then reduced the side to 66 for 6. Only Mierkalns causing any problems with 33. From this point there was more tail wagging than at Crufts, as Hindson (23) and Hemmings (37) added 61. Usman chipped in with 22 and Kafeel hit 17 from just 6 balls to close the innings on 185 for 8.
The Academy reply followed a similar pattern. Wickets falling regularly as batsmen got starts but couldn’t go on. Aided by Usman taking 4for 38, the Academy were reduced to 90 for 8 and with 15 overs left outright victory looked there for the taking. Hutton (34*) and 16 year old Ben Kitt (28*) had other ideas, steering the home side in for a losing draw, as the closed 40 runs short.
Very much a case of rescuing defeat from the evil clutches of victory last Saturday, as Plumtree left Caythorpe with the points.
Having lost the toss and been inserted, Caythorpe made a steady start moving to 70-2 before, Bicknell pulled up lame completing a second run. This meant a runner, though before the fun and games that usually entails, he holed out to cover. There then followed the “comedy” dismissal of Josh Meirkalns. Holding his pose to convince the umpire to turn down the l.b.w. appeal, he was out of his ground. The quick thinking Sam Storey had time to run in from point, whip off the bails and secure a run out. A dismissal only Josh could conjure up….
This led to a wickets falling in pairs with no one able to provide Hunt with enough support. The skipper last man out for a top scoring 36, with the total 152.
The feeling at tea was that this could be worth a few more than it looked as conditions weren’t exactly summer.
Opening up with Hemmings and Haynes, the home side quickly blew away the top order. Plumtree reduced to 24-5. A patient partnership between captain Finney and keeper Stockdale took the score to 47, before Finney fell. Caythorpe still heavily favoured for the win. Rana joined Stockdale and took the total to 98 before becoming Haines’ 4th victim. At this point the tally of 152 was to work against Caythorpe. With a required run rate of always around 3 there was no pressure on the batsmen to take risks. Picking up the singles, with the odd boundary and looking rarely troubled, with the exception one dropped catch (Hunty again the culprit), Matt Milnes joined Stockdale and saw the visitors home with 2 overs to spare. Stockdale finishing on 59 off 107balls.
Plenty for Caythorpe to think about then, going in to the trip to Papplewick and Linby on what looks set to be the warmest day of the season so far. Not hard, even for someone brought up playing cricket in Scotland, and despite the heater, the score box was bloody Baltic.
Caythorpe Dig Deep in Kimberley
Week four of the Notts Premier League and at long last Caythorpe’s season could begin. Having fallen short at Chesterfield in the National Cup six days previously, it was to the Private Ground at Kimberley attentions were turned.
Skipper Hunt won the toss and on a ground showing no ill effects from all the rain invited the home side to have first dig.
After six overs he may well have been regretting the decision. Birch, employing a “see ball, hit ball” tactic, aided by a generous helping of wides and no-balls, saw the score race to 57. Enter “The Dot Machine”. Tim Haines’ introduction to the attack started to slow things a little. James Hemmings inducing a snick from Birch, snaffled by Steve Allcoat applied a further brake on the scoring.
Darren Bicknell replaced Hemmings at the Pavilion End and together with Haines proceeded to start tying down the batsmen. The scoring rate continued to drop, and Ogrizovic was next to depart, bowled Haines having added 40 with Terry. With the score on 102-2 a big total still looked on the cards. Terry didn’t last much longer, Bicknell picking him up, before Haines got to work. Patel, Sidhu, Riley and Wheatley came and went as the big man finished with 5 for 42 off his 15, reducing the Kimberley lineup to 148 for 7. Importantly for Kimberley, James Mann was still at the crease. He’d had a life, having been dropped when on 17, but with support from first Roberts then Wright, he was able to take the innings into the 50th over, striking three sixes on his way to an unbeaten 59. The run out of Adams ending the innings with 3 balls remaining. The total of 212 all out significantly fewer than had looked on the cards in the early part of the innings. Credit to the Caythorpe bowlers for sticking at it and dragging it back, whilst one or two of the batsmen may want their final strokes back.
Post tea, and Kimberley came out fired up to defend their score. Plenty of noise and chat in the field, backed up good opening spells from Wright and Roberts. Neither bowler giving anything away, as they made early inroads. Both Hawley and Landa making six before each was cleaned up.
With Kimberley seemingly back on top, Bicknell and Mierkalns came together. Bicknell using his experience to rotate the strike, both cashing in on the rare bad ball, and slowly a partnership began to develop. None of the change bowlers were given a chance to get into any rhythm as two and three over spells became the order of the day. Bicknell was first to his 50, followed shortly after by Mierkalns, who appeared to be in the mood and having hit back to back fours to go past 50 was promptly out, adjudged lbw to the returning Roberts. None the less the partnership of 118 looked to have laid the platform for victory. Allcoat joined Bicknell, taking the score to 174. Dominic Wheatley entered the fray for the hosts and struck with two wickets in his first over. Bicknell his first victim, offering a tame catch to Patel, James Oldham the second, lbw for 6.
Having been very quiet for several overs, the Kimberley fielders began to find their voices once more, Hunt as captain been encouraged to feel the nerves of the situation. He and Allcoat remained calm however slowly chipping away at the runs required until a pair of boundaries from Allcoat sealed the win with 15 balls remaining.
A great win to get the season underway, with both sides enjoying periods of the game where they looked favourites to win. Next up, the first home match of the campaign as Plumtree come to Caythorpe.
Scorecard is here.