MMA fighters – athletes or thugs?

As a sports writer with no meaningful political leanings it is not often that I feel compelled to jump into the political ring and throw a few punches at the people who run this country.

However, this is one such occasion where I feel I have no choice but to don the gloves, pop in the gumshield, look out my spitbucket and ready myself for action (fear not, the fighting analogies will become apparent in a minute – just as soon as the bell rings). 

 Ding ding, round 1.

My opponent for the day is Sandra White MSP and the reason for this verbal joust is her comments towards the thousands of people in this country (and millions abroad) who partake in the sport of MMA (mixed martial arts).

Despite the fact that elite competitors in this sport will train upwards of four hours a day, spend years learning specialist techniques and skills from a variety of fighting disciplines and look after their bodies with the utmost care and attention by stringently regulating intake of fats, sugars and alcohol, the right honorouable Sandra White has branded it human cock fighting rather than a sport.

Her comments, on a Scotland Today news bulletin – which asks whether fighters are thugs or athletes – can be seen on the video below.

Mrs White has saddled up and mounted her high horse on this particular occasion because of the upcoming MAX Xtreme Fighting event in Glasgow next month. The event at the Braehead arena on 15 March will attract around 4000 spectators and will see some of the most highly trained fighters on the planet compete.

However, her attitude is a real roundhouse to the face of these fighters who display the kind of dedication and determination that is so lacking in this country – including from many of our MSP’s.

Who is she to detract from the skill and athleticism of these fighters and to brand their sport “human cock-fighting” when she has never been to an event? What makes them any different from footballers, rugby players, racing drivers, jockeys and boxers?

Every time they participate in their chosen sport they risk serious injury or even death. Just last weekend Arsenal forward Eduardo saw his leg shattered in a challenge and I could spend all day listing other serious injuries (and sadly, worse) in other sports.

Yet they are not faced with the same derision and calls for their sport to be outlawed. There can be no doubt there is an element of danger to MMA but that is the edge on which many sports are based and  is what separates elite athletes from normal human beings.

MMA fighters have spent years becoming expert in accepted sports such as boxing, Karate, Tai Kwon Do, ju-jutsu, wrestling and Muay Thai to name just a few. They then pull all of these disciplines together to perfect the ultimate combat style.

Sandra White on the other hand, spends her days bickering with opponents, engaging in political one-upmanship, trying to make the most friends, arguing about which party has the best ideas and telling anyone who will listen that they could do it so much better. The Scottish Parliament – powerful political chamber or primary school playground?


The real Aiden McGeady exposed. As plain as the nose on his/her face……

mcgeady-celtic.jpg     aiden-mcgeady-utrect.jpg       

I received a tremendously revealing e-mail yesterday – no, not that kind – which has blown the biggest ever secret in Scottish football. For years, Celtic have claimed that tricky winger Aiden McGeady is a product of their famed youth system.

However, as this photograph exclusively reveals, Celtic’s scouting network extends far and wide and they actually picked up the twinkle-toed trickster from FC Utrecht ladies team.

The proof is undeniable, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Arthurlie Utd 2 v 1 Leith Athletic

It was a deeply disappointing weekend for Leith Athletic with a game that should have seen the team travelling back from Glasgow with three points in the bag turning into a potentially damaging loss in terms of league title aspirations.

The trip through to play Arthurlie United in the far flung reaches of Barrhead in the west of Glasgow represented a good chance to pick up some league points after a combination of cup matches and weather postponements had put the league campaign on hold.

But the anticipation that built up on the journey along the M8 quickly evaporated when Arthurlie took an early lead through a headed goal from a free-kick.

Jamie Lauder, playing in an unfamiliar right midfield role was quick to hold his hands up for failing to track the run of the home side’s no11 and his looped header beat Iain Gordon in Leith’s goal.

Leith showed good fight to get themselves back into the game midway through the first half when Andy Penman struck a great low shot in off the post from 20 yards.

Following the early scare there seemed at that point there would only be one winner with Leith dominating much of the possession and territorial advantage.

However, a failure to close down in midfield saw Arthurlie’s no6 fire a long ball over the head of Gary Young at right back and as the home side’s left winger looked to cut inside on goal the ball seemed to strike the Leith captain’s arm and the referee duly pointed to the spot.

It was a harsh decision in that the handball was entirely accidental but by the letter of the law a penalty was the correct decision and Leith found themselves behind again.

A minor tactical alteration saw Lauder moved to left midfield and come more into the game while Penman was moved to the right-side of midfield where he continued to provide a threat to the Arthurlie defence – although there no doubt the Arthurlie central defenders would have been glad to have him out of their hair. 

The second half represented Glasgow’s answer to the Alamo with Leith piling on the pressure and carving out several gilt-edged chances. However the normally deadly Dale McCall, who had shot wide when one on one with the keeper in the first half, squandered another great chance when he shot straight at the goalkeeper from eight yards.

It would be wrong to pinpoint McCall – who would usually have several mortgages riding on his shoulders when he gets a chance on goal – as the only culprit as Leith contrived to miss enough chances to win the game several times over.

The visitors were strangely denied a penalty when a goal-bound Lauder free-kick was handled by an Arthurlie defender in the wall but, despite the fact the original free-kick was no more than five or six yards outside the box, the referee decided the handball took place outside the box and awarded another free kick on the edge of the area. Lauder’s second effort missed by inches.

The game was perfectly summed up by Arthurlie no10 at the final whistle who told me: “We’ve lost games where we have absolutely hammered the other team as well.”

In truth, it was one of Leith’s better performances in recent weeks with good football played and plenty of chances created. But ultimately these chances were not converted and the performance was of no comfort heading back to Edinburgh empty handed.

Man of the match: Chris Beaton played well at sweeper but Leith’s best performer had to be Penman. After receiving some stick on e-mails last week he delivered his best performance of the season and capped it with a great goal. He was unhappy about being moved to right midfield following a good start to the match up front but continued to provide a threat throughout.

Dick of the day: This is a harsh award given his excellent goalscoring record for Leith but McCall will know that Filip Sebo’s gran could have tucked away the best two chances of the game.

Leith (4-4-2): Gordon, Young, Beaton, Wallace (Drago), Thom, Lauder, Connor, R Stewart, McAuley, Penman, McCall (Radzynski)

Next game: Saturday 23 Feb KO 1.30pm. Great chance to bounce back in a home match at Leith Links against the much fancied West Kilbride in the 6th round of the Scottish Cup. The winners play Lothian Thistle or Redhall Ams in the last 16.

Tough tackling Raff puts his foot in where it hurts

As I was waiting on the Leith Athletic team bus to take us across Middle Earth and into the dark reaches of Glasgow on Saturday a forcible kick from behind me landed square on my posterior.

As anyone who is well-schooled in the art of football dressing room antics will know, such schoolboy actions are commonplace and therefore, on turning round I was already preparing myself for swift and painful retribution on the offending party.

However, rather than see the grinning face of one of my childish team-mates, I was instead greeted with that of former Daily Record and Scotsman crime reporting guru and now successful PR man Stephen Rafferty.

Raff is an old mentor of mine and he, along with other Scottish media stalwart Scott Douglas, stand guilty of launching my media career when they gave me a job at Deadline Press & Picture agency many moons ago. At the time I was suffering from post-university blues, working part-time at a British Gas call centre and being rejected from junior reporter roles at every local country bumpkin newspaper imagineable.

So it is always an enjoyable occasion bumping into Raff – either by chance or on the media social circuit.

This chance encounter, I am delighted to be able to report, is because Raff’s eldest, Liam, has firmly nailed his colours to the wall and signed for Leith Athletic’s under-17 side.

With his old man being a staunch Hibby, there was never any real chance that the Young Raff would be turning out for a team on the wrong-side of the city but it is always good to see young talent join the Leith ranks. The club has a fantastic youth set up catering from kids at five-years-old right up to the (even bigger kids) in the full amateur side so there’s no doubt young Liam has made a good choice.

I’m told he is a tough-tackling, no nonsense centre half who strikes fear into the hearts of opposition strikers. I can’t say that I’m surprised – his dad built his reputation on going in where it hurts, tackling Scotland’s criminal fraternity and digging up hard-hitting exclusives. And, as these pictures on Scott Douglas’ blog show, Raff wasn’t averse to sticking his feet in to get things done either.

However, next time Raff, I’ll settle for a tap on the shoulder rather than a boot up the jacksie!

Eastfield 2 v 4 Leith Athletic

It was a successful, if unspectacular, weekend for Leith Athletic as they emerged 4-2 victors over Cumbernauld outfit Eastfield AFC in the M&M Cup on Saturday.

It was a relief for the Leith team to finally have a game after poor weather had seen off all but one of their games since the turn of the year.

The venue was Ravenswood playing fields, perched perilously close to the busy M80 midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow and despite the heavy rain in previous weeks the pitch was in decent condition.

However, despite playing lower league opposition, the enforced winter shutdown had a detrimental effect on Leith and they struggled to get out of second gear for much of the game.

Such was their sluggish start that it was the home side who took the lead midway through the first half when Leith’s Andy Fraser and Rory Stewart challenged for the same long ball to allow Eastfield’s no 11 a clear run on goal and he easily despatched past Iain Gordon in the visitors’ goal.

Leith drew level soon afterwards when burly striker Dale McCall (phrase copyright of Evening News reporter Ian Mackay) found himself unmarked in the box. To McCall’s amazement the home goalkeeper thought it best not to close down the Leith no 10 and he found himself with enough time to take a touch and find the bottom corner for his sixth goal in four games.

The visitors took the lead before half time when Chris “Gums” Beaton enjoyed a rather fortuitous bounce of the ball following a Jamie “Priest” Lauder corner from the right-hand side.

To anyone who doesn’t know him, Beaton cuts a menacing figure on the park as when he steps over the white line he is forced to relinquish his two front teeth to reveal a gaping smile that only a mother could love. But he was given ample opportunitity to show off his toothless grin when he challenged an intended clearance by an Eastfield defender and the ball found its way into the net via a kind ricochet.

Eastfield then saw one of their main goal opportunities evaporate when Leith sweeper Mikey “that was never a penalty” Stewart was forced to limp off with a badly bruised ego and a sore knee. Rumours that the injury was self-inflicted when he threw one of his toys out of his pram and caught the inside of his knee are unsubstantiated.

With Stewart leaving the field to be replaced by Gary “Guns” Young, Eastfield’s chances of being awarded a penalty during the 90 minutes were greatly diminished (he is almost in double figures for the season so far).

A half-time rollicking from manager Churchie inspired Leith to move further ahead shortly after the interval through Martin Wallace (Waldo). The defender found himself in the area following a set piece on the left hand side and he broke the offside trap to poke the ball past the static keeper.

The two goal cushion saw Leith go into cruise control with the second half passing rapidly without much incident. One pre-match prediction did, however, come to fruition with goalkeeper Gordon managing to land the ball on the opposite side of the motorway following a hurried clearance.

Thankfully a multiple pile-up was avoided but an Eastfield official had handily brought with him a lumninous yellow jacket (it must be a regular occurrence) and he was overheard muttering several expletives as he took his life in his hands to fetch the matchball from the other side of one of Scotland’s main transport arteries.

With Stewart sidelined, the mantle of serial penalty-surrenderer was up for grabs and almost taken by David Connor (yes, that’s me) but thankfully the referee didn’t spot the unintended but blatant display of volleyball inside the Leith penalty area.

A lapse in concentration at the back saw the home side reduce the deficit with just 10 minutes remaining through their no6.

However, the two goal lead was then quickly restored when Andy “he’s huffier than Anelka” Penman scored from the spot after he was pulled down in the area (not a stonewaller but I’ve seen them given.)

Shout of the day from an Eastfield defender followed the awarding of the penalty when he bemoaned the ref for “giving a cheap penalty when we’re playing one of the best teams in Scotland.”

Leith certainly did nothing on the day to deserve such lofty praise but as committee member and new grandad Mattie Hutchison has been known to utter: “You can’t win anything at this stage of the season. You can only lose it.” Job done.

Man of the match: Unfortunately there were few contenders in a Leith jersey but Waldo probably just about shaded it. He wasn’t as potent an attacking force from right-back as he would have liked but he hardly put a foot wrong defensively and capped off the performance with a well taken goal.

Dick of the day: No contest. Andy Penman for an outrageously bad (and ill-timed) attempt at a Roberto Baggio-style cross. You know the one where you kick the ball with one foot behind your standing foot? Yes, what a pillock indeed. His befuddled attempt resembled more Michael Flatley on horse tranquilizers than Il Divino Codino.

Special mentions: Congratulations to Mattie “Hootch” Hutchison junior who was able to celebrate both a Leith victory and the head-wetting of his first child Joshua James Hutchison  on Saturday night. (note to Social Services – young Joshua was born a couple of weeks ago, the father did not miss the birth of his child to turn out for Scotland’s best amateur side.)

Congratulations are also due to Grant Fairbairn who made his long awaited comeback from a nasty knee injury with a substitutes appearance against Eastfield. He almost marked it with a goal within seconds of coming on but unfortunately his physio treatment did not extend to giving him a new right foot as well.

A mention also for Scott McAuley, for no other reason than he is the only player not to have received a mention in this copy so far. Decent game although some woeful attempts at shots (I believe one actually went out for a throw). You should see him shoot in training though.

Leith team (4-4-2): Gordon, Wallace, M Stewart (Young), R Stewart (Hutchison), Fraser; Beaton, Connor, Lauder, McAuley; McCall (Fairbairn), Penman

Next fixture: Arthurlie away in the league. With Leith nine points (I believe) behind leaders Drumchapel with three games in hand, it is vital we start getting some more points on the board.

Overseas Premiership games a great idea – but with warnings attached

I have just read on the BBC website here that the English Premier League are considering introducing an additional 39th game to the season – with points and league placings at stake – and allowing it to be played overseas.

Cue much gnashing of gums and cries of discontent from the masses who fear change and believe that matches should still kick off at 3pm every Saturday on the dot, with two points for a win and numbers 1-11 on the back of the shirts.

But these would be the same people who laud the Premiership as the most exciting league on the planet, boasting the biggest teams and the most prestigious talent. The fact that this claim is built on obscene amounts of cash raked in from flogging broadcast rights around the globe will be lost on them.

Now has come the time to give something back to the countries in the Middle East, Asia and North America who have funded the exponential growth in the Premiership – and it needs to be more than the lip-service pre-season tours and tournaments embarked upon in previous years.

Playing an additional round of matches abroad seems like the ideal way to reward the millions of fans in these countries while ensuring homegrown fans don’t lose out.

Of course, it would be naive to suggest that the Premier League are doing this to thank the overseas fans for their support. They see this as yet another opportunity to promote their brand and milk them for all they are worth – and they will lap it up, of that there is no doubt.

The experiment worked well last year for the Miami Dolphins who played a “home” game against the New York Giants at Wembley in October – the first time an NFL game had taken place outside the Americas.

However, there are warnings to be heeded and mistakes to be avoided. It would be absolutely unforgiveable if, as is initially suggested, the overseas games were to take place at the tail-end of the season after all 38 domestic games had been completed.

Can you imagine if Man Utd and Arsenal were locked on points heading into the last game of season and their respective games took place thousands of miles from the UK?

Or if Wigan and Sunderland had to outscore each other on the final day to secure Premiership survival and instead of being roared on by their own fans they played it out in front of a strange crowd in a US college stadium?

This would rob the fans who had watched their team all season of sharing in the joy or despair that goes with following football. This distinct possibility surely rules out overseas games taking place at the end of the season.

Equally, the start of the season for every supporter is a time filled with optimism and hope for the season ahead as they believe, once again, that this will be their year. For 90 minutes at least. It would be wrong to take that away from the hundreds of thousands of season ticket holders every year.

Therefore, the sensible option would seem to be midway through the season – after 19 games. This would no doubt be a welcome change when attendances start to dip in the winter months of January and February and would seem like an entirely reasonable compromise.

There is no doubt that top level football is more global than it has ever been and clubs and fans should embrace it – because they certainly can’t stop it. I just hope that the globalisation doesn’t come at the expense of the homegrown fans. There’s no reason why it should.

Stupid interview questions leave me sick as a parrot

I feel that, at 27-years-old, I am too young to be a fully paid up member of the Grumpy Old Man society but sadly I often find myself shouting obscenities at the TV or radio when I hear sports journalists firing inane, random and completely pointless questions at the country’s sporting stars.

One recent incident springs to mind when, following Rangers’ victory against Hearts in the League Cup semi-final, captain Barry Ferguson was asked at the end of the interview whether he would prefer to play Dundee United or Aberdeen in the final.

Amid my wild-eyed rant at the TV I was just able to make out Bazza’s response along the lines of: “We don’t care who we play in the final. The most important thing is that we are there.”

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who could have predicted Ferguson’s asnwer before he had even uttered his first syllable which begs the question, why on earth was he asked it in the first place? The BBC journalist in question – unfortunately I can’t remember who it was – should have had an array of other more relevant questions to ask and, if he didn’t, should have done the decent thing and ended the interview early rather than waste precious seconds of both Ferguson’s and the viewers lives by blurting out the first pointless question that came into his head.

But amid the litany of stupid questions asked in post and pre match interviews, there are thankfully a few cracking answers which show the interviewer up for their ineptitude and lack of planning.

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan is well renowned for his quips and I have listed some of his best below.

The England football team also had great fun with the media during a World Cup campaign (I think it was in 1998) where the players had to mention as many song titles in interviews as possible without arousing suspicion. If anyone can get a hold of the clips anywhere it is quality viewing. I can’t find them anywhere.

But the all-time winner must go to Walter Smith when, during his first spell in charge at Rangers, he let rip at broadcaster Chick Young after taking offence at his line of questioning.

Thanks go to PR man and former crime journalist extraordinaire Stephen Rafferty who, on his blog (here) at Sure PR, reminded me of the clip. (the audio is slightly behind the visuals but you get the picture!)

If anyone has any other examples of great interview answers from sporting stars then please post them below.

Gordon Strachan quips:

1. Reporter: “Gordon, can we have a quick word please?” Strachan: “Velocity” [walks off]

2. Reporter: Can I ask you about Augustin Delgado [an underperforming player Strachan had purchased for Southampton] Strachan: I’ve got more important things to think about. I’ve got a yogurt to finish by today, the expiry date is today. That can be my priority rather than Augustin Delgado.

3. Reporter: Welcome to Southampton Football Club. Do you think you are the right man to turn things around? Strachan: No. I was asked if I thought I was the right man for the job and I said, “No, I think they should have got George Graham because I’m useless.”

4. Reporter: Gordon, you must be delighted with that result? Strachan: You’re spot on! You can read me like a book.

5. Reporter: This might sound like a daft question, but you’ll be happy to get your first win under your belt, won’t you? Strachan: You’re right. It is a daft question. I’m not even going to bother answering that one. It is a daft question, you’re spot on there.

6. Reporter: Bang, there goes your unbeaten run. Can you take it? Strachan: No, I’m just going to crumble like a wreck. I’ll go home, become an alcoholic and maybe jump off a bridge. Umm, I think I can take it, yeah.

7. On Wayne Rooney : It’s an incredible rise to stardom, at 17 you’re more likely to get a call from Michael Jackson than Sven Goran Eriksson.

8. Reporter: Gordon, Do you think James Beattie [one of Strachan’s players] deserves to be in the England squad? Strachan: I dont care, I’m Scottish

9. Reporter: You don’t take losing lightly, do you Gordon? Strachan: I don’t take stupid comments lightly either.

10. Reporter: So, Gordon, in what areas do you think Middlesbrough were better than you today? Strachan: What areas? Mainly that big green one out there….