Ally McCoist is the most fascinating British sportsman of the past thirty years. His career trajectory is like no other, never trodden before or since. Boyhood Rangers goalscoring hero, to TV personality, to assistant manager, to manager of the biggest club in Scotland, to manager of a fourth division club. Most curiously, McCoist has fundamentally used the same technique as the main tool for achieving his aims in all of these.
Some people live for the electric thrill of scoring goals and playing in big nights and cannot sustain themselves afterwards, driven to management, punditry, or depression and oblivion. Some live for the fame and money it brings, and are driven to the same end. McCoist enjoyed all of these, but he lived for something else. Before and after his playing career, just as one imagines he would have done were he not blessed with his goalscoring talent, McCoist devoted his life to banter, and became one with his own patter.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone saying “I met that Ally McCoist in a pub, he wasn’t at all like you’d think.” And it’s very easy to imagine McCoist being a bricklayer or forklift operator, a job where he can be one of the lads, eschewing the kind of Protestant jobs that can drive a man to misantrophy and sadism by what they involve (Bus driver, centre-back) or the sort of job that only an appalling human being would want to do in the first place (P.E. teacher, policeman.)
The legendary 9-in-a-row Rangers team and the one before it, both of which McCoist was in, found banter as being essential to further their success. More serious, terrifying men like Andy Goram reminisce about the daily training-ground fights when recalling the era. McCoist describes a trick played on Gordon Durie by Paul Gascoigne. He does so with an impeccable sense of rhythm and meter which are beyond all but the best comedians. He was a true master of his craft, and it’s no exaggeration to say it was as important to the success of his side as his football skills.
After his playing career ended, in TV land, McCoist further honed his skills by developing something new and something old at the same time, resurrecting an old character that had been long buried, Thatcherism being the final nail in the coffin: the Scottish cheeky chappy. That didn’t make sense in the post-Jimmy Reid days: nu-Scotland was essentially an urban recasting of the savage, rebellious highland warriors of old. Nu-cheekiness from McCoist offered an alternative path of hope, dragging Caledonia reluctantly but necessarily (and appropriately, for a Rangers man) into the Britpop era.
Question of Sport was and is an awful programme. It is bad television. It was best summed up by a comedian who I will not look up to remember in case it was someone awful like Marcus Brigstocke, who described it as “thirty minutes of sportsmen thinking.” But today we are privileged to have access to Youtube, and can view the too-hot-for-TV outtakes. It’s fantastic stuff - no Scotsman had ever oiled and charmed his way so smoothly on national television since John Leslie. Had they been aired, he would have been a Jerry Sadowitz for the working-class masses.
But how to apply that back to football? For most men, a gig like that is crossing the Rubicon into showbiz, from which there can be no return, particularly in the austere world of Scottish managers, the most powerful Presbyterian movement since the Covenanters. How could a man like McCoist return to a world of Jock Wallaces and Walter Smiths? In returning to meet the latter, the two rolled up their trouser legs and exchanged the correct handshakes and McCoist was put to the task.
It was a good move at first - the classic good-cop-bad-cop routine with McCoist and Smith in their respective roles. The ideal of the manager and his second - the man who would be furious you went out for a night drinking, and the man who would be furious you didn’t invite him. It proved to be even more effective than Smith’s earlier dynamic, the bad-cop-even-badder-cop combo he fostered with Archie Knox. And so to McCoist, the answer, as ever, was banter. Fostering team spirit? Banter. Maintaining a good relationship with the press? Banter. In the chaos surrounding the club’s demise, even McCoist could not joke, letting his guard slip for perhaps the one time in his life, but ultimately he remained the same man.
McCoist is now more of a problem to Rangers than an asset, despite his undoubtedly loyal service. Much like Neil Lennon, he represents a near-unsackable hindrance to the club’s progress, or at least will when they return to the big-time. It is probably that he will never manage another football club again, regardless of his ultimate success or failure at Ibrox. But there is no doubt that he has proved himself, in one way and in all ways, always different and always the same, to be a leader of men.
It’s said that those who live by the sword die by the sword also - McCoist has lived by banter instead, but it’s hard to see what sort of fate that could produce. Rob Smyth said that Jock Wallace could not exist today, and perhaps McCoist will face similar struggles - had he been a footballer coming of age now, perhaps he would not have been able to survive in Twitter. Or maybe he would have excelled even more. At the very least, no man who has been able to reinvent himself so thoroughly and so frequently whilst never changing any aspect of his personality should be written off.
Hardcore Analysis - Football Journalists' Favourite Vegetables
‘Food’ and ‘football’ both start with the same three letters. Coincidence? Unlikely. You need food in order to create energy in respiration in order to move your muscles, and football players are no different. They say that Arsene Wenger revolutionised English football when he took over Arsenal, stopping the diet of pies alternated with hooch and replacing it with things called ‘vegetables’ and ‘fish’.
Now, in order to perform at a suitably high level to bring you the best news, with the best prose, and with the best speed, football journalists also need to eat. Gone are the days when all journalists ate were pies and hooch. Of course, the work is not yet complete, and so some writers still have an unhealthy diet. But there’s a wealth of data out there and statistical analysis is also the future of the game. Following a survey last week, there is plenty of scope to examine the role diet plays in the journalism industry. Bon appetit!
ESPN - James Tyler - brussel sprout
Ex-pat James Tyler clearly misses his home. Working in America for ESPN, he has chosen the brussel sprout, forever linked with the classic British Christmas. What does this say about ESPN journalists in general? Nothing, the sample size is too small. It is a pointless inclusion.
Eurosport - Reda Maher - asparagus
Eurosport - Alex Chick - garlic
Eurosport - Tom Adams - sweet potatoes
You can see here that Eurosport journalists are a disparate but ultimately cohesive bunch. Sweet potatoes do not go well with asparagus - the bitter and sweet do not form an appealing taste when put in the mouth, obviously. However, editor Alex Chick brings garlic to the table, allowing a tasty garnish to either dish. This matches his role in the office, using his own skills to make sure that those around him thrive, even if they offer a variety of talents.
Freelance - Gabriele Marcotti - aubergine
Freelance - Nooruddean Choudry - okra
Freelance - Nick Miller - carrot
Freelance - Philippa Booth - potato
Freelance - Iain Macintosh - carrot
Freelance - Miguel Delaney - onion
Freelance - Greg Johnson - cabbage
Freelance - Dan Fitch - parsnip
Freelance - Ted Knutson - asparagus
Freelance - Georgina Turner - spinach
Ah, freelancers. It is interesting that any of them responded, given the usual late payments often reduces freelancers to eating crumbs off the floor, and their own dust. Both Iain Macintosh and Nick Miller chose carrots, which suggests that they often work late into the night against deadlines, and therefore need to make the most of their eyeballs for the eyesight they provide at night. Gabriele Marcotti, a sophisticated man of the world, nevertheless plumped for the aubergine (technically a fruit) and paid tributes to his roots. This cross-references with James Tyler of ESPN, who also employ Marcotti, so perhaps further examination could be done on whether this is a trend amongst their journalists.
Apart from that, ex-greengrocer Dan Fitch elected for the parsnip, and Philippa Booth the potato, so starch is well represented. Miguel Delaney, as you would expect from a part-Spaniard, chose the onion, probably because they have onions in Spain or something.
Georgina Turner, a paleo diet fan, predictably chooses spinach, which fits the requirements of the diet, but will also be referenced later, interestingly.
Grantland - Mike L Goodman - celery
Grantland is known for its patience-sapping articles, and celery has never excited anyone else, either.
Guardian - Sean Ingle - spinach
Guardian - Jacob Steinberg - spinach
Guardian - Barney Ronay - pumpkin
As mentioned above, the spinach choice from Turner was intriguing. Turner used to work as staff for The Guardian, and still occasionally writes for them. Steinberg and Ingle, both Guardian writers, also decided that spinach was their favourite vegetable. This might indicate an identity formed at Kings Place between the Guardian hacks, that has its roots in spinach. Spinach, after all, has roots. Ronay, a law unto himself and unique in the world of football journalism, went rogue with a choice of pumpkin, not chosen by anyone else, like some kind of hunkered down squirrel caught in the headlights of an extended metaphor that gets ever more detailed.
In Bed With Maradona - Dave Hartrick - sweetcorn
Decent choice, this. Though obviously Hartrick really wanted to talk about some obscure vegetable you’ve never heard of, and write 6,000 words on it for his site.
Independent - Jack Pitt-Brooke - garlic
Pitt-Brooke is a young, but excellent journalist at The Independent. His choice of garlic as his favourite is a subtle joke, but it is obvious to those perceptive enough to investigate. Established a potential big beast, destined to be a senior correspondent or writer for years to come, he has chosen an allium, garlic. The joke is obvious: Pitt-Brooke is saying the best writers are all alliums, like leeks or onions, but as yet he is a smaller version. In years to come, Pitt-Brooke is saying, I will be onion. I will rule all.
Mirror - Ed Malyon - petit pois
Online editor Maylon has chosen the petit pois, which are two French words. This is surprising as only last week he was complaining about the Frenchman Eric Cantona.
SB Nation - Graham Macaree - broccoli
SB Nation - Andi Thomas - squash
Digital only, SB Nation is a mainly American website, and thus can be skipped over.
Score - Richard Whittall - aubergine
Whittall, King Canuck, chose the aubergine. Given his investigation into The Times and their fantasy league story last year, it is possible this is a sly dig, matching Marcotti’s choice, as Marcotti often writes for The Times. On the other hand, he could be yet another idiot who doesn’t know that aubergine is a fruit. Further investigation required.
Sports Illustrated - Grant Wahl - asparagus
Another choice for asparagus. Wahl specified it had to be in-season asparagus, rather than out-of-season, which is a sturdy choice. This attention to detail is exactly why Wahl is a runaway success at Sports Illustrated, and that his knowledge of the less obvious, but well established, vegetable, is matched by his expertise not just of European football, but the MLS too. Asparagus is an instructive choice by Wahl, and it’s actually not possible to read too much into this choice. Stunning answer.
Sunday People - Alex Shaw - potato
Does its job, causes no fuss. Alex Shaw is the potato of football journalism.
Sunday Times - Jonathan Northcroft - aubergine
Another Times writer (cf: Marcotti) going for the aubergine. Obviously it has a proud tradition of usage in the Italian cooking culture, and perhaps Northcroft has interacted with Marcotti in the past and learned from him. However, given he was able to recall the food eaten by him and David Moyes in a pre-season chat, this might simply be that Northcroft is knowledgeable, able to bring his experiences of the wider world to bring a fresh - just how he likes his vegetables - perspective to the written word.
Telegraph - Paul Hayward - mangetout
Telegraph - Jonathan Liew - choi sum
Liew, true to his esoteric approach to writing, has gone left-field (compared to the other answers), and chosen choi sum. Choi sum translates as ‘vegetable heart’ and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration or a stretch to describe Liew as the very heart of The Telegraph’s digital offering. Aimed at a younger crowd, perhaps not eaten by more conservative diners, the choi sum matches perfectly the fact that The Telegraph’s more conservative audience - retired colonels, and soon-to-be-retired colonels - might also find Liew’s witticisms harder to digest that the traditional talent elsewhere at the paper, like Henry Winter.
The other big beast at The Telegraph is Paul Hayward. His choice of mangetout was tasty, versatile, appealing, much like the work he is famous for. A considered stylist, able to bring colour to any subject, in any format (such as a match report or interview with a superstar manager), so the verdant green of the mangetout can work with all kinds of food, from the stir-fry to an enjoyable accompaniment to a bloody, rare, flavoursome steak.
Times - Alyson Rudd - fried courgettes
Times - George Culkin - bacon
Times - Rory Smith - parsnip
Almost finished. Oh, look, parsnips again. Apparently Smith only eats parsnips if they’re roasted. Dunno what that has to do with his writing.
Who Scored - Ben McAleer - garden pea
As you would expect from a man who works for a statistics website, McAleer chose a vegetable that is often served in a huge array - just like the number of passes in match - but can be reduced to a single, juicy morsel, such as a pre-assist.
Wisden - Dileep Premachandran - potato
Does its job, causes no fuss. Dileep Premachandran is the potato of football journalism. Wait, that’s Alex Shaw. The fact that they both embody these properties are a kind of metaphor for mashed potato. Two individual potatoes can be mashed together, providing the same flavour. In this metaphor, the flavour clearly the reliability and consistency of both Premachandran and Shaw.
Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted the Welsh club still have a great chance of retaining their Premier League status despite currently finding themselves right in the relegation mix. With just one victory in their previous 11 Premier League games, Cardiff find themselves second bottom of the table, three points adrift from safety and a favourite with many Betfair punters for the drop.
With a number of other clubs struggling in and around the bottom three, Cardiff still have as good a chance as any with Betfair fans of putting together a run of results and pulling clear of the relegation zone. And Solskjaer has made it clear he is determined to put some victories together and get out of trouble.
“We all know where we are, but we are in the situation we are with loads of other teams. Other teams have had a great run, have hit form, but they are still in it (the relegation battle),” said the Cardiff manager.
"We have not got the results I think we have deserved. At times, performances have been good and we are still in with a chance (of survival).”
Since taking the Cardiff job at the start of the year, Solskjaer has so far failed to prove the club were right in replacing Malky Mackay with the former Manchester United striker. With just one win to his name, there are plenty of Cardiff fans scratching their head as to just why Vincent Tan decided to change the manager midway through a season, not to mention a number of Betfair fans who backed the Welsh club to survive this season.
The situation is what it is, though, and Cardiff fans will just be desperate to ensure this season doesn’t go down as a complete farce.
UEFA Champions League Proves Difficult For English Teams
Given that the Premier League is often hailed as the best in the world we expected better from the 4 English sides still left in the Champions League this year.
Out of the four teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United – none of them came away with a victory in the first knock out stage and Chelsea were the only side to score in their 1-1 draw away to Galatasaray.
Arsenal were overrun by a rampant Bayern Munich side (although the red card to their ever present keeper Wojciech Szczesny undoubtedly played a part) and Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini got things horribly wrong as they fell 2-0 at home to a stuttering Barcelona.
The reason sob story, as far as the English teams are concerned, lies with Manchester United. A dispirited and abject performance away to an invigorated Olympiakos side in Greece put more misery on David Moyes and even raised questions over Van Persie’s future by the striker himself. It’s been a while since United fans experienced a performance like the one in the Karaiskakis Stadium and they will need to improve drastically to turn things around at Old Trafford.
Chelsea saw a lot of money placed on them to overcome Robert Mancini’s Galatasaray. Indeed, for many people they were the bookies favorites and the first 20 minutes seemed to agree with this. Some quick tactical changes by the former Man City boss changed the game and, in the end, Mourinho’s teams were hanging on for a draw but one which will serve them well going into the return leg at Stamford Bridge.
To say that all is lost for the English sides in Europe this season is perhaps an overstatement but it is difficult to see where Arsenal, Man City and even Man United with their home record are going to get the goals to progress from. City and Arsenal in particular had spells in the game where they played well however their ultimately fell to teams superior to their own.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea is the best place English side to progress and it is difficult to see them failing to score at Stamford Bridge although a motivated Didier Drogba could cause them problems.
The quarter finals of the Champions League is where everything starts to heat up however on the showing of the past 10 days it is unlikely that England are going to have many representatives to challenge this season.
Racist abuse on the pitch is racist abuse in real life. Racist abuse to one man is racist abuse for public consumption. If you make it easy for someone who shows no regret, don’t be surprised when he does it again, and don’t be surprised if people hold you partly responsible for enabling it. Suarez is a proud man, and it’s worth remembering in everything that is written about him what exactly he is proud of.
One of the biggest problems with the justice system in general is the lack of empathy within it. The written law is often enforced strictly regardless of the circumstances surrounding a case, in a world where we believe that you get what you deserve –unless of course you happen to be incredibly rich. This just world belief, that a person actions, good or bad, is rewarded fittingly often leads to the application of punishments that viewed from a compassionate perspective, is honestly extreme. The cries of justice oftentimes ignore the humanistic aspect of the situation, as long as it is impersonal to us, then the punishment should be as fierce as possible to send a message of zero toleration to the wrongdoer.
This leads to individuals serving out sentences that are unnecessarily excessive, it also gives birth to the evident lack of rehabilitation that is clear today while festering a hatred of the system in the sentenced, as well as those who are close to the person. Thus this lack of perspective from the law and those who apply it, the short-sighted desire to send a message and choice for punishment over correction eventually betrays the justice that they vehemently seek.
There is no justice without mercy, anything else is a betrayal of the benefit of the doubt that we grant ourselves and anyone close to us. Every situation should be taken as an individual, assessed from every possible angle and if the circumstances provide context that calls for forgiveness, the punishment should be lenient enough to reinforce that the alleged behavior is not accepted without going overboard in the name of justice and the law. To be just, one would have to be fair, and if you are to be fair, you have to consider the human nature to err. Of course, there are extreme cases and exceptions.
The Vela saga with the Mexican National Team is such a situation where the desire for punishment and making a statement has ultimately backfired and exposed the short-sightedness of the coaches and the federation. When Carlos Vela and Efrain Juarez was handed six month bans for a party after a 1-0 friendly win over Columbia back in September of 2010 for violating four rules from the federation’s code of conduct, it screamed of a coach and the federation putting their foot down on and making an example of the two rather than punishing the specific behavior. This was more resonating since it was only the two that received such bans out of the 13 players involved.
This was unbelievable for two reasons. One, this punishment hinges on the belief that suspending these two players, Vela specifically would have the desired effect and that when he returned, his behavior would be pristine and apologetic rather than resentful. The second is that Mexico didn’t need to look far at all to see an example of a fair but just punishment since Vela had been punished by Arsenal in April of that year.
Arsenal were playing in a Champions League fixture against Barcelona at Camp Nou, and Vela for whatever reason had lost his passport and so could not travel for the game. In both situation, Arsenal fans like Mexico fans, called the striker irresponsible, foolish, some even went as far as to cry that he should be sold –like clockwork. Fortunately, Arsene Wenger is a man who understands that one can be just without damaging a relationship and punished Vela by just making him train an extra day while the other players rested. Essentially he punished the player, remained fair to the situation and actually helped him with the extra training, Vela of course would go straight to the embassy to receive a new passport.
So when the Mexican Federation of Football handed down such a lengthy ban to the player, while they enjoyed the forms of other players —winning the Gold Cup and establishing themselves as a powerful national team—and Vela enemy of the state, they must have been so sure of their decision. But that’s the thing about hindsight, it usually reveals how silly decisions in the heat of the moment are and the ban for Vela seems extremely laughable now that the struggling national team is in need of his help.
The other players that the federation offered mercy to are either struggling or old and Vela, finding his feet in Spain with Real Sociedad after being sold by Arsenal –with a buyback clause of course, smart!—is now in pole position to play the role of a the savior. The same role that the federation had a chance to play, they’re now asking for him to forgive the situation and return to the national team knowing full well that when they could have been merciful to him, they chose to make a point and Vela is refusing.
That’s another thing about human beings and the world, we can be extremely petty and unforgiving once we’ve been slighted and your torturer at any moment, could very well be your savior in the next. Vela SHOULD be merciful, he should forgive the transgressions of the past and help his country when they need him the most but the notion of doing something for your country rests –right or wrong—on what your country can do for you. And the stark truth is that Vela was unfairly punished and discarded when he wasn’t needed and is now courted when the team needs help.
That’s just not how it works. You can only expect the same level of kindness from others as you extend to them. Mexico made a statement when they banned Vela for six months for something that could have been forgiven and Vela is making a statement by not going back to those that showed no mercy when they punished him. It’s petty and childish but he has the right to say no and exercising that right should not draw criticism when the federation was praised for their blind decision a few years ago. Just as they truly believed that he was disposable, he believes that he has no need for them either.
FA Cup clashes traditionally take up a big slice of the domestic fixture list at the end of January as the fourth round is contested. This was the case at this particular point in 2001 and so new England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson had domestic cup competition to take in. ‘A Week in Time’, a recurring feature that can be found on the blog of Toga Sports’ website, takes use back thirteen years to see what was making the headlines on the pitch and which songs were dominating the charts.
Sven’s Swede dreams of England success
The image of a rain-sodden Kevin Keegan announcing his resignation as England manager following a loss to Germany at Wembley remains in the memory. His successor was Lazio’s Sven-Goran Eriksson, who officially took charge during this month, becoming the England team’s first foreign manager. His reign had been due to begin in July but the Swede had been asked to resign by the Rome club following a severe loss of form. He began to settle into the England role and in five and a half years there were three quarter-final appearances in major tournaments as well as a succession of revelations about his private life.
Chairboys on the march
Michael Owen was the hero in the FA Cup final with two late goals for Liverpool to sink Arsenal. However, the fairytale of the competition surrounded Wycombe Wanderers of Division Two reaching the semi-final. Lawrie Sanchez’s team famously knocked Premier League Leicester City out at the quarter-final stage with a last-minute winner coming from Roy Essandoh, who had joined following his agent seeing an advert from the club on Ceefax. Wycombe were beating opposition from a higher level in the fourth round too as they secured a 2-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Let’s all do a Barthez
Arguably the most memorable moment of the fourth round in 2001 came at Old Trafford. Manchester United, back in the FA Cup after giving up their place the year before, were beaten by West Ham United thanks to a Paolo Di Canio strike. The Italian went through on goal and as Reds keeper Fabien Barthez stood with his arm in the air claiming offside, Di Canio slotted the ball home. This led to West Ham fans mimicking the Frenchman and chanting ‘let’s all do a Barthez’.
In the charts
The red cap of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst made an appearance at the top of the charts as ‘Rollin’’ became the nu metal band’s first and only UK number one. There were two former number ones at two and three respectively – Rui da Silva’s ‘Touch Me’ and Jennifer Lopez (telling the world she was now J-Lo) with ‘Love Don’t Cost A Thing’. Number four was German dance act Fragma with ‘Every Time You Need Me’, which featured the vocals of Maria Rubia. Pop group Steps were in the top 10 for the 11th time with ‘It’s The Way You Make Me Feel’ at number five.
Reigning supreme on the continent
Stefan Effenberg was a scorer in the 2001 Champions League final for Bayern Munich as they went on to beat Valencia on penalties. The German midfielder was also amongst the goals on this game day as his double helped Bayern to a 3-2 Bundesliga victory against Bochum. Brazilian striker Giovane Elber got the other goal for Die Roten in a campaign where they also held on to the league crown.
As close as Valencia were to the biggest prize in European football, they were as far away from domestic success as 5th in La Liga. On this weekend, they lost by one goal to nil at home to Real Madrid as Raul came up with the goods eight minutes from time. La Liga runners-up that year were Deportivo and Roy Makaay scored twice as they were held 2-2 by Athletic Bilbao.
In Italy, Roma were 3-0 winners over Napoli with their goals coming from Francesco Totti, Marco Delvecchio and Gabriel Batistuta. It was to be a glorious season for the side from the capital as they brought home the Scudetto for the first time since the 1982/83 campaign. Napoli on the other hand would slide through the trapdoor to Serie B, one of the unfortunate sides in a relegation battle that was closer than ever before. It was so congested that Udinese in 12th finished only two points ahead of Napoli in 17th.
As January 2001 turned to February, it was a mix of Limp Bizkit keeping the dance acts at bay, a horror moment for Fabien Barthez, and action from one of world football’s oldest and most prestigious competitions. Who will be the stars of the next trip back through time?