Thursday, 28 July 2011

Me and Davie Irons down by the schoolyard.

Davie Irons: vogue.

Stenhousemuir's annual Meet the Manager sessions often provide an interesting spectacle. Having attended the meetings since 2006, I've witnessed some fascinating showdowns, apathy and indifference, and dull pragmatism. At my first meeting, Des McKeown aired his dirty laundry for over two and half hours in front of astonished supporters, his kitchen sink melodrama trumping even the most ludicrous episode of EastEnders. From the Colin Cramb saga to Greig Denham's ill-advised rant in a national tabloid, his revelations were outrageous. He went on to reveal his plans for the season ahead and how he planned to construct his side around the "Berwick 5". Like a slick car salesman or an evangelical preacher, McKeown transfixed me. I remember leaving the meeting, wide-eyed and delirious... We can win the league! The Scottish Cup! The Champions League! That season, the manager resigned before November and we finished in seventh place.

The next year at Campbell Money's first assembly, the mood was far darker. I can only compare it to sitting through a detention with a particularly ill-tempered school headmaster. Why are you not playing Craig Menzies at right fullback?, somone asked him. Rolling his eyes and grinding his teeth, he hissed that Zee was actually a midfielder and would not play at fullback again, despite the youngster having played his entire career at the club there. Money lowered the bar so low that if the club had been relegated to a regional league then liquidated, it would have felt as though we performed above expectation. John Coughlin's three meetings from 2008 to 2010, meanwhile, were fairly dry affairs, with the arch pragmatist laying out his expectations for the seasons ahead. Other than the season he won promotion to the Second Division, he failed on almost all of his pledges.

Having met Davie Irons at the Player of the Year night in May, I was impressed with his ambition and aspirations. In a brief encounter, I thanked him for keeping the club in the division and bringing an entertaining brand of football back to Stenhousemuir (if I remember correctly, I spoke to him after several pints of strong lager and came across as fairly lucid - later on that evening, I became roaringly drunk and accosted Scott Dalziel, sandbagged him and ruined his night. I genuinely think that my behaviour that evening was a major factor in his decision to move to East Fife).

Last night, I was looking to forward to hearing his plans and objectives for his first full season in charge of the club. Fielding questions in front of over fifty supporters in the club's Ormond Suite, the manager remained polite, gracious and candid throughout. Touching on his career with the police force, the players he's brought into the club, his ambitions for the season ahead and his opinions on Simon Lynch's pop career, he talked openly and honestly for an hour and a half.

One of the first, and probably one of the most pretinent questions, was how Irons would combine his work with the police force with his role as manager of Stenhousemuir. It was an issue that most supporters felt required clarification. He explained that he applied to join the police two years ago but due to a recruitment freeze, was only offered a position with them around March or April of this year. His application was made clear to the Board of Directors during his interview process and he was keen to offer supporters the same assurances he offered them: it will not affect his ability to manage the club. His Chief Constable has stated that his job will not be detrimental to his role at Stenhousemuir and that the police force consider having professional sportsmen in their ranks as a "feather in their cap", particlularly one that manages in the SFL. He also pointed to another police officer - referee Iain Brines - as an example of a similar professional afforded the same time off.

What will happen, one supporter asked him, If you're successful with Stenhousemuir and a full-time club approaches you? Irons sighed. Full-time management has passed him by and it's something he no longer considers a viable career move. He acknowledged that he's never likley to manage the likes of Barcelona or Manchester United and now his aim is to combine a full-time job with his role at Stenhousemuir. When he managed Gretna and Greenock Morton, he found he had little time to think about anything else other than football. Managing a part-time side, Irons admitted, gives a good balance between his personal life and his professional comittments. In the unlikely event that there are any changes to his circumstances, the board will be the first people to know.

Thoughts turned to the squad for the season ahead and the squad of players assembled. Several questions were asked about the manager's transfers in and out of the club and special attention was paid to the strikers. Irons expressed frustration that Scott Dalziel chose to leave the club after he was close to agreeing terms for the season ahead. When pressed on Simon Lynch's retirement, meanwhile, the manager was more candid. After the season had finished, Lynch failed to return any of his phonecalls. When he eventually got back to him, the striker revealed his plans to retire from football. Giving his reasons for retiring, the manager realised there was no point in trying to convince him to stay and wished him well. Although he was unprepared to explain the reasons behind Lynch's decision, he expressed his disappointment, especially after the board made substantial financial outlay on the player's wages and his surgery at the start of last season. Did you like his pop video? It's a catchy tune. Goalkeeper Chris McLuskey, a close friend of Lynch, has a firm belief that he's the next Paolo Nutini in the making.

There seemed to be a misunderstanding about the re-signing to Paul Quinn. In May, the club website listed the players that had firm offers for the new season, the players that were released and four players that were offered training facilities. Quinn was listed as having been offerd facilities. Why was he not offered terms in the first place? He was offered a contract in May, Irons affirmed. During his tenure at Threave Rovers, he had watched the player when scouting the team for their Scottish Cup tie and was impressed by his determination and attitude. When he watched him playing, he felt that Quinn suffered becuse he ploughed a lone furrow in attack while but added that since he's worked with him, he's grown to admire his enthusiasm and application in training. Irons believes that if the player can improve his fitness over the season, then there's a fine footballer in there somwhere.

The manager went on to reveal his frustrations in his attempts to being in players for the forthcoming season. After Dalziel announced that he was leaving the club, Gareth Wardlaw was very close to joining and taking his place. Wardlaw failed to negotiate a contract at Falkirk and was about to join Stenhousemuir before Ayr United offered him terms. The manager seemed rueful. There were other players that he was in advanced negotiations with that moved elsewhere. No names were mentioned, but Irons quipped that even Sir Alex Ferguson can't always sign the players he wants.

When pressed as to who he sees as his Number One goalkeeper for the season ahead, Irons couldn't give an answer. While Chris McLuskey started the game against Partick Thistle, Ally Brown will play at Cowdenbeath and the manager will make his decision after that. He believes he has two of the best goalkeepers in the league and cannot choose between them. The decision as to who starts against Brechin in the club's opening league fixture will be a difficult one. If Ally Brown throws a few into the net on Saturday then it'll make the decision easier, but at the moment, there's nothing between them. He then went on to reveal that in the summer, he was given the option to let one of the goalkeepers leave and use their wage to bring in another outfield player. The proposal was rejected.

He admitted that he's gambled with the size of the squad for the season. Irons wanted to bring in a smaller pool of quality players on larger saleries and augment the squad with youngsters. With new SFL initiatives to reward clubs for playing U-21 players, Irons is keen to mix a small pool of quality senior players on good wages with youngsters from the U-19s side. The manager has high hopes for Sean Dickson (already an established member of the first team), Jack Hamilton, Jordan Burns and, in particular, Stewart Love. Love has an excellent chance of making it, he said, and will feature throughout the season.

Special praise, however, was reserved for Grant Plenderlieth and Irons paid tribute to his performances from last season. The manager claimed that the young forward won six points for the team after providing the assists for the winning goals in games against Dumbarton and Airdrie and reckons that while he may not get ninety minutes every week, he sees him as an important player for the club and someone that can make an impact throughout the season.

At this point chairman Martin McNairney joined in with the discussion and commented how much he enjoys Irons' willingness to integrate youth players into the team. Under John Coughlin, the youth players barely featured and often cut frustrated figures in the stands on matchday. He made reference to Ally Love and Mark McLennan, two youngsters that Coughlin signed on loan from St Mirren and how they were no better than the players starring in the U-19s. From his point of view, it was frustrating to see the club spend thousands of pounds on developing their own youth players for none of them to come close to getting a game. If any players were to come in on loan, Irons added, it would only be done towards the end of August. By this point, SPL managers have a better idea of which players feature in their plans and which ones don't. If anyone else joins the club, the manager will strengthen his attack.

Irons seemed indifferent about the club's disappointing pre-season results. The results are unimportant, he said. A team can win all their friendly matches then go on to have a terrible season, and vice-versa. While he was disappointed with the team's performance on Saturday at Partick Thistle, he was happy enough with the way they approached the second half. Asked if the improvement was due to the change from the 4-2-3-1 formation to a traditional 4-4-2, the manager seemed to aquiesce. Eric Paton spent the first half frustrated and unable to influence the game in his usual manner, so the decision was taken to play him in a more withdrawn role where he would see more of the ball and dictate the team's play. Is the 4-2-3-1 something that you're going to persue? Irons nodded and explained how he wants the formation to work.

In a 4-4-2 system, he feels that the team is exposed when they're hit on the break. With two midfielders sitting in front of the defence, it gives the team more ballast and stability. When Stenhousemuir attack and the ball is shuttled into the middle of the park, the wide forwards (Stevie Murray and Andy Rodgers in Saturday's case) are expected to come inside and involve themselves in the play while the fullbacks overlap into offensive positions. Irons felt that while McKinlay and Murray linked up well on the left flank, Willie Lyle and Rodgers were less impressive on the right. Rodgers failed to come inside and link with the likes of Paton and clung to the touchline instead. As a result, Lyle was unable to attack and provide an option on the right. It is something that the players will take their time to adapt to, he admitted. Stenhousemuir will line up in the 4-2-3-1 formation against Cowdenbeath on Saturday.

Continuing the discussion about his tactics and formations, another audience member noted how previous manager John Coughlin would scout the opposition then arrange his team to nulify their strengths instead of playing to their own. Irons would not be adopting a similar strategy. He declared that each week he will be playing his strongest eleven players and try to win every match. His formations can be adapted if needbe. The team are comfortable with a 4-4-2 and the system can be adjusted and altered if and when appropriate. If you've seen a team play once, you have a fair idea as to how they'll line up for the rest of the season. I asked him about Eric Paton's role within the 4-2-3-1 system. I mentioned that the Big Easy functions more effectively when playing in a deeper role but Irons dismissed any concerns. When he joined the club, the manager felt that we didn't have anyone that could sit in front of the defence and act as a screening midfielder, but now that Paul McHale and Brown Ferguson are playing alongside him, Paton can be utilised further forward. Irons has known Paton for a few years and feels he's the player that can unlock teams from an advanced role and he'll continue to be played there for the forseeable future.

With all major concerns addressed, the last half hour of the meeting petered out and became a dull affair. Someone raised a question about refereeing performances and with that, people began to chat amongst themselves and bicker and exchange opinions on SFL officials. It began to get a little unruly. One cantankerous old lout in particular reacted poorly to Martin McNairney's claims that the council had denied his request to erect a billboard at the bottom of Tryst Road to advertise the club's forthcoming fixtures, insisting that he knew better. I had lost interest by this point and started doodling a man dressed wearing goggles and holding a lightsaber or a harpoon in my notebook. Each time the meeting seemed to be drawing to its natural conclusion, someone make some sort of remark and comment and the affair was strung out that little bit longer than necessary. When the final comment was met with a lingering silence and people anxiously glancing at one another, the chairman drew the session to a close.

Irons thanked everyone for coming and reaffirmed his ambitions for the season ahead. With Livingston's promotion, there's now a far more level field of competition and he believes that Stenhousemuir should be challenging for a playoff position at the very least. He said that he expects East Fife and Brechin to be two of the strongest teams in the league but that his side have the quality to compete alongside them. The players want to win promotion. I want to win promotion. It can be done.

He stood to a round of applause. The fans left the suite and the meeting closed.

As I drove home, I thought about how the evening had gone and just how Stenhousemuir's season will unfold. Irons was as open and direct as anyone could have expcted but I don't think he really revealed anything unexpected. After Des McKeown's extraordinary assembly in 2006, every other session just seems prosaic. Irons' explanations about the transfers he's made, his justifications about his approach to the season ahead and his aspirations for where his team should be challenging were both predictable and understandable. It was nothing that I haven't heard from other managers before, that same spiel. I left feeling slightly disappointed about his plans to persist with the 4-2-3-1 formation and Paton's advanced role within the system. Having seen the players trying to adapt within its framework against Clyde and Partick Thistle, I'm unconvinced about it's merits at this level. For example, on Central Park's narrow pitch or at Cliftonhill, a straightforward formation is perhaps more suited. There are few teams at this level that play anything more complex than a basic 4-4-2 system. My concerns about the formation and and the Big Easy's quality from a deeper position have been raised in previous posts so there's no point in covering old ground again.

That said, after last night's meeting, I am now approaching Saturday's game with a sense of nervous excitement. A victory against Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Communities League Cup will be the perfect preparation for the league campaign and act a clear indication as to how we're equipped - both in personnel and tactically - for the year ahead. As for Irons, I have high hopes for him. While McKeown was a salesman and Money was a miserable boor, he came across as quietly passionate and ambitious in his aims for the season. I'll be there with him at the showdown.

The Irons Age is upon us!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Partick Thistle 2 - 1 Stenhousemuir

Partick Thistle: charging you £1.50 for a tin of Diet Coke.

Stenhousemuir dropped out of the Ramsdens Cup after losing their first round tie 2-1 to Partick Thistle at Firhill on Saturday. Goals from David Rowson and Tommy Stewart secured the win for the First Division side who will now face Hamilton at New Douglas Park in the second round. Stewart Kean's late strike proved to be nothing more than a consolation for the Warriors but despite the result, they performed admirably and showed little difference between themselves and their full-time opposition. It was a decent showing from Stenhousemuir and augers well for the Scottish Communities League Cup looming on Saturday.

Stepping through the heavy double doors of the main entrance, I was taken by the dismal grandeur of Firhill's Aitken Suite. Its tattered carpets and faded wallpaper reminded me of a dilapidated ballroom or a downmarket social club. Thirsty, I approached the bar and requested a tin of Diet Coke. That'll be £1.50, she said. £1.50? For a can of Coke? Incredulous, I remarked that I could purchase at least two in if I bought them from a newsagents, or from a supermarket. The barmaid looked at me and shrugged indifferently. I handed over the money. With the kick-off looming, I made my way to the Jackie Husband stand. Signs outside the ground warned that none of the turnstyles had cash and that all tickets must be purchased at the booth beforehand. Needless to say when I asked at the booth for a ticket, I was told that I had to pay at the turnstyle. But of course. Avoiding the seats lavished in dirt and bird shirt, I sat with the rest of the travelling support tucked away in the corner of the stand and watched the game unfold.

As expected, Stenhousemuir began the match with the same 4-2-3-1 system they showcased against Clyde the previous weekend. Chris McLuskey started in goals while Kevin McKinlay and Willie Lyle slotted into the fullback positions. Martyn Corrigan, making his debut for the club, partnered Ross McMillan in central defence. Brown Ferguson and Paul McHale took up deep positions in midfield while Stevie Murray, Eric Paton and Andy Rodgers were pushed into more advanced roles. Stewart Kean started the match as a loan striker. Sean Dickson was relegated to the bench and sat alongside Iain Thomson, Paul Quinn, Grant Plenderlieth and Ally Brown.

Both teams started the game well and moved the ball across the Firhill pitch in an ecomomic fashion. Stenhousemuir looked relatively solid in the opening exchanges but looked susceptible when Thistle attacked on the break. With ten minutes gone, Stewart Bannigan exchanged passes with Aaron Sinclair and drilled an incisive pass between McMillan and McKinlay and into the stride of Kris Doolan, but an alert McLuskey did well to race from his line and beat his shot away. Thistle began to exert their dominance and opened the scoring eleven minutes later. After some neat short passing following a throw-in, midfielder David Rowson collected the ball twenty yards from goal and his shot deflcted off Corrigan's shins and wrong-footed McLuskey. The goalkeeper stood stranded as the ball bounded into the net.

The Warriors played some tidy football but were unable to break through a resolute Thistle defence. When the visitors were in possession, the home side sat deep, often with ten men behind the ball, and seemed content to allow their opposition to pass the ball in front of them but Stenhousemuir lacked the guile and penetration and failed to threaten Scott Fox's goal. It wasn't until after the half hour mark Paul McHale found space and fired a dipping shot over the crossbar from twenty-five yards. Both Doolan and Tommy Stewart passed up decent opportunities to increase the home side's advantage before the half was brought to a close.

With the the players failing to adjust to the 4-2-3-1 formation, Davie Irons reorganised his team for the second half accordingly and Stenhousemuir began the second period with a more traditional 4-4-2 system. McKinlay moved into midfield while Ferguson dropped into the left fullback postion. Murray moved over to the right and Rodgers joined Kean in attack. After the tactical shift, Stenhousemuir looked far more threatening.  Paton was afforded more space and was able to play balls into the channels and although Willie Kinniburgh and Stuart Bannigan coped with Stenhousemuir's high balls, Rodgers forced them to compete a little harder.

The game was beginning to resemble a pre-season friendly rather than a competitive fixture with both sides looking a little tentative. Stenhousemuir started to probe and attack the space between Thistle's defence and midfield and after fine play through the middle of the park, Murray slipped a cute pass through the defence and into the path of Kean. His touch was heavy and offered Scott Fox the chance to narrow the angle. His shot eventually hit the goalkeeper and bounced out for a corner. Kean really should have done better.

As the Warriors committed men forward, Partick Thistle put the game beyond doubt in the eighty second minute. With players out of position, Tom Stewart, unmarked, pulled into space and drilled a superb first-time shot past McLuskey. The goal was well-taken but McLuskey's positioning was slightly suspect, the goalkeeper offering a little too much of his goal for the forward to aim at. Kean reduced the deficit minutes later after he connected with a McHale cross and sent a looping half-volley over Scott Fox and into the net, but it was of little consequence. Despite a rousing finish from the Warriors, the referee brought the match to an end moments later.

Despie losing the match, Stenhousemuir have every reason to be pleased with their general performance. Partick Thistle may have looked a little lethargic and rarely showed the drive and industry expected from full-time opposition, but Davie Irons and the travelling support can take several positives from the game. One of the most encouraging aspects was the perfomance of Ross McMillan and Martyn Corrigan in central defence. The pair look strong and assured and handled the majority of Thistle's attacks with relative ease with McMillan in particular the game's outstanding performer. Dominant in the air and quick and assertive in dealing with more direct opponents on the ground, the defender reads the game well and appears to be a very good aquisition. Corrigan, meanwhile, made an impressive debut. He organised the backline with authority and attacked the ball with agression and conviction. There is little doubt that the pair will develop a strong partnership as the season progresses. With Lyle and McKinlay at fullback, the defence looks steadfast, imposing and one of the strongest in the Second Division.

Grant Plenderlieth also deserves praise for his cameo performance. Replacing Rodgers with fifteen minutes remaining, the young forward made several incisive runs down the right flank and caused problems for fullback Aaron Sinclair. Plenderlieth may lack technique and skill when in possession but he could prove invaluable as an impact substitute as the season progresses. Against tiring defenders, his pace and direct running will be a useful asset.

Most strikingly of all, the players looked far more suited to an orthodox 4-4-2 system. As stated in last week's Walk on the wild side post, the 4-4-2 formation is far more suited to the player's strengths than the 4-2-3-1 and it's little coincidence that the team's performance improved with the change of system. In the opening skirmishes, Eric Paton failed to exert any influence and cut a forlorn figure in a crowded midfield but, when paired alongside Paul McHale in the second half, he began drop into deeper positions and able to see the game playing out in front of him, began to switch delicious thrusting passes into space on the flanks. With Paton playing in front of the defence, McHale starred in the middle of the park and passed and moved the ball with a skill and economy and looked far more commanding than at any point throughout pre-season. The 4-4-2 system also brought out the best in Stewart Kean and Andy Rodgers. In the first half, the former looked isolated and shorn of support while the latter drifted around on the flanks without asserting himself on the game. Paired together up front, they looked a lot more comfortable. Kean functioned better without being forced to play with his back to goal and Rodgers offered a greater challenge for high balls and linked well with his teammates. Their striking partnership is still in its infancy but, like McMillan and Corrigan, there is hope that an understanding will develop between them.

After a dour pre-season campaign, the past week has been the perfect tonic. The signing of Kevin McKinlay and Saturday's fine display at Firhill have instilled a sense of optimism ahead of the weekend's trip to Cowdenbeath and both players and supporters should approach the game with an element of confidence. Against Second Division opposition, the match should act as a barometer as to how the season ahead will progress and how the Warriors will compete against the stronger teams from their league. Having retained the majority of the squad that battled admirably against relegation last term, Cowden are argubaly one of the favourites to secure a playoff position and should go into the game as favourites, but if Stenhousemuir are to persist with their 4-4-2 formation and attack with the same drive and energy they displayed in the second half of Saturday's match, I am quietly confident that they can progress to the next round of the cup.

PARTICK THISTLE: Fox; Paton, Balatoni, Kinniburgh, Sinclair; Stewart, Rowson, Bannigan, Flannigan; Doolan (Grehan), Erskine (Campbell)

STENHOUSEMUIR: McCluskey; Lyle, McMillan, Corrigan, McKinlay; McHale (Dickson), Ferguson (Thomson), Rodgers (Plenderlieth), Paton, Murray; Kean

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Kevin McKinlay, in ye come.

Kevin McKinlay: leading Stenhousemuir to the Second
Division title in 2011-2012. Probably.

Last night, Stenhousemuir FC announced the signing of Kevin McKinlay on their official website. The 25 year old impressed as a trialist against Berwick Rangers and Clyde and is manager Davie Irons' seventh (and possibly final) signing of the summer. Adept in both defensive and offensive postions on the left flank, McKinlay can also be utilised as a central defender or a striker if needbe. Easily the most outstanding of the trialists that featured throughout the pre-season, his experience and versatility will prove invaluable in the club's forthcoming league campaign.

McKinlay achieved an element of fame some years ago after appearing in BBC Scotland's Raploch Stories. The 2002 documentary detailed the youngster's move from boy's club side Carse Thistle to English Premier League heavyweights Chelsea. Like every other Chelsea youth player since John Terry, however, he failed to make an impact and was loaned out to Ross County without making a first team appearance. The move was eventually made permanent and was followed by spells with Partick Thistle and League of Ireland side Dundalk. McKinlay played at Greenock Morton last season before his release from the Renfrewshire club in the summer.

Assuming that Irons intends to persist with the 4-2-3-1 formation he showcased against Clyde on Saturday, it will be interesting to see just where the player will fit into the system. Given Martyn Corrigan's absence throughout the pre-season friendlies, he could be drafted in alongside Ross McMillan in central defence for the upcoming match against Partick Thistle. When the vetran defender eventually returns to the first team, I imagine that McKinlay could either displace Sean Dickson at left fullback or offer an option on the left wing with Stevie Murray moving to the opposite flank. Alternatively, the manager could revert to an orthodox 4-4-2 formation with McKinaly on the left of midfield and Murray on the right. Given the paucity of options before he joined, McKinlay's addition to the squad certainly makes for an interesting conundrum.

After several weeks of poor results and colourless performances, Kevin McKinlay's signing has infused me with a sense of cautious optimism. Although the squad still seems stretched, few people could argue with a starting XI that features players of the calibre of McMillan, McKinlay, Murray and Kean, especially at Second Division level. I don't think that we'll finish in the playoff places, but we should be aiming to better last year's eighth position. The squad still requires a right winger to replace Grant Anderson and a dominating, physical centre forward (these signings would seem very unlikely given that Irons has exhausted his budget for the year, unless they joined the club on loan) and I still have concerns about our contingency plans for when injuries and suspensions hit, but the quality is there to finish above Stirling Albion and Albion Rovers at the very least.

As a final point, however, it must be noted that the last Chelsea youth player Stenhousemuir had in their ranks was a certain Stevie Hampshire. Looking like a cross between Jar-Jar Binks and a middle-aged man browsing for chinos in his local Next, Hampshire arrived with similar fanfare following his move from Brechin City in 2007. Sent off on his debut, the player cut a dismal figure during his time at Ochilview. Hampshire played with the grace of a man running through a vat of knee-deep slurry and always looked utterly bewildered any time the ball found its way to his feet. John Coughlin saw right through this joker and he was eventually moved on to Berwick Rangers the following year.

As long as you're better than Stevie Hampshire, you'll do alright, Keggsy.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Walk on the wild side.

Pat Scullion: upsetting.

I must start this post by apologising for the lack of activity on Who the hell is Akabusi? over the last week or so. Given that there has been very little to write about since we were defeated by Annan Athletic last weekend (the dour 1-1 draw with Berwick Rangers on Tuesday night was so breathtakingly tedious that I could barely muster the required enthusiasm to make any sort of comment, no matter how meagre it may have been) and that my evenings have been consumed by a rather crucial game I have running in Football Manager 2010, I've had scant time to commit my thoughts to paper.

This sunny Sunday afternoon, however, I've found myself with some free time on my hands. Rather than spend the day with my best friends in a beer garden somewhere, swapping lascivious tales of sexual conquests and rambunctious nights out in local in nightclubs, I've decided to write an article on Stenhousemuir FC. I could have spent the afternoon out running or playing five-a-sides or indulging in some form of exercise in bid to curtail my gut from becoming as large as Ireland. Before the Christmas period, I spent over £150 on buying three Fred Perry polo t-shirts and rather optimistically, I purchased them in the boutique medium-slim size. At the time, even before I began to develop this cute lil' A-cup chest of mine, I required the help of two people and a large specially designed plastic device that resembled a giant shoehorn just to help me fit into them. Seven months later and given that I'm beginning to resemble the inside of a large, fleshy lava lamp, the t-shirts now fester somewhere in the back of my cupboard while my over-sized smocks, ponchos and joggie-bottoms (all purchased online from Jacomo, of course) are now worn with such regulairty that I could easily be mistaken in the local supermarket for a contestant from The Biggest Loser. No, instead I'll commit my bigoted and addled scribblings on my football club to a little-read internet blog. I had even thought about writing something nice for my girlfriend, a letter or a funny e-mail, full of smiley faces and the "<3" symbol. She's still enjoying herself in Mauritius, if you were wondering. Her correspondence is becoming less frequent and more vague but by all accounts, it seems like she's having a wonderful time. She says that she's made some really good friends with some cracking guys called Darnell, Shaun, Jamal, Andre, Jermaine, Casey, Tyrone, Trevon and DeShaw. They sound like a good bunch. She even commented that one of them had "really big fingers". I'm not entirely sure how she made this discovery, it was probably through playing frisbee with him or something though... Forget all that, instead of finding out what she's been up to, it would be far more worthwhile to discuss the dreadful hash that Stenhousemuir have made of their four pre-season games.

The statistics make for dismal reading. In four games against opposition from the Third Division, Stenhousemuir have failed to register a win. Against teams that finished fourth, sixth, eighth and tenth last season, the Warriors have lost two matches and drew the others, scoring a paltry three goals and conceding seven. Yesterday's 1-1 stalemate against Clyde made for a depressing spectacle. The inability to beat a Bully Wee side consisting of just three signed players, several trialists and a central defensive pairing of Pat Scullion and Craig Tully is possibly the nadir of the pre-season friendlies. I have little confidence in Davie Irons' squad for the season ahead and while the optimists and the freewheelers may raise their hackles, roll their eyes at me, tut loudly and say, Oh for goodness sake! Come on man, it's only friendly games! They count for absolutely nothing!, this has probably been the most dire series of pre-season matches I've seen since I've started watching Stenhousemuir in 2004. Rival teams have had impressive showings in their friendlies: Cowdenbeath thrashed a fringe Spartans side 9-0; East Fife played very well despite losing 3-1 to Hibernian at New Bayview; Brechin City have drawn with both Dunfermline and Kilmarnock. Stenhousemuir, meanwhile, failed to beat the side that propped up the entire football league last season.

It was understood that Irons would dispense with any experimental formations and showcase the system and the players that would line up in next Saturday's League Cup tie against Partick Thistle. At times, the formation resembled a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 formation, at others it appeared as though the team was organised into a fashionable 4-2-3-1 system. Chris McLuskey started the game in goals and Ross McMillan partnered trialist Scott Robertson in the central of defence. Willie Lyle and Sean Dickson started on either flank and Paul McHale, Brown Ferguson and Eric Paton completed the midfield trio. Stewart Kean played as the focal point of the Stenhousemuir attack while Andy Rodgers and the returning Stevie Murray played on the right and left of him respectively. Ally Brown, trialist Kevin McKinley, Jack Hamilton, Grant Plenderleith, Paul Quinn and an unused Nigerian trialist made up the substitutes.

Clyde, as mentioned above, listed just three signed players on their teamsheet. The rest of their side was assembled from teenage trialists and characterless journeymen. Other than Pat Scullion, I didn't recognise a single one of them. Scullion, looking more barrel-chested than before, is beginning to resemble a circus strongman, or a dashing Nazi that might battle Indiana Jones in a derelict Austrian castle. When Auld Donald handed me the teamsheet and I cast a customary glance over Jim Duffy's charges, I thought, arrogantly, that the Warriors would cruise to a resounding, morale-boosting victory and crush their opponents like a flabby grape. Imagine my disappointment.

As in previous games, Stenhousemuir's ball retention and range of passing was delicious and they started with gusto. With the likes of Paton, Ferguson and McHale, the Warriors feature some of the most incisive passers in the league and they moved the ball through the middle of the park with ease and confidence. Clyde struggled to curtail the home side's movement and were often hemmed in around their penalty area, but for all Stenhousemuir's possession, Scullion and Tully were rarely presented with anything other than routine blocks and clearing headers. The Warriors appeared content on stringing together intricate plays in front of Clyde's defence but crucially, they failed to offer any sort of penetration. It was after seventeen minutes that the home side mustered their first significant attack when McHale's deflected shot fell into the path of Rodgers, but the forward's effort was well blocked by the Clyde goalkeeper. Stevie Murray, starting his first game of the season after returning from honeymoon, offered a potent threat on the left of midfield but all too often, his deft crosses were sent into an empty penalty box.

Paul McHale was replaced by trialist Kevin McKinley with five minutes of the first half remaining - it was unclear whether or not McHale was injured (there had certainly been no indication of discomfort until his withdrawl), but Robertson moved into the middle of the park while McKinley dropped in alongside McMillan. The referee brought the half to a close soon after.

Ally Brown replaced Chris McLuskey in goal for the second half and Stenhousemuir began the second period as they ended the first, knocking the ball around the pitch in an assured fashion. With five minutes of the half gone, Stevie Murray's looping corner kick caused havoc in the crowded penalty area and McMillan, McKinley and Rodgers were all denied through excellent defending, the post, and strong goalkeeping. The twenty second burst of excitment was the outstanding highlight from the four pre-season friendlies. Stenhousemuir continued to press and took the lead several minutes later. Lyle and Rodgers swapped passes on the right flank and slipped the ball to Murray. The midfielder curled a fine cross into the box and Kean, unmarked, sent a powerful header into the net.

Once again, the home side failed to build on their advantage and in a pattern very similar to the matches against Annan and Berwick, they slowly allowed their opposition back into the game. Clyde made a number of substitutions midway through the second half and introduced a more potent attacking threat onto the flanks. One of their substitutes showed good movement down the right of midfield and his pass inside was fed into the feet of their striker. Showing excellent control and strength to hold off McMillan, he laid the ball off to Steph McDonald and the midfielder curled home a fine equaliser from twenty yards.

Stenhousemuir changed personnel (Rodgers, Lyle and Paton were replaced by Plenderleith, Hamilton and Quinn respectively) and formation (they briefly lined up in a strange, quasi 3-4-3 before reverting back to an offensive 4-3-3 system) but a winning goal proved elusive. Murray had a tame right-footed effort saved and in the final minute Quinn really should have done better with Murray's centre, but he dallied with the ball and allowed the Clyde goalkeeper to nick it from his feet. The referee finished the game moments later.

While the game proved to be frustrating viewing once more, there were a handful of positives that the Stenhosemuir support can take form the performance. From the first kick of the ball, Stevie Murray looked utterly outstanding. Although it might be one thing to dominate a teenage fullback who possesses all the grace of a horse balancing on a see-saw and something else completely to do the same against the likes of Mark Baxter and Mark McCulloch, Murray's performance was one of the most entertaining I've seen at Ochilview. Full of tricks and invention, he was the game's most influential player. When it was announced that Murray had missed pre-season to spend time on his honeymoon, I feared the worst. Given that the midfielder can sometimes look a little portly, I imagined that he had spent three weeks with his wife at some gorgeous, all-inclusive idle somewhere in Aruba, being hand-fed grapes by a large-breasted nubile woman while a local child held a handfan to his face and would return to the club resemling the size of a world record breaking pork pie. Thankfully, he returned still just looking a little portly.

Ross McMillan played well and looks to be a canny signing. He appears to be a physical and dominant defender and can read the game intelligently. In the games against Berwick and Clyde, McMillan was not tested by anyone pacey or direct, but he should win the majority of the aerial duels he contests. Meanwhile, Scott Robertson would make a fine addition to the squad. His playing style is very similar to McMillan's and he would offer a strong and commanding presence in the backline. Although he can also play in midfield, he looks far less convincing and resembles an overgrown child loitering around the kitchen and getting underneath his mother's feet as she's busy preparing a Sunday roast. Nevertheless, I would welcome his signing as a defender. Kevin McKinley, however, would be an exceptional signing. His performance in central defence was assured and after winning possession, he showed a talent in moving the ball onto the fullbacks and into the midfield. In a small squad, his versatility would prove invaluable and he could provide competiton to Dickson and Murray on the left flank as well as offering cover in defence. It appears as though the manager only has the money to bring just one more player into his squad and between him and Robertson, McKinley would be the better signing of the two.

Most encouragingly of all, it also looks like we have seen the last of Neil "Ginge" Hastings at Ochilview. I genuinely feared that this comedian was going to be offered terms for the season ahead but given his absence yesterday, it would seem as though Irons has ended his interest in bringing in the defender. It did, however, concern me that he was given three opportunities to showcase his talent before the management realised he was shite and told him to stop coming.

Despite these scant positives, Stenhousemuir look no further prepared for the season ahead than they did three weeks ago. They remind me of my own preparations for my fourth year German exam. The night before I was due to sit my paper, I memorised how to say, Excuse me, sir, what's the best way to get to the train station from here? (Entschuldigung meine Herr, wie comme Ich am besten zum bahnhof, bitte?) then glanced over some hastily scribbled notes before settling down to watch EastEnders for the evening. There are a number of issues that I am gravely concerned about and I'm surprised that they are yet to have been addressed. The team's performances in their four friendlies have failed to inspire any confidence for the season ahead. If the match against Clyde was designed to boost morale, it failed on almost every level. We play Partick Thistle in less than a week and I am approaching the match with fear and trepidation.

The most pressing issue is the size of the squad. Excluding youth players and assuming that Plenderleith is included with the senior squad, Stenhousemuir have fifteen players signed on for next year. Two goalkeepers, four defenders, five midfielders and four forwards. While there is the possibility that Irons might bring in another player in time for Saturday's match at Firhill, for the moment anyway, we look desperately thin. With injuries and suspensions inevitable, all it takes is one player's absence before the team has to be drastically shuffled about. For example, imagine if Sean Dickson was missing. Willie Lyle would be shunted out to left fullback while Eric Paton would have to slot into the vacant position on the right flank. Iain Thomson, meanwhile, would have to offer cover in the midfield. And, of course, this is assuming that only one player is missing from the squad. It would be difficult to envisage how the team would line up if two or three senior players were unavailable. The onus would be on untried youngsters to fill the available positions. Irons' strategy of signing a small core of talented, expensive senior players and augmenting the squad with youth is eerily reminiscent of Campbell Money's tactic in his first full season as manager... At least Irons hasn't claimed that Michael Hunter is actually a goalkeeper or anything outlandish like that yet.

Irons' attempt to utilise a stylish 4-2-3-1 system, although laudable, is also worrying. While he should be applauded for promoting this daring approach, I have my doubts over its effectiveness at this level. Although this formation has proved successful at the recent World Cup or in the Champions League, I believe an orthodox 4-4-2 is the most useful way to combat the opposition in the Second Division. With rare exceptions, the majority of teams in the league rely on strength and physicality rather than tactical accumen to win matches. Get the ball out wide and bang it into the box for the big lad. The 4-4-2 formation offers teams the most efficient platform to do this. Arranging the team into a 4-2-3-1 system is obviously designed to bring out the best in McHale, Paton and Ferguson but I don't think the way that the players are being utilised is maximising the most of their talents. With McHale and Ferguson acting as the ballast in midfield, Paton has been deployed further forward, often just behind the striker. As gifted a player as Paton is, this new role does not suit him. His success throughout last season came from his willingness to drop deep into the space in front of the backline and take short passes from his defenders before moving the ball into space or into the channels. Playing further forward, he sees less of the ball and therefore his influence on the play diminishes. While he still displays exquisite technique and an extraordinary range of passing in this position, he performs much better in a deeper role when he has space and is absolved of the creative burden - Paton's speciality is providing the platform for others to create.

The formation also highlights the deficiencies in attack. At the focal point of the team's attack, the 4-2-3-1 system requires a forward with physical presence and an ability to hold up the ball and bring his teammates into play. Stewart Kean is unequipped to play this role. He has many admirable qualities but given his lack of stature and lack of ball control, he's simply unsuitable playing as a lone forward. Imagine, if you will, an aerial contest between him and Brechin City's Gerry McLaughlin - the defender would just stand on his eighteen yard line like some shaven headed nodding dog while Kean snapped fruitlessly around him. Kean's first touch is also quite poor - there have been numerous occasions that a teammate has drilled a low ball into his feet, only for it to bounce off his shin and roll three or four yards away and into the path of an opponent. Surely it would be far more appropriate to play Andy Rodgers in the positon, no? He's taller and has better technique and has played there for the majority of his career. Rodgers cut a forlorn figure yesterday as he drifted from one flank to the other. It seems strange that their postions weren't alternated as the match went on, especially when Kean played as a right winger at Queen of the South and Morton. With a number of attractive crosses swung forlornly into an empty penalty area yesterday, the loss of Scott Dalziel may be keenly felt as the season progresses. Goals, I feel, may become an issue.

Another cause for alarm is just how easily Stenhousemuir are opened up when they lose possession. Against Berwick and again yesterday against Clyde, large swathes of space were exposed when the opposition poured forward on the counter attack. This should not happen, especially when there are three players utilised in the middle of the park. Ferguson, admittedly, has looked impressive so far, but McHale's abilities as a screening midfielder appear to be wanting. McHale jockeys his opponent with all the menace of a friendly jogger on a summer's day asking a passer-by for the time and so far he's looked either unwilling or unable to make the effort to block or stop the opposition. Having seen him in three games, he's begun to remind me of Kevin McLeish or Pat Scullion: a talented footballer lacking in heart and aggression - a passenger. Iain Thomson would be a more effective performer in this midfield where his tenacity and guile would complent the talents of Ferguson and Paton.

Having read back what I've written so far, I come across as a heartless, dead-eyed madman that reads the Daily Mail and writes rambling, futile letters into Points of View on a weekly basis, a cantankerous and bitter old husk without a good word to say about anyone or anything. I love Stenhousemuir FC. I want the club and the players to be a success. I like Davie Irons, I feel as though I must stress that. Having spoken to him at the Player of the Year night back in April, I was enamoured by his enthusiasm and his ambition for his team. He has my full support and I trust his judgement and ability but it's just difficult to try and avoid these lingering feelings of disillusionment after three weeks of poor performances and awful results.

Regardless, I'll be at Firhill next weekend. I'll see you there. I'll be the one with the bad haircut and the whiff of desperation. I hope that everything written above proves to be pure, unadulterated nonsense.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Stenhousemuir 1 - 3 Annan Athletic

Annan Athletic: making you worry about your team's pre-season
performances since 2011.

Conventional wisdom states that if your team generally performs well during their pre-season games, they will tend to struggle throughout their upcoming season. Conversely, if your team plays poorly, then they'll go on to have a successful campaign. If you believe in conventional wisdom, judging by yesterday's performance, Stenhousemuir FC will have won the league by March and will have qualified for the opening stages of the Europa League.

I don't believe in conventional wisdom. Without wanting to comes across as a reactionary lunatic or an over-critical pedant, Stenhousemuir's disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Annan Athletic raises some serious concerns about the capabilities of the squad. With Stenhousemuir's first competitive match against Partick Thistle just a fortnight away, the team is looking thin and under-prepared for the forthcoming season. Despite taking an early lead through an Andy Rodgers tap-in, a brace from Brian Felvus and a sublime effort from Aaron Muirhead secured a deserved win for the visitors. The defeat is the Warriors' second in as many weeks from Third Division oppositon.

The home side lined up in an unfamiliar 4-1-2-1-2 formation with a midfield diamond in place of an orthodox flat middle four. Ally Brown started in goals while Willie Lyle and Sean Dickson flanked two trialist defenders. Paul McHale sat in front of the defence and Eric Paton played at the tip of the diamond, tucked in behind the forwards Paul Quinn and Andy Rodgers. Trialst Carlo Monti and Brown Ferguson lined up in the middle of the park on the left and right of the diamond respectively. Annan, meanwhile, started with a strong line-up but had key performers such as David Cox and Kevin Neilson absent as they attended the T in the Park music festival.

Stenhousemuir started the game with verve and gusto, with their opening play full of neat, short passes between the midfield and the forwards. With McHale lying deep and knocking the ball across the middle of the park to his teammates, Annan struggled with the clever interplay between Rodgers, Paton and Quinn and with Monti's shrewd running on the left of midfield. After thirteen minutes, Ferguson swung in a deep cross from the right flank and although it seemed innocuous enough, the Annan goalkeeper John Jamieson contrived to drop the ball right at the feet of Rodgers. He couldn't miss.

While the home side continued to dominate the possession, Annan looked potent any time they shuttled the ball into attack. The central defensive partnership of Neil Hastings (released by Livingston's U-19s team and who played in last week's defeat at Montrose) and Richie Saunders (formerly of Newcastle United) looked, for the best part, utterly unconvincing. Easily turned by their forwards, allowing long balls to bounce over their heads, and slicing wild, erratic clearances to the opposition, their all-round play was quite shocking. After Stenhousemuir failed to clear the ball to safety, excellent play from Ryan Holms on the left flank found Mikey McGowan on the edge of the penalty area. His cute, slide-rule pass slipped in Brian Felvus who spun away from Saunders and cracked a fine shot over Brown for the equaliser.

Annan took the lead sixty seconds later. Hastings' unruly clearance fell at Aaron Muirhead and the burly defender swapped passes with Felvus twenty-five yards before launching a deft chip over Brown and into the net. It was a fine effort but perhaps Brown could have done better, his positioning questionable. Muirhead was arguably Annan's most impressive performer throughout the match. Looking like a cross between Seth Rogan and Mark Zuckerberg, Irons was rumoured to have offered Pat Scullion and Kevin Motion in exchange for the 20 year-old in January. Annan, quite sensibly, declined the transfer.

After their goals, the visitors remained the better of the two sides without fashioning any other significant opportunites. Monti remained a threat on the left of Stenhousemuir's midfield and continued to link up well with Rodgers, but neither were able to breach a steadfast Annan defence. As the first half drew to a close, Eric Paton crumpled alarmingly on the floor after a fairly mild challenge. He limped off towards the home dugout and was replaced by another trialist, former Stirling Albion and Alloa Athletic midfielder Nathan Taggert.

The only salient moment of an otherwise dour second half was Annan's third goal. Chris McLuskey, having replaced Brown at the interval spilled a harmless looking cross into the path of Felvus and the striker easily bundled the ball into an unguarded net for his second goal of the game. With the flurry of substitutions from both sides disrupting any flow to the game, it petered out and finished quietly.

Despite the result and poor performance, there were a handful of encouraging aspects: until his substitution, Andy Rodgers played well and looks to be an astute aquisition. When he joined the club, I questioned his signing - he's often appeared cantakerous and belligerent and has rarely had an outstanding performance against us, but, on today's evidence, he's shown an ability to link with Paton and the other midfielders that has looked superior to anyone else from last season. Rodgers also showed strength on the ball and a close control that allows him to find space for himself and others. Paul McHale started brightly before fading in the second half. Carlo Monti appears to be a canny player and I would welcome his signing. He looked pacey and direct and cocksure and could provide a fine althernative to Stevie Murray. Nathan Taggart also performed to a reasonable standard after replacing Paton and he may well be worth taking a second look at at our forthcoming friendly matches.

Yet, while it would be unreasonable to be too harsh on a team littered with trialists after what was essentially a kickabout, there was very little on display to suggest that Stenhousemuir are anywhere close to being prepared for the upcoming campaign. As Partick Thistle's Jackie McNamara and Simon Donnelly looked on, the inadequacies in Irons' squad were laid bare. With Martyn Corrigan and Ross McMillan missing out again (the former is still injured but estimates that he will be available following Saturday's friendly with Clyde; the latter was attending another wedding), the defeat highlight the glaring deficiencies in defence. We could be facing the prospect of starting the season with two central defenders who have not yet played alongside one another and the two trialists that might be signed up to act as cover may be young and inexperienced but, for the second week running, they did absolutely nothing to suggest they deserve a contract. Given the ineptitude of their performance yesterday, there is little evidence they could perform against even the most rudimentary of Second Division opposition. - can you imagine them squaring off against the likes of Paul McManus, Jim Lister or Chris Templeman? It would be outright carnage. With the paucity of alternatives, it looks increasingly likely that Iain Thomson will be asked to fill any vacant defensive positions over the coming year. In hindsight, the release of Gary Thom and Scott Gibb (who by all accounts played well on trial with Arbroath over their 4-1 win over Keith yesterday) seems all the more baffling. There is, however, still time for the manager to draft in new players so this worry may be all for nothing.

Davie Irons' non-appearance yesterday is also a cause for concern, with rumours circulating around the ground that he missed the game due to work commitments. Even although it was only a friendly game, it augurs ill for the rest of the season. Would Irons be forced to miss out on crucial league or cup fixtures because of his job? Would he have to hand charge of training sessions over to Kevin McGoldrick since he'll be at work? If this is the case, then I would feel very uneasy about his ability to manage Stenhousemuir FC. The board, staff, players and supporters need assurances that his occupation will in no way interfere with his position as manager of the club, otherwise he might as well just forget it.

With friendlies against Berwick Rangers and Clyde looming, I am hoping for a positive result and an ecouraging performance. If not, then I'll be praying for conventional wisdom.

STENHOUSEMUIR: Brown (McLuskey); Lyle, Dickson, Trialist, Trialist; McHale, Ferguson (Brash), Paton (Trialist), Trialist (Hamilton); Quinn (Plenderleith), Rodgers (Love).

ANNAN ATHLETIC: Jamieson (Summersgill); Muirhead, McGowan (Watson), Gibson, Aitken; McKechnie, Sloan (Slattery), Jardine, Holms; Bell (Atkinson), Felvus.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The baby-faced assassin signs on.

Paul Quinn: topping a goal scoring chart near you in the near future.

The Stenhousemuir FC official website today announced that cherub-faced striker Paul Quinn has agreed terms for next season with the club. The 20 year-old forward was originally signed on loan from St Mirren in 2010 but made the move permanent after his crucial goals in the victory against Dumbarton and the draw with East Fife at New Bayview were instrumental in the Warriors avoiding relegation. Although manager Davie Irons has stated that Quinn "will be a vital member of our squad for next season", it seems more than likely that, with Andy Rodgers and Stewart Kean the two obvious candidates to fill the striking berth, the player is perhaps destined for a bit-part role within the club once again.

I like Paul Quinn. He reminds me of the bastard offspring of the singer from Keane and Oor Willie's long-time associate Soapy Soutar, if you can imagine such a thing. When it was announced that he was one of the players offered to join the squad for pre-season training, most fans probably felt ambivalent and nonplussed. If he had chose to leave the club, he would have left with warm wishes; had he stayed, it would have been met with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. Nothing more. Some may have even thought that if the club had any aspirations of finshing in the playoff positions, then better, stronger forwards would have to be brought in and that Quinn should be jettisoned. Yet while he may lack the technique or potency of Kean or Rodgers or other more established forwards in the division, I find Quinn to be rather underrated. For his height and build, he is deceptively strong on the ball can act smartly when the it's played into his head, chest or feet and he can link well with his teammates, whether as an orthodox forward or if coming deeper into the midfield positions. He has shown himself to be a fine finsher of the ball and, although these occasions are rare, can also produce sublime moments like this (1:55 into this video). Most impressive, however, is his work ethic. He's tenacious and energetic and is more than prepared to run the channels and harry and press the oppositon. His opportunities this season will probably be limited but Quinn has proven to be a useful player to keep in reserve.

Could Quinn be trusted to lead the line if Kean or Rodgers are suspended, injured, or playing poorly? Although he has some admirable qualities, I have my doubts. It's one thing to bring him on with fifteen minutes remaining and hope that his doggedness and endeavour can force a goal, but it's something completely different to expect him to start on a regular basis and score goals consistently... I remain unconvinced that he has that capabilities to rise to this challenge. Irons has stated that he plans to bring another striker in (possibly Stuart Noble, formerly of East Fife, Airdrie United and Alloa and who played as a trialist in the friendly defeat at Montrose last weekend) and bearing this in mind, perhaps he has his doubts over Quinn's abilities too. The forthcoming friendly on Saturday at home to Annan should offer further indications about what his intentions are.

We wait with baited breath.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Greatest Warriors: 2004 - present.

Colin Cramb: hero, goal machine, psychopath.

Lists, quite rightly, are often dismissed as lazy journalism. When Channel Four have several hours of vacant scheduling on a Saturday night, rather than paying the premium price to screen a recent Hollywood blockbuster or take the time and energy to produce a groundbreaking drama, they often turn to Jimmy Carr to mug the camera while narrating some grim countdown. The greatest films of all time, the greatest children's television shows of all time, the greatest albums of all time... There's really no limit to what the broadcaster will dredge up to fill three hours of television. Likewise, magazine articles featuring the greatest musical icons or the greatest goals ever scored are often derided as unimaginative and obvious. Fuck trying to write an article with genuine insight and intelligence, let's just stick Maradona's goal against England at number one and go home early.

Yet these lists are hugely popular. I find them fascinating and interesting and they're often useful in provoking debate. Amongst friends, it can sometimes provide decent conversation in the pub - You can't have OK Computer as the best album of all time, someone might say. It's not even Radiohead's best album, nevermind the world's! And given that this blog is still in its infancy, what better way to celebrate the first post proper than some sort of list or countdown? There's little to write about at the moment (the new season really cannot come quick enough and until the squad has been completed, there seems little point in commenting on that), we might as well get stuck in and discuss the eleven greatest players to have pulled on that hallowed maroon and white jersey and play for Stenhousemuir since 2004.

The reason for limiting the nominations to the last seven years is simple - these are the players that I'm the most familiar with and the players I feel the most qualified to talk about. Whilst I am sure the majority of the Challenge Cup winning squad or the likes of Kenny Miller and Chris Innes and Neil Alexander are far superior to the majority of the players on this compilation, having only ever seen them play when I was a child or never even having seen them play at all, it would be unfair to even talk about them in such an article. As such, I feel that it's only appropriate that the eleven players can only be selected from the period between Stenhousemuir's relegation to the Third Division in 2004 to the present squad under Davie Irons.

I've arranged the team into a fluid 4-3-3 formation - this is for a handful of reasons. Over the last seven years, there has been a real dearth of quality wide midfielders at the club (as I type, other than perhaps Stevie Murray and Grant Anderson, there have been no wingers that have made a truly significant impact during my years of support) and so any players that would have been nominated for those positions would surely have been involved by default instead of merit. Furthermore, if these players were to have played alongside one another, I'm sure this formation would bring out the best in them. Lastly, by selecting three forwards, it allows me to select the best strikers I've seen play for the club without any omissions. Mark my words, there are goals in this team.

Interestingly enough, most of the defenders in the squad were assembled by John Coughlin while all of the strikers played under Des McKeown. And only one of Campbell Money's signings makes it onto the list. And yes, I know what you're thinking - you can't believe there's even that many either...


Chris McCluskey

Without Chris McCluskey, Stenhousemuir would have been relegated from the Second Division in 2010. While some may think that this is extends into the realms of hyperbole, there is no doubt his goalkeeping was a major factor in staving off relegation. That year, he saved us around ten or twelve points and throughout that season, I can honestly say that some of his goalkeeping was the finest I've ever seen.

Signed from Brechin City where he spent the majority of his tenure as Craig Nelson's deputy, many expected him to play second fiddle to Scott Bennett, himself flushed with confidence after his heroics in the playoff final against Cowdenbeath. But when Crazy Legs reported back to pre-season training with a broken thumb, McCluskey was quickly promoted to first choice goalkeeper. Some fans were dismissive of him ("Get an adult in goals!" was a common shout early on in the season) but McCluskey continued undettered.

Some his performances were genuinely astonishing - witness his heroics throughout this 4-1 win against Alloa at Recreation Park and, even more impressively, this jaw-dropping save in a draw with Arbroath (2:54 into the video). His finest moment of the season, however, came in the 1-1 home draw with Brechin. Deep into the second half, a corner was swung deep into the penalty area, evading everyone and landing six yards from goal at the feet of Rory McAllister. The striker smashed a shot into the roof of the net only for McCluskey to instinctively push the ball over the bar (3:29 into the video). Utterly breathtaking.

Although McCluskey is far from the most dominating of keepers (his height still remains a contentious issue within some quarters of the Warriors support), there is absolutely no doubt that, in terms of pure shot stopping, he is arguably the best in the lower leagues and certainly the best I've seen at Stenhousemuir.

Alan Reid
Left Fullback

Picture the scene. Alan Reid. Home. Alone. Sitting in his rocking chair, sitting by the phone, waiting, hoping, praying that it rings and someone, somewhere offers him full-time football. Currently without a club, Alan Reid is an enigma. After spells with Hibernian and St Mirren, Reid failed to secure a professional contract elsewhere and drifted out of the game for eighteen months. With a genuine (and perhaps deluded) belief that he would be eventually return to full-time football, he rejected all advances from semi-professional clubs and, with it, a regular income. It was only his friendship with Craig Molloy (the two played together at Love Street) that saw him join Stenhousemuir for three months as "a favour".

Reid played in a variety of positions - across the midfield, right fullback - but was preferred at left fullback where he caught the eye with a series of superb performances in the promotion run-in. Composed on the ball and tidy in possession, it was very obvious that Reid brought a wealth of experience from the highest level in Scotland. His finest game came in the playoff final against Cowdenbeath where his level-headedness and authority drove the team forward. He scored one of the decisive penalties in the shootout against the Fifers but during the resultant celebrations, he looked strangely detatched from the whole affair.

John Coughlin offered Reid an attractive package to sign on for the 2009-2010 season (a lucrative wage and a coaching position) but he opted to join Greenock Morton in the First Divison instead. Coughlin, meanwile, offset this loss by bringing in Stephen Thomson from Montrose... Reid was released after a playing in a handful of games for the Renfrewshire club and, as a favour once more, played in two games for the Warriors on trial. Once again, he refused to sign a contract with Stenhousemuir believing that he would return to full-time football.

Reid has not played for anyone since. People may critcise his sheer bloody-mindedness and unwillingness to compromise, but you certainly cannot deny his unwavering sense of self-belief.

Willie Lyle
Right Fullback

Dire! Abject! Awful! These are just some of the milder adjectives that were slung at Willie Lyle during his first season with Stenhousemuir. Joining the club in 2007 after spells at Raith Rovers and Stranraer, it would not be unfair to say that he looked utterly hopeless. Bereft of confidence and low on ability, the fullback appeared error-prone and, at times, quite scared of the football. Commenting on our new signings for the season, Rovers supporters described him as one of the worst players they'd ever seen at their club (and this even includes Claude Anelka's signings). And for a while, there appeared to be little dissention from the Ochilview contingent.

However, once Campbell Money was replced by John Coughlin, Lyle excelled and has quietly emerged as one of the team's most consistent performers. Undoubtedly the fittest player in the team, his fluidity in moving from defence into attack has been quite eye-catching over the last year. With the recently departed Grant Anderson playing in front of him, Lyle provided both excellent cover and a fine option on the overlap. In a small squad, he has also filled in at left fullback and in midfield - in a draw against Brechin last year, Lyle man-marked Charlie King out of the game. Having agreed terms for the new season, he is now the club's longest serving player.

Admittedly, there have been few outstanding candidates for the right fullback position over the last few years. At one point, it looked as though Michael "Marcel" Renwick might have found himself on this list, but since Coughlin's arrival at the club, Lyle has developed into a fine performer. Once rash and hot-headed, he now appears composed and even-tempered. Once clumsy and uncoordinated, he now appears assured and confident.

Lyle fully deserved his Player of the Year accolade at the recent award ceremony and only a handful of belligerents would debate Davie Irons' decision to promote him to the role of club captain since Jordan Smith's release. Few are the players who have made as a dramatic a turnaround.

Greig Denham
Central Defender

There are few players that can instigate fights with their teammates, complain about the club and their manager to a national newspaper and become the subject of a vote within the dressing room as to whether or not they're allowed to play with the team again and still make it onto such a list, but the sheer quality of Greig Denham as a footballer has rarely been in doubt.

Before he joined Stenhousemuir, Denham spent the majority of his career in the SPL with Motherwell and Falkirk. Suffering from chronic injuries, he was almost forced him into retirement but re-emerged as Dennis Newell's assistant at East Stirlingshire. Despite the Firs Park club finishing bottom of the Third Division, Denham's quality and authority brought him to the attention of Des McKeown in 2005. While there were slight concerns remaining about the defender's fitness, the manager offset this by signing the defender on a contract with a small basic wage and a large appearance fee. With the high calibre of player being assembled around him, Denham sensed that this squad could actually win the Championship.

Alongside John "BC" McKeown, Denham provided the team with a strong and steadfast defence. Dominating in the air and hardy on the ground, when watching his commanding performances, it seemed hard to believe that his career had been so bedevilled by injuries. Denham had intelligence and an ability to read the game that's rarely seen by defenders at Stenhousemuir. While players like Cramb, Mercer and McGrillen performed heroics in front of goal, Denham's headers, blocks and organisation in the backline were crucial to the club's the excellent start to the season.

Although Stenhousemuir were performing successfully on the pitch, a dark undercurrent whirled around off it. Denham and Colin Cramb mutally loathed one another. Denham disliked what he perceived as a lax attitude from the striker and with the club on the cusp on winning their first Championship, he was dismayed that Des McKeown appeared over-friendly with some of the senior squad and was, essentially, letting them away with murder.

Matters came to a head shortly afterwards. In a 2-1 home defeat to Queen's Park (the game that effectively ended our hopes of winning the Championship), Denham was culpable for Stevie Canning's last minute winning goal. After the match, there was an angry exchange between Denham and Cramb and a fist-fight broke in the showers (amusingly, Denham recalled how he was naked as the pair brawled). Frustrated, the defender turned to his friend and journalist Gordon Park. Several days later, the Daily Record ran an article where the captain accused his players of drinking on the eve of crucial matches and the how the lack of harmony within the squad had cost them the Championship. Furious, McKeown suspended him from training and called a meeting with the rest of the squad - does anyone else think that Greig Denham should play for the club again? The result was unanimous. Denham was transfer listed and moved onto Linlithgow Rose.

Denham briefly returned to the club as a youth coach last season but since his departure in a playing capacity in 2006, there have been few defenders that can match him for his intelligence, organisation and determination.

Gordon Lennon: arguably the best defender to have emerged from
the lower leagues in recent years.

Gordon Lennon
Central Defence

Defenders in the Second and Third Division cannot play football. This is a fact that can be backed up with statistics. And while I don't have these statistics to hand, you'll have seen enough of them to agree with me. Barrell-chested defenders, burly and built like fridge-freezer combos, the lower league defender will only function as a blocker and often possess little skill and even less finesse. They will regularly journey from club to club before dropping into the Juniors, and then into ignominity.

Gordon Lennon was the first defender I saw that was the complete opposite to anything described above. He broke through with Albion Rovers where he thrilled and captivated audiences with his all-action style of play. Rather than "empty" and lug the ball into touch as soon as it came into his field of vision, Lennon possessed an inert ability to pick it up short, dribble with it out of defence then shuttle it into midfield and into the forwards. He was rarely fazed in possession and would often fool and surprise oncoming attackers with a deft feint or drop of the shoulder before finding a teammate in space. Lennon was an intelligent player and read the game expertly, blocking runs with his deft timing and rarely diving into tackles. Regularly celebrated as one of the best players in the Third Divison, it was little surprise when he earned a move into full-time football with Partick Thistle in the summer of 2007.

Despite the Thistle manager Ian McCall predicting that Lennon would make an impact at Firhill, he never played a first-team game for the club. Indeed, when Stenhousemuir played them during a pre-season friendly, rather than in the central defensive berth that earned him the move, Lennon was shunted out to right fullback and looked awkward and uncomfortable. He was loaned out to the Warriors and although he only played a handful of games, his performances were so impressive that he thoroughly deserves his place on this list. All of Lennon's qualities were on display in his ten games with Stenhousemuir - the timely blocks, the command across the backline and, most eye-catchingly, his trademark dribbles out of defence.

Lennon was released from Partick Thistle after only six months and, while Stenhousemuir attempted to sign him on a permanent basis, he opted to reunite with his mentor Jim Chapman at Dumbarton. Under his captaincy, he led them to the Third Division Championship in 2008-2009. Tragically, on the 7th of June 2009 whilst holidaying in the north of Scotland, Lennon was killed after being electrocuted following an off-road car accident. His inclusion on this list is not out sympathy, nor is it for sentimental reasons - those that saw him play will attest to his abilities as a footballer.

Craig Molloy
Central Midfield

While many players in the lower leagues offer dig and spirit but little by the way of technical ability, Craig Molloy combined tenacity and industry with a clean and economic range of passing and a keen eye for goal. Originally signed on loan from St Mirren, Molloy provided a steeliness to Stenhousemuir's midfield and his performances were crucial in securing promotion in 2009.

Molloy showed a level of fitness and drive rarely seen in the Third Division. After one game, he spent twenty minutes doing laps around the pitch as he felt he hadn't run as much as he should have throughout the ninety minutes. This energy and determination was key to snuffing out opposition attacks and Molloy would often be found snapping around their midfielders, closing down space and performing important blocks. This is not to say that Molloy was simply a midfield clogger - don't let that description of his play do him a disservice. When in possession, he would perform with dilligence and knock simple passes around the midfield, rarely losing the ball. He also had a canny knack of scoring and finished the season high on the club's scoring charts.

While Molloy was one of the few midfielders to emerge with any credit from our first season in the Second Division, rather than reward his performances, John Coughlin only saw fit to offer him the same terms for the 2010-2011 season, apparently on the same wage as Pat Scullion. While Scullion gleefully agreed a new contract, Molloy left the club for Brechin and a rumoured additional fifty quid a week. His assured and combative performances over the last season have drawn admiring glances from suitors in the SPL and First Division with Kilmarnock and Falkirk reported to have shown an interest in him. Although he's contracted to City for another season, I believe that Molloy has the ability and ambition to play at a higher level than the Second Division.

Scullion, meanwhile, was swiftly dropped from the first team after his form dipped dramatically before being loaned out to Clyde. He is now training with the North Lanarkshire club in a bid to win a contract for the new season.

Cheers for that one, John.

John Paul McBride
Central Midfield

Without a doubt, John Paul McBride is the most talented individual I've seen playing with Stenhousemuir. Once dubbed "the new Paul McStay" when on the books of Celtic, he was technically superior to every player I've seen at the Warriors and, on his day, the finest midfielder in the division by some distance.

While never the most consistent of performers, when he was in the mood, McBride could out-think and out-perform every other player on the pitch. His range of passing was outstanding and his abilty from set-pieces a constant threat. In the 2005-2006 season, his midfield partnership with Paul Murphy was crucial to Stenhousemuir's ascent through the league. The highlight of their season was a show-stopping performance in the 2-0 victory at home to Cowdenbeath - McBride dominated the game and provided two assits. It may have been the finest individual performance I've seen from a player in a Stenhousemuir shirt. The following season in a home match against Elgin, he capped an astonishing game with a thrilling lob from just inside the opposition half in the final minute.

McBride left the Warriors and spent a season with Stirling Albion before dropping out of the senior game. While dark stories about McBride have circled over the last few years, there is little doubt in my mind that if his attitude and application had matched his extraordinary talent, he would have been a fully capped Scottish international.

Eric Paton: the only man I've ever seen put swerve on a
pass using the inside of his foot.

Eric Paton
Central Midfield

After about an hour into his debut against Airdrie United, I turned to my friend sitting next to me and said, I'll tell you what, this guy's the best midfielder I've seen at Stenhousemuir since JP McBride. Before Eric Paton, Stenhousemuir had assembled a series of central midfielders who, although willing, looked far more comfortable without the ball than they did with it. We often struggled to break down teams and looked bereft of creativity and intelligence. Before Eric Paton, our central defenders would lump hopeful balls "into the mixer" which, more often than not, were easily dealt with their burly counterparts. Since Eric Paton's signing, we have the best midfielder in the Second Division. We have a player who can create space and find his teammates. We have a player that drops deep to collect the ball from the defence before expertly spraying passes into the channels or threading neat balls into the feet of the strikers. We have a player that can make things happen.

Signed after his release from Dundee, like McCluskey the season before, Paton's performances were a major factor in keeping Stenhousemuir in the Second Division. With the team lacking in inspiration or confidence, through sheer force of will, Paton dragged his side through games. Often playing using painkilling injections, what impressed so much about his play was his willingness to look for the ball and take responsibility. While not the most mobile or defensively minded of players, Paton exudes a cool authority through the midfield and leads by example. He provided numerous assists for the team - it was from his freekick in the final moments against Ayr United that found Michael Devlin unmarked in the box - but, crucially, it's been his goals that have been his most important contribution. It was his goal that put Alloa to the sword in the vital 2-1 win at Recreation Park in April (5:05 into the video) and his freekick that put the game beyond Peterhead in the final game of the season. Without him, we would have been staring into the abyss...

Unquestionably the best player that Davie Irons has brought into the club, Paton recently signed on a two-year contract and will be surely be central to any success Stenhousemuir have over the coming season.

Paul McGrillen

He used to play for Falkirk and he played for Motherwell. He's going to score a hat-trick and he'll give you ruddy hell. He's number eleven, he's Paul McGrillen. AKABUSI! OOH-OOH-OOH! AWLRIGHT!

One of the most popular strikers to have played with the club, Paul McGrillen's record over his three year spell was enviable. He scored approximately over a goal every two games, a return that no one has come close to emulating since.

McGrillen's name was a familar to me when I returned to watch the club in 2004. I remember needing "Paul McGrillen in action" to complete the Motherwell section of a sticker album at primary school and although his career was in its twilight at Stenhousemuir, he still showed the tenacity and energy that characterised his successful spell in the SPL. A natural goalscorer, McGrillen's talent lay in his expert positioning and his ability to find space within the penalty area. His finishing was often deft and clinical.

While he had a habit of scoring crucial goals (last minute winners in away matches at Queen's Park and Elgin in 2005 will always stick out in my mind), the man nicknamed Mowgli undoubtedly reserved his finest performances for East Stirlingshire. In nine games against the Shire, he scored a remarkable eleven goals, including three hat-tricks. The undisputed highlight was an eighty-eitghth minute winner in a 3-2 victory, his cute header creeping over the line and sending the home support into rapture. His celebration in front of the travelling support was hugely endearing too. The Shire supporters enjoy painting themselves as a bunch of easy-going lads but some of the expletives volleyed at him after that particular little jig would have made a whore blush. McGrillen departed for Stranraer in 2006 and since then, Stenhousemuir have struggled to find a player as prolific as him.

On the 29th of July 2009, without explanation, McGrillen took his own life. Graham Speirs paid tribute to him in an article on the Times website (I cannot locate the original article but this link features a copied and pasted edition of the text). A sad and troubling end for a bright and successful man.

Colin Cramb

As long as I'm the manager of this football club, said Des McKeown at his Meet the Manager session, Colin Cramb will never play for Stenhousemuir again. Let me tell you this, I will actually pay his wages from my own pocket to buy out the rest of his contract. He will never play for this team again.

McKeown was speaking in the summer of 2006 and at the time, it was hard to believe that he was speaking about a player who, just six months previously, was one of the most lethal forwards in Britain. Afterall, certainly during my time watching the Warrriors anyway, Cramb was by some distance the most clinical striker to have played for the club. Between July and December 2005, everytime he picked up the ball, something happened. There are few players whose very presence can draw you that bit closer to the edge of your seat, but Cramb possessed an unnatural talent and ability to entertain. Pacey, physical, direct and predatory, his first six months at the club were utterly sensational. There is no need for hyperbole here: during this time, when he played for Stenhousemuir it was as if his world was turning on some other axis.

Before Christmas, Cramb's record was obscene. Braces against Elgin City and East Fife; a crucial last minute header to beat Queen's Park at home; a thumping volley against Arbroath - Colin Cramb scored an incredible volume of stunning goals. Inarguably, his finest moment in a Stenhousemuir shirt came during a Scottish Cup tie against East Stirlingshire at Ochilview. The home side raced to a two goal lead after eight minutes through Jim Mercer and Tommy Sinclair but after the first half dismissals of McGrillen and Denham, struggled and with a two-man advantage, The Shire drew level. With around twenty minutes to go, McBride's quick throw-in found Joe McAlpine deep on the left flank. The fullback strode forward, took a touch, then swung in a cross - the Rolls Royce of crosses - into the penalty area. OHYA FUCKER, YOUS ARE OUT!, cried Cramb before crashing a sensational volley over Derek Jackson and into the roof of the net. Without a doubt, the goal was the finest I've ever seen at a live football match.

At one point, the Warriors were thirteen points clear at the top of the Third Division but, alas, the good times could not last. There was a reason why Cramb had played for fifteen football clubs in the previous thirteen seasons. After undergoing surgery on a troublesome knee over the Christmas period, Des McKeown opted to offer the forward a new contract rather than waiting until the end of the season in May. All too predictably, this coincided with his chronic slump in form and - more sinisterly - unpleasant rumours of dressing room unrest. Cramb also began to develop a phantom hamstring problem - if the match appeared to be turning against his team, he would begin to clutch at the back of his leg, shake his head, then leave the field of play.

Cramb scored a handful of goals in unconvincing performances against fodder such as Montrose and East Stirlingshire, but, in the crucial double-header against Cowdenbeath and Berwick in April, he performed lamentably as Stenhousemuir lost both ties. The nadir came in the latter of the two games down at Shielfield Park. Removed midway through the first half (citing his bothersome hamstring once again), rather than watching the remainder of the game in the stand, he nipped across to the local social club to watch the Grand National instead. A club director reported this to McKeown: Cramb was told never to return to the club.

While some fans tend to describe Cramb as an arsehole and cite him as the key factor in our failure to win promotion to the Second Division in 2006, there is absolutely no doubt about the unadulterated brilliance of his first six months. Colin Cramb's sole season with Stenhousemuir perhaps emblemises Des McKeown's reign as manager - ultimately futile, but for the best part, utterly thrilling.

Arise, Sir Colin!

David Templeton: where were you on 12/11/2005?

David Templeton

Where were you on the 12th of November, 2005? Shopping? In the garden? Seeing your elderly parents? I'll tell you where I was, shall I? On that grey Saturday afternoon, I was on a bus trundling through Fife on the way to New Bayview. As my friends and I chatted about alchopops and women we've never slept with, we were accosted at the back of the bus by Auld Donald. Such is his authority on all things Stenhousemuir, when he speaks, the world stops turning and everyone listens. We've signed this young lad, he told us. Name's Templeton. Released by Aberdeen, Calderwood said he was too wee. Campbell's picked him up. Great wee player. In the first team today. Saw him playing the other night, the best player I've seen since Jinky Johnstone, he hectored before shuffling back down to his seat.

Before the game, we sat in the bar that looks out onto the pitch and watched the players warm up. As they performed their drills across the width of the pitch, at the end of the line was this skinny, waif-like teen. That's him there, pointed Donald, emerging from behind me. Wait til you see this kid play.

Stenhousemuir's performance for the best part of the game was utterly abject. Lacking in penetration and invention, they wilted as East Fife scored two fine goals either side of half time. With under thirty minutes remaining, McKeown withdrew the ineffectual Tommy Sinclair and Jim Mercer and replaced them with Paul Murphy and the young Templeton. And why not? What is there to lose? Within minutes of his introduction, Templeton's cute ball control drew a foul on the edge of the area and Cramb nodded home the resultant set-piece. The visitors rallied and McGrillen drew them level through a sublime volley from close range. As the game drew to a close, Templeton, enjoying a free role behind the forwards, latched onto a pass out on the left touchline, skipped past his marker and cut inside before clipping a neat shot beyond the East Fife keeper... Only to watch the ball bounce off the inside of the post and back into the keeper's arms. The supporters resigned themselves to a draw - we've come back from two goals behind, that's surely a cause for celebration, no? No. With the match drawing to a close, once again Templeton picked up the ball on the left flank and once again he beat the fullback before coming inside. Once again, he poked a the ball goalwards... Only this time for the shot nestle gently into the net. The crowd erupted. I celebrated so hard I nearly passed out. Templeton's father (a legend with Ayr United, by all accounts) was in the stand with a tear in his eye. Quite simply, that 3-2 victory over East Fife remains the greatest game of football I've ever seen.

The sixteen year-old continued his fine form and offered some remarkable performances against Montrose, East Fife again (where, once more, he proved to be their arch-nemesis by scoring two goals in stoppage time) and East Stirlingshire (in front of Iain Durrant and John Greig of Rangers, who were esrtwhile suitors). Whilst the 2005-2006 season will ultimately be remembered as a failure, Templeton's contribution can only be considered as an unqualified success.

In January 2007, Templeton joined Heart of Midlothian and after a slow start, broke into the first team and capped a series of impressive performances with this superb solo goal against Hibs in 2010. A Scotland cap surely beckons, but anyone who was at New Bayview that day could have told you that anyway.


In this 4-3-3 system, Denham would act as the "number one" defender while Lennon would sweep behind him, winning any loose balls and breaking into the middle of the park. Paton, meanwhile would sit in front of the defence and come deep to get the ball before swinging passes around the pitch. McBride would provide the killer penetration, Molloy would give him the platform to do it. McGrillen would play out on the left of the front three, Templeton on the right and Colin Cramb in the middle, while Reid and Lyle would offer support and options on the flanks. Phrases like "chocolate football" and "we're playing like Ajax in the seventies" are banded around a little too often these days but there is no doubt that if this side was playing today, they would, at the very least, a be a solid First Division club.

But just who would manage this team? Who would be the man to lead this talented, yet flawed band of superstars? Just who would be the manager to mould this team in his own image? There are few candidates: Money would be hopeless; Coughlin, although the most successful manager over the last seven years, would be too cautious and shackle such a talented squad; Irons, meanwhile, hasn't had enough time to make his mark on the team. No. The only candidate can be Des McKeown. He made a few mistakes during his time at Ochilview: dismissing sections of the Stenhousemuir support as "eighteen year old half-wits"; offering contracts to senior players as early in the season as January; the "Berwick 5" debacle; attempting to coax Andy Brown back to Ochilview; claiming that the 5-0 defeat to the Shire was more humiliating to him because he had a "professional pride" and as supporters, we couldn't understand what that was like... Des made mistakes, sure. But there is certainly one thing you could never accuse him of - it would certainly never be dull.