Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Where are they now? How did the teams that decorated the Road to Wembley from Scotland finish the season?

With the FA Cup Final now just three days away, in this final post before the Wembley showdown I am checking up on how the teams that I said goodbye to from round 1 onwards on The Road to Wembley from Scotland fared in the remainder of the season.

Charlton Athletic were in absolute turmoil back in December when I intruded on their private grief and the club is still a basket case 6 months later. The CARD campaign (Coalition Against Roland Duchatalet - the Charlton owner) was in full cry back then and they remain committed to ousting their asset-stripping owner. The match I attended at the Valley was attended by less than 5000 fans and this once famous club have continued to have ‘attract’ small crowds to their huge stadium as the CARD encouragement for fans to boycott games and starve the owner of income continues to have a big effect. Unfortunately for CARD the club did receive a huge inflow in January when teenage midfielder Adebola Lookman was sold to Everton for a reported £12 million

Look ! I am the Man! Lookman moved from Charlton to Everton for big bucks in January
The income from the Lookman sale means that Duchatalet is not reliant on ticket sales for a while and he has re-iterated his vow that the club is not for sale. A stand off where the real losers are the Charlton fans. Not good.

Next to depart the Road were the wonderful MK Dons. After knocking out Charlton in a replay they finally succumbed to Brighton and Hove Albion on a winter afternoon in early January. The Dons were great fun to be with and they are a very misunderstood club. All this ‘franchise’ stuff happened a long time ago and was largely misrepresented.  The contemporary Dons fan is typically a Buckinghamshire person simply supporting their local team and I think these supporters have some exciting times ahead. While I was following the Dons they managed to persuade Robbie Neilson to leave my beloved Hearts and take up the role of manager at Stadium MK.

Me and my mate Robbie Neilson! My favourite pic from The Road to Wembley from Scotland
When Robbie joined the Dons they were in danger of being relegated and his remit was to steady the ship and build for a promotion push in 2017-18. He guided them to a top half finish in the league and I suspect he will make some astute Scottish signings in the summer to add a bit of Scottish claymore steel to the silky Dons play. He has already nicked the very promising Robbie Muirhead from Tynecastle and more may well follow. I predict that the Dons will finish in the top six in League One next season.

I was not with Brighton for long as they lost in round 4 at Sincil Bank Lincoln. In both Brighton games that I watched, the Seagulls played a less than full strength XI as they were clearly prioritising their league campaign. In a sense they got what they deserved against The Imps when the Lincolnshire men dumped them out of the FA Cup. Not many tears were shed in Brighton and their focus on the league paid dividends as they were promoted to the land of milk and honey that is the English Premier League. The only Scot in the Brighton squad, Jamie Murphy, got his personal reward for a strong finish to the season when, on Monday, he was named in the Scotland squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifier. I could be seeing the tartan clad Seagull winning his first cap in the match at Hampden against England in early June.

It may be an Irish name but Glaswegian Seagull Jamie Murphy is set to play for Scotland
Burnley were next to leave The Road when they bowed out to Lincoln City in dramatic circumstances at Turf Moor in February. The villain of the peace that day was marmite man Joey Barton who started the season with Glasgow Rangers. Joey has since been banned from the game for betting offences (1260 offences to be precise) and yesterday Burnley released him from his contract. Burnley’s league form dipped a bit after their cup exit and eventually the slump saw them finish 16th in the Premier League. One player who showed some good form in the latter stages of the season was Scottish international George Boyd. George can not expect to be adding to his 2 Scotland caps any time soon as he has been omitted from the Scotland squad to face England on June 10th.

The cap does not fit. George Boyd stars for Burnley but overlooked by Scotland
I followed Lincoln City on The Road to Wembley from Scotland for about three months and witnessed their thrilling, historic victories against Brighton and Burnley. Arsenal at the Emirates proved a bridge too far and they lost heavily to the Gunners in the quarter final of the FA Cup. After bowing out of the cup, they sustained good league form and won the National League with a couple of games to spare and gained promotion to League Two for season 2017-18. The unforgettable season was masterminded by the Cowley brothers Danny and Nicky.

Brothers in arms: The Cowleys steered the Imps to League Two

It is my fervent hope that my beloved Hearts sack the hapless Ian Cathro and appoint the Cowleys as co-managers at Tynecastle in time for the start of the new season. When I put this idea to my cronies at The Merchiston Hearts Supporters Club I was laughed out of court – but why not. The Cowleys are ambitious and Hearts are a much bigger club than Lincoln City.

The last team to leave The Road was Manchester City about a month ago. My time with the Citizens was all too brief but I enjoyed seeing City's team of superstars in action. City completed their league campaign on Sunday with yet another emphatic win and secured third place in the Premier League. There is plenty to look forward to for the fanatical City supporters next season with Champions League football now beckoning.

So the Road to Wembley from Scotland will reach Wembley on Saturday. I will be there at the 136th FA Cup Final and I can hardly contain my excitement. I have been obsessed with football from the moment I could kick a ball and obsessed with the FA Cup for over 50 years, but I have never been to an FA Cup Final. Chelsea and Arsenal, two of the finest teams in world football will be going head to head and it promises to be a great match. I have seen 16 matches on the Road and have travelled almost 9000 miles. On Saturday I reach my final destination. A total of 736 teams entered the FA Cup in season 2016-17 and I have seen 13 of these teams experience the bitter taste of defeat and on Saturday night only one of the 736 entrants will remain undefeated and claim the FA Cup. Will it be the Blues from West London or the Gunners from North London who are running round Wembley with the cup? Come back here on Monday to find out!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Arsenal miss out on Champions League and JT is OTT as Gunners and Blues gear up for Wembley on Saturday

Yesterday the two FA Cup finalists played their final league games of 2016-17 and now there is just one football match to be played in England to this season, namely the FA Cup final at Wembley next Saturday. The Gunners and the Blues both won but the two results have had very different consequences.

In north London Arsenal won 3-1 against an Everton side that were already on the beach. The Gunners won despite having to play for 76 minutes with 10 men. Their captain Laurent Koscielny was sent off early in the first half for a reckless mistimed tackle on Everton’s Valencia

A red card and a red face! Koscielny is sent off and will miss the FA Cup Final
Koscielny’s dismissal has serious consequences as he will now be banned for the FA Cup final. One of his defensive team-mates is also likely to miss the Wembley showdown as Brazilian Gabriel was carried off on a stretcher in the second period. Facing Costa and Co with two key defenders missing is a worry for Wenger. The match featured some good goals from the Gunners with Sanchez again on target and Welshman Aaron Ramsey completing the scoring in stoppage time with a picture goal. The result however was not enough as Arsenal missed out on a coveted top four place by a single agonising league point. Arsenal needed to win and for Liverpool to drop points if the Gunners were to sneak into the Champions League qualifying spots. The Liverpool match against Middlesbrough was the live game on Sky TV and I was watching a very nervous Liverpool team looking like they might slip up. Midway through the first half, with the score at 0-0, Boro’s Bamford got beyond the last defender Lovren and was pushed in the back as he was about to pull the trigger. He tumbled to the deck. A clear penalty, but not given. Had the ref made the correct decision, awarded the spot kick and sent off Lovren for being the ‘last man’ then the story of Arsenal’s league campaign may have been so different. As it transpired Liverpool went on to win and hence pipped Arsenal for fourth place by the narrowest of margins.

Bamford barged! Liverpool's Lovren lucky as ref decides no penalty or red card
As is their wont the football broadcast media went in to meltdown and many pundits have branded Arsenal as failures. A bit harsh when they have just finished fifth in the league and still have the FA Cup final to look forward to. As is now de rigueur Wenger bore the brunt of these outpourings. Since the draw for the quarter finals of the FA Cup was made in mid February and Arsenal became my team on the Road to Wembley from Scotland I have followed the ‘Wenger must go’ story with great interest and dismay. I just wish my beloved Hearts could unearth a manager who would be as ‘unsuccessful’ at Tynecastle as The Professor has been at The Emirates. With the foaming-at-the-mouth pontifications about the great man come a whole load of urban myths that are just untrue. Consider these: (i) Wenger is intransigent and will never change – untrue – he changed his back four to three at the back after 20 years for the last 8 games of this season and the Gunners won 7 of these games; (ii) Wenger won’t pay big money for players – untrue – he paid top dollar for Sanchez and Ozil who are two of the best players in the world; (iii) Since his early days at Arsenal when the Gunners were regularly champions Wenger never wins anything – untrue – he has won the FA Cup twice in the last three years and may well make that a hat trick later this week. You will have gathered that I have become a big fan of the Prof over the last three months.

Meanwhile across the capital in West London it was party time at Stamford Bridge. It was the last appearance at the Bridge for the Chelsea icon John Terry. Terry has been with Chelsea for 22 years and during his entire career he has always worn the squad number 26. So yesterday, in an orchestrated move that JT himself decided would take place, he was substituted in the 26th minute. When opponents Sunderland kicked the ball out of play in the 26th minute the board went up and he left the field flanked by a guard of honour. All a bit tacky and it was OTT JT. There was a premier league match going on for fucks sake!

Hard to believe this pic was taken during the game. JT is a bit of a John Thomas
Having already won the Premier league Chelsea played with carefree abandon and won handsomely by 5 goals to one. They now look forward to Saturday at Wembley with great optimism and the chance of doing the double.

Just one blog post to go (on Wednesday) before I head south for Wembley and the final destination on the Road to Wembley from Scotland. On Wednesday read how the teams I met in the later rounds of the cup finished the season … and keep reading!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Where are they now? How did the teams that decorated 'The Road' in Autumn 2016 finish the season?

There is only a week to go until the FA Cup Final when the journey Road to Wembley from Scotland will reach its final destination. Under the arch Chelsea and Arsenal will cross swords with the winners heading home with the most famous trophy in world football. I have been following the competition since August and in the early rounds I saw some great football played by friendly and ambitious non-league teams who showed me some wonderful hospitality. Today I salute the non league teams I saw in the qualifying rounds and pose the question ‘what sort of season did they have?’

The first match that I attended on ‘The Road’ was the extra preliminary round tie between Penrith and Sunderland Ryhope Community Association on the 6th August. This match was chosen as it was the extra preliminary round tie that was being staged closest to the Scottish border. Penrith won 1-0 with a goal scored by Jake Smith. Jake was the subject of the previous post and has stayed in touch and has described that goal as ‘the ball dropped to me at the edge of the box and I hit it into the bottom corner’. Nice one. With the Bonny Blues from Penrith victorious then Sunderland RCA were the first team to be eliminated on The Road. RCA got over the disappointment of going out of the cup quickly and have had a good season. They reached the last 16 of the FA Vase eventually going out to Newport Pagnell after extra time. In the league they finished half way up the Northern League but had some good results along the way including a 10-1 victory away at Washington. Third generation Scot Ross McNab, grandson of Sunderland legend Jim ‘Mac The Knife’ McNab, played with distinction for RCA throughout the season.

Ross McNab of Sunderland RCA in action against Sleaford in the FA Vase in January

The next team to be eliminated on The Road were Penrith, but not before I had watched them play on three occasions. After beating Sunderland RCA the Bonny Blues were drawn away at Dunston UTS. Two great games were played between these Northern League rivals and the men from Gateshead eventually emerged victorious after a replay on a sunny evening at the picturesque Frenchfields Stadium in Cumbria. Like RCA Penrith also had a good season finishing midway in the league and having a decent run in the FA Vase, eventually going out to Atherton Colleries in the third round proper. Their main Scottish link took place after their FA Cup exit. The manager back in August was Matt Henney and he left in October to take on a managerial role with Scottish Lowland League side Gretna. A couple of Penrith players followed him over the border and perhaps Gretna Green should be renamed Gretna Blue!

Matt finish at Frenchfields. Boss Henney left to coach in the Scottish Lowland League
After knocking out Penrith, Dunston were on a roll and in the next round they knocked out Skelmersdale United from two league tiers above them in the pyramid. Skem took Dunston to a replay in Lancashire before bowing out. I think it is fair to say that season 2016-17 did not get any better for Skem after their shock cup defeat in September. They finished rock bottom of the Evokstik Northern Premier League and next season will play their football in Evostik Division One North. Off the field they also had massive problems. In March the club announced that they had been unable to agree a new lease on their stadium and for a couple of weeks it looked like they might fold completely. However in April they were able to report that they had agreed to groundshare with Prescott Cables FC in season 17-18 and their immediate future is guaranteed although by no means secure. Worrying times for a famous club once coached by Scottish football icon Ian St John. I wish them well.

Volair Park the home of Prescott Cables and will also be home to Skem in 2017-18
Dunston’s adventurous FA Cup run eventually came to an end on the 17th September when Chorley of the National League North beat them at their trim, well appointed UTS stadium. I ended up watching Dunston 5 times and visiting the UTS Stadium 3 times in August and September and I loved every minute of it. Dunston are a wonderful football club full of friendly people and a team of promising young footballers playing some great stuff and scoring loads of goals. At least that is how it all looked back in the early Autumn. The FA Cup run turned out to be the highlight of the season and the Gateshead based club did not manage to build on their success in the world famous knock out competition. They parted company with their charismatic manager Billy Irwin before Christmas and results did not improve significantly and they finished the season placed in the bottom half of the Northern League. They have however left me with some great memories. I will never forget the hospitality shown to me and my son Brian by Billy Irwin and never forget those scintillating, mouth-watering pies served up by Scots Beth. I was delighted to note that the club had awarded a long service award at their annual prize giving night.

Dunston legend and all round great guy Billy Irwin is lauded at the annual prize giving

The pie stall at Dunston - Pastry Heaven by Beth from Greenock
Chorley’s success on the Road to Wembley from Scotland was short lived. They fell at the next hurdle when they were ko-d by Spennymoor in County Durham in on the 1st October 2016. They did however kick on after this and had a good season in the National League North. They qualified for the end of season play offs and agonisingly lost in extra time to Halifax in the play off final and were hence denied a place in the National League in season 17-18 by the narrowest of margins. Ex Greenock Morton striker Jason Walker was among the goals throughout the campaign.

 Spennymoor were drawn away to Lincoln United in the fourth qualifying round and thumped the home team 3-0. Lincoln United had done remarkably well to reach that stage of the competition and their focus on the FA Cup affected their league form. They eventually finished 8th in the Evostik Division One South and missed out on the promotion play offs. The Lincoln United side do not have any Scots players but a couple of Scotsmen have continued to support the team throughout the season.

The Caledonian Branch of the Lincoln United Supporters Club 

Spennymoor’s cup run eventually came to an end at the palatial Stadium MK where the Dons scored 3 early goals and then hung on to defeat the plucky part timers 3-2. The Moors did not let this set back bother them and they have gone on to have a massively successful and memorable season. They finished 2nd in the Northern Premier League and won the subsequent play off competition and have been promoted to the National League where they will cross swords next season with Boston United, Stockport County, York City and Darlington among others. These glamour fixtures will no doubt generate new revenues, something that will please the Moors Scots secretary David Leitch

Moors Secretary Scotsman David Leitch
I had a great time watching the Moors in the FA Cup and I have followed their progress with interest. I note that they will be playing a pre-season friendly in my home town here in Midlothian in late July against Penicuik Athletic. I will be there and I am looking forward to catching up with some of the Spenny fans again.

There was of course one more non-league team that I have seen on The Road to Wembley from Scotland but Lincoln City did not leave ‘The Road’ until the quarter final stage. Next Wednesday I will report on what happened to the teams that left ‘The Road’ from the second round proper onwards, including the gallant Imps from Lincoln. Tomorrow is the final day of the Premier League for 2016-17 and in Monday’s post I will  report on how the two cup finalists finished the season. Will Arsenal qualify for the Champions League? Will Chelsea finish their league programme with yet another win? Come back here on Monday to find out … and keep reading.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Where is he now? The scorer of the very first goal on The Road to Wembley from Scotland now plays in the Scottish Lowland League!

On Saturday the 6th August 2016 the Road to Wembley from Scotland began with match between Penrith and Sunderland Ryhope Community Association at Frenchfields Stadium in Cumbria. A week on Saturday it will conclude at Wembley Stadium when Chelsea take on Arsenal in the final of the FA Cup. Back in August the match at The Frenchfields was won by a single goal scored by the Penrith midfielder Jake Smith. Almost 10 months later I decided to try find out what happened to Jake after scoring that historic goal for the Bonny Blues.

A quick tweet exchange with Craig McGlasson the stadium announcer at Penrith revealed that Jake Smith was now playing his football north of the border in the Scottish Lowland League with Gretna. I was delighted to hear that the scorer of the first goal on the Road to Wembley from Scotland was now based in Scotland. Apparently the Penrith manager at the time of the FA Cup ties in August, Matt Henney, left the Frenchfields to manage Gretna back in October and a few Penrith players, including Jake, followed their gaffer over the border. I contacted Jake via twitter with a view to trying to catch a Gretna game before the end of the season and he was kind enough to give me details of who they still had to play and where. I became quite animated when I found out that Gretna still had to play an away match at Whitehill Welfare to complete their Lowland League season, as Rosewell (home of the Welfare) is only 4 miles from my home in Penicuik Midlothian. The match was scheduled for last night and yesterday was also the 30th birthday of my darling daughter Joanna – aka ‘Shweetie Pie’.

Shweetie Pie! Jo in traditional pose while husband Al looks on nervously!
Not many things, but some things, are more important than football. Being present at your oldest daughter’s 30th birthday meal is obviously one of them so I was marked absent at Ferguson Park Rosewell last night. Incidentally, Joanna herself has a lifetime link with the FA Cup. She was born on cup final day in 1987, the day that Coventry City beat Spurs 3-2 to lift the cup for the only time in their history. I vividly remember my wife Anne going in to labour just as the second half was about to start and me enquiring ‘are you sure? – this could go to extra time!’.

A good pal of mine, John Blair, is both the official photographer and the treasurer of Whitehill Welfare. I popped round to his house yesterday and delivered a ‘Road to Wembley from Scotland’ T shirt to be presented to Jake to mark his unique achievement in this absurd project. Unfortunately the Gretna coach arrived only 5 minutes before kick off so no time for the presentation and after the game the men from Gretna beat a hasty retreat having bean walloped 5-1 by the Welfare. I suspect the visitors were not in the mood for any friendly banter before boarding their carriage home as they also had two men sent of in what was reportedly a feisty encounter. John did however manage to take a couple of great pics of Jake plying his trade for the ‘black and whites’. Both the pictures below are reproduced with the kind permission of John Blair photography. Thanks John for all of your help over the last couple of days.

From  Frenchfields to Ferguson! Jake Smith in action in Midlothian for Gretna last night

Deep in thought. Smith wonders how far from Rosewell to Cumbria!
I note from the ‘player profiles’ on the internet that Cumbrian Jake Smith started his footballing career with Workington as a full back and developed into a goalscoring midfielder when he moved from Workington Reds to Penrith. According to John Blair he was effectively combining both roles last night playing in a wing back position. By the way Jake, if you are reading this nonsense and you wish to receive the commemorative T shirt then get in touch.

Meanwhile, the teams involved in the latter stages of the Road to Wembley from Scotland have both been involved in Premier League action since I last posted. Chelsea won an entertaining match against Watford and Arsenal recorded an important victory against already relegated Sunderland.

The Chelsea v Watford match on Monday night had the feel of an exhibition match about it. Chelsea clinched the league title last Friday and hence their last couple of league games are meaningless. They chose to make wholesale changes to their team for Monday nights match and they also played with the carefree abandon of footballers who had already achieved what was asked of them. The changes to the Blues line up meant that John Terry got a rare start and in tune with the cavalier atmosphere he ventured upfield from his defensive post to open the scoring.

Terry's all goals! JT celebrates scoring at Stamford Bridge for (probably) the last time
Six more goals followed and the Blues emerged victorious by the odd goal in seven in a match that was very easy on the eye.

Last night while I was celebrating Shweetie Pie’s birthday the Arsenal were getting the better of Sunderland in a match that really did matter. Six weeks ago it looked as if it was impossible for Arsenal to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League in season 17-18. Since then they have won six of their last seven games and although it is still unlikely, they could still be one of the fab four in a season when Wenger has been pilloried for under-achieving. Last night they comfortably accounted for the hapless Sunderland with two strikes from goal machine Alexis Sanchez.

Pick that one out. Sanchez scores from close range against the doomed Mackems last night.
If Arsenal beat Everton in their last league match on Sunday and either Man City or Liverpool slip up then the Gunners could yet qualify for the Champions League. Chelsea will also complete their league programme on Sunday when they host Sunderland.

Before Sunday I will be checking up on other players and teams who have made their mark on The Road to Wembley from Scotland. Come back later in the week to find out more … and keep reading.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Chelsea win the league title and Arsenal win twice as the FA Cup finalists show good form ahead of the Wembley showdown

The long journey on the Road to Wembley from Scotland will be completed in two weeks time when I will be at the FA Cup Final 2017 at the famous old stadium in north London. Between now and then I will be keeping tabs on Chelsea and Arsenal as they prepare for the big match. I will also be posting a few ‘what happened to them’ articles re-visiting teams and individuals who I have met along the Road. Since posting last Tuesday both cup finalist have been busy. Arsenal have played twice and won twice. Chelsea have also played – only once but it was a game that won them the Premier League title.

Happy at the Hawthorns: Chelsea celebrate winning the league on Friday night
On Friday night Chelsea headed to the West Midlands to take on West Bromwich Albion knowing that if they won then they would win the Premier League with two games to spare. In a nervous affair the Blues eventually got the better of their dogged opponents when substitute Michy Batshuayi scored for Chelsea with 8 minutes to go. The Blues held on to win the league title for the 6th time and so on May the 27th they will be hoping to complete the double. With so many superstars available to the Stamford Bridge side it was perhaps surprising that the goal that clinched the big prize was scored by a relatively unheralded 23 year old Belgian who has not seen much first team action. The boy done well. He slid in to finish with a whole bunch of plombs.

Sliding in for a sliding doors moment? Young Batshuayi scores to win the league for Chelsea 
Arsenal have played 2 potentially tricky away games since last Tuesday. On Wednesday they travelled to Southampton and beat the Saints 2-0. Yesterday they were in the Potteries and they were in great form. Wenger’s men ran out 4-1 winners and their play in the second half of this match was sublime. Superstar Gunners Ozil and Sanchez were just about unplayable and they were ably supported by a cast of 8 other outfield players all of whom passed and moved with skill, agility and flair. An absolute joy to watch.

Popping them in in the Potteries: Goal machine Sanchez scores against Stoke
Arsenal are now in a position where if they win their last two league games they will probably, against all the odds, qualify to play in the Champions League next season. When you consider that they also have an FA Cup final to look forward to then it is beginning to look like 2016-17 can be classified as a very successful season for the Gunners. However, some fans are never happy.

Plane stupid! Crazy caption while Wenger's Arsenal are flying below
I just can not for the life of me work out what makes a person (or persons) spend loads of money to hire a light aircraft to fly over a football stadium with that type of shite. Given that Wenger’s men were performing like footballing Gods on the pitch below I presume the purchasers of this aviation service felt a bit stupid.

Both the Gunners and the Blues are in midweek action over the next two days. Newly crowned league champions Chelsea are at home to Watford tomorrow and on Tuesday Arsenal play host to the doomed Sunderland. It might turn out to be another slap in the face for Sunderland Manager Davie Moyes. Also on Tuesday evening I hope to catch up with Jake Smith the ex Penrith midfielder who scored the first goal on The Road Wembley from Scotland back in August in Cumbria. Come back here on Wednesday to find out how the two FA Cup finalists get on in their penultimate league fixtures and whether I manage to catch a word with young Mr Smith … and keep reading!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Arsenal and Chelsea both win as the build up to the FA Cup Final continues

In the last two days Arsenal and Chelsea both won important Premier League matches as the two FA Cup Finalists continue their preparations before they meet at the last staging post of The Road to Wembley from Scotland on Saturday May 27th 2017.

Arsenal simply to refuse to accept that they will not finish in the top four in the Premier League. They could still defy the odds and qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. Every time it looks as if they have blown their last chance they seem to be granted another last chance by their rivals. With Liverpool dropping points it meant that a win against Manchester United at the Emirates would re-ignite the smallest of a dying flame that lights the way towards possible Champions League entry. On Sunday they did their best to fan that flame by beating United. It was a result that delighted the former Red Devil Mancunian Danny Wellbeck now playing his trade with The Gunners.

Well well well - Man United beaten. Wellbeck is well happy and Sanchez is well pleased
In a match where there was very little between the sides the game was decided early in the second half when Arsenal scored 2 goals in quick succession and then hung on to run out 2-0 winners. The first goal was scored by the Swiss international Granit Xhaka with the aid of a big deflection and the second was a powerful header from Wellbeck.

I feel for you Jose. Who can score for Arsenal? Xhaka can!
The result means that if Arsenal win their last four games they might just sneak into the top four. Their next test is tomorrow night when they take on Southampton. They then travel to Stoke on Saturday and they know that they must win both games to keep their top four dream alive. The Gunners have a lot of football to play before they take on Chelsea at Wembley at the end of the month.

In the blog posts over the last month I have lamented the fact that firstly Arsenal, then Man City and now Chelsea have no Scots in their current squads. Indeed it has been reported in this blog that it has been over 10 years since a Scot played for any of these teams. What about the other 3 teams (Man United, Liverpool and Spurs) in the big six I wondered. I am pretty sure that the last Scot to play for any of England’s elite sextet was Dalkeith’s finest, Darren Fletcher. However, it is well over two years since he left Man United. This Scottish drought was sort-of brought to an end in the game on Sunday. Scott McTominay a 20 year old born in Lancaster, but qualified to play for Scotland (and will – soon) by his lineage, came on a sub to make his debut for the Red Devils. Maybe a rare shaft of sunlight in an otherwise dreich and leaden Caledonian sky.

Scott McTominay: The first 'Scot' to play for one of England's elite clubs for more than two years
Last night the final Premier League match of the weekend was played out on ‘Monday Night Football’ on Sky TV. Chelsea showed Middlesbrough no mercy in this fixture and walloped them 3-0. The goals were scored Diego Costa, Alonso and Matic. The zealous English football media have gone into a tailspin interpreting Costa’s wave to the crowd after scoring as a wave goodbye hinting that he may be leaving in the summer. I am not so sure.

Waving goodbye of just waving? Ugly bloke Costa salutes the Chelsea faithful
In these e-pages I have described Costa as ‘an ugly bloke with a talent’ and also as ‘spectacularly ugly’. He does possess a face that only a mother could love. On Sunday at the Hearts v Aberdeen game I was sitting beside my good pal octogenarian Mary ‘Mary Doll’ Hope and she reckons that I am being a bit harsh. She says that Costa is not ugly at all and in fact looks a little vulnerable! I have heard the scary-faced Diego described as many things but never before as vulnerable. Nice one Mary Doll.

Next up for Chelsea are West Brom on Friday night and if they beat The Baggies in the Black Country they will win the Premier League with two games to spare and hence be able to focus fully on the FA Cup Final. Will Arsenal sink Southampton and then stun Stoke? Will Chelsea be frigid or frighteningly good on Friday night? Come back here for the answers to these questions and much more as the build up to the FA Cup Final continues … and … keep reading.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Stamford Bridge? It is more like the Forth Bridge! Chelsea have a strong Caledonian Connection

In the last post I paid my respects to the ‘agony and ecstasy’ life story of Chelsea and Newcastle United Scottish football icon Hughie Gallacher. Concluding my celebration of Chelsea’s Scottish heritage today I doff the cap to 3 more Scots who wore the famous blue jersey with pride: Tommy Walker, Eddie McCreadie and Charlie Cooke.

Tommy Walker in the blue of Chelsea circa 1947
Tommy Walker only played for Chelsea for a couple of years, specifically the two seasons immediately after World War II. Hence he can not really be described as a Chelsea legend, however I have my own reasons for including Tommy is this mini hall of fame. He starred for my beloved Hearts immediately prior to WW II and there is a link between Tommy and the current Hearts squad in that his great nephew Jamie Walker is Hearts player of the season for 2016-17.

Jamie Walker: Many years later a strong family resemblance
 I am heading to my spiritual home Tynecastle later today to see if Jamie can help the Jambos defy the odds and re-ignite the campaign to qualify for Europe next season by leading the team to a win over Aberdeen. His great uncle Tommy played 103 times for Chelsea scoring 24 goals. He also represented Scotland on 23 occasions and is one of a very exclusive club who can claim to have scored the winning goal for Scotland against England at Wembley. His link with Chelsea started during WW II when he guested for the Blues in a number of war time friendly matches. When the war ended Chelsea paid Hearts £6500 in September 1946 to secure his services. The years caught up with Tommy and he hung up his boots in December 1948. He was far from finished with football though and far from finished with Hearts. He returned to Tynecastle and joined the management team as assistant to the boss Davie McLean. He was appointed manager in 1951 and held the position for 15 years. During this time the Hearts, led on the field by the ‘Terrible Trio’ Conn, Bauld and Wardhaugh, won everything in Scottish football and dominated the game north of the border. Hearts won the league in 1958 and 1960. They won the Scottish Cup in 1956 and won the League Cup 4 times in this era. The fifties are acknowledged as the most successful period in Hearts history. Good things never last forever and after a slump in results Walker resigned in 1966. Tommy returned to Tynecastle for a third time in 1974 to take up a place on the board. He retired from this position in 1980. In 1993, following a short illness, Tommy sadly passed away at the age of 77.

Eddie McCreadie can certainly be described as a Chelsea legend. The craggy Scottish full back from Glasgow had a brief spell with East Stirlingshire as a youngster before signing for Chelsea in 1962 at the age of 22.

The Craggy McCreadie: Chelsea and Scotland legend
He went on to play for Chelsea for 11 years and represented the club on 410 occasions. He also played for Scotland 23 times including the 3-2 win at Wembley against world cup winners England when Scotland were declared (north of the border anyway) as unofficial world champions.

Eddie’s highlight during his time at Stamford Bridge was when he played in the FA Cup Final of 1970. This final is famous for being the only final tie in the modern era that was decided outwith Wembley. Initially Chelsea drew 2-2 with Leeds United at Wembley but the replay was staged at Old Trafford Manchester. The Blues got the better of their Yorkshire rivals in the second game and won 2-1 after extra time giving McCreadie his only winners medal to show for a commendable career at Stamford Bridge. After hanging up his boots in 1973 Eddie joined the coaching staff at Stamford Bridge and later managed Chelsea between 1975 and 1977. His time in the hot seat was successful and he guided the Blues to promotion back to the top division in season 1976-77. Having won promotion Eddie went to see the chairman and asked for a company car. This request was refused (changed days!) and the proud Scot resigned as a matter of principle. He left for the US of A in the late seventies to coach in the States. He settled on the other side of the pond and still lives there, now aged 77. There is still one piece of unfinished business relating to Eddie McCreadie’s links with both Scotland and Chelsea. When he was signed from East Stirling part of the deal was that Chelsea would play two friendly matches with the Shire (home and away) to raise funds for the impoverished Falkirk based club. The first of these matches did take place at the now defunct Firs Park in 1963 but the Shire are still waiting for the invite to play the return match at Stamford Bridge!

Charlie Cooke, or ‘Bonny Prince Charlie’ as he was known, was a good friend and team mate of Eddie McCreadie’s at Stamford Bridge. Both Scots starred in the FA Cup final win over Leeds in 1970.

Bonny Prince Charlie sporting a 70s hairstyle
Cooke served a useful footballing apprenticeship with Aberdeen and Dundee before signing for Chelsea at the age of 22. Between 1964 and 1978 in two spells at The Bridge he made 373 appearances scoring 33 goals. In addition to picking up an FA Cup winners medal Charlie also starred in the 1971 Cup Winners Cup final against Real Madrid when Chelsea defeated the famous Spanish team. The tricky winger from Fife played for Scotland on 16 occasions winning his last cap in 1975. Like McCreadie, Cooke also settled in America after his playing days had ended. Now 74 years old he is still involved in the beautiful game and runs a soccer school in Cincinatti Ohio.

There are many other Scots who have contributed to the development of Chelsea as a football club and it is clear that the Blues have a strong ‘Caledonian Connection’. It is just a pity that the current squad does not contain any Jocks. Maybe Antonio Conte will sign Jamie Walker in the next transfer window!

Getting back to the here and now, the two 2017 FA Cup finalists Arsenal and Chelsea are both in action over the next two days. Later today Arsenal host Manchester United at the Emirates and tomorrow evening Chelsea host Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge. Will Wenger be whistling or whining later? Will Conte be doing cartwheels tomorrow night? Come back here on Tuesday to find out how the two FA Cup finalists are gearing up for their showdown at Wembley on Saturday the 27th May … and keep reading.