Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Overhead over heels.

Andy Rodgers: he looks like a wee lad wearing his dad's
shirt in this photo.

When Andy Rodgers scored an overhead kick in the 88th minute in the 2-1 victory over East Fife just under a month ago, many supporters (myself included) were quick to label the goal the finest ever scored at Ochilview. It is rare to see moments of extraordinary beauty in Scottish football, but to see a strike of such graceful splendour in the Second Division is an exquisite rarity. So impressive was Rodgers' winning goal, it even made it onto the Guardian Sports' YouTube section the following week.

Several days later, after the dust began to settle on the victory, I started thinking about the strike and how it compares to other great goals scored by Warriors. In my seven years watching the club, there have only been a few that rank on that same lofty pantheon: Tommy Sinclair's volley from twenty-five yards against East Fife, perhaps? Maybe John Paul McBride's last minute lob against Elgin in 2007? Or what about Andy Stirling's header from the edge of the penalty area against Threave Rovers in the Scottish Cup last year? Rodgers' goal is better than all of those. While the other three have their merits, I just don't think they can compare. The overhead kick is inarguably better than all three - I can't think of a more difficult technique to master than the bicycle kick. When successful, there is simply nothing as graceful in football.

The only goal that can possibly compare to Rodgers' is Colin Cramb's fabled volley against East Stirlingshire in the Scottish Cup in 2005. It's almost six years to the day since his goal decided the tie and until Rodgers' bicycle kick, I had never seen anything like it at Ochilview. After the East Fife game, I sat in the Wee Bar with my friends and we talked about the performance and the goal. Do you think that goal was better than Cramby's?, I asked them. Last minute winner, eh. Overhead kick in the last minute, ken, one of them told me. He may have had a point.

Had Rodgers scored in, say, a meaningless friendly, would his goal still have carried the same impact? Had it been a late consolation in a 5-1 thrashing, would it have still be as lauded? Perhaps not. The context of the goal is almost as important as the goal itself. In the context of the East Fife game, it was spectacular. Rodgers had played poorly throughout and had passed up a series of very presentable chances before he arched his body and connected sublimely with Willie Lyle's cross. It must have taken an outrageous amount of daring to have even attempted such a strike. I've watched the goal about twenty times during the writing of this article and I'm still astounded by his technique and audacity.

Colin Cramb: between July-December 2005, the man was a God.

The context of the goal is also crucial in understanding the importance and significance of Cramb's strike. The game at Ochilview between the Warriors and the Shire had been postponed four or five times because of a frozen pitch. When the tie eventually took place on that cold November night, expectations between both fans were high.

Stenhousemuir led by two goals after eight minutes through Jim Mercer and Tommy Sinclair before Paul McGrillen was red carded for violent conduct. Adam Owen reduced the deficit with a twenty-five yard freekick and on the stroke of half-time, the home side were reduced to nine men after Denham was dismissed after receiving a second yellow card for apparently calling the referee a "cunt".

Using their two-man advantage, East Stirlingshire began to stretch their hosts and poured men forward to attack. After a period of sustained pressure, Steven Dymock's volley hit both posts before narrowly crossing the line to tie the score (I remember Willie McCulloch rushing from his goal to remonstrate with the officials and claim the goal should not have stood).

By this point, many expected the Shire to prevail. With around twenty minutes remaining, a wild clearance from the Warriors' defence deflected out of play somewhere around the halfway line. John Paul McBride's throw-in fell in front of Joe McAlpine and the fullback motored down the flank, stopped, and swung in a cross. I cannot overstate just how perfect his cross was. Pacey and deceptive, it was utterly flawless. As the ball dropped, Cramb peeled away from his marker and shaped to shoot. His connection was pure and he sent a glorious volley crashing over the head of Derek Jackson and into the net.

Looking at both goals, it's hard to separate them and decide which is the "better" of the two. Both goals were spectacular and proved to be the winners in crucial matches (Cramb's more so given the competition and the opposition) but in terms of technique and timing, Rodgers' was perhaps better.

That said, my favourite goal (and ultimately my favourite goal of all time) is Cramb's. I don't think I could give you a proper answer as to why that is, even if I was to sit and think about it for the rest of the year. Perhaps my senses are dulled by nostalgia and an unconscious refusal to move on. Maybe I can't quite shift my romantic notions of Des McKeown's 2005-2006 side. I can't even remember just how far out Cramb was when he struck the ball. I can't remember if he was eight yards, ten yards or eighteen yards from the goal. I can't even really remember the strike itself, just the ball slamming beyond Derek Jackson and the celebrations that followed.

Rodgers' goal has the benefit of Warriors TV and we can watch it again and again and revel in Murray's cute backheel, Lyle's wayward cross and the stunning execution. Cramb's goal doesn't have that. Without a replay, it will always become more and more mythical. The distance, the ferocity of the strike, the task the team faced, will be greater and greater each time the story's told. My friends and I still talk about it. On long bus journeys to away matches, we still describe the strike and talk about how astonishing it was. A goal will always be eulogised when a striker cries OHYA FUCKER, YOU'SE ARE OUT! before attempting to score.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Jurassic Park!

Alan Partridge: a God amongst men.


Once again, this is quite embarrassing.

There's nothing quite as shameful as having reneged on a promise. I feel completely ashamed. I feel ashen-faced, like I'm barely able to make eye contact with you. After a long and lonesome delay in adding anything of note to Who The Hell is Akabusi?, I've come slinking in through the back door with my tail tucked firmly between my legs, pleading with you for some sort of forgiveness, like a pathetic philanderer begging to be let back into the marital bed.

Once is a misfortune; twice is careless. I promised in my very first post that when it came to the showdown, I'd be there for you. I'd be there with you fighting in the last garrison. I'd be there with you as we waded through the shit and the sick in a Venice sewer trying to locate the Holy Grail. I said I'd be there... Then nothing. And this is not the first time it's happened.

But, let's put that to one side. I'll offer up another explanation, another fruitless pledge, and then we'll get on with it like the last two months were some sort of bad dream.

I've rediscovered my mojo. I feel like Bob Dylan writing and recording Oh Mercy, like Rocky Bilboa finding the strength to floor Ivan Drago. If you're not listening to Eminem's Without Me while you're reading this, then I suggest you remove that Toploader album from the CD tray and put that in instead.

There were mitigating circumstances when I ceased writing Who The Hell is Akabusi?. Sometime before the Arbroath game back in mid-August, my laptop charger packed in. I won't go into the technical details (mainly because I have no idea what happened myself), but the whole seedy debacle was recorded in my last post on this blog. I had used my step-father's charger intermittently but the whole situation was hopeless. I had to wait about three weeks to buy a universal adaptor of my own. The most robust model I could find cost £60 from PC World. It's the best deal you're going to get, the teenager at the counter told me. This one's the business. This is the one I use at home. Imagine my consternation when, after telling my workmates about my travails, one of them piped up and told me that she could have got me one for £10. I was appalled.

By this point, to me anyway, it seemed almost pointless to continue with the blog. I had failed to write reports on several games (the matches against Forfar, Falkirk and Cowdenbeath, I think) and rather than write apologetic, half-hearted articles, I abandoned the project altogether and turned my attention to preparing for post-graduate diploma in Multimedia Journalism.

Shorthand: fucking complicated.

The workload for the course is quite astonishing. I fully expected to face an avalanche of work, but it certainly wasn't with this ferocity. I could list you everything I'm expected to work on over the next few weeks but that would be tedious and unnecessary. All you need to know is that I'm expected to learn to write shorthand at the rate of fifty words per minute before Christmas. It looks like hieroglyphics.

There's a combination of factors that have encouraged me to start writing again. My PDP advisor (I'm not entirely sure what PDP stands for) warned me that no one's likely to employ a journalist who isn't writing anything current. He cautioned that editors will want to see something fresh and up-to-date - a blog post from July about the best Stenhousemuir players in the last seven years is unlikely to tempt them to hire me, no matter how good it is.

Secondly, a number of people have asked me why I'm not writing anymore. I don't think I can fathom a reasonable explanation - despite my increased workload, there's still time I can find to write articles - the spare moments in bed on a Wednesday night could be better spent writing and reporting than watching videos of sleeping cats on YouTube, no matter how sugary they are. When people like John Maxwell of the excellent Ross County Tactics website are offering their encouragement, it's exceptionally flattering. It might be a chore, but you can look back at pride in your work, he told me.

Finally - I miss it. I miss writing about Stenhousemuir FC. I miss writing about the Second Division, the smell of the muck and mire of the basement leagues of Scottish football, the kick and the rush, Eric Paton's gorgeous fifty yard switches, wretched Dumbarton teams, Stewart Kean "working the channels", Forfar Athletic's astonishing physical presence... I miss all that. Why on earth would you want to read a thirty-word column in the Scotland on Sunday about Saturday's match when you can write a 2000 one of your own instead?

Before things ground to a halt, a friend and fellow Stenhousemuir supporter told me that there was no need for match reports to be included on the blog. I've been at the games, he said to me. I've seen the same things you've seen. I don't want to read about things I've already seen, I want to read something different. He may have had a point but despite this, I will still attempt to write up succinct and analytical match reports of no more than a thousand words from the games. The last time I tried to write a match report was in the aftermath of the 2-0 victory over Arbroath and it took almost a week to have the report typed up onto the blog. That sort of thing will not happen again.

I won't be able to attend as many away matches as I would like to anymore. I don't really think I can afford the time or the money for jaunts in Angus or out into the West of Scotland. Instead I'll have to make do with Jeff Stelling and a bag of crisps every second Saturday afternoon. I can't promise that I'm going to be able to update this every week, but I'll do my best. I'm fed up seeing the Second and Third Divisions ignored in the quality papers, relegated to a footnote on the middle pages like some sort of dirty secret. The club and the leagues deserve better. You deserve better.

So let's put on our stockings, baby, because the night's getting cold. Let's sit back and let's try and enjoy some quality insight about Stenhousemuir Football Club.