Thursday, 22 March 2012

An evening with the Gentleman Amateurs.

Queen's Park FC: some of their fans outside Hampden on Tuesday.
It’s been almost four weeks since I added anything to Who the hell is Akabusi?, but, as usual, I have a well-rehearsed list of mitigating circumstances to explain the recent inactivity on it. The level of coursework at my University has dramatically increased and precluded me from giving the blog the attention it deserves. Instead of offering my expert opinion on Stenhousemuir FC, I’ve been busy writing theatre reviews and potted histories on Chinese footballers as part of a portfolio (trying to put a positive spin on Du Wei’s atrocious debut for Celtic really took some doing, believe me).

In addition, I haven’t been able to attend a Stenhousemuir match since their 1-0 defeat to Albion Rovers on Cliftonhill at the start of the month. I fully intended to write a withering analysis on how the Warriors were overrun and out-manoeuvred by a hungrier, more committed side; on how the team were once again undone on a bumpy, pockmarked pitch in cold conditions; and on how Davie Irons’ failure to attend the game would probably herald the end of his tenure as manager at the club; but instead, I had to practice shorthand. An internship with Sky Sports News demands a speed of a least 100 words per minute – I can barely write 60.

Having missed the matches against Stirling Albion and Cowdenbeath, I felt unqualified to offer any comment or opinion on the club’s recent travails other than this one observation: after the 4-0 victory over Stirling Albion, Irons delivered an astonishing post-match interview with Warriors TV, which reminded of this clip from The Simpsons:

The clip is taken from "Lisa’s Pony". After badly letting down Lisa, Homer decides to make amends by buying her a pony. Unable to keep up with its expensive maintenance costs, he is forced to take on a second job at the Kwik-E-Mart and work through their infamous nightshift. The workload begins to affect Homer and his bug-eyed, twitchy appearance throughout the episode bears a string resemblance to Iron’s interview.

Adding anything more seems like pointless exercise. Instead, and in an unusual move, I would prefer to focus on events away from Stenhousemuir. On Tuesday night, I attended Hampden and witnessed Queen’s Park’s straightforward 3-0 win against Clyde.

I’ve had a soft-spot for Queen’s Park since they won promotion to the Second Division in 2007. The Spiders side of the 2006-2007 season were arguably one of the Third Division's most thrilling teams of the last decade. Managed by Billy Stark and featuring talented players like David Weatherston, Paul Paton, Paul Cairney, Stuart Kettlewell and Alan Trouten, they were an incredibly exciting side to watch. Their playoff final first leg, a 4-2 victory over East Fife at Firhill (the match had been moved from Hampden to accommodate a Rod Stewart concert) was utterly captivating and one of the finest football matches I’ve ever seen.

That summer, Weatherston, the club’s most explosive talent, moved on to St Johnstone, and 12 months later, the squad was inevitably picked apart by bigger clubs. Paton and Cairney joined Partick Thistle while Kettlewell and Trouten signed for Clyde. Queen’s Park were ultimately relegated in 2009 after losing to Stenhousemuir in the Second Division playoff semi-finals.

The club have performed admirably since returning to the Third Division, finishing in the playoff positions in the past two seasons. Although their current squad lacks the flair and excitement as their counterparts from the 2006-2007 season, they are perhaps better equipped to win promotion to the Second Division now than they have been in the previous three years.

David Anderson: looking like a cross between
Shane McGowan and John Hurt in Alien.

On Tuesday night, Queen’s Park raced to a two goal lead within ten minutes through Jamie Longworth (dubbed “the Clyde Killer” by some sections of the Spiders support after scoring seven goals in eight games against the Broadwood club) and Ian Watt. After their bright start, they huffed and puffed their way through the rest of the match before Martin McBride's exquisite finish in the 89th minute completed the rout. The three goals put the gloss on an otherwise stuffy performance - Queen’s Park weren’t particularly impressive, but they didn’t really have to be.

Clyde were wretched. It’s difficult to believe they defeated Celtic in the Scottish Cup just six years previously, but the team’s decline has been as extraordinary as it has been rapid. Jim Duffy and his assistant Chic Charnley did their best to will their players on from the touchline, but this was as poor a Clyde team as I’ve ever seen. Their fullbacks Iain Gray and Lee Sharp were particularly rancid.

Bereft of any attacking options, they were forced into playing Pat Scullion as a lone striker. Nominally deployed as a midfield anchor during his two seasons at Stenhousemuir, here he was fashioned into some sort of target man. Scullion’s reasonably tall and stout, so in some respects the decision makes sense, but a striker big Pat is not. He spent the majority of the game either leaping hopelessly towards the long balls skelped in his general direction, or offside.

The game’s most outstanding performer, however, was Queen’s Park’s David Anderson. Signed from Kilbirnie Ladeside in the summer of 2010, the diminutive midfielder has quietly developed a reputation as one of the division's finest midfielders, mixing a tidy range of passing with energy and tenacity. For those who haven’t seen the 28-year-old in action, Anderson combines the best attributes of Paul McHale and Iain Thomson. It’s a clumsy comparison but probably the best I can offer. Jamie Longworth and Martin McBride, his fellow midfielders, are also fine footballers and would make strong additions to most Second Division sides, but it’s Anderson who excites the most. In the unlikely event that Davie Irons is reading this blog (or, more pertinently, if he’s still the manager of Stenhousemuir in two months’ time), David Anderson would be an excellent signing at Ochilview.

Queen’s Park’s victory over Clyde, meanwhile, sets up an appetizing top-of-the-table clash with Alloa at Recreation Park on Saturday. Alloa currently sit atop the Third Division and enjoy a nine point gap over their rivals. Should Queen’s Park win, the remaining six matches of the season will prove to be hugely interesting; lose, and any fanciful talk of a title challenge can be dismissed.

Watch highlights of Queen's Park's 3-0 victory over Clyde on the superb QPTV here.

Mark Gallagher is the enigmatic leader of the IBF, Queen's Park's notorious hooligan element. Follow him on Twitter here.

Kenny Crawford is the Queen's Park correspondent with the Southside Extra. Follow him on Twitter here.

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