Archive for July, 2020

Remembering David Hagen

July 25, 2020

Sad news hearing about the death of David Hagen at the age of 47 after a battle with Motor Neurone Disease. Couldn’t say how many times I watched David play, certainly over fifty and maybe closer to a hundred. David joined Rangers from Grahamston Boys Club, he first came to prominence as a member of the Scotland U16 Squad that lost on penalties to Saudi Arabia in the 1989 World Championship at Hampden.

Scotland Under 16’s 1989 – David is on the extreme right front row

A regular in Rangers reserve and youth teams he was a member of the Glasgow Cup winning side of 1992, who beat Celtic 1-0 at Firhill on 15th January. He made his first team debut as a substitute against Hearts at Ibrox in September 1992 a game Rangers won 2-0.

He went on to make around twenty competitive appearances for Rangers, scoring three goals, against Hibs (March 1993), Partick Thistle (April 1993) and Hearts (August 1993). The highlight of his Rangers career would have been his late substitute appearance, replacing Ian Durrant, in Rangers 2-1 Champions League group stage win over Bruges at Ibrox on 17th March 1993.

David at Rangers

On leaving Rangers he joined Hearts where he made around thirty appearances scoring four goals. His home town club Falkirk followed with almost 150 games. David scored the only goal in Falkirk’s 1997 Challenge Cup win over Queen of the South at Fir Park.

Kevin McAllister, Alex Totten, David Hagen and Walter Kidd celebrate Falkirk’s 1997 Challenge Cup win.

A further 150 games followed for Livingston, Clyde and Peterhead. In 2006/2007 season he played his final season in the Junior ranks with Boness United before retiring.

He gained seven Scotland Under 21 caps.

Falkirk announced in July 2018 that David was suffering from MND. David’s “Last Game” was a testimonial on 21st October 2018, when a Rangers XI took on a Falkirk/Hearts select at The Falkirk Stadium. It was a disappointing turnout for the 4pm kick-off. Rangers played a league game at Hamilton on the same day, kicking off at 1.30pm. I felt the clubs could have found a more suitable date and time for the game.

David with Cammy Palmer at his benefit game.

A quick dash from New Douglas Park got us to The Falkirk Stadium in time for the kick-off and you can read my report on the game below.

https://rfcyouths.wordpress.com/david-hagen-benefit-match/

RIP David.

I Need Football Back

July 21, 2020

I really need football back, any football, professional, academy , boys club. By this time of year I really should have games to go to, closed door TV games doesn’t do it for me. It’s also a struggle to keep the blog ticking over.

So I looked back to this day in 2018 we were half-way through the King’s Lynn tournament, although with Rangers playing their games on 20th and 22nd July, it was a filler watching Mansfield Town v Sheffield United on this day. Two years earlier it was a trip to Newcastle United’s academy with a total mismatch of a game age wise with Rangers 3-0 up after eight minutes.

But I have decided to go back to the game ten years ago today where Rangers Under 19’s beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 in their season opener, match report on the link below.

https://rfcyouths.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/youths-win-pre-season-opener/

So I thought I would have a look at where the players are now, unfortunately I never managed to get the Wolves lineup or the name of the trialist Rangers had in their ranks that day.

Alan Smith – Alan signed for Rangers in July 2010 from Leinster Senior League side Crumlin United and was the regular youth goalkeeper for a couple of years. When he was released at the end of the 2012/13 season he seemed to have a break from football before signing for Cork City in January 2015. His career seems to have ended following a three year stint at Cork City.

Ewan McNeillEwan came up through the age groups when he was recruited from St. Mirren Boys Club. During his five and a half year spell at Rangers he spent three months on loan at Airdrie where he made nine appearances. On his release from Rangers he was scouted and signed by Norwich City and spent two season at Carrow Road. He then returned to Scotland and turned out for Brechin City, Berwick Rangers, Clyde, Stirling Albion and was last seen at Pollok 2018/19 season.

Ewan McNeil at Norwich City

Chris HegartyJoined Rangers on a free transfer from Millwall in July 2010, Rangers drop to the fourth tier saw him break into the first team and play regularly in League Two. The following season saw his first team involvement drop to just two appearances. He left Rangers at the end of 2013/14 season and signed for Linfield, he has since spent a couple of years at his first club Dungannon and is now at Crusaders.

Chris Scott – Centre back Chris joined Rangers as a thirteen year old, after signing a professional contract he decided football was not for him and left to work as a kitchen porter. After a six month sabbatical washing dishes he got a second chance and returned to the club. Not sure when he finally left the club but doesn’t appear to have been involved in professional football since.

Steven Hetherington – Signed for Rangers after being spotted at an FA Exit Trial having been released by Hartlepool. On his release from Rangers in 2011 he signed for Motherwell, during his two years at Fir Park he made three appearances with a further fourteen on a loan spell at Airdrie United. A spell in English non league with Celtic Nation and Crook Town followed before returning to Scotland and Alloa Athletic where he is now entering his seventh season.

Alloa’s Steven Hetherington

Dylan McGeouchRangers paid Celtic a development fee when he was fourteen and arguably the best player in the country at his age group. A top performer in the youth team Rangers allowed his contract to run down and he signed a pre-contract with Celtic in January 2011. He now has over 150 senior appearances at Celtic, Coventry City, Hibernian, Sunderland and now Aberdeen. He was capped twice by Scotland in 2018.

Andy MitchellAndy joined Rangers in July 2010 on a free transfer from Man City who he joined from Greenisland Boys Club. He made his Rangers debut in a Premiership game against Dundee United in 2011/12. Played a few games the following season in League Two before moving to Annan Athletic for 2013/14 season, with the move made permanent in January 2014. A move to Southport followed before returning to Annan on loan. On leaving Annan he returned home and signed for Crusaders and has since played for Linfield and now Larne.

Gordon DickAnother who came through the academy age groups joining the club from Mill United. Midfielder Gordon joined Albion Rovers on his release from Rangers in July 2012. Stints in the Juniors with Cambuslang Rangers and Wishaw followed but now appears to be out of the game.

Gordon Dick

Kamil WiktorskiPolish recruit Kamil joined from Zawisa Bydgoszcz in July 2009 after a successful trial. On his release from Rangers he returned home and has since turned out for six clubs in Poland. He now has around 100 appearances in the Polish second tier where he plays for current club Chojniczanka Chocjnice.

Christiano KisukaChristiano had been on the books of Aberdeen and Queens Park before he joined Rangers. On leaving the club he had a spell at Beith Juniors before turning out for Syrianska IF in Sweden. It appears he was last seen in Junior football with East Kilbride Thistle.

Christiano Kisuka joins EK Thistle

Anthony MarenghiJoined Rangers from Celtic at the same time as Dylan McGeouch but no development fee was paid in this case. A skilful left sided player who I thought was better than his game time in the youth team suggested. Joined Ayr United on leaving Rangers and with stints at Stranraer and Stenhousemuir he was close to 100 senior games. Last seen at Lowland League club East Kilbride in 2016/17 season.

Nicky MainUnfortunately Nicky was in the headlines for non football reasons when diagnosed with a brain tumor and retired from football at the age of 19. Son of former St.Johnstone and Dundee United keeper Alan Main he faced a long battle to over come the illness. His progress was such that he returned to the football pitch with Lossiemouth United in 2014.

Kyle McAuslandJoined the club as a striker at a young age from Ayr United, a club he returned to on loan on no fewer that three occasions. As he moved up through the age groups he reverted to defence. When Rangers were competing in League Two Kyle was turning out in the division above for Ayr United. He made a handful of first team appearances for Rangers the following season before returning to Ayr United on loan. He also had a loan spell at Brechin City and on leaving Rangers he signed for Dunfermline Athletic, he also played for Alloa Athletic and has spent the last three season in the Juniors with Cummnock.

I can’t remember too much about the game or indeed the trialist, but I know he wore the number 9 so I assume he was part of a front two with Christiano Kisuka.

Project Brave, Performance Schools Etc

July 1, 2020

Following on from my recent posts I was asked my opinion on Project Brave, Performance Schools, Club Schools and player development.

Quite a complicated subject for someone who is essentially on the outside looking in but I will give it a go

Project Brave

SFA’s first Performance Director Mark Wotte

Instigated a couple of years ago it was a project to look at the academy structure from U11’s through to U16’s. There were a number of reasons put forward for the change, with around 2300 players across 29 academies it was felt it was far too big and the available funding was spread too thinly. The plan was to cut this to a maximum of 16 academies and clubs were invited to apply for either Elite or Progressive Performance level.

Clubs outwith these two groupings would still be able to run academies or community outreach schemes. With a commitment to receive the same level of funding for three years. The three years have just passed, I’m not sure what impact that has had on the funding now.

Clubs needed to submit a three-year business plan to show that their academy is financially viable, has enough support staff and coaches and good enough facilities. The additional full time staff required meant a few clubs felt the Elite status wasn’t financially viable.

The main stumbling block to clubs was the requirement to have six full-time academy posts.

  • Head Of Academy
  • Head of Youth
  • Head of Children’s Programmes
  • Head of Player Recruitment
  • Head of Academy Football Science and Medicine
  • Head of Academy Performance Analysis (This had to be in place in the second year)

As a consequence Dundee United, St. Mirren and Partick Thistle did not apply for the Elite status.

Thistle’s Gerry Britton opts not to apply for Elite status

There was a couple of changes to the structure with the season moving to a calendar year, from March to November. There was also a change to the number of players allowed, it had been a maximum of 20 per age group and was changed to 110 over the six age groups, so cut by 10. Although in reality very few groups at any club would have had the maximum 20 players, you have to leave space just in case the next Messi turns up at your door.

By launch we had the 16 academies and a wee bit extra. With a few tweaks the state play last season was as follows.

Elite

  • Rangers
  • Aberdeen
  • Celtic
  • Hamilton Accies
  • Hearts
  • Hibernian
  • Kilmarnock
  • Motherwell

Progressive

  • Ayr United
  • Dundee United
  • Greenock Morton
  • Inverness Caley Thistle
  • Partick Thistle
  • Ross County
  • St. Johnstone
  • St. Mirren

Performance (This is the wee bit extra)

  • Dundee
  • Fife Elite
  • Queens Park

From U11’s through to U16’s the Elite clubs play each other three times and the other 11 clubs once. At U16’s this is done through two cup competitions and a league campaign. With the change to a calendar year season the U16’s have a few months in limbo as they change to a conventional season at U18’s. This is addressed by the second cup competition which runs from March till June.

Malky Mackay trying to explain how the U18 League works.

The structure sort of runs through to U18’s with two leagues, Elite & Performance. This is where it gets a wee bit bizarre, Elite clubs play each other twice and they play the performance clubs once, for league points. So when Rangers drew 1-1 with Dundee United in February they got a point each for their respective leagues. Makes looking at the league table hard to get your head round.

But it doesn’t end there, below this there is another level.

Advanced Youth Level

  • Airdrie
  • Alloa Athletic
  • Elgin City
  • Montrose
  • Queen of the South
  • Stirling Albion

I think these six clubs only meet Elite clubs in the U16 cups.

So has it worked ? Well I think this is only part of the issue and has to be looked along side Performance Schools, Club Schools and what happens beyond U16’s. I don’t think you can argue with an increase in full time professionals in these posts at clubs but in any profession some will be better than others.

I think it has had an negative impact on some clubs and was a significant factor on the demise of decent academies at Livingston and Falkirk/Forth Valley. Of those still around Queens Park were probably were the biggest losers, now finding themselves in the third tier.

Best v Best Rangers v Atletico Madrid

It is supposed to bring in more games of best v best which brings a smile to my face. Rangers v Celtic would come into that category but they have a tendency to avoid each other. Above under 16’s they were due to meet in the U18 League, Glasgow Cup and the semi official six team best v best tournament. By the time the season was curtailed they had met once, a Glasgow Cup tie in February. They of course blame each other when the games are cancelled.

Rangers have made a lot of effort in arranging best v best games but I have seen a few against teams such as Liverpool, Man City, Newcastle and Huddersfield that have been rendered meaningless due to a mismatch in the age profile of the teams.

Performance & Clubs Schools

The main idea behind both the SFA Perfrormance Schools and Rangers & Celtic in house schools programmes is to increase coaching time, with an estimated 10,000 hours Elite coaching at the end of their schooling.

I’m not so sure its any kind of magic bullet, all kids are different and have different personalities, so some will benefit and for some it will be an environment that hinders them. I know one high profile Rangers player who along with his family decided to leave the SFA Performance School and go back to their local school.

First Performance School graduate to play first team football

The programmes poster boys seem to be Billy Gilmour, Kieran Freeman and Dean Campbell, but does anybody really believe the Performance Schools were a big factor in them achieving what they have so far. Having seen a fair bit of these players over the years I’m pretty sure the major factor was their natural ability.

There are seven SFA performance Schools which have been in operation since 2012, the schools are.

  • Holyrood Secondary, Glasgow
  • Graeme High School, Falkirk
  • Grange Academy, Kilmarnock
  • Braidhurst High School, Motherwell
  • Hazlehead Academy, Aberdeen
  • St.John’s RC High School, Dundee
  • Broughton High School, Edinburgh

Selection is made from trial games involving recommended Primary 7 players, I would think SFA scouts probably watch CAS fixtures as well. There are also places for girls and players from grassroots (boys clubs) players, seems a wee bit of tokenism in my opinion.

Celtic started their link up at St. Ninian’s three years earlier, they pretty much want all their players attending the school and I have heard of some making significant daily journeys. Has it been a success ? Looking at the age profiles Kieran Tierney may have attended the school and qualified successes Michael Johnston and Tony Ralston probably did. Recent debutants Scott Robertson and Karamoko Dembele did attend the school.

I’ve been told by people at Celtic that a consequence of having so many at the school they have probably kept on players they would have other wise released because they are at the school.

They had a major issue at the school recently but details were kept from the public domain to avoid identifying the school and those involved.

Rangers link up with Boclair Academy is much more recent only starting in 2016. The club said from the outset that it would be “selected” players, I could see that being an issue as most parents would see their kid as being in that group. Logistics don’t suit everyone, so some have declined and attend either their local school or one of the SFA performances schools.

I have always had a question on these schools, what if…… ? A player at 12 can be totally different at 14, I have already touched on the fact that Celtic may have kept players on they wanted to release. I don’t know what is in place at Celtic or the Performance schools if a boy’s football hasn’t progressed. Rangers programme is in its infancy but I believe that if a player at the school is released they have the option to remain at the school and to continue to be coached.

How do you measure if they have been a success ? The SFA Schools claim 36 graduates across the seven schools since Dean Campbell made his debut, from Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour to lower league players Thomas Halleran & Marky Monro (Stenhousemuir), Gavin Scott (Stranraer), David Wilson (Elgin City) and Kyle Sneddon (Cowdenbeath). How many of these players would have graduated to first team anyway ?

A very young Lewis McGrattan, Stephen Kelly and keeper Darren Montgomery selected for SFA Performance School Holyrood Secondary

Interestingly eight of those “graduates” were Rangers players while they were at the Performance Schools. Billy Gilmour (Grange), Josh McPake (Braidhurst), Zak Rudden (Broughton), Kai Kennedy, Dapo Mebude, Stephen Kelly, Niyah Joseph and Lewis McGrattan (Holyrood). I think Nathan Patterson also attended Holyrood.

Development Beyond Academy Teams

That is the $64,000 question.

In my opinion you only improve by playing against better or physically stronger players. Which kinda underpins the best v best mantra.

Ironically Malky Mackay sums it up in a paragraph talking about Project Brave.

“We are setting the bar high because it has to be the elite players we’re focusing on. It’s the 19-21 age group where the whole thing breaks down and we need to get them into first teams.”

Rangers are well aware that this is a problem and have been pushing for Colt teams in the lower leagues for the past couple of years. Unfortunately its not going to happen any time soon, not one league 1 or 2 team backed the proposal when it was voted on a couple of years ago. Only Albion Rovers backed Colt teams entering the Lowland League.

From a selfish point of view I would love to see a Rangers Colts team in the lower leagues but I can understand the other point of view.

Josh McPake at Dundee

That leaves loan deals which you have less control over and as shown by Josh McPake’s spell at Dundee is a bit of a gamble. Or our own best v best arrangements but I feel a friendly is a friendly no matter what you call it.

With around fifty non first team players that is a lot of best v best games to arrange. All tournaments from U18 League, Glasgow Cup, Challenge Cup and even Champions Youth League have doubts hanging over them so game time will be a big challenge. Some players will go out on loan but with almost thirty U18 players and rumours of a couple of academies being mothballed, it is far too many to provide adequate game time for.

So looking at things overall if we cant resolve this third issue then Project Brave and Performance Schools will lose much of any benefit. Its probably too early to pass judgement on the three year Project Brave and Performance schools whose oldest “graduates” are only turning 19 this year.