Monday, 20 February 2012

Zambinos Create Fairytale Ending

Although Dundee beat the Binos 2-1 in the Cup this year, there was a silver lining to the day. Despite the early exit, the Binos had a new fan because witnessing the game in the crowd was 19 year old Zambian Kelvin Chasuaka.

Kelvin was a guest of this very magazine that day and post-match was delighted and proud to have been presented with a signed Albion shirt by Stuart Brown, Operations Director, on behalf of the Club.

Kelvin celebrated Darren Smith’s opener like everyone else in the DDT that day and little did anyone know that just four months down the line Kelvin would witness his home nation win the African Cup of Nations for the first time in their history.

That dramatic 8-7 penalty shootout victory over Ivory Coast ensured Zambia commemorated and celebrated the Zambian team of 1993 in sensational style.

Tragically, all the players and staff aboard the plane flying to the country’s 1994 World Cup qualifier in Senegal died whilst flying over Gabon, the very same country of their shoot-out triumph 19 years on.

Zambia had made it to two African Nation finals prior to eliminated tournament favourites Ghana 1-0 in this year’s semi-final stage. The tournament win was sweet enough without the knowledge it was nearly 20 years ago the nation fatally lost a golden generation of players. The only survivor of that team being star striker and now Zambia FA head Kalusha Bwalya. Bwalya scored a hat-trick in the only other game that comes close to matching the achievements of this year, a 4-0 win over Italy in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Zambia (or Chipolopolo, as they are also known as, meaning copper bullets on accounts of the country’s main export), were offered little chance by pundits. Despite Cameroon, Egypt and Nigeria’s failure to qualify for this year’s Nations Cup, Zambia were still rank outsiders to the likes of Demba Ba’s Senegal, Yaya Toure’s Ivory Coast and Asamoah Gyan’s Ghana.

However, coached under Frenchman Herve Renard, the Chipolopolo proved to be formidable opponents who were extremely difficult to break down. Somewhat controversially, Zambia had reappointed Renand after sacking former Dundee (it’s a small world) assistant Dario Bonetti as Head Coach despite successfully qualifying for the tournament in 2011. It proved to be a masterstroke decision in hindsight.

Despite not being pit against Africa’s greatest teams in the tournament’s qualifiers, they only lost once in finishing their group’s winners which featured Libya, Comoros and Mozambique. They continued their resilience into the tournament held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon stunning Senegal in their group’s opening fixture. Strong at the back and quick on the counter attack, Zambia continued to surprise teams and only conceding three goals in their six games on route to lifting the Cup and putting Zambia firmly on the world’s football map.

Renard galvanised a team of players who predominantly ply their trade on home soil into a solid unit who overcame the odds and created a fairy tale ending the tournament and their own history in Gabon.

Through, Kelvin and Africa on the Ball, for whom Kelvin is project manager, there’s a good chance the club will continue to have a link with Zambia. Africa on the Ball is a non-profit organization which was started in Stirling. It uses the power of football for social development in deprived communities of Africa. As Scotland’s first league club to be 100% owned by the fans and community, it’s great that both entities can continue to grow and develop alongside each other and the respective communities they work in.

To find out more about Africa on the Ball, please visit

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Albion Podcast

Check out the first ever 'Albion' podcast with special guests and football journalists David Ogilvie and Graham Ruthven joining me on first episode. Includes interviews with Stirling Albion manager Jocky Scott and captain Brian Allison.

Dykeenies provide Sounds for the City of Stirling

Fubar was the last stop on the Dykeenie’s latest tour promoting the release of their new album Canyon of Echoes. The band released the album off their own back following the decision to stay independent from a record label.
I caught up with the band to find out how life was own their own.

AJ: The new album has a very different sound to ‘Nothing Means Everything’, what was the thinking behind the production of the album.
Dykeenies: We never had a definite plan for the direction of the sound. On the first record, we recorded it with lots of different producers in lots of different studios and it was a matter of finding a producer we could click with. It was almost as if the first album was research. The second record was all made in the same studio with the same guy and we were all comfortable with that. I think the fact that we’re now independent made a big difference as well because we could take our time with the recordings and we could do a lot of experiments at home on our computer. We felt a lot less pressure with this album because we could do a lot of recording on our computers at home without it costing us money like it would if we were writing songs in the studio. So on the second record, we were a lot more prepared to record because we’d had that time to experiment at home.

AJ: What’s it been like being your bosses, is it all a much more fulfilling experience now or not?
Dykeenies: When we were on Sony, they wanted to control everything, including our haircuts and clothes. Now we can dress how we want.

AJ: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being independent?
Dykeenies: You can make your own decisions first and foremost. We always said to the guys from Sony that if we chose how to spend the budget they had allocated us, we would have been ten times better off. But now we don’t have the big massive budget, but we can make our own decisions.

AJ: Do you think going independent is the way forward for a lot of young Scottish bands?
Dykeenies: I think it’s going to have to be to be honest. Our music lawyer has only signed three bands to record labels in the last two years and he’s one of the best ones in the industry in Britain. Now the artists they mostly sign are pop acts that either look good or can sing fairly well but don’t write their own stuff, but that’s what it was like before Franz Ferdinand and the likes of the Strokes, so I guess it goes round in circles really. I think there’s been a lot of trial and error with bands releasing their own music and I think it’ll still be some time before they work out what the best way of releasing music is.

AJ: How do you see yourselves fitting into the current music market?
Dykeenies: I think we were perhaps a couple of years too late to fit into the surge of guitar music that occupied the 00s. There was a big thing for a while when all you ever heard was another band from another town in the UK and then people got fed up with that. It’s changed now to pop acts and things like dubstep, but even now people seem to be getting fed up with that because it all sounds the same. It’ll go round in a circle.

AJ: The video for Sounds of the City was good fun, was it as much fun to make as it is to watch?
Dykeenies: We took all the photos ourselves. There were 3800 photos in the end video, but I think we took over 10,000 photos overall. It was an absolute nightmare to edit! It took us 11 days to edit it.

AJ: What’s the reaction been to the new album?
Dykeenies: it’s been great. Nothing beats the sound of the crowd singing your new songs back to you, that’s when you know people are enjoying your music. 

If you're a fan of Scottish music, noise makers Sucioperro will be dropping into Fubar next week (11th November) to blow the roof off - Tickets available for £7 from Ticket web / Europa Music / Barton St Music

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Macbeth, by SUDS: Review

SUDS ‘Macbeth’, hyped as Shakespeare meets Guy Ritchie, actually had very little Ritchie but plenty of what you would expect from one of Britain’s literary greats. Straight from the off, it was the pure brilliance of acting and recital of ludicrously long pros that drove the play forward. Dressed in modern attire, but still conversing in the archaic nature true to that of old Bill’s original script, the actor’s ability to portray the sense of chaos surrounding Mr and Mrs Macbeth was extremely impressive. Macbeth, played by Adam Welsh, was exceedingly good at convincing the audience of the increasing psychological problems haunting his soon to end life. The intensity and madness in his eyes was simply menacing. As they say, behind every great man there is a great woman; Macbeth was no exception. Along with Ross Middleton and John Bruce, Katrina Allen playing Lady Macbeth stole the show as she showcased her talents and persuaded Macbeth into her plans of regicide. Like Welsh, Allen succeeded in luring the audience into her increasingly guilt smothered psyche, to the point where the audience were taken to the core themes of the Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’. Director Halon’s creative touches to the play added much in places and the stand out scene was that of Banquo’s (Middleton) return to haunt Macbeth at a banquet; his makeup horrifying. However, whilst the acting on average was extremely high, the lack of props and the minimal mise-en-scene maybe lacked a little originality to accompany the high standards set by the performers. It really was the acting and direction of the play that made it so gripping and one of marvellous art showcasing some terrific talent along the way.

Tracks of 2011 so far: Playlist

He's a 10 track playlist of some of the best songs released this year - feel free to comment or create your own in response!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: A Review

Anyone that was slightly disappointed with Liam Gallagher’s attempts to prove he was the brain behind Oasis will probably be more than uplifted with Noel’s response. Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds would mostly definitely be one of Oasis’ finest releases since the release of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory were they still together today.Such highly anticipated albums by artists such as Noel Gallagher, one of Britain’s most successful singer songwriters over the past two decades, have in the past had a habit of not living up to their hype. Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds is an exception. It seems this album is where he’s been storing a back catalogue of songs for a number of years.

The long awaited release starts with “Everybodys on the Run”, an epic opening anthem with a beautiful mix of strings and female vocals accompanying an irresistibly catchy chorus, which bleeds emotion.

However, like most of Oasis’ albums since 1996, only half the tracks are of an outstanding quality, but when it shines, it shines like the sun, to use Noel’s lyrics. Three tracks in and you’ll find ‘If I Had A Gun’, one of the most beautiful songs he may have written. Its delicacy shows maturity in Gallagher’s songwriting. Whilst in the past Oasis wrote anthems, this is a ballad that has the perfect blend of sentimental emotion and raucous guitar backing his impressive vocal range, fully showcased for the first time.

Any doubters of Oasis in the past may want to reconsider their stance on Noel. One of the main criticisms of his former work was the inflexibility of his songwriting and an inability to produce anything other than generic guitar based anthems. His latest single from the album, AKA What A Life, demonstrates he’s catching up with contemporary ‘popular’ music with a track more based on the melody of the piano rather than that of his guitar. It is a track he confesses is the first song he’s ever written which “you can dance to”.

And it is AKA What A Life, along with Everybody’s on the Run and If I Had a Gun that standout on an album people can genuinely get excited about. Upon the release of the first single from the album (‘The Death of You and I’), Noel noted the fact it was the only single in the 40 by a) someone over the age of 45 and b) a guitar based track. It has already proven a hit, beating the debut album of last year’s XFactor winner Matt Cardle to the top spot in the album charts in its first week, something Noel might consider a small victory for music. It appears one of the true greats from a hazy period of great music, which formed the soundtrack to many people’s golden days, still has it.
4/5 Stars.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Brave Hearts Can't Beat The English

Tottenham’s 5-0 thumping of Hearts last week illustrated a definite bridge in quality between a Europa League finish in the SPL and the EPL.

However, just how big is the gap in class between the two leagues and why?

John Hartson today wrote how he believed Stoke would win the Scottish Premier League should they join. If you said that to a fan of the Old Firm, they’d claim you were mental. But in reality, it’s not too strong a statement to make.

What would happen if Celtic and Rangers joined the EPL like they’ve been trying for years? Realistically, it’d be hard to see them in the top half of the table with the squad of players each have. If Samaras wasn’t good enough for Manchester City when they were a bottom half side, he certainly isn’t going to be in a team pushing for the Champions League spots now.

Kris Boyd has currently scored more goals than any other player in the history of the Scottish Premier League with 164. He scored just 6 during his stint with Middlesborough, who were playing in only the second tier of English football. It’s hard to find players who’ve scored bags of goals in England and made the transition to Scotland because it hasn’t really happened.

However, the real question here is why is there such a gulf between English and Scottish football? For many years Celtic and Rangers competed at the highest level of European football, Celtic winning the equivalent of the Champions League in 1967 and Rangers the European Cup Winners Cup in 1972. For them to today win the Champions League seems unimaginable.

There really are two major factors which link into each other fairly well. The first major factor is that there simply aren’t enough fans to support Scottish football the way English football is. One statistic that sums the problem up fairly well is that the population of Scotland is the same as that of London’s, just one of many major cities in England.

Should Sheffield Wednesday, a League One side, be playing in the top tier of Scottish football, they’d have the third highest attendance in all the leagues, averaging a huge seven thousand larger attendance than Hearts, who do currently have the third biggest attendance in Scottish football.

This in turn leads to the more explainable factor that the just isn’t the money to finance a really quality side. Comparing the champions of each league demonstrates the proof really is in the pudding.

Rangers last year produced a turnover of £56 million, which sounds a lot, until you look at Manchester United’s, which was a whooping £286 million, more than five times the amount of Rangers’.

Today, a lot of revenue is based on television rights, and because of the amount of fans the country boasts, the money goes down depending on who might watch the game. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Manchester United’s revenue from TV rights dwarfs Rangers by generating over 27 times more money annually.

Of course, money isn’t everything. Teams in England have done well without throwing around vast sums of money around. But to be able to compete at the highest level, it’d be foolish to ignore the fact that financial support plays a pivotal part is sustainable success.

Is there any way of closing the gap? Well, no, not really. Unless extreme measures of bringing in caps on squad’s wages are brought in, the gulf will widen between the English and Scottish game, and the best Scottish clubs can do to ensure longevity is to focus on their academy’s and realising that producing quality youth players will go a long way in playing the part of team’s existence and success.

Many poorer teams in Scotland have acknowledged this, like Stirling Albion, who have a job simply competing with teams in and around the third tier of Scottish football. The average age of their squad this year is just 23 years.