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hearts bring cloggers title back to edinburgh
Hibernian's reign as Scotland's Dirtiest Bastards lasted but one season as they were hacked off top spot in 2005 by a rampant - not to say rampaging - Hearts, reclaiming the trophy the maroon balloons last won way back in 1992. At long last the East of Scotland Shield will have some company in the Tynecastle trophy cabinet and the Gorgie Gargoyles can prepare their triumphant procession through the streets of Auld Reekie on board their open-topped ambulance.
For too long they have been the bridesmaids in Scotland's most prestigious competition (you know, the really ugly one that no one wants to dance with) but after 13 long years they have grabbed the bouquet, wrestled it to the ground and kicked seven shades of shit out of it.
The Jammed Farts finished third last season, despite outstanding individual performances by Alan Maybury (twelve yellows and one red) Paul Hartley (8y, 2r) and the aptly named Phil Stamp (10y). Under John Robertson it was a much more solid team performance with no fewer than 23 players picking up bookings - the highest total in the SPL - although there were still outstanding fouling feats from Steven Pressley and Paul Hartley, the latter showing remarkable consistency in finishing just one red card short of last season's total.
Maybury finished on seven yellow cards and a red and would undoubtedly have finished top of the individual scoring chart again - he top scored last season with 12 yellows and one red - had he not been transferred to Leicester City during the January transfer window. Craig Levein obviously knows and a thing or two about cloggers and clearly couldn't resist teaming up again with this particular human threshing machine.
Last year's champions, Hibernian, will be disappointed that they couldn't retain their title but they simply couldn't cope with the loss of Colin Murdock (11y 1 r last season) who went off to start a new career opening the doors of castles in Transylvania to stranded young couples during thunderstorms. Their chances of grappling the trophy back from their city neighbours next season have also been diminished with the loss of top scorer Ian Murray who has chosen to develop his fouling skills at the Death Star.
Murray actually scored as many points as Pressley (12y 1r) so they will either have to share the trophy or we'll have a bounce up for it - the winner being the one with the least serious injury.
Most improved team last season was Aberdeen. Under the tutelage of the Two Jimmys they shot up the table from last place to third. They were second only to Hearts in the number of players carded (22 as opposed to last season's 14) with Noel Whelan and Russell Anderson leading the big push - followed by the big lunge, the big trip and the big hack. We're expecting more big things from Aberdeen this term, mostly bruises.
Livingston were another side who were consistent at clogging. They improved on last season's total points scored and overall were doing their best to undermine their Pleasantville image with more players in the Dirty Dozen than any other club. What with that and allegations of cheating currently being fought out between them and Dundee in the SPL corridors of power we might have to consider using a new epithet for Almondvale should they manage to stay in Scotland's top league.
The big question, of course, is what has gone wrong at Motherwell? Five-in-a-row winners from 1999 to 2003, for the second season in succession they have found themselves in mid-table obscurity - and this is a team managed by Terry Butcher! Stephen Craigan put in a hard shift (as well as a few hard tackles) to amass 38 points, but like many of his opponents hirpling out the Fir Park door on the way to the infirmary, he's going to need a bit of support.
Like the lumps on the shins of the league's skilful forwards (all three of them) the trend is up as far as clogging is concerned. Only two teams scored a lower points total than last time. Everybody else improved, except Celtic who only managed to equal last season's tally.
Dundee's slump was especially dramatic, with Mark Fotheringham (3y 1r) unable to come anywhere near last season's 32 points. This emphasis in trying to play football instead of ploughing up opposition pitches and forwards will have to stop, although I'm sure a season in the same division as Airdrie will give the Dens Park players something of a reality check. Time to wake up and smell the bandages lads.
Once again a mediocre season for the Hoops in terms of clogging. Allan Thompson's campaign was disrupted by injuries (his own, not those administered to others) and this left BBJ to take up the cudgels at the top of our Bad Bhoy table. So much for MON's physical approach to the game.
With Falkirk back I'm looking forward to some vintage stuff in the coming months.
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Roll of Dishonour
Previous winners of Scottish Football's most prestigious honour