North East football has had worse times than at present but I’m going to do you all a massive favour and take your mind off the depressing matters of the Premier League for the time being.
So, like all good magicians, I’m going to do it by using a card trick by way of some good old misdirection.
First of all, I want you to think of a card. No, not a birthday card or a bank card, a playing card. Got one? Good, now place it back in the middle of the pack, remember it, and we’ll come back to that later.
For now, I want to alleviate your suffering, at least until three o’clock on Saturday, and take you 264 miles north to the other North East, the North East of Scotland; Aberdeen.
You might not care much for what happens north of the border but if you take my advice, if you didn’t before, you really should now. Why? Because something special is happening in the Granite City and the status quo that has been so set in stone for so long that it seems like Moses probably engraved the name on the Scottish League winner’s trophy the last time neither Celtic or Rangers finished outside the top spot.
You can argue the toss about standards of football in the SPFL, of “Spiffle” as I like to call it, but everything is relative and the way Aberdeen have began the season is nothing short of remarkable.
The omission of Rangers from the equation for the immediate future is of no fault of anyone but those who have mismanaged the club’s affair to that unparalleled levels of tragicomedy. Tragic for their own fans, comedic for the rest.
Attempting to denigrate Aberdeen’s standing in the league by giving Rangers’ absence is no better an argument as saying Chelsea only won the Premier League last season because Blackburn aren’t in that division anymore.
The slow death of Scottish football was predicted when ex-Sunderland striker Ally McCoist’s team were banished to the outer reaches of fourth division part-time football, but far from it signaling the death of the Scottish game, it has actually began a rebirth of clubs producing homegrown players and building teams of British and Irish-born players.
As for Celtic, Neil Lennon’s exit began the narrowing of a the gap between them and the rest of Scottish football, despite still blowing every other club out of the water, wage bill wise. Some may patronise and play Aberdeen’s position at the top of the league down as a temporary standing if they will, but for a club which has consistently been able to acquire players earning 10 times more than their counterparts at other clubs, I’m sure losing top spot is of acute embarrassment to them, and rightly so.
More than anything, there is a third, vitally important component in the resurgence in their domestic game; namely the appointment of Derek McInnes as Aberdeen manager in 2013. Not only has he reinvigorated a club which for 25 years failed to live up to the standards set by Britain’s greatest ever manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, but he has instilled a confidence and belief in the players that they have enough quality to go toe-to-toe with Celtic, while having the grit to dig in during the less glamorous games that have tripped them up in the past.
For decades, the club struggled under the weight of the millstone of expectation hung around players necks by ghosts of the past but McInnes has removed that by creating a squad whose ethic of togetherness and belief have already won the club its first silverware since 1996 and as of Tuesday night, put itself in the best position to challenge for a championship since the early 90s.
Seven wins out of seven so far, including a deserved win over Celtic last weekend, despite being reduced to 10 men, hasn’t come by luck. It’s the continuation of a gradual improvement of the players already there and a canny recruitment policy.
Names such as Adam Rooney, Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes and Kenny McLean may be unfamiliar names to you but if you ever have get that all too familiar feeling of disappointment on a Saturday afternoon, I advise you to look up to our fellow North-Easterners in Scotland and share their optimism and joy these lads are giving them.
A special mention should also go to the recruitment of young goalkeeper, Danny Ward, from Liverpool, who has taken over from their number one of the past 10 years, Jamie Langfield, without fuss and great maturity and is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.
Any accusations of bias here are undisputed, I won’t deny that. I have a bond with the Dons that will never cease and I’ll never tire of extolling the great virtues of a special club I grew to love. Nevertheless, what you should not misunderstand is the sense of a achievement under McInnes and what the future may hold for the club.
Their gradual ascent and the high expectations of the fans are finally being met and Celtic themselves know they once again have a genuine contender to a title they have found too easy to retain, for too long.
So if you don’t have have an adopted side in Scotland, now that I’ve distracted you from the what’s happening locally for just a while, keep an eye on Aberdeen’s result’s, if only for the reason that I have a made a bet with a follower on Twitter that if Aberdeen do go on to win the title, I’ve promised to get a tattoo of the words “Stand Free” as a tribute to them.
I sincerely hope it’s a bet I lose.
Oh, and by the way, the card you were thinking of was the was the Jack of diamonds, wasn’t it? No? Well, give it eight months and Ryan Jack might just be leading his Diamonds to the SPFL League title come May next year.