It’s quite difficult to believe that the new league season is already upon us. Courtesy of the new-look Betfred League Cup, a summer of international football was swiftly succeeded by an earlier start to the domestic campaign.
The cup provided a number of shocks during the group stage. Dundee, Kilmarnock and cup holders Ross County fell by the wayside before the first knock-out round ensued. The biggest shock, however, was the relative success of the cup’s rejuvenated format. Sure, there are still a few details which may require a slight adjustment. The ‘penalty shoot-out’ is a sacred part of any modern-day cup competition, but it shouldn’t really be utilised until the knock-out stages. The magic and tension of a shoot-out is somewhat lessened when the losing team’s defeat doesn’t necessarily consign them to certain elimination. Likewise, the ultimate reward for victory (one bonus point) somewhat cheapens this particular concept. Regardless, as I’m sure you’ll all know by now, Neil Doncaster is an exceptionally intelligent man who will fine-tune any minor issues before next season’s League Cup begins.
Despite boasting myriad world-class footballers, Euro 2016 was something of a disappointment. Contrarily, the SPFL’s entertainment value isn’t in doubt. A number of high-profile signings have only added to the pre-season excitement. Quite understandably, national media outlets have focused a lot of their attention on the Old Firm’s summer transfer dealings. In some cases, this media attention has been particularly exuberant. For example, the BBC recently published a minute-by-minute analysis of Joey Barton’s league debut for Rangers. I can’t remember the exact details, but it was something like this:
1st minute – Joey touches the ball for the first time. He passes it to a team-mate.
2nd minute – Joey barks orders at a team-mate.
3rd minute – Joey looks like he is about to sneeze. He manages to stop himself from sneezing.
Nonetheless, Mark Warburton and Brendan Rodgers should be satisfied with their recent business. Joey Barton, Niko Kranjcar, Jordan Rossiter, Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair (amongst others) will add real quality to those Rangers and Celtic squads.
As the end of August gradually approaches, various teams will be looking to add to their existing options before the transfer window slams shut. As things stand, who has been the ‘signing of the summer’ thus far? The aforementioned Ibrox and Parkhead arrivals certainly deserve to be in the discussion. However, it’s perhaps another player – a lower-league recruit, in fact – who stands out amongst the wheelings and dealings.
As a lifelong football supporter, you’ll probably have fond memories of your childhood hero. Nowadays, young Barcelona fans will probably idolise Lionel Messi. Young Real Madrid fans will probably idolise Cristiano Ronaldo. As a young St. Johnstone fan, I idolised Stephen Dobbie.
I invented nicknames for him. I created a tribute video for him. I sought him out for various photograph and autograph opportunities. I founded a Stephen Dobbie fan-club. I cried when he left St. Johnstone. Children are creepily enthusiastic individuals who get away with it by virtue of their age. As a 24-year-old, similar behaviour would probably see me being issued with a restraining order or minor prison sentence.
Eleven years ago, Stephen Dobbie signed for St. Johnstone on loan. It was a move which ultimately bore fruit, resulting in a permanent offer during the summer of 2005. Without a doubt, Dobbie was one of the most naturally gifted footballers I had seen at the club. He possessed skilful footwork, intelligent vision and a powerful, accurate finish (in fact, at 79 miles per hour, he still holds Saints’ all-time record for ‘fastest shot’). At the time, there only seemed to be one thing standing in his way. As far as professional footballers are concerned, Stephen Dobbie was overweight. From my young and enthusiastic supporter’s perspective, I didn’t see this as an issue. His additional pounds enabled him to out-muscle the opposition defenders. St. Johnstone’s manager Owen Coyle didn’t seem to share my view of things. Dobbie wasn’t given a regular opportunity to impress on the pitch. Perhaps he and Coyle didn’t see eye-to-eye. Perhaps Dobbie had a slight attitude problem. Whatever the case may have been, I saw Stephen Dobbie for what he truly was. An overweight man with a beautiful and surprising talent. The Luciano Pavarotti of Scottish football.
It eventually took a successful loan spell at Dumbarton to regain his spark. Unfortunately for St. Johnstone, it was Queen of the South who would eventually reap the benefits of a revitalised Dobbie. Having finally shed his excess weight and utilised a new-found belief, Stephen Dobbie scored a remarkable 47 goals in 84 league games. He became a fans’ favourite and earned a merited move to English Championship side Swansea City.
The rest is history. Looking back now, Dobbie has every reason to be proud of his career. He has perhaps been unfortunate not to receive a full international cap, but he has certainly made an impact at various English Championship clubs. He has scored vital goals in the promotion play-offs and made eight appearances in the English Premier League. As of last season, he was still plying his trade at English Championship level. Two weeks ago, Queen of the South announced his long-awaited return.
Despite being pushed back into more of an advanced midfield role on numerous occasions throughout the past few seasons, he is also more than capable of resuming his stewardship at the spearhead of the Doonhamers’ attack. Putting all childhood bias aside, this is an exceptional coup for Queen of the South.
As Rangers and Hibs have found out to their detriment, the Scottish Championship is an incredibly tough league to get out of. Dundee United’s slow start hasn’t indicated anything to the contrary. Therefore, one quality signing can potentially make a huge difference. Prior to the second-coming of Stephen Dobbie, Queen of the South have already established themselves as a credible force in the second-tier. In recent years, they have finished in the Championship play-off positions for two consecutive seasons (2013/14 and 2014/15). Thus far, they have fallen during those final hurdles. But who knows? Maybe their latest arrival will provide them with the impetus to take things one step further. If so, he could cement his status as one of the most important and shrewd acquisitions of the 2016 summer transfer window.
Stephen Dobbie, make me proud.