“Streetwise” Accies top of Premiership
29 October ~ Those who believe clubs should work within their means might find Saturday’s Scottish headlines darkly symbolic. Hours after it was revealed that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley was bankrolling Rangers, Hamilton Academical – thrifty, modest and focused on their community – lost their clean-sheet record and second game of the season, at Dundee. However, Accies remain top of the Premiership while Rangers struggle to escape the second tier. Those expecting Hamilton’s bubble to burst might anticipate confirmation from Wednesday’s League Cup quarter-final at Aberdeen. But Accies thrive on low expectations.
A newly promoted club away to the holders doesn’t fully describe this week’s tie at Pittodrie. Accies thumped Aberdeen 3-0 in Hamilton in the SPFL earlier this month. That they lost 2-0 on Saturday is actually ominous for future opponents. After Dundee pipped them to automatic promotion last season Accies suffered a 2-0 home loss to Hibernian, in the first leg of the Premiership play-off. Even after their stunning second leg penalties win in Edinburgh, media attention centred on institutionalised incompetence at Hibs. After again losing 2-0 at home, to Inverness on the first day of this season’s Premiership, Hamilton embarked on a nine-game unbeaten run.
This included away wins at Celtic and Motherwell, respectively last season’s Scottish champions and runners-up. Motherwell were also eliminated from the last round of the League Cup at Accies’ New Douglas Park, where the current PA system favourite is Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust.
Even this season, Hamilton’s home support occasionally drops below the 1,000 mark. Their financial stability is based on local talent being blooded early then sold at a profit. Their on-field success stems from an organic, Ajax-style coaching of all players – youth sides to first team – on the same tactical blueprint.
This pragmatic fairytale highlights the difference between commercial success for the SPFL and a genuinely interesting season. With three of its five biggest clubs in the Championship and every tier without a sponsor, Scotland’s new League body has been unable to exploit straitened circumstances as cannily as Hamilton’s streetwise board. Chairman Les Gray maintains there’s no secret to their success. Vice-chairman Ronnie MacDonald boasts of Accies youth sides regularly beating English academy teams in friendlies.
Player-manager Alex Neil also retains a clinically downbeat demeanour after each triumph. But he’s in the stand at another Scottish fixture whenever his equally hard-working side aren’t playing. Hamilton are already three points short of the tally with which they were last relegated from the top flight, in 2010-11.
Since Rangers’ liquidation in 2012, Aberdeen are back among the trophies, St Mirren won their first League Cup and St Johnstone, with last season’s Scottish Cup, their very first major honour. No one expects Accies to win the Premiership but a top-six finish seems assured and European qualification a distinct possibility. Ashley is investing at Rangers to eventually advertise his Sports Direct business across Europe. At present, Hamilton Academical would be the perfect ambassadors of the SPFL. Alex Anderson