|Scottish Premiership: Celtic v Motherwell|
|Venue: Celtic Park Date: Sunday, 10 November Kick-off: 15:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, live text updates on the BBC Sport Scotland website & app|
Thirty years ago this week, on November 9 1989, the Berlin Wall crumbled and the Cold War began to thaw. Exactly 37 days later, a 23-year-old midfielder called Andreas Thom joined Bayer Leverkusen for a fee of 2.5m Deutschmarks, becoming the first East German player to sign for a West German club.
Celtic fans will remember Thom as their crafty play-maker from 1995 to 1998, a wily attacker sporting a mullet who belted in a howitzer at Ibrox in an Old Firm classic. What many might not have realised, then or now, is his part in a monumental moment of world history.
In flitting from east to west, Thom left behind not just any club, but the mighty Dynamo Berlin – the dominant force that side of the wall whose president Erich Mielke was head of the hated and feared state security police, the Stasi.
It was a hugely symbolic switch that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks earlier, when the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) remained a sealed-off country that kept its citizens trapped behind concrete and razor wire. The Eastern Bloc state guarded its top sport stars closely, regarding them practically as weapons in their battle of power and prestige against the capitalist west.
What was it like to play football behind the Berlin Wall under an oppressive regime? How did it feel to become the first player to cross the great East-West divide? And what does Thom remember of his days in Scotland?
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The Dynamo Dynamite
Thom was the true star of East German football in the late 1980s, winning five GDP Premier League titles and 51 caps for the East German national team.
The midfielder was a prized asset at Dynamo Berlin, and was reminded of it on occasion by Mielke’s Stasi stooges, who would offer him modest privileges much beyond those which average citizens in a country of shortages and austerity were permitted to enjoy.
“They would speak to me sometimes, to ask if I felt good, to ask maybe if I needed a new flat or something,” Thom remembers.
He and his team-mates knew that there was an undertone of coercion and control to such interactions. “But what could we do?” he ponders. “We could do nothing. We couldn’t tell them ‘Hey, no’.”
The reception Dynamo Berlin got from opposition supporters everywhere, because of their ties to the Stasi, would more than prepare Thom for the highly charged atmosphere he would later experience at Old Firm matches.
“I remember when I played my first game in the first team, an experienced player told me, ‘Hey, you must know, when we go in the stadium everybody is booing and whistling against you. Don’t let it get to you!’ It was good for my head,” he says.
Dynamo were often accused of influencing referees – did Thom ever witness decisions in his team’s favour that seemed suspicious?
“Sometimes, maybe,” he shrugs. “But it is not possible to win so much only because of the decisions from referees. We had a lot to do.”
Four arms, two heads, four legs
Unlike the vast majority of his fellow East Germans, Thom was fortunate to be able to leave the country from time to time to play in European Cup fixtures with Dynamo Berlin, or to represent the national team.
But he knew that he was being closely watched everywhere he travelled. Particularly following the high-profile escape of two of his former Dynamo Berlin team-mates, Dirk Schlegel and Falko Götz, prior to a European Cup match at Partizan Belgrade in 1983.
Did Thom ever consider trying to flee himself? “I had so many chances,” he admits. “But I stayed. Because my parents, my family, would have had so many problems.”
The night the Berlin Wall fell, Thom was with the national squad in Leipzig, preparing for a crunch World Cup qualifier against Austria.
“We were watching it on the television,” he recalls of euphoric scenes unfolding in his home city, as thousands of East Germans flooded over the border.
Thom and his team-mates enjoyed a low-key celebration. “I think we opened a bottle of beer,” he says.
East Germany lost their last-ever competitive match 3-0 and missed out on the chance to compete at Italia ’90. But Thom’s thoughts quickly turned back to the domestic game, as enterprising Bayer Leverkusen coach Reiner Calmund plundered him from Dynamo Berlin.
Thom made his Leverkusen debut against FC Homburg in February 1990, a game he will never forget.
“Everybody was watching as if I had four arms, two heads, four legs,” he says. “But I scored and everything was okay.”
The East German in Glasgow’s East End
After 161 appearances and 37 goals for Leverkusen, Thom moved to Celtic in 1995, when Tommy Burns broke the club’s transfer record by splashing out £2.2m to sign the 29-year-old.
He remains well regarded today by fans of many loyalties for the touch of German class he brought to the Scottish game, scoring 14 times and making many more goals in 70 Celtic outings, earning his first silverware in the 1997 Scottish League Cup Final.
“Fantastic crowds, fantastic stadiums, I only have good memories of playing in Scotland,” Thom smiles. “Apart from the weather.”
His highlight of his time at Celtic? That pile-driver in a 3-3 Old Firm thriller in November 1995, of course. “I didn’t know that I can shoot so hard!” he laughs.
Thom was part of the 1998 title-winning squad which famously broke Rangers’ run of nine straight league crowns, preventing them from exceeding Celtic’s record of forged in the 1960s and 70s.
Now, atop the Premiership on goal difference, Celtic stand just one league title away from another nine-in-a-row success, and two shy of an unprecedented 10.
From his home city, the one-time realm of the Stasi he toyed with fleeing and where he now finds fulfilment coaching at Hertha Berlin, Thom will be roaring them on.
Craig McLachlan indecent assault case reaches court
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Craig McLachlan is a veteran of the Australian entertainment industry Prosecutors have outlined multiple charges against actor Craig McLachlan in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court after four women alleged he assaulted them.The claims, which include indecent assault, allegedly took place when Mr McLachlan, 54, worked alongside the women in a musical…
Prosecutors have outlined multiple charges against actor Craig McLachlan in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court after four women alleged he assaulted them.
The claims, which include indecent assault, allegedly took place when Mr McLachlan, 54, worked alongside the women in a musical in 2014.
The prosecution say the alleged events occurred both on and off stage during The Rocky Horror Show production.
The former Neighbours and Home & Away star denies all the charges.
The contested hearing is expected to last three weeks and will be held in private.
A contested hearing is held in front of a magistrate when the accused pleads not guilty. It is for the magistrate to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not.
Prosecution lawyer Matt Fisher outlined the case on the first day in court on Monday.
He alleged Mr McLachlan “went beyond the role he was directed to perform [on stage]” in relation to the allegations.
One of the allegations claims Mr McLachlan pushed his groin into the stomach area of a woman and also tried to kiss her, without being directed to do so.
Fisher told the court the woman had allegedly said to Mr McLachlan: “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”
Mr McLachlan allegedly replied: “Don’t you dare speak to me like that. You are nothing, I will end you.”
Mr McLachlan’s lawyer, Stuart Littlemore, will argue some of the alleged incidents did not occur, while others were not indecent.
He said when Mr McLachlan had given a woman an unexpected kiss on stage, he had the “licence and discretion to ad lib”.
After the women’s allegations were originally published, Mr McLachlan initiated defamation proceedings against Fairfax Media, the Australian Broadcasting Corp, and a former co-star. That case has been delayed until after the criminal charges are resolved.
Scotland must work at being ‘the best small team in the world’ – Eddie Jones
Scotland were undone by the precision and pace of Japan at the World CupScotland must take inspiration from Japan and try to become “the best ‘small’ team in the world”, says England head coach Eddie Jones.Jones also suggested Gregor Townsend’s side “got their physical conditioning wrong” as they failed to make it out of their…
Scotland must take inspiration from Japan and try to become “the best ‘small’ team in the world”, says England head coach Eddie Jones.
Jones also suggested Gregor Townsend’s side “got their physical conditioning wrong” as they failed to make it out of their pool at the World Cup.
Hosts Japan eliminated Scotland on their way to the last eight, where they lost to eventual winners South Africa.
“Gregor’s got them back playing how a Scotland side should play,” said Jones.
“[A lack of size] makes it difficult but you can have one-off success like Japan have had.
“You’ve got to pool all your resources into being the best ‘small’ team in the world.
“That means you look at everything you do, at how you can win ball quickly – particularly from set-piece.
“You look at how you can win the ball quickly from the breakdown and you need a consistent programme for four years to be at your best to do that.
“You have to play quick, you have to have a varied attack and it takes a lot of cohesion to play that way.”
Jones, 59, coached Japan from 2012 including leading them at the 2015 World Cup, where they lost to Scotland as they became the first nation to record three pool stage wins and not reach the last eight.
He then took charge of England, winning the Six Nations in 2016 and 2017 before finishing as runners-up to South Africa in Japan at the beginning of November.
His side produced a colossal performance to upset holders New Zealand in the semi-finals but lost a week later against the powerful Springboks.
Too much running before World Cup?
Scotland’s tournament was a huge disappointment, failing to reach the last eight for just the second time following defeats to Ireland and Japan.
Jones’ observations about the side’s conditioning are at odds with Townsend’s claim his side would be “the fittest at the World Cup”.
“We have great respect for the Scottish team and they way they play,” said Jones. “Scotland is the smaller country, with smaller resources that has to battle harder.
“I see a very loose team that wants to break the game up, that relies a lot on the number 10 [Finn Russell] for inspiration.
“Where they came unstuck at the World Cup is possibly they got their physical conditioning wrong.
“The first pre-World Cup game [a 32-3 warm-up loss in France] gives you a pretty good indication of where a team is going to be. They looked like they had over-ran but that’s a judgement from a long way away.”
While Jones thinks the Six Nations is “probably about the right length”, he would like to see Japan get a taste of the action after their World Cup heroics.
“I think 10 internationals a year in the northern hemisphere is about right,” Jones explained. “To increase the Six Nations would mean taking away from somewhere else.
“I’d bring Japan in for bye-weeks, so they’d play two games over the next three of four years to prove they are strong enough to compete consistently.”
Saracens salary cap breach: Premiership champions will not contest sanctions
Saracens have won four of the past five Premiership titlesPremiership champions Saracens have confirmed they will not be contesting their points deduction and fine for breaching the league’s salary cap.They have been docked 35 points and fined £5.36m after an inquiry into business partnerships between owner Nigel Wray and some of their players.Wray said the…
Premiership champions Saracens have confirmed they will not be contesting their points deduction and fine for breaching the league’s salary cap.
They have been docked 35 points and fined £5.36m after an inquiry into business partnerships between owner Nigel Wray and some of their players.
Wray said the club “made mistakes” and accepted the penalties “with humility”.
Mark McCall’s side have subsequently dropped from third to bottom of the Premiership with -22 points.
“As a club, we will now pull together and meet the challenges that lie ahead,” added Wray, who had previously vowed to “appeal against all the findings”.
“We confirm our commitment to the salary cap, and the underlying principle of a level playing field, and will continue to work transparently with Premiership Rugby in this regard.”
Premiership Rugby’s chief executive Darren Childs welcomed Saracens’ decision.
“This is the right outcome for English club rugby,” he said. “Bringing this process to a conclusion means that we can focus on working in partnership with all clubs to continue to build a competitive and successful league.”
What was Saracens’ initial reaction?
In a statement issued on the same day the sanctions were announced earlier this month, Sarries strongly refuted the charges brought by an independent disciplinary panel, with owner Wray saying it felt as though “the rug is being completely pulled out from under our feet”.
The club apologised for “administrative errors relating to the non-disclosure of some transactions” to Premiership Rugby Limited, but added it will “continue to vigorously defend this position especially as Premiership Rugby Limited precedent already exists whereby co-investments have not been deemed part of salary in the regulations”.
Although, strictly speaking, they were unable to ‘appeal’ against the punishment, they did have until midnight on Monday to request a review into the findings.
They could only request such a review on one of three grounds; error of law, whether the decision was irrational or if they could prove procedural unfairness.
Saracens, who lost 30-10 at Racing 92 as they began their European Champions Cup defence on Sunday, brought in a major communications company to help manage the public fallout of the scandal last week.
What’s the background?
The charges related to a failure to disclose player payments in each of the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
Saracens previously claimed they “readily comply” with salary cap rules and were able to spend above the £7m cap because of the high proportion – almost 60% – of home-grown players in their squad.
The Allianz Park outfit have several of the game’s biggest stars on their books, including seven of the 31-man squad that represented England at the World Cup in Japan, such as captain Owen Farrell and forwards Maro Itoje and Billy and Mako Vunipola.
One of the dominant forces in northern hemisphere club rugby, Sarries have won five Premiership titles and three European Champions Cups since 2010-11 – with two of those domestic titles coming in the timeframe that Premiership Rugby have been investigating.
Their three European successes have all come within the past four seasons.
Will the penalties impact Saracens?
In a statement on the club website, Wray said that a review or appeal against the panel’s ruling would be a “costly, time consuming and destabilising exercise”.
He said the business arrangements between himself and players had been “made in good faith” but should have been brought to the attention of the league’s salary cap manager before being entered into.
And, in an attempt to answer some of the questions surrounding the impact of the penalties on the club, Wray said:
- Saracens would not be stripped of any of their trophies.
- The club is in compliance with the salary cap for this season and will not have to sell players.
- Sarries will not be prevented from signing players in the future.
- A director will be appointed to the board to oversee a new governance regime, designed to prevent the club breaching salary cap rules again.
Premiership survival at the cost of Europe?
The points deduction means Saracens are currently 26 points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership and 32 away from a European Champions Cup qualifying place with 18 matches left to play.
Saracens director of rugby McCall has kept comments over the matter to a minimum – the only time has addressed the press as a whole over the penalties was after his side’s win at Gloucester earlier this month.
There he said he was planning as if the points deduction was going to be enforced, despite the sanction being suspended at the time pending any appeal.
“We’ve got to plan for the worst case scenario and that will affect our strategy around the Champions Cup,” said McCall, who picked a side that was without any England World Cup players apart from newly-signed hooker Jack Singleton for the defeat at Racing.
‘Saracens attempt to draw a line under affair’ – analysis
BBC Sport rugby union reporter James Burridge
Despite insisting they would appeal last week, that was never an option available to Saracens. They could only request a review or clarification of the findings and only if there had been some basic unfairness or procedural error.
This has been a nine-month investigation conducted by independent legal experts, who have already considered and dismissed Saracens’ defence.
The club maintain the decision is unjust. By accepting the fine and the points deduction Saracens will attempt to draw a line under the whole affair. The details of the investigation aren’t likely to emerge either. But the questions won’t go away.