How do you follow a domestic treble? With season eleven being my most successful so far and the most successful season the club has ever had, with some difficulty I’d say.
We were dominant, but we could have been even more so. The Supercup was won in extra time against Rangers, while we actually lost more matches in the league than 2nd placed Celtic. The Scottish Cup continues to be where we keep our best form for, and it was retained for our third win overall in that competition.
Then there’s Europe. Overall, I’m happy with our performances against the continent’s elite. We reached the quarter final of the Champions League last season, before deservedly bowing out against the might of Manchester United. Success in that competition this season will be qualifying from our group again. Let’s get into my twelfth season in charge of Stirling.
In case you missed it, I actually dealt with my transfers for season twelve in a separate post. Regular readers will be well aware we’ve been aiming to really step up the player identification, player development and player sale side of things over the last couple of seasons. Bringing in £136m from selling players over the course of the season vindicates the approach we’ve taken. Carlos Villavicienco becomes the record sale from the club, going to Manchester City for a potential £32m. He joined for just £500k, the circle of transfers will continue.
Scotland’s position as one of the top 10 nations in European football was strengthened last season, and it sees the league champions continue to go straight into the Champions League group stage. Don’t mind if we do.
Looking at our results, we really do owe our place in the knockout rounds to Cho Chang. The 19-year-old Korean right winger scored in our first five matches in the group, earning us an away draw in Moscow, a home win against the mighty Real Madrid, getting us on our way to a win and a draw against Arsenal and putting us two up against CSKA. Gutted he didn’t score in all six matches, but we came unstuck against Real at the Bernabeu. We were already sure of our knockout place by that stage, though.
He did continue his remarkable CL scoring record in the 1st leg of the 1st knockout round though, contributing to us putting Juve to the sword over the two legs. What a sight it was too seeing 19-year-old homegrown Stirling player, Martin Griffiths, scoring a double to down Juve in Turin.
I’m not really sure what happened against Porto in the quarter final. When Ivorian frontman, Moussa Diaby, scored that third in the 83rd minute I’ll confess that I thought the tie was done and dusted. Three away goals to take back to the Samo Stadium, freshly re-opened after an expansion. They caused us trouble but we’d largely restricted them to long shots.
Do I have to talk about the second leg? We were comically shocking in front of goal. Young Martin Griffiths had been on form, but in hindsight I was wrong to pick him ahead of Diaby, who’d sealed the 1st leg win. He contributed five of our 13 shots off target but he’s still young and one of our own so I won’t scapegoat him too much. In truth, it wasn’t good enough across the pitch. From Joe Muir’s ridiculous own goal to conceding just before half time to that typical 2nd leg FMing concluding with Saeed’s unmarked back post header from a Porto counter. Crashing out to the eventual winners (Porto ended Man Utd’s six year monopoly on the CL) isn’t usually something I’d be disappointed with, but they were here for the taking here. For the second consecutive season we crash out at the quarter final stage.
Our route to the Scottish Cup final was fairly comprehensive. We didn’t concede a goal until going 1-0 down in the final. If you want an in-depth look at the 2028/29 Scottish Cup final then have a listen to this episode of the OneMoreGame podcast. Mike watched on as I played through the match, analysing my every decision throughout the 90 minutes as we secured our third consecutive Scottish Cup win, our fourth overall.
Our form across the first half of the season was excellent. Only six goals conceded and two points dropped. We scored four on five occasions, three on six occasions while hitting Dundee United for five at Tannadice and smashing Hibs 8-1 at our adopted Hampden home for part of the season, while the Samo Stadium received an upgrade. Cho Chang was a wizard on the wing, taking to domestic life just as brilliantly as he did in Europe for us. I’ve said a few times already that I’m big on rotation, especially with my front two. Johnny Britton hit 12 league goals before leaving on deadline day, record signing Pat Buchan scored six, Enca Sambu hit nine, Ivorian Moussa Diaby got eight and homegrown boy Marty Griffiths scored four. Those results, unsurprisingly, saw us lead the way at the halfway stage.
Hearts ruined the chance at another unbeaten league season on matchday 27, bastards. We were poor and the defeat was well deserved in all honesty. That made it three points dropped versus two in the first half of the season and while there was 16 wins, there was 15 goals conceded in the 17 matches, so we did regress defensively. Am I moaning for the sake of moaning?
Probably, seeing as we won the league at a canter. It’s the biggest margin between 1st and 2nd across the twelve seasons since the league rebranded and restructured, beating the 23 point difference the 2017/18 Celtic side recorded. We beat the previous record points total, set by ourselves in our unbeaten season, by one point. We beat the record for goals scored, set by ourselves in our unbeaten season, by seven goals. It’s the biggest goal difference so far too.
What’s next domestically? As per the Strategy for Stirling, continue to dominate ??
There is none. We’re still playing that 4-4-2 I set up way back in my fifth season at the club. If you find yourself struggling, strip everything right back to the basics, player roles and everything. Think about how those roles will move on the pitch and combine with each other. Simplicity can be the difference maker, it certainly has been for me.
What a first season at the club the £1m arrival from Pohang Steelers had. I’m trying not to get too attached because I don’t think he’ll be with us for very long. You’ve already seen his exploits in the Champions League, that contributed to overall total of 18 goals and 19 assists this season. Throw 10 man of the match awards in there too, taking him close to the record of 12 from one of his right wing predecessors, Lewis Vaughan. He is physically excellent, which followers will know I’m a huge fan of, and his crossing attribute isn’t too bad either. I’m braced for incoming bids for the Korean wonderkid in the not too distant future.
Since the sales of the Pharaoh and Radovanovic, Sambu has been our number one choice up top. The bargain £425k capture from Guimarães has more than repaid his fee in goals. He bagged 26 goals this season to match his tally from last season, however he massively upped his overall contribution with 22 assists to his name too, compared to laying on 11 last season. I lied in my tactical update section, my strikers now swap positions during our matches. Switching between both the advanced forward and deep lying forward role adds to the general chaos-like nature of our front two, whoever is up there. Sambu might have top scored, but Moussa Diaby hit 23, Martin Griffiths scored 22 and Johnny Britton had scored 21 across all competitions too by the time he left on January deadline day.
Horvat gets his usual mention, gaining an average rating of 7.60 over the season, a new record for him. Dinis Pinto, part of the Portuguese trio that joined last season, stepped up to be our main central defender this season. It’s usually all about my right hand side, Mboula, Stankovic and now Cho Chang get all the plaudits, but Daniel Christensen, a 22-year-old Norwegian international, had a great season on the opposite flank. My left midfielder is on support rather than attack to keep the balance, so five goals and 14 assists is not a bad return at all for him.
Our place at the top of Scottish football has been well and truly cemented this season. A second consecutive domestic treble is exactly the kind of domination I set out to achieve when I put the Strategy for Stirling together. The Futures won a treble too, including another UEFA Youth League win, scoring 12 goals across the semi final and final against Milan and Athletic Club, respectively. Boom.
The expansion of the Samo Stadium is complete, giving us a 21k seater stadium to play in for a full season next time round. We’ve hugely benefited from playing at Hampden this season though. Two 51k sellouts in our home matches against Celtic and Rangers contributed to us gaining £15m from gate receipts this season, a record and 53% up on last season. Our league average attendance was up 52%, to 21,116. That bodes well for next season.
There’s still work to do facilities-wise. I’ve been working away at getting our data analysis facilities upgraded, although I’ve no idea what benefit that’ll actually bring. There was a little FM loophole which saw us sharing training facilities with Stirling University, our affiliate club, as theirs were deemed better than ours at the time. That affiliation has unfortunately had to be cancelled in order to be able to improve our training facilities. We’re classed as excellent across youth facilities, coaching and recruitment, which gives us hope to continue to develop promising homegrown Stirling talent.
The record fees we’ve brought in from selling players this season, along with the usual prize money and sponsorship income sees us end the season with £189m in the bank balance. I only see us continuing to get ravaged by Europe’s elite for our best players, and that’s where the challenge continues. We know our place in the ladder. I relish the challenge of bringing in young talent to develop and play, and then selling them on for their big move to a more reputable club. Bring on season thirteen!
Thanks for reading!
I write about FM to keep track of my saves, my memory pre-FM16 and my time at Morton is shocking and that upsets me. Of course, it’s always a bonus when other people seem to resonate with them and enjoy them too. So thanks for following along too if you have been! Boring old standard save updates aren’t for everyone, and that’s absolutely fine. I’ll still be here updating on my save for as long as I’m playing FM.
If you’re still here and fancy sticking around for some more FM reads, here’s a few links.