Scottish football is in a deep malaise. But who is to blame? Generally, everyone who wears a blazer.
Let’s face it: most of our supposed top clubs are currently run by the mad, bad and dangerous to know. Most of them are technically insolvent. Most of them encourage a culture that is steeped in machismo and all its attendant symptoms. Most of them treat their fans appallingly. Most of them tolerate shockingly poor behaviour by their players, on and off the field.
Sectarianism, tribalism, racism, sexism. There’s scarcely an ism our football culture does not turn a blind eye to when it suits it.
And yet, we have delusions of grandeur. We think because we once gave the world the game, we still have a role to play in global terms. We wanna be big, we wanna be contenders, when if we would just settle for being good enough, we’d get along much better.
The truth is that the current set-up isn’t working, the current set-up is in fact part of the problem.
Scottish football – at all levels – is top-heavy with bureaucracy and structures. Even at children’s level, there is no clear, designated pathway to success. No single coaching style, no coherent pattern, no quality control. Despite all the public and lottery money that has been pumped into football since 1996, we have little to show for it. In fact, it is hard to discern where all the money has actually gone.
Our facilities are sub-standard, the standard of coaching is haphazard, routes for talent to emerge are obscure, and opportunities for nurturing future stars lacking. There is very little linkage between school football, local community clubs and feeder schools for the professional teams. The youth game relies on the services of volunteers, largely dads and grandads, who keep clubs going on a shoestring, who give hugely of their time and effort, who expect little in return, other than the pleasure of seeing kids enjoying themselves, learning new skills, and occasionally, the joy of a find, one who might just make it.
Every weekend, there are literally thousands of children of all ages to be found on muddy grass pitches playing football. So how come so few of them make it?
Every weekend, over one hundred thousand of us are prepared to hand over hard-earned, ill-afforded (in the current climate) cash to watch a few huddies chase a ball round the park, in search of a moment of beauty. For there is nothing more beautiful than watching individual skill and team spirit combine to create goals. Snatched or sublime, there is nothing quite like seeing your team score.
All too often these days, we come away feeling short-changed. The product is barely worth half the price we pay for it. We know our teams could perform better, we think our clubs should be run better, but aside from spending the week bantering away the ifs, buts and maybes, what do we, could we do about it?
We all know the problems – are there any solutions?
Many of the answers can be found in Henry McLeish’s weighty Review of Scottish Football. If only anyone could be bothered to blow the dust off it. Why has it been left to gather dust? Because it threatens the small coterie of people who have carved out lucrative careers from administering mediocrity and those deluded souls who have come to believe that their services are indispensable.
Scottish football is the Emperor that has no clothes. It is broke, in all senses of the word. Yet, anyone who dares to suggest reform or ideas for addressing some of its worst excesses, is ignored or rebuffed. Ranks are closed, reputations sullied, characters pilloried.
One of the main problems is that Scottish football has become a community separated from the communities it supposedly serves and relies upon. Football clubs are vital community assets, just as important as schools, post-offices and hospitals. They create jobs, provide important cohesive functions, contribute to a sense of worth and pride.
But only if run properly, and our clubs, particularly our professional ones are far from being run adequately, never mind properly.
The truth is that Scottish football in the 21st Century occupies a parallel universe, orbiting our lives and our attention spans, mirroring them less and less.
Unless and until there is some kind of big bang, and football becomes more grounded in reality, more rooted in the communities it sprang from, more connected with its fans and supporters, more streamlined in how it is governed, more transparent in how it is run, more responsible with its finances and more careful at nurturing home-grown talent, then the malaise will continue to deepen.
They think it’s all over? Do you know, it very well might be. Soon.