They think it’s all over?

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.

7 thoughts on “They think it’s all over?

  1. Well, yes and no.

    I refuse to accept that Scottish football is broke. Our game is awash with money but our clubs choose to spend the vast, vast, vast majority of it on prima donna wages for players who would struggle to cut in the Junior Leagues (and on that point I am not joking).

    I only go to Scotland games these days (but the day is coming when the wee man might want to see what the Livi Lions have to offer) because I am frankly disgusted at the money club players get. It’s not just the big names at the bigger clubs, pretty average players at pretty average clubs earn huge sums compared to most folk.

    I remember a friend of mine who works as a financial advisor telling me that on of his clients, who had not turned 20 and who was a first team squad player for a bottom half Premier Division team was pulling in a six figure salary and that’s without bonus because he had never played a game up to then. I know six figure salaries are not uncommon these days but this was 10 years ago!!!

    I view any public funding of football as at least a part-subsidy of these ludicrous wages. Can you imagine what would be said if Scottish Enterprise wasted money like this?

    You have to be cruel to be kind. The Scottish Government should withhold any further funding to football until the hierarchy and structures are completely streamlined into a single governing body that operates to a constitution which it can be held accountable to.

    If football truly is our national game then it should be answerable to our national leaders. It is too important to be left in the hands of vested interests and the blazeratti.

  2. The SPL would be more interesting immediately by increasing the size of the league to 16 or 18 clubs, and dispensing with this atrocious idea of playing each other three or four times per year. The problem is the clubs think they depend on those two or four Old Firm games that they would lose out on. Little do they realise that interest in the league would increase, leading to better gate receipts throughout the whole season, instead of just those handful of games.

    The one problem with the McLeish report is it recommends (if I remember correctly) reducing the league back to ten teams, which is ludicrous. The main argument against a bigger league tends to be that there would be too many games at the end of the season that were of no consequence, since lots of teams would have nothing left to play for. The logical conclusion to that is to have a six team league, just the Old Firm vying for top spot, two in the middle vying for Europe, and a bottom two battling relegation. In fact, with the number of Old Firm derbies we see these days (what was it last season, six? seven?), we might as well just make it a two team league and leave the ugly sisters to put on their little hatefest every week. The sad thing is, they’d absolutely love it.

    • “The SPL would be more interesting immediately by increasing the size of the league to 16 or 18 clubs”

      It really wouldn’t, and I don’t even understand the reasoning by which people come to such a conclusion. The only time the top division was really interesting was in the 1980s, when Aberdeen and Dundee United smashed the dominance of the Old Firm for a fair few years, and that was in a 10-team league.

      A 16-team or 18-team division would just mean the smaller teams having even less money (smaller share of TV revenue, reduced gate receipts vs the Gruesome Twosome), and being even less able to compete with the Glasgow duopoly. There would also very likely be drastically reduced risk of relegation, so far more of the meaningless mid-table games you mention, which are about as attractive to supporters as a root canal. To avoid that problem you’d need to relegate four teams a season, which nobody would ever vote for.

      Why is it you imagine more teams in the top league would increase interest? There’d still only be the same two teams winning it. The thing is, your sarcastic 6-team league suggestion would actually make more sense, except that the teams would have to play each other eight times a season, which would be silly. 10 is the best compromise.

  3. They’re not all mad, bad and dangerous to know (unless you have lent them money) but apart from that I would agree with your every word.

    I’d launch into a lengthy diatribe but I’ve a League Meeting at Hampden tomorrow night to prepare for.

  4. For years now football has been run as a business and as such sport was a secondary thought which is why players are reluctant to play for the national team in all matches and are only interested in higher grade opposition where they have greater exposure. I also hear that a goalie from one of the old firm teams has been arrested for sectarianism showing that they have no respect for anyone but themselves.

    • I am totally unsurprised by your revelation. Cleaning up football is one of the things that needs to happen. We have several players on drugs charges right now, yet they continue to play? Just one small example of how unconnected from reality Scottish football is.

      • Oh but they’re celebrities Kate, so it’s okay for them to commit the sort of low level crimes that would have us mere mortals dragged into our bosses office and given a warning over.

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