Guestpost: the demise of Rangers offers chance to restructure and save our game

As the Scottish Football League meets to save or possibly, hasten the demise of our national game, I’m pleased to welcome a timely guest post from David Hill.  His post considers the problems facing Scottish football and usefully, offers a radical solution:

The problems of Scottish football are many but we should not be overly critical.

There is no other country of Scotland’s size supporting such professional leagues.  However, the prestige of the cash-laden English league now tends to overshadow our game and inflict unrealistic expectations on it.  Of concern is the steady diminishing of our status, though having two of our clubs as finalists in a European competition in recent years is an indicator that we can still do well.

A major problem is attendances at Scottish football matches.  Although English and Scottish football have enjoyed similar levels of attendance in the lifetime of many fans, there has been a drift away from live match attendance, but not for all clubs.  Rangers and Celtic appear to have increased their attendances in comparison to thirty years ago, but other teams enjoy a fraction of their support.  On the face of it, Old Firm success has been at the expense of the rest but it is probably more complicated than that.

Decline is not however necessarily because the product is poor. In fact, the product is better than it is usually perceived and the First Division is a highly competitive spectacle. But it is a matter of a growing perception that the product is inferior and there are at least three reasons for this:

–        Celtic and Rangers dominate;

–        our best players go elsewhere for better wages and conditions; and

–        our national game is continuously undermined by our national broadcaster.

I know of no other country in the world in which prime time television coverage is given over to the football being played in another country accompanied by the implication that this is better – and better for us.

It would be interesting to establish how much money the BBC pours in to English football compared to the proportion it gives to the Scottish product. English football inhabits a false world in which vast media cash, not attendances, provides its major  revenue.

While I understand the football authorities sold our game to commercial bidders for a better deal, I believe our national broadcaster should have been prepared to match those offers.  The result of the present arrangement – several hours of English football beamed prime time into Scottish homes several times weekly with the Scottish games relegated to mid week late night slots  – has been to seriously diminish the reputation of our own game with a resultant drop in interest.  This is another compelling reason for the devolving of broadcasting to Scotland.

It has to be said also, that promotion of our game by those who own and run it leaves a lot to be desired.  Merchandising plays too small a part: getting more people into the stadia and selling a variety of goods and service to spectators should be a bigger part of what is offered. Times have changed and a whole range of entertaining extra reasons to go to the match should be provided.

The bottom line, however, is that Scotland has a small population and so, needs a framework for the national game that is viable. There was a time when around 5% of Scotland’s total population was at the “the match” on a Saturday afternoon.  No longer.

In particular, the sight of more than half empty stadiums at televised matches is destructive.  As the home club is receiving a substantial cash benefit from TV would it not be sensible to give all season ticket holders extra free tickets for them to distribute for these matches?  And while the needs of TV have determined that matches be held at a variety of times, I suspect that the breaking of the Saturday afternoon habit hasn’t helped greatly.

Moreover, the fact that Rangers or Celtic are likely to win everything – or that perception pervades – is damaging to the health of the game.  The parasitic attitude to these two huge clubs by the other bigger clubs is destructive and has to be halted and reversed or it will eventually destroy the whole league –  including Celtic and Rangers.

Yet, paradoxically, attendances are firmer and in less decline in the First Division, because of its intensely competitive nature.  And the key to solving our footballing ills is competition.

Nearly every season, for much of the season, the SPL becomes a procession led by Celtic and Rangers with the rest a distance behind. While there may be fierce competition to get the European places and to avoid relegation, which provides a high degree of interest from committed supporters, the lack of a competitive element to win the league has resulted in the shedding of support for most of our top flight teams.

The perception that only the Old Firm can deliver sustainable success is at the root of this.  The vicious circle this produces has resulted in the stripping of local support from other teams, giving the Old Firm still more of a cash stranglehold:  perception has become reality.  And the rest of Scottish football reacts by trying to access Old Firm money by playing them or selling players to them.  This is destructive and ultimately probably fatal.

A long term effort has to be made to make these clubs better supported and self-sustaining.  And some recent highly-attended matches provide a clue to the solution:  Kilmarnock v Ayr United cup matches drew over 10,000 spectators; the Dundee United/Ross County Cup final almost filled Hampden; the Hearts v Hibs Scottish Cup Final readily filled Hampden.

Given the right circumstances and the prospect of interesting or fierce competition, supporters flock, demonstrating that our game is still viable and attractive.

Some have mooted getting rid of the Old Firm, but I do not believe that Rangers and/or Celtic going into the English leagues is the answer.  It would be bad for our domestic game and quite likely be less than productive for Rangers and Celtic who could just as easily end up like Swansea Town and might never sample European football again.

Surely the long term solution is a genuine all-European League structure accessed by all senior teams across the continent.  Admittedly, Celtic and Rangers might start in about League 5 with an opportunity to move up or down.  This Euro-League could be regionalised at the lower levels, similar to what happens in the US, where in some sports, teams play in both state leagues and national leagues.

The more immediate problem is to find ways of making our league structure more competitive, so that it provides more intense local rivalry and greater opportunity for more teams to win something, thus getting more people through the turnstiles.  Also important is the need to prevent relegation from the top division resulting in permanent irreparable damage to any team (which is a growing likelihood at the moment).

A completely different and more diverse structure is now required:  here is my plan for a regionalised Scottish league:

West

Rangers, St Mirren, Morton, Kilmarnock, Ayr United, Stranraer, Partick Thistle, Queen of the South, Annan, Queens Park, A N Other

Central

Celtic, Clyde, Motherwell, Hamilton, Airdrie, Falkirk, Stirling Albion, Albion Rovers, East Stirling, Dumbarton, A N Other

East

Hearts, Hibs, Livingston, Berwick Rangers, East Fife, Dunfermline, Alloa,  Cowdenbeath, Raith Rovers, Stenhousemuir, Forfar Athletic

North

Dundee, Dundee United, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Inverness, Ross County, Peterhead, Elgin, Montrose, Brechin, Arbroath

These four leagues play home and away at the start of the season and the top two (or top three) in each then become the Premier League after the New Year.  The remaining clubs form into four leagues again (or any other groupings) to provide another eight teams to join the eight Premier teams in an enhanced Scottish Cup or League Cup or similar competitions. Other competitions can easily be devised to keep them active and playing.

Such a structure would provide:

·         many local derbies and highly competitive contests in the early part of the season;

·         an enhanced number of “winners”;

·         a better distribution of gate money;

·         huge interest in the Premier League as it starts each New Year with real expectation that there might be a serious challenge to the Old Firm; and

·         on opportunity every year for a number of teams to make it into the top league without the threat of potentially destructive relegation.

Fiddling about with variations on a structure which no longer works will not halt accelerating decline.  Ironically, the present disaster at Ibrox presents an opportunity to effect radical change which can save Scottish football.

This change might intially be painful but renewal is impossible without it.

 

 

15 thoughts on “Guestpost: the demise of Rangers offers chance to restructure and save our game

  1. The BBC pays SPL £500K per year for TV, Radio & Internet rights. It pays Alan Hanson 3 times as much to talk once a week on Match of The Day”

    from another blog

  2. Jo is obviously intensely ignorant about Scottish football.
    Scottish teams have won European trophies on three occassions and have been defeated finalists on five other occassions. A majority of European countries have not won a European trophy or had a finalist.

  3. Both Rangers and Celtic have appeared in European finals in the last few years and Scotland has won or finalised in more European trophies per capita than any other European nation. The only other nation that approaches Scotland’s ratio in this is Holland which does not approach the sort of media money sloshing about In English football (which ensures that there are hardly any English players in the top flight of English football).
    The fact is that an English fourth division club gets more from television revenues than a Scotish premier division club gets. That is a huge problem but nobody seems to want to flag this up.

    • “Scotland has won or finalised in more European trophies per capita than any other European nation.”

      LOL

  4. I think the article itself doesn’t work if what one wants to watch is quality football and we just don’t have it here any more. That was the case even before this Rangers business. There are reasons for that and they start and end with money and the impact has been felt in England too if the truth be told with many of their big clubs up to their eyes in debt. (That includes Man U incidentally.)

    Those in Scotland who see Rangers and Celtic as “quality” have blinkers on because both sides would, in my view, fail to dominate elsewhere. They are just big fish in a small pond and the baggage they both carry when it comes to sectarian bile would make them even more unwelcome elsewhere. Their fans have insisted for years they’d go into the top tier in England. They wouldn’t survive there week in and week out and if we’re honest they are not wanted there either.

  5. The fact that some people here think that a weekly diet six or seven hours of forensic examination of English football on BBC Scotland against about one hour or less of the Scottish equivalent is appropriate in Scotland indicates the magnitude of the task the independence movement faces.
    The fact that other people don’t understand that the dominance of Rangers and Celtic is actually the problem is worrying. If Scottish football is to survive and improve the playing field has to be levelled and a structure that does not perpetuate their dominance has to be devised. Fiddling about with the present structure – number of clubs per league, number of leagues etc – is a waste of time.
    Present circumstance offers a chance for a complete rethink

  6. The Div 3 “vacancy” means revised promotion/relegation between Div 1, 2 & 3. So who’s up and who’s down?

    These Clubs have about a fortnight to revise their entire plans because the SPL and the SFA have spent months messing about trying to avoid following their own Constitutions.

    There’s fans all over the place threatening to avoid attending the actual playing of football (remember that?) and bitterness on all sides.

    What a shambles. Just about nobody emerges from this with any integrity, sporting or otherwise. We should all have a right good look at ourselves and remember this is meant to be competitive sport.

  7. The idea that we should just ignore years of cheating, tax fraud and financial doping by one club “for the good of Scottish football” is abhorrent. Did anyone argue that athletics would fail if Ben Johnson had his gold medal taken off him? Or if Tour de France stars were banned for doping?

    Rangers as a club is dead. It will soon be liquidated. The only way forward, if the rules are to apply to every team equally, is for Sevco to apply for league membership as a brand new club. If it meets the membership criteria and wins a vote against any other suitable applicants it starts in division three. And with no penalties or sanctions – it is a new club and should not be held responsible for anything the old club did.

    The notion that we need to reorganise Scottish football in order to fit in one zombie club is crazy. Henry McLeish (love him or hate him) produced a couple of good reports on teh future of the game back in 2010. What has happened to his recommendations until now?

    • Thank you for that first paragraph. I thought it was just me!

      Watching this mess unfold what struck me more than anything else was the sheer refusal of the governing bodies in Scottish Football to actually utter aloud a single sentence which recognised that the former Rangers Football Club was guilty of serious fraud among other things in the deliberate withholding of PAYE/NIC dues exceeding £9 million in just one season. (That’s without mentioning the ongoing investigation into EBTs by HMRC.) This alone is a serious breach of Scottish Football’s own rules when it comes to the administration arrangements within all Clubs who are members. And yet we had Regan and Doncaster publicly bullying other Clubs in an attempt to get them to ignore all offences “because you’ll lose out financially” if you don’t. Shocking conduct indeed.

      I’m seeing on news stands today predictions that these same governing bodies may very well ignore the vote and put the new Rangers exactly where they want them to be. If this happens then worse is surely to come for Scottish football?

  8. I agree with the dig about the BBC – unwarranted, I feel, for all the reasons outlined above.

    I think your proposal for restructuring is unworkable – its just not understandable for the person in the street. Shaking up the League Cup in such a way might be better.

    The SPL should have been strangled at birth – it was just ape-ing the EPL anyway – why does a country of our size need 3 governing bodies for our national game? It doesn’t – it only needs 1.

    I do agree that the structure of the game needs completely revamping – a pyramid system with promotion from the Junior/Other leagues into the 4th tier. A Pyramid system would actually encourage genuine competition, which is the lifeblood of any sport. Do we actually need 4 tiers in the senior game? An expanded 3 tier system with larger divisions would be better surely?

    The pleasing thing from all this upheaval is the power of the fans. Scottish football may well be “bankrupt” financially, but it will never die with such fan-power – you cut your cloth to suit your coat. Change is painful, but I for one welcome this opportunity to radically change the status quo, driven by the fans – perhaps the fans one day, might even be invited to own the clubs themselves? Now there’s a truly radical outcome?!?! (Hasn’t done Barcelona any harm?)

  9. I agree with some of your points, I do think your dig at the BBC is unwarranted, a quick search of the internet revealed the extent of BBC coverage for the upcoming season, I’d say it’s not too bad.
    BBC Scotland also has live coverage of Scottish FA Cup, including shared live coverage of the Scottish FA Cup Final Live from Hampden Park. BBC Scotland’s live coverage also includes the Scottish League Cup including the Scottish League Cup Final and live coverage of Scotland’s World Cup 2014 Away Qualifiers.
    BBC ALBA has exclusive rights for the Scottish Football League including the Scottish First Division Play Offs and the Scottish Challenge Cup Final.
    There is also the SPL highlights package.
    There is also extensive radio coverage by BBC Radio Scotland.
    I think you also mentioned that the standard of game was not as bad as it’s perceived, well I beg to differ, I’ve attended senior Football in Scotland most of my adult life, paid my money at the turnstile on a regular basis, and I have to say it is poor these days, but then I’ve watch loads of poor English Premiership games, so it’s not just a Scottish problem.
    One major problem you didn’t cover is cost, some First Division clubs were charging £17 last season, you could watch Edinburgh Rugby for £15 in the Heineken Cup.
    Scottish Football has to take a reality check, it is small time these days and we just have to accept that, clubs need to start concentrating on improving standards, this coupled with increased competition will bring fans back.
    Of course if folk just went to one game next season instead of pontificating from their sofa’s things might just improve as well.

  10. there were better competitions in the 60,s 70,s and 80,s and oddly enough Aberdeen Dundee United,Hibs and Hearts could win the league,Rangers are gone and if the people want to get laughed at some more let Charles Green fleece them some more,let Glasgow Rangers die ,and let the newco get 3 years accounts,and then apply to join the SFL.Meanwhile I’d bet that Murray park will be used for new houses.Green is out to make a killing by asset stripping and there is plenty to be stripped,but if they can block him now there is a chance of Ibrox getting a new team in a few years.The guy is a front man for the wolves.

  11. Unfortunately you are a member of that society whose members are deluded enough to believe v that Scottish Football can survive without The Rangers. It may survive, in the way that the League of Wales survives but as a credible European league, whose teams occasionally do well in Europe and whose international side might make the very occasional finals of the EC or WC, eh, no chance.

    But none of this really seems to matter to the majority of the minority of fans of other clubs who contributed to the polls that suggest that they would rather see their own teams perish than allow The Rangers into any league. They would call themselves football fans I would call them hate filled Rangers hating bigots. How can they be otherwise if and I will repeat: “ they would rather see their own teams perish than allow The Rangers into any league…”, condemned out of their own mouths, I say.

    One way or another I think we have witnessed the death ODF Scottish Football. Whether the Regan/Doncaster/Lawwell triumvirate succeeds or fails, in its attempt to force a severely sanctioned Rangers into Division 1 in order to save the Sky deal and stop up to half of the SPL clubs going bankrupt, makes no difference. There will never again be any harmony in our game. You can blame Oldco, Newco or the Deadco corpse Rangers and you probably will but it really won’t matter any more.

    The forthcoming independent Scotland might be celebrating sporting heroes like Andy Murray but it won’t be acclaiming any football success.

    • Of course Scottish football can survive without “The Rangers” in it. Teams in the lower leagues have been doing so for most of their existence, and they will continue to do so. If the absence of a Rangers team will really have the catastrophic consequences journalists and fans such as yourself think, there’s not a chance we would have something like 18 SFL teams declaring that Sevco 5088 must join Division 3.

      It’s interesting that you use a lack of credibility as your reasoning for why they must be admitted to the 1st Division. I think you’ll find it is bending the rules for one team is exactly what WILL lose Scottish football any credibility it currently has. Not only that, but your denigration of the League of Wales ignores one rather large elephant in the room – the Welsh national team is no worse than the Scottish national team. Indeed, it’s usually the League of Ireland which is used as an example of what the Sottish league will turn into. Of course, that would have rather scuppered your point, since the Irish national team has a far better track record in international competition than Scotland in recent years.

      “You can blame Oldco, Newco or the Deadco corpse Rangers and you probably will but it really won’t matter any more.”

      Well yes, I rather think we will blame Rangers for racking up millions of pounds of debt in unpaid taxes, which is what has led to this situation. Don’t expect us to feel sorry for a situation that is of your club’s own making, especially as it has now forced the other 41 clubs into a difficult position through no fault of their own. There was originally some sympathy for Rangers, but it is exactly this kind of arrogant “don’t blame us, guv” attitude which has seen that sympathy dissipate into annoyance and eventually to anger. If Rangers/Sevco/whatever had just accepted they were in the wrong in the first place, they could quite easily have gotten off with a simple relegation to division 1 and other sanctions, but because they’ve dragged it out and tried to duck and weave so much, we’ve seen Scottish Football turned into a joke.

      But none of that even matters now. This has gone far beyond Rangers and Sevco 5088. We’re currently witnessing just how utterly corrupt those at the top of our game are, and regardless of the result today, Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan must be driven out of their positions.

      • I am not a football fan, I support no team, I have no axe to grind. But one thing I am sure of is that the Rangers fans will not just melt away. And I see that as potentially creating some practical difficulties.

        Frankie Boyle tweeted today “Rangers to Division 3. Every other Saturday one if Scotland’s smaller towns will get to learn what life was like in the time of the Vikings.”

        That’s only partly funny.

        I’m not sure how that is going to work because they will need the kind of policing that is probably unheard of in the 3rd division but who is going to pay for it? It would be pretty unfair to expect the “normal” 3rd division clubs to share the costs but equally if the club that is not Rangers but still kind of is and has the Rangers followers behind it has nae dosh then how are they going to pay for it either? Someone is going to have to, otherwise Frankie’s tweet might be more commentary than satire.

        I hope some robust planning will be done.

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