Meanderings

Saving Scottish Football

I guess we discuss all kinds of things on here. In the wake of Scotland's teams exiting European football without having won a single game, serious revolutionary solutions must be sought.

Scottish footballers are as human as other nationalities yet they consistently under achieve. Several elements are at work here: Lack of funding. Lack of imagination. Fear of change. Lower wages than many other top tier teams. Crappy weather. Too many tiny teams.

Being the neighbour of one the most famous and fantastically rich leagues in the world does not help. Who would play in Scotland when right next door, in England, even average players are being paid obscenely high wages. And bottom place recieves a cash prize millions more than the winner of the scottish league.

Scotland is left to fight over players who are past their prime, or too young, or hail from poorer nations and hope to stop in Scotland just long enough to get noticed by an English club. What to do?

 Then there's the weather. Last season, I saw a game almost every week and I swear it was bucketing down every weekend. Remember Motherwell's pitch when they shared it with Gretna Green for a season? Fir Park swiftly resembled a ploughed field. Has no-one yet invented a giant tarp that could cover a field during deluges in order to protect the precious turf for matchdays? What about having stadiums with giant umbrella domes that didn't quite enclose the roof but offered enough covering to keep the pitch dry but not too tight as to make the game indoor football. I guess indoor soccer would not be granted entry into the Champions league. Most Scottish teams only watch the Champions League on TV anyway.

Of course Scottish football could simply just switch to a summer schedule or take a long winter break. That would be common sense but just too radical for Scotland.

Why not play the League Cup as a short Christmas tournament? Let's imagine the season starts on August 1st till November 1st. That would allow for approx 12 games plus the European games. Then through November and December play the league cup fixtures. With no league matches to compete, I imagine that attendances might be quite high. When January rolls around, start the Scottish Cup fixtures till mid February then recommence the Premier league. With a 14 or 16 team premier League, a season would consist of either 26 or 30 games. Twelve games before Xmas leaves either 14 or 18 games till the end of the season. Football culture would hardly be disrupted at all.

When I was at school, football was not taught in Physical education class. There was volleyball, basketball, hockey and athletics but no football. I believe that the Scottish Education Board thought that the kids played football all day anyway so it was a waste of time to teach it. Yet every school had a football team that played against other schools.

I often wonder what would happen if Glasgow suddenly had a third major team to challenge Celtic or Rangers. If teams like, Clyde, Clydebank, Morton, St Mirren (Glasgow West) and a few others united as one club and pooled their resources, could Glasgow accommodate a 3rd major team? I bet Glasgow could probably handle a 4th team too. Glasgow East? Motherwell, Hamilton and one or two others could pool their resources and merge. This pattern could repeat all over Scotland. Instead of multiple leagues, why not trim it all to two? Why even have two? Maybe just one with various competitions within.

But would any of these changes improve the Scottish game. Something seems to go wrong between school and becoming professional. The fun gets strained out and only the serious dour faced adult attitude is left. Take a look at the best leagues in the world. The fun is mixed with professionalism. Players actually seem to be enjoying themselves.

What is it we admire most in a player? His skill and trickery and imagination. We love to see a player leave a trail of fallen defenders in his wake as he races through them and scores a spectacular goal. No such enjoyment in Scotland where shell shocked imported foreign players look as if they have been banished to Scotland for some crime in a past life. Wingers run in straight lines till they run out of steam or pitch markings. Defenders are as subtle as bags of hammers. Midfielders slog it out like kick boxers. Forwards are treated as if they have heads but no feet. Flair is vacuumed out of the game so that results can be ground out week after week. This ensures survival but success has become a biggertarget than entertainment.

This leads us to the question, wouldScottish football have taken off if it had begun its life as boring as it has now generally become? I doubt it. And yet we watch it. Why is that? Is it because it's just become a reflex action like scratching an amputated limb.

Are Scottish footballers genetically unenhanced? Surely they have the ability to be as fit and skillful as any other nationality. Yet our national game is a dumpling compared to Spanish, French, or Italian delicacies. We are Hammer throwers running around muddy fields in torrential icy rain. Is this due to the small town mentality in Scotland that fears change even though they know they need it? Afraid to act for fear of what the neighbours would say. "Ooh look at him wi' the ba' noo. Hinks eez a' fancy wi' yon wee yella boots." Are we just a poor wee country with limited facilities and dull imaginations?

Could Scottish clubs offer educational programs at university level? Not just for sport but for any subject. This would encourage potential players to enroll in studies safe in the knowledge they are not wasting their youths entirely on the gamble of becoming a pro footballer. And if clubs are feeling environmentally friendly, why not turn their stadium roofs into gardens or solar panels? But I digress...but not much.

 Great international moments in Scottish Football are few and far between. The late 60s and 70's seem to have been the heyday. Glasgow Celtic reached 2 European finals (won once) and were in the semis a few times. Glasgow Rangers won the Cup winners cup back in the 70s and reached the Eufa cup final in 2008. Celtic reached the Eufa cup final around 2001. Aberdeen won a European trophy in the 80s and Dundee Utd reached a Euro final too. Beyond that, there may be other stuff I don't know about. The National team's motto is "glorious defeat…again". They were the first team to defeat England after England won the world cup in 66. They qualified for the 74 world cup and went out undefeated. Then in 78 in Argentina, they had to beat Holland by 3 goals to go through. They won 3-2. Archie Gemmell scored a wonder goal but Scotland were out. That's the best of Scottish football in the last 50 years.

 Let's talk about tactics. Okay that's enough.

First what is the objective of the game? To score more goals than the other team. Meaningless mid league fixtures. Surely with no pressure on either side then a good open game of football would be guaranteed. Such a fixture could provide an opportunity for teams to really experiment. Play with 4 strikers for example. Or even five strikers with three midfield and 2 defenders. A thrills and spills match. Let the keeper play as a striker for a day. There is a philosophy in football that says that winning ugly is acceptable if you win the league. I can understand that reasoning but I would not pay extortionate prices to stand on a freezing terrace every Saturday to witness it. No, if teams want to win ugly, then only diehards and fanatics and idiots are going to show up and pay to be bored out of their skulls by 22 guys aimlessly kicking a ball around.

Football: Why did people start to play it? Why did crowds assemble to watch it? Why has the game endured? Not because it was boring. Because it was exciting, thrilling, tense, and a great emotional outlet for the working classes. Any town or village soon had a team. 

Football could easily replace war. Who wants a war in a world cup year?

Celtic's and Rangers' reserve teams playing in the 2nd division. Could this boost attendances? Would they monopolize the 2nd division? Finally we must ask, why bother saving Scottish football at all? Who really needs it? Scotland is a beautiful country. If I were offered a healthy wage, I think I could happily play for a team such as Inverness. Why? Simply for the pleasure of living in a decent looking town, in the highlands of Scotland, near the sea in one of the most scenic parts of Europe. Just throw in some summer football and I think you could have a whole team of Germans suddenly knocking on your stadium door and demanding jobs. Most successful clubs tend to come from very large cities. These are not always the most endearing of places. Personally if Manchester Utd were paying the same wages as Inverness, I'd be far happier in Inverness.

 With the lack of competition for Celtic and Rangers in the scottish league would it be worth it for the SFA to introduce a team of their own in order to push the level of competition higher. This could be one or two sponsored teams that perhaps can't win the league but would be like pace setters for Tour du France riders. Pushing the limits and driving the Old Firm teams to higher standards. Decent wages would attract decent players to be a part of these new teams whose only motive should be to make it tougher at the top.

The players would be made up of squad members of all the other league teams. The one main rule being they can't play against their own team. The attraction for these players would be playing regular football instead of bench warming.

 No doubt there's a negative side to this proposal like favouritism, cheating, etc. Still as I mentioned, bold moves are needed to save scottish football.

The Great Auk