Scottish Football’s Problem: 3 Years On

Stumbling through the internet, looking for traces of myself out of sheer boredom, I came across this dusty, old blog that I began 3 years ago.  It, until now, has had one, solitary post – a reactionary piece about the plight of Scottish Football.  I thought it would be interesting to critique my opinions of 3 years ago, and whether or not the beautiful game of fitba’ is still in such a malaise.

The short answer is, yes.  However, there are many caveats to this answer.

I began three years ago by scalding the setup of the country’s football leagues and their connection to each other.  I still feel my criticism of the SPL’s ridiculous 12 team, 1 relegation system rings true.  Crucially, though, so do the SPL, SFA and SFL.  Recently, there have been some positive moves towards a proper reconstruction of the Scottish game to benefit teams.  The SPL seems to favour 2 leagues of 12 at the top, with an extended play-off system between them, followed by smaller leagues below.  The SFL wants a system of 16-10-16.

My personal opinion is in favour, strangely enough, and against the views of many of my fellow fans, with the SPL.  I agree, and did in my previous post, that fewer games are for the benefit of everyone – particularly in seasons as congested as they are, sandwiched between international tournaments with a spate of winter postponements to contend with as well.  Both proposals will achieve this.

My issue though now with the 16-10-16 is one of money.  Exciting games draw the crowds in, as we’ve seen this season with attendances in the SPL up among several of the top clubs due to Rangers’ demise.  A 16 team league will, inevitably, result in leagues where at least 3 or 4 teams have nothing to play for from as early as February/March.  That means that the fans have to wait five more months, barring a cup run, for competitive football they can feel engaged in.  That’s far too long and the fans will vote with their feet and stay at home rather than watch a meaningless contest.

Critics of the 2 12-team leagues suggest that the new split in both leagues is confusing and over-complicated.  I disagree.

This new system means that we would have 36 games a season, something which is manageable and enough to satiate our demand for football.  It also means that four teams in the bottom league have the chance at hitting the big time, and even more with a chance near the split of getting into that league.  The top league would be a close play-off for the European spots and the title itself – while the bottom league will be battling to keep their status as part of the top tiers of the game.  What’s not to like?

Another criticism I had of Scottish football, prominently, was of the refereeing standards.  I’ll admit fallability on that point.  Referees in this country have an extremely difficult job, and they are not supported/controlled by the authorities’ in a way they should.  However, refereeing standards are still not up to a level where supporters are confident in them, and there are many discrepancies that must be addressed.

Firstly, the authorities’ draconian responses to manager’s displeasure with the referees need to stop.  I agree that referees should be supported in their work, but if a referee does, by some mishap, make a wrong decision – a manager should not be given a touchline ban, preventing him from doing his job, because he has called it right. It appears to me a freedom of speech issue, rather than a simple footballing anomaly!

Another point is the use of video technology to rescind wrong decisions.  I’m aware it exists for red cards at the moment, but yellow cards are much more easily acquired – and can result in a suspension when they build up.  These need to be looked at in the same way as reds, and removed if necessary.

My final point three years ago was that the grassroots game needs to be supported much more vigorously.  And that I stand by fully.  Obviously, with the current economic climate, football facilities have perhaps been overlooked by both local authorities and the Scottish Government as priorities.  But I think we need a significant investment in them to return Scottish football to the levels it once was, rather than the point in which we are now, worse than even three years ago – with no chance of qualifying for another tournament until 2016.

Investment in facilities could create jobs in building and running them.  The facilities can be used as a focal point of new housing developments or urban regeneration.  Even without the football side, these facilities could be a boost for local economies across the country.

More importantly, from a football fan’s point of view, it will give our youngsters a chance to play and improve in a way they haven’t before.  By following McLeish report recommendations, and getting our kids playing hundreds and thousands of hours of quality, coached football in their childhood – we can produce players that are at the top of the world game.  We managed this in the 60s and 70s when times were tougher, arguably.  Why can’t we now?

Overall, I think Scottish football is in much the same state as it was when I first scrawled my thoughts on this blog a few years ago.  But I see light at the end of this tunnel.  With the authorities’ moving towards a sensible solution to our league problems, and more funding becoming available for youth football projects – I think that when I write a new response in three years time, Scottish Football will be in a much healthier state.

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