Sitting watching the Ross County v Dundee game on a cold December night, it provoked a few arguments about the funny old thing we call Scottish Football. Still fresh in the mind is the national team’s undignified exit from the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying, extending the minimum wait for a major finals to 14 years. That’s a major problem for a nation as football mad as we are. Remember the optimism of 2007 about Scottish Football? We had just missed out by 2 points and that year Rangers reached the UEFA Cup final. The future seemed bright, and with the draw for the World Cup qualifying, so it should have. In that 2 years, things have changed – not only have new problems come up, but existing ones have been entrenched. These are what I will speak about today.
First problem in the Scottish football scene is pretty basic. Football leagues are created to promote good football. This is really not the case in Scotland. I won’t fall into the trap of saying that this problem came about with the formation of the SPL, but it didn’t help. The SPL accommodates 12 teams and only allows 1 team relegated and promoted each year. Generally, especially in the bottom half of the league, football is cagey – teams are more frightened about a loss than they are hungry for a win. This creates games which are simply unappealing, especially in this age of football almost 24/7 on the likes of Sky Sports; whereas, if you look at the First Division, the games are very fast, fluid and exciting. Any team in that league can win a league game, looking at bottom side Airdrie knocking Queen of the South (2nd in the League) out of the Cup last Saturday.
Another anomaly with the First Division is that it is mainly constituted of former SPL teams. Teams such as Dundee, Inverness CT, Dunfermline, Partick Thistle and even Livingston in the Third Division have all had SPL experience over the last decade. The challenge for the First Division title is often much more exciting than the SPL title race. With all this, it begs the question: why is there only ONE solitary relegation and promotion space with the calibre of football in the first division?
I believe that it would be much better to have a different set-up, of an 18 team Premier League – and possibly two 16 team divisions under this. In this method, teams would be able to compete on the top stage – and bring the exciting football to the SPL again. This would also mean that more teams would get a bite of the lucrative SPL TV money, which would all ultimately develop the players that Scotland was once known for. I would like to see three or even four teams at the bottom of this league relegated each season, possibly in a playoff with lower league teams to make sure the cream is always at the top. This would ease the relegation fears of teams that currently struggle at the bottom of the table, and soon we’d see the fruit of the plan in the way of new, exciting and good Scottish footballers, for our ailing national teams. This way we’d also reduce fixture congestion and also fatigue of playing the same teams up to four times a year.
Yet, none of this would improve the game without working on the basics of it. Two examples are the grassroots and youth schemes and also the refereeing system.
It’s been said over and over that Scotland has no facilities for children to play football. I completely agree with this, but why is this so? Each SPL team gets £6m a year – yet there is no investment in the future of the game? Personally, I believe that this is appalling. The amount of young players that possess skill and talent and awareness in this country is generally above average, but because of the big teams’ greed and the government’s hypocrisy in waxing lyrical about obesity but providing no facilities, we are left with hopeful players that fall by the wayside. If we put a decent football park in each town in Scotland, I could guarantee that we would get players that are world class again. The potential is there, but the flaw is that we can’t get the goods from it.
Another thing that has to be sorted before our game improves again is the refereeing. As clichéd as it seems, but they are disgraceful. Managers come away from games each weekend in the SPL and SFL feeling completely cheated by these people in the middle who are meant to uphold fair play and the laws of the game. They don’t do this though. Referees, and linesmen, make horribly incorrect decisions week after week and this is unacceptable. Referees are also horribly inconsistent. One week they’ll book a player for lifting his shirt off but the next he won’t. He may book a player for a challenge from behind, but another similar challenge later in the game will go unpunished. These mistakes are simple but give the wrong impression to young footballers and threaten the livelihoods of the players. If a player makes a series of mistakes in a game, well the manager would not pick him the following week. Why can’t the SFA apply this simple principle to referees as well? This will teach the men in the middle that they have to keep their eyes peeled and call things right. There will always be fans that disagree with a referee’s decision – but if they come away from the game, or even see a repeat on television and agree that the referee has made the right call – then the game will be fair.
If we can address these difficulties then we will be well on our way to success with our national team, our clubs and the Scottish game in general.