Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The future of Scottish football

These are my initial comments on Sonstrust site regarding the proposed reconstruction of the SPL, and of Scottish Football as a whole:

A sinking feeling?
Regarding the the SPL1 clubs’ reserve sides joining the lower leagues: the policing and admin costs would offset the gains, which I suspect would be short-term in relation to attendance. Old Firm fans are not even interested in watching their A sides play ‘diddy’ teams at home in the Cup, and the idea that their ‘local’ supporters would turn out to see B or Affiliate teams (which is it to be, by the way?) play ‘minnows’ on a routine basis is extremely fanciful. The sofa and TV football would still have more appeal.

The cultural gulf between higher and lower league supporter mentalities is considerable, and we ignore it at our peril. That’s aside from the degradation resulting to SFL clubs and leagues being used as the optional training ground of the wealthy. It might mean that even winning your own league would become out-of-reach.

As for regionalisation – this is being proposed mainly, it seems, to create a ‘drawbridge’ between the small teams and SPL1 & 2 ‘big boys’. The SPL plan is thin enough as it stands (as a number of existing SPL clubs clearly recognise), so in order to sidestep the difficult-to-combat argument that the ‘brand’ is actually being diluted (with the only real aim to increase revenues for the richest from more televised OF clashes), a cachet of false exclusivity is being generated by proposing the quarantining and de-sizing of the ‘minor’ clubs.

In effect, however, what is being proposed is reducing Scottish football to 20 professional teams, and then terminating the national game at that point. Regional leagues with uneven set-ups, part-time or amateur sides mostly stranded for ever (unless a bored sugar daddy comes along) and a concomitant continuing decline in standards (young, truly promising players will not see this as a fruitful nurturing ground!) will have no soul or purpose. That means a further decline in overall attendance. The writing is on the wall if we take this path.

Regionalisation is therefore a recipe for turning clubs like Dumbarton into juniors in all but name, and it has certainly not been developed by asking the key question, “How do we raise the flag, spirits, standards, and viability of Scottish football as a whole ?” That, along with the corrosive impact of the wholesale dominance of the OF, is another central concern that Henry McLeish, perhaps constrained by political and financial interests ‘down the corridor’, has not taken as central to his enquiry. But ignoring the big issues and making money for the few is not actually being ‘realistic’ (as will be claimed), it is avoiding inconvenient truths.

I have some nascent ideas about what a credible structural / financial alternative might look like, but I’ll mull more on those and listen to what others have to say  before going further – except to observe that the “it isn’t travel costs but wage costs which are too high” remark is spot on. And that a regulatory framework (based on sustainability criteria) to ensure that club directors and investors do not suddenly lose all business sense and strategic acumen when they get their hands on ‘football product’ is absolutely vital. Oh, and a minimum 25% democratic community ownership is also crucial.

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