The State of Scottish Football
I initially considered calling this piece “The State of Play” when I decided to write about the Scottish game. However it soon dawned on me that the game in this country IS a state!
Scottish football is in the doldrums, and shows no sign of emerging anytime soon. The TV stations know it, and after Setanta Sports went bust in the UK, our clubs have had to go cap-in-hand to ESPN and Sky, who bickered for a while about how little they could pay us, knowing full well we had no choice but to accept. Sky and ESPN eventually agreed to pay our top league 13 million pounds a year, half the amount we had previously with Setanta Sports per season on a four-year deal.
Our game is so little in demand that only three international TV stations have picked up the rights to broadcast the SPL; Australia, Canada and Russia. Compare this to the Eredivisie which is broadcast in seven different countries.
The fans know Scottish football is in the doldrums too, and they’ve voted with their feet and their remote controls. The average attendance per team has dropped from 16,077 to 13,742 in five years, a drop of approximately 15%, and the viewing figures have suffered a similar drop. Of course, with less revenue coming in, this hurts our clubs even more, and as a result the calibre of players coming to Scotland has drastically dropped.
In the last three months, we’ve had referees go on strike, Dundee docked 25 points for going into administration, managers moving clubs as they weren’t under contract, our national team playing a 4-6-0 formation in Prague, and European performances that aren’t even worth mentioning.
All this without mentioning the state of our lower leagues, who struggle on a week-by-week basis due to the extremely limited funds they receive. There is no doubt our game needs an overhaul from top to bottom. Our game is in danger of going under. The key question is, what do we need to do to fix it?
In my opinion, the first thing we need to do is to hand back control of ALL Scottish football to the main body, the SFA. We currently have three administrative bodies in our game, the SFA, the SPL, who look after the top league, and the SFL, who look after the other three divisions. We don’t need three bodies for 42 professional teams who all have their own agenda. We need one regulator, one group, one clear direction. All the people involved in Scottish football need to report to them, and them only.
Secondly, the entire league system needs to be overhauled. Let’s use the SPL as an example. We have a 12 team league that splits after 33 games in to a Championship Group for the top six and a Relegation Group for the bottom six.
Frankly, it’s boring watching the same teams play each other three or four times a season, we’ve seen it all before. Also, in four of the last five seasons, the team finishing 7th overall actually had enough points to finish above teams who finished in 6th, or in Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s case in 2005/06, in 4th place! Can you see the problem with that picture?
We currently only allow teams to enter our bottom league via a vote, rather than through promotion and relegation like most other leagues in Europe, which makes it extremely difficult for non-league teams to progress any further. Gala Fairydean, Spartans, Huntly, and Edinburgh City are all teams who actually have better setups than some current Third Division teams, yet cannot gain admission due to archaic rules. The last team to gain admission to the SFL was Annan Athletic, who finished 8th in their first season last year. The potential is there, so let’s use it.
My idea is this: SPL1 and SPL2. Both are 16 team leagues, with three relegated automatically from SPL1, two automatically promoted from SPL2, with a playoff system between 3rd to 6th for the final promotion spot. In SPL2, only one team will go down.
30 games, no more, no less. A four week winter break is required, let the players recharge their batteries and try to miss the worst of the Scottish winter. Let’s make the visit of other teams exciting and let the fans enjoy the day out again, rather than the current drudgery. That will leave 10 SFL teams out, the equivalent of our current Division Three.
They go into a regional pyramid system similar to the well-oiled English non-league system. We would have 40 teams in two divisions, SPL North/East and SPL South/West. They play each other twice; the winners meet in a two-legged final to determine who gains promotion to the SPL2. Other non-league teams can look to gain promotion to these leagues through other regional leagues, and so on.
I’ll admit the system would be slightly complicated to begin with, but we would iron out the kinks, and let’s be honest, that is surely far more exciting than our current system.
Thirdly, and finally, invest in youth football again. Let’s rebuild the pitches we built homes on. Let the school teams play competitively again. Our youth system in recent years have produced players like Craig Gordon, Danny Wilson, Steven Fletcher, John Fleck, Aiden McGeady, Leigh Griffiths, Graham Dorrans, the list could go on.
We have the talent in our schools; let’s invest all the money we can there! Let’s nurture the kids! Let’s get a national team full of natural Scots again! Murray Park is a prime example of what can be achieved if we give our clubs time and money to invest in youth. We can do better, we must do better. We have a limited amount of time left before the game is irreparable in this country. We must use it wisely.
Stewart Regan is currently the big boss man at the SFA, our main body. Stewart, I’m looking at you. YOU have the power to force change. YOU have the power to make our game better. YOU can help save our game. Thomas Jefferson once said “Every generation needs a new revolution.”
My fans need a revolution.
My club team needs a revolution.
My leagues need a revolution.
My national team needs a revolution.
Our game, from top to bottom, needs a revolution.
My generation needs a revolution.
Soon, we may not have a game worth revolutionising. Your phone is ringing Stewart Regan. My generation need you. Will you take the call?