illness sans-serif; font-size: x-small;”>Leo Nally asks where it all went wrong for Scottish football.
There was a time, remedy not too long ago, when talented footballers plyed their trade in the Scottish Premier League. Names like Sutton, Larsson, Arteta and Gattusso graced football fields all over Scotland. Today names like Samaras, Whittaker, Lafferty and Healy darken them.
The fall of the SPL has indeed been hard and fast. Only last month, this demise was further asserted by St Johnstone’s inability to tempt Sligo Rover’s manager, Paul Cook, across the Irish Sea. Cook said that the offer made by The Saints “didn’t make it worth his while”. Although St Johnstone are in no way a major power in Scottish football, it is a telling sign of a demise of a once proud league which, produced Britain’s first European Cup champions over fifty years ago. In the land of fitba, it seems longer.
Even the traditional powers of Scottish football are struggling. Off the field, Celtic FC’s season ticket sales dropped by over 10 % resulting in a 15% drop in income from ticket sales in the previous two years. Celtic’s woes continue on the field having not won the SPL title since 2008. Across town Glasgow Rangers are finding things tougher with a tax bill of over £49 million due to HM Revenue and Customs and an inevitable crash towards administration. To add to their worries a recent BBC Panorama documentary alleges that Rangers’ majority shareholder Craig Whyte has been involved in criminality. Last year’s average league attendance is down 12 % compared to two seasons previous.
This is a nadir for Scottish football. The average league attendance is down 12 % from two seasons previous. While this year, it has one team in a UEFA competition. Indeed, had FC Sion not been disqualified for fielding two ineligible players while they comfortably beat Celtic in the Europa League Qualifiers there would be no Scottish team in a European Competition. Rangers lost to Maribor and, Hearts were comprehensibly pounded by Tottenham’s second string.
Supporters of the Scottish national team have had even less to cheer about. They have failed to qualify for any of the last seven major international tournaments since their zenith of reaching six World Cups in seven attempts between ’74 and ’98.
The huge gulf between the Old Firm and the rest of the league means the league is incredibly uncompetitive. Both teams have finished in first and second place for sixteen of the previous seventeen seasons. Over the previous 3 years the two Glasgow clubs have finished with an average of 26 points between them and third place. In the Spanish La Liga, another league blighted by a duopoly, Real Madrid and Barcelona, the average has only been 18 points. The last team to win Scottish fooball’s top tier was a quarter of a century ago when a certain Alex Ferguson led The Dons to Scottish League glory.
While many argue that this is just a cyclical problem due to natural changing of demographics, it is hard to agree. The SPL’s annual television revenue is a measly 7% of their near neighbours, the English Premier League. Even the English second tier, the Championship, earn more than twice the SPL does from television revenue. For as long as this situation exists, Scottish talent will continue to move southwards in search of fortune. Only three of the twenty-four players called up to play for the national team against Cyprus in a friendly on the 11th of November play in Scotland.
It is sad to see a football country of Scotland’s stature have such a fall from grace. A place where such football men like Billy Bremner, Jock Stein and Denis Law as well as seven current Premier League managers call home has undoubted football heritage. But in a country which real men wear skirts, football is fast becoming the punch line.