Belling the Cat

Browsing Alzheimer Scotland’s Football Memories site, I began to reminisce about the times I would discuss the latest calamity to befall Scottish football (among other things) with my much-missed grandfather. While some of my relatives suffered from varying forms of dementia, he thankfully retained his sharp intellect until the end of his life. Pleasantly for me, this allowed us to spend 13 years dissecting and debating the game of football.

While he was a Glasgow boy by birth and schooling, by the time I was born in 1980, he’d spent a little time in Gloucestershire, served in the Navy during WWII and lived on Tayside for at least 12 years before moving back west. Football was the one constant though. He played at secondary school, and possibly for the navy (or with/in the navy; my memory doesn’t retain the exact preposition), and when work took him to the East Coast in the late 1950s, he took pleasure in watching the great Hibernian and Dundee sides of the era. As far as I can recall, he never followed one particular club side, and that lack of allegiance possibly informed the controversial plan for Scottish football we hatched one summer…

Between 1960 and 1985, Rangers and Celtic both won the Scottish football league title. But so did Dundee, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and Dundee United. Since 1985 however, only Rangers and Celtic have been Champions. To cut a long story short, we decided that the best way forward for Scottish football to avoid becoming a hopeless duopoly was to adopt a system similar to US Sports) , with franchise club sides, academies, drafts et al, in an attempt to make the game here more egalitarian. Resources would be maximised; young players would hopefully emerge from the academies with a broader outlook on life and their sport, and Scottish football would be saved!

However, neither of us was daft enough to think such a scheme would ever come to fruition. Getting the football establishment onside would be one thing; the supporters would be nigh on impossible. Football fans are a curious breed you see; they’d much rather follow a side that was doing badly than compromise that connection with their. In many ways you can respect that. We can all moan about the SFA and the SPL and the numerous other governing bodies obstructing progress, but I think the fans themselves are equally guilty of holding Scottish football back.

This doesn’t just manifest itself in blind loyalty and borderline addiction to the individual’s club, it’s the lack of sophistication among those that watch and play our game. It’s the constant looking back to the glory days of the 60s/50s/20s/1890s etc (depending on your club). It’s the Scottish national team being lumbered with the ball and chain of Dalglish, Law, Bremner et al when we did absolutely hee haw with those players in the side either. It’s the appreciation of the guy that ‘did a lot of running’ while chiding the player that made fewer, cleverer runs for being lazy. But football fans love to moan. They’ll whine about the price of the pies in the ground to the right-back’s lime-green boots. It’s only when you present potential solutions to their woes that they go quiet.

Last year, Henry McLeish presented his report on Scottish football. Most of the stakeholders’ suggestions for change outlined in the report probably won’t come to pass. That is of course partly due to funding issues, but also because Scottish people (and perhaps British people as a whole) aren’t fond of change. How often have we witnessed wailing and gnashing of teeth after debacles on the continent by our club and national sides, how often have we clamoured for a more technical, considered outlook in our football, only to revert back to humping long balls to the big striker on the Saturday?

Previous entries in this blogathon have touched on the theme of reform of Scottish football, but I remain to be convinced there’s a real chance any of it will ever happen. There’s a definite small-c conservatism in the Scottish game that will resist and obstruct many of these grand designs. Most of this conservatism will manifest itself in the boardrooms of clubs and the offices of the governing bodies, but I’m not at all sure your average supporter is remotely interested in seeing wholesale changes to his particular club, that might allow all of our teams, and the Scottish national team, to eventually flourish.

The talk of reforming Scottish football reminds me of that old joke; how many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

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