This could be ‘game-changing’, in the most positive way possible. When I first moved to England and began to meet people in all walks of life, one message that was presented to me on a regular basis was that the English are generally averse to change. Now we may have to roll the Scots into the same stereotype; or do we?
The Clydesdale Bank Premier League have a made a decision, a cracking decision in some opinions, but in the opinion of fans… one that could possibly destroy Scottish football. They are working on reducing the amount of teams in the SPL from 12 to 10. The term used in North America (as I believe it is here) is ‘contraction’, where the league reduces the number of teams to increase the quality of talent and player performance. Recently there was talk of contraction in the NBA. Miami Heat star LeBron James even threw his hat into the ring and said, “Hopefully the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the 80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team. The league was great. It wasn’t as watered down as it is [now].”
If we were to hark back to Scottish football of the 80s, it produced a closet full of international ‘stars’. This was a country that was known for football pride. Hell, Scots were basically the spine of the great Liverpool teams of the 80s. So what happened? Where has it gone wrong?
The aforementioned may exactly be where it went wrong; players started travelling south to play their football, and they also started to travel abroad. The money was greater and the teams were strong, and this will motivate any professional athlete. Scotland was being stripped of its domestic talent, and not much has changed.
As most readers will know, the SPL got hammered on its last TV deal. They got hammered to the tune of 60M, which is a 60% loss in total revenue to be distributed to the clubs. That is a massive blow, I do understand this, but with contraction we will see greater distribution to the SPL clubs. And this leads us to another point. The money should be distributed equally to all 10 clubs in future – there needs to be parity. Parity and additional revenue will lead fans to believe that their team can actually win. Yes, the Old Firm will kick and fight, but if they do they are only looking out for themselves and not for Scottish football. The league needs to look at successful league models, not archaic football models; they do not have the market for the current system to work.
It is my belief that the increase of revenue to smaller clubs and the subsequent increase in the ability to compete and retain players will lead to increased attendance. If you look at the current table, St. Mirren and Hamilton will be going down – their current average combined attendance is 7,869 per match. They are 10th and 12th in the attendance rankings. This needs to be addressed and it needs addressing soon. And my belief is that parity is drastic enough to make it happen. More so, I think other leagues will begin to follow. Some may turn to the MLS and say it doesn’t necessarily work there, but the MLS doesn’t have the long and storied history of Scottish football.
When I was young my dad told me that if you played with players better than you then you will improve. He wasn’t the first to say this and he won’t be the last. As Scotland’s talent started to move south and even further, the competition level in Scotland decreased, and in my estimation a little pride was lost as well. This is not to say that Scotland is not vociferous about its football, but a little chest thumping may be lost. And new generations were born into this, and nothing has changed.
Now is the time for change, to contract the league and increase the talent pool for fewer teams, to make the Scottish Premier League more competitive. But they need to do more than this: they need to promote the league beyond The Old Firm. They need to look beyond their shores and see how whole leagues are promoted, not how to promote individual teams. There is a raw beauty to the Scottish game, it’s a bit throwback, and this needs to be conveyed. There is a market for good honest football; there is a market for Scottish football.
There also needs to be greater community development, as it’s no secret that there is a reduction in street football in Scotland. And as it is in many other sports, this is needed to create skilled players. If we look beyond the borders again, we have Canadians playing street hockey, Caribbean people playing baseball in the sandlots, and Americans tossing the ‘pigskin’ anywhere and everywhere. Community outreach and areas for accessible participation in the sport are necessary.
Scotland needs to fall in love with football again, and the SPL and the Scottish FA need to be partners in making this happen. They need a strong community marketing strategy, a brilliant and strong league from top to bottom and to reinstate that chest thumping pride. And hopefully this contraction will be step one.