Leo Nally takes a look at the state of Scottish Football today and wonders where it all went wrong.
There was a time, not too long ago, when talented footballers plyed their trade in the Scottish Premier League. Names like Sutton, Larrson, 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. At the beginning of the season, 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 their inevitable crash towards administration. Some players are taking a wage cut of up to 75%. To add to their worries a BBC Panorama documentry alleges that Rangers' majority shareholder Craig Whyte has been involved in criminality. Last year's average league attendance is down 12 % compared to the previous season
This is a nadir for Scottish football. This year, it has one team in a UEFA competition. Indeed, had FC Sion not been disqualified for fielding two ineligable player while they comfortably beat Celtic in the Europa League Qualifiers there would be no Scottish team in a European Competiton. Rangers lost to, Slovenian minnows, 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. Furthermore, Scottish born players are actively choosing not to play for wee bonnie Scotland but other countries that they qualify for. James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady have chosen to play for the Republic of Ireland while, Stuart Holden has chosen the US National Team.
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 outside the Old Firm, 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 televison revenue. For as long as this exists, the flow of Scottish talent will continue to move southwards in search of forune. Only three of the twenty-two players called up to play for the national team against Slovenia for a friendly in February.
It is sad to see a football country of Scotland's stature have such a fall from grace. A place where true 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 punchline.