For year upon year the predominant impression of Scottish football conveyed to the watching eye was a maelstrom of hate, a whirlpool of abuse; that seems to represent a fractured and polluted society using the game as a channel for its frustrations. As the Scottish National Party continue to press towards independence from Westminster, it appears that the powers that be at the SFA would give anything to gain a helping hand from outside – seeing it as a welcome lifeline rather than a treacherous infringement. Somewhat fortunately, the association have received a much-needed boost from Sky Sports in the shape of a lucrative TV deal that pledges to continue the corporation’s involvement with the Scottish Premier League despite the demotion of Rangers to the Scottish Third Division. They must now ensure that this money is sent down the right channels and invested in the game at a grass-roots level, so a production line can be established that might prevent future collapse.
Although the announcement proves that the SPL still holds sufficient interest to the public, it speaks nothing of the financial turmoil and the fiscal run-ins that have been the bane of the bosses in recent times. Motherwell estimate that they will lose up to £900,000 due to the absence of Rangers; this would include a loss of £250,000 in ticket sales. A club run responsibly, Motherwell have showed considerable fiscal responsibility despite their entry into Champions League football and have responded to economic issues with a cull in playing staff. In contrast to the positive overtones that the television deal seems to present, this alludes to a root and branch loss of interest that poses inescapable problems. Any team who shows a measured approach to recruitment and still struggles can surely blame a more widespread malaise. In an open letter to the club’s fan base in June 2012, Kilmarnock Chairman Michael Johnston claimed: “this (withdrawal of Rangers) would have a profound impact on the operating conditions of our club….. expenditure on the club’s youth development programme and community projects would come under serious pressure”.
The Barclays Premier League, the most popular league in the world, manages to ward off concerns about high levels of unmovable debt with its astronomical operating profits. These profits have exploded as the international television market has gorged itself on the product; this widespread increase in popularity has allowed further swelling of the coffers as pre-season tours and shirt sales see income soar. For example, Manchester United have still managed to become the 18th highest wage distributor in world sport despite announcing debt of £439 million in 2011. In contrast, SPL clubs have struggled to attract the interest of the public, as its on-going cut-backs pin back the few things that made it appealing in the first place. Gone are the days where Celtic could spend approaching £10m on transfers (August transfer window 2005) and the Hoops could attract the talent of stars such as Shunsuke Nakamura, Roy Keane and Henrik Larsson before them. These are the days of strikers signed from Scunthorpe and midfielders from the Belgian Pro League.
Such is the desperation for consumer input that clubs have been enticing fans to coerce their friends and families into attending games and buying season tickets. Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels has been personally calling fans that have chosen not to renew their season tickets in an attempt to revive their interest. Such is the Scottish psyche that it is eminently probable that clubs will go back into their shells, adopting an insular attitude to competing clubs and avoid talking to them about their issues. For me, the Scottish system in its current state cannot succeed without clubs co-operating to solve problems. The first stage must be the recognition that problems exist. The reincarnated Rangers struggling to an extra-time victory over Brechin City paints a morbid picture of the journey that Scottish football has endured in recent times. Talks must be instigated between the SFA and SPL clubs concerning the distribution of television money and the revival of the grass roots game. The presently defunct reserve league must restart to allow young players to get consistent, competitive football under their belts. Gestures like Ross County’s offer to pay for the expenses of Motherwell fans travelling for the opening day fixture must continue. The Scottish game can be saved – it just needs to come to terms with itself.