Does Scottish Football have an unlikely saviour?

Yet another snow covered Scottish weekend; yet another example of the absurdity of the Scottish footballing calendar. Former First Minister, Henry McLeish’s report on the ailing health of the Scottish game could not have been more pertinently timed. McLeish, a former East Fife player, seems to be one of the political type of men who never seem to age and, whatever their actions (McLeish resigned the post he succeeded to after Donald Dewar’s death in 2000), never fade away. That is fitting, for the ills of the game to which his report respond have existed since comfortably before 1997 when his New Labour swept into power in London, and brushed some power into Scotland.

Amongst other recommendations, including an odd, split 20-team top league, McLeish’s report recommended an earlier start to the season. This is definitely a good idea, although it is incredible that the SFA required outside help to come up with it.

Henry McLeish, visionary?

A few weeks ago, in the face of the referee’s strike, a number of managers and chairmen spoke out against the proposed industrial action on the grounds of the damage it would do to the finances of the game. As it happened, the majority of the weekend’s games were called-off due to severe weather in any case. This seemed to be regarded as just desserts for the renegade refs. But it didn’t recoup any cash for the struggling clubs did it?

The decimation of a weekend’s football by months of torrential snowfall is what insurance companies like to term ‘an act of god’ (when applied to Scottish football, whether the act is merciful or vengeful is a matter of opinion). But when it happens every year, as it has started to, or all winter, as it now threatens to, the game’s authorities’ continued hands-upholding show of ‘what can we do?’s is pathetic.

Change the calendar! No one wants to watch football in Scotland in the middle of the winter anyway. It may be the case that no one wants to watch Scottish football at all, but that apathy has to be compounded by the absurd fact that half the season takes place while temperatures flit around freezing.

Pittodrie, the home of Aberdeen, sits a few hundred yards from the North Sea. It has a capacity of 22,500 and an average attendance this season of 10,006. Aberdeen are joint bottom of the SPL, and their brand of football is certainly an unattractive prospective day-out on its own merits. Nonetheless, the Arctic conditions that spectators have to brave from their icy plastic seats doubtless harms the club’s chances of attracting a larger crowd. The conditions must, also, harm the (home and away) players’ chances of performing to the best of their ability; rock hard and/or muddy pitches and a persistently howling wind are not conducive to an attractive form of football.

It is a vicious circle: the conditions themselves keep punters away; they worsen the quality of the product on offer; the poor quality product deters customers.

Clearly, shifting the Scottish season would not solve these problems automatically. It would also, probably, bring new difficulties of its own. But surely, it would make things better for the fans (and more fun for the players)?

Traditionally, this is not a very powerful argument to the ears of football administrators’. But, given the paltry returns offered for TV rights and the increasingly ropey performances of Scottish clubs in Europe, it looks like pretty soon the fans might be all that Scottish football has left.

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