Eilidh Barbour is a sports broadcaster working all over Scotland. She is ace at football. You can follow her on Twitter @eilidhbarbour
Growing up in the late 80s and 90s as a Scottish football fan, all I watched was home based football. The big names on the tip of your tongue plied their trade in Glasgow or Edinburgh or Dundee. The stadiums were near to full every week and there was an air of excitement when the Old Firm came to town.
I grew up in a small Perthshire village. The pubs didn’t have TVs, let alone cable channels showing football from around the world. Match of the Day on a Saturday night was the action from Scotland, not England. In fact, my only real memory of watching something that was so unbelievably exotic and different was the Sunday afternoon Serie A game on Football Italia. It was magical. Full of names I could never have imagined gracing our shores, never mind playing for those teams south of the border I knew so little about.
The English game slowly crept in, though. Subconsciously almost. Robbie Fowler’s hat trick against Southampton as a snotty nosed teenager, Tony Yeboah’s audacious three touches and volley off the underside of the bar, Dennis Wise scampering around snapping at defenders’ heels and the wonderful, graceful ability of Matt Le Tissier are all clear in my mind as if I had been watching it all my life.
Roll on ten years and the English Premiership has become the pinnacle of football. It is the richest league in the world in more than a financial sense. The football is sublime, the talent is frightening and the money involved incomprehensible to most.
As for north of the border, things haven’t been quite so rosy. The big names and international stars that filled the dressing rooms at Rangers and Celtic have long since moved on. The Larssons, De Boers, Di Canios, Gattusos, Juninhos and Kanchelskises are no more. The glamour is gone, the money has dwindled away and the quality reflects it. It is a game only for those whose heart is twisted within the fabric of their football team.
For those who don’t agree, it was played out in glorious technicolour at Tynecastle last week. A team tipped to challenge the top in Scotland against a team just hoping to make the Europa League spots next season in England. In fact, a team who, with the same starting eleven, were comfortably swept aside by Manchester United on Monday night.
The moans of financial disparities between Spurs and Hearts, the SPL and EPL, are true indeed. Jermaine Defoe alone cost the club £15million, but we all knew this before kick off.
My question is simple: why were we surprised? Why was it a shock that Hearts got taught a lesson on their own patch by a top 8 Premiership side? Why were the papers north of the border full of doom and gloom and crisis talks the following day? Why was the Chief Executive of the SFA forced to defend himself and Scottish football on Twitter?
Nothing that happened on the pitch at Tynecastle that night was a shock. It was a true reflection of the difference in quality, finances and strength between the SPL and EPL. There’s no changing that fact and there’s certainly no going back.
As for how to address it, that’s something for those in far more important positions than me to decide. Clubs, coaches and players can consciously change their habits, lifestyles and training regimes to provide fitter, stronger athletes but then how often do Tottenham come to visit? Where is the incentive for players other than to get a move away from the SPL and into the EPL, which does nothing again for the development of Scottish football. Investment is needed and, until the SFA syndicate wins the Euro Millions, that doesn’t look like it is happening any time soon.
So for now the glamour, the superstars, the deft touches and intricate flicks, the overhead kicks and the one touch football of the Premiership are there to be appreciated, and should be so. The clubs, managers and players should be applauded and have a right to be the topic of conversation on a Monday morning in the office.
But there are certain things money can’t buy. All the riches in the world can’t provide that feeling of the hairs on the back of your neck as your team trundles out of the tunnel, the butterflies in your stomach as the ball is flighted from one side of the pitch to the other and the pure, unadulterated joy of walking out of the stadium with a victory in your pocket.
I shall continue to enjoy the Premiership for what it provides but I’m a Scottish football fan and nothing can change that. No matter how big the gulf gets.