By Cameron Deacon – @Cam_Deacon21
The other day I saw a table that showed per head Scottish football is the most highly attended league in Europe. For a second, I was taken a-back and assumed that what I was seeing was a fabrication of numbers or a twisting of facts, but then when I thought about it, I wasn’t surprised at all. Scottish football fans are some of the most passionate in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if a group of lads playing Kerby drew an attendance. The beating hearts of so many communities, whether they be cities in the belt or towns in the highlands, rely on their football team not to succeed but just to exist. The struggle of lockdown and football’s shutdown has brought out that passion its multitudes. Whether that be volunteers coming down to help their teams, players taking cuts in wage and season tickets being sold in swarms for a season very much under the cover of doubt.
Something that has emerged from what was originally chaos is the conversation of reconstruction. To this point in time it seems as though any chance of reconstruction is close to none, with the new five year TV deal already in place and four ‘Old Firms’ a part of that deal the little chance of change may be nothing more than that, little. However, what the conversation did show, other than self-centred ideals and downright incompetence, is that most Scottish football fans are tired. They are tired of false promises, they are tired of ridiculous suggestions, they are tired of being left out and they are tired of the current set up.
Scottish football is on a knife edge, not in the sense that it is in any sort of danger but, in the sense that even the slightest disruption to the current standard potentially threatens to throw everything in the SPFL into disarray. There are 42 sides in the SPFL and unfortunately the current system benefits two. Take a guess at who that might be. And yet if it not for the success of Celtic and Rangers then all other Scottish teams would suffer as a result. A leagues brand appeal rests on its UEFA coefficient ranking. A ranking given to each country based off performance in Europe which then dictates how many teams from your country get European qualification. Celtic and Rangers have done well in recent years and back in February raised Scotland to 14th in the rankings, all but securing two Champions League qualification spots. This in turn raises Scottish footballs appeal meaning more potentially money for the teams within it. This means that if there was a change in structure which helped to benefit the rest of the teams in the country, Celtic and Rangers could be weakened, perform worse in Europe, and then end up damaging the rest of Scotland as a result.
Yet it is because of this very fact that the fans in Scotland are fed up, they feel shackled by the minority. I went onto one of the biggest Scottish football fan groups on Facebook and asked its members “Are you happy with the current set up in Scottish football?” The response I got was decisive. Almost everyone said “No” and the few who replied with “Yes” were of the belief that “As long as they (TV broadcasters) insist on four Glasgow derbies, change will never happen”. There is without a doubt an almost overarching sense of depression from all fans outside Rangers and Celtic when it comes to structure. Everyone wants change but they are withdrawn to the fact that it will never happen. Compounded by the suggestions from the Hearts board of temporary change to only save themselves, in a time where real reconstruction could have helped everyone, has made its possibility even less foreseeable.
Scotland has some of the most committed and most dedicated fans in the world and a failure to make any adjustments soon is going to lead to fans just giving up, and only then once SPFL starts noticing a loss in revenue as standards begin to slip will they decide to take action. So, what is it the fans want?
From the same group I got a lot of answers to that question and it seems that there are two overarching suggestions with the foundation of both being ‘more teams!’. The first and certainly more feasible option is the 14-10-10-10 suggestion which was put forward in the last few months but only as a temporary measure. The reason it is most feasible is because realistically nobody loses, there would be no relegation, only promotion and two teams would be brought up from the lowland and highland leagues. The issue with this is it doesn’t actually change anything, there would still almost certainly be a split (Which seems to be something everyone is against) and the only difference would be the addition of two sides to the Premiership, the rest of SFL would remain exactly the same.
The change that the majority wants and would lead to significant change is 16-16-12. A thirty-game season everyone plays only twice and there would be no need for a split. It would also mean a greater variety of teams to play in lower leagues and the complete removal of the fourth tier and the possible integration of the highlands and lowlands divisions. The fact is in a country with only 42 league sides a four-tier system is just ridiculous. As one man replied “I have watched my team play in a 10 team league now for over a decade and its turgid”, every team in Scotland and their fans are having to suffer because ultimately Sky want four Glasgow derbies. This means it is less entertaining, less exciting, and downright monotonous. Hearts will most likely come straight back up next season because they are almost guaranteed stacks of points because they can and will do the quadruple of several sides. Bigger leagues make it more competitive, more exciting, increases variation but most importantly it closes the gap on Celtic and Rangers. And this leads to the final question, is it actually possible?
Yes. Is the answer because it has happened before, and it can happen again. But ultimately money talks. In the 1960’s the league noticed that crowds were beginning to drop and had dropped by nearly half a million that decade and because of that reconstruction talks were not just a suggestion but a necessity. But the change which was made then was too dramatic, dropping and 18 team top tier down to 10! After that there was period of nine years between 1986 and 95 where the leagues changed size three times.
This continued until the modern system started in 2000. 20 years of this system, the longest time without change since the beginning of the last century! Football has changed an awful lot in that time, the exponential increase in value and an increase in the media’s grasp over the game means that any change would be difficult, but from my point of view it is more than necessary.
Instead of clubs throwing the idea about for their own selfish needs, suggesting snap temporary changes, there needs to be a serious discussion about the welfare of the league and Scottish football at club and International level. A discussion that ends in blueprints being penned for the end of that following season. Clubs cannot be put to a vote when they know how the outcome effects their team voting a season in advance not only makes it more exciting, but it means the votes are meaningful.
If the SPFL wait too long and wait until they are forced into change through drops in attendance and loss in revenue, then the decision that they make will be rash and it will not benefit anyone. It will, as was the case back in 1960’s, be change for the sake of change and could end up hurting more than it helps. There is a real opportunity in Scotland to make the leagues competitive and exciting once again and I really hope that people see that, before it is too late.