Is it time to shake up Scottish football?
“They are nothing but a shower of greedy b*****ds.”
It was a truly challenging week in football, and one we will never forget, but Arbroath gaffer Dick Campbell best summed up how we felt when we heard that 12 of Europe’s richest clubs sign themselves away to a new European Super League. The ESL has been an idea in the pipeline for a number of years, but has come to fruition after two of the most financially challenging seasons football has ever seen during the pandemic.
Real Madrid are in £900M of debt. Tottenham, who entered without winning a single Champions League trophy, are over £1 billion in debt following the stadium rebuild. Liverpool are desperate to stall their plummeting revenues as fans stay on their sofas for another year. Football is in a spiralling hell financially, but the concept of a ESL has the potential to quite simply kill Scottish football.
The concept of refusing entry based on merit is farcical, it is purely a financial standing that gets these clubs in when teams with fanbases and European history like Celtic, Rangers, and Aberdeen are left in the cold watching money float by. Quite frankly, the exclusivity of the league is an insult to the sport we grew up loving for its competitive nature and tarnishes the hopes of any Scottish teams receiving attention for their efforts in Europe alongside a European Super League.
Then to cap the week off, along came the idea of a revamped British League involving just Celtic and Rangers in an 18 team division. The idea of the royal blue clash of Chelsea V Rangers or Kieran Tierney’s Arsenal meeting his old pals at Celtic might be tempting, but the rest of Scottish football is well and truly shown the middle finger with that proposal. Whispers in the wind considering the idea of a British Cup sound like the best of a bad situation, but after the thrill of this weekend’s Scottish Cup quarter finals, and seeing the less successful teams like St Mirren and Dundee United make the final four provides enough evidence of why we don’t need a revamped cup competition either.
As much as we don’t need to fix a league system that is not broken, Scottish football is in itself very broken, and there are several things that we can start to see would be top of the agenda. Yesterday’s cup announcement of Premier Sports retaining the rights to League Cup coverage means that for me to watch Celtic or Rangers who receive the most televised fixtures in Scotland, BT Sport, Sky Sports and Premier Sports will charge me over £70 a month and nearly £800 a season to watch every game, and some are not even televised owing to Sky only having a limited number of league fixtures. It’s a disgrace that that is the case when season tickets are a few hundred pounds either side of that figure.
Fans are essentially being mugged, meanwhile our main cup competition is still without a sponsor, and more money is being thrusted into Bridgerton for the next instalment on Netflix. The SFA need to find a way to bring new money into the game to boost the competition, because England is currently running away with some of Europe’s biggest transfers and some of the highest incomes in European football. The product itself needs to drastically improve, with VAR being the first major upgrade, because it is so tedious watching the refereeing standards let us down every week. Not one Scottish referee will be at the Euros this summer, a fact that doesn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Scottish game.
Belgium and Holland are looking to unite their leagues to become a more competitive force with rivals like French Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga, but for Scotland that simply cannot be the answer. Hamilton and Ross County are on their knees looking for ways to survive the Premiership; add in the neighbours and fixtures like Manchester City away and a pummelling will be a gentle analysis of that contest. It would be far too much of a mismatch, and the fanbase outside of the Old Firm would be seriously turned off by the prospect of watching their team try and compete with any of England’s biggest sides. Instead, why not beef up the top flight from 12 to 16 teams, and pray that the competitive element of various leagues around Europe trickles down into our game. Step up Hearts, Dundee, Raith Rovers and Dunfermline, and throw in some excitement with 30 games in the regular season, and the additional seven fixtures from top eight split, and give some new faces a chance to shine.
Any suggestion of the Old Firm leaving Scotland to benefit the other teams needs scrapped, because as much as it gives them a chance of winning the league, the main draw for television audiences and European match days goes out the window, and buries the league. Instead, the other clubs need to find ways of stepping up and properly competing with Celtic and Rangers, and again that reverts to the introduction of new money, but finding a source is like the pot of gold at the end of rainbow if the rainbow landed inside a billionaires mansion gates.
It’s not an easy fix, but British Cups or Leagues and ESL introductions will do far more harm than good. Arsenal play Rangers in an anniversary friendly this summer, and if the idea of a British Cup excites you, watch the record FA Cup winners against Scotland second most decorated Scottish Cup team, and that should give you an idea as to what to expect. The sooner a new solution can be found to improve the game and help put Scotland back on the map, the better. Our game has been in a desperate decline since the 1990’s, and we haven’t exactly got time to waste. As for your precious Super League, you can shove it up your …