Regular HeraldScotland poster DAVE McKAY contributes the first in our new series of opinion articles, and warns that Scottish football fans face a stark choice
In a recent post on this forum, someone said “…we have to realise football is a business and has to be run as a business...”
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There is no doubt that this view prevails throughout the corridors of power, in much of the media, and in the minds of many fans.
I am an idealist about football - despite being a Rangers supporter - and I believe that this view is about to lead us down a slippery slope. To avert this, I think we, as fans, are faced with a very stark choice.
On the forum I have proposed an 18/19 team top division supported by one (or possibly two) second divisions with a fixed two up/down each season.
I have combined this with a suggested financial settlement that distributes common income (broadcasting and league sponsorship) based on the level of investment on team development (not player wages) and fan facilities. Many other fans have proposed different structures on the forum that deserve equal consideration with mine.
These suggestions have several things in common: they reduce the number of times teams play one another; introduce space to develop players; create simpler, more democratic institutions with a pyramid approach; create a fairer competition and a more level playing-field.
In short, they are all based on improving our sport as the first requirement, with business relegated to a lesser role.
As things presently stand, there is no chance any of these suggestions will be adopted by the clubs that dominate our game.
They have said categorically that 12-12-18 is the only possible formation that will work financially. What they mean is that this is the only “new” structure that will ensure the finance available in football continues to find its way to the top clubs.
If “sport” is mentioned, it is only to say that such a concentration of wealth is necessary to keep these clubs competitive in Europe and in the transfer market.
This is the “football is a business” argument and conveniently ignores the fact that 200,000 fans have stopped attending football since the top 12 was first formed.
They have not explained how the new top 12 will reverse this trend. Supporters of the top clubs (and others) are being drip-fed a line that says any other approach will be catastrophic to their club. The argument often says that Scotland is too small a country and we have to be realistic about what we can sustain. I understand this point of view, and once held it myself while my club was part of the dominating clique.
However, I have come to believe that such an outlook is inherently flawed because of the ever-decreasing attendances.
This will eventually cause a decline to such an extent that we will soon be forced to accept a 10-club “top” league of professional clubs, quickly followed by a complete collapse to virtually part-time status at the level of the League of Ireland. I do not seek to denigrate the Irish, merely to point out that football is their third sport and it is supposed to be our first.
But if the clubs refuse to examine any scheme except the one that continues down an existing slope, how do we make them re-consider? The only answer is for fans to threaten a major boycott, in the way they did last summer. This campaign should not be about any specific formation, but about a refusal to bend until the clubs agree to move to a plan that is clearly based on improving, not diminishing, our sport.
This may mean that some of our clubs will have to give up their “right” to their current level of income, and some may have to go through the same process my club did last summer.
And the “stark choice”? Do we want to suffer a lingering decline with little chance of recovery, or a sharp shock, with at least some chance of climbing back out?
As an idealist, I have already said that I will not renew my season ticket nor attend any games next season if any settlement not based on improving our quality of football goes ahead.
I have already cancelled my ESPN and will also cancel my Sky subscription in that event. Are you with me?