SOME habits are harder to kick than others.

Come Saturday, as five o'clock approaches, my thoughts turn to the football results. Time was when I would no more have missed them than I would the birth of my kids. Even now, when I can take or leave the game, I cannot quite abstain for tuning in. I have a friend in New York who does the same. If Hearts, of whom we are both sympathisers, win then we give a sotto voce cheer; if they lose, a little of the joy seeps out of life.

Perhaps a shrink could explain why we behave so. I certainly don't know. All I have to go on, I guess, is several youthful decades when football was more important to me than anything else. How I longed to be Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Henderson or, especially, our own priceless poacher, Donald Ford, who seemed to score goals at will.

Back then, I could recite the Hearts team in my sleep. I knew, too, the junior clubs from which the players sprang - Bonnyrigg Rose, Newtongrange Star, Dalkeith Thistle and even our own Musselburgh Athletic. They were folk like us, albeit with brainier feet, and we knew that their first priority was to please us. All that was required of them was to score more goals than the other team. It was as basic as that.

Where did Scottish football go wrong? I'll leave that to be answered by the historians. But what they need not concern themselves with is the certainty that there is something very rotten at its core. We know this must be the case when football moves from the back pages to the front page, invariably accompanied by the word "crisis".

Of late, Hearts have been in crisis, as have Dunfermline. Others may yet soon join them. But the biggest crisis is at Rangers where scarcely a day passes without some new twist in the saga emerging, the latest being the departure of Walter Smith - one of the most distinguished, and decent, managers in the club's history - as chairman. As he left, Smith described the board - the men charged with rescuing Rangers from potential oblivion - as "dysfunctional". I never thought that I - let alone Rangers fans - would ever hear that said.

I last saw Rangers play on television. Channel hopping, I paused at BBC Alba and caught a few moments of the Gaelic commentary of their match against Albion Rovers. It was surreal. Rangers - the mighty Rangers - against Albion Rovers described in Gaelic? It was like some mad god's nightmare. But it was real alright and proof were it required of the depths to which Rangers, and by extension Scottish football has sunk. For there can surely be no doubt now that Rangers' downfall is bad in general for the game in these parts.

It is easy, of course, for those of us sitting on the sidelines to offer a quack diagnosis of football's ills, the root cause of which is money, too much of which was spent and too little of which was earned. On that level the problem is one any househusband could resolve. Nor, indeed, is there anything particularly complicated about football as a business. Income can be predicted and expenditure controlled and it's possible to draw up a budget based on past experience. But that's far too sensible an approach for the high rollers in football. They want to spend money they don't have. They prefer to gamble rather than invest. And they'd rather be run by charlatans and conmen than by the prudent suits who, in a less avaricious era, aspired to protect their clubs' reputations.

It's part of football's charm that everyone you speak to feels they know exactly what's going on and what's gone wrong in those clubs that are clinging to life. The internet is rife with conspiracies and the apportioning of blame and the naming of names. Few of the principals involved emerge with honour. Even fewer are willing, like Walter Smith, to stand aside in the hope that out of the mess will emerge a club that will retain the loyalty and respect of fans

For it is they, it seems, who despite everything are still prepared - as the sale of season tickets shows - to put their hands in their threadbare pockets. They deserve better. But are they any nearer getting it?