Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The SPL's Madame Bovary complex

As I wrote in my last post, the whole debate on SPL reconstruction has generated far too much heat for the light it has shone on what we want to do with the SPL. As the chairmen and Neil Doncaster bang on about the financial implications, the fans and many pundits bang on about the footballing ones, its become clear that the SPL debate has made us almost entirely forget the report that was the entrée for this turgid main course.

The SPL is our elite league, and I appreciate its future has is central to the success of our game, but what should be, as Inverness chairman David Sutherland pointed out on Sportsound last week, a discrete discussion held to ensure the best interests of all, has turned into a PR-disaster for the league and the main protagonists. Going to plead at the court of the hitherto-outsider Vladmir Romanov smacks of desperation, and surely sponsors will be soon asking questions.

As I listen to Neil Doncaster talk about the necessity for a 10-team league, I am constantly reminded of Keith Wyness’ famous quote about the Old Firm (almost 10 years old and still pertinent!) with the SPL now in the role of the old girls on Sauchiehall St. In fact, given the history of the SPL and broadcasting rights, I’d say they metaphor is more one of a Madame Bovary, constantly giving themselves to deeply unsuitable men in the pursuit of all that glitters, only to have their heart broken time and again. Where is this magical money coming from? What is it about the number 10 that’s going to get the Dirty Digger all hot under the collar? Listening to Doncaster gives me no hope that this continuing flirtation with commercial fantasy is going to end well - but it will give me no pleasure to say ‘I told you so’ when the SPL is left crying alone after being jilted by yet another broadcaster.

It’s frustrating also to see airtime being taken up with big-ticket issues that obscure an important and more fundamental debate that could be happening. SPL re-organisation was hardly top of the list in Henry’s report, but we’re getting sucked into it, before we (inevitably) get dragged back down that well-known cul-de-sac that is summer football. Even as a Partick Thistle fan, the permutations of a 2x10 SPL, or a 24-team SPL with 3 splits and chocolate sauce was really avoiding the crucial fact that any reorganisation this time must include taking the claw end of a hammer to the structure of the lower leagues- and that simply wont happen as long as we’re only talking about the SPL.

The debate has totally superseded what was an encouraging start to discussions about league reorganisation contained in the McLeish report. The more Doncaster and his chums trot out lines about the new order ’looking after all 42 clubs’ in the league, the more he is exposed. What happened to the pyramid system, and taking steps that will ultimately benefit all of Scottish football? Where are the B-teams going to fit into this? Have they even read Henry’s report? This is a completely self-interested debate, all the more hypocritical as it is being led by clubs who themselves moan about players having too much power, and distorting the game.

And why are the SFL clubs not making their voices heard? With the exception of John Yorkston, they all seem to be happy to go along with the idea that 2 x 10 is best for them. Where is the money to sustain them going to come from? Why do football club boards and owners in Scotland continually allow themselves to led up the garden path? Why cant we just accept that the SPL is the one elite league we have, and stop over-extending ourselves? While dropping down to the First Division may be challenging for some, as ICT and St Johnstone have proved, it is by no means a death sentence. Well-run football clubs will continue to trade.

Why do we need another fully professional, full-time league anyway? The first glaring omission in the McLeish report, in my eyes at least, was a failure to engage with what we actually want our football below the elite divisions to be, and what purpose it serves. There’s no money in it, and so surely any restructuring need not pay as much heed to matters financial as that of the SPL. If clubs cannot afford to be full time why are the almost obliged to under the current set up? Part of the fascination some have with lower league Scottish football is that there are 42 ostensibly ‘Professional’ clubs in the country, even though most of the lower 20 do not have the facilities nor any sort of fan base to justify the adjective in its normal sense. As a Jags fan, I know how close a club can come to financial failure (and could be again soon) after dropping from the top league, but why do we simply think that throwing money at clubs dropping to the SFL is the only solution?

Talk of an SPL 2 being a safety net to clubs ’falling of a precipice’ is naïve - it’s just creating another precipice in the form of the drop from an SPL 2. It is possible to have a league under the top one that has a mix of full and part-time clubs, and proper, strict financial regulation along the French model would take care of that. It would also put a stop to another Dundee or Livingston scenario, whose corpses , marking the way along the rocky path that is the SPL and satellite telly, are being conveniently forgotten by those who promise riches to the current SFL. We cannot continue to dangle unrealistic carrots in front of jumped-up, over-ambitious chairmen, but it is these same chairmen who are going to be rubbing their hands the longer this goes on without any real alternative.

So who will step in to the breech? George Peat? Jim Traynor? Or could Vladmir Romanov put 2x10 to bed for good and, by allowing us to get back to what’s actually important, become an unlikely saviour of the Scottish game?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Henry, I'm ready to be heartbroken

Of course I paraphrase Camera Obscura, but the title comes from my compulsion to write about the whole tenor of the post-McLeish report debate. Since we started seriously talking about the inherent problems of Our Beloved National Game ™, it seems the overwhelming majority of contributors, both professional and amateur have somehow been blinded as to what the goal of any reorganisation should be; In the midst of all this profound naval gazing we've still not really got round to talking about some very important things, beyond vague ideas of improving the national team & getting more magical TV moolah.

Yes, we know it's broken, but in talking about fixing it, we’re currently fixating on basic facts and figures (2 x 10 or 14 + n [n being the great unknown of what to do with the SFL]) we avoid seeing the wood for the trees, and avoid asking ourselves what we want any league to actually be, or to measure how we would judge the success of any reorganisation/revolution.

Reading this excellent article about the Gambrinus Liga is a timely reminder that we cannot continue to think about ourselves in isolation. If, since 1992 and the Premiership era, football economics have changed immeasurably, we need to ask ourselves where we are, and what we should be. If there was one thing that leapt out of me from the McLeish report, it was there seemed to be now real idea of what he was looking for when he went for advice. Why was he looking at the FA or the German DFB when he could be looking for advice and examples of football governance and organisation in countries with similar statures to our own?

The big 5 European leagues are the big 5 for a reason. They are the wealthiest markets in which to sell TV rights, and so have pulled away from the rest. But where do we even fit into that food chain, and what can we do to optimise our position? If outside this big 5 we can discern another distinct group of Holland, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine, should we consign ourselves to being amongst a smaller group that contains our neighbours in Northern Europe? Denmark is now above Scotland in the coefficient after all, and surely if Sweden or Norway get their act together they could do the same.

But I'm an optimist. I'd like to say that Scotland (thanks to the Old Firm) could, and should fit into that second tier, especially if you add the likes of Turkey, Belgium or Greece - but what discerns that second group from the others? Well revenue is obviously the biggest factor, (and I would be grateful to anyone who could point me in the direction of a handy link to the comparative values of European Leagues’ TV deals) but in that case Russia would be in the top 5. What seems to set them above the other also-rans is a certain level of financial clout, but also an attractive, competitive competition, and an ability to produce players for the bigger leagues.

Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe, with a population of 10 million people, but has been unusually blessed with good footballers, from Futre to Ronaldo to Moutinho. But the Liga Sagres also manages to import good players, develop them and ship them on to the big 5. As does Holland, along with many other leagues that we would consider as less prestigious than our own - something that even a cursory glance at the January transfer window gossip columns reveals. From what I can fathom, the last time a big name from the Scottish league went to a big 5 league for big money was Alan Hutton. Before then? Gio Van Bronkhorst or Craig Gordon, although hopefully Kenny Miller going to Florence might kick start an upsurge in premium SPL exports.

I’m writing this as Real Madrid plays Villarreal, with Ricardo Carvalho and Ángel di María in the home line-up. Both are products of the Portuguese league, and Real can also call on the likes of Pepe, born in Brazil, but developed and naturalised in Portugal, and Mahamadou Diarra who played in Greece and Holland before moving to Lyon. Why can’t the SPL do this more often? Of course we find it hard to source talent outside the EU (young Ki at Celtic being an exception) , but that still leaves a population of about half a billion people on our doorstep. This is something that some clubs are beginning to exploit, although it remains to be seen if the likes of Rogne, Mišun or Jelavic will go on to have the success of Gattuso or Van Bronkhorst.

This debate is quickly becoming tiresome as the media (probably correctly) paint a picture of the heartless, money-orientated club owners against the well-meaning but naïve supporters, who will be the ones who will ultimately underwrite our Scottish football future. I don’t mean to suggest that becoming a farm league for the top leagues is the prism through which to view reconstruction, only that we need to understand what it is we want, and how that will be achieved. The best way to do that would be to look beyond our own nose, and to what we can learn from other leagues. That debate seems to me to be entirely absent, although I accept that over here in Turkey, many media streams are beyond my radar.

So if we are optimistic about this, and don't see this as just another post on the road to ruin for Scottish football, let's remember this - A competitive, economically sound SPL will be able to produce a better calibre of Scottish player, and players from other countries will begin to see it as an attractive destination, as obvious as that may seem. I don’t think that is going to happen with a 10-team SPL, and the incumbent pressure that goes with such a set-up, nor will a 16 or 18 team league make sense in footballing terms, even before the economics is considered. That leaves the status quo or a 14 team set-up for me, and I can’t wait for this phony war to be over.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Hello again

I never thought I'd be back, but even with twitter and all that, sometimes you just need to write a little bit more than 160 characters. It's been a while, and probably won't last long, but for those of you have been waiting, I'm now living in Turkey, in a lively studenty place called Eskişehir, trying to get Turks to speak with a Glasgow accent.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

RC in non-PC shock...

To my horror, I found I hadn't blogged for almost a whole month. That means I may well have lost the one person reading this blog were it not my father...

Anyway, I am inspired to write following Cardinal Keith's latest bid for the limelight. Not that I can particularly bring myself to address them directly - commenting on the views of a priest with regards to biological sciences being akin methinks to asking Chick Young what he thinks about Siegfried and Brünnhilde's duet from the prologue of Wagner's

No, what vexes me most is the fact that people are somehow surprised that he might hold beliefs that most of us left behind after learning to read. It's like the Joe Devine incident. I, and most other people with a passable knowledge of the blatantly obvious could have told anyone who wanted to listen that that's what he thought about such things. Why it got to be towards the top of the news agenda, both yesterday and today is indeed beyond me.

I can't wait to hear how this gets turned into 'SNP are anti-science' right enough...

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Yer taking the Chris....

It seems that just over a week after I'd mentioned him in one of my own posts, Prof Harvie has finally managed to put his foot in it. I'm actually surprised its taken this long. I am a big fan of the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, despite his worrying obsession with his erstwhile buddy Irn Broon, and have read a couple of his books, and his blog with much interest, along with having had the honour to meet him on a couple of occasions.

Which takes us to the comments in question. I can't comment as to whether Lockerbie is or is not a shitey-hole, but it does make we wonder if Prof Harvie has ever been to Methil, which will be in the Kirkcaldy Scottish Parliament seat, should he stand there again in 2009. Scotland's youth, both feral and non-feral, is much maligned, but I for one am actually glad their sartorial repertoire does not contain knickerbockers, although it could be argued that the 'socks over trackies look' of a few years ago could've been our very own version. And as for the 'Tescotown' reference, I have to say that Lockerbie must count itself lucky to have one - I've found places where the only place for the youngsters to buy their booze is Londis...

So anyway, let's rejoice in in the nutty Professor, who will undoubtedly give us a few more storms-in-teacups over the next few years. I can only hope he doesn't choose to moderate his language is discussing what are, of course, very serious points, and I'm glad that the majority of the party has come out in support of him, and not tried to skirt round the issue at the core of his comments, which is what everyone else seems to be doing.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Genes Genie

If you were a foreigner coming to these shores for the first time in the past week, reading the news would lead you to believe were somehow in the middle of a violent crime wave, perpetrated in the main by middle-aged white men. (Which does make you wonder why the Daily Mail hasn't started a campaign about the dangers of the said constituency?) There's been Steve Wright, Mark Dixie, and today, Levi Bellfield. Three men, many unspeakable crimes, and the inevitable call for the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I'm a lefty, so there will be nothing of that sort on my blog, but one contentious question that was brought up by the first two cases was the use of DNA evidence to catch the killer. Both Steve Wright and Mark Dixie showed up on the National DNA database - but only because of the introduction of mandatory DNA swabs being taken from them. There were those who before saw this requirement as some sort of gross invasion of privacy, an argument which dovetailed neatly with the NO 2 ID campaign, with its fears of the encroachment of the 'database state'.

I hold no such fears. If everyone was to carry an ID card in my pocket with details of my medical history and DNA on it, I would feel ever-so-slightly safer. There obviously still remain many doubts about the government's ability to hold this information, and not lose it, and I don't think that it would stop the most sophisticated of criminals from going on with their business, it will certainly help to convict men like Dixie and Wright one hell of a lot quicker.

Call me a fascist, but if the technology is there, we must use it to our best advantage, because who knows how many cases could be resolved with all the population on this database?

Ordure, Ordure

As if the venerable institution that was once the Labour Party could get any more muck under its fingernails, along comes Michael Martin to do so.

This case seems to be symptomatic of how far the party has fallen, and the fact that it involves someone who should know so much better, or used to know so much better underlines this.

As with most charges of corruption against the party, it is rather difficult to pin any evidence of definitve wrongdoing on the Speaker, but everyone can see that there is something most rotten in the state of John Smith House - just as they could with Sister Wendy, just as the could with Lobbygate, just as they could see with all these Lanarkshire 'Red Rose' dinners.
If I could be most unlike a little Scotlander at this moment, and praise the relative integrity of the UK's Parliamentary system, because we are fortunate that it does set the highest standards of its members, and when they are found to be lacking, they are generally dealt with. What the Labour Party should stand accused of in my eyes is undermining that system, with its incessant bending of rules that , in many cases it seems they have intentionally created so as to be as malleable as possible.

That's why the SNP victory in May was so special. For the first time in more than a generation, the autocrats, and their floozies at the heart of the once all-powerful Labour Party will now have to be on their toes, for they're getting found out all over the place.

And therein lies a lesson for us gnats - please can we never ever reduce ourselves to this simpering level of impotence and irrelevance?