Friday, August 27, 2010

SPL In Europe: Somebody Make It Stop!

I didn’t get round to writing a preview of last night’s Europa League qualifiers. If I had it’s doubtful that even in one of my darker, not only was the glass half full but now the barman has taken it away moods, would I have predicted such a disastrous night.

Motherwell and Dundee United offered brave performances against Odense and AEK Athens to fill the traditionally Scottish roles of the gallant loser, the plucky failures.

Celtic took the catastrophic route, turning a 2-0 first leg lead into a 4-2 aggregate loss to a team, if you need reminding, that finished seventh in the Dutch league last season.

Defeats, like victories, come in a variety of guises. But co-efficient systems take no account the twists and turns that lead to a final result.

Scottish teams have now been knocked out of European competitions by clubs from Portugal, Denmark, Holland, Greece and Slovenia. We can include in the list of pain two 3-0 defeats and now a 4-0 defeat.

Our reputation is in tatters. We have become a footballing backwater. People look at Scotland and see a game on it’s knees.

No hopers in Europe, falling attendances, players without technical skill - and now too often not even the passion to compensate - managers who get tactics wrong and seem powerless to inspire performances that could even be described as coherent.

The sick man of Europe? The drinking, overeating and smoking is a consequence of watching this crap week in, week out.

In Holland, Portugal and Turkey - where Rangers will now carry the banner of Scotland’s sole European representatives - we have seen challenges to the established order, unfancied teams coming through, enjoying success and forcing others to raise their game.

In Scotland Rangers and Celtic are allowed to get away with not being good enough as the rest scramble around for a touch of silverware or the European misadventure that finishing in third place will bring.

The national team have been outcasts at major events for over a decade now and with each passing year the road back seems to get ever trickier to negotiate while the talent pool seems to dwindle.

This is August. Four teams have been dumped out of European competitions and the national team have been humiliated by Sweden. August.

Time to stop the talking. The SFA, SPL and SFL should be planning a joint press conference to announce that they are putting in place a method of streamlining the organisation of the game. One singer, one song. Everything stems from that.

Do we implement the McLeish Report in full? Or just import a system from another country? The money needs to be found to bring in the very best to run this transition. Has to be. The cost of failing to act is now too high.

League restructuring and an entirely different approach to the youth game. Get it done.

I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have the expertise. But like every fan in the country I recognise there is a problem.

We no longer deserve to be patronised. Don’t simply tell us that you’ll do something about while jealously guarding your own vested interests.

Fans might not know how best to run the game. But they do know when something stinks. And they’re currently running from the game to get away from the stench. They need more to bring them back than the chance to try and kick a football into the boot of a car at half time.

We’re not idiots. Stop treating us like we are. Everything has to change. Start appeasing fans by putting more thought into the fixture list than simply giving an office junior a blank sheet of paper, a year planner and a supply of LSD.

Small things, big things. A revolution needs to sweep every corner of the game. If the refereeing is poor at under-seven level then change it. If SPL clubs are mismanaging their youth schemes then change it. If players arriving for national duties aren’t fit enough or are lacking in technical ability then start doing something to change it.

Take the game - the national game, the people’s game - and rip it up and start again. There we go, we’ve even got a soundtrack for the revolution.

I hate writing these articles. I fully expect I’ll be writing one again next year. But here’s the thing. If I’ve seen that changes are in place, if we are actually convinced that something is done, we might accept that it can’t be a short term process.

Years of mismanagement, of men like George Peat looking smugly self satisfied as they preside over catastrophe, won’t and shouldn’t be forgiven. But some semblance of honour in that failure can be found if the guilty hold up their hands, admit what’s gone wrong and move aside to let more qualified people begin to make changes.

The players involved can’t be absolved of all blame. But their performances are symptomatic of the wider malaise, the failings that have now stretched over decades.

Things are bad. But their is enough interest, enough people getting annoyed at the situation, to prove that the passion to keep the game alive is still there.

Act on it now. If we don’t then this misery continues and there won’t be much of a game left to fight over. But maybe, just maybe, last night can be the start of the something rather than just another chapter in Scottish football’s hall of infamy.