Monday, September 19, 2011

Old Firm: In Suffolk nobody can hear you scream

"An afternoon when the Old Firm fixture reclaimed some credibility as a footballing occasion to savour."

That's The Scotsman's verdict on yesterday's humdinger of an Old Firm game.

Rangers outdid Celtic. Football outdid the myriad levels of crap that pockmarked this fixture last season.

Both these sides are now shorn of world class talent. But there was entertainment enough on show at Ibrox yesterday. Excitement, errors, skills, decent goals.

It was a football match not a reason for political slanging matches or a day for earnest hand wringing about the state of modern Scotland.

(If there were the dismal songs of hate I didn't hear them so I'm unable to pass comment.)

It was a game of honest endeavour. A match between two sides that have both limitations and ability, watched over by two managers who are still relatively inexperienced in such positions of power.

Basically, then, it was a football game. Such was the position we found ourselves in last year that our two dominant league sides producing a game that allows to talk about football now seems like something of an achievement.

It was a game that deserved an audience.

Didn't have one though. At least not where I am.

An English pub. The game on the TV. Three of us in the bar. Me. And one of those middle aged couples that have either slipped into a companionable silence or have decided to leave their mutual loathing unspoken.

I was watching the game. They were not.

This is an expensive little patch of Suffolk. It might not be a traditional footballing heartland. But there was standing room only in the same pub just hours later as Chelsea and what appeared to be the local club, Manchester United, threw up an equally engrossing match.

It would be foolhardy to claim this experience of fitba' solitude as representative.

But increasingly on trips to England I find shrugged shoulders are the response when Scottish football is discussed.

With financial hardship blighting our clubs and TV deals up for renewal that worries me.

In the summer the SPL were crowing about increased viewing figures. Without checking back I think those figures equated to something like 170,000 average viewers across 60 live games.

Figures like that will allow English based TV companies - who view Scotland as very much a secondary constituency - to hold us to ransom. They also make the idea of SPL TV look very shaky.

In which light my experience yesterday, the loneliness of my long distance pub crawl, looks more like the reality. Even for Celtic and Rangers, pretty much the crown jewels of any attempts to "sell" Scottish football, the audience is shrinking in a crowded market.

If the local brew wasn't so morish that would be quite a sobering thought.

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