Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blogathon: Where did all it go wrong?

The blogathon continues. Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup still need your help. So if you've enjoyed any of this please give anything you can.

It's a pleasure to say a massive hello to Jay Mansfield, also know as @leftmidfielder, for this hour of polite argument. Jay blogs here

Here's Jay on why Scottish football won't change:

Browsing Alzheimer Scotland’s Football Memories site, I began to reminisce about the times I would discuss the latest calamity to befall Scottish football (among other things) with my much-missed grandfather. While some of my relatives suffered from varying forms of dementia, he thankfully retained his sharp intellect until the end of his life. Pleasantly for me, this allowed us to spend 13 years dissecting and debating the game of football.

While he was a Glasgow boy by birth and schooling, by the time I was born in 1980, he’d spent a little time in Gloucestershire, served in the Navy during WWII and lived on Tayside for at least 12 years before moving back west. Football was the one constant though. He played at secondary school, and possibly for the navy (or with/in the navy; my memory doesn’t retain the exact preposition), and when work took him to the East Coast in the late 1950s, he took pleasure in watching the great Hibernian and Dundee sides of the era. As far as I can recall, he never followed one particular club side, and that lack of allegiance possibly informed the controversial plan for Scottish football we hatched one summer…

Between 1960 and 1985, Rangers and Celtic both won the Scottish football league title. But so did Dundee, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and Dundee United. Since 1985 however, only Rangers and Celtic have been Champions. To cut a long story short, we decided that the best way forward for Scottish football to avoid becoming a hopeless duopoly was to adopt a system similar to US Sports) , with franchise club sides, academies, drafts et al, in an attempt to make the game here more egalitarian. Resources would be maximised; young players would hopefully emerge from the academies with a broader outlook on life and their sport, and Scottish football would be saved!

However, neither of us was daft enough to think such a scheme would ever come to fruition. Getting the football establishment onside would be one thing; the supporters would be nigh on impossible. Football fans are a curious breed you see; they’d much rather follow a side that was doing badly than compromise that connection with their. In many ways you can respect that. We can all moan about the SFA and the SPL and the numerous other governing bodies obstructing progress, but I think the fans themselves are equally guilty of holding Scottish football back.

This doesn’t just manifest itself in blind loyalty and borderline addiction to the individual’s club, it’s the lack of sophistication among those that watch and play our game. It’s the constant looking back to the glory days of the 60s/50s/20s/1890s etc (depending on your club). It’s the Scottish national team being lumbered with the ball and chain of Dalglish, Law, Bremner et al when we did absolutely hee haw with those players in the side either. It’s the appreciation of the guy that ‘did a lot of running’ while chiding the player that made fewer, cleverer runs for being lazy. But football fans love to moan. They’ll whine about the price of the pies in the ground to the right-back’s lime-green boots. It’s only when you present potential solutions to their woes that they go quiet.

Last year, Henry McLeish presented his report on Scottish football. Most of the stakeholders’ suggestions for change outlined in the report probably won’t come to pass. That is of course partly due to funding issues, but also because Scottish people (and perhaps British people as a whole) aren’t fond of change. How often have we witnessed wailing and gnashing of teeth after debacles on the continent by our club and national sides, how often have we clamoured for a more technical, considered outlook in our football, only to revert back to humping long balls to the big striker on the Saturday?

Previous entries in this blogathon have touched on the theme of reform of Scottish football, but I remain to be convinced there’s a real chance any of it will ever happen. There’s a definite small-c conservatism in the Scottish game that will resist and obstruct many of these grand designs. Most of this conservatism will manifest itself in the boardrooms of clubs and the offices of the governing bodies, but I’m not at all sure your average supporter is remotely interested in seeing wholesale changes to his particular club, that might allow all of our teams, and the Scottish national team, to eventually flourish.

The talk of reforming Scottish football reminds me of that old joke; how many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

And here's me on why change must happen:

A lot of people have been mentioning in the Twitter discussion surrounding the blogathon (#fitbablether, folks, keep it up) about how we could borrow from American sports.

It's a constant source of surprise to me that America, home of capitalism, retains sporting structures that both idolise money yet borrow from the principles of socialism.

What can we learn from that?

That the best way to commercialise a sporting product is to be prepared to implement a regime that will enhance, perhaps against the principles of survival of the fittest, competitiveness.

So it's a form of socialism that keeps gargantuan riches flowing. It's not perfect. It doesn't respect communities the way sports organisations should, it often costs the taxpayer as greedy owners carry out civic blackmail and, yes, it still allows greedy owners to flourish.

There might be merit in that.

But Jay and his grandfather were right. There's no chance of it ever catching on over here. No matter the potency of this American sneeze we're going to protect ourselves from pneumonia.

I'd argue though that there's not a small-c conservative approach to change in Scottish football.

I think it's that we're frightened because we're so bad at change.

It's hard to think of any changes among the myriad of revolutions, alterations and reimaginings we've had since the war that have done much to improve the product on the pitch for a sustained period of time.

It's actually much easier now for people in the game to make grand announcements than actually risk implementing their content.

Better to send Ernie Walker off with a taskforce, and give the impression of doing something, than to actually act on what he recommended.

It might well be the same with Henry McLeish.

Maybe it's because the next change, if it goes wrong, could prove to be the fatal blow. It's one thing being remembered as an ineffective administrator, it's a whole different ball game to go to your grave with the blood of the national sport on your hands.

So what we get, what we've suffered, is the series of short term fixes that that I wrote about earlier.

We fiddle while Rome burns. There never has been, it's been threatened often enough but it's never materialised, the sort of revolution that the game has needed since finances started becoming a problem at the end of the post-war boom.

The national team, for example, has had the players over the years but never the structures behind it to enjoy sustained success.

Small men have made small decisions. They've never been able to see the big picture, too often they've been chasing changes in our society and our culture rather than being a step ahead of the trends.

Now we're basically so bankrupt of ideas and cash that all our clubs want to do is protect themselves, survive and make half-arsed attempts to mimic a model that works - to a morally bankrupt and financially questionable extent - in England but won't work here.

And that's a tragedy. It is a national scandal.

Kenny Millar wrote earlier about the cute Adidas marketing slogan: "the thread that binds us."

It's true.

It's true in Jay sharing a love of game with his grandfather. It's true in a father taking his kids to the match. It's true in the tales of derring-do from yesteryear that are shared and passed down the generations.

So I'd disagree, Jay, that supporters wouldn't accept change. It's just that we've become too cynical to trust that there's anyone involved in the game that has the ability to deliver the sort of change we need.

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