Friday, June 29, 2012

Rangers newco: A cowardly compromise

Scottish football has had a sickly pallor for some time. An anaemic game, given to petty squabbles and entrenched self preservation.

A game that at times looked determined to throttle itself to a slow, painful death.

A game with only one real talent: an unerring ability to make a bad situation worse.

This propensity for own goals, for punching itself repeatedly in the face, for encouraging ridicule surfaced again yesterday.

The Rangers saga had appeared to be drawing to something of a conclusion.

A conclusion that was never going to satisfy everyone but a conclusion nonetheless.

Against what might have been their better financial judgement the SPL clubs were gradually declaring their voting intentions.

If sporting integrity was becoming an increasingly weary phrase, the intent was at least clear: Rangers had erred on a grand scale, the Rangers newco could not be readmitted to the SPL and other clubs appreciated that they had to vote not for TV contracts or sponsors but for their own fans.

With the SPL route cut off Rangers would have to apply to join the SFL.

Most of us expected that application to be accepted. Rangers would join the third tier and work their way up. Much like we'd expect any club to do if they'd been so warped by greed, hubris and misguided ambition that they'd spent themselves into oblivion.

And then something changed.

Suddenly the SFL clubs wouldn't be asked to vote on the new Rangers entering the bottom division.

Now they'd be asked to OK Rangers entering the First Division. The SPL would give the SFL a million quid for TV rights, bring in play-offs after next season and the two organisations would be merged.

If the SFL clubs refused to agree to this fait accompli then there were dark hints of a breakaway SPL2 lifting the drawbridge on promotion and relegation.

Comply or die.

Let us cling to the positives if we can.

Are there any? Perhaps. Many of us have long agitated for some kind of league reconstruction, we've argued for a merger of the failed SPL and the SFL.

But we wanted these things to help shape the long term future of the game.

We didn't want them because Rangers had died. We didn't want them rushed in just four weeks before the league gets underway. We didn't want them to shaft every club in the Second Division and every club in the Third Division.

Who's behind all this?

The SFA's Stewart Regan and the SPL's Neil Doncaster?

Some SPL clubs are already trying to distance themselves. If it is indeed the case that Doncaster has gone off message, waging a guerilla war then there is a simple solution: when the newco vote is taken next week the meeting can end with a request for his resignation and with an apology issued to the SFL clubs.

Don't hold your breath.

The tragedy - one of the tragedies, this whole affair is now an avalanche of tragedy - is that nobody has stopped to ask what they're trying to preserve.

They want to keep Rangers because that will sustain and protect the current SPL business model.

But that they're going to such lengths is because Rangers failed - a failure that surely condemns that business model to history.

We need to reinvent the wheel. Instead Doncaster, Regan and whoever else - and there are undoubtedly SPL clubs up to their necks in this ridiculous salvage operation - are rummaging in their sheds to find bits of string to tie it back together again.

They're also putting a hell of a lot of faith in Charles Green, current owner of the newco Rangers. More faith than a - belatedly - suspicious Rangers support seem keen to invest.

They're going to be in trouble if it turns out they've prostituted themselves and gerrymandered the Scottish game for another purveyor of bullshit.

And the sheer cack handedeness of it. The document circulated to the SFL clubs is flimsy on detail, big on unsubstantiated claims and quite stunning in its naivety.

It's most telling line might just be this perceived benefit of the plan, an opportunity, say the authors, to:

Allow fans to engage in the bigger picture

The author of that line doesn't just fail to understand Scottish football, they're a very real danger to Scottish football.

Where does this end up?

With Rangers in the First Division I suspect. Or an SPL2 - a concept that was basically rubbish when Rangers weren't liquidated and remains rubbish today.

A miserable compromise that seems to please almost nobody aside from a few men in power. A bullying fiddle dreamt up by cowards and charlatans.

When did we get to this stage?

When did we wake up one day and realise that the idiots we despised at school were somehow running the game we love?

How have we let that happen?

Is it our fault for not doing enough to hound these folk, not doing enough to get the game we wanted rather than the game that some marketing confidence trickster who was crap at Norwich and has been even crapper up here wanted?

Maybe it is.

So why not just get on with it Neil? Take it away Stewart.

Get Rangers into the First Division. Enjoy the benefits of your preserved TV deal and accept the congratulations of your sponsors the next time you meet them at a hospitality lunch.

When Rangers get promoted back to the SPL next season allow yourself some satisfaction and think: "I did that."

But when our stadiums empty, when clubs that have acquiesced in a culture that defines them as bottom feeders lose sponsors, when players refuse to sign for teams that not only didn't object to a duopoly but actually craved that domination, when people laugh at Scottish football, chuckle at this backward game that only felt safe in the embrace of a bankrupt club, when every Scottish child asks for an EPL replica shirt from Santa.

Then you can think: "Yeah, I did that as well."

STV is the place to be for coverage of this unmitigated disaster

Wings over Scotland demolishes the SFL document

Rangers newco: Hibs statement

Hibs this morning issued a statement regarding yesterday's news that plans were being put in place to parachute Rangers into the First Division.

With fans getting somewhat annoyed at this latest proposal, Hibs - whose chairman Rod Petrie was said to have met newco owner Charles Green - have moved with uncharacteristic speed to get a message to the fans.

Of course it doesn't actually say if they agree with the First Division option or not:

At an informal meeting of SPL clubs held at Hampden Park yesterday, the views of Hibernian FC were represented by Chairman Rod Petrie. The Chairman articulated very clearly that the Club is ready and willing to cast its vote on the transfer of the Rangers share in the SPL at the formal meeting of clubs on 4 July.

The Chairman made the point that the vote should proceed without any further delay and that Hibernian FC will vote against the share transfer. The resolution will fail if four other clubs vote against it or abstain. If as a result of the vote on 4 July the Rangers newco is not voted into the SPL then it will be for other bodies to decide if and at what level Rangers might be accommodated within Scottish football.

(Published on on 29th June)

Monday, June 25, 2012

A sporting economy?

Money. It's changed football. It's in the process of ruining one of Scotland's biggest clubs. Our sport has both a complex relationship with cash and an insatiable desire for more dosh. It's not always a healthy relationship.

Maybe we should ask not what money can do for sport but what sport can do for the economy. Guest blogger Drew Griffiths has done just that:

With record levels of unemployment, an record breaking recession and the general deterioration of moral within the UK; will this summer’s sporting events give us Brits anything  to smile about?

Looking at things objectively, what we need is a boost to the economy if possible (although being entertained by world class athletes is also nice). Can sport play its part in helping dig the UK, or any other European country, out of this proverbial economic hole?

Holding a major sporting event is a chance for the host country to enhance its ‘brand’. The most obvious advantage of being a host city (or country), is the boost in tourism. Immediately - during the event and potentially for years afterwards.  This is usually the case, but does depend on what kind of image the host city manages to portray to the rest of the world. If for example, there was a huge security breach or act of terrorism during an event it is unlikely that people will want to visit with their families the following summer.

The impact on tourism will also depend on the baseline tourism statistics for the host.  During the 1998 World Cup in France, several financial experts suggested that the World Cup had very little impact on tourism.  People who would normally visit for the traditional French attractions such as wine, art or culture stayed away because of the football, and the football fans.  The Rugby World Cup in 2011, increased New Zealand's revenue from tourism by 3% whilst the FIFA World Cup in South Africa had a much larger impact on tourism statistics but also highlighted another dimension of economic consequences – immigration.

Official reports state that the 2010 World Cup had 400,000 visitors from abroad, however the official ticket sales did not correlate with this increase in tourism.  It has not been estimated (from what I could find) how many illegal migrants remained in the country after the tournament.

On a more positive note sporting events also help to improve mood and morale in the work place; if the national team win at least!  Research does in fact conclude that of winning teams or athletes can improve self-esteem via association.  That’s great but what about the real financial boost that sport provides?

Looking at some statistics; according to Sport England:
The sport economy’s annual contribution has reached £16.668 billion - up 140% in real terms between 1985 and 2008.
In a 2010 report Sport England also found that the number of people in sports related jobs has also grown to 441,000, representing nearly 2% of all employment in England and only 13% of the 441,000 work in the public sector. 

England’s national sport of football, has also been in the news recently with the Premier League selling TV rights for £3 billion.   According to a report by The Guardian, this equates to at least £14 million more per year for each football club, with each televised match now costing £6.6 million.

This could have several consequences.  Firstly the player’s wages are likely to increase. Disgusting I know, but just think about the extra super-tax they’ll be paying.  However with many teams making losses in recent years and, of course, the continued fallout from the financial crisis at Rangers, it is hoped that the money will be invested in sustainable growth in terms of player talent development and also creating a profitable business structure for the clubs.  This could in turn help local economies with employing more staff and even looking to further develop their brand on a global scale.

Sport will always be embedded in the economy, as it is with other sociological spheres such as politics.  Hopefully this summer’s sporting events will be successful and help boost the UK’s economy and sense of national pride.

Drew Griffiths has a 1st Class Honours Degree in Sport Science from Loughborough University and a Master’s Degree in Exercise & Nutrition from Liverpool University. He currently works for as a writer and an SEO Associate.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Euro 2012: Clive and kicking

England expects. Again. To an extent.

The last quarter final of Euro 2012 sees the heroes of Albion face Italy in Kiev this evening.

A strange tournament for England, the late appointment of Roy Hodgson robbing the build-up of the normal outpouring of patriotic fantasising.

So the team has quietly progressed, the odd flirtation with ineptitude covered by a general attainment of underwhelming competence.

Which may or may not be enough of a foundation to sneak past Italy tonight.

England's progress allows the BBC and ITV from remain resolutely steadfast in their main narrative focus of the tournament.

Whatever's happening in any given game we know Gary Lineker and Adrian Chiles are just itching to switch the half-time action to Gaby or Gabriel in Krakow for the latest update from Roy's boys.

These trysts with the press must give Hodgson hope. If his tactics rely on an iron socialist will, a belief in the triumph of the collective rather than sparks of genius from the individual, then the way in which Steven Gerrard, Joe Hart and the rest can hide any hint of personality in these less than forensic bouts with the media point to a squad prostrate at the feet of Chairman Roy.

It doesn't give Chiles and Lineker much to work with though. The internet has helped make all the world a critic. And how we like to criticise our broadcast hosts and their pundit sidekicks.

If some of the abuse is unfair, if the constant bleating is becoming as offensive as Alan Shearer's crotch-clinging slacks, there remains something heartening for the medium of TV: it can still unite the nation, even if the threads that now bind us are a loathing for Adrian Chiles and a communal disdain for the way Mark Lawrenson has married a distaste for modern football with a love of bad puns to create a world weary style of disengaged, uninformative co-commentary.

How would the nation's major broadcasters cope without England?

In 1978 they had to do just that. Clive James, the greatest of TV critics with, thankfully, less of a foot in the grave than The Mirror reported this week, suggests modern football didn't invent inept TV coverage:
Once England’s hopes of competing in the World Cup had vanished, it was an understandable case of transferred nationalism that the English, instantly restyling themselves as the British, should heap Scotland with the burden of national expectations. But it was hubris to be so confident that Scotland would do well. Television, during the past week, has not been as bad as the Press in pouring scorn on Ally and his army, but it was at least as bad in the way it built them up in the first place. The best you can say in mitigation is that the Scots themselves showed less judgment than anybody.

Anyway, you had a choice of channels on which to view the unfolding disaster. For the connoisseur of high drama, the BBC was, as usual, the better bet. The Saturday afternoon preludes to the Scotland-Peru match were referred to by Dickie Davis of ITV as ‘the build-up to and coverage of the big one’. Unfortunately Dickie, after announcing the build-up to and coverage of the big one, disappeared from the screen, resurfacing only to provide links. On the Beeb Frank Bough was there all the time. ‘What a day it must be to be a Scotsman,’ he mused ecstatically. There was no getting rid of him. When Jimmy Hill and the experts showed up, Frank was right there with them.

Videotape of past triumphs was resurrected, principally in order to demonstrate a quality known as Scotland’s Power in the Air. There were awed voices-over from the assembled experts. ‘Dalglish … I don’t think any player but Dalglish could have got in there … I don’t think anybody in the world … Dalglish.’ The experts, referred to by Frank as ‘some great characters’, were unanimous.

Out in Argentina, David Coleman chimed in, telling us, with no apparent sense of impending doom, that Ally MacLeod had described his own goalkeeper as ‘one of the best in the World Cup’ and his own midfield as ‘one of the best in the world’. The tune began changing when the Peruvians, one goal down, suddenly revealed an ability to run faster with the ball than the Scots could run without it. When Peru levelled, the Scots back home must have been regurgitating their haggis.

‘We are really watching a fascinating game of football,’ said Frank at half-time. For once he was right. On ITV Kevin Keegan said: ‘I think they’ve got problems.’ Referring to the Peruvians, Paddy Crerand said: ‘They’ve frightened the life out of me.’ The charming Andy Gray looked equally distraught. A disarming trio, these, but I craved the madder music of the Beeb, switching back just in time to hear David say: ‘Dalglish, who’s so far made little impression.’

After several mentions of the hole in Asa Hartford’s heart, David referred to him as a ‘whole-hearted player’, but managed to get in an apology before the BBC switchboard broke down completely. David, at least, was on form. So, alas, was Peru. They saved a penalty – another sporran-chewing moment for the watching Scots. The second Peruvian goal must have had them hitting each other with cabers. ‘Sad the way this match has drifted away from Scotland,’ murmured David. I suppose there was a Roman commentator saying the same kind of thing at Cannae. ‘Sad the way this battle has drifted away from the legions.’

‘You’ve got to admit the best team won,’ said Keegan on ITV. ‘They could have by a lot more.’ It was agreed that it was ‘unfortunate that there are so many short players in the Scottish team.’ The mysterious evaporation of Scotland’s Power in the Air was thus explained. Back on the Beeb, Ally MacLeod bravely spoke to David, regretting his team’s ‘pure performance’. There was no point in asking him to be mure specific. That it was indeed a pure performance was not to be ignured.

From the book Clive James on Television