Friday, October 17, 2014

It's all about the money

The BBC's annual Price of Football survey is always guaranteed to generate plenty of chat.

Chat that normally concludes: "The price of football? It's far too expensive."

Which at many clubs it almost certainly is.

The clubs argue that the survey offers no more than a snapshot, a glib spot of attention seeking that ignore the bigger picture.

Hibs, for example, suggested that the headline figure of £405 for an adult season ticket is offset by special deals like £1 offers for children.

(I, like Whitney Houston, believe children are the future. But unless I can borrow one for matchdays, I can't actually benefit from those deals. A lot of people are in the same position. Football's hidden discrimination against the childless is worthy of investigation.)

Is football value for money? Its fiscal beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

How can you even measure value for money? Cost per home win? (So far this season that's £202.50 for me at Easter Road.) Cost per home goal? (So far £67.50).

If you thought about value for money, you probably wouldn't bother going to games.

Supporting a team doesn't work like that.

What the Price of Football survey actually raises is yet another split between clubs and fans.

Clubs operate as businesses. Fans don't - usually - see themselves as consumers.

The more far sighted clubs will try and bridge that gap. But most still use it in the most dastardly way possible to wring every last drop of cash out of supporters. You'll pay for your loyalty, they'll make sure of it.

And fans tend to let them get on with it if the team is performing. It's the rank rotten football of the last few seasons that has left many fans drifting away from Easter Road, not the cost of watching it.

Maybe fans do have a tipping point though. Just last Saturday a revived Scotland were under supported against Georgia at Ibrox.

You might have put money on the befuddled SFA being the organisation that finally pushed its fans too far.

Because that's the one power fans have: to not turn up.

Unfortunately for many people that option is actually worse than going and paying inflated prices.

It's "our" team. And what else would we do on a Saturday afternoon anyway?

So we let the clubs get away with it.

And so it goes on. Until next year. When the BBC Price of Football 2015 will reveal exactly the same thing again.

The pies have it

One thing that is in my control - a boycott of the catering kiosks at Easter Road.

I give them chance after chance.

Last Saturday I bought a pie. Here are the results of my exclusive survey:

Queuing time: 16 minutes
Cost: £2.30
Taste: 0/10
Enjoyment time: 0 seconds

Never again. And this time I really mean it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Euro 2016: Tough group, different Scotland

Three games played, four points secured.

Other countries have made more spectacular starts to Euro 2016 but Scotland can be reasonably happy.

Last night's draw in Poland - after a seriously enjoyable ninety minutes - keeps us nicely placed in Group D.

Three points behind the Poles and Ireland, level with Germany and with arguably our two toughest away fixture out of the way.

Gordon Strachan at the Scottish Football Blog
Germany's defeat in Poland on Saturday and home draw with Ireland last night has left the top of the group more bunched than I might have expected.

History suggests that Germany will take care of themselves. It would have been far more damaging to find ourselves six points behind Poland this morning.

So while Scotland's recovery from Alan Hutton's early mistake fuelled second half dreams of three points, securing a draw would probably have satisfied most of us before the game.

If last night wasn't must-win it might just have been approaching mustn't-lose. In which case, as with Saturday's win against Georgia, job done.

There's also something increasingly appealing about this Scotland team.

Watching a team that seem to "get" their manager, that are prepared to show the right attitude and are capable of playing some really nice football (see our equaliser last night as Exhibit A) is refreshing. We've had occasional flashes in the last few years but too much of what Scotland have done has been pedestrian. Not now.

Gordon Strachan seems to be relishing the national job. And that's increasingly showing in the way his players are responding to him.

Not that qualification is going to be easy. Right now four teams are pushing for three spots, including the world champions. Somebody's going to be going home with a hard luck story and regretting an opportunity missed. As Strachan said last night:

"I said it after the Germany game and this confirms it: this is the hardest group, this will go to the last day."

Strachan may or may not be right about Group D being the hardest group of all but his conclusion looks bang on.

Playing Gibraltar away on the last day might yet be a serendipitous spot of scheduling.

What we can say is that, with three games played, Scotland can still claim to be in control of their own Euro 2016 destiny.

And they look better equipped to handle that responsibility than they have in many years.

Greer today but not gone tomorrow

Last year Gordon Greer became Scotland's oldest debutant in over 50 years.

Last night, just short of his 34th birthday, he made his competitive debut. And thirty-somethings across the land applauded him. Or at least this thirty-something did.

The Brighton captain also drew one of Gordon Strachan's more memorable post match quotes:

"Gordon Greer is fantastic. He looks nothing like a footballer; he looks like a rock star turning up at a testimonial game."

Strachan followed that up with: "And he's absolutely fantastic."

Hard to argue on a night when Scotland's most costly defensive lapses came from player with far more international experience.

The centre of defence has looked to be a weakness of Strachan's Scotland revolution.

Greer's belated emergence and the way he seamlessly replaced Grant Hanley in the starting XI is another encouraging example of how Strachan is getting the very best out of all available resources.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Euro 2016: Poland v Scotland


Gordon Strachan's immediate assessment of Scotland's 1-0 win over Georgia on Saturday was effusive.

And, if a 1-0 win over a team ranked outside the world's top 100 can hardly be considered the stuff of sporting legend, a lot of what Strachan would have wanted was delivered.

Scotland were positive, dominated possession, created the overwhelming majority of chances and seemed undaunted by the burden of being favourites from the start.

More goals would have been deserved - and would have meant a calmer climax to the game. But as Georgia grew more adventurous with the clock ticking down, Scotland just about coped.

Job done. If Georgia felt unlucky not to have nicked a late goal they were equally lucky not to be down by more than one goal.

Three points secured. And they probably had to be. If the Republic of Ireland's demolition of Gibraltar was expected on Saturday evening, Poland's win over Germany provided the first shock of Group D.

Poland v Scotland, the Scottish Football Blog
There's a couple of ways to look at that Polish win. It could make Scotland's ability to win plaudits but no points in Germany more painful. On the other hand on Saturday Scotland dominated a game without taking full advantage but were able to close out the win, something Germany failed to do a couple of hours later.

It's unlikely that the German's metronomic qualifications methods will be significantly disrupted by such an early setback.

Scotland will still expect to be battling for second and third with Poland and Ireland. Saturday might have muddied the waters, when they clear we can still confidently expect Germany to drift away from the chasing pack.

But that shock three points does give Poland a bit of a competitive edge in these early skirmishes.

Beating Scotland this evening would strengthen Poland's hand even further. That doesn't mean this is a must-win game for Scotland. But to lose it would leave us on the backfoot going into next month's home game against Ireland.

If Poland win and Germany beat Ireland then Poland move six points clear of us, with Germany and Ireland three points ahead. A point keeps the deficit to Poland at three points and - again banking on a German win - puts us just two points behind Germany and Ireland.

Just three games into qualification the former scenario would be far from insurmountable but the latter is much preferable. A win in Poland would, of course, be even better.

There's an extent to which the improvements Strachan has overseen with the national side and the way he's assiduously cultivated public enthusiasm might have slightly blinded us to the obvious. We took a look at Group D and saw a great chance to qualify for Euro 2016 - but Poland and Ireland saw exactly the same chance.

And, while the extended format of the tournament proper hasn't been universally lauded, it does seem to have added a certain vigour to the opening stages of the qualification process, as recent results for Spain, Holland and Germany show. It's not going to be a particularly easy for many teams.

How will Poland react to their first ever win over Germany? Hopefully the hangover will have lasted long enough to dull their senses tonight.

In reality we're likely to see a clash of two fairly evenly matched teams. Poland made Germany pay for not taking their chances at the weekend. Thankfully Georgia couldn't inflict the same damage on Scotland at Ibrox but it's important that we avoid such profligacy tonight.

Performances against Germany and drubbings of Gibraltar are all well and good. But the situation in Group D hasn't changed all that much - the team that gets the better of the clashes between Scotland, Poland and Ireland will likely snatch the second automatic qualification place behind the Germans.

Tonight's match won't be easy but it does give Scotland the chance to strike an important first blow in that mini-tournament.

A costly mistake

Group D looks to be Scotland's best route to qualification for a major championship since Craig Brown led us to the 1998 World Cup in France.

Saturday's match against Georgia always looked like a fantastic opportunity to get off to a winning start at home and in Gordon Strachan we finally have a manager who really wants to build a connection with the Tartan Army.

So you'd have expected Ibrox to be close to full on Saturday. Instead just under 35,000 turned up.

The hike in ticket prices must have something to do with that. Over £40 quid for the Georgia match was too much. £250 quid for a season ticket for five games is too much.

When we look to be getting it right on the pitch the SFA cock-up off the pitch. It's all depressingly familiar.

I've already paid for my Scotland Supporters Club membership this season and close to £90 for the games against Ireland and England at Celtic Park.

I chose not go to the Georgia match because I've also paid £405 for a season ticket at Easter Road. With Hibs kicking off at 3pm and Scotland kicking off at 5pm on Saturday it was impossible to do both.

I've missed one league game at Easter Road already this season. If Hibs don't reach the play-offs and I go to every remaining SPFL fixture I'll have paid an average of £23.82 per game to watch an average Championship team.

It would be a good idea for clubs and the SFA to stop taking the piss out of fans as quickly as they possibly can.