Date: 1st October 2021
The Fans Have Been Let Down
This Week’s Sting
1. Fear Not, the Man on the Hotline is ‘Aware of Issues’.
I woke up to Martin Geissler’s dulcet tones this morning just ahead of the 7 am news on BBC Radio Scotland.
A Hearts season book holder he was berating the difficulty he had experienced in getting his vaccine passport on to his phone.
Martin told listeners of his nightmare trying to do something that should be simple and aired his frustrations of the ap being launched just a few hours before a deadline.
And yes, I know that the deadline has been thankfully put back till the 18th of October.
Now we know why.
On the NHS hotline 0808 196 8565 which I called after 6 failed attempts that collectively took an hour and a half as I navigated to the very last stage when the app should have just turned on.
Each time it either told me eventually it could not find my details or just froze.
‘Something went wrong. We’re working on it’ and ‘No Match Found’ were the outcomes it offered me.
The advertised ‘helpline’ wasn’t even available as it didn’t open till 10 am which shows just how customer focussed the service is.
People get well paid to get these things right and when you launch a controversial service that nobody wants then you should make it easy and hassle and stress free.
I was not alone today, and the system let many down.
I’ve just heard that Roddy Dunlop, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and a ‘weel kent’ name on this column with his role in the £100M-ish, and growing, compensation scandal from the financial demise of Rangers in 2012 said,
‘the app is the worst I’ve ever used’.
I tried again after 11 am, got more of the same and eventually rang the hotline number.
I wasn’t holding out much hope but after a few minutes I got through.
Not anyone who could do anything – just to the answer phone message.
The hastily recorded voice was coming and going and sounding like it was recorded in a cupboard.
It was telling me that ‘We are aware of an issue’, and then among other ‘Blah Blah’ words asking me for ‘Patience’ and tells me and other listeners caught up in the process that ‘We are working hard’.
It has not been Humza Yousaf’s, and his team’s finest hour and his hiding behind the feeble excuse of too many people trying at once is the equivalent of ‘a big boy did it and ran away’.
The nonsense and stark reality is nothing that has actually happened since it went live last night was not easily predictable.
Some people seemingly got through all the way and have the completed ap but many, including me, are now caught up in a system that does not work, and our only option is to wait and then try again from the very start.
Vaccine Passports are All Over Europe and Working
But you won’t read about that or hear much on the news.
The EU Digital Covid Certificate is now in all 28 member states and a dozen more non-EU countries including Israel and Panama.
It is the new normal to millions across the world and is working fine.
Indeed last week, in Amsterdam, Ajax played in front of 50,000 vaccine-passported fans as did Feyenoord down the road in Rotterdam.
My pal Charlie was at the Johann Cruyff Stadium, and they coped by telling fans to arrive early and opening more gates.
Charlie said the only downside was it was all slower but he is in favour of his VP because of the peace of mind it brings.
Public opinion across Europe is now firmly in favour of the EU vaccine passports.
Not because people want them but because they have helped defeat lockdown.
And in case you don’t avidly read the Daily Telegraph there was a ‘briefed’ article a few days ago where an unnamed UK ‘Foreign Office Spokesman’ said
‘We have applied to link into the EU’s Digital Covid Certification scheme. Linking with it will enable us to digitally verify each other’s Covid certificates’.
Our Boris further supported his old employers by putting a marker in the friendly Telegraph pages and saying, ‘Vaccine passports could be used as a Plan B if Covid stretches NHS capacity again’.
So, all over Europe, carrying the vaccine passports has become the new normal and this weekend Spanish grounds will revert to full vaccine-passported capacity too.
We just don’t hear about it much in Blighty.
The Horrendous App Launch Isn’t Our Only Problem, Nicola
When you announced vaccine passports a few weeks ago there was understandable pushback from our 5 biggest clubs and the SPFL CEO Neil Doncaster.
I can understand why.
Imagine 50,000 fans turning up for a mid-week match in the dark, in their usual fashion, with less than an hour till kick off?
The SPFL making a fuss was fair enough and succeeded to an extent.
It has now led to a ‘watered-down version of what would have otherwise happened.
The key word now from Holyrood regarding their new vaccine passport checks protocol is ‘reasonable’.
As in ‘there will have to be a ‘reasonable’ number of checks at the turnstiles.’
A word that may be eminently ‘reasonable’ but when stuff happens has no real meaning.
A very ‘unreasonable’ word to describe something serious like pre match Covid vaccine passport checks.
After the 18th of October, if the app, application process ever gets working there will be questions to be answered.
Like ‘What actually happens when a fan is checked as one of the ‘reasonable’ checks and doesn’t have the app or certification?
“How are they checked?
Is it outside or inside the ground?
If outside and they get knocked back, would they, like I would, just go to the end of another queue to play the ‘reasonable’ odds of getting straight in?
Maybe even swapping tickets with one of their mates to confuse the ‘reasonable’ vaccine passport stewards?
Or if genuinely refused and angry at their bad luck, might there be altercation with the unreasonable stewards or polis?
Nobody Wants Vaccine Passports in Scottish Football but to paraphrase John Strothers old headline, They are ‘Miles Better’ than Lockdown.
The majority of fans we poll consistently prefer those around them at close quarters to be double vaccinated and a huge majority say they will accept vaccine passports as a preferable ‘Hobson’s Choice’ to not getting in at all.
But we’re not in a good place and Humza and his team have their work cut out to turn this balls-up of a launch around.
2. I Hope Uefa Throw the Book at Sparta
Having racially abused a Monaco player in August, Sparta Prague had a crowd ban and only 10,000 schoolchildren were somehow allowed. (I have no idea why and to me a ban should be a ban)
That didn’t stop Kamara being booed every time he was on the ball on Thursday.
Aamar Anwar, his lawyer said, ‘Tonight showed that Prague has a serious problem with racism.
No player should have to face racism at their place of work’.
Rangers have since said they will complain to Uefa, and I hope they do and also support them unreservedly.
Sparta Prague in the meantime are now quoted as saying ‘We will proudly defend our children. Rangers must do their part to stop this xenophobic atmosphere directed towards our children, our beautiful country, and its inhabitants’.
Maybe it’s just a bad translation but I’m surprised they didn’t throw in an extra sentence telling us that in their opinion the recent Baptiste series was unfair and prejudicial on Czech citizens too!
I watched and heard the booing on the BBC news tonight.
3. Not a Great European Night
And No Way Back to the Way We Were
Two games played by each of our remaining clubs in the Europa Leagues and 4 losses.
What does that actually say about Scottish football?
The facts are Celtic’s starting line-up had 4 Scots and Rangers just 1.
And it now looks certain that there will be no Scottish teams in Europe after Xmas this year.
I hope I’m wrong.
Back in season 1966-1967 the same two teams graced Europe’s top 2 finals.
Celtic won the European Cup fielding 11 Scots.
Rangers narrowly lost and had only one non Scot, the wonderful Danish player Kai Johansen.
What has changed in 55 years?
Back then Scottish football had bigger leagues and a very strong reserve league where youngsters playing in those finals like John Greig, Sandy Jardine, Billy McNeil and Jimmy Johnstone had been blooded towards their first teams playing beside experienced pros.
Back then every school had teams.
Back then every scout troop, boys club and BB battalion played on Saturdays and on summer nights.
Back then council parks maybe had no nets but were free.
Back then Scottish football’s grass roots were healthy and not only supplied our own football teams but were the life and blood of the English leagues too.
The performance of our two biggest clubs simply confirms what 55 years of self-interest has done to our game.
4. Wednesday’s Record SWPL Crowd
Hibs had offered the 6,000 tickets free, and they were snapped up.
The match was trailed widely as the Edinburgh Derby although I’m not sure what Edinburgh based Spartans Ladies would have thought of that as both Hibs and Hearts happen to be their nearest neighbour.
Maybe the media is too caught up in the vernacular, baggage and attitudes from the men’s game.
No, not maybe, it is for sure, and the SWPL deserves better.
Anyway over 5000 fans attended.
It was noisy, fun and Hibs won 3-0.
Women’s football is on the up for all the right reasons and there is much the men’s game, and our media can learn from it now and into the future.
5. Spanish Courts Back the Right for Clubs to Run Their Own Businesses
Uefa came in with size 11 tackety boots to the 12 European Super League breakaway clubs a few months back.
Most meekly accepted the fine of a jointly funded 15M Euros into kids’ projects and 5% from all the individual club’s European revenues for this season.
Real, Barca and Juventus didn’t roll over though.
It’s not in their DNA.
They fought back through the Spanish courts and this week it was Uefa who backed down.
In trying to save face a Uefa spokesperson said, ‘We will continue to take all necessary steps in strict accordance with national and EU law to defend the interests of Uefa and all football stakeholders.’
However, judge, Manuel Ruiz de Lara, had the last word in his commercial court ruling ‘Uefa cannot legally force organisers of the Super League to dissolve the project or impose fines on any clubs wishing to revisit the Super League idea in the future’.
How this kind of judgement might impact on the current handcuffs being placed on the Big 6 from England by English football is an interesting scenario and I think an inevitability as the ESL is a concept that will just not go away.
‘Restraint of trade’ will always trump legislation trying to retrain it.
6. Houston Show Just How
I wish this was Houston in Scotland, but it is the Texan metropolis made famous in Local Hero by Bill Forsyth as the home of Mac Macintyre, played by Peter Riegert.
The background and catalyst is that Houston 2026 World Cup Committee are currently fighting to be one of the USA’s 16 city hosts.
This week they joined with the US Soccer Foundation to launch a plan to fund and build 30 new mini pitches across their metropolitan area by 2026.
They foresee a parallel project to recruit and train 1000 new coach/mentors to run an integrated programme.
Ed Foster-Simeon, President and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation said, ‘The creation of mini pitches and the expansion of free soccer programmes will mean more children from underserved communities can benefit from trained and caring mentors who can change the trajectory of their lives’.
I am envious and applaud their get up and go and vision.
We can do that too and all it will take is the right people in place to agree it as good for our communities.
Let’s get the SFA, the Scottish Government, the local authorities et al to start working with all the builders and get mini pitches as a mandate and integrated into all new major housing developments.
And football for kids should always be free.
Just like membership of the Scottish Football Supporters Association.
We are always on the lookout for more members too, so feel free to pass this on to your friends and family.
As always stay safe and feel free to contact me about anything in Scottish Football.
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