Date: 9th September 2022
Respectfully No Football
The home nations have all postponed their fixture card this weekend following the death of Elizabeth II.
Last night there was a minute silence after half time at Tynecastle and in later matches the games took place for safety reasons but the advertising flashing boards were still and blacked out.
I preferred that because they are really annoying.
She had a great and full life but it is still a time of sadness and we all feel for her family.
Everyone at the SFSA mourns her passing.
This Week’s Sting
1. The World League in All but Name
Football is box-office and the old Hollywood adage, ‘Follow the money’ holds true.
That leads to a certain inevitability.
World elite football’s showcase used to be the four yearly World Cup but it is arguable that The Champions League and Europe now dominate.
Did you ever think that all the leagues across Europe are in relative decline in the eyes of the world except one?
It seems there is an inexorable slide towards one country’s domination.
The EPL on the back of ever increasing world Pay Per View mega-deals have more money to spend than anywhere less and professional football is all about money.
It is reckoned that £1.94 Billion was spent in the recent transfer window.
That madness is more than the spend from the next biggest 4 leagues, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue1 added together.
And that includes some big, and free spending clubs in what used to be called Europe’s Big 5 leagues.
The tectonic plates of World football are shifting and our nearest neighbour stands to continue its relentless and growing dominance.
Spain, Italy, Germany, and France might try but the reality is they will suffer the same comparative fate as happened to Scotland, Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Scandinavia and Central and Eastern Europe.
They will slip towards becoming less well-off neighbours even though along the way there will be occasional successes like happened in the Champions League this week and what looks like reversal trends but the EPL and its top teams are unstoppable.
They have the money to keep it happening.
The disenfranchisement of some of the biggest historical clubs, when size meant fans through the gate is real.
Some will smell the coffee, dislike where they are headed and will increasingly share a desire to break away.
They all have developed an innate and totally money-driven sense of ‘self-importance’ and ‘superiority.
They also all believe they have a constant need for growth to keep up with the clubs they see as their real competitors, i.e. Europe’s mega teams.
Over the border the gulf between the Premier League and the Championship nowadays is so large that newly promoted Forest have signed enough players for almost two full teams in a bold attempt, (gamble?) to try to stay in the top league.
Bournemouth, also promoted and trying to maintain their status didn’t lash the cash and their manager is already toast.
In the madness 7 English clubs have spent more than £100 million each this summer.
One of the 7 has even just sacked the manager before his signings have bedded in, and some of the others will fight relegation all season and struggle to get into the top half of the table.
Managerial casualties are most often the football club’s boards way of covering their own, understandable failings because the pressures are relentless.
Scotland are ’poor cousins’ but a useful insight into what is happening all over Europe as the money gravitates to the English elite.
We were there earlier than most.
Nearly every club in all the top level European leagues are simply makeweights and at the start of each season very few clubs anywhere are genuine champion contenders.
The likely winners may be the big fish in their declining ponds but most weeks they face mismatched opposition and that becomes an increasingly vicious circle.
Such a narrow band of bigger clubs winning everything is not good for the game and more and more of the traditional European big clubs are becoming well and truly stymied by international borders and the rise of the biggest league.
That is an agent of instability and change.
2. A Blameless Trap?
Football is contradictory.
Every club and every fan wants to win everything every year.
Clubs are all in it together and interdependent.
Big clubs want all the money they can get and to get bigger.
They sign the best players from their own leagues because they offer more money and the chance to win ever-meaningless trophies.
They have the biggest youth structures but also burn the most kids.
They buy players from smaller leagues elsewhere too.
Smaller clubs get less and less and then can’t compete properly with big clubs who see their domestic league as a procession.
Leagues get more and more devalued because of the gap in finances.
That leads to big clubs not being tested enough domestically and then failing to compete in European competitions.
And grass roots misses out, constantly.
The 0-3 score demonstrated just how special Real are and Celtic were so good in the first half.
But Madrid always looked like they were comfortable playing one touch football and waiting for the chances to come.
When it mattered they were ruthless.
The 4-0 and 0-4 scores for Rangers and Hearts showed less good performances and the real gap between the Scottish League and the Netherland’s Eredivise and the Turkish Super Lig.
We came a far second to both and I can’t argue with that.
Scottish teams used to do better in Europe because our players were more skilful, and we also had a passion and aggression that overcame better technique when needed
Those days have gone.
As per normal, our media naively talked up the chances of our three representatives this week.
But the reality is we were simply outclassed by superior players with superior technique in all three games.
Our league is run by the clubs for the clubs but is not working and I’m not sure it ever did.
I don’t think you can blame the big clubs for always wanting more but it is time the wee guys all united for change because without them there are no big clubs.
Scottish football has never more needed outside help but constantly blocks the right changes.
Our game needs a Top-down and Bottom-up review and a redistribution of the wealth.
And just like our wee clubs need to unite the same needs to happen in Uefa.
Add up the disenfranchised wee guys there and the TV audience is huge and a big part of the Uefa revenues.
They don’t seem to know that they have real latent power.
Looking back the Champions League has distorted European football for the worse.
And again, you can’t really blame the individual clubs.
3. Bring on Austria, Ireland, Taipei*, and Papua New Guinea*
(Or one of the other 9* teams we might have to play).
Our Scottish Women’s side made the play offs and were ranked 6th out of 9 qualifiers.
That means to get through we face a minimum of 2 tough matches and possibly more.
At least both will be at home.
In a typical Uefa ‘buggers-muddle’ of a play-off system the 9 qualifying teams will lead to 2 direct qualifiers.
But 1 team will have to head to a further, convoluted, qualifying mini-tournament in New Zealand.
It runs from 17 – 23 Feb next year and offers 3 places in the finals from 10 teams taking part.
I’ll try to explain how it works.
But first the ‘simple’ route in Europe.
The top 3 countries by Uefa’s formula, Switzerland, Iceland and Ireland go straight into Round 2 to be played on 11th of October i.e.’ the finals’, and will play the winners of three matches in Round 1 played on 6 October one of which is Scotland v Austria.
Round 2 was unseeded but in Round 1 Austria were the highest ranked non-seeded nation and tough opponents.
(The countries we might have faced, in Round 1 in qualifying order downwards were: –
Austria, Belgium, who were rated above us in the coefficient then, Portugal, Wales and Bosnia and Herzegovina all rated below us.
If we win through round 1 and also round 2 against Ireland we are still not guaranteed a place in the finals.
The country with the lowest coefficient of the 3 Uefa Round 2 winners have an extra set of hurdles.
The lowest ranked Round 2 winner will get sent to the ‘land of streaming cloud’ where a seeded tournament will be played with three groups.
To complicate things further 2 groups in Kiwiland will be made up of 3 Countries and 1 will be 4 and it all happens between 17th and 23rd Feb 2023.
But even this is not simple.
The groups are knock-out, not leagues.
There will also be 3 seeded teams based on Uefa ranking who wait the winners of the play offs of the lower ranked group countries.
It’s a bollox of a system.
Just so you know the other qualifiers for NZ are : –
AFC: 2 (Chinese Taipei, Thailand)
CAF: 2 (Cameroon, Senegal)
CONCACAF: 2 (Haiti, Panama)
CONMEBOL: 2 (Chile, Paraguay)
OFC: 1 (Papua New Guinea)
So complicated just re-reading this makes my head sore.
4. Some Tough Questions That Nobody Wants to Address
I and many other fans are fed up with some of the song books but talking among fans of all hues none of us could be sure what is deemed acceptable and what isn’t.
I don’t think it is asking too much of the SFA, SPFL Scottish Government and Police Scotland to tell fans what is actually allowed and what has to stop.
Then the clubs, police Scotland and the fans will know what to do.
I also think other pejorative words and insults that many used to categorise as ‘banter’ should be reviewed and guidance given.
Then add a bit of ‘strict liability’ like happens in Europe and doesn’t seem to a problem for our biggest clubs when playing internationally and we can start to clean up some negative aspects of our game.
The benefit of that is we can attract more women and children and encourage wholesome sponsorships well into the future.
This baggage won’t go away and in a week where Shetland’s DCI, Jimmy Perez, AKA Hibs fan, Douglas Henshall got into a Twitterstorm after referring to Rangers fans as followers of ‘Atilla’, where some minority chants at Parkhead want to celebrate being up to ones’ knees in Fenian blood, where a Rangers supporter failed in a Scottish court to get his love of Rangers declared a religion, and where some of the Celtic crowd want us all to join the IRA, I got thinking.
Are any of these acceptable?
Then which should be allowed and why?
Is calling Rangers fans ‘Huns’ just a colloquial put-down with origins in the drunken riot by Rangers fans in Wolverhampton all those years ago and also a comment on propensity for bad behaviour on occasion since?
Is ‘Derry’s walls’ a folk song that should be allowed and welcomed?
Is the ‘join the IRA’ song also a political call to action by a disenfranchised ex-minority?
Football’s tacit acceptance would currently say all are allowed but most of us would say that that is a nonsense.
A nonsense that needs addressing.
I’d argue that fans should be part of the process that talks this all through and comes to a consensus but I don’t expect anyone to address this issue soon.
Ron Gordon and Co’s expensive Deloitte report should have addressed making football family-friendly to boost the common good commercial opportunities.
But maybe Ron didn’t pay them a big enough fee.
Deloitte like big fees.
And anyway when your consultant’s name is actually an anagram of ‘toileted’ I guess there is only going to be one outcome to their second-hand musings that are so rambling that they will never be openly published.
5. A Bargain at £400K?
The price that ‘bankrupt’ Barcelona have just paid to ‘never to be bankrupt’, Saudi owned, Manchester City for Keira Walsh.
Everyone has a price but this just shows how the women’s game is becoming bigger and bigger.
6. Smoke, a Badly Burnt Kid and Mirrors
I don’t know where the fad for flares and smoke came from and always wondered about safety in enclosed spaces.
It is madness and badness.
And specifically the Green Brigade have nowhere to hide on this one.
They are not alone.
Before the Real game they had what looked like a coordinated display to make some spurious point to the world.
The initial headlines to the stunt were positive but myopic in the extreme and ill informed.
“GOOSEBUMPS, Celtic fans put on stunning Tifo display to welcome Champions League winners, Real Madrid”.
Then later the BBC and others had rather different headlines as stark as this, “Nine year-old fan hurt by flare at Celtic match”.
I get the theatre guys, but no display is worth hurting one of your own and any pyro should be by professionals and club controlled.
Another reason for strict liability in our game.
That’s new American Owners for you.
The same owners who who took just 9 hours to replace him by stealing Brighton’s exceptional young manager Graham Potter as well as his backroom team, Billy Reid, ex Clyde and Hamilton, Bjorn Hamberg, Ben Roberts, and Kyle Macaulay.
Brighton get £21 million in compensation.
Having just spent £255 Million, Herr Tuchel, who won the Champions League for Chelsea just over a year ago, gets binned less than 100 days into new ownership. And after what most people would think was a successful spell.
Not Todd Boehly, the new boss moseying into town.
I bet Herr Tuchel is miserable.
But maybe his £13 Million pay off will help him get over the ignominy of the inevitable.
8. Saudi, Greece, and Egypt Want the World Cup
We saw this coming on Sting last week.
They now want the 2030 competition.
It would mean another winter tournament and across three continents.
They face strong opposition from Spain/Portugal which Sandy Ceferin is supporting and also a strong 4 way South American pitch led by Uruguay who hosted the first finals in 1930.
It is actually a proxy war between Ceferin’s Uefa and Infantino at Fifa.
There are just 70 days till we find out if the £200 plus billion spent by Qatar to host the competition they are fighting back and say, “A lot of the criticism has been unfair.”
Meantime there are not enough beds, not enough beers and a certainty of clashes between fans and local customs.
See you next week.
Tha fàilte an-còmhnaidh air fios air ais agus beachdan.