Date: 12th March 2021
What a Save
A couple of minutes to go.
A Scottish team, playing away, improving after a shaky start and closing out the game for a creditable draw.
A late corner, a super curling ball in, a great bullet header from 10 yards and a 39 year old goalie partially unsighted.
A Wonder save!
Allan McGregor diving late and somehow pushing his arm backwards to stop it crossing his line.
As fine a save as I’ve ever seen and because of it the goalie, his teammates and club come away with a draw and all to play for next week against a good continental side.
With the two Ukrainian teams being beaten last night it also helps Scotland’s coefficient for next year’s Champions League.
What a Title
Unbeaten so far, champions before the split with a game in hand, a talismanic manager and Michael Beale in my opinion the best coach in Scotland.
Arguably not the best squad on paper but playing the most balanced football and with European performances that reminds us of times past.
But What an Own Goal
It doesn’t need hindsight to know that after the last 9 years a huge reaction by the blue and white fan base was predictable.
It was either going to kick-off last weekend or even worse, potentially, at the Glasgow derby at Parkhead on the 21st.
The pandemic social distancing and quasi lockdown we are all constrained by seriously upped the ante.
Last week was simply embarrassing to our game.
But why did it seem to catch the club, the SPFL, the highly secretive JRG and the Glasgow Polis off guard?
I’m no judge but here are some of the things that struck me about last week and since.
There were already fans gathering illegally, under current government pandemic laws, at Ibrox last Saturday ahead of, during and after the game sensing just how close the title was.
They cheered the players as they arrived and the players cheered them back.
They were making a lot of noise during the game and could easily be heard inside the stadium and on the commentary.
No attempt was made to disperse them before, during or after the game.
No rational request to go home because of Covid guidelines, no arrests for contravening Covid legislation.
The club were aware of their presence outside but stayed strangely silent.
The Polis watched but did nothing.
The team were elated at the victory but ill advised when they ran to one corner at the end to cheer and thank their fans, visible outside through the gates.
Steve Gerard was similarly ill advised to wave out the wee window to the fans still gathered illegally on Edmiston Drive.
Almost a signal of approval to all.
The crowd dispersed slowly and social media was alive with the chance of Celtic not getting the 3 points the next day.
I’ve been told plans were made and shared for gatherings at Ibrox and George Square .
Alarm bells should have been ringing that night.
If they were, nothing seems to have been done about it.
The club should have taken the initiative or at least have been seen to take the initiative and told fans to stay at home on social media.
That never happened.
Mass celebration broke out on Sunday.
Given the size of the crowds, Polis Scotland very quickly decided that managing the illegal Sunday gatherings was more about shepherding the fans safely rather than stopping the open flaunting of wee Nicola’s recent laws.
I think that was the right thing to do.
Not Anyone’s Finest Hour Then or Since.
A club who still say the behaviour of their supporters is not their responsibility and have come out in a letter from their chairman denying any wrongdoing. (Yet the club is happy to play under Strict Liability conditions when in Europe, just not in Scotland).
A Polis force who think and have said the club were most at fault and specifically commented on a “lack of support” from Ibrox.
A government who don’t want to alienate Scottish voters ahead of May so have sounded angry, cynically roped in the other half of the Glasgow Duopoly to spread the blame and threatened to stop next week’s Glasgow Derby.
What Will Happen On the 21st
The Glasgow derby already without crowds inside could be a tinderbox because of crowds outside.
Scotland doesn’t need a football stramash ahead of Sandy Ceferin’s big decision on April 7th about the Euros.
So Nicola and Humza have now questioned whether it will take place or be postponed.
“If there is intelligence to suggest public disorder or the gathering of large groups of fans gathering we cannot risk it” was reported in the press.
Today the clubs, Polis Scotland and Glasgow council have met and a final decision we have been told will be made early next week but it looks like it will go ahead with the clubs doing their bit to tell their fans to stay at home.
It is OK to Agree to Disagree
On Wednesday around 20 of us had an SFSA zoom call with Douglas Ross, well known assistant referee and leader of the Scottish Tories.
It was the fifth zoom we’ve had and like the previous sessions with Sir Keir, Ian Blackford, Tom English, Daryl Broadfoot and Douglas was an open discussion and a genuinely constructive sharing of thoughts and views.
We all share a love of our game and a desire for it to be as good as it can be.
I was chair in Bill Young’s absence and asked one question on behalf of one of our members, Paul Pettigrew of Gamtalk who wasn’t on the call.
I’ve been privileged to share a couple of media spots and a gambling in sport seminar recently with Paul, an ex gambling addict who is doing some great work to stop youngsters like him getting sucked into the grip of a very aggressive and clever gambling industry.
The question I asked on his behalf was, “Why do we as a society and football as a game allow GamblingCos such easy access to our kids though football?
It led to us talking about the current consultation and review on Gambling in Football underway at Westminster and also how foreign and Isle of Man and Gibraltar registered GamblingCos are using top-level football to reach both the UK and otherwise unreachable markets like China.
It is only a week ago we had a League Cup final sponsored by a GamblingCo trying to reach the Scottish market and our kids.
Douglas made the point that a ban on gambling sponsorship of football would lead to a significant loss of gambling monies coming into our game and that would be a problem for both the game and some clubs.
It is probably the only thing Douglas said during our football discussions that I disagreed strongly with but I can understand why he said it.
It is true that if gambling revenues were shut down overnight that Scottish Football would have a few financial gaps to fill and at present the commercial wings of our game at the SPFL, the SFA and the clubs are not exactly inundated with alternative opportunities.
Henry McLeish said our game simply had to find more wholesome revenue sources.
I agree and since the days of Bill Wilson at the SFA we as a nation have underperformed in commercial terms in all areas.
I’d rather our game didn’t have gambling links and stopped allowing our youngsters to be recruited.
Motor racing and Cricket used to be dominated by Tobacco sponsorship but both have moved on and became stronger and arguably more attractive and football needs to do the same.
It really is right through our game.
Time To Talk About a Swiss Model
Uefa want to introduce a “Swiss Model” for the Champions League where the current 8 groups of four model gets replaced by a seeded mega league where every team gets 10 fixtures before knockout rounds. This would be an increase of 4 games each and over 100 extra games altogether for TV to swallow at the expense, some say, of national league TV revenues.
Uefa also want 2 of the 4 extra, proposed places to go to clubs based on a historical coefficient.
I.e. The big clubs who didn’t qualify.
That is a sop to the breakaway 15 and is pure bollocks whichever way you look at it.
Andrea Agnelli chief at European Club’s Association wants to rubber stamp this “Swiss Model “quickly to head off the proposed big club breakaway but not everyone is happy with his plan.
The European Leagues umbrella group for one just like we discussed a few weeks ago.
The real issue that won’t go away is the Big 6 in England and their 9 big pals across Europe have already decided they are moving because they want more.
All it comes down to now is how and when.
In a week when big money has bought into international rugby because of the long term media value it offers you can be sure that football is being seen as a long term audience deliverer and it’s too late for those trying to keep the lid on.
What Do the Belgies and Dutchies See That We Can’t?
You could say they consistently grow and nurture better footballers.
But they also have stopped kids in their countries buying “Fifa points” in “micro transactions”.
“Sounds like gibberish, Andy” I hear you think.
In response I’d say “These phrases make no sense to most of us”, but bear with me.
The Fifa game for Play Station offers an “option” for players to buy extra “points” from £0.79 for 100 points to £79.99 for 12,000.
These “points” can then buy “loot boxes” which give gamers the chance to buy “Ultimate players”.
You rely on luck to see what and who you get in your box.
It’s a game of chance tied to purchase with no skill.
Players can also earn similar packs free but it takes longer, a lot longer and we know players want to win now.
So basically EA Sports, the dudes who sell “Fifa for Play Station” and x box have created an extra “instant win or lose” offer for kids playing the game, but the reality is they must pay.
It’s a big deal worth millions.
These in-game “loot” boxes made up 27% of net revenues for EA Sports last year.
As recently as October the Netherlands Gambling Authority fined EA Sports 500,000 euros each week (Up to 10M Euros) until it put matters right and declared it in breach of gambling laws being an unlicensed “game of chance”.
Well done Dutchies and it is illegal in Belgium too.
Douglas reads this blog so will now be aware of this as an extra and under the radar gambling related ingress into our game.
And for the moment we can agree to disagree.
Gambling needs to be properly controlled right across football.
Heading in the Wrong Direction
My wee piece a couple of weeks back on Gordon McQueen highlighted the fact that heading footballs is linked to significant increases in various forms of dementia and ex professional footballers are especially at risk.
44 years ago the photo of crocuses beside these words had just 2 blue and 1 white crocus under a wee piece of Wembley turf to celebrate Gordon’s headed goal in our 2-1 Wembley win.
Look at it now.
I have no idea where the wee bit of Wembley my pal Billy gave me on the train home is either.
Looks too like Scotland are still winning on a blue v white count.
Anyway our own Dr Willie Stewart is at the forefront of research into dementia in football at the Glasgow Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology.
He had told Westminster’s, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee that ‘Football’s” management of concussion is a shambles.
He is right to say that and they should listen too.
People at the top of our game and at Fifa and Uefa are also all too aware of the recent Billion-dollar pay out to retired NFL players for game-related, delayed health issues.
Heading related dementia is a football related, delayed health issue to ex pros and others too.
The game doesn’t want to acknowledge any responsibility, fearing the compensation lawyers and the compensation packages but soon there will be nowhere to hide.
Not acting now or asking for more research to delay what is already known will just cost our game more in the long run.
Earlier this week an ex centre forward wrote a nice piece on the need for football to act.
He is well informed, worried about his own growing forgetfulness and is calling for football to ban heading.
“Tony Cascarino is calling for a heading ban across football” was the heading.
People like Jim Walker, ex Villa physio and now an expert on the carnage that heading brings, wants it classified as an industrial injury.
After 12 years of research he says players must be protected from what are known as “sub-concussive hits”.
Everyone who has ever headed a ball has had these.
In isolation they do not cause dizziness or nausea but they are a hidden health (and financial) time bomb.
Our new concussion substitute trial is about to start and recognises one of the short-term outcomes but not the real issue.
Heading damages brain cells.
This is huge and football thinks and hopes it will just go away.
What’s even worse is women are thought to be even more affected by sub concussive hits from heading footballs.
Football Without Heading?
It would be different but our game has changed and is ever changing.
We’ve all but lost the old way when goalkeepers constantly kicking out to a headed contest near the centre line, or when all free kicks were punted long and high for a heading competition in the box.
Both were the basis of our game just one generation ago.
Without heading, the ball would be played on the deck more. Passing and movement would be more important. Strikers and defenders could be smaller and more nimble.
There would be less head knocks too
Some experts think they are more dangerous than constant heading.
A ban on heading might or might not improve the game but that misses the fact.
Heading is damaging brains and the game needs to protect its players.
As always feel free to drop me a line about anything football related.
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