Date: 22nd July 2022
A two-part ‘Sting’ this week with so much going on that is worth a comment or two.
The first is setting out “An urgent task for The SPFL and SFA that may prove to be a life saver for clubs”.
The second part is Andy‘s usual take on the stuff happening and is the normal mix of interesting, and under reported.
I actually understand how hard it is to be a football journalist in Scotland because if you ask the right questions, come to your own conclusions then publish you are in danger of being damned.
Many who have written honestly and critically suddenly find doors closing from the BBC down to the red tops with club ‘bans’ on access to the ‘club-fed stories’ they want you to run.
We all know that ‘succulent lamb’ is still being served daily by some clubs to Scottish journos, and they mostly simply report what the clubs want them to.
Even our public broadcasting service steps in line with this deep Scottish football power flaw.
And I also note that Setanta, recently known as Premier Sports, have just sold their UK business to Viaplay the Scandi P.P.V. Sports newbies who won the rights to our next world cup qualifiers before they even opened in the UK.
£30 Million pounds was the agreed price.
No Scottish international matches should be P.P.V.
Fans need and deserve more, and that is why we the SFSA exist.
Part 1. Three Ideas for Neil, Maxie and Our Clubs
Part 2. ‘Sting’
Cometh the Time Guys ?
Cometh Three Ideas for Free
The coming economic tsunami of rocketing energy costs will hit us just in time for Scotland’s cold, peak-usage season.
Fans pockets will be hit hard at more than £1000 per household, but our clubs will be hammered even more.
Clubs will be hit full on by a combination of spiralling energy costs and fans having less to spend.
Consumers have nominal shelter in what is laughingly called by Westminster and their appointed regulator, the ‘energy price cap’.
Businesses, i.e. our clubs have no such protection.
One central belt meat processor firm who make really nice square sausage, claimed earlier this week that energy bills have already gone up from circa £6,000 a week, a year ago, to £17,000 per week and there are more rises are on the way.
That is a circa £600K per annum increase just for standing still, and with other prices rising too, it makes passing it on not just a stroke of a pen and telling customers that prices have risen.
I actually don’t know what energy costs are for each club to run a night-time game after the clocks have changed and it is dark, but it will be serious and also now 3 or 4 times more expensive than a year ago.
And in my mind’s eye I can visualise a wee man feeding the £1 coins into the meter at Celtic Park or Ibrox who use the most energy. (The secret is very nimble and quick fingers).
So, despite a little humour, a perfect storm is coming.
We’ll shortly have consumers/fans who’s discretionary spend has been grabbed and banked by the energy companies.
These ‘robber’ firms are hiding in plain sight behind the ‘world price of gas’ while they make record, non-forecast profits on gas and electricity.
Football clubs are businesses with no protection and limited options but to pass on their rising costs to fans.
The contradiction is everyone knows the rises will actually reduce demand and that will in turn damage gross and net revenues.
Holyrood are soapboxing and I don’t think that is nearly enough.
Hiding behind the fact that energy is a reserved responsibility at Westminster helps no fan or club.
I’d prefer if they were coming up with a better plan to embarrass Grant, the man still sitting on his Hands, who is meant to be energy minister and in control.
(I wonder what he thinks of the French Government who are actively re-nationalising their electricity companies at substantial cost because the price to French consumers will be cheaper. It also delivers long term national energy security.
We are short-termist to the extreme.
Did you know EDF, 85% owned by the French government will also be building, owning for ever, and no doubt profiteering evermore from our newly approved nuclear power station at Sizewell.
Politician, Grant the Hands, looks very ‘Toom Tabardish’ and our current UK energy policy has been found to be short-termist and myopic in the extreme.
It all questions out loud the wisdom of Mrs Thatcher selling off our family silver for the short term spending boost and the popularity cash windfalls for punters bought her.
And where was the real vision of energy security from Maggie, John, Tony, Gordon, David, Theresa and Alexander who now calls himself Boris?
Fast forward to our game and what is needed.
Scottish football has no excuses in doing nothing and being caught short in countering the impact of the overnight loss of revenues because this is all a predictable slow-motion train crash.
We need to somehow act together NOW to minimise the impact.
So here is a pathway for the SPFL/SFA from the SFSA who instead of bellyaching, which would be easy, have set out a plan of what needs to be done by the SPFL and SFA AND other stakeholders.
Action Point Number 1:
Quantify the approaching back-hole impacts on clubs and fans.
If I was Neil or Ian and ideally both, I’d start with fast research to quantify the financial extent of the coming problem so that clubs can make positive decisions rather than just being passive victims.
It is not rocket science and this could be a desk research project to look at both the macro and micro likely outcomes.
The Scottish Government civil servants will help and this needs to be done right.
Action Point Number 2:
We need a plan with response options/ideas/modules that clubs can use locally.
The plan should be for the clubs, not by them.
Open up the stakeholders and form a small tight group, round a table with club representation, the Scottish Government, media, and fans with the right expertise.
This will cut so many corners, save real time, and minimise the costs of individual clubs coming up with tangible recession ameliorators that can work for members of the SPFL and ALL SFA members from grass roots upwards.
To give clubs time it has to be in advance of the coming crunch and the clock is ticking
What is needed?
A kind of ideas/options collection of actions clubs can take and make from the bottom to the very top.
Some of the stuff will already be happening elsewhere and can be lifted, modified and shared.
I implore that fans should be part of the process like they were in the recent plans in England for the Tracey Crouch exercise where we knew expert and honest fan input blew the researchers away.
The SFSA has members who run big accountancy firms, we have economics professors, and more.
All fans who simply want the game to survive and prosper.
This exercise certainly doesn’t need Deloittes with the eye-watering bills that Hibs’ Ron Gordon and his group were landed with for going round in expensive circles, when looking for ways to grow the commercial side of our game.
It also goes without saying that this is urgent.
Action Point Number 3:
Produce a club ‘Box of Tricks’ of simple business enhancing and protection options for clubs to choose what would work for them and their fans.
Work with media partnerships where there is real common interest, because they too will be damaged by the energy hikes and they also have skin in our football game.
Think ‘community’ in everything.
And come up with a mix of simple but workable ideas, macro and micro that will offer benefits to all.
This is not rocket science.
Just the kind of thing that switched-on businesses would be doing to protect their revenues.
As chair of the SFSA I have learnt to be cynical and doubt that this will get the right response but I’d love to be wrong.
And remember you read this all first in Sting.
The SFA and SPFL need to step up.
Part 2 Andy’s Sting in the Tale
This is not actually about the BBC Scotland channels flagship news programme but it’s a nice photo of Martin and Laura and it is newsworthy.
It is about how the relatively new organisation running Scottish football leagues created a management process to allow the biggest and most influential members total control, for ever.
I think there are 9 SPFL board members.
The Inner Circle 3
Neil Doncaster, CEO, ex Norwich ex Burgess Salmon solicitors.
Murdoch MacLennan, Chairman, ex Group MD at Associated Newspapers, ex CEO Telegraph group, and current chair of Press Association Group as well as many other remunerative post-retirement board positions.
Karyn McCluskey, CEO Community Justice Scotland, ex Head of Intelligence Analysis at Strathclyde Polis.
The 3 Premiership Clubs
County, Hibs and Celtic.
(Making Up the Numbers to Look Democratic), – the 3 Also Rans
Hamilton, Ayr and a job-share-seat shared between Forfar and Airdrie
Ostensibly this shows that there is representation across the leagues. (tick-box)
In reality it shows the tight inner circle only need 2 out of 6 from the clubs to carry anything and everything.
My Prof pal thinks it designed to stop change and keep the power in the big Premiership club’s hands.
“Andy the set up for this board is about token representation and control rather than the quality of the members and the decision making capacity and vision.
The representation is not democratic or progressive nor does it seek to be.
One seat seems to flip between Celtic and Rangers and to me it seems each period one has a seat on the SFA with the other on the SPFL.
They swap regularly like a duopoly.
Boards should also be about aspiration and talent and this isn’t set up that way.
One non exec and a non exec chair is about 5 too few and why no fans?
All it will ever get, maybe, is what it always had.
That’s the point and it is set up to maintain the status quo where the big Glasgow 2 dominate.
And all behind closed doors”.
I can’t disagree, Prof.
2. Why Did the BBC Apologise?
And why did the SPFL not lance this boil in 2015?
I read a report by my namesake, Andrew Smith who writes for however many readers are actually left reading The Scotsman that the BBC apology to Rangers this week is a “merciful end to a tedious saga”
The press release he was commenting on suggested the spat was about BBC’s Michael Stewart calling James Traynor a bully, which some people think is apposite.
But that had little to do with the ban.
No, the real villain to the Rangers Press Department and directors was BBC’s, Chris McLaughlin who may or not be the religion that used to be anathema to their club and still seems to be with some of the current fans.
Chris was just doing his job and reporting a Hibs v Rangers match in August 2015 at Easter Road.
The away fans were going through the usual songbook that uniquely disgraces Scottish football and I’ve heard in person around a dozen or so different grounds over the years, and on TV as recently as the season just finished.
But at Easter road, like it used to be at Celtic Park when away fans were allowed, there was a vehemence and anger that seems specially reserved for our clubs in green.
Rangers seemingly never liked Chris.
But how they adjudged the following paragraph to be worth a 7 year ban is beyond my pay grade.
“The Ibrox Club could be in trouble with the SPFL due to the behaviour of some of the club’s fans during the win. 3 arrests were made after sectarian singing”.
(Singing we have all heard before and since which makes Scottish football non family-friendly and difficult to find wholesome sponsors).
It is sectarian and racist.
The BBC read what was written, rightly backed McLaughlin and the rest is history.
The SPFL did nothing.
I’d guess Rangers were on their board at the time.
Our research shows a huge majority of Scottish fans want this kind of nonsense consigned to the past.
It is not good for the family game that football needs to become.
But lack of action then and ongoing by the SPFL, the SFA, Police Scotland, and others mean the songbook still gets an unreported airing every week of the season, except for European matches where Uefa have banned it and shown teeth.
If the songs were about Muslims or black players something would be done immediately.
If one of the Rangers fans, who like me, hates racism of any kind wants to update me on the weekly renderings I’ll report it in a wee table here because the press should not ignore this ongoing cancer and there are journalists and police at every game.
It is bad for Scottish football in every way.
Anyway, this week the broadcaster known as BBC Scotland “acknowledged that mistakes had been made” and apologised meekly like it was their fault.
I like our public service broadcaster but think this shows bad judgement and possibly bias.
3. Consumer Choice – More Than my Jobsworth
Last week I asked why fans can’t buy the tickets they want in the sections they want for Hampden matches and elsewhere rather than the current ‘Hobson’s choice of take the next one or nothing in whatever row we are selling.
I couldn’t think of many businesses with such consumer unfriendly practices.
Bobby from Rutherglen agreed and wrote me a three word answer.
“Buy the software”.
How easy is that?
4. The Dark Side of Spain
The pre-tournament favourites took ten minutes to wake up against England and then dominated till the last ten.
Technically they were superb with a high press and passing and interchanges that made England look badly coached, off the pace, and reliant on a superb back line.
What a great game and the standard shows how fast this sport has developed.
I didn’t want their wee left back to be good but she was amazing and stopped her wingers becoming an influence.
That is the good Spain and they were truly unlucky not to progress.
But there was a bit of ‘Atletico’ about Spain too.
You don’t see it in any other team at the Euros, but they have obviously been coached in the dark arts that currently plague the men’s game .
Molly Hudson wrote a great piece in her review in Murdoch’s Times and summed up what I had been thinking.
“Spain may be an aesthetically pleasing passing outfit, but they are more than aware of the dark arts too. Every time an England player received the ball there was an elbow in the back, a trip, a tackle”.
If you’ve not started watching this feast of football then now is the time.
I don’t mind who actually wins the silver but this competition is a victory for: Women’s football, Player conduct on the field, Council telly broadcasting, Family Audiences, and genuine equality that can only be good for the game as a whole.
5. Renamed Ships and Social Clubs
My first game in the old East of Scotland League was coincidentally against Postal United at the wonderful Civil Service sports facility on Marine Drive in Edinburgh’s Muirhouse.
In 1986 Postal changed their name and took on the moniker of a defunct Scottish Leagues side, Edinburgh City, whose name had actually been kept alive by the still-open Edinburgh City Social Club who were happy for Edinburgh City to revive their name in football.
A few weeks ago wishing to have their own name outright they changed again to FC Edinburgh.
(Not sure why but the good thing I guess is they now have FC Edinburgh Derbies with every team they play).
The new name sounds to more like a ship, Frigate Command Edinburgh.
Fair enough and as the first aspirant to achieve the ridiculous climb from level 5 to level 4 of our quasi, pretendy, pyramid, they have been a breath of fresh air and good luck to the new, but old, entity.
And I hope Meadowbank can work for you on your return.
The racing track will always be a spectator and atmosphere issue but it’s a fine big flat surface if they have finally fixed the drainage.
6. Fits a Dee Min?
Aberdeen fans are nae chavvin min!
First their club is taking another ‘loan’ player from Celtic and also the food prices at their seaside stadium are to say the least pricy with ‘dry burgers in a bun’ a bargain at £5. and other similar ‘bargains’.
I’m sure the beef is Aberdeen Angus and maybe the fans have forgotten how good loanee Ryan Christie was when Celtic didn’t think he was good enough.
6. Which Way You Going Billy?
It is spooky but Canadian band The Poppy Family released a harbinger of the Scotland star’s current dilemma in 1970 and it got to number 7 in our charts. (Poppy Family – Which Way You Goin’ Billy (1969) – YouTube)
In 2022, not seen as good enough to be in Thomas Tuchel’s 24 man, reduced squad, Billy G is now looking for a loan or maybe a transfer.
He may end up in Scotland, Aberdeen still like loan players, but Billy’s ex-boss Frank Lampard is also on the sniff.
8. FA Say Headbangers Should BE Over 12
Following on from research in Scotland by Dr Willie Stewart and the University of Glasgow, the English FA are undertaking an immediate heading ban for all under 12s with a view to banning heading from 2022 – 2023 onwards for youngsters.
I have no idea if our SFA even have a ban rather than their current recommendation on the agenda.
Their core stakeholders, us, have no real idea what goes on at Hampden unless there is a press release supporting something like The Lowlife League Colts project.
That is not good enough.
Some think heading is so dangerous that it might be banned altogether across the game at all levels because of the hidden and delayed damage it causes.
That would be a game changer.
9. Drinking and Betting
I had a nice email this week challenging my views on “Wholesome’ sponsors and suggesting football has bigger issues to worry about.
I’ll share the edited gist of it and my reply.
“Andy, re your latest blog.
I don’t think that sponsorship by bookies and alcohol necessarily harm fans.
I have a drink and a couple of quid on 3-2 on my team every game and these enjoyable pastimes haven’t harmed me.
Both are legal and there should be no good reason to prohibit them.
Some of our clubs face more immediate and serious issues regarding child abuse which will end in huge compensation”
I used to think there was. nothing wrong with alcohol and sport having been involved with the Mackinlay’s Manager of the Month, the Youngers Tartan Scottish Cup, The Tartan Pool and Darts super leagues, and the McEwans League.
The company I worked for were not encouraging increased purchases, just goodwill
Gambling 2022 is way different.
Statistics confirm gambling related suicides in Scotland are a hidden pandemic and accelerating.
And gambling companies on the interweb are not like the old fashioned high street bookies who were part of communities and where you could have some money on the game.
The Gambling cos are algorithm-driven money harvesters who catch punters and seek to constantly flip them from betting on the match to visiting their ‘casinos’.
The internet makes it all too easy.
Gambling cos use football for three reasons.
1 For brand awareness and name recognition.
2 To recruit new users especially those new to betting and get them into their casinos where they know for every pound spent a percentage to the gambling co is guaranteed, just like the slots machines at the shows.
3 To increase the amount that their customers spend.
They have mugged football and one extra bonus is football also opens up foreign markets where gambling advertising is not allowed. It is huge market. Think China.
SFSA work closely with anti-gambling charities and have a simple policy that all Scottish football sponsorships should be wholesome and good for fans as a whole.
I, like you, enjoy a drink and occasional flutter and have never become dependent.
Statistics show some are not so lucky.
So, the SFSA policy is wholesome sponsorship and it seems 3 of our clubs, our SPFL and SFA don’t find it easy to find similar sponsorship partners.
And in the bigger picture the reality is parts of our game are racially toxic and scare ‘good’ sponsors away.
I also understand your thoughts on the inherent child abuse which won’t go away just because the clubs want it to.
Lawyers are now involved and have advised clubs to keep denying responsibility.
What happened was wrong and the attempt to avoid responsibilities is just about money and is wrong too.
I like emails like that because fans really care, and talking about stuff is healthy.
Hope you enjoyed Sting.
You know where to find me if you need to.
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