Date: 27th November 2020
Football returned last week up north with no reported issues as Brora beat Brora in the Dudgeon Park, Brora Derby in front of 300 baying Brora fans.
Tomorrow sees the opening of this year’s Highland League with only one match against each club, home or away, not both as usual and no Forres Mechanics who are fallowing for a season.
Fort William, Lossie, Nairn, Rothes and Wick will tomorrow play in front of 300 fans subject to strict protocols like Brora published for their fans last week.
It’s not perfect, and it’s just baby steps but at least we have a start and the game has never more needed spectators and their spending.
Tiers of a Clown?
This week as Engerland prepares to come out of its lockdown the plans of the Scottish government working, we assume, in tangent with our wonderfully secretive JRG were seemingly outflanked by our fleet of foot prime minister.
His sanctioning of a three-tier approach where two of the tiers allow fans back almost immediately caused a wee stooshie in our Joint Response circles.
It made our 300 fan negotiated limit look stingy, really, really stingy.
Boris has now decreed on the BBC and in parliament that south of Hadrian’s Wall football clubs in England’s Tier 1 are allowed 4000 fans.
Ok and braw.
For now the reality is only Cornish clubs can take advantage of this number and 4000 fans is way above Cornish football giants Truro City’s average crowd of 500 – 600 but it is a target for areas out-with Tier 1 to aim for.
Clubs in Tier 2 areas in England will be allowed 2000 fans and that means Liverpool and others will have fans back immediately.
(Just think what 2000 fans and their revenues would do to Scottish Football from grass roots right up to our top league).
Tier 3 Dominates for now.
Most clubs however in England however are still in Tier 3 where no fans are allowed but down south there is at least hope.
Hissy Fits on the 6th Floor?
It would be an understatement to say the SFA and SPFL were not happy when Boris granted English clubs significantly higher fan levels than agreed between the Scottish government and the highly secretive Scottish Football JRG, that is in reality just a posh name for the SFA and SPFL combined.
Nothing new there.
(In the old days, which I well remember, those who are now separate were actually combined all the time. Maybe in the future they will recombine and call themselves the SFAPFLJRG)
Anyway they both got right and proper grumpy with Nicola and her team.
I hope it was because their member clubs are squeaking financially and rightly asking for help.
With the cupboards bare our game can’t actually help itself in this time of need and Ian Maxwell came out warning MSPs that the pandemic could eventually cost the game £100M.
(That is £20M more than the Mulholland stuff that has been quiet this week but never fear it hasn’t gone away)
I guess a war footing became the order of the day at Hampden.
Some of the friendly press were briefed and duly announced on the back pages that Neil of the SPFL had also written asking for emergency talks.
There was an almost immediate Holyrood rebuff when Nicola stated that no single sector can or will be given preferential treatment.
In their tit-for-tat world of playground style politics our football mandarins then powered up their friendly briefing-against process to emphasise both the unfairness and I guess the confliction of being on the wrong side of the sciences.
One quote from Neil really struck home with me.
“We are now calling for the first minister to do the right thing by Scotland’s hard-pressed football supporters”.
(This is, by the way, the same Neil who has only recently seemingly discovered the importance of fans)
“She will have to explain the clinical difference between Scottish fans and English fans”.
A fair enough question but the implicit indignation assumes that Boris has got it right and Nicola hasn’t.
I’m not sure that has ever happened and I’m not qualified to call it here on the science either.
I’m also pretty certain that the current elevation of “fans” by all and sundry in all matters football will soon fade back to normal.
Normal “Ignore them and they’ll soon go away”.
Normal “Move along fans nothing to see here“.
For what it is worth our research shows that fans are desperate to be back in grounds but want our returns to be safe.
My instinct also tells me briefing against the government will not speed up the process of getting us back.
Earlier this week we spent some time in the Zoom company of Joe FitzPatrick whose busy Ministerial desk includes ‘Physical Activity, Sport, Sporting Events and Events Legacy.
I was genuinely shocked to see the spread of responsibilities he has.
We had a good meeting and I was joined by Simon and Paul founders of the SFSA and a senior civil servant.
I think the minister came into the meeting expecting us to mirror the current aggressive approach of the SPFL and SFA and berate him with the fact that the numbers of fans allowed here are much lower than in England.
We didn’t need to.
He knows we want back and the game needs us back.
We didn’t need to force that point.
Most of all we told him we want a post Covid football landscape where Common Good replaces the current Self-Interest controlling dynamics right through our game.
We told him we need his help to get there.
I think that genuinely surprised him and think he had just been wound up for a sparring match.
We also said “You cannot blame the clubs individually for what they do to simply survive in the current set up but without change in how our game is run all that will happen post Covid is a swift return to the chaos that led to where we are”.
The economic tsunami heading our way was also acknowledged.
It will be a game changer.
But we all know that fans will once again step up when the call comes.
It’s what fans do and we will be needed.
The final impression I think we left him with is how football has to open up and become transparent.
Not in a pretendy way like when a previous CEO at the SFA who had a cricket and beer background nearly wore the “Transparency” word out in one particularly badly staged interview.
We need a genuine culture change where honesty and openness are core elements and that has to come from the top.
And action not just mouthing words.
Secrecy is the cancer in our game.
We talked how it has long been used for power over those “not in the know”.
How it has long delivered unwarranted rewards to those who use positions of power for the good of their clubs or their personal profiles and the expense of the community.
We finished and agreed we would follow up with a strategy letter ahead of another zoom which we will also open up to some fans.
Come on Irene
You’ve all read about my so far fruitless searches for the Ernie Walker ThinkTank report from 1995.
My £100 Reward is still there for the taking and despite that huge life changing amount Ernie’s report is still AWOL.
Anyway with 5 minutes free during my wife’s current painting epidemic where I do all the painting and she is supervisor I googled it again earlier this week and came up with a reference in a question asked by SNP, MSP Irene McGugan back in 2002.
*S1M-3377 Irene McGugan: Scottish Football—That the Parliament notes with concern the current demise of Scottish football at both club and international levels; calls on the Scottish Executive to urgently obtain from the Scottish Football Association a detailed report confirming the current status of the report commissioned from Ernie Walker’s Think-tank, including any aspects which have been implemented, areas outstanding and parts needing to be updated in view of changing events and circumstances, and further calls on the Executive to ensure that funding by it, either directly or indirectly, to football bodies and organisations is dependent on the report as updated being implemented in full and without further delay.
It read like she was one of us so I emailed and asked her if she had a copy of Ernie’s works but she didn’t.
She suggested that I follow it up in the parliamentary records and in the meantime I have invited her to join the SFSA along with the other young soul rebels.
Lewis Hamilton Breathes Sigh of Relief
When Lewis gratefully receives his deserved top award on December 20th it will be because Aunty Beeb has decided to honour Marcus Rashford with a special award on the same night.
If you were of a cynical persuasion you might surmise that this special award is a blatant establishment gambit to pre-empt Marcus winning the big prize.
He is my Sports Personality of the Year because he embarrassed our government into two U-turns in favour of socially disadvantaged children.
The recent Westminster vote had initially defeated Marcus’ proposal to feed hungry kids in England during the school holidays.
Shamefully it was considerably swelled by the votes of 5 out of our 6 Tory MPs in Scotland.
Douglas Ross, conservative Grand Fromage up here, aka SFA Referee’s assistant, boldly decided to abstain. This was despite his previously expressed and tweeted strong views that inspired this column to award him several well deserved “Bold Sir Robin” awards.
Wonder what he and his group of MPs will be thinking when Marcus picks up his award?
AR26 Charity – A Game Changer
Andy Robertson and his partner Rachel are launching a charity this weekend to provide support and opportunities for those kids who through no fault of their own feel left behind and abandoned.
Not much info yet as its just launching but I found this on Facebook and will update you all next week.
Join Andy Robertson and Emma Dodds for the launch of AR26 Charity this Sunday, live at 7:30pm on the Liverpool FC – Liverpool Echo Facebook page.
A Toss Up Between Glasgow and Zurich
We heard this week that Scotland had applied to be the host of the Qatar World Cup draw on December 7 at 18:00 Central European Time.
It was a close run thing but Zurich got the gig.
There will be 10 groups and with only 13 spots only the winners qualify automatically.
All runners up go into play offs joined by the two best performing teams from the recent Nations League (the one we very nearly ) for one of only three play-off qualifiers.
When you look at the groups in ranked order we face a tough task.
Pot 1: Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Germany and Netherlands.
Pot 2: Switzerland, Wales, Poland, Sweden, Austria, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Slovakia and Romania
Pot 3: Russia, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Scotland, Greece and Finland
Pot 4: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Israel, Belarus, Georgia and Luxembourg
Pot 5: Armenia, Cyprus, Faroe Islands, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia and Andorra
Pot 6: Malta, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar and San Marino.
Here is ,allegedly, a copy of the unsuccessful Scottish pitch.
Ok maybe not but I love that clip, hadn’t seen it for 3 years and remember the parodied draw we once made that wasn’t.
Glasgow Girls Lead the Way
Into the round of 32, a home and away knock out before 4 groups of 4 for the last 16.
Glasgow was seeded for the draw but ranked 15th out of the 16 seeds and drew the top rated unseeded club, Sparta Praha (not the same team as the also seeded Spartak Prague).
The first game is in Prague on the 9th December and the second a week later on the 16th and will be live on BBC Alba.
Scotland Taking the Hard Road
Friday Night’s 1-0 defeat to Portugal makes automatic qualification hard. We had the possession and the chances but were mugged.
We have 3 games outstanding with Finland at Easter Road on Tuesday and then Portugal home and Albania away.
Possible but tough.
This is Our Story: Inside Hearts
The Beeb have produced a 3 episode insight into the club during a troubled season starting pre Covid and running to the present.
Amazing honesty and openness across a season and end of season from hell for the club.
Worth a watch on catch up no matter who you support.
I was saddened to hear of Maradona’s passing.
I only saw him live once at Hampden on a sunny June day in 1979 when he played well beyond his years and I think scored his first international goal.
Was he the greatest?
It’s irrelevant but he was a wonderful player who inspired the teammates he played with.
Adam Brown, left side midfielder at Alloa found Diego’s lost medallion years ago when Argentina were training at Celtic Park in 2008, and was rewarded with the pic of a lifetime.
Gracias Diego por todo.
Gracias de todos nosotros.
As always feel free to contact me about anything football related or ask me to share a story with the 70,000 plus who read The Sting every week.