Date: 30th July 2021
This Week’s Sting
1. SPFL Premiers its New Used Car Sponsor
3. Mexican Stand-Off Heading Our Way?
4. Meeja Matters Monetarily
5. Thanks Girls
1. Top Level League Football Returns
Our top 4 leagues kick off tomorrow with some bewilderingly differing numbers of fans but no Brechin City who, as it happens, sit top equal with 6 others in the Highland League after their 2-1 home drubbing of Turra.
The Bairns will play Cove at their newish Balmoral Stadium at 3pm.
Why is that news I hear you think?
It is the start of a soap opera serial that will reappear as the season unfolds.
After forfeiting their two final League Cup fixtures against Edinburgh City and Ayr because of player Covid isolations, Falkirk, with a typical lower-league squad size, had asked if there could be a postponement.
They sent through a well prepared and well thought-out reason why a postponement would be for the good of the game.
The governing body (SPFL Board) said no.
The governing body said no again.
Falkirk then said, for the record,
“We fundamentally disagree with the decision of the SPFL board which does not address concerns raised by our club, medical professionals, and PFA Scotland about the negative physical and mental health impact this could have on our players.
The club has yet to receive any explanation or rationale from the SPFL board or its staff other than ‘SPFL rules state that clubs must fulfil scheduled fixtures’.
The club put forward a measured and logical case and asked the SPFL to provide us with a summary of the medical advice they based their decision on.
No such advice was provided which leads us to the inescapable conclusion that this decision was based on the rule book rather than medical evidence, impact on player welfare or common sense.
We believe this sets a dangerous precedent for clubs and more importantly player welfare across Scotland.
A message has gone out loud and clear from the SPFL – regardless of player welfare concerns, all clubs will be forced to fulfil their fixtures or face disciplinary action.’
There are many more fixtures to come but this will not be the last Covid issue.
I feel for Falkirk and think that sense should have prevailed.
Had it been commercial reasons, international call-ups, local catastrophes or even a Euro fixture the postponement would have been automatic.
The underlying issue is Falkirk and other clubs don’t believe the rules are interpreted consistently and in the same way to all clubs.
Most fans would agree and will all be watching how the next request and the next get treated.
Most fans would also ask politely that the change specialist on the SPFL board, Karyn McCluskey, starts effecting changes for the common good.
C’est la vie en Ecosse.
Whoever you support good luck for season 2021 – 22.
2. England Leads the Way (When It Comes to Heidbangers)
We are now aware that heading footballs brings a serious and long-term medical risk to the brain.
One by one we have seen the curse of Alzheimer’s causing premature damage and death to heroes of yesteryear ad who knows who from today?.
Billy McNeil, Nobby Stiles, Geoff Astle and many, many, more suffered from time-lagged neurodegenerative diseases linked to heading in training and in matches.
This is a hidden but very real challenge to our game and the reality is that kids and adults too probably shouldn’t be heading any footballs. Even the new lighter balls that don’t become waterlogged are still a risk.
Yes, the game has moved on and changed.
There is less heading than a generation ago, but it is early days in the research, and nobody knows for sure what the safety thresholds are.
It is also almost certain that financial claims will be heading towards football authorities, and they are more worried that they would publicly admit.
Necessity as we know is also the mother of invention and change.
This week a press statement was made by an impressive English group consisting of The Football Association, Premier League, EFL, PFA and Managers Association.
‘To protect player welfare as further research is happening, Clubs need to develop player profiles taking into account gender, age, position, and the type of and number of headers per game and in training.
Players are recommended to head the ball at a max 10 times per session with only one session per week.
These measures represent a cautious approach while we learn more, and we are committed to further medical research’.
Clubs in the Premier League, EFL, WSPL, National League, Women’s Pyramid, and grass roots will be given the advice.
Our own Dr Willie Stewart honorary clinical associate Professor at Glasgow Uni is doing amazing work and leading parallel research into links between heading and dementia.
I’m not so sure that the same leadership accolade can be given to the SFA on what they are doing about what they already know.
3. Mexico Ahead of Scotland in Fifa/Uefa’s Firing Line
I remember first noticing it during the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 watching Mexico.
As the opposing goalkeeper ran up to take goal kicks the Mexican fans joined together and shouted something that sounded like aaaahhhhhhh – Booh-TOh.
It meant nothing to me, and I guessed it meant “Boot it’ and that it was just a foreign foible.
It was mildly entertaining.
Other Latin nations even seemed to have their own variants, but the Mexicans were best and most passionate about it.
With hindsight I now know that Fifa took no action, nothing was said or made of it all and I forgot about it.
In the Russia World Cup, 4 years later it happened again.
This time Fifa acted and sanctioned the Mexican Football Federation 12 times for the same chant which was by then outlawed and publicly deemed homophobic.
Mexico were warned for the first two instances and fined for the next 10.
If you don’t know the Chant, the offensive word is actually ‘Puto’, ‘man-whore’.
It is a derogatory term for gay males in Mexican Spanish, equating to the American slang “faggot”.
Well, the Mexican fans were at it again this year in the Nations Semi and Final despite knowing their team had been warned by Fifa and also despite a request from the Mexican Football Authorities asking the fans to stop.
I spoke just now with my son who by coincidence lives in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, in Mexico, and asked him for his thoughts and what is being said in the local media.
He said ‘Firstly let me explain what it is and why.
Mexico has a macho culture so being gay is perceived as a sign of weakness and not as widely or openly accepted as in the USA or Europe.
Puto means ‘faggot’ or ‘gay boy’ in a really nasty way, a kind of ultimate insult.
The Mexican Football authorities are worried, but we’ve not reached the end of the road yet and it will take more than banning fans for 2 games.’
Not surprisingly Fifa have punished Mexico who will now play their next two home games, World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica and Canada, in front of an empty stadium.
And they as a country and support are now under constant attention having just beaten Canada in the semis of the Gold Cup with a repeat final against the USA on Sunday.
Fifa will be listening with big ears and an escalating series of punishments.
(Maybe one day they’ll explain how Qatar became a North American Nation too).
Anyway Andy, What Has This to Do with the Price of Fish in Scotland?
Change has happened and at a pace that is accelerating when it comes to abusive behaviour.
Stuff that used to be acceptable and even the norm in Scotland and in Scottish football is not any more.
After a season of no fans we are heading for sizeable crowds and even the possibility of full stadia over the coming months.
Song books and terracing chants and insults will re-emerge with a bang.
Sy, Fergie and bile of any kind were never really just ‘banter’ and they no longer have a place.
That raises some questions for the SFA and SPFL and I hope they have prepared for what’s a coming.
Fifa and Uefa will no longer sanction some of what used to be ‘acceptable’ and it is only a matter of time till we have a walking-off incident or a recording sent to Uefa and a mess.
A kind of Scottish-fuelled Mexican Stand-Off is heading our way.
The football world has changed and I’m not so sure we all have.
4. A New Approach to Media Management
I’d heard some rumblings a couple of weeks ago, but it seems Scottish Champions Rangers have a new cunning plan and angle on fund raising.
It’s well known that the red tops in particular in Scotland have full time writers filling pre-allocated space to our big clubs on a daily basis. Sometimes they have real news from their allocated club and sometimes they make it up or create ‘fillers’.
It is a symbiotic relationship and means the journalists are quasi members of the team.
Does that lead to insightful journalism and critique?
I think you can guess the answer to that.
Anyway it works because it has been a commercial balance.
Fans who still buy newspapers get to read about their favourite teams every day even if nothing is happening.
Fans who don’t buy newspapers still hear the news because other media outlets pick up on the ‘headlines’ to frame their daily coverage.
The big clubs as a by-product get millions of pounds of free ‘advertorial’ every year.
So what has changed and what is the cunning plan?
Some clubs are coming to realise that their news output is too valuable to give away.
They already have their own commercial media outlets, tv, interweb, podcasts etc and this can and does produce revenues.
Anyway recently Rangers have come out with a proposal that has been discussed mostly behind closed doors but also in some titles.
Mike Keegan of the Daily Mail said ‘Rangers have asked for various sums in a new ‘Media Partnership Package’ initiative.’
He reported that £25K paid to the club by a title brings one reporter and one photographer to all matches, pre match press conferences and 5 sit down exclusives with Steven Gerrard.
£10K brings access and one exclusive with Stevie.
A big change to what currently happens when conferences and matches are free for accredited press.
So far it is reported that only one media outlet has paid, it didn’t say who.
I can see that clubs want to increasingly mine their support for increased revenues.
And with many of the fans remote and unable to attend matches regularly or maybe even not at all, this all makes sense.
Speaking with an old colleague who specialised in high-end sports sponsorship I asked what he thought was going on.
His view is that this is just opportunism and will not happen successfully but what we will see is clubs seeking more and more monies direct from their fans so it will not go away.
‘Andy, rule number 1 in football is all clubs want more.
Why take 5000 fans to Tynecastle giving Hearts the revenue, when you can sell your own fans your live tv and keep it for yourself.
And remember your big two clubs up there who can sell out their season books to their own fans don’t need or necessarily want away fans.
This is a power play driven by what commercial departments see as ‘attainable’ new money’.
And while we’re on what’s going on up there?
There is nobody in sponsorship who isn’t aware of the current spat between Rangers and the BBC.
It makes your league and your SFA look Mickey Mouse.
It’s ugly, unprofessional and from where we are sitting plain stupid.
I don’t care what it is actually about but it’s a boil and should be lanced.
The SFA or the SPFL should grasp this nettle.
Start by looking at the facts.
If the club’s complaint is upheld and the grievance genuine they should back the club and go to war with the BBC collectively.
i.e., the whole of Scottish football together.
If the club is out of order, they should find a time-honoured face-saving way of peace breaking out.
Just do it guys or you’ll stay stuck in the little league of third-rate sponsors and nickel and diming dealings.’
5. Our Girls (Ultimately Unsuccessful) Emotional Rollercoaster
The result from the Olympic Women’s Football quarter finals shows the Aussies beat us 4-3 after extra time.
We came from being behind to a 35th minute Aussie goal to leading 2-1 right up till 2 minutes left.
Scotland’s own Caroline Weir’s missed penalty early in extra time was probably the turning point and Australia scored twice soon after to progress.
2 of the other quarter finals needed penalties and the last 4 sides left are Australia, Canada, Sweden, and USA.
Catch it if you can as it progresses.
Olympic Women’s football has changed our game for the better and for ever.
As always feel free to contact me about anything in Scottish Football.
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