Thursday, August 13, 2009

As a Scotland fan, you get used to those embarrassing results. They still hurt, but there’s a kind of inevitability that what you just witnessed won’t be the last such result.

We have the really low points of Peru and Iran in Argentina 1978, Costa Rico in Italia 90 and pretty much the whole Berti Vogts era. Can we get any lower than being 2-0 down away to the Faroe Islands at half time? Hopefully not, but last night was starting to run it close at times as Scotland crashed, and were crushed, 4-0 away to Norway in a World Cup Qualifier.

I want to use that old “we were lucky to get nil” line, but even that doesn’t do the performance justice in a game where we had to return with three points to keep our ever decreasing play off hopes alive. Even the linesman felt sorry for us, by not giving a Norwegian goal that clearly crossed the line.

Sure you can argue that Riise could have had two yellows before he scored, but I counter that by saying if he’d been booked for the first tackle then the second one wouldn’t have merited a booking. Did Carew dive that should have earned him a second yellow? Well I’ve watched that incident several times and it’s still too close to call as to whether it was a penalty or not. Did Caldwell deserve to go? Yes. I still feel he went for being the last man and not a second booking and his first challenge was a shocker.

We can argue all we like about those points. The fact is we would have still lost, just maybe not been humiliated in the process. We were poor beyond belief last night, with no spark. No flair. No ideas. No hope.

All the good work that was done under Walter Smith and Alex McLeish is in danger of being undone in just a few short months under George Burley. But it’s not just Burley and the Scottish national team that’s the problem, it’s the whole of Scottish football at the moment.

Something is rotten in the state of Scotland and it HAS to change and fast. Our game is a laughing stock on the world level. The State of the Nation - embarrassing.

Where to start?

Well the Scottish Football Association top brass needs cleared out. Get some visionaries and out of the box thinkers in there that can lay the foundations for long term future growth. I would happily miss this World Cup and the next Euros if we were told that the younger players were coming through and we were part of a 5 year plan.

Get the right manager in the position as Scotland manager. I don’t care whether he’s Scottish, English or Martian. Get a man manager that will get the best out of the players he has at his disposal. Let’s face it, we have mediocre players. So did Smith and McLeish, but they got them going, motivated and most importantly, winning. Where is our Egil Olsen?

No World Cup qualification since 1998, one World Cup qualification in what looks like being the last five attempts and no Euros qualification for the last three tournaments. That’s pretty depressing stuff.

Internationally we are no longer viewed as a danger team. Bar the very odd exception, none of our national team players are playing with the top Clubs outside of Scotland. It’s all lower Premiership and Championship teams in England. Those with the Old Firm are hardly being tested week in and week out in the Scottish game. We don’t have our guys playing in Serie A, La Liga or the Bundesliga anymore. Do we really need to ask why that is?

I know we don’t have anyone like Dalglish, Law, Bremner or Jordan at our disposal any more but we must have better than some of the players who wore the jersey recently. And if not, why not? That’s the crux of the matter.

Maybe it’s just the mentality of the modern day player, but where’s the fire? Where’s the passion? Where’s our players of the future?

The domestic game in Scotland has been farcical for years and every year it just shows signs of getting worse.

In the SPL it’s always a two horse race with a third team making a decent run at the Old Firm once every decade it seems. Sure, last season’s SPL was exciting with last day drama, but it was like bald men fighting over a comb.

The top six split is pointless. It’s just the bigger, richer clubs saying “we don’t really need you guys” to the rest.

Any team outside Celtic and Rangers that does do well and does bring on younger players soon see them snapped up for a pittance by the Old Firm to mostly fester and be ruined in the reserves at the evil twins.

Our European exploits at Club level this season have been cringingly embarrassing. Three teams out of the Europa League preliminary rounds already, with one more soon to follow I would expect. Motherwell nearly went out to a Welsh team and lost a game to an Albanian side. I was telling someone this the other day and they were laughing, but they nearly fell off their seat when I went on to explain that Falkirk had crashed out to a side from the mighty football giants of Liechtenstein. At least Celtic restored some pride with their performance in Moscow but that was nearly another disaster.

What is happening to our game? A game we used to be able to take some pride from?

The lower Scottish leagues have too many deadweight Clubs. Too many Clubs in general perhaps? More are in danger of falling by the wayside every year but instead of looking at league reconstruction and keeping a reduced number of sides, the Scottish Football League just keep bringing in the new boys.

The SFL have lost face with the continuing Livingston farce that we all hope will be sorted out today, but probably all know that it won’t be. If Livingston’s appeal is rejected, they will try to take it further leading to more disruption. If the SFL back down and don’t demote Livi then it’s the most embarrassing thing to happen in the Scottish domestic game since, well, last close season really.

So that’s the problems (or at least some of them), what’s the solutions? I know it’s easy to pick away at things but there’s no point in doing that without suggesting ways forward.

For me, it all hinges on the domestic game and the development of youth and home grown players.

There has to be League reconstruction. Forget your SPL2 and all that nonsense. Increase the SPL to 16 or 18 teams. Reduce the fear factor and need to succeed. Yes this will mean more meaningless games but every league around the world has that. What that will do is allow teams to play young players. To develop young players. Allow them to play at the top level in Scotland with a bit less fear of what might happen if they lose a few games.

Ok, we might struggle in European competitions for a few years, but it can’t be much worse than what’s been happening.

Reorganise the lower divisions regionally to keep travelling costs down for Clubs and fans. More local derbies, more local rivalries, bigger crowds (in theory) and a lot more excitement than making long hundreds of miles trips with little travelling support. Get some kind of pyramid system going.

There has to be a quota of a minimum of 5 or 6 homegrown players in each SPL side. I know this won’t stop the Old Firm buying the best ones, but at least they might get games this way. I’d like a quote of 8 but know this would be unrealistic with all the EU laws. Getting any quota will be difficult enough with all that nonsense.

Insist all SPL and SFL Clubs have youth initiatives as part of their membership and provide grants to help them. The SFA should chip in with this as it’s going to benefit them and the national team in the long term.

East Fife have finally started to make the right moves in this regard and it’s very exciting for all concerned with the Club as to what that might produce for years to come. In Canada, the model adopted by Vancouver Whitecaps residency and youth development programme is what should be held up as the way forward for Clubs all over the world. It’s already leading to the MLS taking note, albeit slowly. They’re looking at the best kids from 12 years old in the area (and beyond) and working with them and properly developing them, every step of the way. So many of them have broken through into the first team in the last few years.

This isn’t all pie in the sky, pipe dream stuff. It’s things that are happening in Leagues all over the world. Leagues and countries which are heads and shoulders above us on the international scene.

I want to be proud of the Scottish national team again and proud of the Scottish game. I don’t want to have a Norwegian voice in my head going “Billy Connolly, Sean Connery, wee Jimmy Crankie, your boys took one hell of a beating”.

Football is our national game. It’s time we took it back, unite and force the powers that be into changing the game we love before it’s too late.

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  1. We need joined up thinking between all of the associations, I recently considered the link between amateur and professional football.

    Amateur footballers are arguably the people most passionate about football in the country yet they are excluded from watching the professional game due to clashing kick-off times.

  2. Very good point which I'd never really thought of before. If anyone has any skill and plays regularly then they can't watch the team they support play until they retire.

    The problem with all the associations is that too many people have too many self interests.

    It saddens me that you can't really see anything changing in Scottish football any time soon.

  3. Been writing about this quite a lot myself. A complete shake up of the way the game's run to try and breathe some life into football at every level. Problem is it's always the vested interests who vote on any change.


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