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Snapshot by Daniel Gray and Alan McCredie

Scenes and stories from the heartlands of Scottish football, Nutmeg, 2020, 208 p.

The introduction claims this book to be “a love letter to the charms of football …. a portal into a different kind of Scotland.” Well, maybe; but it’s a portal through which many people have travelled.

As an aside I notice on the cover photo (of a pitch on Eriskay) there are flags marking the halfway line. I thought those had been done away with years ago.

For each “chapter” we have a page or three of narrative. These describe in turn the unsung background people, the beating heart of every club, “ensuring our Saturdays have purpose, comfort and melancholy;” the return to normality and focus of a new season’s start; the contrasting fortunes of the two “wee” Rangers, of Berwick and of Cove; the bright promise of a ground you’ve never been to before; the “gentle pleasures” of football in the Borders (notwithstanding the brutalist concrete splendour of Gala Fairydean’s main stand;) the rigours and dangers of blaes pitches; the magic of a floodlit game, forever enchanting; the glory and misery of away trips; the local team as the heart of a community, embodied in its social club especially in Junior football; the joys of park football; the content the writer senses in the Highland League.

The match day experience of attending a midweek floodlit game in a minor league is highlighted by a photograph of a neglected bottle of orange juice and a mug with the word “Twat” printed on it sitting on top of a dugout.

Football’s past is given its due with photos of an iron fence and gate before where the main stand stood at The Gymnasium; trees striding down the terraces of Cathkin Park; a single Art Deco style wall still bearing the name Shawfield; the sole survivor of Brockville, a turnstile acting as a memorial in the car park of the town’s Morrisons; the overgrown terraces of Tinto Park, Benburb; Meadowbank stadium’s “oddly alluring air of otherness …. a little pocket of Leningrad tucked behind Arthur’s Seat.”

An even more melancholy note is struck by the mention of two Hibs supporters, one photographed on an away trip, who succumbed to Covid-19, with the final paragraphs devoted to the loss the average fan has experienced as a result of the pandemic’s suspension of the Saturday ritual.

Pedant’s corner:- “a 1,000” (either ‘a thousand’ or ‘1,000’. 1,000 does not stand for ‘thousand’, it is specifically ‘one thousand’; no one ever says, ‘a one thousand’,) “their 54 years of league football had ceased” (Berwick Rangers joined the Scottish League proper in 1955; 64 years, then; 68 if you count the Division C years,) Berwick fans in August “singing ‘Back to school tomorrow’ to visiting young fans of Scottish clubs” (unless it was a midweek game more likely ‘Back to school on Monday’,) Rangers’ (Rangers’s,) Rovers’ (Rovers’s,) “the club … are familiar” (the club … is familiar,) “the first senior league game at Cove’s Balmoral Stadium.” (Okay, the writer used a lower case ‘s’, but…. Cove have been Senior ever since they joined the Highland League, so, ‘their first game in a nationwide league,’) “Galashiels Fairydean Rovers FC” (the club’s name is Gala Fairydean Rovers FC.)

Rangers 1-0 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Ibrox Stadium, 5/4/16.

I meant to post about this yesterday but for some reason it slipped my mind.

This could have been worse. Given the significance of the evening for Rangers we could have been in for a doing and I feared that. I also feared the outcome even more when Livi went one up on Hibs, but that went our way as well in the end.

But how can a team go from an abject surrender to Queen of the South to what seems to have been a resolute performance against the best team in the division? Unless, of course the players tried harder on a bigger stage: but that would be a form of cheating all the other times.

Queen of the South up next on Tuesday, but we could be a point behind Livi by then.

On a more cynical note: how long will it be after Hibs get back to the top tier once again before we in the lower leagues are cut off once more (as we were by the SPL)? That’s the subtext I read into this “good for Scottish football” spiel which has greeted Rangers Tier 2 win. The way things were was only good for two clubs, not Scottish football as a whole.

Quo Vadis?

Rangers attitude to Scottish football reconstruction has hardened. Their chief executive has suggested they should leave Scottish football if the plans go through.

It looks like they at least don’t believe the plans are designed to elevate them prematurely.

But where could they go? UEFA and FIFA against clubs playing outside their own country’s borders (special dispensation applies to Welsh clubs who historically plied their trade in England and Monaco is also a special case. I’m not sure where FC Vaduz – a Liechtenstein team in the Swiss league – comes in this regard.) England is a non-starter; even given UEFA blessing they would hardly be able to jump straight into the Football League nor even the Conference. (Sorry, the Blue Square Premier League.)

This is a blowing of hot air, perhaps as a reflection of relative impotence. Their absence from the highest echelon is obviously getting to them. (For the next Cup weekend I had planned a post – as yet unwritten – relating to this.)

I do agree the proposals are a dog’s breakfast. The solution to Scottish football’s financial problems is for the top clubs to take a tumble to their real status* and cut their cloth accordingly. Stop spending money they don’t have and don’t budget for TV deals; take them as a bonus.

*Piss-poor league in a piss-poor country on Europe’s periphery. Deal with it.

Scottish Football Fans’ Survey

A poster on the Scottish football fans’ forum The Pie Shop – otherwise known as Pie and Bovril – has put up a link (which I copy here) to a new survey Supporters Direct is undertaking to ascertain fans’ views on various topics of concern/interest.

If you are at all interested in Scottish football – especially if you support a “small” club – please add your contribution to the survey. The more respondents there are the more weight Supporters Direct will have in discussions with the football authorities.

Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City

Carling Cup; Final. Wembley Stadium, 27/02/11

This game showed that dodgy offside decisions are not restricted to Scottish lower league football. Even in real time, on television, it was obvious that Lee Bowyer was onside when Zigic played him in very early on. The television replays only confirmed it. A penalty and sending off would have been the sure result of a correct decision.

Had Arsenal gone on to win this game it would have been an injustice for that reason alone. But then maybe if they had gone down to ten men they would have rallied and Birmingham might have relaxed. As it was Birmingham stuck at it and reaped their reward through another Arsenal defensive mix-up.

Arsène Wenger seems to have a blind spot as far as defence is concerned. At Arsenal he inherited a good one but he doesn’t seem to be able to construct one himself.

Now that I’ve said that they’ll probably win the three trophies they’re still contesting this season.

The Death Of Scottish Football? 3.

I’ve posted about their sheer damned nerve before. Twice over in fact.

But now we see it in all its naked self interest.

These proposals are not to the benefit of Scottish football as a whole.

They would do nothing – absolute zero – to improve the national team’s efforts to qualify for major championships.

They would do nothing to further the development of young players – quite the reverse: their appearance in first teams would be much less likely.

Neither would the base of the game be widened and strengthened. It would almost certainly mean the demise of the current SFL clubs who have little chance of ever reaching Division 1, far less the SPL. By and large these clubs live within their means and on occasion turn up players whom the bigger clubs have missed. They also have dedicated fans (albeit in small numbers) who are passionate about their allegiances and would be lost to the game if their clubs were to go under.

Any clubs who aspire to SFL membership will not gain from this either as very shortly there wouldn’t be an SFL to aspire to. The new SPL2 won’t let the likes of Spartans in, you can be sure of that.

What the proposals might do is ensure that the Old Firm continue to receive the lion’s share of television exposure – and monies – and entrench the current imbalance that is the true source of Scottish football’s malaise. (Two teams win most of the competitions and the rest barely get a look in.)

They will also make sure that the SPL1 and 2 is in fact a closed shop.

The SPL says it has canvassed thousands of Scottish fans about these proposals. Well; nobody asked me.

A discussion on the fan site Pie and Bovril did direct me to a survey (http://www.surveymonkey.com) after the proposals were announced, but this isn’t connected to the SPL, I believe. Just in case it is I urge you all to access this and opt against anything similar to an SPL1 and 2.

And as for regionalisation below the SPL, that would largely deprive me of the chance to watch my team as I no longer live in its area. At the moment I can attend lots of away games; under regionalisation that would probably change. From being a frequent attender at matches, I would become more or less a stranger to Scottish football.

The suggestion that SPL reserve teams should play in the regionalised league below SPL1/2 is simply outrageous. They had a reserve league of their own and disbanded it. Let them set it up again or else loan their reserves out to gain experience. Do not sully a totally different competition with teams you can’t be bothered to cater for otherwise. Foisting them on someone else is more than high-handed. It smacks of bullying.

I can’t tell you the despair that these proposals have engendered in me. Quite simply, without the prospect of promotion and relegation throughout the Scottish football system – I am by no means against a pyramid coming into being provided that there is a suitable league for demoted SFL clubs to play in – but, remember, for most of those located in West and Central Scotland there isn’t at the moment – then there is little point in carrying on.

The main things that would free up the current arrangements and lessen the staleness that abounds are either

1. immediately increasing the available promotion spots from SFL1 to the SPL, or

2. getting rid of playing teams four times a season (in other words increasing the size of the various divisions.)

That last would probably mean only one SPL league and two SFL divisions.

I do hope the teams at the top of the SFL Div 1 won’t be seduced by the mere possibility of games against the ugly sisters that they will go for this.

In fact, they’re probably going to do better in attendance terms if they are doing reasonably well in the SFL than if they were struggling in the SPL.

The response of the SFL to all this ought to be, “Two words; seven letters; three of them ‘f’.”

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