After yet another awful decision during yesterday’s Scottish Cup win over Morton, the talk is once again all about referees.
I cant be the only one that’s getting sick of talking about it without seeing any sign of change?
But it’s not just refereeing that’s wrong with Scottish Football.
This season we’ve also had the announcement of an extension to the existing TV deal with Sky with no apparent consideration of any viable alternatives.
And the other major discussion I’m seeing is around how Celtic and Rangers are moving further and further ahead of the rest of the league.
In the bubble that is Scottish Football all three of these topics have something in common.
Instead of the conversation being about how we can improve, what we can do differently or what creative thinking can be applied, the responses are instead been along the lines of :
- “It’s always been this way”
- “It’s only Scotland”
- “Change is too risky”
- “It’s like this everywhere”
Even when these arguments are easily disproven, we still hear them.
Ultimately they boil down to the people in charge lacking the vision, imagination and work ethic to improve our game.
There’s a lack of belief that the paying fans would still follow our game if things were to change.
I don’t understand it. We’re a nation where one thing is indisputable.
Scotland is a football mad country. We love our game and will watch (almost) any version of football that’s being served up.
On that basis, we really should be in a position where the powers that be allow themselves to try something different.
If I had the power to change 3 things in our game I would start with the following:
Refereeing needs to be overhauled. Top to bottom.
There are clearly issues around how incidents are being interpreted. Nothing seems to be happening to try to help the referees. The VAR referees in particular should be getting far more right than they have been.
I’m not sure if we need professional referees but we should at least have VAR referees who understand the rules of the game and are better able to communicate these with the refs on the park.
From what we’ve witnessed over the last three months or so this currently isn’t the case.
What about a system of referees and VAR referees which stick to each side of refereeing. Instead of getting Collum on the pitch one week then Collum behind a camera the next.
— 🏴 SB🍀 (@_SB_88_) January 22, 2023
I think @PimplyShibbles might be onto something here.
Do we really need VARs to be the same as the on field referees?
Are there people out there that understand the rules but possibly cant get about the pitch that we could be using to assist from a video monitor?
The other thing that’s abundantly clear is that communication between the officials needs to improve.
If they are doing things behind the scenes then we should be informed.
We heard ex-ref Kenny Clark on Radio Scotland a few weeks ago who essentially confirmed that nothing was being done to improve matters behind the scenes.
This suggests to me that we need new people in charge.
2. Scottish Mainstream Media as a Whole
Trolling the Fans
Scottish Football fans are abysmally served by the media in and around our game.
The main reporters covering the game seem to spend a large chunk of their time trying to troll for interaction.
I understand that print media is a dying industry and that it’s a tried and tested way to keep the pounds rolling in.
It’s nonsense, but I get it.
What I don’t understand is why our broadcast media don’t instead turn their focus to actively trying to improve our game.
A Lack of Ambition
There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for improvement.
We’re sold the product as if it cant get better when it obviously can.
There are loads of good things that go on unreported.
Instead the narrative selected for discussion is the latest pantomime they can latch onto.
Even then there’s no suggestion as to how it can be avoided. Its laughed off as, “What are we like lol”.
They can do so much more to try and help our game improve.
3. Positioning Scottish Football / TV Deal
A big issue for me is around the TV deal we’ve tied ourselves into.
Sky pay lip service to our game. 30 minute preview shows if we’re lucky.
Pundits who appear to be watching teams play for the first time and who barely know the players involved.
It’s extremely poor.
BBC Radio Scotland are little better. Don’t get me started on trying to find Scottish Football news on the BBC website.
A lot of it comes down to the TV deal we keep signing up to.
Our clubs are each getting a couple of million per season from broadcast revenue.
For that, Sky then broadcasts a very limited number of our games. No wonder everyone is so ill informed about the teams and players in our game.
Scottish Football should in my opinion be a league that develops and sells on future stars to richer leagues.
We are well positioned to do just that.
We’ve the richest league in the world on our doorstep.
Four leagues who have restrictions on work permits that we don’t have and are actively looking to bring in talent from Scotland as a result.
Not only that, more recently Italian scouts are now monitoring our players. Josh Doig, Aaron Hickey (now at Brentford) and Lewis Ferguson have all excelled in Serie A.
I think the focus should be on getting as many people to watch our games as possible. Making it as available as possible.
Promoting the positive things happening in our game far better than is happening just now. Even if that reduces the value of the overall TV deal.
The “big” games will guarantee a base amount even allowing for radical changes to the deal.
There is of course a limit as to what viewing numbers we can expect a league such as ours to attract. However, there are opportunities around sponsorship and advertising that would surely increase in value if the games were more readily available.
I’ll never understand the argument the Hibs Chairman Ron Gordon made when the announcement was made about the new deal.
He was positively delighted that they had managed to keep the number of games being broadcast down. It was as if he failed to understand that fans PREFER to go to see their team live.
Take yesterdays Celtic vs Morton game. It was live on the BBC for free (presuming you’ve paid your TV licence….).
Morton – currently in the Scottish Championship – added to an already healthy crowd by bringing over 2,000 fans to the game.
In January. In the middle of a cost of living crisis. It simply doesn’t add up. And all credit to the Morton fans for backing their team in such volume.
I’d like a proper discussion to take place with REAL analysis into what is best for our games long term health.
Hiding it away from the world at the mercy of Sky “potentially” choosing to show more games doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
The other thing I’d like a serious discussion on is league reconstruction.
We often hear about why clubs fail to offer serious competition to our games big two.
In fact, we’re currently hearing from the new manager of Rangers suggesting that they also aren’t able to compete due to finances.
I’m not suggesting Celtic having more money isn’t an advantage. Of course it is.
What I’d argue is whether ANY club in Scotland including Celtic is punching their weight given the resources available.
Celtic are making strides towards maximising our resources but I think we are still years away from where we can be.
There are clubs Celtic have been facing regularly from across Europe who have budgets similar to the fourth and fifth placed sides in the Scottish Premiership, yet they find themselves streets ahead of their Scottish counterparts.
I think much of this is a direct result of our league structure.
We regularly see our clubs use their budgets to bring in quick fixes rather than focus on development of styles of play and youth footballers.
I expect its largely due to the jeopardy of relegation more than any other reason.
I’ve heard the argument about reducing the number of full time teams. About trying to condense quality of the sides into a smaller set of leagues. I think that’s counter productive and we’ve tried that for far too long now.
Its clearly not working.
There are opportunities to include B teams into the Scottish Football pyramid to provide better quality learning opportunities for the best young talent in the league.
This is always met with opposition from fans of other clubs.
Often the argument is that if you don’t play them in your first team then just sell them.
Well, my counter argument is that not enough clubs are willing to provide first team opportunities ANYWHERE so where does that leave these young players?
Surely by allowing B Teams to develop better quality players, everyone will benefit as by and large these players eventually feed into clubs across the leagues anyway?
Allowing B Teams would mean a higher calibre of player feeds in when the time comes.
If it’s a financial benefit issue then surely there are deals that can be made to ensure that everyone benefits from more quality young players coming through?
I’d argue that the product improving might already be incentive enough for this to happen.
Rising Through the Pyramid
There is the other issue with just how difficult it is for clubs to move up the pyramid.
There are a number of clubs who are showing ambition in the lower reaches, all competing for very few spots to move into the league.
It takes far too long.
I’d like a situation where these teams can make the step up and freshen up our league pyramid a whole lot quicker.
Instead there’s talk of adding a further tier to try and fudge the B Teams in. We need a smarter plan than this.
What Should The Change Look Like?
All clubs of course have different wants and needs. They all deserve a voice and a solution that’s acceptable to the majority.
I had a look a few weeks back into our attendance figures.
We have 22 clubs averaging over 1,500 fans at their games each week. Then a drop to Queen Of The South at under 1,200. I think that’s a reasonable indicator of how many clubs could potentially support top flight football.
A top flight of 16,18 or even 20 teams would allow clubs some breathing space to plan across a number of years instead of the transfer window to transfer window approach we see currently see.
More promotion and relegation would keep things fresh and help avoid clubs stagnating in the lower reaches due to just how difficult it currently is to progress.
As for the lower leagues, I wont pretend to speak on behalf of their fans. Do they want regionalised football? Do they harbour ambitions to go up the leagues to the point that they might attend more regularly, and in bigger numbers?
The argument against having more teams with smaller fanbases in the top flight I’d counter with the makeup of other similar level leagues.
Portugal, Belgium and Holland all have clubs with small attendances in their top flights.
They continually outperform Scotland on player development and in European competition.
They have clubs no bigger than Hearts who can punch their weight at European level.
We can learn from these countries.
I’m not suggesting there’s any quick fix to these issues.
None of this is straightforward and my thoughts may well be wrong.
However, it’s not unreasonable to request that grown-up discussions take place on these issues, instead of what appears to be self-preservation at this moment in time.
I’d like to hear the real reasons why our referees get so many clear decisions wrong.
I’d like to know why we have one of the worst TV deals in Europe.
And I’d like to know why clubs with decent budgets continually invest in journeymen pros, rather than give game time to youth players and looking to develop progressive footballing styles.
I’m often surprised by just how little these topics are discussed.
It’s possible that what we see around refereeing just now might be a good indicator as to why this is the case.
Turning fans on one another is far easier than trying to make things better.
We as supporters all fall for it but i’d like us to get better at putting pressure on the people running our game to strive for improvement.
There’s so much energy being lost to futile arguments that could be better spent on making the product the best that it can possibly be.
It’s remarkable that it’s as good as it is with just how little care and vision is being shown at the moment.
TUNE IN TO THE LATEST EPISODE OF THE CELTIC EXCHANGE WHERE WE DEBATE SFA FAILINGS, DREAM DEBUTS, THE GIAKOUMAKIS PUZZLE AND MUCH MORE.
AVAILABLE ON ALL MAJOR PODCAST PLAYERS, HERE AT THE CELTIC EXCHANGE, OR BY CLICKING THE PLAYER BELOW.