Tag Archives: SFA

An Unglamorous Option

In an interesting article yesterday, Michael Grant, Chief Football Writer for The Herald, wrote about English clubs pillaging the most promising talent from among the youth teams in Scotland, long before they have the opportunity to fully develop and make any real contribution to the Scottish game:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/opinion/english-clubs-cross-the-rubicon-as-they-pillage-young-players.19963437

He is referring to an aggressive style of courtship that has flourished partly because of the category two ranking of compensation fees between Scottish and English clubs, allowing English clubs to entice our best young players with the promise of significantly higher earning potential, at a relatively low cost.

He goes on to suggest that upgrading cross-border compensation fees to category one between Clydesdale Bank Premier League and the Barclay’s Premier League would help address this problem, meaning that English clubs would have to pay more than twice the amount they currently pay in compensation.

That would definitely be a start and I am sure the majority of Scottish clubs would be delighted with such a move. However, it doesn’t really help the long term ambitions of Scottish football in general. How can the game in Scotland ever be improved if this unfortunate pillaging of our best young players continues, albeit with higher levels of compensation?

We are often told that one of the key solutions to the decline in Scottish football is to invest in youth development, better training facilities and academies, and so on, in order to identify and nurture the best of our talent at a young enough age.

In Henry McLeish’s 2010 Review of Scottish Football, for example, he argued that, among other things, investing more in Grassroots, Recreation and Youth Development, would be essential to addressing some of the key problems in our game:

http://www.scottishfa.co.uk/scottish_fa_news.cfm?page=1957&newsID=5777

Of course he is absolutely correct in saying this. It is an obvious place to start. And league reconstruction is an obvious one too. But you really have to wonder just how effective all of this would be as a means of improving the game in Scotland when, even with a re-categorisation of cross-border compensation fees, the aggressive pillaging of our best young talent by the wealthy elite in England is likely to continue, unabated; even more so, if the calibre were to improve again as a result of significant new investment.

Thinking up a fine array of initiatives to improve standards at youth level and above is futile if we cannot find a way of incentivising that talent to remain in Scotland. Pushing for higher compensation fees would only help in so far as it brought some additional income into the Scottish game, but it certainly wouldn’t stop our best young talent being lured down to England.

It is difficult not to be too cynical. But in a world defined by unimaginable wealth and dictated by those who are in possession of it, ignoring the advances of persuasive agents in order to continue with the less lucrative hard work you have started, is most unlikely.

Until the financial bubble bursts in English football, the game in Scotland appears destined to be an occasional provider of under-developed Scottish youths with star potential, and a regular developer of unknown foreign players, for wealthier clubs in England. Few perceive it to be anything other than that now.

It would take a deep rooted attitudinal shift to reposition the Scottish game as an attractive end in itself, rather than the means to the more financially lucrative end it has become. But it appears to be no longer obvious to anyone within the Scottish game how that shift could ever be achieved. A radically new way of thinking is required. Until then, Scottish football will remain an unglamorous option.

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Some Thoughts on Charles Green’s Christmas Message

Referring to the link between an individual’s social status and his outward appearance, Charles Dickens wrote in his classic novel Oliver Twist, that dignity is ‘sometimes more a question of coat and waistcoat than some people would imagine’.

Throw in some brown brogues and he was definitely on the money.

Joking aside, Dickens makes an important point worth expanding: in the same sense that class distinctions have no factual basis in reality, other than by decree, what we commonly mean by ‘integrity’ is sometimes more a question of image and perception than it is of actual moral substance.

Until recently, dignity and integrity thus misconstrued were the two supporting pillars of Scottish football’s great dependency myth. The third pillar was the unquestioning belief in the disastrous consequences that would ensue on removal of the great historical custodians of the latter.

There is now a fourth, but it is still under construction. Early indications are that it is shaping up to be quite a formidable replacement for the ones that finally crumbled earlier this year. Charles Green’s Christmas Message is more like a call to arms than peaceful greetings.

Yet Green’s advantage over David Murray and Craig Whyte is that the perception of injustice is a much more powerful motivator of masses than a long standing expectation of entitlement. If he plays it correctly, he knows how much money he stands to make from his latest enterprise. It’s all about profit maximisation.

Charles Green invites us to believe that he has refreshed and rejuvenated Scottish football, filling the stockings of the other clubs in the Third Division.

But his invitation is nothing more than a cynical attempt at restoring damaged pride by rejuvenating the belief in dignity and integrity, amplified this time by the perception of injustice endured at the hands of other football Chairmen and two of the game’s three governing bodies.

Charles Green is probably onto a winner in monetary terms. He seems to have managed the mood. But the mood that has been managed is one that was actively encouraged by him, for the sake of making as much profit as he possibly could.

Whilst the benefit of his strategy is that it will yield decent financial returns in the short to medium term, the long term disadvantage is that Charles Green will walk away when it suits his wallet, leaving that mood completely unmanaged, like an angry dog waiting on the postman.

Charles Green admitted that he hadn’t yet received a card from Dundee United, the SFA or the SPL.

He is probably in for a long wait. And the dog will be barking when these particular cards finally arrive.

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‘Three Leagues of Eight’

‘Three leagues of eight’ – what on earth is happening to Scottish football?

Apparently the problem with Scottish football is that there are too many meaningless games, with next to no incentive for the majority of teams to try hard beyond February every year. In other words, the semblance of competition is over too quickly. And all because of the existing league structure.

Solution? Create two leagues out of twenty two teams, split them up into three leagues of eight teams after twenty two games – with battles raging from February onwards for promotion or otherwise – and there you have it, competitiveness restored! Brilliant, why didn’t someone think of that earlier…before our game started sliding down the drain?

Because it is an utterly stupid idea, that’s why.

Why would you think that the solution to the decline in Scottish football would lie in chopping up small leagues into micro leagues? Where exactly did that wonky logic come from?

I am sceptical. I don’t think it is the structure per se that makes the league uncompetitive. I think it has got more to do with the self-defeating belief, shared by too many of our teams, their managers, their chairmen and supporters, that there really is nothing to play for beyond Christmas.

And arguably, their resignation may be justified. Surely you don’t have to look too hard to see that the ball is already well on its way to being burst at the start of every year? Granted, but that isn’t going to change as a result of league reconstruction.

Our players aren’t going to become better players, our referees aren’t going to stop making honest mistakes, and the sneaky gentlemen who lurk in the shadowy corridors of power aren’t going to suddenly grow a pair of balls and rid the game of those – themselves included – who specialise in bendy rules.

It is not the existing league structure that is holding Scottish football back. The problem with Scottish football stems from the protectionist policies of its power brokers. Their insatiable greed and permanent cluelessness have been contributing to the slow death of our game for years.

But so too has the damaging belief that many of our players appear to subscribe to. It is the belief that they are not good enough to challenge for honours at the end of the season. And it is the belief that their Scottish identity is no longer equivalent to exportable skill, strength and grit – that magnificent persona belongs to a past generation of Scottish footballers.

Sort all of that out and you might be a step closer to sorting out the mess that Scottish football has become.

‘Three leagues of eight’? Do us a favour!

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A Paranoid Interpretation of a 1905 Newspaper Report: Rowdyism at Parkhead

SCOTTISH CUP-SEMI-FINALS RANGERS V. CELTIC

ROWDYISM AT PARKHEAD

“The Referee had had occasion to penalise and speak to Quinn before, chiefly for his attentions to the Rangers’ goalkeeper, and as the end was drawing nigh he ordered him to the pavilion…That was too much for some hot-headed and irresponsible youths with Celtic sympathies, and they scaled the spiked pailings and invaded the field of play…the infection spread and soon there would be two hundred mischief-makers on the pitch. Most of the unruly members were mere lads, and matters would not have been at all serious if some of them had not attacked and struck at Mr Robertson, the Referee, their purpose obviously being to show their resentment towards that official for putting the Celtic player off the field…It was a most unfortunate occurrence, and, whatever action is taken by the Scottish Football Association, it may be taken for granted that the tie will be awarded to the Rangers, for when the disturbance took place, they had their opponents well beaten”

Celtic – Adams; McLeod and Orr; Young, Lonie and Hay; Bennett, McMenemy, Quinn, Somers and Hamilton.

The Scotsman March 27th, 1905

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It is interesting to note the language used in this excerpt from The Scotsman newspaper in 1905.

Had this happened today, would it have been described in the same terms by the Scottish media? Or would we be treated to a different style of report, one which serves a different purpose and promotes a different agenda?

Would ‘ROWDYISM’ have been used to describe what happened; or would a term with greater sensationalist impact have been preferred? Or was ‘ROWDYISM’ a 1905 equivalent to today’s sensationalist newspaper terms?

It is also interesting to note the following description: ‘hot-headed and irresponsible youths with Celtic sympathies’ were responsible for spreading an ‘infection’ as they entered the field of play. Perhaps the sensationalism was present then, just as much as it is today.

Perhaps, hidden behind the far more ordinary and much politer terms of the day were the signs of an early unconscious bias in the media that has continued through to 2012.

The motive of the ‘unruly members’ was to express their resentment at the referee’s handling of the Celtic player in this game. Again, very little has changed.

And finally, the report subtly reveals the early 20th century relationship between the SFA and the Scottish Media. It stops short of advising the Scottish Football Association to award the tie to the Rangers, but puts it forward as a decision that ‘may be taken for granted’…

(Interestingly, no mention of sectarianism…)

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Tapping Into Scottish Football’s Money Generating Emotions

The learned gentlemen of the mainstream media are particularly adept at tapping into and perpetuating money generating emotions, particularly where sporting rivalries are concerned.

Scottish football pundits and journalists have been at it for well over a century now, fully aware of the impact their carefully chosen, highly provocative, words are going to have on an audience hungry for sporting insight and commercial intelligence.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the ‘Scottish Sport’ successfully tapped into the complex mix of potentially volatile emotions and attitudes that characterised certain communities of people in industrial working class areas in the West of Scotland.

To describe Celtic as the team of Irishmen in Glasgow that had to be matched by a Scottish champion in the late 1890’s, was to create the context for the bitter rivalry and sectarian hatred that was to follow.

Given the circumstances of the target audience, the choice of words was effectively an invitation to channel racial and religious prejudice into an otherwise friendly game of football.

And it just wouldn’t do for these clubs to continue enjoying the friendly relationship they had enjoyed in the beginning; interest would wane and there would eventually be too much money at stake. And thus it began.

As Professor Tom Devine described it:

“Celtic and Rangers had become the standard bearers of their two communities and their confrontations on the football field a noisy outlet for the bitter sectarian tensions of the west of Scotland.”

We are no further forward today.

During the past two seasons, certain journalists have appeared desperate to paint a vile picture of Neil Lennon, for example, in a vindictive attempt to hound him out of the Scottish game; in doing so, they needlessly cranked up the hostilities and forced a situation in which new, poorly written, legislation was felt necessary to handle it.

More recently, other journalists have been falling over themselves to perpetuate the myth that expelling Rangers from the first or second tier of Scottish football would have disastrous financial consequences for the entire game in Scotland.

Witness Graham Spiers’ article in the Herald this morning, which reads like a manifesto in support of Rangers’ immediate inclusion in the second tier of Scottish football, whatever shape or form that happens to take after Regan and Doncaster are finished with it:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/football/separation-anxiety.18153454

The very suggestion that Celtic would sorely miss Rangers because of the money generating hostility and hatred that tarnishes this fixture, yet impacts favourably on the bottom line, looks like an irresponsible attempt to engineer a sense of regret in the hearts of Celtic fans, and a sense of commercial dread in the minds of the Celtic board.

He may claim that it is just his private hunch, but to hit the target with his carefully chosen words would be to soften the attitude towards the shorter term expulsion of Rangers from Scottish football’s top flight, if only he could coax Peter Lawwell to come out and say as much.

But putting that to one side, the very real concern is this: if the only appeal of Scottish football is a recurring spectacle built on media fuelled hatred, then restructuring the league set-up and merging the game’s governing bodies into a single unit isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference to the quality of our game.

It would be an expensive exercise, whose only real purpose would be to provide a cover story for the very short term expulsion of Rangers from the top flight in order to keep the broadcasters interested in the bitter rivalry at the heart of Scottish football.

This would be the final downfall of Scottish football. Graham Spiers is absolutely correct: it is all about money; but whilst certain Scottish football journalists would never want to admit it, it is all about self-preservation on their part, too.

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Swiftly on the Heels of Moral Decline (An Appeal to SPL Chairmen)

On the one hand we all recognise that there would be something morally distasteful in allowing the newly formed SEVCO 5088 to walk straight into the SPL. Even with some sanctions attached.

On the other hand we have all listened to the concerns of SPL Club Chairmen who would be worried about their own club’s financial situation if SEVCO 5088 were not allowed entry to SPL, but made to start in a lower division.

Apparently, Scottish football would be financially crippled. So the implication would be that it would be better to be morally bankrupt than financially so. At least you know you would have a chance of surviving, even if your integrity didn’t.

Yet putting the moral versus economic argument to one side for a minute, it is not unthinkable that at least half of the current bunch of SPL teams could be relegation candidates in any given season. There are few who could consider themselves absolutely safe.

So if I were one of the SPL Chairmen struggling to balance morality with money, I would take a moment and think about this risk.

If you were tempted to vote SEVCO 5088 straight into the SPL, there is a chance that your club might not even be there the following season to benefit from your temporary loss of moral fibre, whereas SEVCO 5088 probably will.

I would also think about this: in the event that your club were relegated next season – and there is absolutely no guarantee that it wouldn’t be – would you not stand to benefit from your games against lower league SEVCO 5088 as they worked their way back up?

And in the meantime, why be so selfish about it? Why deny football clubs in the lower divisions an opportunity to benefit from the revenue generation potential of SEVCO 5088? Surely it would be good for the whole of Scottish football if lower clubs got a slice of the action for a change?

Survival instincts will always push harder than any Kantian categorical imperative; they tend to operate outside the space of moral governance and in very short, spectacular bursts.

So if you are one of the SPL Chairmen struggling with the weight of this decision, you need to work out how you would explain to your supporters why you are the club going down next season, when you promised long term prosperity in exchange for your club turning its back on good moral practice.

At which point it is too late when you realise that, despite the outcome you thought you were preventing, financial decline quite often follows swiftly on the heels of moral decline.

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Who or What Defines Sporting Integrity?

Albert Camus wrote that what he knew most surely about morality, he owed to sport.

Camus was an author, philosopher and amateur footballer (he played in goals for the University of Algiers).

He held the view that political groups, religious bodies and other similar authorities, tend to create moral systems and frameworks that impose artificial and overly complex values on our lives, typically to suit their own ends and purposes.

Whereas he believed that a more simplistic sense of morality could be forged through resilient participation in basic human activities and practices. A sense of collective purpose, work ethic, bravery, discipline and fair play, characterise playing in a football team, for example, just as much as they give a sense of meaning to our own individual lives.

Building our idea of morality from the ground up as opposed to receiving it from external ‘authorities’ is the best we can hope for, according to this way of thinking. And there is a strong sense in which this view appeals to me.

But there is a problem with it, which the analogy with football highlights perfectly: it would be one thing to cultivate a sense of collective purpose among a group of naturally individualistic thinkers; it would be another thing entirely to use this as a foundation for morality, especially when our individualistic preferences rarely leave us.

There are too many instances of cheating and rule-breaking, bias and discrimination, self-indulgence and psychological egoism in football, as in the vast majority of human activities, that it hardly serves this purpose well. But on the other hand, Camus does seem to have a point regarding the artificiality and tendency to bias inherent in the alternative approach.

So the question we are left with is this: through which source do we come to understand the values of honesty, equality, fairness and integrity that are assumed to sit at the heart of sport, morality and life? Who or what defines them?

If we define these values through engaging in basic human activities and practices, they become susceptible to individualistic preference; if we have them imposed on us through external authorities, they become susceptible to authoritarian bias and corruption.

When we talk about upholding the value of integrity in sport, how do we know that our understanding of integrity is authentic; how do we know that our sense of integrity is not in some way tainted by our own individual preferences, particularly in football, when individual preferences are partly definitive of the competition itself?

Do we rely on the relevant authorities to define integrity in terms of the notions of fair play, sportsmanship, transparency and tolerance? Do we assume we understand this definition in a non-circular way? And how do we know that we can rely on footballing authorities not to subtly modify the meaning of integrity, as a direct consequence of their commercial responsibility to maximise revenue in the game?

The crux of the problem is that if you try to define the notion of sporting integrity from a vantage point within the system that it is supposed to regulate, it comes under pressure from competing and contradictory demands. If you try to define it from outside that system, there is a danger that the definition will fail to cope with the complexities that emerge from within the system.

It is incredibly difficult to get out of this tangle.

Our interpretation of what sporting integrity consists in is dangerously close to losing its authenticity whichever way you define it.

And its function as a standard is just as useful as one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s elastic rulers that shrinks or expands to fit the size of the object it is measuring.

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Misdirected Backlash

Immunity from some of the hard realities in life is something most of us have sought at some point.

When we are steeped in the history of a football club, it is easy to let our emotional attachment take priority over rational thought. Our sense of what is real and what is reasonable diminishes, as our sense of injustice grows.

It is not so much that we want to remain oblivious to hard facts.

It is simply that the urge to avoid discomfort means that we subconsciously select our preferred method of presenting the facts to ourselves. It is a way of keeping our emotions artificially balanced with our thoughts.

Primitive mechanisms like this are remarkably adaptive. They have to be, to enable us to cope with some of the more complicated social, cultural and political situations that they were never designed to manage.

More often than not we seek convenience.

The people in positions of power and their gallant friends in the media are usually only too happy to oblige.

We just accept the facts as they are presented to us through political spin or editorial preference. We somehow allow the media’s presentation of the facts to feel right to us.

When it stops feeling right, before we even think about it, we shuffle things around in our mind until we find a way of making it feel right again.

Sometimes this means ignoring obvious implications and suppressing what we actually know to be the case.

The human mind doesn’t always seek out the truth; it seeks out the presentation of the facts that is most convenient and best for its own comfort and self-preservation.

And coincidentally, the media doesn’t always present the truth; it presents a version of the truth that is best for the preservation of its complex relationships with wealthy individuals and those in positions of influence and authority.

It is all about gaming.

Truth by convenience works fantastically well, but only in so far as the game is left unchallenged.

Challenges may come in the form of hard factual friction. It brings the spinning wheel to a grinding halt; it usually happens when the money runs out and people demand payment. This is one way of forcing realignment with reality. It is rarely pretty.

Challenges may come in the form of awkward questions that many people refused to ask, for fear of public condemnation or social alienation. This is another style, which usually only happens after the latter. It is rarely comfortable.

The backlash is usually severe. It tends to be directed at the individuals responsible for forcing the eventual realignment, rather than the individuals who created the misalignment in the first place.

More often than not, particularly in football, the backlash is misdirected. It is usually a last-ditch attempt at shifting responsibility and avoiding the truth, just before the wheel finally stops.

I’m sure we’ve all done it; at some point, and with dignity.

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Political Intervention (Interference) in Football

Alex Salmond is widely regarded as a very clever politician.

He has built a career around extolling the virtues of ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’. If anyone was ever in doubt as to the meaning of these terms, I am confident he would be able to explain.

Yet his recent intervention in the case between HMRC and Rangers Football Club could be in danger of compromising the fundamental principles of ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’ in the world of sport.

The purpose of these principles is to guarantee that sporting governance is not affected by political agenda within any given nation; they exist as a means of preserving the core values of ‘sporting integrity’ and ‘financial fair play’ across the globe.

http://www.uefa.com/uefa/elevenvalues/index.html

Political intervention (interference) is not unknown in the world of football. The punishment can be severe. Not just from a sporting point of view, but also from a financial point of view; I am sure Alex Salmond and his advisors will be fully aware of that fact.

In 2004 the Greek government adopted a new law to increase its involvement in the running of professional football leagues, thus interfering in an area that should have been reserved to the Hellenic Football Federation.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/internationals/5141866.stm

Until the law was amended, the Greece national team faced expulsion from international competition, such as the World Cup and the European Championships, and clubs that had qualified for the Champions League and the EUFA Cup were also excluded.

The Scottish Government’s intervention in the case between HMRC and Rangers was driven by Alex Salmond’s belief that, whilst HMRC has a duty to ensure that taxation must be pursued in the public interest, they should also take cognisance of the fact that Rangers is “a huge institution, part of the fabric of the Scottish nation”.

Sympathisers may appeal to the argument that football is a recognised sociocultural and economic sector in Scotland, and as such the Government has a duty to intervene, despite what the international footballing authorities may have to say on the matter.

But if you accept this line of argument, you should also recognise that there is another urgent problem sitting right behind it: if you believe that intervention is legitimate, because of the assumed negative sociocultural and economic impact of not intervening, you ought to demonstrate true consistency in your position.

In other words, you need to follow through with the question why the autonomy of your country’s football governing body has created a context in which rule breaking has been possible in the first place. If you want to retain autonomy, you need to guarantee fitness for purpose.

Autonomy is a privilege which must be removed, not from football’s governing body itself, but from the fine upstanding gentlemen who hold office within that body, should there be any indication of institutional corruption and systematic abuse of power.

So by dint of intervention, Alex Salmond has inadvertently implied that the fundamental values the principle of autonomy was intended to guarantee were actually non-existent in Scottish football: sporting integrity and financial fair play.

He now needs to intervene again and sort that one out.

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‘When crimes begin to pile up’

Bertolt Brecht wrote that when crimes begin to pile up, they become invisible.

What renders certain types of crime invisible is not so much that they become too numerous to count, but that we become so accustomed to their occurrence that they eventually fail to register in our consciousness.

Becoming desensitised to corrupt practices begins with the decision that any given illicit manoeuvre is probably too insignificant on its own to worry about.

It eventually concludes with a reluctant acceptance that the illicitness of many such manoeuvres combined can now no longer be challenged because of the devastating impact their disclosure would have.

And perhaps not just on the interests of those who initiated these practices, but also on the very people whose partisan decision making allowed them to occur unchallenged in the first place, which is equally as bad.

When your organisation is responsible for the governance of a particular field of interest, you do not have the right to plead ignorance to practices that run contrary to your own code of conduct.

Nor do you have the right to encourage others to retrospectively implicate themselves in the same illicit practices in order to make your own, and those of the initiators, disappear in the unholy mess as the wrong doings continue to pile up on top of each other.

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