As we enter 2012, it can be said with some justification that Scottish football is in the mire. “The baw is burst”, as commentators put it. There is no hope for the future in Scotland.
With all Scottish teams out of Europe before Christmas and our national team failing to qualify for Euro 2012, it appears as though Scottish football has hit an all time low.
If I am being brutally honest, in many respects it has. But for me also, there are still many reasons to talk up the game in Scotland and I hope to explain that here.
A dark day or rather night occurred on the 25th August 2011 when all three Scottish clubs crashed out of Europe around 9.40. Celtic were beaten by Swiss side FC Sion 3-1 on aggregate , Rangers were beaten by Slovenians Maribor 3-2 and Hearts were beaten 5-0 by Spurs.
Despite Celtic being reinstated later on when Sion were found guilty of breaking transfer rules, the results for the two Glasgow giants were embarrassing, to put it mildly.
However, once Celtic were reinstated they did restore some pride for Scotland. Faced with a Champions league like group in the form of Udinese, Rennes and Atletico Madrid.
They may have lost twice to Madrid, but they drew twice with Udinese who have been in superb form in Serie A this season and also managed to gain 4 points from one of the top teams in France: Rennes.
Celtic proved that Scottish teams could still compete in Europe. Whilst their bitter rivals Rangers may have been knocked out by average teams this season, it was only last season they gained a draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford. In that same season they also held Valencia to a draw and had a run to the last 32 of the Europa League.
Let’s not forget it was only in 2008 that Rangers got to the UEFA Cup final beating some impressive teams such as Werder Bremen and Fiorentina along the way. In that same season, Celtic got to the last 16 of the Champions League and Aberdeen got to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup, where they gained an incredible draw against Bayern Munich.
For me, Scottish teams’ form in Europe is very much like the economy. It goes in cycles. On that night afore mentioned, Scottish football did hit rock bottom. But stadiums like Parkhead and Ibrox can be feared again on big European nights. Celtic and Rangers despite not having the quality they used to can compete with big European teams.
What of the national team? Failing to qualify for Euro 2012 was of course another big disappointment in what was a fairly comfortable group, with Spain the only team to fear. When the tournament starts in June, it will be 14 years since Scotland have featured at either the Euros or a World Cup. A rotten record which must end with qualification to Brazil in 2014.
I believe we can do it. Manager Craig Levein has his faults such as his horrendous 4-6-0 formation against the Czech Republic and his inability to pick certain players who are in great form but during his reign so far, Scotland have made progress.
In 2011, two of the three teams Scotland lost to were Brazil and Spain and 6 games out of 10 were won. There are many very talented youngsters coming through in all areas and the first choice eleven itself is the strongest it has been in years.
With many Scots now plying their trade in the English Premiership, their technical ability is improving all the time. Players such as Charlie Adam, Alan Hutton, Phil Bardsley, Christophe Berra and Gary Caldwell are all playing week in week out for their club sides. It’s just a pity that Steven Fletcher, who is performing so well for Wolves, and Craig Levein haven’t burned their differences with each other yet. He would be a tremendous asset for Scotland going forward this year.
In the Championship, strikers Ross McCormack, Craig Mackail Smith and Kenny Miller are all scoring many goals and for McCormack, another Scot Robert Snodgrass is creating them. Further down in League 1, barely a week goes by without Jordan Rhodes scoring for Huddersfield and it can’t be long before he plays for a bigger club.
Back in the Scottish league itself, there are many youngsters doing well such as wingers James Forrest at Celtic and Gregg Wylde at Rangers. Outwith the big two, players such as Paul McGowan and Kenny McLean are proving impossible to handle for St Mirren and other wingers such as David Templeton at Hearts and Danny Swanson at Dundee United offer a great glimpse into the potential of the future.
I could be here all night listing the top Scottish talents coming through. The situation is a lot better than people realise. If Levein calls up the right players and plays them the right way, then Scotland fans might just be partying on the beaches of Rio in a couple of years.
It cannot be denied that the Scottish Premier League is in dire need of reform. There are far too many meaningless games and fans are drifting away in their droves due to poor quality matches, playing the same teams over and over and high ticket prices.
There simply must be changes in Scottish football or the fans will continue to drift away. Ticket prices are simply too high even in the lower divisions in Scotland. For example, for an adult and a kid to see Rangers V Aberdeen on 21st January it will set them back £38. That’s before the cost of petrol or a rail ticket and food and drink money. Even in good economic times, that is an astronomical price to watch football in Scotland.
For a long time I failed to see the advantages of summer football but recently I have came around to feeling it has to happen. Fans must be put first in Scotland and I can tell you heading to games on a regular basis during the winter when it is wet, windy and horrible isn’t any fun at all. Combined with lower ticket prices, this could bring back many families to football. Walking to the ground on a warm night in July sounds much more appealing than on a cold December day when it is chucking it down.
However, there are still positives things happening in the SPL. You’d be hard pushed to find another country in the world which has had a title race go down to the last day in 5 of the last 9 seasons, but that is exactly what has happened in Scotland between Celtic and Rangers. And the derby games between those two teams are always exciting and filled with incident. In my view they are far more entertaining to watch than some of the derbies in England nowadays such as the Merseyside or Manchester derbies.
As I mentioned before many teams are producing exciting young players that fans are enjoying watching week in week out. Teams like St Mirren, Kilmarnock and Motherwell are committed to playing a passing game which is very pleasing on the eye, and hopefully more teams in Scotland will realise this is the way they have to go.
The one thing that Scottish never is, is dull. Whether it is managerial turmoil at Hibs or players not getting wages at Hearts, there is never a shortage of things to talk and write about.
Whilst most of these things are negative admittedly, Scotland is a proud country that still cares deeply about their football and that can only be a positive thing.
To sum up, the Scottish game is in dire need of change and monumental reform, that there can be no doubting but I hope in the process of doing so, we can hear about some of the positive aspects of the game as well. Only then, can Scotland move forward in 2012 and in the years to come.
Published with permission from O-Posts.