Time for change

Wimpy, made to look outdated by McDonalds. The local grocery store, can't compete with the big supermarkets. Blockbuster, irrelevant due to Netflix. Borders, too many overheads compared to a Kindle, and Comet left behind by Amazon. That is the danger facing Scottish football and the current formats of the leagues. 

As a Rangers supporter by the time this season is done, I will have seen Kilmarnock more times this year than some family members. Now, that might not say much for my willingness to visit people but the point is playing the same side up to seven times in a single season is beneficial to no-one, not the clubs, not the players and certainly not the supporters, in fact, it's just downright boring and makes for dull uninteresting games where fans together with both sets of players are utterly sick of the sight of each other. The only people who win out of this type of scenario are the greedy chairmen. Why else would they not want change? Why else do we have a league where you are rewarded for finishing second bottom and the side who comes second in the championship made to jump through every hurdle in order to gain promotion? We must manage change or face the same slow death that they high street brands have. 

My model or what I propose is simple really, several years ago whilst visiting the sights (cough, cough) of Prague, myself and my friends decided to take in a local football match on a Friday night. You were allowed to drink at this game and tickets were a priced at a sensible price, even having a bit of a purchase three get one free offer, to entice the locals. It was a highly enjoyable evening as we witnessed a young Wilfred Bony score the only goal for Sparta. The Czech league is what I personally feel the Scottish game should look like.

Two leagues, consisting of sixteen sides each, playing each other only twice home and away. Just think of the build-up and anticipation if there were only two Old Firm clashes a season, or Edinburgh derby, Dundee derbies or even a Renfrewshire derby, the fans would love it. Less is certainly more here in my eyes. The team's that are currently positioned in the middle of the Championship could quite easily hold their own with sides in the bottom half of the top division. Young players, together with coaching staff would develop more, not being forced to play the same teams time after time again. You only have to look at Auchinleck's victory recently in the Scottish cup over Ayr United as proof that teams can compete at a higher level.

Three up, three down with a playoff structure similar to the one in place down south, no more rewarding failure, giving teams who finish second bottom a get of jail card for playing poorly all season.

We need a pyramid system in place, at present many of the junior teams have what I would describe as bowling club mentality. Even in large fractions of its ageing support. They have the mindset of we are ok, so why change. This is why so many are struggling, they simply fail to embrace or want change on any level, happy with the status quo as that's the way things have always been, so why change them now? Some just like to be the big fish in a small pond for bragging rights. Of course, this works both ways several sides that are in the bottom tier would no doubt be afraid they would be dwarfed by some junior sides, well tough. Since when was competition and improving the overall game a bad thing?. In my proposal I would have three going down from the bottom division as well, places would go to the winners of the top junior league, the Junior Scottish Cup and the final one to the victors of the Highland League.

Facilities are an issue. A good pitch on a junior ground is not a good park when you go up a level. That is something that would have to be rectified as well as stipulated. Grass pitches should be mandatory in the top division, top-level football simply has no place on 5 a-side parks. Grounds up and down this country are on the dark ages, only a few can boost of catering facilities worth even looking at the menu in, I include my own club very much in that. Buy them cheap, stack em high, sell them at high rate is the model over any sort of quality or value for money. Once they have you through the turnstiles where else can you go?. Toilets are filthy and look like something from the 60s. Fans are treated like second rate.

The winter break could still exist, giving players a much-needed midseason rest. In order to make up the shortfall on the number of league games, I would play league cup matches on a Saturday, instantly giving back the competition some much-needed prestige. Attendances would be higher, after all, who can really say in all honesty that they look forward to the competitions opening rounds in its currents format. One other slight but very important change I would enforce is the branding of the cup competitions. A simple one, but a very important one I feel, gone would be Bet Fred league cup or the William Hill Scottish Cup, it should read The league cup in association with Bet Fred or The Scottish Cup sponsored by William Hill, don't cheapen the tournament. I am aware these companies pay for the privilege and indeed run the tournaments themselves, you just can't tell me that making it a stronger brand or in the case of the league cup increasing its profile would lead to less investment. It's a win, win all around. 

Look, we all know who or what is stopping this or any sort of league restructures from taking place. Chairmen. They don't want to lose anywhere between four and eight visits from the Old Firm per season, well that is not my problem if your business model relies so heavily on the other team's and its fanbase it's not that solid, to begin with.

Turkeys don't vote for Christmas after all, and whilst the chairman line their pockets once again its the fans who empty ours, watching re-runs over and over again.

Failure to evolve and Scottish football might just be the next brand to disappear, after all, we are already irrelevant in the bigger picture.

Steven Harrigan (@steven_harrigan)

1 comment

Dougie Jones

Excellent article. Fully agree that things are long overdue for change, and your analogy with brands once thought to be permanent is apt.

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