IF WE think the feuding amongst our political classes is furiously pointless and destructive at times, it is a festival of love and unity in comparison to the conduct of our national game.
The level of anger, distrust and aggression felt by the supporters, and leaders, of clubs towards one another has simmered way beyond boiling point. But with the conclusion of Lord Nimmo Smith’s enquiry we have an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. We must draw a line and forget the pain of the past, if not its lessons. We must fix our faces forwards. Enough of the self-harm – this all has to end, now.
I love football in a quite illogical and unreasonable way. It is hard to put my finger on the why but suffice to say it goes way deeper than mere sport. It is a sport of course, and theatre and distraction. But it is, at its best, so much more than that.
The emotion it conjures at its best can unify and elate in a way few other spectacles can. This is partly because a large part of our affinity to the teams we follow is about who we are and where we are from, especially in this country. The last few years, however, have been bleak ones as the same winds of crisis and reform that have torn through numerous institutions of life have obliterated the spirit in our game. Just as politics, the media, banks, business, the food industry, the BBC and the Church are all in or emerging from turmoil, so Scottish football’s institutions have teetered. And in the case of Rangers FC, been allowed to drop to their knees.
We can view this philosophically as part of a process of change and renewal across society. The old ways of doing things are dying, and in many cases rightly so. Scrutiny, transparency and the relentless ferocity of public criticism has the potential to shake most any institution that errs to its foundations.
The challenge for us all is how do we get through it without destroying the things we hold dear and want to keep? And how do we avoid the chaos of the mob and keep our composure and dignity? So it is with football.
As with countless families, businesses, countries and banks, football has chased success on the never never with too many clubs spending more than they can afford to sustain. This robs tomorrow’s generations to feed the gluttony of today’s. It is unwinding all around us and we must forge on through it.
Some clubs will not survive, others, like Rangers, will need renewed. Others will still fall down the league structure while others will rise. It is the way of life that the fittest survive. It is up to all who care about the game to make their clubs fit again and ensure the leadership structures of the game are fit for purpose. I believe we can, should and will.
And for leaders at all levels this is as much about how we do it as about what we do. Behaviour matters because it sets the tone everywhere. And the leaders of major institutions like football clubs must recognise both the privilege of the public service they do but also the responsibility that goes with it. A casual criticism to the media from the boardroom can echo into violence and destruction on the streets. The stakes are high and they always have been.
So while the hurt for many fans remains raw we must all find a way to heal. As Nelson Mandela once put it, “resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies”. The anger and hatred so many feel destructs self first. Once we all realise this reality, we will be able to move on. So I have heard enough of “who did what to whom when”. I only have ears for ideas about how to make things better.
The national self-talk of Scotland is too full of voices talking themselves and everyone else down. If all we do is belittle and besmirch the people, clubs and competitions then we put at risk the very foundations of our sport. And it starts at the top and with those who influence the public discourse. Time to accentuate the positive and start talking things up again.
Clubs are fixing their finances although I have no doubt there will be more convulsions to come. But we must see them as stages on a journey back to health. Agreement on reform of the league structures is tantalisingly close and with it comes the chance to reset. No new structure will please everyone in the abstract. But as the manager of my club told our AGM: “I am not sure I like the proposed structure but I can’t think of a better one and it is much more important we reform and move on, so let’s get on with it”.
And many clubs are putting down deeper roots in their communities and taking seriously their responsibilities to influence health and life standards for the better. The investment in youth facilities and coaching is starting to pay dividends. I firmly believe we won’t have to wait too long for the investment of time and money off the park to start producing results on it, especially for our national team.
It is has been a bleak and worrying and hurtful time. But after winter must always come the spring. It is time for hope to win. «
Andrew Wilson is a director of Motherwell FC