Glenn Gibbons: 12-12-18 won’t make better players

Scottish teams used to enjoy protracted runs in Europe, as when Dundee reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1963
Scottish teams used to enjoy protracted runs in Europe, as when Dundee reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1963
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SCOTTISH teams used to enjoy protracted runs in Europe, as when Dundee reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1963

EVEN the obvious emptiness of Charles Green’s threat to remove Rangers from Scottish football seems not to have been enough to curb an outbreak of revisionism among those who had previously been contemptuous of the proposals for league reconstruction. There was certainly no shortage of posters on fans’ websites wishing the Ibrox chief executive and his club Godspeed.

Of course, the improbable rush of converts to the new deal – prompted by the prospect of an absentee Rangers – would have more to do with points-scoring than a genuine, newly-formed conviction. But the onset of so much gleeful baiting tends to underline a truth that will be unpalatable to the architects of the 12-12-18 format: it is that, while reconstruction was generally billed by the media as the biggest event of the year, it should more pertinently be recognised as the least meaningful.

Among the seemingly endless lists of flaws compiled by critics of the present league structures and the one which appears likely to be ratified by the various governing bodies, there was a notable absence of the most significant fault of all, one that is shared by any and all models anyone cares to suggest: namely, that no amount of number-crunching and/or schedule-juggling can compensate for the effects of the erosion of quality of the average Scottish professional footballer over the past 30 years.

There is surely nothing debatable about the observation that no game can lose what Scotland once had – kids playing literally morning-to night during school holidays and through almost every hour of leisure time in between, often in the most testing, skill-sharpening conditions possible – without being seriously

It was this uncontested, undiluted and immovable dedication that resulted in football’s becoming part of the fabric of Scottish life and, as an inevitable consequence, helped to produce exceptional players in numbers that were quite disproportionate to the size of the country.

Nobody needs to imagine a climate in which Scottish teams would be capable of confronting the most formidable teams in Europe without blinking and then putting them to the sword. It actually happened over a 25-year period from the early 1960s, with such as Aberdeen, Celtic, Dundee, Dundee United, Dunfermline, Hibernian, Kilmarnock and Rangers all boasting protracted runs and distinguished victories over giants from England, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Such achievements are not exactly unknown these days, of course – Celtic’s beating of Barcelona the most recent example – but, as well as being relatively isolated occurrences, they have been greatly facilitated by the presence of a high proportion of foreign players. And yet, amid all the bilious, apoplectic and sometimes insulting nonsense that has invaded the sports pages on the subject of reconstruction, there is not even a nod in the direction of the utterly imperative need to produce better players – and in greater quantities.

In terms of structures, the unalterable truth is that without a league of at least 18 teams, playing each other twice and yielding 34 matches, or a flat 10, producing 36 from playing each other four times, there will of necessity be a “split”, or an unbalanced, inequitable scheduling of fixtures. All other arrangements between 10 and a minimum 18 are merely variations of the same fundamental.

Despite this elementary predicament, many commentators have been insistent that 14, or 16, or whatever, is “the only way forward” and supporting their view with the curious assertion that “the fans have spoken” and have given, say, a 16-team league virtually unanimous approval. Short of organising a national referendum with at least a 75 per cent turn-out of the electorate, the preferences of the majority can hardly be determined with any certainty.

The most gratifying aspect of this latest “revolution” is the proposed merging of the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League. It is tantamount to an admission that the SPL has been, since the day of its inception, a scam founded on a false premise (the notion that Celtic and Rangers would one day be able to negotiate their own TV deals) and realised by sheep moving unthinkingly in whatever direction they were prodded.

Adam’s heart lay with Hamilton

Some kind words have been justifiably written about the late Rangers director, Hugh Adam, but, not unusually in these circumstances, an old myth has also been revived.

In one or two appreciations of the man who became famous as a whistleblower in the matter of David Murray’s stewardship of Rangers, emphasis has been placed on his deep love of “his” club.

In fact, Adam was even less of “a Rangers man” than Murray himself had been when, as a confirmed rugby aficionado, he took control at Ibrox. “My father would be spinning in his grave if he knew I had anything to do with either member of the Old Firm,” Hugh told me during the conversation 11 years ago in which he first exposed the dangers of Murray’s spendthrift management. “He was a Hamilton Accies man to his bones, as I am.”

It was this lack of emotional or spiritual attachment to any of the big clubs that enabled him to take a dispassionate view of the great issues, including, of course, the business model at Ibrox.

Some agitated Rangers fans have belittled Adam, claiming that his pessimistic opinion of the club was sour grapes, the result of personal animosity between him and Murray. Anyone who knew him would consider that extremely unlikely. There was

nothing fanciful about the plunging value of his shares and his decision to unload them before they reached worthlessness.

Nor did there prove to be anything alarmist about his prediction that, by holding their course, Rangers would inevitably collide with a mortally wounding day of reckoning.