Summer football in Scotland

Summer football gives teams such as Malmo an advantage over Scottish opponents in early rounds. Picture: Getty
Summer football gives teams such as Malmo an advantage over Scottish opponents in early rounds. Picture: Getty
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THERE was hardly enough time for Aberdeen players to finish building their sandcastles before their summer holidays were over and they were back laying the foundations for a new season instead.

Just one month after their final Premiership match, the squad was back at the mercy of the sports science and coaching staff, edging their way towards full fitness in time for their first Europa League qualifier on 3 July.

They won’t find out who they face until the draw is made tomorrow but they do know that despite the early start to the new campaign – over a month before the domestic campaign is due to kick off – they have to be ready.

Recognising that will eventually necessitate a change to the league season, according to Scottish FA president Campbell Ogilvie, pictured below, who is an advocate of summer football. With only one year of his presidency remaining he concedes things are unlikely to move quickly enough for him to be able to leave it as his legacy but he will do everything he can to advance the cause.

“We are getting there but you are trying to change traditions,” he said following last week’s AGM. At youth level, he says more local authorities are getting on board, making pitches and facilities available in summer. “And the youth FA are behind it in the context of the training and developing of young players. It’s not rocket science that you will improve if you train in better conditions.”

But while he feels that change is almost inevitable, with one season almost stretching into the next at the moment, progress is still stuttering. “When we looked at this at the beginning, it was under ‘change of season’ for the whole game. Then the whole SPL/SPFL thing kicked off and it fell by the wayside. But I think things will evolve in the professional game. We are now at a situation where teams are starting in Europe in early July.

“Next year’s Champions League final is on June 6. Then there is an international the week later. Things are evolving. In the past, we used to start European games in mid September. The league was late August and the cup a few weeks earlier. But now the seasons are almost eating into each other.

“I think we’ve reached a stage in Scottish football when we really need to seriously sit down and look at the fixtures.” He is encouraged by the fact that more and more people seem to be waking up to the benefits of summer football.

“It used to be that the issue of the playing season only came up in January and then when it became the summer months people didn’t want to know about it. But now for practical reasons with players, the supporters seem to be coming round to it.

“It’s not just the weather. There are other constraints. The World Cup in Qatar could also have an impact. But in general, when you have teams playing in July, you have to look at the fixture calendar.

“We aren’t just talking about it. We are actually sitting down and looking at what the options are and what we can bring in. It happens in other countries but there are all sort of constraints. You have the international FIFA calendar; we know it’s not straight forward but I seriously worry sometimes about our clubs starting in Europe in July and going up against a team from Sweden, who’ve had a head start – 18 games under their belt.

“I think from that side we’ve got to look at it. I think with the Supporters Direct survey, 40 per cent are interested, so that’s your customers. I seriously think it’s something we should take to the next level now, having looked at the development side. It’s one we’ve been working on, it’s one of the areas we should be taking to the top of our agenda.”

But Ogilvie isn’t holding his breath in anticipation of an immediate fixtures overhaul. Like the idea of reintroducing standing areas in grounds and the sale of alcohol, he says the practicalities still have to be explored.

“I think this is one of the areas in football that tends to evolve more than just a sudden change. With the SPFL it’s up to them with the fixtures, they can start the league when they want, but it’s not as if we’re doing this in isolation. We have a Scottish Football Fixtures Working Group that is made up predominately of the SPFL, SFA and the Highland League. The Lowland League will come into that as well. It’s something we are very aware of and it’s something that came up for the discussion at the last PGB [Professional Game Board] meeting. I’m not saying anything is going to happen immediately but it is one of the key areas.

“If you want something strongly enough, I believe you can work round some of the barriers.”