In 1424, the Scottish parliament tried to ban ‘fut ball’. The fine for playing was four pennies. By the 17th century the game was popular across Scotland and the Scottish Football Association was created in 1873.
Today football is the most popular game in the nation. Yet on any Sunday the papers have photos of superb goals scored in the Premiership against a backdrop of thousands of empty plastic seats.
What is to be done?
A starting point would be for the governing bodies – the SFA, which runs the Scottish Cup and Scotland team, and the SPFL, which runs the Leagues – to consult the fans. We could start by scrapping the ludicrous 11-1 vote for any major change. Celtic forever bemoan ‘the lack of a challenge’, yet the Premiership takes 82 per cent of league income and Celtic take a disproportionate percentage in addition to their sizeable European income.
The SPFL needs to tackle the growing perception that there is one rule for the top clubs and one for the rest.The recent decision to turn down a genuine Raith Rovers request to postpone a match as they were without a goalie said it all, given they had acceded to a similar Hearts request last season.
We need to set up a Super League, as suggested almost 20 years ago, with the clubs which attract the largest crowds and have the best facilities. Hibs, Dundee United, Falkirk and Dunfermline consistently attract larger gates than half the Premiership. A Scottish Super League would attract massive investment. It is a superb advert for Scottish football when a televised major Championship match attracts a passionate sell out crowd. In contrast it looks pathetic on television when a midweek match between two Premiership lesser lights is played in the rain before 1200 folk and the proverbial dog!
It is not rocket science to promote the game on TV by scheduling the recent Edinburgh Scottish Cup derby match on a night when it would not clash with European football.
The current set up is not fit for purpose. Championship clubs regularly defeat Premiership in cup competitions. Indeed, two Championship clubs contested the 2016 Scottish Cup Final.
To get our biggest clubs back into the Premiership we need to revamp the play-offs so the format in Leagues One and Two is replicated in the Championship – it is simple fairness. We also need to bring the game into the 21st century by using technology. A ref’s human error in a cup game recently lost Dunfermline a transforming £200k payday.
The most important change fans want to see is the adoption of Strict Liability, as the Morrow Report advocated, used successfully across Europe under UEFA. This would mean the end of sectarian singing, offensive banners, damage to property, flares, and pitch invasions. UEFA can use sanctions such as fining a club, deducting points, or even playing behind closed doors.
John V Lloyd is a published author. He lives in Inverkeithing, Fife.