Ex-Celtic and Hibs star Jackie McNamara insists players must have a voice on reconstruction

Former players’ union activist says playing each other four times a season is boring
Jackie McNamara in action for Hibs as he tussles with Hearts Dave Bowman during an Edinburgh derby in 1984. Picture: SNS Group.Jackie McNamara in action for Hibs as he tussles with Hearts Dave Bowman during an Edinburgh derby in 1984. Picture: SNS Group.
Jackie McNamara in action for Hibs as he tussles with Hearts Dave Bowman during an Edinburgh derby in 1984. Picture: SNS Group.

Hibs legend Jackie McNamara was one of Scottish football’s most prominent and vocal shop stewards during his playing career.

As a leading activist and office bearer for the original players’ union, the Scottish Professional Footballers Association, McNamara can still recall his dismay back in 1975 when major league reconstruction was implemented without any consultation with the game’s shop floor workers.

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The Easter Road Hall of Fame inductee still laments the move to teams playing each other four times a season in the top flight and beyond, insisting it is monotonous for players and supporters, while also stifling the development of young Scottish talent.

McNamara, now living in Spain but still a keen observer of Scottish football, was disappointed but not surprised to learn that players are again not being included in talks over league reconstruction currently ongoing by a 15-strong SPFL task force.

PFA Scotland, who replaced the SPFA as the new voice of the players in 2007, instead carried out their own survey of almost 700 members which showed overwhelming support for a permanent change from the current structure.

“The players didn’t get any say in it back in 1975,” reflects McNamara. “It’s incredible they are still not being consulted about reconstruction now, although I can’t say it’s a huge shock they are being ignored by the SPFL.

“They should be included. They are the gladiators out there on the park playing in the competitions the governing bodies set up. The players are the ones who make it a sport, who make it attractive to TV and sponsors, who get punters in through the gates.

“I was with Celtic in 1975 when the Premier Division started and we went to four league games a season against every other team. I know most of the players didn’t fancy it back then and I haven’t changed my mind.

“Because the League Cup had a group stage back then, Celtic played Aberdeen and Hearts six times in that first season after reconstruction and also had five games against both Rangers and Motherwell.

“After I moved to Hibs in 1976, it got even worse in some seasons. I remember playing Rangers seven times in 1978-79, when there were two replays of the Scottish Cup final, and we played Dundee United seven times in 1981-82.

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“That’s nearly a quarter of a season playing against the same team. It was an absolute joke. I’d be standing marking someone like big Derek Johnstone when we played Rangers and we’d both be saying ‘Not you again!’

“It’s refreshing going to different grounds and only playing teams twice in a season, home and away. Four times a season is boring. It’s not exciting at all, I don’t like it. I never have done, ever since they brought it in 45 years ago.

“I’d like to see it changed back to twice a season but we all know TV companies want to keep four Old Firm games and four Edinburgh derbies a season. But I just hope the SPFL pay attention to the PFA Scotland survey and take on board what the players want, not just what the broadcasters want.”

McNamara is convinced Scottish clubs could secure a longer-term financial dividend if a new league set-up created an environment which encouraged managers to give native talent earlier and more regular first-team 

“You also see young players being discarded too soon because of the way the league is set up just now,” he added.

“They don’t get enough opportunities for first-team football because the fear of relegation is so widespread in a smaller league where teams play each other four times. Those players, loads of them with great potential, are often lost to the game forever.

“So I feel a bigger league, with teams only playing each other twice, would be better for their development and ultimately better for Scottish football as a whole. Talented kids could reach their potential in the right environment and, as we have seen with some of the transfer fees paid for Scottish players in recent times, go on to provide a huge financial benefit for their clubs.”

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