While there’s still a lot we can complain about as Scottish football fans, at least there is an increasing buoyancy around the country’s premier division, as Craig Fowler explains
“Scottish football’s s***e, mate.”
Right, OK, fair enough. It doesn’t have the quality or the glamour of the Champions League or even the English Premier League, but it’s real. It’s still grounded in reality. It’s got it’s own personality and no shortage of quirky eccentrics within it. Every game is played with an all-action tempo. Everyone is dying to win. And who cares if it’s not the best? Only one league or one team can ever be the best. That doesn’t mean you disregard the rest. If we focus on the positives and love it for what it is, instead of what it’s not, then it can get better. And if it doesn’t, we should still love it anyway. Because it’s ours.
“Nah, it’s still s***e.”
While not verbatim, this roughly represents several conversations this writer has endured with friends and family members over recent years.
Ever since diving into the deep end of Scottish football by cofounding The Terrace Podcast back in 2009, I have immersed myself in the not-so-beautiful game north of the border. By this point, the league was heading towards its nadir. Even I must admit to having fretted and despaired over the sheer volume of quality players leaving for the inflated riches of the English lower leagues. But at the same time, I still loved throwing myself into it on a weekly basis. It’s football after all, and it was in my own back garden.
Danny Baker summed up a person’s addiction to the sport when he said, in one of his Own Goals And Gaffs videos, that if he were waiting at a set of traffic lights and a group of children were playing in the park, and one was taking a corner, he didn’t want the lights to change before that corner was taken. That’s what Scottish football was to me. There was sporting romance to be found, even in humbling surroundings.
We can debate over precisely when rock bottom arrived - some will say Rangers’ financial meltdown and top flight exodus, others will say ‘The Rise of the Diddies’ and the subsequent cup shocks that arrived with it brought a freshness in light of the previous duopoly - but that’s besides the point. We know the product has not been great, to put it mildly.
Which is why, when recently asked to name my favourite thing about Scottish football this season, I immediately thought of the constant barrage of negativity which greeted any mention of its name and how, with some noted exceptions, that’s not been the case this term.
Obviously, the SFA and the SPFL still have a lot to answer for, but as for the clubs themselves, there now exists a buzz that football in this country is on the way back up. The same friends who dismissively derided any notion that there was beauty to be found within these walls have since admitted to watching a lot of Premiership action this term - and, most importantly, they’ve been enjoying it.
Without wishing to bow down at the feet of the Old Firm, the presence of Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard in the league has certainly helped. Their profile has attracted interest from further afield and, seeing as that’s where they were looking anyway, brought some Scottish fans back with it. As does the possibility that a down-to-the-wire title race may come from Rangers getting their act back together. Which isn’t to dismiss the current challenge posed by Hearts and Hibs, who’ve certainly contributed to the feeling of optimism for a brighter future.
The Ibrox side battling through four qualifying rounds to make the Europa League is another positive. Celtic have largely flown the flag in Europe for the last ten years. While that’s admirable on their part, barring a couple of excellent results it doesn’t reflect too favourably on the collective. Even though Aberdeen and Hibs couldn’t replicate Rangers’ heroics, both sides gave a good account of themselves this term. The embarrassments of Birkirkara and Progres Niederkorn suddenly feel like a long time ago.
We also cannot underestimate the importance of the Edinburgh clubs, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and in helping to retain this positivity. While the famous faces in charge of the Glasgow behemoths give our league an instant boost, longevity will come from the rest and whether they’re able to sustain a challenge. It doesn’t have to be a league title win or even an authentic title bid, they just have to build on the solid foundations already in place and at least ask questions consistently of the two wealthiest clubs whenever they come to town.
Few people at this moment of time truly believe that either of Hearts or Hibs will remain in the top two when spring comes around, but just having the question on the table must be a significant contributing factor in interest growing. The live TV games mostly take place at one of the ten other grounds and feature a travelling side either wearing light blue or hoops. For both an international and domestic audience, the threat of defeat makes it instantly more watchable, as does the chance that an upset may benefit another team rather than the closest rivals of the pre-match favourite.
For the meantime, let’s just hope the next 30 games of the season have just been as interesting as entertaining as the first eight. And the less said about the Scottish national team the better.