Why Scottish football is the answer to World Cup problem - best league in the world, Efe Ambrose, no VAR
On Saturday, many supporters of the top-flight clubs may well resemble Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, looking around confused. What to do? Where to go? Who to watch? Is there any football? To answer the last question first, yes. In fact, over the coming four and a bit weeks there is loads of Scottish football for fans to get their teeth into. This period is the perfect opportunity to support your local team, to get to those lower league grounds you have always wanted to visit and for clubs up and down the country to showcase why Scotland's pyramid possesses a myriad of entertainment, excitement and intrigue. There are few better ways to consign this World Cup to the backseat by getting out and around the country.
Best league in the world
Take the Scottish Championship. There may be no better league anywhere in the world than Scotland’s second tier. Going into this weekend’s action, eight points separate seven teams from first to seventh, meanwhile there is just a point between the bottom two. Come 5pm on Saturday, it would be little surprise if just five points was the difference between the top seven. And that is what makes the league so fascinating. From one week to the next you simply don’t know what you are going to get. After all, last weekend saw 34-year-old Efe Ambrose roll back the years to perform his acrobatic celebration as Greenock Morton downed Partick Thistle to sit second in the league.
The Cappielow men are just one of the numerous stories unfolding down the pyramid. Dougie Imrie has built an impressive albeit unfashionable squad, from Brian Schwake between the sticks to an attack which is seeing Robbie Muirhead find perhaps his best form since nearly signing for Celtic in 2015. They have the best defensive record in the league and are unbeaten in seven.
Then there is Ayr United. The Honest Men are being driven forward off the pitch by former Hibs sporting director Graeme Mathie and on the pitch by Lee Bullen. They were last in the top tier of Scottish football in 1978 but they possess one of the most captivating players in striker Dipo Akinyemi, the league’s top scorer, while there are plans to redevelop Somerset Park, regarded as one of the best away days in the SPFL.
Give it three weeks, however, and we could easily be speaking about Partick Thistle (who have lost their last six), Dundee (still finding their feet under Gary Bowyer), Queen's Park (still to return to Lower Hampden), Raith Rovers (buoyed by the return of Lewis Vaughan after a FOURTH ACL) or Inverness CT (hamstrung by injuries).
Dropping into League One sees two heavyweights in Dunfermline and Falkirk duking it out at the top. The most recent clash between the two attracted more than 7,000 fans. They have been kept on their toes by a number of clubs, from FC Edinburgh to Airdrieonians. At the bottom, Peterhead begin a new era after Jim McInally departed the club after 11 years to end his reign as Scotland’s longest serving manager. In League One there is a title race between Dumbarton and Stirling Albion but from East Fife in third to Forfar Athletic, who are now managed by Ray McKinnon, in 10th there are just nine points.
It is possible to go on and on. The absurdity of the Lowland League where three points separate the top six and bizarre results occur on a regular basis. The three-horse race in the Highland League between Buckie Thistle, Brora Rangers and Brechin City who aim to become the first team relegated since the pyramid was opened to return. There is a three-horse race also in the SWPL 1, while Hibs and Hearts are set to play in front of a record crowd for a women’s domestic game at the end of the month.
There are just so many clubs who deserve the love which is not afforded to them, aside from local newspapers, club podcasts and irreverent TV shows, due to a focus on the Scottish Premiership. It is these clubs which provide fans with an authentic experience of football, even more so than the top-flight. Many are examples to those clubs with much more financial backing on how to move with the times, while keeping football affordable. Not only is it cheap, it is enjoyable. The stress and noise which can be found in abundance at the upper echelons, where every team are one win from nirvana but equally one loss from crisis. And, of course, it is a VAR-free zone.
There is so much more to Scottish football than just Celtic and Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen. The Premiership in general. There is Netherdale, the home of Gala Fairydean Rovers and their iconic stand. They are just one team which makes up the weird potpourri of the Lowland League. University teams, B teams, ex-SPFL regulars and Open Goal Broomhill who have helped shine a different light on the league with big crowds and Friday night football. There are the journeys of the teams in the East, West and South of Scotland aiming to squeeze into the Lowland League as Tranent Juniors did. Pollok, Auchinleck, Clydebank and Kirkintilloch Rob Roy. Linlithgow Rose, Jeanfield Swifts and Musselburgh Athletic. Now is the time to get to Montrose or Queen of the South. To see Bonnyrigg Rose and Kelty Hearts.
Just because the Premiership has stopped, doesn't mean Scottish football does so. Nor would you want it to, with so much excitement, entertainment and intrigue.
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