Alan Pattullo: Was the product always this poor?

The atmosphere created by fans may have masked a lot of deficiencies in Scottish football
St Johnstone v Aberdeen was not a thriller. Picture: Ross Parker / SNSSt Johnstone v Aberdeen was not a thriller. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS
St Johnstone v Aberdeen was not a thriller. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS

The big news in the world of sports broadcasting yesterday was that a deal has been struck between the Nordic Entertainment (Nent) group and Infront, an agency working for the Scottish Professional Football League, to cover Scottish football for five seasons.

The rights cover Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and also Iceland, who have been awarded the dubious pleasure of tuning into Scottish football for the first time. Nae luck, Nordics.

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Of course, the real news is this is the first overseas televised deal the SPFL has managed to put in place. Key territories such as the United States, France, Germany, the Middle East and North America are currently SPFL black-out areas. Insert your own joke about already having suffered enough in 2020.

In one report, Kim Mikkelsen, head of sport at Nent, welcomed the agreement. “Scottish football has held a special place in the hearts of Nordic fans for over half a century – from the pioneering Scandinavian signings by Dundee United and Greenock Morton in the 1960s all the way to the rampant finishing that made Henrik Larsson’s Celtic’s greatest ever overseas player,” he said.

He looked forward to the likes of Rangers’ Filip Helander, St Mirren’s Isak Thorvaldsson and Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer putting the, erm, entertainment into Nordic Entertainment.

Signs are not promising, one has to say. And it’s not the fault of these players. Well, not only them. 
Plenty others have conspired to produce games that are barely watchable. Those trilling at the poor standard of fare produced in England when the Championship and Premiership re-started have had their gas put firmly at a peep.

The one time when Scottish football has the chance to put itself firmly in the shop window it manages to conjure up matches that play into the hands of those tiresome radio shock jocks from down south who delight in traducing the Scottish game. It’s almost as if two certain teams’ all-consuming ten-in-a-row obsession – either winning it or stopping it – has sucked the life out of the entire league.

The last four Premiership fixtures televised by Sky Sports have produced a grand total of two goals.

It is underlining why failing to find a title sponsor before the season kicked off could be SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster’s most unforgivable blunder.

Was the product always this poor? One suspects the atmosphere created by supporters in attendance masked a lot of the deficiencies. No-one is saying a few thousand at Thursday’s St Johnstone v Aberdeen game might have made all the difference, but Ryan Hedges’ goal, albeit scored at the other end where the Aberdeen fans would have been congregated, would have at least triggered some noise and colour. Celtic hope to be given the all-clear to welcome back a limited number of supporters at next week’s clash with Motherwell. It cannot happen soon enough.

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The last but one game to be televised live by Sky Sports – who are probably as dismayed as the rest of us by the poor fare – was the goalless draw between Livingston and Rangers. Again, this might have been elevated to something approaching watchable had all four stands been full, as tends to happen when either side of the Old Firm visits the Tony Macaroni stadium.

Indeed, it makes for one of the more impressive sights in a televised games rota that can also include unflattering glimpses of Ross County’s portable-goals-shoved-to-the-side-of-the-pitch atrocity, and Hamilton’s village fete stand.

Fear of failure already seems to have taken hold in some cases. Might a 16-team top-flight – as Hearts owner Ann Budge tried to implement – have made a difference? We will likely never know with reconstruction even less likely to be voted through in the near future. Such has been the mediocrity that several clubs will feel insecure and hardly minded to increase their chances of being relegated in future seasons.

Of course, we have to remain grateful there is football on at all. However, on the evidence presented so far, it could be a long, hard season – and that’s before the supposedly lower standard leagues beneath the Premiership have even kicked-off.

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