Scottish football was rocked to its core on Sunday following the Hibernian-Rangers match at Easter Road – a match which featured two red cards and a blatant act of simulation.
One senior figure in Scottish sport, who would only be quoted off-the-record, stated: “There is no place for that type of behaviour in Scotland’s elite league. Both teams should be ashamed of themselves, and I will be asking the SFA to step in and investigate how this happened. The fact it was broadcast on national television only made it worse.” When asked if he was referring to the altercation between Rangers’ Kyle Lafferty and Hibernian’s Kevin McBride, or the face-clutching dive performed by Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor, the unnamed and possibly fictitious source fumed: “Of course not! It was the rest of it that disgusted me!”
Further questioning revealed that the made-up character was raging at the fairly entertaining contest of attacking play and fine goals, interspersed with quality tackling and passes which found their target. “It has taken years for us to attain the reputation as one of the dullest and least competitive leagues in Europe,” he stated, “And if we start having good football played every week, while the English Premiership keeps banging out one-sided 6-0 victories by the big teams over the wee teams, well, that’ll be the end of it!”
Interesting turn of phrase by the commentator on Sunday talking about Rangers new loanee Vladimir Weiss. After he’d been on the park three minutes, he’d set up one goal and almost scored another, the talking head mentioned his “penetration”. If he keeps playing the way he does, there’ll be lots of penetration going on between fresh-faced Vlad and the ladies of Glasgow, that’s for sure.
More seriously: Hibernian opened their new South Stand at the weekend, taking their capacity over 20,000 – only the Old Firm, Aberdeen, and of course Queens Park have larger stadia. It was a beautiful sunny day in Edinburgh; Hibs had just won their first league game of the season; and they were playing the champions. Yet there were thousands of empty seats – 3,105 according to the published figures, though it looked like a whole lot more on TV. Why is this? Surely if a team that plays entertaining football can’t sell out when optimism is still high (it is still August!) and the weather is cracking, then was there any point in expanding the stadium at all? Few games outside the Old Firm are sold out these days, which makes me wonder about the economics. Lower prices to increase bums on seats, sure – but how many extra people will really turn up for one pound off a twenty-quid ticket – not many. But two or three quid, maybe with a bit of marketing? Could that sell an extra three thousand tickets? The added income from bums on seats would more than offset the cheaper prices for everyone else, especially if half of them buy a pie or hot dog or programme. But I fear there isn’t much appetite to experiment in these tough times, and the last person that tried – John Boyle, at Motherwell – ended up bankrupting his club.
Last week’s national team friendly game in Stockholm was ominously reminiscent of Berti- and Burley-era performances. Although Levein seemed fairly casual about the result – and we were missing some key players – these are the sorts of teams we need to be competing with if we are to find our way back to a major championship. The Czechs won’t be shaking in their boots – especially as they pasted Latvia 4-1. The Lithuanians might be quivering a little, however, as they went down 2-0 at home to the mighty Belarus (although didn’t they beat us at Hampden… I recall us being 1-0 down before I got into the ground). Grounds for optimism: the performance of McGregor and the form of Kenny Miller, who didn’t play. Also, teams with Premiership Scots are doing alright – Wolves and Birmingham with Berra, Steven Fletcher, McFadden, and O’Connor. Grounds for pessimism: we don’t seem to have a defence, never mind a settled defence, and Steven Fletcher missed Wolves’ last game due to injury. The Caldwells are both at Wigan, who are being pummelled left and right, and Alan Hutton is still out of favour at Spurs – hopefully he’ll get a transfer before the month is out to a manager that will give him a regular game.
Two pieces of financial news this week. Firstly, the earnings from last year’s European club tournaments were announced, with Rangers earning vastly more than Celtic. 12 million pounds more, due to their qualification for the Champions League group section. From a partisan Billy Williamson point of view, this is highly enjoyable, but from a sensible ‘for the good of the game’ point of view it is nonsensical – see my article a few weeks ago about the inequities in distribution of UEFA’s income from these tournaments.
Secondly, the 2010 edition of the annual PriceWaterhouseCoopers report on Scottish football finances was published, revealing, not surprisingly, a downturn coinciding with the ‘great recession’ and the collapse of the Setanta broadcasting deal. A couple of factoids: the collective loss of 22 million pounds meant the league gave back virtually all the profit they’d made the previous year, and Rangers’ entire turnover was less than the TV income of the bottom-placed English Premier League team.
However, this report lags a year – it covers the 2008-09 season when Rangers crashed out of Europe at the first preliminary stage – so due to the Gers getting their nose in the Champions League trough for 2009-10, next year’s PWC report will paint a better picture. But it still won’t be a rosy one, and Platini needs to take more action before European football follows the unbalanced English model, which in turn is simply replicating what has happened in Scotland in the last 25 years.