The Scottish Premier League’s rule change to allow the re-introduction of terracing at football grounds is just the first in a series of announcements to be made under a “Back to the Eighties” initiative to reinvigorate, revitalise, and revivify top-tier Scottish club football. Over the next 18 months, soccer casuals, football specials, and genuine competition will be reintroduced to Scottish football grounds in an attempt to recapture the glory years of 1980 to 1989.
Former professional footballer and ex-First Minister Henry McLeish worked through most of 2010 to produce a far-reaching report aimed at repairing the fundamental flaws in the national game. Former security company director and current SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster spent last weekend with Archie Macpherson reviewing some old episodes of Sportscene and concluded that the Scottish game was never better than in the decade of Deacon Blue, Local Hero, and torn acid-washed jeans.
“Neil reckons Scottish football has been going downhill for the last 20 years,” said an SPL insider who helped Doncaster and Macpherson work the buttons on the VHS machine. “But going through the tapes from the ‘80s, he was entranced by the play of Shuggy Burns, Kenny Black, and Tom McAdam, and thought: this is what we need to get back to.”
The immediate priority after the reintroduction of terracing is to bring back football casuals. Back in the 1980s, Aberdeen, Hibs, and Motherwell all had mid-sized “firms” of so-called hard men who would dress up in expensive clothing and posture at each other during matches, safe in the knowledge they wouldn’t actually have to fight because they’d get a police escort back to the train station.
Doncaster believes part of the drop in support through the millennium was due to the loss of this “casual supporter”, and he will recommend SPL clubs take rejects from their youth programs, dress them in Tacchini, Ellesse, or Fila, and groom them as “baby crews” to replace the lost generation of “top boys”. Coupled with this, Doncaster is working with police chiefs to reintroduce police escorts, so visiting neds can safely walk through towns while jeering and gesturing at local supporters with impunity, perhaps throwing the occasional missile from a safe distance.
A second innovation set for reintroduction in 2012 is the “football special”, a hollowed-out train chassis used to transport away supporters together with massive quantities of alcohol direct from Glasgow to provincial towns on Saturday afternoons. With the reduction in ticket allocations for away fans since the 1980s, these have fallen out of use but Doncaster believes the combination of increased space in standing areas and a resurgence of football casuals will boost attendances sufficiently to merit fresh transport options. Though British Transport Police do not have the manpower to adequately police these violent and drunken locomotives, the SPL are prepared to fund Scotrail vigilante Alan “Big Man” Pollock to maintain law and order on football special journeys.
The third and most controversial proposal is the reintroduction of competition to Scottish league football, with a team other than Rangers or Celtic winning the league. Doncaster has not made public any specific plan here, and observers believe he expects the disastrous football economy to do the job for him – a view confirmed by our insider. “Everyone knows there’s no money to be made in Scottish football,” he said. “When Rangers go into administration, there won’t be four Old Firm games a year so the TV companies will pull out and it’ll be a free-for-all next season. God knows, Hibernian might even win something.”
Aside from football hooliganism, treating away supporters like cattle, and competitiveness, Scottish football in the 1980s was known for producing quality teams capable of beating the best in Europe. Doncaster has no idea how to revive this tradition.