Enough is enough

As Celtic prepare to take on one of the Champions league big boys again, a warning to the commentators and pundits.

Like most Scots, I was sad to see Celtic so comprehensively thumped by PSG and Bayern recently. But something about those nights made me angry as well.

Not the players, their effort, or even the schoolboy defending. Not the semi-ritualistic way these games are presented on TV or the ludicrous hype that is generated by the media.

I blame Celtic for their own failings and the executive branch of Scottish football for facilitating that failure. And I think it is the result of a long-term strategy that has clearly failed.

What offends me is the casual referencing of the weakness of the game and players in Scotland as a key reason why Celtic struggle against the best teams, and the implicit suggestion that if only their domestic opponents were more skillful, Celtic’s Champions League training friendlies schedule, aka the SPFL Premiership, might prepare them better for these big games.

Pat Bonner said it outright in his commentary of the Bayern game. The weakness of the SPFL is the problem. Several others made the point that Celtic defenders never get the chance to play against top strikers in their own league and are, therefore, somehow unable to cope with it when they do. Others claim that Celtic are so used to being in possession of the ball and winning games easily at home, that when they face a top-quality opponent, they are suddenly caught like a rabbit in headlights without the faintest clue what to do.

I don’t know enough about the tactics of modern football, or the language used to describe systems of play, to critique that in footballing terms, but I do have a reasonable grasp of what constitutes bullshit. And so much of what our journalists, TV commentators, and pundits say, on occasions like this, is, definitely, it.

I blame Celtic for their own failings and the executive branch of Scottish football for facilitating that failure. And I think it is the result of a long-term strategy that has clearly failed.

Here’s how I think it went. Professional football in Scotland looks like it has been organised around a single goal. To generate Scottish success in the Champions League. A good way to achieve that is to ensure that Scottish teams get plenty exposure to that league. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that the same team, or teams, gain regular entry into it. The way to make that happen is to organise the league such that it is unthinkable that any other team could win it.

How might you do that without making it obvious what your intentions are?

Well, first, you lay the financial ground. Allow teams to keep their home gate receipts. That way, clubs are kept in their place, the big two stay big, the middle six to eight, not so big, and the rest, remain almost irrelevant.

To further entrench the financial status quo, you need to ensure that income from domestic sources (particularly TV money) is kept low enough to stop any other club paying for a team above their station, but not so low that mid-sized clubs go out of business.

It is our fault because we are not brave enough. Not brave enough to stand up to the powers running our game and put a stop to this madness.

Next, you would have to ensure that the rules stay in place long enough for the plan to work. Give the two big clubs the right of veto over rule changes. The masterminds of the plan have to be kept in office for as long as possible and committee members must be carefully selected. A generous portion of executives from the big two, and a fair sprinkling of others too afraid of their own clubs going to the wall to bother about grand generation-long master-plans, should guarantee no one rocks the boat too much. Allow a rogue committee member to challenge things every now and again to make it look good for the punters, safe in the knowledge that no permanent damage can be done to the plan.

But what if something unexpected happened to one of the big clubs? That could be tricky, right? The whole plan could be put in jeopardy. On the other hand, what is there to worry about when you have ensured that the decision makers are either on message or too concerned about their own teams’ survival to get in the way of a stitch up. Sure, we lost a few years, but it’ll soon get back on track.

Journalists would get wind of this surely, or even be able to work it out for themselves, right? Well, in a profession that seems to have lost most of its towering intellects to be replaced by either agenda driven zealots or barely literate fan bloggers (like me, I suppose), we might be asking a little too much of them. In any case, the overwhelming coverage of the big two in the national media and the simple fact that promoting Celtic and Rangers sells advertising space means that they are, more or less, complicit, even if they don’t always realise it.

I hope this sounds like the ramblings of a mad conspiracy theorist, but if any of the above rings true (and it does to me), then there might just be some truth on it.

Pat Bonner and those other pundits and commentators are right of course. Celtic’s failure against the big teams is the fault of the rest of Scottish football. Our players and teams aren’t good enough. But fault is a convoluted thing. It is not our fault because we are not good enough. It is our fault because we are not brave enough. Not brave enough to stand up to the powers running our game and put a stop to this madness.

I have absolutely no evidence that there is such a master-plan, or that anyone at the SFA or SPFL has even considered any of these points or the consequences that might flow from them. I even have serious doubts that any of the current leadership have the intellectual capacity to dream up such a Machiavellian plot, let alone execute it. But one thing I do know is that Scottish football is not in a healthy place. Not even a Celtic victory tonight, even if they gave some of their CL win bonus to Kilmarnock, you know, for giving them such a good run out on Saturday, would fix it.

How glorious would it be for the other Scottish teams to be credited for Celtic’s CL victories (especially the big ones)? I imagine the words would get stuck in plenty of throats. Celtic win CL games despite Scottish Football and lose them because of it. That, in a nutshell, is where we are right now. All that is likely to change any time soon is that Rangers will join them again. Something has to change, if only because my TV won’t survive another shoe being thrown at it when some Celtic minded blowhard tells the world that my team is partly to blame for Celtic’s defence not being good enough to stop Neymar or Lewandowski.

This article was first published in the unofficial Dundee Fans Forum https://www.thedarkblues.co.uk/news/scottish-football/enough-is-enough-r542/ on 23 October 2017. Reproduced, in slightly amended form, with their kind permission.

Andrak

Andrak

A Dundee fan, brought up in the city in the 70s and 80s, now lives in England. An accountant by profession and temperament. Working in international development mostly overseas (Africa & South East Asia, mostly). Currently based in Vientiane Laos. Never played football beyond Sunday League but watch as much Scottish football as possible.

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