Everyone on this site has football experiences, views, stories and opinions. Everyone also wants things to be better in the future too. These are bonds that make us who we are and this forum what it is.
I’ll share a few experiences with you now.
I will never forget an impromptu and inspirational 60 minute Q. and A. masterclass by Davie MacParland to a group of relative youngsters at Hampden in 1975 after Scottish Unis had played a friendly with his team.
It was “over the moon Brian” time for me on finding a £5 note in my shoe. This was after I played my first game (unexpectedly) as an S form in the Highland League when my club’s Aberdeen-based players had been held up by a road incident.
So happy and corrupted was I that I never questioned the widespread practice of giving money to amateur players thereafter so I’m part of the problem.
I also sat next to a young Jim Leyton who came to Butchart to watch himself on a match video after he had let in two goals when we dumped Deveronvale (where he was on loan) out of the Aberdeenshire Cup. It was the very early days of video and Jim had never seen himself on a tv before.
Every person in the SFM community will have equally diverse and interesting experiences and I’m going to share one more with you now in a little more detail.
In the mid 90s I was given an amazing insight into how Scottish football really worked. In many ways it hasn’t changed much since.
Back then I was part of a small group brought in to help find funding for the upgrade of Tynecastle with the urgent need to construct three new stands. At the time it was a massive requirement for a very financially challenged organisation and at a push there were potentially just about enough pots of monies available from several sources to trigger the investment from the Football Trust and squeak over the line.
The most critical pot was mobilising the fans.
My role was to find a way of getting them to come aboard working with some fine lifetime Hearts fans like the late Alex Kitson so it would all look like a Hearts Community rather than a Mercer initiative.
The then, colourful Hearts majority owner was under constant pressure on other fronts at the time.
The team was not really performing with relatively new manager Jim Jeffries trying to get best out of predecessor Tommy Mclean’s mixed bag of old pros and kids. Making things worse was a growing, highly critical and very vocal consortium of local business people trying to get Mercer out (and themselves in).
I guess you could say in today’s parlance that they were RHM and civil war was very much happening down Gorgie way.
Anyway I can’t now recall all the detail and apologies if my memories have fused a little but a key AGM type meeting for Hearts shareholders at Ingliston was coming up and there was an agenda that looked like it might hurt “The Chairman” as Wallace liked to be called.
Never any flies on him though, he had seen the danger signs and was ready in his own way.
He turned up with his trusted few and simply yet quite brilliantly hijacked the negative agenda and ignored the real issues. He didn’t have a solution for them and couldn’t implement the changes that were in reality needed but quite simply he kicked all the trouble into the long grass.
He did this because he fundamentally understood that most shareholders in the room were just ordinary football fans and wanted nothing more than to be able to talk about football the game, Hearts their club, who they were due to play next and who would be playing.
It was that simple.
Mercer’s message to all that night was “Yes things have been tough but our best possible future is with me”.
He rammed this home by confidently telling the assembled body that Hearts were on the up because we had a new manager who needed time and then blew everyone away by announcing he just signed three amazing new players for them, Giles Rousset, Bruno Pasquale and Hans Eskilsson. After the applause and mayhem died down he had won.
Bruno and Rousset were newsworthy in any Scottish football context one being a French International and the other an ex Juventus tough guy with a EUFA and a couple of Coppa Italia winners medals.
Oh and Eskilsson had amazing hair.
Mercer’s simple bit of insight, showmanship, brinksmanship, call it what you like, led to the survival of his regime.
In a parallel maybe to what the SFA did after their meeting with Craig at the Hotel Du Vin in Glasgow, Mercer had enough time to be ready for the trouble he knew was coming and used his power to ignore the real issues and the detail and move on with a big gamble.
Looking back Wallace got a lot right .
He understood what the majority of ordinary football fans wanted. He’d also learnt that good press was needed and came from feeding the football writers enough tasty exclusives so they’d look after him in a symbiotic relationship, the kind of relationship that remains much the same today.
Even back then in the days when there were less full-colour pages pre-allocated to certain teams to fill and more able journalists to fill them, the sports pages were about game reports and gossip rather than insight.
The packs of hacks all craved being handed tasty semi-exclusive stories.
It was and ever is thus and in those days the Daily Record was a wee gem with circulation nearer 700K than the 200K-ish today and amazingly all its costs were covered by it’s advertising revenue alone. The proud boast of Endell Laird was the purchase price was pure profit.
With hindsight Wallace may only have postponed the inevitable campaign by the RHM rebels that night at Ingliston. History tells us that the Robinson/Deans rebellion eventually forced their chance. They did have to dig much deeper financially than they ever wanted when their time eventually came, and soon fell out too, but that’s another story.
Wallace’s long grass was just never going to be deep enough to hide the issues he wanted to ignore but to his credit on his watch the stadium was upgraded and the first Scottish Cup since 1956 was paraded to the fans.
Mr. Mercer was an operator who like others before and since could see personal and business value in owning a club.
He cultivated friendly football writers.
He learned that the SFA could be difficult to deal with but much less so when you placed people on their various management boards. That was key to the inner power sanctums and brought you at best influence and at worst early warnings.
He may have been autocratic but knew you needed powerful friends at other clubs too and was always close with David Murray in particular.
So what has this little piece of retrospection and a handful of Finloch football stories got to do with a blog on SFM?
Last week I met Big Pink for the first time over a few coffees.
It was like meeting an old friend in the pub because of all the stuff we’ve lived through and shared over the last 5 or so years.
We talked about stuff and traded stories and opinions on life, football and about SFM what it does and what we are.
We got on to the subject of it’s future and with my business background he asked me to consider a piece for the blog about where the SFM, our fledgling business might go from here.
I maybe agreed too hastily because I have found it challenging to gather and spell out my thoughts.
So this is very much a starting couple of steps to bring in the SFM minds and set up future discussions following this blog and when we meet in Perth in April.
My starting point was to first consider what we are today.
It’s a personal view but to me SFM is a valued medium I come to most days. It’s for when I want to find out or to discuss what is happening.
It is populated with a bunch of people with different backgrounds, skills and insights, is always polite and often very funny.
I’d actually like to see more headline blogs because I enjoy them but our biggest value will always be analysis discussion and good humour.
SFM is fundamentally different to the MSM back pages that still offer us all a mono diet of whatever day-to-day gossip they have been spoon-fed by the Level 9’s of this world or made up and maybe embellished with a random phone call for a quote.
Yes their world is declining and will inevitably see fundamental restructure and change but that change has in reality nothing to do with how they cover and will continue to cover Scottish football.
I’d even posit (to use a wee word I’ve learned from the excellent JJ site I visit sometimes) that the red tops currently see their style of football coverage as a way of slowing their inevitable declines because it delivers the difficult to reach male audience their advertisers crave access to.
As a spectator I’d say the MSM in Scotland mostly seem to suffer from a polarised demographic focus/ bias too but that can never excuse their revisionism or the Spiers and Haggerty episodes we’ve just witnessed.
There is one benefit though. One you maybe hadn’t thought about from all the dreadful MSM football reportage.
The stuff they collectively generate enables all of us to have daily conversations with friends and strangers without actually saying anything about anything.
It gives us our daily top-up for the international language of football minutiae we all converse in every day.
I’ve been able to speak it fluently since I was in my teens. You know the kind of thing – the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the comings and goings and the toings and froings.
The good news, the bad news the made-up news – its all part of being involved with a team or indeed just being a football fan and it’s all conversation for the males of our species.
There are plenty of places I can and do get access to that kind of stuff but SFM isn’t and never has been a source.
I quickly found out that most of my pals don’t want to talk about side letters in the pub on a Friday, or the need for asterisked titles because they are more interested in tomorrow’s match and who will be out of contract at the end of the season.
Without being disrespectful in any way I think they are cut from the same wood as the majority of Mr. Mercer’s Hearts shareholders and if I’m honest part of me is too.
That has given our administrators and clubs too easy a ride.
Beyond the gossip it is fair to say in the last 40 or 50 years football has changed beyond all recognition.
It has become a source of power and money and as we know proverbially and in real life power can corrupt and money can be the root of all-evil.
The stuff happening at FIFA now can be no surprise to any fair-minded fan and I’d be inclined to think that there have been finagled decisions at the top for longer than the current stewardship of Mr. Blatter.
Football-land is a dirty world. A world where all the transparency is for show and real stuff has always been controlled and rewarding for those in the right places.
Closer to home football in Scotland is no different. Power and money have been the origins of our own North of the Border soap opera saga.
Its sometimes been very funny, often been entertaining too but is ultimately tragic and a sad indictment on our country.
Being Scotland nothing is ever as simple as it should be.
We started from a unique kind of place where for over a century we have had to live with an unhealthy, quasi-tribal, two-club duopolistic domination of all things football including the fans, the trophies, the money, the media attention and the administrators controlling our game.
The stark reality of 2016 is our biggest club/economy now finds its real ambitions thwarted, potentially forever, by its location in our restrictive league structure. It has nowhere currently to go and annoyingly the biggest league in the world is just over the border and part of the same country in political terms.
This is a destabilising influence on our game that won’t go away until change allows the next evolution.
Our second biggest economy as we now know had to cheat a little to keep up, post Fergus, and is now making its way back to the top end but with some truly nuclear baggage that I guess we still really only know the half of. Nothing will be simple in its return to what we’re told everyday is its rightful place. It too is a latent destabilising influence awaiting like a grumbling volcano.
What depresses me is the fact that the much-vaunted return of our dysfunctional duopoly is not a formula to recreate the European success we all took for granted for so long. Those days will never return.
The decline of the Scottish giant that was and is Rangers has dominated our thoughts because it encapsulates so much more than what is wrong with our game.
It is a huge business and establishment fall from grace. A shocking story that has become an elephant in the room to our politicians, our media and many of our fellow fans and is still playing out to deafening silence in some quarters.
In the manic run up to the decline of David Murray’s club we benefitted from insights from the seminal RTC and were bombarded with mass denials from almost everywhere else.
We witnessed the £1 sale to Craig Whyte, the subsequent McCoist European failure, the eventual slide into messy liquidation with tax issues etc.
Our administrators failed us all the way through because they had a different agenda.
Our MSM didn’t want to know partly because it involved more than regurgitating press releases and partly because it was real news for real reporters and not back pages gossip.
Their editors failed us there too, big time.
Now the revisionism and invention of the post-liquidation ephemeral club and company scenarios has been creative to say the least.
I remember Mr. Traynor’s initial headline and smile how he and others are now wading in a contradictory swamp of their own making. It’s all confusion when it needn’t be.
I only know the kind of stuff that really happened because of this site and its RTC predecessor.
Four or five years on and I think these guys (SFA, SPFL) acted like Wallace Mercer did at Ingliston and ran roughshod over process to “win”.
These well paid admin staff were never off-piste though and our clubs share complicity for their actions to varying degrees.
If I was Regan’s or Doncaster’s devil’s advocate I could just about comprehend that they acted because they feared for their TV revenues. The prospect of being without half of their duopoly ace card and the blue fans scared them and they were mandated by the clubs to maintain the status quo.
I don’t mean all the clubs but if we look at the key committee structures we’ll easily see who were in that inner sanctum at the time. They collectively decided to throw their rulebook out the window and there is no grass long enough to bury their collective actions because truth always outs.
Cast yourself back a few years not long before the St Valentine’s day 2012 news when the push was all for a 10 club league.
I remember Stewart Milne aggressively trying to sell us all a 10-club league because of the TV revenue it delivered (to the few).
At that time there seemed to be a collective “TV Gold Fever” prevailing in the cabal of top club chairmen that makes the real decisions and tells our administrators what to do.
Luckily they failed.
They nearly failed again too in 2012 with their tawdry 5 way agreement and we all owe a debt of gratitude to the late Turnbull Hutton whose personal integrity, bloody-mindedness and leadership meant a significant change to the premeditated 5 way plan that our top clubs had all signed off.
Since then we’ve all suffered from Armageddon and long may it stay.
SFM has been at the forefront of the last five years. A place where fans from all the clubs come together to question, analyse, give insight, balance, consciousness on all aspects of the meandering road that has been this story so far.
It’s all recorded on our archives somewhere too. We’ve noted and discussed the following and more –
- Two different signatures from the same club on the 5-way agreement
- Two different and concurrent memberships of the SFA
- Players TUPE-ing for free and no lawyers getting rich in trying to get them back
- Pre-season games being cancelled because of registration and insurance issues
- The Brechin game coming too soon for the paperwork
- The entry-round in The Ramsdens Cup for the old club or is it the new club?
- Record crowds, an even more aggressive songbook
- Ian Black getting a surprise call-up and a bit of a game to legitimise The New Rangers with their first cap
- Millions raised from a gullible city and desperate fans but still several last gasp saves needed to avoid new financial stramashes
- A charity that pays for holidays in America
- Quasi-legal stuff with dodgy parameters for questionable enquiries like Nimmo Smith
- Bryson and his logic that Spartans could and should have used to stay in the cup
- A “Hopelessly Conflicted Chairman” re-elected and a new one who has fitted in seamlessly
- Real legal stuff like HMRC appeals, and phrases like side-letters
- Charlotte Fakes and maybe even Fake Charlotte Fakes
- Fit and proper persons running our clubs
- Recorded conversations
- Onerous contracts
- Metaphysical concepts of what football clubs in our courts with big bucks being spent on our behalf by our administrators
There is and has been a whole lot more and more to come on the schedules too.
How much of this would I have found on our MSM?
Very little – so thanks to those who go the extra mile for us including John Clark, EasyJambo and others at the courts, Phil who will never go away, James Doleman and others too including JJ – all playing blinders where the hacks don’t dare.
Finally fast-forward to today.
Most Scottish fans probably know a little about the stuff I’ve touched upon and we’ve debated in depth. Not enough though.
But we have Darryl Broadfoot who is the SFA so we can all sleep rest assured each night.
Going forward we must address how we communicate as a medium to spread the word.
Ask yourself – Is what we do more important than knowing Rangers signed Dean Windass’s son from Accrington Stanley on a free because he’s going to play for England one day and stuff like that?
I’d say it is different although both have a place.
Our challenge is to create more impact with ours.
In finishing I have one serious starting proposal to make as a community but first a thank you.
Thank you to all the blog writers and posters because we have collectively created a site where real stuff can be dissected and discussed politely and in a non-partisan way.
Well done to the mods in particular and to our community In general
My simple proposal as our first step forward is to start a Wikipedia style library of the facts and keep it on our site.
Dates, happenings, people and all the stuff that will not allow any of it to stay buried forever in the long grass. The kind of detail that is in Auldheid’s amazing and resolute Resolution 12.
Chapter and verse whys and wherefores with dates and names.
This will achieve three things.
- It will create bedrock for us as a trusted media channel whatever we decide to become.
- It will put stuff factually into the public domain forever.
- It will contradict any highly paid revisionists trying to change what really happened for their own agendas into the future.