Then I read the Aberdeen Press & Journal last night.
The article in question was under one of the most cynically deceptive headlines I’ve ever seen; “Now Is The Time For Change In Scottish Football” is what it read.
The actual contents of that article made the headline a sham.
For what was being proposed within it wasn’t change at all. It was the same old tired shite we’ve been putting up with for ages now.
It was more of that Armageddon nonsense, set to a slightly different tune.
The argument it put forward was that Scottish football will never be able to improve as long as the “biggest teams” aren’t in the league.
The architect of this concept – proving not only that there’s nothing new under the sun but that stale socks and empty lager cans are all that some people can glimpse on the distant horizon – was, of course, Stewart Milne, who you’d think would have already offended his own fans enough after a shambolic and ruinous display at Aberdeen’s AGM, where he called for forgiveness for Sevco and expressed his wish that they play in the SPL next season.
I had written about that earlier in the day, over on the CelticBlog, and I knew Aberdeen fans must already be furious with him for those remarks, furious enough, perhaps, to have caused his heart to flutter ever so slightly.
But no; Stewart had grander ambitions than that, although, alas, not for his football club.
He knew he had only dipped a toe in the water of the River Offence.
So, in front of his home town press toadies, he stripped down to his yellow underpants and leaped right in.
Not only did he push this view that only when Hibs and Sevco were in the top flight would the “best teams” be represented – ignoring that for all Sevco’s high cost base they’re nowhere near being a Premier League outfit and that Hibs were relegated two years ago, amidst calamitous circumstances and don’t remotely deserve to be in the SPL yet – but he then splashed around merrily as he offered the view that “Aberdeen is probably similar to most of the larger clubs in Scotland – we want to be finishing every season in the top three …”
And that’s where I sat, open-mouthed, in disbelief.
The top three?
From a side currently second, and allegedly chasing first?
Oh my, what a grandstander he is.
What an ambitious man.
To go from wanting to take the top spot away from Celtic to being willing to settle for … the next rung down on the ladder?
And who, exactly, does he envision being the third – or is it second – team in that equation?
That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?
In short, Stewart Milne is preparing his own fans for failure, and worse; he’s readily embracing the idea.
He’s saying not only that he anticipates Sevco replacing his team as our biggest challenger but that it’s perfectly alright with him, that it’s the “natural order.”
Aberdeen fans must be appalled.
Peter Lawwell must be shaking in his boots.
Who knew Milne was capable of such confidence in his vision?
The crux of his argument, the fulcrum around which it turns, is arrant nonsense talked down to us by someone who considers his audience brain-dead. He’s talking about how Scottish football has had a torrid five years, but that in that time the clubs have rebuilt their finances and are now in a healthier position than they’ve ever been.
If that’s a problem then it’s a damned nice one to have, and he knows full well that what changed in the game wasn’t superior thinking or some revolutionary master plan but that one club, the one that had wrought so much damage with spendthrift policies it couldn’t afford, and which they couldn’t afford to compete with, died and vanished from the top flight.
Aberdeen posted record profits this year, due in no small part to their second place finish and their competing in European matches. Most of all, their financial position is better than it’s been in years because the fans returned in large numbers as a consequence of their success and the stated ambitions of the club.
Today those ambitions are in ruins.
Milne’s other big announcement was that he wants to move the club into a new stadium. He forgets that in order to fill that ground week in week out he needs to have fans, and those people drifted away steadily during the decades of financial doping and the Glasgow duopoly.
They came back when that was shattered and they would be perfectly happy to keep on going to games as long as they believed they were watching a straight sport.
Alas, Milne isn’t even offering them that.
He wants Scottish football to put the past aside, he says.
What he means, when we strip it down, is that he wants us to ignore years of cheating. He wants us to pretend it never happened. He wants justice dumped by the side of the road.
Screw sporting integrity because, clearly, in his view, that just holds out sport back.
So he came out in favour league reconstruction, and in time for next season if that’s what it takes.
Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan are already on the record as supporting changes, and although their lackies in the mainstream media say the mood at Hampden is against doing it for next season – not having a choice in that helps – the truth is they’d like nothing more.
And incredibly, they were joined this week by Peter Houston, manager of Falkirk, one of Sevco’s rivals for the Scottish Championship title.
He went on the record about this issue, and predicted that if Falkirk won the title that league reconstruction will be rushed through to give Hibs and Sevco a berth. He was, he said, fully in favour of this scenario.
“Do you think if Rangers and Hibs don’t go up this season there might be league reconstruction?” he asked. “Or if Falkirk go up as champions? I know what I think would happen – there would be league reconstruction. I believe there will be reconstruction because there is an acceptance now that we need our big clubs back in the Premiership. If Falkirk went up as champions they would do it and I hope it can happen like that.”
Did you notice what he didn’t say?
He didn’t say that if his side comes third that he would support league reconstruction on his team’s own behalf!
Maybe that goes without saying, especially as neither he nor his chairman appears to give a damn about sporting integrity.
His chairman is one of the people pushing league reconstruction talks, and no-one is going to convince me that the plans he’s promoting will suddenly make Scottish football better.
It’s nothing more than re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I’ve studied his ridiculous idea and I can tell you what most people already know; our sport is not going to improve one iota by putting in place a fourteen team league with a stupid artificially created split which has the sum total of nothing to do with sporting merit but will exist solely to assure a certain number of games between Celtic and the club that’s pretending to be Rangers.
When that club died this dire concept, that of the SPL split, should have gone to the grave with it, and we should have returned to a ten team top flight.
It’s time this was laid to rest once and for all.
Besides, nowhere in their considerations does there appear to be an acknowledgement of some simple facts.
First, none of this is about sporting integrity at all.
If the objective is to get the “biggest teams in the country” in one league, then why are we bothering with promotion and relegation? Why don’t we just abandon the idea of a meritocracy entirely, and rebuild the leagues based on average attendance and possible TV audience?
Hell, that way we can have it any old way we like it.
Because otherwise this is probably all academic anyway.
In order to create a bigger league relegation would probably have to be removed from the equation in the SPL, and that would be a travesty.
But in that scenario only two teams from the Championship would go up … which, if Falkirk are in the top two, doesn’t suit the proposed narrative of getting Hibs and Sevco into the SPL for next season.
So what then?
Relegate one SPL team and promote three?
That would work, sort of.
But what if the relegated team was Dundee Utd?
Aren’t they a “big club”?
What if either Hibs or Sevco were unable to get promotion anyway?
Would we end up with a 16 team league? A 20 team one?
How much are we willing to bend this sport to get the result certain people want?
All the way, it seems.
Whatever it takes. And sporting integrity be damned.
They can talk all they like about merit, but a league structure exists, right now, and it works based on that.
The fans made sure of it three years ago.
As a consequence, the top teams play in the top flight and no amount of spin will change that. These people might not like reminded about this, but Sevco finished third in the Championship last year.
Ergo, they are not one of the top teams any longer.
When they can get out of that league by virtue of winning football games then not a single one of us will have cause for complaint, and the same applies to Hibs.
They’re next, by the way, the next club who’ll be pressed for a view, the next club the media will be leaning on to come out in favour of this stupid and corrupt idea.
I’d love to say their board will hold firm; Rob Petrie is one of the real leaders in our game, and the way his FansTV deal was killed to give Doncaster leverage against the other clubs when Rangers went bust was disgusting.
If he comes out in opposition to this lousy proposed setup … well, that man ought to be made the next head of the SFA.
But I fear he’ll put his own club first, and if Hibs fall out of contention could we really hold that against him?
This isn’t Milne, getting ready to abandon his own club’s ambitions to accommodate the Ibrox operation; this is a guy who’s club can’t afford to spend God knows how long scrambling around in the second tier.
He’s in a lousy negotiating position, and he knows it.
It’s not hard to imagine Doncaster and others dangling SPL football in his face if only he votes for the stitch up.
The flipside of that, of course, is that Hibs looks as if they could get there without a grubby backroom deal like this. If he believes in his manager and his squad then he might very well tell those pushing this to go and get stuffed, as he should.
Although his Dundee Utd team is in the relegation zone, Stephen Thompson is not backing a change as early as next season.
He is in favour of reconstruction of some sort, but not now and not if it means sacrificing sporting integrity to save his own club.
Ross County’s chairman is also in favour, but he too is opposed to doing it in time for next season.
These guys care.
They want any reconstruction talks to be based on merit, and on what is good for the sport.
They aren’t in favour out of selfish reasons.
But a lot of others want this done to get a certain club back into the top flight, and the opposition of some chairmen aside they may just get what they want.
The people charged with governing our national sport make me physically sick.
They would turn the whole game upside to accomplish by reconstruction what Sevco was wholly incapable of doing on the park last year and which they might well struggle to do in this one.
The same people were floating this scheme last year … and it’s no coincidence that it’s only raised its head now, when Sevco looks to be stumbling in the race.
Scottish football clubs are drifting ever further from their fans.
If we end up with Sevco in the top flight because of some scam people will desert this sport like never before.
Stewart Milne has spent the last few days banging on about people “looking at things objectively” and embracing “radical thinking and changes.”
How about these for examples of radical thinking and embracing change?
First, let’s see our clubs and football administrators having the imagination to envision a football environment built around what’s good for all of the clubs, and which doesn’t revolve around pandering to the whims of two teams, and in fact just one?
Second, how about we stop grubbing around for crumbs from Sky’s table and look, seriously, at Petrie’s FansTV proposals all over again?
Third, how about we get some leaders, genuine leaders with guts, in at the SFA and the SPL instead of leaving them in the hands of jokers like Regan and Doncaster? These guys ought to have been out the door three years ago; their continuing presence in those offices is an affront to every support in the country, and their conduct is soon to be the subject of at least one court case. Quite how their positions can be defended, by anyone, is mystifying and stinks to high heaven.
Fourth, and finally, how about the clubs – all of the clubs – starting to take the views of the fans seriously instead of treating them with undisguised contempt? And I refer to my own club in this too, for the way they’ve behaved over the Living Wage and the conduct of the chairman at the AGM where his comments were shameful.
2015 was, in many ways, a triumph for the clubs of Scotland, as many of them crawled out of the financial mire and got their houses in order at last. They’ve been on the right road for a couple of years now, and they did this during a period when our esteemed media and governing bodies had assured us that Armageddon would follow from the death of Rangers.
That it didn’t makes mugs out of them. Rather than acknowledge this, many of them have taken to telling us that we’re imagining the good things and that only “reform” can save the sport.
The fans have already done that.
In 2016, we’re going to have to do it all over again, and you know what? I’m game.
I’m up for it, and I’ll commit this website to taking a full part in that campaign.
I’ll do podcasts, re-launch the magazine, even, if it comes to it, attend one of those self-congratulatory Q&A things if that’s what it takes to get in front of people and bring them on board with this.
If we leave this to our appointed “leaders” Hell … well, you’ve seen how they feel about it.
I don’t trust them.
I don’t trust any of them.
But I trust my fellow fans and I always have.
Because they know what’s important.
They know the “credibility” of our game doesn’t come from which teams are in the league.
I firmly believe that the greatest symbol of what our sport stands for was a club called Sevco playing football in the bottom tier; that was our gift to football itself, the one time when the game here in Scottish actually set an example for the rest of the world. We put sporting integrity first, and that was our shining moment, our finest hour.
I’ve never forgotten that it happened in the face of such venom and arrogance and outright opposition, and that some of our “leaders” and many of those in the media still mourn that decision today … well they are an embarrassment and we’d be insane to leave something we love in their hands for one minute longer.
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