Alan Taylor – author of possibly the most hackneyed weekly column in the multiverse – is sad about the state of the Scottish game (‘Fans are the losers’). He writes:
I last saw Rangers play on television. Channel hopping, I paused at BBC Alba and caught a few moments of the Gaelic commentary of their match against Albion Rovers. It was surreal. Rangers – the mighty Rangers – against Albion Rovers described in Gaelic? It was like some mad god’s nightmare. But it was real alright and proof were it required of the depths to which Rangers, and by extension Scottish football has sunk. For there can surely be no doubt now that Rangers’ downfall is bad in general for the game in these parts.
There’s so much to ponder in those few sentences which combines seamlessly cultural self-hatred and a bizarre metropolitan snobbery. Three notions stand out:
1. This is establishment Scotland befuddled by the modern age, dazzled some ‘mad god’ (in other culture’s this god is called ‘the rules’). The assumptions blur in a dizzying display of nostalgic myopia. Nothing could be worse for this writer than ‘the mighty Rangers’ being described in gaelic, which represents for Taylor some kind of cultural haemorrhage, an affront to the natural order of things.
2. One stand out assumption is this: Rangers are Scottish football. There can not be one without the other. This assumption is, to say the least, problematic, not least for all the other clubs in the leagues, but also for the extraordinary revelations by Paul Hutcheon in the same week, which no-one has really bothered about, presumably because its such old news.
3. Ranger’s downfall is bad in general for the game in these parts. Is it? Casting aside those pesky things called ‘the rules’ and those other pesky notions called ‘ethics’ this is an odd analysis. Despite St Johnstone’s sad exit last night – they might not have been in Europe at all had the Old Firm not been severed. Rangers’ downfall is not bad for Scottish football because the alternative – as almost all clubs recognised after some persuasion by their less compromised fan base – to give special dispensation for law breaking – wasn’t remotely credible.
The attitude is rife. Neil Doncaster managed to launch the SPFL’s grand new era with Graeme Souness, for some reason, and for an undisclosed fee. What message did this end out? Doncaster, a figure who’s shambolic and disgraceful stewardship of the game lies largely unchallenged and who was rewarded for spectacular incompetence with effective promotion, managed to launch the new league with a very old vision: John Collins and Graeme Souness, Celtic and Rangers.
As Alan Patullo wrote at the time:
Their substance, in terms of footballing talent and achievement, is obvious. Well dressed and camera-friendly, they possess abundant style as well. Making them even more appealing to those charged with promoting another new league set-up in Scotland is the fact they are so easily recognisable south of the border, where it is clear more than a little inspiration for the new league was found. The new top-flight will be called the Scottish Premiership, with the old First Division renamed the Scottish Championship. Divisions Two and Three will now be known as Scottish League One and Scottish League Two. These are all names associated with the shake-up in English football in the 1990s, although the Premiership has long since been re-branded as the Premier League. Indeed, “Premiership” is now associated with a creeping venality within English football.
Again, problems emerge. We’re not really dealing with any of the fundamental problems, we are ‘rebranding’ league names. We are appealing (for some unexplained reason with unexplained benefits) to south of the border. Why will it benefit us because Graeme Souness is recognisable in the Costwolds? Is that really the SPFL strategy for getting a significant sponsor for the national game?
Doncaster is modeling Scottish football on English football – a crass and unimaginative idea given that the English game is awash with SKY money, possibly to its detriment. This is money we don’t have. A different model is required.
But Patullo is right to note the ‘creeping venality’. The problem is not just £12 m embezzlers, or Angelo Massone, with plastic bags behind the sofa and this level of ineptitude at the top of the game, we have our homespun version of venal, money-grabbing ‘management’.
A ‘brave new era’ – if it were to mean anything at all – would be launched by some of the young players we are seeing emerging from some of the new clubs that are performing with energy and drive, if little money. These are well managed clubs with some ambition. You can watch them each week, even in gaelic. The problem is not these clubs or players with integrity and hard work, the problem is the complete dearth of imagination at the very top represented by Doncaster and the sort of wistful sentimentalism of Taylor for an old order, long gone.