The Enigma of Scottish Television Broadcasting

Watching one of those FIFA filmed and broadcast deals that broadcasters around the world can buy into, add their own commentary and tick a box that keeps their advertising departments happy, this particular VPN protected stream was beamed onto my laptop via South Africa. The adverts at half time are always interesting, filled with products and companies unknown to me. The commentator, however, was not an interesting or even remotely interested chap. Sounding like a feller half a Wikipedia page ahead of the subject, Chuckles was more conversant with the facts and figures of players earning a coin in the English premier league than he was with those still plying their trade in Scotland. His greatest crime came about 20 minutes into the match: having regurgitated the failures of Scotland’s fitba achievements and proceeded to refer to this plucky little nation as ‘The Scotch’, I eyed the dug, who sensing my seething rage gulped and hastily vacated the living room. In terms of setting the scene, this was a miserable listen, guaranteed to raise the hackles of the most neutral Scot, every wrung out cliche was pegged on the line and flapped in the listeners’ ears for 90 minutes plus extra time.

Despite the result, two denied goals for Che Adams, a penalty save from Craig Gordon, and John McGinn’s formidable backside proving an instrumental part of his obvious talent, it was my most frustrating listen to a Scotland match in decades. The one good thing it did do was prompt me to try and articulate these frustrations.


I remember a pal, a lad called Jackson Kerr at secondary school cynically telling me in 1975, the year after our glorious failure at the World Cup in West Germany, that Scotland would never win a World Cup, I nearly wept at his lack of hope, 46 years on I recognise his early onset nihilism and applaud him for it. The somewhat strangulated point I’m labouring to make here, is that televised football was once as popular as breathing. As a teenager, I remember we had council telly choices, BBC Scotland and Scottish Television, the rival broadcasters shared the rights to broadcast league and International games. One week it was Archie McPherson and his moveable hair, waxing lyrical about Martin Buchan, the following week, Arthur Montford elegantly warning Danny McGrain, ‘he’s behind you!’ Obviously they vied for the big games and no doubt some shady backroom negotiations that would make Cop26 look a breeze were carried out as Ranger v Celtic and Scotland v England were delicately carved up to satisfy each other’s audiences. Everyone in my adolescent world spoke fitba, one of my first jobs was delivering the pink paper, the results blatt that the Evening Times would rush out after the teleprinter had stopped and their sporting Dostoevsky’s had penned missives on the drama of Motherwell v Raith Rovers on a wintery Saturday night. It was in our blood, the merits of this player versus that, which system best suited what particular team. It was firmly embedded in the working class, predominantly male psyche.

Fast forward and the game, like much of Scotland’s rural landscape has been denuded, you either pay Sky or BT Sport for the privilege of shouting at your telly, or you head to the pub to watch a TV screen with a pint symbol embossed on it.

This is how sad I’ve become. I just had a look at the SFA’s Group Strategic Report for the year ended December 31st 2020. There in their opening statement on page 5 is this portentous comment – “Despite the Pandemic, Steve Clarke led the Men’s National Team to qualification for the Euro 2020 finals tournament coming through play-off matches against Israel and Serbia. This is the first major tournament qualification in 23 years and the unprecedented national reaction which followed showed the power of football to unite and lift the spirits of the nation.”

Let that sink in, an unprecedented national reaction which united and lifted the spirits of the nation. Inadvertently whoever wrote this for the SFA board tapped into the very reason why folk watch and love football, it lifts the spirits. Depending on the result, we soar, we become optimistic, aspirational, ambitious. All the best positive synonyms come to the fore when we bask in the reflected glory of 11 young men punting a ball about a pitch for 90 + minutes.

Yet, and that’s a big chuffing yet, we have to pay through the nose, head to the pub, tap into a dodgy stream with malicious trap doors that tell you ‘hot women a mile away from your house are waiting for your call’ to hopefully feel the regenerative spirit that comes with an away win at…Moldova.

So why is such a life affirming sport that lifts the spirits of the nation not available to a wider council telly audience? Ahh, funding, the insidious Aussie and his model of paying toppish buck for the opium of the masses, has triangulated to such an extent that only the biggest countries who realise having foreign broadcasters and commentators describe what’s happening on the pitch to a bemused audience would result in riots. Imagine for one minute that rather than show live England national games on ITV, the English FA sold the broadcasting rights to a German TV company whose coverage extended as far as having a not particularly informed German commentator and a former English professional footballer with a poor grasp on tenses?

This is what Scotland has to put up with. Every time Scotland plays, those of us who refuse to bend the knee to Thatcher’s hench-man are either putting our computer health at risk or listening to a radio broadcast. like chuffing cavemen. This is exactly what happened last night, for the umpteenth time in a row, Scotland play a crucial match hidden away behind a paywall, whilst Scottish Television tap into the free feed of England against whichever minnow they’ve been drawn against. I get that it’s a commercial decision, that Scottish TV Megalopolis PLC are as Scottish as the Yank kid who edited the Scots language Wikipedia page, and they answer to shareholders, but jings what an opportunity they and BBC Scotland are missing. Imagine a Scotland, where broadcasting wasn’t reserved and we could simply opt into buying away games from FIFA or UEFA and crivvens, broadcast the home games ourselves. Think of the advertising revenue that could accrue for STV and the broadcasting remit of BBC Scotland to inform, educate and entertain, if they had a nation of 5 million, young old and middle aged, keen to observe and participate by shouting at their telly, rather than the audience that switched over to the other side to watch East bloody Enders and Masterchef.

I know writing this I’m just howling at the wind, that the Blazers who run Scottish football are only interested in self preservation, that they’ve painted themselves into a Murdoch controlled corner, where they neither have the wit, intelligence or ambition to slap his largess down and come to an arrangement as they had in the golden days of Scottish football, when qualification was a lot less stressful and we had the shimmering talents of Sally McNair, Jim White and Dougie Donnelly to articulate all our fitba ambitions..

Comments (32)

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  1. Robbie says:

    Agree with you 100percent ,what’s become of us poor we “Scotch” are we nae worth the bother, wonder if Independence would make a difference. aye ah think so.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I see it another way. We see every England game because the Terrestrial TV companies will pay the going rate to screen them. When it comes to Scotland these same terrestrial TV companies will not stump up the cash. We, here in Scotland, are only permitted to subsidise the English game through subscriptions to Sky, BT or other commercial broadcasters, that feed Billions into English football but get very mutch short changed in seeing the matches that matter to us.

  3. George Muir says:

    It is beyond words that this situation has arisen in broadcasting of football in Scotland and that we countenance its perpetuation. It really is just another example of how we are traduced day by day, year after year, decade after decade. When will the scales drop from the eyes of the people of this country? Of course, that will be well nigh impossible for the self-centred, sycophantic wretches with pound signs in their eyes and a predilection for aping their Conservative ” betters” in the hope of elevating themselves in any way.

  4. Willie Lawrie says:

    I’m totally deaf so commentary is meaningless to me.
    My grandson gave me a link to a wonderful website where I can watch virtually any match I want.
    Today I watched Inverness v Dunfermline nae bother. I also watched Tennis from Stockholm.
    All this week I’ve been watching tennis from Linz, Austria and golf from Qatar.
    It’s a dawdle

  5. Squigglypen says:

    Don’t give a bugger about football. Only interested in independence for our nation
    and getting away from that nasty wee nation south of us.When we run our own country
    then you can worry about football. or netball or hockey or lacrosse or gymnastics …ad infinitum…
    Focus on independence ……

  6. SleepingDog says:

    The Scotland Women’s National Team matches are covered live on BBC Alba without English commentary. They move into crucial FIFA world cup qualifying matches against Ukraine and Spain this month, during a slump in form that has coincided with a growing number of elite players and a more competitive home league.
    They have qualified for two major tournaments recently, although their performance in each was disappointing by the high standards they set during qualification.

    I have given up paying Now TV for the privilege of watching the men’s team live, and now settle for the (advertless) highlights on BBC Sportscene. I would consider a reasonably-priced pay-on-demand option that did not mean being subjected to all the adverts on a forced temporary Sky Sports subscription.

    Incidentally, I think Archie Macpherson’s finest hour was his well-researched, respectful, informative, engaging and surprisingly pertinent commentary on Eurosport’s coverage of the World Cup, which put other commentators to shame.

  7. BSA says:

    Every winter Scotland is treated to live broadcast, on prime time Friday night BBC 1, of the early rounds of the (English) FA Cup featuring the likes of Yeovil Town and Barnet. Most of a Friday evening devoted to another country’s minor football while our own game is ignored. Absolutely despicable.

  8. Les Mackay says:

    I would suggest that a pledge by the SNP to secure the broadcasting rights to all Scotland matches, home and away, for the new FreeScot TV channel, would go a long way to securing the necessary votes to gain independence.

  9. Derek says:

    Turn the volume on the telly down and have Radio Scotland as your commentary.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Or you could buy a ticket from the SFA/SRU rather than from the broadcasters and go to the game actually rather than virtually, thus cutting out the media entirely.

      It’s all very well saying that the SFA/SRU shouldn’t sell out to the media, but do you think professional sport could survive nowadays without broadcasting money?

      1. David B says:

        International football can (and in many countries does) survive without Pay TV broadcasting money, for the simple reason that it’s the clubs, not the FAs, who pay the players’ salaries.

        Rugby is more complicated as Scotland’s 2 pro teams are wholly owned by the SRU. The problem there is that CVC (a private equity firm) have taken advantage of the pandemic to gain full commercial control of the 6 Nations and Autumn tests, including TV rights. Executive pay at the SRU is out of control so it’s not like there aren’t savings to be made elsewhere.

        There’s a story that when the EPL were negotiating the first Sky deal, Alan Sugar said “Gentlemen, it doesn’t matter if they give us £5 million or £50 million – at the end of the day we’ll p*** it up the wall in wages”.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Don’t the clubs get the money to pay the wages of their players from the revenue the game raises through its broadcasting deals. I can’t imagine the gate money alone would take clubs very far in today’s labour market.

          1. David Be says:

            Yes, but the article is specifically about TV rights for international football. TV rights for the domestic club leagues in Scotland are negotiated by the SPFL on behalf of member clubs. International rights are negotiated separately, by the SFA. I’m sure much of the money from the latter goes to support grass-roots projects, the Scottish age-grade sides, and general football development in Scotland. But the top level of the club game (as I understand it) does not receive subsidies from the sale of Scotland national team rights.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            Thanks, Dave! I stand corrected.

            Maybe the SFA should raise the revenue it needs to meet the cost of its operations by some means other than the sale of broadcasting rights to the highest bidder.

            I remember Alex Salmond, when he was First Minister, declaring: ‘Let me simply say that when it comes to getting the national team back onto the screens of all our citizens – it can be done and it should be done.’ But he never did it; nor did he explain HOW it could be done.

    2. Derek Thomson says:

      It doesnae sync, otherwise I definitely would.

  10. Alistair Taylor says:

    Yes, well said, Dial M for Murdo. Pretty pathetic that Scottish viewers get England-Albania live instead of Moldova-Scotland.

    Speaking of Archie McPherson, I will never forget that memorable eve in 1973 when Scotland qualified for the 1974 World Cup (following a 2-1 victory against Czechoslovakia, with Joe Jordan scoring the winner) and England failed to qualify (after a 1-1 draw with Poland, at Wembley).
    Archie’s goodnight smile was a thing of beauty.

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      He really, really hates the idea if independence for Scotland though. Nowadays, he’s a havering buffoon.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        Of, not if.

  11. David B says:

    Watching the national team should be a common good freely accessible, not a privately owned commodity hidden behind a paywall. Representative sport is exactly that – the national sides represent an entire community of amateur coaches, players, parents, teachers etc. These are the people who are going to get the next John McGinn, Erin Cuthbert or Finn Russell to pick up a ball.

    Thanks for the memories of the Pink paper!

  12. Tom Smith says:

    It’s not football alone. The rugby game of Scotland against South Africa was only available on an Amazon owned channel – not a second of even as highlights on normal TV channels. Shame on the Scottish RFU for selling out to multimillionaire Bezos. We must change this. If the RFU doesn’t do so then rugby following will collapse as sharply as did golf when the BBC sold out to Murdoch.

    Shame shame shame

  13. Chris Connolly* says:

    Football doesn’t lift the spirits. Most of the time it’s frustrating and/or boring, and watching a game in the flesh in Scotland means that your glasses steam up with cold and your fingers and toes turn to ice. Even worse, it encourages people to hate each other and to behave badly, and takes working class men’s minds off important matters like their living and working conditions, climate change, corruption and so on.

    Most women, on the other hand, have got more sense than to take part in such nonsense.

    Football rivalries mean that people just like yourself are your enemies, just because they happen to live in a different town and wear different colours, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is no reason at all why folk in Edinburgh shouldn’t follow the Hibees AND the Jam Tarts, or why Dundonians shouldn’t support both the Dee and the United.

    Football managers are among the most unreasonable people on Earth, and the average fan throws common sense out of the window. My phone suggested I watch highlights of Annan v Stranraer the other day so I gave the game a look. The co-commentators were Stranraer fans, and they were so biased it was almost beyond belief. When a Stranraer player smacked an Annan man in the face and flattened him they blamed the ref, and were outraged that their lad had been sent off. Likewise, every tackle by Annan was a foul, and Stranraer were never even remotely offside.

    I’ve no doubt that if the commentator had been an Annan supporter he would have been just as bad.

    Football is given way too much coverage in the media. During COP26 the BBC felt that Steven Gerrard leaving Rangers was more important than the future of the planet. Rangers and Celtic players and officials only have to fart to become the biggest story of the day. This would be annoying enough were it St Johnstone and Queen of the South that were dominating the headlines but it just happens to be the two clubs that are synonymous with sectarian bigotry who, it’s assumed, we are all desperate to read and talk about.

    If it were up to me, Leagues and Cups would be abolished and football would be played, for fun or to raise funds for good causes, by amateurs. And we’d never have to see or read about the Auld Firm or their annoying followers ever again.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Football and other popular sports introduce an element of collegial (‘club’) rivalry and competition into our collective lives. Sometimes that rivalry turns ugly, especially when it’s exploited by nationalism and other forms of sectarianism to whip up hostility. But that’s not the fault of football itself.

      I have to admit that watching football does uplift my spirits, even in the most inclement weather. When a team of players comes together to complete an accomplished passage of play, I find that ‘concerto’ a thing of beauty. It makes my heart sing to see the harmony of the players striving alongside one another in community – as a team – to produce an effect whose whole is greater than the sum of the skills and effort of the individual players that produced it.

      Mind you, you often do have to suffer some terrible 90 minutes to enjoy such wonderful moments. But it’s those wonderful moments that make all the suffering worthwhile.

      1. Chris Connolly* says:

        I can think of many things more interesting and rewarding than watching a match on a Saturday. Birdwatching, going for a walk, sitting in front of a fire, having a nap, making a pie or visiting an art gallery are good examples, but then again I live in Stranraer, and anything short of having dysentery or blowing your own brains out with a shotgun would be more fun than spending an hour and a half at Stair Park.

        Trust me, I know.

        It is annoying not to be able to watch Scotland’s games, I agree. I might or might not watch even if I could, but I’m certainly not going to sit in front of the TV watching England against San Marino, or against anybody else, for that matter. *

        University Challenge was a cracking contest last night, with Edinburgh coming out on top. Glad I didn’t miss it through watching football instead.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Puir saul! Anything short of having dysentery or blowing your own brains out with a shotgun would be more fun than spending an hour and a half in Stranraer, never mind Stair Park.

      2. Niemand says:

        I much prefer the snooker and Scottish snooker players are some of the best in the world. Oddly though I do like listening to the pundits and fans banging on about the day’s games on Saturday night football phone-ins.

        I have been to Stranraer once and hung out at the rather odd station amidst all that rusting metal and the sea loch. It was sunny and I enjoyed it.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Yep, the vox populi of radio phone-ins and other social media reveals all that’s wrong with contemporary Scotland. It fascinates me too. It’s like watching a car crash; ye juist cannae leuk awa.

          And, ay, ye can experience the haill o The Toon athoot e’en lea’in the station. It’s a puir rusty-metal sort o place, an the fowk are juist as grim an desperate.

          1. Chris Connolly* says:

            Excuse me but Stranraer is a fine town, and would be better still without its contingent of Celtic and Rangers fans.

            Congratulations to the folk of Kilmarnock and Hamilton, who can now go shopping in peace on a Saturday without being invaded by arrogant sectarian bams 4 times a year. Best wishes for not being promoted back to the Premier League.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            The last time I was there, which was just after the first lockdown, both the fabric and the people of the toon looked terribly run-down and far from ‘fine’. There seemed to be no vim about the place.

  14. Chris Connolly* says:

    Be fascinated to know what Mons Meg was doing visiting Stranraer at a time when we were all supposed to be remaining within a 5 mile radius of home.

    Not sure Bella Caledonia is the place to go rubbishing the towns where other people stay. That sort of thing is more the remit of football fan forums. After all, referring to other towns and cities as shitholes is just the sort of banter associated with the class traitors who congregate on those moronic sites. In England it’s the done thing to refer to chavs, single mothers and council schemes, together with “shag your women and drink your beer” obviously.

    Every time I see a football match, read the papers or see adverts for Hollywood movies I feel more inclined to hope that when Covid-20 breaks out every man’s balls will shrink to nothing, thereby reducing the attraction of modern-day gladiatorial contests and beginning the gradual end of the human race; the only thing that can save the Earth from ultimate catastrophe.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      If memory serves, it was around the start of September 2020, just after the first lockdown and just before the second. Were there still travel restrictions in force then? I was there for no reason; I just ‘taen a notion’ and set off, bus pass in one hand and coffee flask in the other.

      And I’m happy to withdraw my words anent Stranraer. It’s a guid gaun place, and its folk are thriving.

      1. Niemand says:

        More empty promises from the SNP I see.

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