Scottish Football: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As Scottish football grinds to a shuddering halt, we cast our eye over the health of the game. As @AgentScotland points out: this year saw the highest total attendances since the 1950s; eleven out of twelve teams posted increased attendances; we have the highest attendance per capita in World Football; the sixth highest attendances top tier in Europe by head count; and 670 goals: the most in the 38 game era.

But beyond these headlines there are deeper problems with football in Scotland.

Celtic won the league and a historic treble playing attractive free-flowing football under Ange Postecoglu, then lost him to Tottenham; Kevin Van Veen created a new Scottish Football post-war record scoring 11 games in a row – but this covered a generally poor season for the Steelmen. Rangers redeemed themselves under Michael Beale, yet remained without a trophy to speak of; Aberdeen, amazingly took third-spot after losing their manager and being humiliated at Easter Road, Tynecastle and Parkhead; Hearts gained a European spot by the skin of their teeth after throwing away a twelve point lead in third as their season deteriorated; Hibs scrape into Europe after enduring a season of chaotic inconsistency, injuries and bizarre management bust-ups; and Scotland lose their sixth-highest attended club in the premiership with Dundee United being relegated.

The positive signs of increased attendance aren’t reflected in better management of the league, better nurturing of the game through media and changes in culture, nor in the quality on the pitch. Apart from the overall quality of the play, the third fourth and fifth clubs were united in one thing: massive inconsistency. Aberdeen and Hearts both lost their managers, and arguably Hibs could have as well, if it were not for results against Aberdeen and Hearts when they were in freefall and against Celtic once the league was won.  The league in Scotland lacks direction support, vision and standing and all of this effects how it is perceived abroad, so that when players are sold they are undervalued and the quality of the player that can be attracted to the game is lower than it should be.

Resolution Six and Nurturing Young Scottish Talent

The lack of leadership is apparent everywhere and again and again the whole game is viewed as little more than a vehicle for the duopoly. This can be seen throughout fixture planning, kick-off times and media treatment, though perhaps no better example could be given than the recently attempt to introduce a new division – a 10-team Conference League – beneath League Two – a so called Colt or ‘B’ team league. The core motivation for the proposal is providing a long-term home for the B teams of Celtic, Rangers and Hearts, from season 2024-25.

As Andy Smith Chair at the Scottish Football Supporters Association said, “I really hope that this daft idea based on the self-interest of just 3 members gets the bloody nose it deserves on Tuesday. The main difference between the clubs coming out and saying no and the SFA is that the clubs have been talking to their fans and communities, something the SFA and SPFL never seem to do.”

“At the SFA AGM on Tuesday June 6th Scottish SFA Members are being asked to vote through ‘Resolution 6’. If passed this would allow certain SFA members to pay for their Colts teams to form the backbone of a newly invented level 5 league for which they would initially pay an annual fee. This league would effectively relegate over 200 SFA members instantly and further distort the pyramid.
It is also seen by many as the first step towards a plan to elevate certain members Colts teams into the SPFL proper. The plan has been done without any fan consultation behind the usual closed doors. As the news has trickled out there has been a huge reaction from fans and many clubs.”

This is a vote for democracy but not for No Change. It will represent a bloody-nose for Neil Doncaster, the SPFL’s £400,000-a-year chief executive.

As Ewan Murray, the Guardian’s Scottish football writer notes: “There is no joined up thinking here at all. The jewel in the SPFL’s crown, the Premiership, is not only shockingly low on quality but also a competitive non-event. Scottish football needs a radical overhaul.”

He is not alone in this view, yet as Murray also notes – the other alternatives to encouraging young players development are also shut down: “The league will not entertain talk of homegrown player quotas, rewards for clubs who consistently field emerging Scottish talent or even an expanded top division to permit breathing space to managers with an interest in the promotion of youth.”

This complete lack of leadership or vision from Doncaster’s SPFL has been apparent for all to see for years, and it is consistent with a duopoly as the abiding goal of those in charge. Murray again:

“It is reasonable to question whether the Scottish champions, or their old foes at Ibrox, have any real interest in the promotion of Scottish talent. Both clubs are stuck in a competitive vortex, where winning at all costs trumps everything else. The playing of youth players only ever looks like tokenism. Celtic’s starting XI for the Scottish Cup final on Saturday included two Scots; the 29-year-old Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor, a £2m purchase from Kilmarnock. Hearts’ recent record is no better, with the club at least adamant that must change.”


As Celtic lose their successful and charismatic manager Ange Postecoglu, attention immediately turns to his replacement. But the boring debate about Neil Lennon or Brendan Rodgers only exposes the small-pool-parochialism of the game, and the lack of real ambition it engenders even for the clubs for whom it is served up on a plate. Celtic’s triumph is boring and dull and bad not just for Scottish football but for the club itself. The fans ambition is reduced to beating their rivals, and little else. A club with real ambition and awash with all these resources would have the aspiration to do really well in Europe and (re) establish themselves as a side with European-ambition.

This manager-churn can be seen at other clubs, and other clubs are not immune to a lack of ambition.

But this reality speaks to the wider crisis of Scottish football, the lack of vision, investment, innovation and striving for better.


It’s not all bad news.

The reality is our national team are excelling, despite not because of the mismanagement of the game we have a brilliant young squad and bags of potential. What could we achieve with a body in charge and what will it take to realise that and fulfil the potential we have, both at a premier level and though the grassroots?

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  1. SFTB says:

    This is blissfully ill informed. Scotland National Team good; all else bad. The victory over the 5th tier development league is the victory for parochial thinking (BTW- on what planet does anyone think the next Celtic manager’s choice is between Rodgers and Lennon??)- it is a victory aimed only at preventing young players getting a better pathway.

    Future Scottish Internationalists are not going to be developed by Dundee and Alloa and East Fife nor Darvel and Kelty Hearts- all fine clubs but appalling to small crowds.

    The idea that these developments are unique to Scottish circumstances is bizarre. the same concentration of trophy and title winning is happening all over Europe. Some leagues have a one team hegemony, some have 2 big clubs competing and occasionally there are 3 or 4 clubs with a chance. This is true of even the big leagues in England, Spain and Germany where small monopolies are becoming ever more concentrated.

    Informed football fans know the reasons for this- Bosman ruling, TV money doping, a Champions League hegemony even for non-Champion clubs and a threatened super league breakaway.

    I am sure you are informed and well read on many political matters but your football analysis here is a tired retread of overheard resentments. It is sour grapes as a thesis.

    The mis-named Scottish Football Supporter’s Association, of which I was once a member, is merely a Tartan Army fan club. Its solution for reviving a glorious era that never was is to “tax” clubs that are successful in attracting players so that gate money paid by fans of larger clubs will go disproportionately to clubs that can’t attract any fanbase growth. That is a distorted form of socialism. I want my money to strengthen my team not the opposition. I have socialist principles but not in sport. You have to earn your success and your following; it cannot be gifted to you.

    We cannot reverse the Bosman ruling. we cannot compete with the TV riches of lands with larger TV viewing interest (though we can marginally improve our deals) and we cannot buck the world wide trend whereby clubs still living in the mid20th century can be revived and be a healthy tail to wag a dog. The absurdity of that process is the Hampden Stadium, an abominable venue, because we left it in the hands of Queens Park blazer amateurs.

    JocK Stein once said, when there was a cry to make our league more competitive, that a race between two 90 year olds could be competitive but it would be no spectacle. Similarly levelling down the standards of our football teams by using perverse disincentives will do nothing other than make us a League of Wales standard or an OAP race.

    I honestly despair about how half baked and populist this analysis is.

    1. I didn’t say ‘Scotland National Team good; all else bad’ – anywhere.

      “Future Scottish Internationalists are not going to be developed by Dundee and Alloa and East Fife” – how do you know?

      Your sense of self-entitlement is overwhelming.

      1. SFTB says:

        I didn’t realise you were the editor too. Seriously you should delegate the football to someone with an interest in the game. It might give you the time to own your own words. You quoted Ewan Murray, resentful Hearts fanboy, with approval, on Scottish club football being poor and you said “It’s not all bad news” when pivoting onto the National team, on the basis that after a lengthy period of failure, they qualified for one set of finals. Steve Clark can be praised for his organisation and results but he will get no plaudits for flair.

        You cited a “boring” debate about Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers, in the context of Ange leaving but no Celtic fan sees the succession contest as being between these two. Be honest, you read a tabloid or a bookmakers odds sites, or spoke with an equally ill informed friend to arrive at that conclusion and then you called your imaginary context “parochial”. That’s a Trump level of circular justification, right there.

        If you ask any football fan in another country what they associate with Scottish football, they will cite the two larger Glasgow clubs; they would struggle to name a 3rd. That is not a jibe or a condescension; it is a fact. They certainly would not be citing the National team as the shining example in a sea of backward dross. That is your politics being imposed on a football map where the reality is hugely different.

        Big clubs from peripheral leagues have a glass ceiling in Europe. At elite CL level, they are, unfortunately, cannon fodder> The same is true of Zagreb, Copenhagen, Legia Warsaw, RS Belgrade and Steau Bucharest. This is not a parochial issue with parochial answers.

        Celtic and Rangers cannot thrive any further, despite an improvement in reaching 3 Euro finals in the past 20 years, compared to the desert of 1985-2000 in Scottish football. That same desert existed for the National team from 1996 to last year. They were doing nothing as Celtic and Rangers dragged themselves back from late 20th century wilderness to , at least 3rd or 2nd tier relevance in Europe. The National team is barely reaching 4th tier levels and under Clarke will be lucky to get beyond being a stuffy anti-football outfit, the Livingston of National team football.

        It’s laughable to be called entitled by someone backing the SFSA’s plan for stealing money from the Glasgow fanbase. The only way Scotland’s clubs can be more successful and relevant is to break away from the economic limitations of the national boundaries. They should be allowed to find their level and your club should be allowed to find theirs. You could have a competitive league and Hearts and Hibs and Aberdeen and others might find themselves being restricted by the weaker landscape bequeathed to them.

        But no, Scottish football clubs would rather shackle their better clubs and handicap them because they win too much already. Their success is hated but their departure is feared. be careful what you wish for but, at least, wish for something better than just doing sown clubs you don’t like.

        I have no hatred or even dislike for the clubs that make up our leagues but I do recognise that they are not competitive with clubs from other small European nations. they are eliminated in qualifying rounds and rarely reach Group Stages. They have to find their own way to improve. I have no interest in helping my opponent clubs to do so. They must find their own way.

        P.S. You questioned my stat about National Team player development- which of the clubs I mentioned have produced a 21st century internationalist? I’ll give you a clue- one of them did- a player who is currently 3rd choice goalkeeper for Celtic. And far from Celtic and Rangers being responsible for stealing talent from other clubs, look at the number of ex- Lennoxtown and Auchenhowie players populating the first teams of other clubs.

        Own your won words, Mike and own your own entitlement. I am only asking to be allowed to develop to my best capabilities. If Scottish tennis had a Resolution 6 vote, it would have prevented Andy Murray from playing outside Scotland because others could not afford to do so. And Sport cannot be shoehorned into a Socialist outlook or a completely feral Capitalist one. It is different from the more important activities of Jobs, Housing and Human Rights Equalities. And genuine football fans know this.

        1. Wow.

          Don’t know where to begin with this. How about your weird assertion that only Rangers and Celtic produce players for the national team? Its laughable and ridiculous given the reality outlined in the piece. Lets begin with Andy Robertson who began his senior career with Queen’s Park in 2012 before joining Dundee United.

          1. SFTB says:

            “Don’t know where to begin with this. How about your weird assertion that only Rangers and Celtic produce players for the national team?”

            Well, I’d advise you to start by reading more carefully. You denied your own words and I replied by giving you the example of where you said it, using your own words and structure.

            Now, you are claiming that I said “only” Rangers and Celtic produce Scottish Internationalists- a mad claim that would only be made by a madman. I tried to use my words more carefully than that so I will produce those words again:-

            “Future Scottish Internationalists are not going to be developed by Dundee and Alloa and East Fife nor Darvel and Kelty Hearts- all fine clubs but appalling to small crowds.” (BTW- appalling is, of course a spellcheck correction of my intended word “appealing”). Now, try to be honest – does that actually say that only Rangers and Celtic do this?? For God’s sake, I even pointed you to the example of a minor Scottish Internationalist who did come most recently from a spell at Dundee. I have admiration for clubs like Alloa and Kelty Hearts and their ambition to become better but they cannot become better by suppressing the ambitions of entities like Celtic B , Rangers B and Hearts B who would come with larger crowds than they can attract. Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine and the USA allow this. England doesn’t, as yet. Which of those nations is Scotland outshining?

          2. I love the idea of Alloa suppressing the ambitions of entities like Celtic B , Rangers B and Hearts B – poor suppressed Celtic Rangers and Hearts!

          3. SFTB says:

            P.S. Andy Robertson spent his youth career at Celtic and was released and picked up by Queen’s Park at 15. He spent much longer with Celtic under age teams than he did at QP, or United, though they gave him a platform to improve as a player. He did win one full cap as a substitute in a friendly in his final 3 months at United ( a team I carefully did not list). But his Scotland career was really earned by his performances at Hull and, subsequently, Liverpool. Those two English clubs made Andy Robertson the player he became by giving him a competitive level of football commensurate with his talent. It is an unprovable hypothesis but, it is doubtful that he would have made these gains had he remained at United. he certainly wouldn’t if he had remained at Queen’s Park.

            Smaller community clubs fulfil a valuable role but they cannot provide the full pathway to develop an International player- and neither can Celtic and Rangers B teams do this by limiting talented 16 and 17 year olds to 5th tier Scottish football competition. Neither can they break through into their first team squads easily as they have to be better than 20+ full Internationalists. They could loan them to Scottish clubs at Championship level but, frankly, most of the lack the coaching environment, scientific and medical support that they get from their parent club and they provide a competitive level of play which is weaker than League One in England.

            Try and make a wow out of that! Even on your own home turf of Bella Caledonia, you might get the upvotes but not by your display of knowledge here.

          4. SFTB says:

            Mike- the clubs who were going to vote against the resolution were patently happening the ambitions of the players of Celtic B, Hearts B and Rangers B. This hampers the development pathways of many of our brightest young players as it restricts them to 5th tier football when many are capable of a higher level. This in turn will affect the future international team as the vast majority of the players in the B teams are Scotland eligible.

            It is nice that you mention Celtic B , Hearts B and Rangers B in the first half of your reply but then drop the B to construct the ridiculous notice that Alloa (I’ll say it again- a fine run club with a wily ambitious chairman and now SFA President but with average attendances of less than 750) are suppressing Premiership Celtic, Rangers and Hearts. That’s a fairly telegraphed rhetorical side step Mike and one that avoids answering all the points raised.

            I see you left no reply button on your reply so I am guessing you are done with this but remember, next time you decry a politician for avoiding answering a question and relying on making snide straw man interpretations of those points, a mirror may be a handy implement to have to hand.

          5. There’s reply buttons on anything, I haven’t changed a single thing, feel free to go on and on

    2. John says:

      A socialist in politics but not in sport is a someone who is only a socialist when it suits them which is basically being a hypocrite.
      Typical Old Firm fan’s response who also bleat about how they cannot compete in Europe because it is not a level playing field.
      The most loyal supporters I know are fans of every non Old Firm Premiership club who buy season tickets every season knowing they have no chance of winning league. They only have a chance in cup competitions for which their season tickets are applicable.
      Scotland team is finally playing to potential thanks in part to having a good manager and players who cut their teeth and got a chance to develop at the smaller clubs you denigrate:-
      McGinn – started at St Mirren
      Robertson – started at Queens Park (after being rejected by Celtic)
      Hickey – Hearts
      Armstrong- Dundee Utd
      QPR Striker? – QOS then Livingstone
      Shankland -Ayr United
      Nisbett – Dunfermline
      I could go on but I hope you get my point. The vote against Conference League when there was real democracy not the 2/10 rigged voting in SPFL.
      Jock Stein was genuinely interested in Scottish football but I am afraid these days Old Firm are only interested in Old Firm.
      Never forget without opponents there is no game.

      1. John says:

        Lyndon Dykes is striker – brain fog.
        Re Old Firm & Conference League teams – the question is why – Celtic only had 2 Scottish players in starting line up on Saturday and Rangers usually have a similar number.
        The Scottish league is far more uncompetitive than virtually any other European league. Only 2 winners in last 38 years. The same 2 teams have finished first and second for last 27 years ignoring post 2012 with exceptional circumstances with Rangers (better not go there on what happened!)
        Other leagues are becoming less competitive as big money talks on a European level. The source of this big money could fill another column!

      2. SFTB says:

        A socialist in football would put the ball in his own net every time after they scored for their own team- it is a nonsense. There are socialist aspects to building and creating a team but then you play AGAINST someone. That is not a cooperative venture. The mad SSFA plan wants Celtic fans to pay their money to other clubs who cannot generate their own income. All these clubs had the same chance to become better run clubs by winning often and attracting fans. The only levelling this achieves is a levelling down. BTW- you ignore the development roles played by Celtic with both Robertson and Hickey and Christie & Armstrong. They did not get to international level playing at Queens Park, Hearts, ICT or United- though all those clubs got. them to a certain level.

        The rejection of resolution 6 was a populist vote and I understand it but the critics which forced its withdrawal have no realistic alternative blueprint for providing a youth pathway. The talent that serious Scottish professional clubs have at youth levels needs an outlet to develop from 17 to 21. That outlet is not the 5th tier of Scottish football. Other nations have no difficulty in allowing B teams into their 2nd tier but it is a step too far for Scotland, somehow. And Jock Stein told the truth about competitive spectacles- he would have no time for tails wagging dogs, and he was a Socialist miner too.

        1. adam says:

          Actually Andy Robertson was capped playing for United, and Armstrong probably should’ve been.

          As you were.

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @SFTB, socialists shouldn’t have much of a problem with healthy competition; I found Gabriel Kuhn’s book Soccer vs The State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics (2011) to be interesting and well-informed, and it doesn’t shy away from addressing problematic issues. The football World Cups are rare occasions that nations meet on a level playing field, under explicitly fair play rules, where empire teams can be beaten by their ex-colonies. Aside from English attempts to big up the captain’s role, the game is unusually egalitarian in design (and accessible for a sport).

  2. Douglas says:

    With one in three children living in child poverty and Scottish democracy under sustained attack from the English extremist far right, I can’t say I really think what is going on in the world of Scottish fitba to be that important right now…

    I would say that Celtic have shown once again they are by far and away the best run team in Scotland, and with Ange Postecoglu made an inspired signing. Hibs, on the other hand, a never-ending shambles of a club, ended up with Lee Johnson, a total embarrassment… Can’t wait to see (better said, hear) Lee on trying to outfox whatever European opposition Hibs end up facing… Should be a right good laugh…

    1. True Douglas – the majority of our focus is on the social crisis we face

      1. Douglas says:

        Was there ever another fitba club that sacked its manager BEFORE a big cup final like Hibs did two seasons ago?
        The Spanish and Italian giants were famous for sacking managers after winning big trophies – Real Madrid sacked Jupp Heynckes right after they won the European Cup back in the late 90s – but I can’t think of a case when a manager was sacked on the eve of a final like Jack Ross was…
        Just a total shambles…

        1. True. Shambles. What I didnt cover was Dundee Utd giving their manager a two year manager for being relegated,

    2. John says:

      Celtic – best run club in Scotland?
      What about what happened post Brendan Rodger’s not to mention the fact they have more money than any other Scottish team now that Rangers need to live within means.
      I will not mention some of other historical abuse issues currently surrounding Celtic which they have not dealt with well.
      How about Livingstone, Ross County and St Johnstone maintaining their positions In SPFL with small supports.

      1. Douglas says:

        Don’t try to drag me into an Old Firm dispute, I’m a Hibs fan…
        By any yardstick, Celtic have been the best team in Scotland over the last two years. They’ve made some great signings… First and foremost Ange himself, who it’s impossible not to like and admire, not least for the brand of football he plays…

        1. John says:

          I am not disagreeing they have been best football team over last 2 seasons.
          You said they are best run club in Scotland and this is an entirely different issue.
          I am also not an OF fan or a fan of the 3 clubs I have given as examples of well run clubs. That is just restricting to Premiership so I will add Arbroath – population 10% of population).

          1. Douglas says:

            Fair enough, John, I jumped the gun and took you for a Rangers fan, though I am pretty sure it must be impossible to win 5 out of 6 trophies in two years and not be a very well run football club… All that logistical stuff that must go on in the background which no one ever talks about….

            Hibs, the team I actively follow, give off a sense of chaos, with constant team changes, management changes… you get this feeling it must be chaos behind the scenes too… players coming and going all the time, the manager himself getting involved in a Chaplanesque bust-up with another manager in a derby game and justifying it afterwards… Pure slapstick stuff…

            As for the general point made by the first poster, I think he is right that there have been big changes in football over the last 20 years which have favoured the big leagues over the smaller leagues, and the big clubs over the medium sized clubs…

            That is beyond dispute… The last team to win La Liga outside of the two Madrid teams and Barcelona was Valencia in 2004… by the way, in that time, Seville have won 7 UEFA cups!!! But I can’t remember them ever seriously challenging for La Liga in that time. Back in the 90s, Deportivo won La Liga and Real Sociedad won it a couple if times in the 80s…

            That is unthinkable these days…

  3. Morag Forsyth says:

    This should read ‘Scottish men’s football’. Not a word here about the rapidly-growing popularity of women’s football and the success of this year’s new league structure.

    1. It is an article about the mans game, its true. We did put a call out for contributions and pitches

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Morag Forsyth, quite true, I’ve been trying to gently point out the casual misogyny Bella relentlessly applies to football matters for a long time. Whatever the result of the Spain game, the SWNT has been consistently the stronger national side, reaching both World Cup and European championship final stages with recent squads with exciting qualifying campaigns, though finals and recent form have not matched these heights:
      If we want our football to be revolutionary, perhaps we should ditch managers in favour of autonomous squads.

      1. Its not really fair to say that a review of the mens game is ‘casual misogyny; is it? We will cover the women’s game but this article wasnt about it

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Editor, I am not objecting to the existence of this article, but noting that the way it is written and framed is part of a pattern of “excluding and making invisible” women’s football on this site:

          Think about what phrases like “our national team” really signify. The women’s game in Scotland is particularly useful in providing a source for comparisons if writing an article on the men’s game (and vice versa). I don’t think Bella comes across as a particularly misogynistic site, but it compares badly with modern sports sites which treat men’s and women’s games more equivalently, particularly the SFA.

      2. Derek Thomson says:

        They lost three goals on the last fifteen minutes against Argentina! Grrr. Still hurts, that, mind you, so does Keegan’s goal at Wembley, Kane’s at Hampden…

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Derek Thomson, yes, I blame that particular Scotland failure to hold their lead against Argentina on the toxic, cowardly anti-pattern of ‘game management’ a lot of the Scottish football stars apparently imbibed through the culture of USAmerican soccer. There are a lot of talking points on where the international women’s game is going (is it following the corrupted arc of the men’s game which has made VAR necessary? has the success of the USAmerican women’s team skewed the culture? equal pay? etc). England won the 2022 Euros at home with a mixture of good play and (despite) generous amounts of simulation:

          but how will they fare in the antipodes next month? At least the Scottish women are playing a relatively clean game at the moment.

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