17 July 2012

Army of One

I have to echo the sentiments of my co-blogger, and (to use an American aphorism) come to the realisation that there have been more debates between the candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential election than certainly posts I have managed to come up with, and most likely than the number of posts combined this year. I can't even muster the excuse that I have been busy trying to survive in the face of the ongoing austerity programme of the Comedy coalition government. Nevertheless, there is obviously a need to try and at least emulate last year's meagre total so for the third or fourth time this year, I need to make a concerted effort to reverse the trend.

Where to begin - Well in terms of material I'm like a rabbit hunter in the fields of Northern Maine, but with the bulk of the readership of the blog (a dwindling band) at least partially in the camp of Hal Berstram politically,  perhaps time to reconnect with a sporting post. The ongoing fiasco that is Olympics 2012 merits a post all of its own, though it will require more than the time my domestic duties allow me today. Perhaps more entertaining, and the reason behind the post title, is the comic situation relating to Scottish football.

Army of One was the final episode of Season 3 of The Sopranos, and recent events over the better part of this year have exposed Scottish Football as being effectively now a one team monopoly, built on a House of Cards - an elegant summary of the potential state of the English game if certain trends that Scotland has magnified are not quickly dealt with by the authorities. As any Football Fans will no doubt be aware, Scottish football has, even for its more devoted supporters, been for decades the relative equivalent of watching paint dry, with the so-called 'Big firm' of the twin Glasgow clubs of Celtic and Rangers dominating to the extent that not since nearly my first season as a fan (1984/85) has another team won the League title there. Despite the clubs clamouring for a greater share of the Television Money following their English counterparts and setting up a 'Breakaway' Scottish Premier League in 1998, the two club dominance of the Glasgow two has continued, with Old Firm games being by far the most watched (and incidentally the most split along Sectarian lines in the British Isles)  and most physically attended.

Sadly, the game in European terms is now so dominated by the spectre of the 'Champions' League' , that the Two Glasgow clubs have looked on enviously as whilst they were devouring the relative toddlers of their fellow Scottish clubs, their European ambitions have come to look decidely forlorn, especially when, as in the current season, Teams from 'Smaller Leagues'  such as Sweden, Slovenia and even for the delusional, Portugal proved a bridge too far in both the revamped European competitions. After the hubris, at least for one has now come what the Greeks termed 'Nemeis' and as a result one of these 'titans' now lies, almost in ruins.

The donwfall of Glasgow Rangers could probably provide enough material to keep a filmaker busy in the cutting suite for the thick end of two years, but at the end of the day, the reasons are, I think clear enough. Desperate to cling on to past Glories, the Board spent money it didn't have chasing the elusive chalice of the 'Champions League' (and not even the most ardent fan would presume that a Scottish club could have or indeed would have been allowed to win it) and salaries skyrocketed to levels that mere domestic competition couldn't begin to pay for.

The coup de grace was signed in February this year, when an unpaid Customs and Excise bill of over £9 million pounds put the club into administration, and the ongoing investigation revealed overall debts of £134 million, making the club insolvent and last month, Customs issued a winding up order and effectively the Original version of the most successful Football club (using Domestic success as the barometer) in the World ceased to exist as a going concern.

Events subsequent to that point have reached levels of farce that would have gladdened the heart of the late Tommy Cooper. A ludicrous sounding entity, Sevco 5088, effectively a shell company appears to have taken over the 'name' of Rangers. Despite petitioning for entry to the Top tier of the League, their bid has been rejected, and those numerous clubs outside the top tier (Anyone who recalls listening to the football results either on the Radio or on the now departed Grandstand, or indeed who ever played the football pools will be familiar with the names for the most part!) when presented with the options voted for the new 'Sevco' team to be put into the Third tier. The resultant shakeup means that the bookmakers have now installed cross town rivals Celtic at a staggering 33/1 ON to win the title. (Bookmakers no longer appear to offer 50/1 or 66/1 on strangely) I'd advise anyone with a substantial sum of Disposable capital over,say, £60,000 to make their way to the Bookmakers to invest it as soon as possible. though the old adage, 'There's no such thing as a sure thing' is one bearing in mind, I cannot see barring an Act of good any of the meaning teams even being within 25 points by the season's end, and with a ZIRP still being followed by the calamitous coalition administration, you're likely to get a better return than keeping it in the bank.

Naturally reactions to the fiasco (and I have some sympathy with the players who are otherwise, relatively speaking,  innocent victims) have varied. Several Rangers fans have publicly stated they will have nothing to do with the new entity if it is in the fourth tier, whilst a minority (a not insubstantial one) has said that they will stage a boycott if the team is NOT put into the Third division! More interesting is the reaction of the parties both in the Third Division itself, together with the reaction of the Scottish FA and the remaining Premier League Division clubs.

The latter teams have warned that if the Rangers team is not placed immediately into the First Division (One below the Premier) the decision could lead to a Domino effect, as the following story outlines, with five of the remaining 12 clubs looking at administration inside a year, and most believing that they wouldn't survive the year in their current form. The reason for this is that Sky TV, which has provided much of the funding for the Scottish Premier, has said it will pull the plug on its Scottish Television coverage if Rangers are plunged into the fourth tier. My response is: If you're that dependent on TV money, then you're not a viable business and you need to cut your cloth accordingly.

What is the long-term future for Scottish football? Well, the national team having been a fairly permanent fixture in my youth in both World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1998) and even the Euros (1992 & 1996) has not qualified for an international tournament in over 13 years, and as already mentioned their European performance in the bastardised Club competitions has continued to slide still further. This despite living on a diet of Sky Money, expensive imports and aping all the razzmatazz of their English equivalents. I'd say the death of Rangers, and possible mass bankruptcy of smaller Premier League rivals could see genuine community clubs emerge as possible viable business models. If 6 or 7 teams fell out of the Premier League a la Sevco, then teams that have had for years to exist as part-time small clubs might have a taste of potential glory, rekindling local interest and encouraging a much wider talent base than merely the 'Big Two'. The ramifications for Scottish football (and it's by far the biggest sport up there) could be profound. English football fans, amongst whom I count many readers of this blog and its co-authors, need to look with interest at the fate of the Scottish League because given the inherent unviability of our Top tier domestic football and the far greater wage inflation rampant in the Premier League, it's no mean stretch to argue that the Premiership could quite easily also become an Army of One, unless steps are taken to remedy excessive dependency on Sky Money......

1 comment:

Andrew Zalotocky said...

It seems to me that English football has already developed an unofficial Division 1.5. At the top level of the game there are the big-name Premier League sides like Manchester United and Arsenal who are expected to win things on a regular basis. The third level of the game is the sides in the lower half of the Championship, who don't have the resources to have any real chance of getting promoted. In between there's a shadow division that straddles the boundary between Championship and Premier League. It consists of sides that are good enough to get promoted from the Championship but which don't have the resources to stay in the Premier League for more than a few years. It includes teams like Southampton, Reading, West Brom and Leicester. It's a whole "Boing Boing" division of teams that keep bouncing up and down, hidden within the official structure of the English game. Hey, maybe it's time for Neil Gaiman to write a novel about football...