What’s the point of Scottish football?

March 7, 2017


Celtic are currently 27 points clear in the Scottish Premiership. They have a chance to wrap up the league title as early as the start of April, and a very realistic shot at completing their first domestic treble since 2001. Times Sportswriter James Gheerbrant recently ventured up to Glasgow to “investigate” the effect Celtic’s dominance is having on football in Scotland, and how their superiority this season has come to be.

Unfortunately, he was unable to find out anything of note or value on his stay which was spent talking to the likes of Willie Miller and Archie McPherson – shocking I know. James decided to solider on anyway and publish his piece for The Times, spawning the headline “Is there any point in the Scottish Premiership?”. That’s a doozy, I’ll give them that. Something TalkSport listeners, as well as the mouth-breathers that reply with “Pub league”, “Tinpot competition”, “Joke of a league”, etc, can retweet to their heart’s desire.

The piece doesn’t actually feature in the Scottish edition of the paper, and is intended only for gormless English readers to lap up, then subsequently point and laugh at the stupid Jocks and their football. It joins a long list of similar pieces in that regard churned out by English journalists recently that all seem to question why we bother. It’s a foregone conclusion, what’s the point in even playing football? James Gheerbrant went to the effort of speaking to a Glasgow cab driver about it and even he couldn’t figure it out. I’m going to attempt to shed a wee bit of light on it.

Firstly, this isn’t exactly a new thing. The Old Firm have dominated Scottish Football for decades now and, you know what? No-one cares. Supporters of Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and every other club in Scotland still get up and go to games every Saturday because the title isn’t everything. Juventus, Bayern Munich, Olympiakos, Barcelona, BATE Borisov, PSG, Dundalk, TNS, Dinamo Zagreb etc, etc, all dominate their respective leagues. The last one, Dinamo Zagreb, are going for their 12th (TWELTH) league title in a row. Do supporters of other clubs from these countries not bother going to games? No, they still go and support their team because the title isn’t everything. Qualification races for Europe, relegation, cups, playoffs, derby games all happen in these countries.

Look at England, a fairly average Chelsea team are running away with the league title. Do Sky pack up the circus and go home? Do supporters stop going to games? No, because there’s so much more going on. West Brom, for example, are as well just not existing. They’re not going to win anything, ever, what is the point? Do you tell the thousands of supporters of English clubs that are going to win jack shit in the next century they’re as well folding? Because that seems to be the logic applied to Scotland and other European nations and it’s utterly ridiculous.

Half of the entire Scottish Premiership are in a relegation battle at the minute, the other half are either duking it out to finish in the top six or qualify for Europe. The league is routinely bananas, particularly at this stage of the season, but no-one would ever write a piece on that, would they? It doesn’t fit into the English media’s agenda of jock-shaming and labelling anything that doesn’t have the Premier League lion on it a waste of time. Including the leagues which outperform them in Europe every year. They have an inferiority complex and point to the “competitiveness” of the English top flight whenever their big teams are bodied out of Europe every season. Pointing and laughing at a country which has 50 million fewer people in is their way of feeling big. Do you think French football fans regularly bash the Swiss top flight? Do German supporters call the Austrian league tinpot? Perhaps jokingly, but not to the point where they question why these countries actually bother playing football at all.

Another key point that seems to be totally missed when talking about Celtic’s dominance is clubs dropping out of the top division. We regularly had a two-, sometimes three-way title race before Rangers imploded. Then Hearts imploded, then Hibs imploded, then Dundee United forgot how to play football (they still haven’t remembered), as well as Aberdeen being utter dung for years before finally getting their act together.

Rangers’ demise more than anything has allowed Celtic to get into the position they are in. What do you think would happen if you took Borussia Dortmund out of the Bundesliga? Monaco out of Ligue 1, Real Madrid out of La Liga? Bayern, PSG and Barcelona would coast to the title, cigars out even earlier than usual. To totally disregard Rangers absence would be insane, but that seems to be the case in most of these pieces. The other big clubs being out of the top division has obviously had an impact as well, just as it would any other football league in the world. Despite all this, Aberdeen ran Celtic close near enough all of last season, and even looked like the favourites to win it at one point. This was conveniently forgotten by Gheerbrant in his article.

You know what else we share with these countries dominated by the same teams? The utter elation of beating them. There are few things better than beating Celtic or Rangers, especially in a cup or to stop a treble. It is a wonderful feeling, even more so is watching your team lift silverware at Hampden at the expense of one of them. It makes winning trophies that bit more special, and one of the reasons our cup competitions remain special and still mean something. The same rush a supporter of Bologna would get from beating Juventus, or Ingolstadt of beating Bayern Munich. It is magic, and the seethe coming out of Glasgow often lasts for months. You don’t get that in England.

Celtic are leading the way in Scotland because they are a good team, with a very good manager and some exceptional players. Man City, despite one of their summer signings costing more than Celtic’s entire starting XI, couldn’t beat them. This was a City team that looked set to dominate their own league, before they were taught a tactical lesson by Celtic.

Celtic do not dominate like this every season, it is a rarity and if it wasn’t they’d capture the treble unchallenged every year. Despite Gheerbrant’s claims, attendances are up at most clubs in Scotland and we still have more people coming to games per capita than anywhere else in Europe. As for Celtic, they’ve had more fans through the turnstiles than any other club in Europe this season, and they certainly don’t mind running away with things.

Whilst a six-team title race involving the likes of Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United would be interesting and take us back to the “good old days”, it isn’t a realistic possibility, and isn’t in almost every league in Europe which is dominated by the same teams. But we’ll still turn up and back our teams, and watch Scottish football and talk about Scottish football, because we still love it. It is great, it is bat-shit crazy at the best of times and no hack journalist from England will ever be able to understand it or the passion we have for it.

Never change, Scottish football.

By Evan McFarlane (@EvanMcFarlane)


  1. DhenBhoy - March 7, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Absolutely brilliant!! James Gheerbrant – yir teas oot, you’ve been served.

  2. William Lombardi - March 7, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Brilliant … if the guy had 5% of your knowledge of football he would agree with you…unfortunately it’s less .

  3. Garry - March 7, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Here here , Really good piece

  4. Catherine Davidson - March 7, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    A very truthful article about our beautiful game. The only difference between the EPL and the Spfl is cash. I would rather watch our football than the English as I find their “superior” game most boring.

  5. David - March 8, 2017 at 3:20 am

    Great article, getting fed up listening to English pundits slagging off our league. Especially Robbie Savage

  6. John Martin - March 8, 2017 at 7:45 am

    What a load of shite 😂😂

  7. Paul McC - March 8, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Maybe worth pointing out also, that without the sugar daddies ploughing hundreds of millions into EPL teams, it would long ago have turned into either a pass the parcel between Arsenal and ManUtd or quite possibly an annual procession for ManUtd, by themselves, to canter to the title with nobody else coming close.

    No team outside of ManU/Arsenal, that were not massively bankrolled by a sugar daddy, has won the Premier League since its inception.

    • Leigh Brown - March 12, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Doesn’t your point the EPL has “sugar daddies” prove the point that the English game is much stronger? Investors aren’t rushing to Scotland to buy clubs but all over the world investors are buying EPL and even championship teams (SWFC). Why bother investing in a St Johnstone or ITC? Attendance is at best going to be around 8k for most SPFL clubs, and there’s ZERO point in investing in a new stadium for only 3k die hard supporters to use and spending years on that debt. The game in Scotland is flawed. We can ignore it or we can pretend watching Celtic run away with it every year is helping not hurting the painful lack of interest in the game here.
      If our game was healthy we’d be expanding our clubs stadiums to the same rate as England, but we aren’t. Our clubs wouldn’t be posting huge losses like DUFC currently is.

  8. James Knowles - March 8, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I love when pieces like Gheerbrant’s inspire responses like this one. This is where you see fans’ best selves: defending their “shite” leagues with meaningful points as well as raw emotion. And the odd dig at the EPL, too, of course.

  9. Dave - March 8, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Great piece Evan, I,m a Leeds fan that lives in Canada and the British press is dreadful, from this distance it,s hard to believe the twaddle they peddle and as you rightly assert, anything that is not the Premiership is derided. The mantra that the EPL is the top League is nonsense, we see lots of German soccer on TV and in nearly every measure it is superior. Cheers .

  10. Derry - March 10, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Fantastic piece and great read , we actually need more reporters talking about the great points in our game not all the negatives

  11. Brian - March 11, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Great to see someone talk the truth about Scottish football it’s not what the English want to hear but if it deflects from thier failures then they will do it

  12. Leigh Brown - March 12, 2017 at 10:47 am

    You’ll watch Celtic/Rangers win every year comfortably and you’ll like it cause SCOTLAND!
    This article was dreadful.

    Rather than refute the claims that football in Scotland is boring in the top league, the author went on a IndyRef campaign style attack on the English.
    If the EPL is so inferior, then why do pubs across Scotland get packed on Saturdays to watch the matches? Why are their more people watching at home than showing up a Dens Park or Tynecastle? Could it be that what’s the point of going when there’s nothing to play for?

    From your anti-English perspective may think that beating Celtic or Rangers that extremely odd time or another is enough to show up and sing but it also requires showing up and caring about the countless 3-0 or 5-1 losses. What’s the point?
    Even regulations battles in Scotland are meaningless. The difference in attendance money and attention between the SPFL and the league right below isn’t much when you’re a Dundee or Hibs. But the windfall of the EPL is absolutely massive not counting the world wide attention when you play ManU.
    Scottish football is broken. Dundee United is posting losses every year and that’s a historic club in a major city. Yet similar clubs in England in League 1 or championship are much healthier. Why? English football is stronger and it goes beyond the competitive balance.
    We can pretend that the few times a year a club sneaks a win or drawn from Celtic or Rangers that it means football in Scotland is healthy and great. Or we can address the issue that having nothing to play for by January every year isn’t helping anyone. Its not even helping Celtic as playing ICT isn’t preparing them for Champions League matches.
    Something needs to be done because with the rise of TV match attendance for smaller clubs will go down and their debts will go up. The ability to sign a squad to compete will only become harder and harder.

  13. make - May 13, 2017 at 1:12 am

    EFL: Premier League B teams and ‘non-English’ clubs ruled …


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