What’s the point of Scottish football?

March 7, 2017

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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)


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