The ardent lover, the cruel mistress, the place where dreams are made. Where hearts are broken and now the cheap real estate of the rich.
To many football isn’t a hobby, it’s a way of life, it’s family. Every football fan can pick moments of pure elation, anger and sometimes heartbreak watching their team go up and down the country fighting for silverware. Traveling from city to city, town to village in search of glory.
Those 6am buses for an away day fuelled only by warm larger, vodka and a packet of flaming hot monster munch, sitting on a bus that no one is clear will actually make it, the stale smell of alcohol and sweat as 50 men and woman cram into a bus made in the 80’s (probably with the same interior and chewing gum stuck under seats). Those cold winter days, pie’s that are burning hot around the outside and freezing in the middle, the stomach-churning litres of Bovril guzzled down as the players scramble on parks that look more like an ice rink.
But is our beautiful game about to be changed forever? Scotland has been largely immune from the eccentric fantasies of the super-rich who have ripped the heart out of the English league and left it a shrivelling husk of the glory days, turning the raw passion of the football fans into drones of the corporate system. A metric that can be bought and sold with fans moving to be considered consumers rather than a part of the club.
The Scottish game is often considered the sick man of European football – gone are the glory days of teams like Aberdeen, Celtic and Dundee United tearing across Europe, putting top European teams like Rael Madrid and Barcelona to the sword, ascending to the peak of the beautiful game. A myriad of factors explains the fall from grace, such as a decrease in crowds and participation, years of mismanagement by the governing body and most importantly financial mismanagement: failure to secure funding at a similar level to the European giants.
This could all be about to change, as Americans increasingly take an interest in our favourite pastime (and I don’t mean fighting the English), which we do very well ourselves when we’re not fighting each other (damn Scots, they ruined Scotland). As US millionaire and businesses man Mark Orgen assumes control of Dundee United – who’s European exploits struck fear into the giants of football in the 80’s, including being the only team to be undefeated by FC Barcelona, dismantling the Catalonian kings in all four of their meetings – a question must be asked. How can we save our clubs from the ruthless millionaires and billionaires who have brutalised the English game. What will the foreign investment in top Scottish clubs mean for our game?
Most fans can agree that our game desperately needs investment to compete with bigger teams abroad and at home. Fans no longer have the ability to be the main source of income for clubs; clubs now require hefty sponsorship, tv deals and investment from millionaire investors to stay competitive. Smaller clubs largely still survive solely on their fans but even these have had a hard time keeping their head above water with increased financial pressures and shrinking returns putting serious strain on our grassroot game.
But, with this investment comes a maze of problems for clubs to hurdle. Nowhere can this be seen better than in the destruction of Rangers FC at the hands of David Murry and Craig Whyte, who’s mismanagement lead to the club being taken into liquidation and forced the club to be reincorporated as a new company. While the ‘Gers managed to avoid complete destruction of their club, many other teams might not be as lucky if they fall victim to the same eccentric miss-handling of finances and the club.
With the rise in popularity of football in America, it has become increasingly evident that many are looking to Europe. Not just for investment but many Americans are starting to support teams out with their country. Our traditions and culture around football could come under threat – football traditionally is a working–class sport. The traditions, songs and atmosphere are integral to the ethos around every club. To outsiders football is crass, uncivilised and tribal in nature but to those who follow their teams up and down the country this tribalism is the glue which holds the game together. It gives an outlet for fans, a break from the mundane working week that befalls many a punter.
As our game becomes more commercialised, many fear we will see the sterilisation of our game to suit the needs and wants of sponsors, tv and their owners. Each one has individually different goals but the same passion – make money at all costs. We have already seen this creeping into our game with matches now timed to suit tv schedules and the plastic fans who would rather sit at home that go to games. The same plastic fans who only make appearances for cups and big games, leaving some grounds devoid of the same atmosphere that the terraces rang with throughout the 20th century, a Chernobyl esc hush falling over old Meccas of sporting glory.
The commercialisation of football, while required to secure funding has become one the four horses of the apocalypse for the Scottish game. Clubs and the fans with it are now required to act in a certain way, the brash uncivility of supporters is discouraged in favour of a family friendly atmosphere. Some clubs have even started discouraging swearing and offensive songs – a staple of our once fabled pastime – a beckoning back to the working-class routes of our clubs – but not an attractive prospect for investors or sponsors who increasingly want to protect their brand image. As popularity soars and markets open, the problem may arise of them simply not understanding the culture and with this added revenue stream fans are right to be worried about their clubs and the implications that money will bring to the raw passion of our game.
Everything we love is under threat. Whether we can stop the slow slide of our clubs from the already precarious ledge they find themselves on is a question that no one appears to have the answer to. Maybe for now we should just enjoy the ride and accept that everything we love has to die at some point.
Like the distant memory of past glory – maybe it can only truly die when we forget – when we forget our roots and our ardent lover finally slips from grasp below the hell scape of the capitalist business model – ça va sans dire.