The start of the 1985—86 season has seen Scottish football given an unprecedented opportunity to advertise itselfboth at home and abroad.
Wherever you care to look, the professional game in Scotland is healthier and its future prospects brighter than those of the English Football League. Admittedly, this may reveal more about the state of English football than anything else, but it holds true whether one is talking in terms of attendance levels, international honours, public attitudes, sponsorship or crowd
The most important single factor, perhaps, is that any British success in European competition this season will come from Scottish clubs. since all English sides were excluded from international matches after the Liverpool—Juventus riot in Brussels. Already, Aberdeen (European Cup), Celtic (Cup-Winners‘ Cup), Rangers, Dundee United and St Mirren (all UEFA Cup) have managed to attract the sort of coverage in the national press normally reserved for the exploits of Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United.
True. Aberdeen had already achieved European recognition with their success in the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1983, beating Bayern Munich on the way to the final in Gothenburg with Real Madrid. In general, however, the attitude of most British broadcasters and journalists seemed to be that here was a good ‘underdog‘ story with some quaint Northern touches thrown in (‘Provost Jumps for Joy‘ ,etc. ), and there was little sign that anyone thought it might happen again. But the fact is, ofcourse, that both Aberdeen and Dundee United have joined Celtic and Rangers as clubs of proven international stature and with the English out of Europe this season the Scottish sides stand an even greater chance of both winning a trophy and gaining proper recognition of the achievement.
The importance of an extended run in Europe for a Premier Division club grows each season. The bigger crowds at European games, paying inﬂated ticket prices (especially at
Pittodrie), the sale of season tickets. television fees and sponsorship deals enable the top clubs to maintain squads of around thirty players and finance extensive ground improvement schemes. If leading players are determined to leave for financial reasons at the end of their contracts. their performances in European competition can boost both the transfer fee and the individual‘s earnings considerably.
Mark Ellis assesses the prospects for Scottish football.
FOOTBALLJHE THISTLE RISES
While the Aberdeen “ bemoaned the loss of Gordon
Strachan (Man Utd), Mark McGhee '
(Hamburg) and Doug Rougvie
(Chelsea) in 1984, the club's three-man board raked in the cash and embarked on a renewed programme of stand construction. Apart from European competition, the other clear contrast
early in the season between the game '
in Scotland and in England is the absence of televised club football south of the border. If, as some cynies have suggested, the English League‘s intransigence was a ploy to lure the punter back through the turnstiles, despite the beatings and the burnings on the terraces last season, by depriving him of Match of the Day and the Big Match, then it hasn‘t worked. Nor has the Super Cup, intended to compensate the top clubs for loss of European earnings. Far from increasing attendances, the removal of football from the
Thelma. at Scottish loothall In 1988- International vlctorlnsormrrlng hmathomo
television screen seems to encourage an already disenchanted public to further ignore the game.
It’s more than just a question of whether we think we can muster any sympathy for the muzzled Brian Moore and Jimmy Hill, while Donnelly and Montford continue to introduce the hastily-spliced snippets and raise the vital issues of the day in Scotland, such as Can Airdrie possibly go another six months without a win?’ Closely bound up with television coverage is the subject of sponsorship - of whole competitions and of teams — and the earnings and benefits which some players can earn off the field once they have made some impact on television viewers in England. In a short playing career. the urge to cash in quickly on one‘s talent is a rational one.
As a leading First Division
goalscorer, Frank McAvennie ought to be a ‘marketable commodity’ by now, but so far only those who have endured the often painful experience of watching West Ham (amid an endless chorus of ‘I‘m Forever Blowing Bubbles‘) have any idea what he looks like.
Thanks to a recent documentary on the Inter-City lads, West Ham have now been firmly identified with another element of football which is by no means exclusive to England, but is far less ofa problem in Scotland: crowd violence — notwithstanding the carry-on at Ibrox last Saturday, for which the players themselves were in large part to blame. In fact, the extent ofthe : disturbance at the ; Rangers—Aberdeen game was ! unremarkable by English standards, but, given the presence of the television cameras. the SFA will have to make a convincing display of determined investigation to ward off the inevitable pressure from the Scottish Office and FIFA. With one of the few unfenced grounds in the First Division, West Ham are, in fact, a fairly trouble-free club, but the contrasts between the current tendencies of English and Scottish fans at club and national level is further evidence of the relative health of the game in Scotland. While the National Front and its offshoots continue to thrive on some English terraces, the only sinister element among Scottish football supporters — the Aberdeen Casuals — seem to have either grown up or ; been broken up. I
Looking forward to the World i Cup, ifone accepts that Scotland are almost certainly through to the finals, there are plenty of reasons to expect more from the Scots than from the English in 1986. despite the loss ofJock Stein. For one thing, performing at something i approaching international level with 1 their clubs in Europe will give the home-based Scotland players an extra competitive edge, denied to all but the few England players with E foreign clubs.
Stein‘s willingness to experiment should be an example to his successor, and while Bobby Robson can be relied upon to send out unimaginative teams to play i consistently stagnant football. the continued involvement of Alex l Ferguson in the selection and g coaching of the national side can ensure that Scotland turn in world I class performances in Mexico. i
Perhaps we can look forward to ‘ displays of some of that ‘panache‘ amd ‘aplomb’ so beloved of a certain l BBC Scotland commentator. No chance ofmuzzling him, I suppose?
8 The List 4—17 October