‘In many respects, football has been a victim of its own success’, says Simon Pia, co-organiser of a conference, the first of its kind, which aims to help shape the future of Scottish football.
‘Over a year ago, I wrote an article in Cencrastus, and, basically, what it pointed out was that during the Edinburgh Festival, the two biggest crowds had gathered to watch football matches. I argued that football should be taken more seriously, given more due respect from both the media and the authorities. But because the game is working class, quite a lot of people look down on it. In England, it’s looked down on partly because of the violence, but Scotland has done a very good job, administratively, in the last decade.
‘I’m a bit wary of intellectualising football or giving it over to academics, but it is such a big part of Scotland’s cultural life, and yet so little public money goes into it, especially when you consider how much is put into the arts. Why should football be left out when it constitutes such a significant part of everyday life? Why should it be left to its own devices when that means that managers, players and fans are treated often very badly? Although football has been getting its act
together in the last few years, it is still very hierarchical.
‘When this article was published, Ian Reekie, who is involved with the Workers’ Educational Association, contacted me and we decided to follow up the ideas in the form of a conference. It’s taking place at Meadowbank on Sunday 8, and will involve representatives of clubs,
Local Authorities, supporters‘ associations, the Professional Footballers’ Association and fanzines.‘
Besides providing a forum for people to wax lyrical about the
Football is more than simply a game of two halves; Mike Wilson finds out about a conference that aims to get the game taken more seriously.
THE NEXT STEP
‘Beautiful Game‘, and yes, even some unseemly self-congratulation, the conference is likely to throw up a number of searching questions about the role ofthe club in the community, perhaps venturing to conclude that the game might be best safeguarded ifthere is greater involvement by local authorities.
As yet, council involvement in football clubs is fairly scant. Millwall. in the London Borough of Lewisham, Preston. Halifax and, to a lesser extent. Stirling Albion. constitute a handful ofclubs where there is any sort ofserious municipal link, and very often because the clubs concerned were driven into searching for a way out of difficulties.
Yet, on the continent, there are numerous examples of much greater council participation. for example the sharing of municipal stadia by many Italian clubs or the pyramid structure of local leagues which centre around Barcelona in Spain. In Britain, the larger clubs are owned by often aggressive private entrepreneurs who sustain their involvement through marketing and commercial sponsorship, whilst the smaller clubs are expected to consider themselves lucky if an amateur philanthropist enters the ring and then proceeds to let things disintegrate further.
‘How do you rebuild skill into the game?’, asks Pia. ‘This is where Local Authorities can have a simple role to play. Why don’t clubs work in tandem with Local Authorities?
Clubs might make gestures, allowing some of the team to visit schools occasionally, but neither the clubs nor the local authorities take coaching very seriously it seems. When it comes to other sports, such as Badminton, youngsters are very often taught by qualified coaches, and yet Boys‘ Clubs offering football are generally run by enthusiasts. Community Theatre projects receive grants so that people are taught the skills ofdrama, but this doesn’t really happen in football.
‘There certainly could be a role for Local Authorities in the provision of football stadia. After all, a football ground could be a substantial asset for the community rather than an asset for the owner who might under-utilise it, both commercially and as far as the local population are concerned. Installing hospitality and conference facilties, as some owners have been doing, isn‘t much more than tokenism.
‘The people who run a football club are custodians. They are custodians ofa community spirit. However, they are first and foremost accountable to their shareholders, concerned about the financial investment which the club and its assets represent.‘
One of the more powerful owners ofwhich Pia speaks is David Murray, Chairman of Rangers, and the source ofmuch of the financial leverage which enabled Scottish-born Michael Knighton to win control of Manchester United a few days ago. He agrees that football
is, in many respects, a victim of its success, but feels that this will merely confirm the role of the private sector rather than invite the involvement of Local Authorities.
‘There are too many historical reasons, too many vested interests and too much passion amongst fans for clubs to share grounds, and how could a Local Authority justify spending money on a football ground at the expense of providing more important things like hospital facilites? Ifthe District Council in Edinburgh wanted to build a stadium for Hibs and Hearts to share, it would cost £30—35 million. They aren‘t going to do that, there’s just too much money involved in the game.
‘As for Local Authorities and clubs combining in the training of youngsters, the difficulty will come when the clubs start fighting over the players they want to sign. Rangers organises its own Youth Policy, and that seems the easiest way to organise things.
‘Football clubs should start looking after themselves, instead of bleating. When I took over Rangers, it had the biggest overdraft in British football, but it is up to us to turn that around. The point you have to put over is that there are too many League clubs in Scotland, for a population of 5 million.
‘Entrepreneurs are keeping the game going. Better business practice will mean that there is more revenue to buy better players. Simply, entrepreneurs must remember that the most important thing is the football club.’
‘The Beautiful Game’, will be taking place on Sunday 8, at Meadowbank Sports Centre, London Road, Edinburgh. A few discretionary tickets are still available, from the Workers’ Educational Association, on 031 226 3456.
The List 29 September - 12 October 1989 9