Andrew D Duffy
Behind Closed Doors And The Lower League Deep Freeze
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
The SPFL TV Deal Needs To Cover All 42 Clubs… Or The BBC Needs to Screen The Lower Leagues.
It is an unavoidable truism that any proffered opinion on Scottish Football will be scrutinised on the basis of motive.
More specifically, forensic investigation will be carried out on any would be proferrer of opinion, to best establish with which stick they ought to be beaten. This examination will be of such ferocious heat, such seething fury, that it would impress even the hardiest of hardcore conspiracy theorists.
The thrust of the argument will be discounted, the logic employed dismissed and the style of the delivery overlooked because, in the end, it comes down to one thing and one thing only.
‘Aye, but whit’s your agenda? Who dae you support?’
Airdrie, as it happens.
Airdrieonians, to give us our full Nom De Fitba’.
We had to go by Airdrie United for a while, on the back of a painful administration, liquidation and rebirth. Our original, and best, name was denied to us for a number of years, until another Scottish Football club suffered a similar rollercoaster ride circa 2012 but were not forced to hang any ‘United’ or ‘2012’ milestone around their proverbial neck.
And so, we got our name back. Who says nothing positive came out of that wee chapter?
This is me, in the interests of transparency, indulging in some full disclosure.
Airdrie is my particular burden of choice and of course that puts a Blood-Red Diamond tint on my particular perspective.
That being said…
Covid 19 has put the kibosh on Scottish Football and, at time of writing, Airdrie find themselves having finished third in League 1, the third tier. We’d had a good season, really. Still in the title fight at the opening bell of the Business End Of The Season, 5 points off the top spot with both first placed Raith Rovers and Second placed Falkirk still to play. Falkirk, I feel obligated to point out, had failed to beat us in any of the other three meetings this season (0-0, 1-2 and 1-1).
The least we could reasonably expect was to be going into playoffs (very possibly including games against the aforementioned Falkirk Couldnae Beat Us FC) for promotion to tier 2. Okay, so that’s not the way the cookie crumbled, and sure, it would have been very like us to end up caught by Montrose and East Fife in a late collapse.
Well, no, we beat East Fife 1-0 in our very last pre-Covid game, a result that felt conclusive in respects to us finishing ahead of the Men from Methil.
The Good Friday vote was held (in a manner of speaking), the leagues were called (the wee leagues, to begin with) and Raith were declared winners. Playoffs came there none. League 1 was again to be our lot. At least we’d have Falkirk and Partick Thistle for company. Could be worse.
The longer things have gone, though, the more doubt there has been regards the chances of there being any League 1 campaign to speak of.
Covid 19 has Scottish football contemplating an immediate future of games played in empty (okay, in some cases emptier) stadiums. No fans through the gates. No bums, on or off the seats. In they silly wee rich boy leagues, in Germany and Spain and England, cash was being put aside by the oodle to ensure that the show would go on for an audience less captivated and more captive, at home, in front of their TV.
Maybe, just maybe, the crème de la crème of the Scottish Domestic Game, the SPFL Premiership, would have to do the same. No fans,but live TV matches, courtesy of the good people/soul consuming hell-beasts of Sky Television.
Okay, so they get income from the tele people. A brand new TV deal worth something like £25 million in the first season (2020/2021) and going up and up and up year on year.
So, fine. Okay. But what about those of us in the so-called Seaside Leagues? Sky haven’t found themselves so deep into the charity business, it would seem, to be getting involved with giving us any television deals.
If there’s no TV income and fans can’t come along and pay their dues, is it then adieu to the lower leagues? There’s a definite whiff in the air of of Leagues 1 and 2, and maybe even the second tier Championship, being put away in the back of Neil Doncaster’s drawers for a season or two whilst we wait for this whole global pandemic thing to blow over.
No Dalliances with Dumbarton. No Patter with Peterhead. No Frolics with Forfar.
Methil no more.
In a way it makes sense. The clubs at our level seem destined to collapse if they are asked to run their business; players and staff and strips and bibs and baws; without any income from the paying punter.
Suspended Animation, to emerge anew in the post Covid world like a thawed-out Neanderthal in a ropey Science Fiction Picture, certainly seems preferable to the prospect of financial ruin, administration and liquidation.
And you can trust us on that, because we’ve really, definitely checked.
Not to say it wouldn’t be bloody awful. Us handsome, talented lower league football fans need the weekly chastening’s and heartbreaks to keep us humble, after all. It would genuinely boil the blood to sit on our hands whilst the pampered premiership preeners get to go about their business.
That being said, whilst they could indeed be playing football whilst we sit this one out, what manner of football is it that they’ll be playing? No fans? Very few fans, distributed as widely as possible?
A lot of fitba folk rejoiced when the German top flight returned to action on the 15th of May, in front of empty stands and TV cameras. The thing is, though, wasn’t it all a bit, well, keich?
The ball was going back and forth between goalies and centre halves with the kind of self-indulgent abandon that comes from being unburdened by thousands of fans intent on one getting on with it. The whistling and grumbling and sighing and groaning, so often the articulation of choice for football fans more interested in action than ball retention, was conspicuous by its absence.
The pressure was off. The pace was slowed. The intensity lessened. The fun, almost completely, exorcised.
Maudlin sentimentality aside, maybe fitba really is all about the fans.
Perhaps, then, we ought to put the whole thing into a deep freeze, at least until the promised land of Phase 4 of the Scottish Government route out of lockdown can be reached. That’s when we’ll be getting back into the grounds, back plowing trade into the towns and cities of Scotland, Seasides and beyond.
Let things lie until then and we can all be reborn for kickoff, one bright Saturday afternoon at 3pm. One big happy SPFL.
Not going to happen, though.
Oh aye. Forgive the blue sky thinking. I should have been thinking about Sky.
If the statements about The Good Of Scottish Football is the bullshit that has been talking, then the Sky dosh is the money that will do the walking.
Maybe, though, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Maybe The Sky Dosh could be put to work for The Good of Scottish Football and the thread can find the needle.
Use the income from this ‘record-breaking’ Sky deal to keep the clubs going. All the clubs. The entire 42.
I mean, this is a TV deal that only accounts for, what, 10% of the income of the Premiership? Unlike those other behind-closed-doors leagues, them who could live without fans forever so long as their TV deals ( much, much more lucrative than the relative beans being tossed our way, as it happens), Scottish football really does rely on supporters for the majority of their income. Even ‘They Two’.
Are we really going to be held so unceremoniously over the barrel for 10% of our income? I suppose you could argue that, with no fans coming through the gates for the foreseeable, the 10% has become a whole lot bigger in the absence of the original main income stream.
Yet one imagines that these sides could muster up a streaming service of their own, for the games Sky doesn’t cover, and coin in some of that fancy internet money from the various fans wanting to tune in to their home games, both from the domestic market and that of the diaspora.
Sky needn’t be the only game in town. Besides, Sky only gives the SPFL the money.
It’s the SPFL, and of course by that I mean the member clubs, and of course by that I mean the Premiership clubs, who decide what we do with it.
As a one off, they could distribute some of it to cover the lower leagues who will either not have fan income at all or be forced to rely on streaming schemes and maybe some manner of socially distanced fans at a much-reduced number.
Not an even split, obviously, but some manner of supplement to keep them rolling over, albeit in perhaps leaner, meaner form.
Don’t hold your breathe for anything like that, though.
And anyway, what do Sky care? They are in it for 4 games and 4 games only. We should be grateful they mention any of the other clubs at all, never mind screen them or give them any money.
Or so some would tell you.
No, it would seem the only hope for the Lower leagues, other than us rocketing to phase 4 like Jim Traynor to the Statement-Mobile, or Donald Trump turning out to actually be right about the whole hydroxychloroquine thing, would be if some other broadcaster came along with a live coverage deal of their own.
It would have to be a broadcaster with some sort of foundational duty to the whole of the nation, not just those parts blessed with decent fitba teams. One that has spent decades spending money covering niche topics that most people couldn’t give a toss over, out of some sense of National obligation to cover what others won’t when a sizeable minority of the population has an interest.
Like a BBC type broadcaster, only with a Scottish focus.
Maybe even a whole Scottish channel. Or perhaps two! One of them could even be in Gaelic.
If only, eh?
Airdrie For The Cup. Whit Cup? Any Cup;