Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The SPL's Rangers Conundrum

Glasgow Rangers last week were duly liquidated ending 139 years of history. The almost inexhaustible list of misdemeanours make it hard for anyone to feel any regret over the foreclosure but all fans would empathise with the death of the club that they support.

Were Rangers to play in any normal country or league, the reality would be simple, that of having to start again in much the same way that Fiorentina did relatively recently. Being that Rangers play in Scotland the situation becomes vastly more complicated however.

Having listened to the views of the majority of fans in Scotland, there is little doubt that popular sentiment is for Rangers to begin again at the bottom, this is of course how it should be. For Rangers' future integrity also this would be the better option with the three season hiatus allowing them to get their affairs at the same time wholly in order rather than what suspects will happen, an utter fudge.

Charles Green of course does not want this to happen, he after all has acquired the assets of the old Rangers under his 'newco' and the quickest way to start generating revenue is through playing in the SPL. Rangers' wishes however should be irrelevant in much the same way that a convicted bank robber doesn't wish to go to jail, too bad.

Given the weight of evidence against Rangers, the fact that they are a new establishment (therefore without any rights) and given the broader wishes of Scottish football supporters, there should be only one outcome, that of being consigned to the bottom of the pile. As mentioned earlier however Scotland is not a normal footballing nation.

Rangers and Celtic have with brief periods of respite dominated Scottish football both off and on the pitch since their inception. Their wishes have usually prevailed and the income that the two clubs generate are oft seen as the lifeblood of the game - the reality is they take far more than they give - and the remaining SPL clubs appear terrified at the prospect of losing one of them.

The Sky TV deal with the SPL is one of the main reasons for this. Definitive information is hard to come by but it is mooted or believed that the deal is dependant on both Rangers and Celtic playing in the division. Most Scottish professional clubs are in dire financial peril and the prospect of losing what little television money there is to go around has the clubs gripped by fear.

The majority of SPL chairman have said little on how they intend to vote, especially when their supporters' groups have been so vocal. Michael Johnston the Kilmarnock chairman has however voiced an opinion that Rangers have been punished enough, but this flies completely in the face of the fans he is bound to represent.

For Celtic, it is possibly the biggest and toughest decision. They have stressed that they do not require Rangers to survive but no one could honestly suggest that Celtic will require the squad they do and a 60,000 seat stadium to win the SPL without their only true rivals, and there is the rub.

The SPL clubs should without any shadow of a doubt vote for Rangers to be excluded from the SPL given their flagrant breaching of the rules and their resulting insolvency. The powers that be in Scottish football however rarely act with much integrity and with self interest always coming to the fore.

The vote on the 4th of July is a chance for a real fresh start in Scotland with the potential for a much more level and competitive league - there are still a raft of other problems granted - and a chance to rebuild the product at the most basic of levels.

Sky TV money will come and go but the true lifeblood of the SPL clubs comes from the communities that they reside in. Season ticket sales - already dreadful - are almost non existent so far this year given the UK's finances and also and more importantly the fans' view of the readmission of Rangers. The SPL chairman however are prone to chasing the fast buck and it is therefore hard to know which way the vote will go.

There has been talk of readmission coupled with reduced revenues for Rangers and points deductions etc but these are simply inappropriate and would still in all reality probably lead to Rangers finishing runners' up for the next three seasons. The wishes of Scottish football fans should be heard, it is time for a fresh start and not just for Rangers - No Nonsense.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Massive Club?

Jay Rodriguez has signed for the mighty Southampton and has announced 'This is a great club, a massive club' (although unfortunately not the club he supported as a boy ala Robbie Keane at the L.A. Galaxy). Someone needs to inform young Jay that by any measure, Southampton are not a massive club, so what constitutes a big or massive club?

Keeping it to Britain for the moment, there are of course several undisputed massive clubs, super clubs even. ManYoo, Arsenal and Liverpool (despite their current travails) would all qualify in this category. But here the problems begin, how do you really measure it?

Liverpool finished 8th this season and have no realistic chance of winning the title for a few seasons at least. Are they therefore still massive? Rangers in Scotland are oft described as 'an institution' yet they have just gone bankrupt, how can they therefore possibly remain big?

This brings us to a second category. One which for much of my lifetime, clubs such as the Sheffield two, the three big North East clubs, Wolves etc have been described, that of 'sleeping giants'. These are apparently clubs that used to be big clubs but are now invariably small clubs.

It is easy to mock the afflicted and most fans have an inflated view of their own team, it is only natural but the definitions are confusing to say the least. One could argue quite believably that Spurs and Everton are bigger clubs than Chelsea and Man City given their history and supporter base but given the current league table and spending power (and of course it is money that talks these days) then that is turned on its' head.

Money of course is always the prevailing factor. Everton and Spurs as an example used to be two of the richer clubs as did Liverpool. Call it lack of foresight or just bad luck, a lack of investment in infrastructure (namely stadiums) has seen the clubs fall backwards and without the benefit of a rich foreign benefactor like in Chelsea's case, they simply do not have the revenues to compete.

Another measure is that of the 'brand'. If you look around Asia then Liverpool and ManYoo shirts abound with Spurs probably a distant third. After that it is really anyone's guess but there is no doubt that sustained periods of dominance in the 80s, 90s and 00s from the big two have seen them power ahead in fan base and therefore in merchandising.

The problem with 'bought' success is that it invariably doesn't last being that is often at the whims of one person. Clubs such as Blackburn Rovers in recent times have come and gone and the stark reality is that it is the traditionally perceived big clubs that remain just that.

So now we have several criteria including fan base and history, but surely the most important thing for any club is their level of current success. Were City to capture Messi and Ronaldo and win the league for the next five years as well as a couple of Champions Leagues, would they then be considered a bigger club than United?

The reality is there are many tangible measures of the size of a club but much of it is subjective and subject to huge bias. One thing is for sure, Southampton are with no offence intended, NOT a big club and I have no idea where this leaves Aston Villa - No Nonsense.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The European Championships, does anyone care?

This piece will undoubtedly provoke differing views and the writer will be open to accusations of self interest given that Scotland have not qualified yet again for a major finals. The article will also be written to a large degree from the angle of being Scottish and of watching the tournament therefore as a neutral.

The first irony is of course that in many ways it is more enjoyable (if you're Scottish) to watch a major finals from a neutral stance given that some kind of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory or an outright humiliation (thinking Iran, Peru, Costa Rica) simply cannot happen due to non participation.

The reality of course is that any fan would want their nation there regardless of their chances and the writer is in that sense no different, the prospect of being gubbed by Brazil is in many ways far better than beating a much lesser nation. There is the sense of occasion and the fact that major finals only come around every two years.

As the years have progressed the writer of this blog has found himself more and more disinterested in the major tournaments and whilst clearly open to cries of 'it's because you haven't qualified' that is only a small part of it. USA '94 remains one of the writers' favourite tournaments with Stoichkov, Romario, Dumitrescu, Maradona et all and Scotland were nowhere to be seen.

So what has changed? Age is a part of it definitely with increased frown lines and grey hairs replacing childish enthusiasm where games such as Paraguay versus Egypt would be classed as a 'must see'.

The second problem is the saturation of football on television. How can someone get excited about watching Messi or Ronaldo when you've been able to watch them twice a week for the past however many years? Looking forward to seeing players you'd only heard of was a huge part of the build up and anticipation.

The final part it would seem is the general apathy of the players towards International football as a whole. The World Cup and European Championships used to be the absolute pinnacle but these in many ways have been replaced by the Champions League given the hoarding of the world's best players by the superpowers of the G20 of European clubs.

The last half decent World Cup was France '98 and since then we've had a procession of tournaments with half fit or exhausted players who's club versus country stats would imply a distinct lack of interest. Wayne Rooney has spoken openly of the utter boredom he has experienced representing England at the last World Cup.

Whilst all of this can be put down to old age and nostalgia (we'd all complain if we couldn't see exactly the matches we wanted to see when we wanted to see them) there is no doubt that football has 'maxed out' to some degree and the players and fans have started to see International football as an additional chore.

There are of course fans that still delight in seeing their national side play, especially less spoiled fans of less successful clubs for whom the big tournaments are still a huge deal. The problem is that for the Playstation generation as a whole, there's just too much other choice.

Major finals of course do always provide great drama in the latter stages with the cut throat nature of the knockout format and the high stakes but the reality is that for the past few tournaments there has been little quality football to talk of (other than Spain's quite stunning team) with very few of the traditionally stronger national sides of a calibre that would stand up to some of their previous vintages.
The writer has of course paid up for his pay per view subscription for the tournament despite the fact that most of the games will kick off after midnight and no doubt many of the games will still be watched. There is not however anything like the same anticipation and that is not because Scotland are not there, we got used to that several years ago - No Nonsense.