When I was growing up, there was a league in Scotland that was respectable, it was pretty great in my mind I used to wake up on Saturdays and watch the highlights from the week and I loved every minute. The clubs would buy premier league players and it wouldn’t be that out of the ordinary. The likes of Tore Andre Flo who scored 50 goals for Chelsea in the late 90’s was bought for £12 million in 2000 by Rangers, the equivalent of which would be around the £25 million mark, and the fact that this is so unimaginable now shows the league’s decline.
It wasn’t even just at Rangers where there was an abundance of talent. The likes of Motherwell had young stars like James McFadden. Strikers such as Henrik Larsson, Mark Viduka, and Paolo Di Canio populated the dressing room of Celtic, and around the turn of the millennium there were midfielders like Gennaro Gattuso, Mikel Arteta and Barry Ferguson at Rangers. These players moved to clubs where they could compete for the highest of honours and champions league sides.
Fast forward to now, and what has happened?! The same players who are successful in Scotland move to the championship, and even then some don’t make it. The likes of Kris Boyd, the 2010 SPL’s top scorer moved to Middlesborough and flopped. How has the league, which produced such great sides as the 1967 European cup winners, the Aberdeen side which won the Cup winners cup under Ferguson, and produced the Old Firm derbies dropped so low. As recently as 2003 Scotland had a team in a major European cup final. So what has happened? And how can it be brought back.
The issue many quote is the money, put simply the money left Scotland. When there were big money moves and players with flair who were coveted by Europe’s finest, TV revenues were high. However in an era where, with all due respect, Kris Commons is the most exciting player, Sky sports aren’t going to pay up. This has left clubs struggling for funds so much that even Celtic, a club with a 60,000 seater stadium has the equivalent spending power of a good championship side. The wages of a Celtic regular are now roughly 20,000 a week with key players reaching 30-40,000 but in Modern day football this simply isn’t enough, and at the smaller clubs the situation is far more dire. Celtic now rely on signing promising youth prospects and developing them such as Virgil Van Dijk and previously Fraser Forster, but such a large club is better than this.
The other key reason is the collapse of the big clubs, there is the obvious case of Rangers but also the Edinburgh clubs’ decline is a tragedy for the Scottish game. When Rangers went down, fans flocked to see Hearts play Hibernian in the absence of the Old Firm, but now even that is gone. With these clubs in the first division Scottish attendances have plummeted, particularly due to Rangers who still despite 3 years in the wilderness bring in more than anyone else bar Celtic, and who’s return is the first step on the road to improvement. The league needs its traditional powerhouses, and though I wouldn’t normally support it, I do wish someone would come in and financially dope one of the teams. For too long Celtic and Rangers have dominated, and despite Romanov’s attempts to get Hearts going there hasn’t been a winner other than these two since 1985. Maybe a wealthy owner could help spice things up and get the league going.
I would love to say this could be a low point of the newly formed SPFL, but I cant see it being so. Despite Celtic’s strong showings in the champions league in 2013, and the chance for some smaller sides to grow like Inverness recently winning their first trophy. Scotland needs money, it needs its big clubs back at the top, Celtic needs Rangers and that means Scotland do too. There is no money because there is no TV, and there is no TV because it’s not exciting. The clubs need to unanimously adopt a policy of finding good young players and they need to ignite their famous rivalries once again.
If the SPFL fails to do this, and keeps its course, it may decline indefinitely.