MLS & SPL ... Better or just different
It got me thinking, and I sent him back a fairly lengthy email about where I thought Scottish Football was going wrong, where I think it still has its head up its ar*e, and where it may even be possible that Major League Soccer in the USA and Canada may be getting things right and where the Scottish game could learn from it !!!
It pains me to say it, but Scottish Football is indeed dying on its feet ... or perhaps on its knees whereas the often sneered about "Major League Soccer" is slowly but surely building its brand and developing as a major player in a continent obsessed with "Pointy Ball" (American Football / NFL), Baseball (MLB), Basketball (NBA), and Ice Hockey (NHL) ... the last one being obsessive for Canadians at least, but maybe less so for our friends south of the border. In Canada of course there is also Lacrosse (the official national sport) as well as CFL Football (like NFL but 3 downs instead of 4) to contend with ....
so here is the email I sent him ......
The biggest problem for me is that the powers that be at some clubs and certainly within the SFA/SPL still think the Scottish game is up there with the top leagues in Europe …. It’s not, and has not been for years. Both halves of the OF have tried to cling on for years, spending money they don’t really have to maybe get a good run in Europe every once in a while, but even if they are successful one year, they have to stand by and watch how even mediocre teams in England get £10s of millions in sponsorship the following year just by being the best in the championship or even the worst in the premiership … not an even playing field.
We simply cannot compete with the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, or any of the other big, or even moderately sized leagues. The interest, and therefore the sponsorship is just not there. I don’t want to see any team go bust or into administration, but the whole thing needs torn up and rebuilt ! I know you probably won’t like this, nor would anyone of the green persuasion, but maybe financial hardship (as opposed to administration, which benefits no-one, and certainly not the big two) could be a good thing for Scottish football…. It will force Celtic and Rangers to cut their cloth to suit, it will allow other teams to be more competitive against them, it will force more Scottish teams to try and build from youth, and in the end it could turn the downward spiral on its head …..
I have always been an advocate for expanding the SPL. I don’t buy the argument that it should be 10 or 12, it puts way too much pressure on the teams at the bottom who are trying to avoid relegation from day 1, means games are no longer anticipated when you know you will play the same team 3, 4, or even 5 or more times a season if you draw them in the cups, and it stifles youth development as teams are scared to go with youth …. That lack of interest, and relegation avoidance tactics makes for a turgid game and an unexciting league (for most).
When we were relegated, SFL division 1 was a refreshing return to excitement where there were 8 or 9 good teams, all of whom had been in the top flight, and all of whom on their day could get a result against the other, and none of whom would look totally out of place in the SPL …. To my mind, it should be 16 minimum, in fact the Scottish leagues should be 3 leagues of 16 …. The 42 existing teams plus the 6 most ambitious teams from the Juniors, South/East of Scotland or Highland leagues. 2 up 2 down in each division with relegation to/from the bottom league to allow non-league teams a chance to progress and the perpetual under achievers to find their true level. Caley Thistle and Ross County are good examples of what can be achieved by letting in ambitious non-league teams even if Peterhead, Elgin and Gretna are not !
Prices are another issue too ! Was speaking to a few friends recently and for 2 adults, 2 kids to go to a (non Old Firm) game was about £70, add on pies, programmes, and petrol and the day out cost them over £100 and that was before any of them had a few beers ! All of this to sit in a ground where new laws or rules have deemed standing is a capital offence, singing/chanting in even an innocuous fashion is frowned upon, and looking the wrong way at a steward or cop can get you a football banning order … its no longer fun, it’s “duty” !!!!!
I actually enjoy (prefer) going to MLS games these days, and I think the SPL/SFA could learn from them … they (MLS) had their flame that burned bright in the 70s/80s and which fizzled out when they didn’t have the infrastructure to develop home grown talent, or the revenue to sustain the wages for players like Beckenbauer, Pele, Best etc ….. the “new” MLS formed as part of the agreement in getting the 94 world cup in the USA deems it mandatory for new sides to have an academy, has a wage cap to stop silly money being paid, and a few other squad/roster rules that help … It wants to develop the league, but it seems to have learned lessons from the past and is doing so slowly .. adding TFC in 2007, Vancouver in 2011, and Montreal this year as well as a few American teams in the other years too …. And better still, my season ticket, in the supporters section (cheap seats), where standing or chanting is encouraged rather than banned only costs me an average of about $20 a game.
For me, however, the most exciting part is the academy. Toronto FC already has 5 young graduates in the main first team squad, some of whom have already been capped by Canada, and they are not there just to make up the numbers, these guys look pretty good … and there is more to come (Vukovic, the top scorer in CSL last year may make it into 2012 squad).
The rules allow for some exciting designated players to come in (Frings, DeGuzman, Koevermans etc at TFC as well as the likes of Beckham and Henry in LA/NY, and a rumour of Michael Ballack to Montreal!) but rather than blindly follow the 70s/80s model of players coming over the pond for a last big paycheck, it also gives both the youth and college kids an avenue to progress …. and for the transfers to start going the other way (Edu from TFC to Rangers for example).
I have no doubt that the Canadian national team will soon start to see the benefit of these policies, and this in turn will raise the profile of the game in Canada as they climb the FIFA rankings, and this will eventually trickle back to benefit the club sides …. A nice upwards spiral where development breeds improvement and improvement feeds further development. It’s a bit like a strong Scottish national team that used to qualify for all the world cups was able to showcase how Scotland produced players with heart and passion, and sometimes with skill, and which made the Scottish game good, or at least interesting, to watch and desirable for some to play in …… Oh to see another Scottish team produce a Dalglish, Souness, Bremner, Jordan, Cooper or even a McCoist !!! just not happening these days as we do everything we can to price the game out of the working man’s reach, do nothing to promote youth development, and allow jumped up traffic wardens to stifle what’s left of the enjoyment of it !
So there you have it .... some points for discussion perhaps. You may agree with me, you may disagree but its my personal assessment from watching both Scottish Football and Major League 'Soccer' over the last few years .....
Sneer all you want at "soccer" in (North) America, but its a league on the rise, a league that is fostering grass roots development as one of its core principles, a league that has put checks and balances in place to try and make sure it doesnt overstretch itself in terms of finances and one which embraces fan culture in an effort to encourage crowds to grow with the game in this continent .....
there are plenty of little things about Major League Soccer that I dont like, or take issue with, and I may go into those in later blog entries, but as an organisation with a focus on development from the ground up, and with a keen sense of community development, there is plenty to look at and perhaps learn from them .....