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plus ça change: the decade in Scottish football

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Outgoing Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne gave an interview a few weeks ago where he criticized the refusal of Rangers and Celtic to allow change in Scottish football. It was almost as ridiculous as the toupee he sported at the start of his 21 year reign at Pittodrie.

Many, including former St. Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour, were more than willing to lay into Milne for his hypocrisy and his apparent attempts to rewrite history. It's no secret that other Premiership clubs were willing to use Rangers' absence from the top flight to rewrite voting rules that meant an 11-1 majority was required for significant change, which in turn allowed Rangers and Celtic to veto things they did not favour. Aberdeen, vainly believing they could take over as Scotland's second force, derailed this for their own perceived advantage. They enter the 2019-20 winter break back in fourth place.

However Milne's comments lay plain the fact that at the start of 2020 Scottish football is once more in thrall to the blue and green cheeks of the Glasgow arse. Currently the gap between second and third is thirteen points (and the top two have games in hand). At the end of the 2010-11 season it was twenty-nine.

So are we basically just back where we started?

Some might argue that the 2010s was the decade of the diddy team. Dundee United, Hearts, St. Johnstone, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Hibernian - Hibernian, who seemed cursed to never win the competition again! - won the Scottish Cup in the last decade. Kilmarnock, St. Mirren, Aberdeen and Ross County all lifted the League Cup in the same period.

The liquidation of Rangers in the summer of 2012 was in some ways the defining moment of the last ten years in Scottish football. Off the pitch, it doomed us all to an apparent eternity of tedious 'newco'/'Sevco'/'there is no Old Firm' arguments. On the pitch, Rangers' rise from League Two provided some welcome publicity and cash to lower league clubs and plenty of amusing moments for non-Bluenoses as the Gers made rather heavy weather of their rise up the leagues despite having the second highest wage bill in the country even when they were in the fourth tier.

It also meant that in the top flight there was no real competition for Celtic for many years. Only two of their eight consecutive titles has been won by less than fifteen points; even those two, the last two, were won by nine.

But in knockout competitions the door was flung wide open. The aforementioned trophy winners and their supporters were galvanized by their sudden ascendance into relevance. It rather helped that Celtic spent two years under incompetent Norwegian coach Ronny Deila; whilst their vastly superior squad depth ensured glory in the league they proved remarkably vulnerable in cup matches.

Alas, this period was all too brief. Hibernian were the last club other than Celtic to win a cup (no, the Petrofac Training Cup doesn't count), in the summer of 2016. Since then the Bhoys have swept the board with a 'treble treble'. The combination of overwhelming financial muscle and an extremely talented coach in Brendan Rodgers made them literally unbeatable in 2016-17. Having Rodgers in the country did bring in some kudos but his extraordinary success once more left the league open to accusations of being a procession.

Rangers were finally promoted to the Premiership in 2016, but took two further years to get themselves sorted out properly. Now under Steven Gerrard they look like Celtic's equals and could well win the title this season.

The SPFL frequently trumpets rises in attendances, but these are mainly because of the large visiting supports the two Glasgow clubs bring. In fact many sides have noticed a reduction in the size of the home supports at these matches. The experience of hosting either club, with the dreadful, hateful songs and the strong likelihood of a heavy beating, is not a pleasant one. Fighting for a distant third place, whilst pretty much writing off three or four home matches per season, is no healthier a position than it was in the past.

Thus Scottish football remains locked in the mindset that a strong, wealthy Rangers and Celtic, with cash trickling down to the other clubs, is the way to go.

One thing that is different is the lack of relevance even the strongest Scottish clubs have on the European stage. Only twice in the last six years have Celtic made it to the Champions League and that ratio is unlikely to improve now that the path through qualifying has become harder. The Europa League, a distraction in the days of Deila, is now a major focus.

Financially, it does seem as if the Champions end up selling a star player each year they don't make it to the Champions League. Rangers have spunked tens of millions away in the last seven years and still run a seven figure loss annually. This blogger's biggest concern is that other full-time clubs seem to be struggling to run within their means as well, especially the ones in the Championship. Whilst a repeat of the administration plague that hit Scottish football in the noughties is hardly imminent it is hard to see how as many 20 full-time clubs can be supported in the long term. It could be argued that none of them can break even without either significant success on the pitch or selling their best players.

At international level the lone bright spot has been the breakthrough of Scotland's Women's team who not only qualified for a European Championship and World Cup but captured the hearts of many by doing so.

As regards the men there has been precious little to crow about. The fact that the greatest moment of the decade for the Scotland mens' team was a Leigh Griffiths goal against England which ultimately didn't even win the match sums things up nicely.

Even at the best of times we have no right to expect qualification for the World Cup. But a twenty-four team European Championship? Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Albania got to Euro 2016. Scotland did not.

The same old SFA failings played a major part. After gross underachievement in the Euro 2012 qualifiers - 4-6-0, indeed - Craig Levein was kept on long enough to ruin our 2014 World Cup hopes. Gordon Strachan wasn't the worst appointment, though it showed an unwillingness to think outside the box. And when, after he was let go, the powers that be tried the outside-the-box thinking they be the farm on Michael O'Neill, only to find that Northern Ireland now had a bigger farm.

The humilation forced the resignation of Chief Executive Stewart Regan and in the aftermath the organization went back to what it knows best - jobs for the boys. Hence the fourteen month fiasco that was Alex McLeish's second spell. Never has the morale of the Tartan Army been so low.

Going into 2020, the national team feels like it is at a Sliding Doors moment. The Nations League has given us an extra shot at Euro 2020 qualification which depends on beating Israel at home and Norway or Serbia away. Pull it off and he and his side will be heroes. Blow it, missing out on a tournament which includes matches at Hampden itself, and that might finally be it for many fans.

As for the youngsters, you tell me what's happening there. Mark Wotte was appointed as the first Performance Director in 2011 and was later succeeded by Brian McClair and then the rather controversial Malky Mackay. It seems to me that there have been plenty of decent results by Scottish youth teams in the 2010s but that will matter to no-one if senior results don't improve.

All in all it feels like the 2010s produced plenty of opportunities both domestically and internationally that have been squandered in favour of the apparently safe status quo. It is often said that one has to run to stand still. Scottish football continues to stand still and wonder why the rest of the world is rushing off into the distance.

Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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