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MLS & SPL ... Better or just different

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blog-0891453001328648252.pngGot into a discussion with a Rangers supporting (Scottish) workmate earlier today about Rangers' financial woes, The Celtic fan spitting on a steward at the TCS at the weekend, and the general malaise surrounding Scottish Football. We didnt have time to really mention the stabbing that also happened at this weekend's game, but it would just have been the cherry on top ...

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 .....

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Perceptive and very accurate assessment on all fronts.

Just about sums up my felings about why the Scottish game is dying. The one masjor difference in the Scottish SPL as opposed to the MLS, of course, is the existence of two superior and financially stronger tems, viz Rangers and Celtic in Sctland.

Their presence distorts everything, allows and even encourages referees to think twice before awarding decisions againt them (often resulting in punitive penalties against players in the other teams that can hardly be justified at all --e.g Tokely in the game a month or so against rangers at home) and encourages other teams to spend money that they frankly don't have or cannot justify in buying too expensive players of questionable quality and spirit.

Scotty--you should send a copy of this blog to the SFA and to any other body you think will benefit from it.

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The main thing is the MLS seem to push for homegrown squads and youth devlopment. That, and just that, is enough to say where the MLS gets it right, and the SPL doesn't.

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Guest Scarlet Pimple


The MLS , however, does have their share of seasoned professionals and some of their salaries are mindboggling. I am sure I read recently that De Gusman of Toronto was getting well over a million dollars p season and I quote that as an example.Eric Hassli, a big kind of charismatic French (white) forward playing for Vancouver Whitecaps, is also on about a million or more, so these clubs are not afraid to try getting in players that are regarded by them as top class. Vancouver cirrently has hired one of the most highly regarded Managers in the MLS, namely To Rennie , asScp==otsman, to try to uplift their fortunes. Since he arrived the results have been mixed with some fantastic league performances but Toronto just knocked them out o the Candain cup agfter losing their last 8 League games. So, it's not easy to win in this ;league where any team can be abysmal one minute and hhaving a field day the next.

Scottish football has a very hard road to now travel and I just can't see it happening with the stilted , entrenched attitudes that currently have become legend and now prevail.

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The fact that all US based leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA) adopt a college draft system helps to level the playing field, so to say, in terms of attracting the best young players not only to the top teams. The vast majority of young football players in the USA go to college (get an eduction - Bonus) and can then be guaranteed a certain salary based on draft pick position is very influential to player development and the culture of the game. This system ensures a fair and equitable system for developing teams. The Scottish way is outdated and not supportive of youth developed in the critical years when players should really be attending colleges. Why not encourage that route to the top flight league. 


If I were a young Scottish footballer I would go to the USA, get a full college scholarship, (bath in the sun at UCLA or enjoy amazing college culture at Notre Dame), get a degree and then have a guaranteed salary if picked high in draft. The alternative is play for the second team at Rangers with an attendance that is about five percent of the attendance at a Div II NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) game. 


In the draft, the worst team gets the top pick and the what that manager considers as the best player in the draft (at a predetermined salary rate set by the league). If the bottom team/s cannot afford the top draft pick salaries then they can trade the draft pick position with other teams for a player they can afford. For example, a lower placed club could trade a top draft pick as a trade for a player on another team and as such the draft pick is a negotiable asset. If this system was adopted in Scotland the two dominant clubs would always be receiving the lowest drafts. They could still buy players outside the pick but again where do you want the talent to be sourced? Young players can still choose to sign up for a club but where is the fun in that? This is the cultural difference.


Go to college, enjoy your youth and experience life and then become a MLS star. The homegrown college players in MLS play longer careers and have a better life balance in my humble opinion. I have experience in this matter having attained a full financed education for having skill with a ball.


The Scottish education system needs to be more inclusive of sports culture and help rebrand and rebuild the national game. We all love football so why not adopt a similar schedule to the USA. Saturday is college football day and Sunday is Professional league day. If this was adopted, what would happen to the likes of Highland League etc? Well I think the level of play would be improved. When a player leaves University and decides he would rather follow another career a team would use a career path or business association to attract players but not as a joiner or bricky but as a business manager or engineer. Big cultural difference. So many great college players choose a different career than football but are legends. Because the played well in college that get great jobs because the business wants to college footballs star. 


The reality of the situation is football is about finances, investment and the generation of revenue. The american have is right. They invest in players in development of skills, the game and in an education. An average third division college team in the USA has a higher attendance then most Division one teams in Scotland. Why? Because of the culture! Once you attend a college in USA you support that college team for the rest of you life. You want you kids to play for that college team. You donate money to develop the college team. You are heavily invested in the college team development.  Imagine if the University of the Highlands and Islands built a beautiful football academy used the Tulloch for games on the Sunday or non league days? Saturday is league day and Sunday is family day? Instead of standing the stands and f-ing and blinding you have you kids wearing the University shirt on a Sunday. An added bonus, is college is all inclusive.... bands, dancers, cheer leaders they are all part of the culture.


On Sunday, the University of Missouri will be playing in front of sell out 60,000 seat stadium in the Georgia Dome. With million of pounds worth of ads and TV rights associated with the game. Most people don't even know where Missouri is but we in Scotland expect everyone think Hearts or Hibs or Celtic are the greatest because of the history of the game. History is important but 60,000 at a college game. And please note that the population of Columbia MO is only 150,000. That is what you call dedication to the game!


The culture is all wrong in Scotland. What happens if I am the best and I do succeed? I make a lot of money but then what? Paul Gascoigne....broke. If we change the culture, players can still decide not to go to college and get paid big money but the culture of being encouraged to use a college system is the way to move forward. This will take investment in the education system which means fans taking an active participation in politic and leadership by the Government. Scotland is failing in many ways and football is a good example of what could be done to improve the culture and general standing of a major industry. Take an active role in fixing things! Not bitch and complain about what is not going the way it should. Football is scotland is not the worst but is certainly is not growing. Investment in an educational path to the major leagues is a necessity. 


The BPL is leap years ahead of SPL. You say no because Celtic could survive etc... well I say BPL is well ahead because nobody outside Scotland cares to watch a SPL game and traditionally that is where the money lies - in TV rights. This is exactly what a typical Scotsman would say about college football in the USA - nobody cares. You would be correct, outside USA nobody does care about football but the money comes flowing in due to a college culture! And the major revenue stream is local dedicated fans with a family oriented culture.


Time to make a change. I believe we have 15 universities in Scotland. If each one offers a full scholarship to 30 players with a financial draft system regulated but the Scottish FA and the a college athletics association. Maybe get Gazza to be the college football coach at UHI. 


Worst case in four years we have 450 young players with a college degrees.... why not? We need to do something! An this could only be a positive improvement.



























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