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The decline of Scottish Football

Over the last few days, I have been contemplating what would be the topic for my first ever blog post. It would be fair to say that there has been no shortage of issues to choose from this week. We have seen the stirring events in Libya, the chaos caused by Hurricaine Irene across the East coast of America and more lightheatedly the attack on Nick Clegg by an overzealous student armed with paint.

Scotland versus Holland match at the 1996 Euro...

Scotland taking on Holland in the 1996 European Championships. We must learn from the Dutch to ensure that we once again qualify for a major tournament.

Though, having considered all these topics I have decided to discuss an issue that is close to my heart and is a concern to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. I’m talking about the current state of Scottish Football. 

The first thing that I must confess is that I am a Rangers fan. From the moment, I was taken to my first game by my Dad at the age of 6 years old I was hooked. To this day, I still remember the feeling of awe that I had as we arrived at Ibrox for the first time on that frosty October afternoon. From the majestic red brickwork at the front of the stadium, to the never-ending sea of blue scarfs, all the way to eruption of noise as the teams ran onto the field, it was a truly memorable experience that lighted my passion not just for Rangers, but for football that still exists to this day.

This passion made it all the more difficult last Thursday night to watch our national game suffering perhaps its greatest embarrassment as all three of Scotland’s representatives in Europe would crash out of the competition in the first round.   
Perhaps this should not have been a surprise as the decline in Scottish football has not been sudden, but has been taking place over a long period of time. While our domestic club sides have for the most part underperformed this has been replicated by our national side who have failed to qualify for a major championship  since 1998.  

The big question now is what caused that decline and what can be done to reverse it?

Many would point to the fact that as a country we are just not producing enough top quality players anymore. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the cities of Scotland were filled with eager young boys who would spend hours on end playing football and perfecting their skills. However, the argument now in 2011 is rather than spending their evenings on street corners with a ball and jumpers for goalposts our kids are inside playing their Playstation and updating their status on facebook.

While it is certainly true that these new technologies are a distraction for our young people this argument is not credible when you examine countries such as Spain, Germany and Holland. Young people in these countries have access to all the same technologies as we do, but it still has not stopped these nations from consistently producing as good a player as they ever have.

Perhaps comparing Scotland to countries such as Spain and Germany is unfair. These are large countries with a much larger population of children to choose from, but it does not mean that we should not be learning lessons from them. In these countries, sport is given a great deal of credibility as something that not only ensures a healthy lifestyle, but helps children to recognise the importance of discipline and team work. 

While I would never claim to be a football coach, indeed I will confess that I had little or no footballing talent, but it appears to me that the methods countries like Spain and Holland use to nurture talent seems logical and fit for purpose. From a young age, children are put in to small groups on pitches with goalposts that are an appropriate size for their age. On many occasions, I have found myself driving along a road on a Saturday afternoon and looking to the right and seeing a group of ten year old children playing an 11 a side game on a full size pitch with full size goals. On a full size pitch, these children find themselves spending the majority of the game running up and down seeing very little of the ball. Surely it would make more sense to introduce the system they use on the continent where  these children are placed on smaller pitches where they will see more of the ball, which will improve their touch and control in tight spaces.

This leads to the final problem, which is the culture in this country. Usually when I am driving by these full size pitches I see a number of parents surronding the playing surface shouting at the referee and telling their children to ‘boot the ball long’ or demanding that their child play better. While I am sure that the vast majority of parents are supportive, I have heard from too many friends involved in refereeing and coaching that there is still too many parents on the touchline acting as if it is a professional game and their child’s team should win at all costs. While competitive spirit is good it is far more important for young people to develop their footballing skills without the pressure of winning and losing.

On a brighter note,  some commentators would say that there are positives within Scottish football. At a recent press conference, Scotland manager Craig Levein rightly pointed out that the vast majority of players in the Scotland squad play for clubs in the English Premiership, which is arguably the best league in the world. This is certainly true, but until the national side is consistently qualifying for tournaments and performing to the standard of some of the Scandanavian countries that are of equal size to Scotland the reputation of Scottish football will not improve.

It would appear that the Scottish Football Association have finally recognised the enormity of the problem. A report recently published by former First Minister Henry McLeish criticised the running of Scottish Football and demanded change. The SFA seem to have responded as they recently appointed Mark Wotte as the new Performance Director who has vast experience in the Dutch youth set-up. Hopefully his introduction will see a radical change in the way we develop our young footballing talent.

I hope that Mr McLeish’s report coupled with the embarrassing defeat of our teams in Europe last week will finally be the catalyst to help us resurrect our national game. While people struggle day to day in a struggling economy there is nothing that gives the country a greater lift than seeing our sports teams performing well. I can still remember sprinting home from school  to see Scotland take on Brazil in the 1998 World Cup and the excitement that it generated… I really hope those days return soon.



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