Scotland 0-4 Belgium. A bit of a doing for our boys in blue.
There will be much written about Scotland’s heaviest home defeat since the 1970’s. Some will label and describe an “embarrassing” or “shambolic” performance where an incoherent Scotland side gave away possession and goals needlessly and were rightly punished by a top ranked Belgian side who in turn demonstrated the sheer gulf between the sides. Other summaries will refer to this gulf in class, highlight that it should be expected that Scotland fall to such a good side and that if not for some unfortunate individual errors which cannot be legislated for, the defeat could have been slightly more respectable for a young and inexperienced side.
The truth is probably somewhere in between however. Nobody really expected Scotland to win, but at the same time as Scotland fans we are well used to supporting a team of underdogs who can dig in, be organised and put up a good fight. Aspects which didn’t necessarily show themselves during the match.
What makes the result, the performance and the overall situation all the more concerning however is the background issues associated with the Scottish Football Association (SFA) at present.
The SFA is in the midst of a dilemma concerning the future of Scotland’s current home – Hampden Park and a potential move across the country to Murrayfield in Edinburgh. Business plans, economic strategies and blueprints have been presented and discussed with a decision delayed and deferred further beyond the original deadline to allow for further analysis and sales pitches to take place.
I’ve written about this before but in a nutshell, the lease on Hampden is up soon and the SFA are looking for a better deal if possible, either through reduced rental payments to Queens Park (landlords, Scotland’s oldest club – still play as amateurs) or a move to Edinburgh to rent from Scottish Rugby at Murrayfield but potentially with better transport links and potential for bigger crowds. The decision will take in a number of factors including infrastructure and suitability – but will eventually come down to economics, giving it a grubby feel.
Money. Profits margins. Business models. A major irritant of football fans. The costs of watching Scotland have spiralled in recent years, as covered previously on thefootballbelther.com. Indeed, last night tickets for fans to watch Scotland get hammered were costing around £30. That for the worst home defeat since the 70’s (of course hindsight is a wonderful thing), but also for a game on a Friday night and not counting the costs of travel, accommodation or any cost associated with lost work hours for any fans required to take time off. This is before you even consider that the game was a meaningless friendly.
A bigger concern therefore is that the SFA are so focussed on making money, ensuring the bank account is healthy by getting a better rental deal, moving stadium or charging what they consider to be “market value” for Scotland games (non competitive games, unlikely to result in victories in this case) that their eyes have been removed firmly from the issues of actual core importance. These being the team’s performance and the associated relationship with those who pay to fill whichever stadium they decide to call home.
The attendance at the match was around 20,196. Less than half of the circa 52,000 capacity. This can be attributed to a number of factors – cost, dates, time, opponents, friendly match. There’s also an argument that all combine to create a feeling of apathy from even the most hardcore and passionate of supporters. This all lies at the SFA’s door, they are complicit in every aspect.
Arguments can be made that friendlies could be moved to secondary or tertiary venues like Tynecastle, Easter Road or Pittodrie – a 20,000 crowd would fill and possibly create a better atmosphere at these stadia, but there is no guarantee that any overriding sense of apathy derived from disappointing results and performances would not translate and travel here as well.
The SFA need to look at creating a successful side, providing the best resources and environment for the team to thrive. Marketing campaigns continue to highlight the “pride”, the “Scottishness”, the “Braveheart” characteristics associated with Scotland fandom alongside describing senses of “hope” and “belonging” in order to nurture and aid or attract buy in into the project or concept of supporting the National Team. Yet still an overriding feeling of apathy prevails.
There needs to be a reason to go to watch Scotland, something to buy into. The above marketing rhetoric only goes so far. Fan interest and team success will go hand in hand, good performances or results coupled with favourable benefits to attending like ticket prices or incentives are required to instil a joint sense of purpose and further belief from the team itself.
This however cannot happen while the governing body seem wholly focussed on preserving the bottom line, happy to fleece fans and quick to acknowledge their shared “disappointment” at results – meaningless friendly results they didn’t have to pay £30 a pop to watch from their comfy executive seats of course. Defensive arguments of reinvestment of profits or funds into football can be made, but with no evidence of improvements on the pitch to demonstrate this, fan impatience and apathy will continue to grow.
The SFA need to regroup and focus not on the best or most preferential business model, but on how the core principle of their being can be nurtured – the football side, both the team and the fans must come first. These are not employees or customers, these are the very elements which establish and necessitate the existence of the SFA and as such deserve far more respect and support than is being offered at the moment. One can only hope that such a heavy defeat can jolt the SFA into action before apathy and ill feeling towards the team begin to fester – based on the Belgium game, the team needs all the support they can get and fans must be supported in doing this.