Slip, sliding away into European oblivion.
Feature by earlcmoonbrand
Updated Tuesday, 24th July 2012
I have many memories of Manchester 2008 but none more powerful than accidentally bumping into an old friend.
I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years (not in itself an unusual occurrence I should imagine that particular day) and in that time he had gone on to great things in his policing career. He was there in a work capacity and - for him on this day - time to stop and reminisce about the good old days was very, very short indeed. I asked him how many people he reckoned were converging on the city. Arching his eyebrows, he smiled and conspiratorially whispered, “Officially or unofficially?” “Both”, I replied. Scratching his chin, he smiled once more and averred, “220,000 officially. But off the record we’re confident there’s going to be 250,000 plus by 6pm. Throw-in 20,000 in Blackpool and the same again in surrounding towns and you do the maths”. With that nugget he went back to resuming his duties, leaving me in a state of mind blown befuddlement. T
he arithmetic itself was obvious but the sheer volume of numbers was staggering. This was, as one wag so eloquently and astutely described it, a Protestant Hajj, the greatest mass movement of people seen in the British Isles since D-Day and all for the sake of a football team. Of course, an element of glory hunting was involved as was a huge dollop of stupidity (I should also mention that my long lost mate was on “spotting” duties and confided to me that trouble was inevitable as he had seen members from over two dozen known firms spanning four different countries that day so far) but, even now reflecting on the numbers involved, the middle aged mind of mine is still more than a little dumfounded by it all.
Yet here we are four short years and what feels like a lifetime later, staring down the barrel of a rather large and excessively shiny shotgun being held to our head by a psychopathic Chief Executive with unbridled glee whilst he pushes us ever closer to the abyss of uncertain survival. The storm clouds of anxiety have long been the only weather cycle of our footballing lives and, as the demented Lady Macbeth that is Regan attempts to kill our club leaving only the Banquo’s ghost of our past to remain, he singularly fails to understand the horrendous long term oblivion to which he is consigning Scottish football as a whole, in this, the iniquitous in pursuit of the ubiquitous. This deranged, demented long term campaign to destroy Rangers could result in catastrophic collateral damage.
Already, with our demotion to the Third Division, several clubs are teetering on the edge of that abyss alongside us. In the quest for the much vaunted $porting int£grity, several club chairmen now find themselves having been hypnotised not only by Regan’s blatant lies and duplicitous double dealing but also failing to adhere to the fundamentals of basic risk management. That and positioning their budgets (and, by extension, their survival) around our twice a season visits to their cesspit hovels. Thus, they find themselves looking at the possibility of part time football, reduced squads and, in extreme cases, perhaps even folding completely. How my heart bleeds for these moral whores, this pack of vengeful, hateful verminous hyenas that have allowed their clubs to be potentially destroyed through a desperate, pathetic cocktail of macho posturing, anti-Rangers hysteria and sheer, naked, unedifying hatred. But, that’s their look-out: some might say.
However, actions inevitably have consequences and, taking off my Rangers hat, it’s time we looked at one aftershock of this volcanic eruption that will continue to reverberate around Scottish football, possibly for a decade or more, and one that will have profound implications for us upon our rightful return to the top flight and to our eventual re-entry to European football.
Going back to Manchester, that run in Europe earned Scottish football a UEFA rated coefficients points total of 10.25 for the 2007/2008 season. Currently, Scotlandstands in the upper end of the second third of European nations in a heady 18th place out of 53 member countries. To some that might sound a reasonable placement given the current state of Scottish football. However, the reality is far harsher than those mediocre figures coquettishly suggest. At the end of this season, Scotland loses its’ points gained for 07/08 season as the cumulative total that determines our position on the rankings is taken on club side achievement in the previous five seasons only. This means that our new total will be formulated from the 08/09, 09/10, 10/11, 11/12 and the current campaign.
Bear in mind that in 07/08, thanks to the Rangers, we gained those aforementioned, rudely healthy 10.25 points. Compare and contrast to the following three seasons; 1.875 (08/09), 2.666 (09/10), 3.60 (10/11) and 2.75 (11/12). In the four seasons that followed Manchester, Scottish football combined could only gain a fraction more (0.65 points) than what we accrued individually on our glorious run. Indeed, if one were to take an average of those four ensuing seasons (2.72 points, fact fans) and replace it for this coming season then Scotland would plummet from 18th down to 29th. Ach, it’s only eleven places the optimists will say. Indeed it is – who can argue with the empirical logic and arithmetical certainty displayed by philosophers such as this? Well, I can. When we drop those eleven places we are beginning to gain a much unwanted momentum. Not only do we fall but we suddenly find ourselves sandwiched between giants of European football, Hungary (30th) and Bulgaria (28th). Factor in the countries below us in the rankings that find themselves on the rise that, undoubtedly, will pass above us very soon – the aforementioned Hungary, Georgia (31st) and Slovenia (34th) for instance are all progressing very nicely, thank you very much – and frankly 28th place looks more likely to become a future aspiration rather than the current reality.
But so what you say – after the damage that the SFA, SPL, media et al have come together to wreak upon us, why should we care what happens to SPL clubs in their European adventures when we are in exile, working our way back to the top tier? Well, the sad, inescapable truth is that the second champions League qualifying spot will undoubtedly be gone by the time we return. In fairness, it was going that way regardless thanks to our, and Celtic’s, recently abysmal performances at the top table. Whilst that is sad enough in itself, sadder still is that unless Pep of the East End manages to discover the equivalent of footballing alchemy and transform his squad of bottle merchants, perpetual loudmouths and tubs of lard into a last 16 squad then soon Scotland’s sole point of sole entry into the Champions League will be in the Second qualifying round, maybe even the First. If our inexorable slide continues, then by the time that we finally return to the Champions League – and the earliest we can possibly do this is entry into the 2016/17 edition – we could be facing an away day in early July to the champions of Luxembourg or the Faroe Islands.
Of course, my natural pessimism might be entirely unfounded and wholly disingenuous. Perhaps Super Saints will do well in their return leg, Motherwell will break some plates and some goal-nets in Greece and/or Hearts will gloriously knock out a Valencia or PSV? And how stupid would these predictions look if Celtic were to mastermind a stunning defeat of AC Milan in the San Siro? It is possible, however, more probable is the reality that Celtic – with reduced income streams already starting to hit them – will have to make the decision to start cutting their squad numbers and/or cutting contracts. This, inevitably, means that star names will have to be sold to help balance the books. When I use the phrase “balance the books” I mean, of course, that even their sugar daddy is going to think long and hard at throwing yet more of his soft money at an ailing product that is on the verge of total collapse (mainly thanks to his own board, but that’s another irony for another day)...
With this cold, predictable realisation slowly – but surely – dawning on the architects of our downfall, you can only imagine if it means a cold for Celtic then it means a fatal illness for the rest of our clubs European ambitions. Motherwell FC, already in a financial quagmire thanks to our demotion, has stated privately that players might have to be released so as to trim the squad and balance budgets. Well, I hope the loudmouths amongst their fan base that voted to hammer us are proud of themselves. It’s bad enough wishing ill upon another club, but your own? The reality is that with our demotion a significant sum of money will disappear along with us from the Premier league. Less money means smaller wages, smaller transfer fees. A drop in the quality of players means a drop in the quality of the product (as if it were not dire enough already) and, equally inevitably, a drop in attendances. The Daily Record can bluster and trumpet a “Sell Out Saturday” all it likes (and never has a phrase been more ironic and insidiously apposite) but the self inflicted quickening of Scotland’s coefficient ranking in its’ downward spiral has gained incredible momentum with recent events.
So, what waits us on our return to the Promised Land of the SPL in the 2016/2017 season? I’d hazard a well educated if admittedly doomy guess that we could be returning to a league that has been won by the Integrity XI for three consecutive seasons at an absolute canter with each season over before Christmas. If the winning margin is less than 30 points in any of these seasons, I would be stunned. The probability that two, maybe three or more, clubs have went part time and are averaging crowds at least 25-40% down on their current attendances. Some clubs will take to shutting a stand, perhaps even two, on match days. Attendances as a whole will have dropped season on season. Talented youngsters will opt to leave Scottish football to join English clubs at League 2/Vauxhall Conference level. Scotlandwill get the minimum number of entry spots for European club competition and we’ll slide down and find our level on the coefficient rankings table alongside the likes of Montenegro, Malta and Albania in the mid forties from whence we will never, ever escape. Scottish football at the top level then will be an inferior product to the League of Ireland (33rd place), that’s how far we will have fallen.
We will be returning to a permanent, Narnia-like wasteland suffering the cumulative, negative effects of the nuclear winter of our disappearance and, when we do get to play that Champions League First round qualifier, we’ll having a Twelfth of July party in downtown Baku on match-day.
So – is the above a far-fetched, extremely paranoid and ridiculous, ranting diatribe written by a confirmed pessimist or a savvy, incisive series of predictions foretold by a forward thinker? That’s not for me to say but for you to decide. All I can say in summation is what was previously possible is now looking more probable with each and every passing day and that you may disregard it at your peril. I’m not the kinda guy to say I told you so, but I’ll be the one listening to the “Bouncy, Bouncy” chorus in that bar in downtown Baku before our impending nail biter against the Azerbaijani champions saying “I told you so” to all and sundry – not so much with smug superiority but with ill concealed regret. Feel free to buy me a beer to cry into and we can look forward to the possibility of slaying those European giants, FC Kaunus in the next qualifying round – if we beat the mighty Inter Baku that is. Here’s to future days, eh?