If you think England are in dire straits, look North

It is a sign of changing times that the early season international breaks are, to most of us, something of an inconvenience. The lustre of the Premier League is now such that it far eclipses its international counterpart for excitement, drama and quality, and any interruption to its seemingly endless stream of high-class theatre is treated irksome to those who plan their weekends around it. Now it’s all over and done with till March, we can get back to the opulent footballing indulgences of West Brom v Burnley on a Monday night. Thank god.

This most recent round of fixtures, however, held within it a degree of intrigue that is ordinarily absent, with England meeting Scotland for the latest instalment of the oldest fixture in international football. The intrigue certainly wasn’t to be found in the game itself – an all-too-comfortable 3-0 victory for England in what was, in truth, a drab affair. Nor did it come from the unnecessary UEFA-fuelled farce on the issue of poppies, the predictable media maelstrom surrounding Wayne Rooney having a drink, or Gareth Southgate auditioning for a job that only he seems to want. What was intriguing about it was the questions it posed for Scottish football.

The nation that produced such greats as Dalglish, Souness and Hansen – forming the backbone of the most dominant period in Liverpool’s illustrious history – has been falling steadily from grace for some time now. Things, however, keep getting worse. The sole British absentee from this summer’s Euros are now plumbing new depths, languishing behind Lithuania in their qualifying group. And there doesn’t seem to be anything that anyone – not even the inimitable Gordon Strachan – can do about it. How on earth has this happened?

Despite the rumours circulating about Strachan’s imminent demise, he surely cannot take the blame. The fact that five of the starting eleven at Wembley ply their trade in the English Championship alludes to the fact that they simply aren’t producing the players, but that is only a partial explanation. The question still remains: why?

As ever, it comes down to money. Clubs north of the border cite the astronomical TV deals paid to English clubs by broadcasters BT and Sky – 10% of which comes from the pockets of Scottish subscribers – as leading Scottish football on the road to ruin. There simply isn’t the money going into Scottish football. This means that academy programmes are underfunded and clubs are unable to attract or keep quality players. This impacts on the standard. This drops the viewing figures. This lessens the TV revenue. And so on…  

In reality, this is the result of hard-headed commercial decisions, and that is the world in which we live. To expect handouts from broadcasters is to fly in the face of supply and demand economics, so Scottish football must find another way to boost its coffers. Whether that comes from the not-for-profit BBC, government funding, or outside investment, the Scottish game needs something. And that something is money.

Edward Capstick




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