Is Scotland the perfect case study to show worldwide football fans are being exploited?

By Lewis Michie

Football is meant to be a game, the game for everyone – or so they say.

Young, old, rich, poor, it even seems much of football has begun to finally accept it’s also a game for women too.

So why is it that the people who make the game what it is – the supporters – feel so detached from those at the helm of the game?

Ask around and, with certainty, Scottish football fans will tell you that they don’t just feel detached from those in control of the Scottish game, they feel like they’re on a different planet.

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The state of Scottish football’s authorities’ relationship with supporters is truly in pieces, so it makes an interesting case study to examine those pieces to see why football fans all over the globe feel left behind.

The main governing bodies in Scottish football are the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) – which is made up of 42 teams across four divisions.

The SFA has the ultimate responsibility for the control and development of football in Scotland.

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The current Chief Executive of the SFA is Ian Maxwell, who replaced Stewart Regan, and the SPFL is operated as a corporation and owned by the 42 member clubs. A six man board of directors is elected by the clubs and they are led by Chief Executive Neil Doncaster.

It’s important to note that in the context of how Scottish football may be letting its supporters down.

We can’t just talk about the governing bodies, but also the member clubs.

After-all, many of the problems experienced are created by the clubs the adoring public are supporting.

Who is in control?

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Names such as Stewart Milne, Peter Lawwell, Ann Budge, Rod Petrie and Dave King are well known and sometimes (or often) negatively spoken of.

This is because they are generally the people in control of, or at least the perceived control of, some of Scotland’s biggest clubs.

Transfers aren’t right? Ticket prices to high? Moving to a new stadium you don’t want? It’s probably their fault (or at least they’re getting the blame.)

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So what exactly is it that gets on Scottish football supporters nerves about those controlling their game?

Well the list is long but “decision making” is a good way to round it up. What decision making? Well there are a few key areas.

Refereeing

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Firstly, the referees – or rather the decision-making regarding the changing or backing up of those referees and their calls on the field.

Aberdeen fans have been one team in particular to take issue with this recently.

Although, as the club’s manager Derek McInnes will admit it’s swings and roundabouts, this time next month another team will feel just as aggrieved.

Of course supporters and clubs will always take the side of their players, but when basically all opposition fans are bemused by some decisions, you have to think there might be a problem.

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Issues that may be pointed to by Dandies include a decision by referee Craig Thomson to send off Michael Devlin against Kilmarnock.

The defender appeared to be fouled first by Eamon Brophy and then when he did take the Killie player down, it was far nearer the half way line than his goal with at least one player covering. Despite this, the suspension was upheld.

The anger from Dons fans only intensified when their other first choice defender Scott McKenna was pulled up and given a two-game ban for a challenge on Celtic player Odsonne Edouard – despite the fact the referee in the game had not even given a free-kick.

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While the challenge probably wouldn’t have looked out of place as a red card during the game, Dons fans were particularly annoyed that the challenge was punished retrospectively.

That was primarily because Rangers player Alfredo Morelos had his red card for a kick on McKenna, on the opening day, downgraded to a yellow.

Again, even fans of other teams were confused how an off the ball kick out didn’t warrant a suspension, but an attempt to play the ball that wasn’t punished by the referee at the time was worthy of one.

The League Cup semi-finals

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The SPFL’s organisation of this weekend’s League Cup semi-finals have also been criticized.

With Old Firm rivals Celtic and Rangers kept apart in the draw, the SPFL had a conundrum. Both are in Europa League action this week, meaning they both had to play on Sunday.

Originally the semi-finals were to be played at Hampden Park, within hours of each other.

This involved utterly bemusing planning decisions, such as to schedule the Aberdeen game so early that a train from the Granite city wouldn’t arrive in Glasgow until 15 minutes post kick-off, and organising the Hearts tie so late that Jambo supporters would struggle to make it back to Edinburgh.

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Police Scotland were blamed for this debacle, with Neil Doncaster seeming to suggest they demanded it be played this way, just for Police Scotland to then show that couldn’t have been the case as they essentially forced a change to something more manageable.

Of course the change the SPFL opted for – after criticism from every imaginable corner – has angered Celtic fans too as their tie against Hearts was moved to Murrayfield.

The issue? It appeared this game was chosen to be moved as opposed to it being drawn that way or the clubs having a say with Celtic disgruntled that this would give Hearts – who played a portion of their home games at Murrayfield last season – an advantage.

The Tartan Army

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This has all extended beyond club football too. When Gordon Strachan left his position as Scotland manager following another failed qualifying campaign earlier this year, Scotland supporters implored the SFA to make a certain kind of replacement.

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The tartan army wanted a coach with fresh ideas, a different approach and, really, they just wanted a change – they got the return of Alex McLeish.

These issues, among others, are used to emphasise just how tone-deaf the SFA and SPFL are to the supporters who pay to watch their competitions week in week out.

The ticket prices

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Speaking of paying to watch football, ticket prices are probably the most universal and obvious issue that football fans around the world have with their chosen clubs.

Of course, when you speak about Scottish football, the first thing many will mention is the quality.

The SPFL isn’t the highest quality of football in Europe, but the supporters are certainly willing to pay for it.

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The issue is, a lot of Scottish stadiums aren’t exactly breaking at the seam, they don’t have the excuse of high demand for what many regard as stupidly high ticket prices.

This is an issue felt across much of football, but unlike a league like the Premier League in England, the SPFL neither have the quality of football, nor the demand to justify this.

The cheapest season ticket at Pittodrie to watch Aberdeen will set you back £330. It will cost you ten pound more for the pleasure of going to Dens Park to watch Dundee – they’ve not picked up a single point there this season.

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Even Dundee United, in the Championship for the third year running, will charge you £279 for a season ticket in the worst seats.

Head to Germany and you can watch Borussia Dortmund for £90 less a season than you can spend to go to Tannadice.

Germany is often used to make these arguments, but it’s not just the Bundesliga providing far more value for money.

Marseille’s cheapest season ticket is almost £200 cheaper than one at Dens Park, and you can watch Lionel Messi week-in-week-out at Barcelona for just £87 a season.

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Again, this is reflected with the national team ticket prices being baulked at by some of the most avid Scotland followers.

How can it be that with what seems like constant moaning and protests at these prices, clubs and governing bodies alike just don’t seem to get it?

Are they somehow unware of these feelings? Do they simply not care? Do they genuinely not believe lower ticket prices might attract more of the public through Scottish stadia gates?

Well your guess is as good as anyone else’s because Scottish football’s leaders are about as good at communicating as a rock.

It’s not just in Scotland

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The truth is, these issues are felt by many football mad folk across the world. In England, they are well aware the ticket prices are a joke.

In other nations they just can’t get their head around refereeing decisions while most are disenchanted by the biggest bodies in the land – FIFA and UEFA to name two – and their attempts to get every last penny out of the game.

Does any proportion other than those living there actually want a world cup in Qatar? Do even the biggest clubs want their Champions League and Europa League kick off times shunted round just so UEFA can make an extra buck on televising them?

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The answer is no but the sad reality is if the minority, who just so happen to also be those in charge, want these changes then they’ll happen.

The only way to change it is with your wallet’s – unfortunately most football supporters’ passion for their teams may be too deep rooted to allow them to make that stand.

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