As the global health crisis kicks up another gear, and as Scottish football prepares for the hammer blows to start falling, one at a time, there’s a question which increasingly comes up in the discourse and it is this; should the government act to save the game?
This isn’t just a question for Scottish football, of course; it is one that occupies minds across the county and even across Europe.
Fans cannot be allowed back in football grounds; the administrations at both Holyrood and Westminster are agreed on that, and most of the regimes of Europe are of similar mind. That’s why you can readily dismiss the handful of people who claim this is part of some anti-football crusade from this government or that.
These people have looked at the science and it scares the Hell out of them.
There are those who are screaming for the return of football as if football supporters had a divine right to be catered to in front of theatre goers, concert fans, horse racing punters or the followers of other sports whose spectators have had their lives put on hold … I know a guy who’s in the events business who misses all of the above and has to worry about his profession too … the government has given him only the most basic help to keep his company afloat.
He’s not alone in having concerns about his future. Much of the entertainment and leisure industries are on their knees here, and all are asking for government support. In many cases, they aren’t going to get an adequate chunk of it to keep going as before.
Scotland has 42 professional and semi-professional clubs playing in the league system.
More than 30 of them are not equipped to come through this thing in their present form. The lower league teams are, bizarrely enough, in the best position; they are part time teams and can close the doors for a year until things look better, and probably continue to trade.
Professional clubs are in dire trouble. There are a lot of them at serious risk of going to the wall over this, and some of them are in the top flight.
You look at a club like Hearts and you see genuine cause for concern.
They, like their Glasgow brethren, have been getting by on director’s loans and handouts from business people. This was clearly mad, and would have put them in harm’s way eventually even without this crisis … with it, I frankly don’t see how they are going to come out of it on the other side without the kind of cuts that are going to make it virtually impossible to even challenge for promotion. Their one hope, and it will be no consolation, is that the rest of the clubs are in the same boat.
It is a self-evident fact that the Scottish Government doesn’t have the money to bail 30 odd football teams out, and so a debate over whether or not they should seems kind of absurd, but it’s one a lot of people seem determined to have.
Governments have to prioritise at the best of times, and these times don’t fall into that category.
This is more an emotive subject than it is an economic one; the SNP say over 60,000 Scottish jobs at risk as a result of this crisis and any government would rightly want to save as many of them as possible … the question is, what is possible and what isn’t?
I know this; a special aid package for football might be electorally popular but it would raise the hackles of every other sector of the business community, and serious questions would be asked about what makes the game so special that other industries are being allowed to sink without a trace whilst the government makes a special exception for this sport and every penny the game gets is money that isn’t going to somebody else … that’s how it works.
The game obviously has a huge impact on Scottish life; in 2018, a UEFA study said that the sport contributes £1.25 billion to the economy in direct and indirect benefits. £200 million of that is in revenues generated by the game. Another £300 million is due to social benefits, including reductions in crime. And £700 million accrues from health benefits.
For the moment, all that will matter is that £200 million figure … the direct, hard number.
The cash that is spent in and around the sport. It’s a lot of money … but so too are the tens of millions it would cost to subsidise it in the short term.
Governments aren’t going to bail football out … and you know what? I don’t think they should.
There is actually an answer within the game itself, and it’s not – as some clowns in our media have suggested – that “Celtic and Rangers” subsidise the rest of the game … it’s that the UK government instigates a one-off tax on the EPL’s obscene TV deals and spread the cash throughout the game on this island as a whole.
Scotland’s take will not be as great as what the English lower leagues will need, but then our need isn’t as great either, with a handful of teams up here and low attendances at most grounds for the course of an average campaign.
If that was to be proposed I think it likely that it would get an overwhelmingly positive response from fans and chairmen of clubs up and down the game. If this thing is going to be resolved this is the kind of solution it’s going to take … it might sting at the very top of that over bloated league but the folly of paying footballers hundreds of thousands of pounds a week is an obscenity that this country can clearly no longer afford to pretend isn’t real.
Football will suffer either way; if the EPL takes the hit it can save the rest of the sport from disaster.
If those who run that hype machine aren’t willing to do their bit, then there will be a dramatic and probably permanent re-alignment of football in the UK … and forevermore we’re going to have to watch a handful of teams trample on the graves of dozens of others.
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How should football handle this crisis? Vote in our poll below …
How should football's survival be made easier in the current crisis?
Direct Government Intervention?
A One Off EPL Super-Tax?
Lower League Football Shutdown?
Survival Of The Fittest?