Friday, August 9, 2013

Community control in Scottish football?

Another August and another interesting, if turbulent new season for Scottish football has kicked off. Last year saw The Rangers, aka Sevco, take their place in the fourth tier of Scottish clubs. The club having been re-animated, Pet Sematary style, from the club formerly known as Glasgow Rangers. They're knee deep in shit, again, with some of their ane directors predicting another bout of administration while an early exit from the League Cup at the hands of Forfar has added to the ever-simmering fury or their fans.

This year also sees Scotland's third biggest club, in recent times at least, in administration and with a minus 15 point start to the league. Liquidation is a possibility though fan ownership will probably win the day. If it does and a CVA is agreed with creditors, it will leave Hearts in a much better place than they've been in for some time. They might be in the 1st Division but with no debt, a sensible signing/ spending policy and increased participation and ownership from the fans, a more stable and eventually successful future beckons.

Other clubs may follow suit. In Edinburgh, Hibs' fans have understandably revelled in the plight of Hearts. Is Hibernian FC though in a better place? Owned by an aging millionaire with no love of football, Hibs themselves are in debt - somewhere between £6 and 9million depending on what you read - and made a loss of £1m last year. Years of bottom six finishes in the SPL combined with woeful and embarrassing performances in important games have seen the enlarged Easter Road awash with empty seats at most home games. Kilmarnock and Aberdeen are also labouring on under heavy debt.

Community ownership of Scottish land is growing. The crofters' buy out in Asainte was deemed unlikely or unworkable before the event but it happened nevertheless and some 17 similar community purchases have happened since then. Crofting estates, islands and other tracts of Scottish land have too long been bought and sold at a whim. Rich owners with little or no clue about local culture or traditions have seen them merely as another toy or status symbol. Are football clubs any different?

Is it too much to expect for government - national or local  - to support of our football clubs or other significant sporting institutions? Scottish football enjoys larger crowds, per head of population, than any other nation in Europe attending games. Local government surely has a vested interest in both the success and survival of their clubs. The benefits to the local economies are significant and the good publicity from even an extended cup run adds to it. When clubs work with local schools the benefits for education, health and crime prevention increase the value further.

Needless to say perhaps that this is also an issue of independence and self-determination. On the political front, a 'yes' vote will bring independence to our government. Community ownership and participation brings it to our neighbourhoods and communities.

Local people also have a duty to support their local club. It's a sickener to go to places such as Greenock, Kilmarnock, Paisley, Falkirk, Stirling, Perth or even Inverness and see busloads of glory-hunters heading for Celtic Park or Ibrox. For all the Celtic fans' talk of being 'rebels', the truth is they are the 'establishment' in Scottish football. Celtic are the McDonalds to Rangers' Walmart.

Hearts may not escape relegation this year but if community ownership is achieved and a young, mostly Scottish, squad built up then the future will be a  bright one. I also hope that the locals in Stirling and Dunfermline can turn out in numbers to support their own community-owned clubs.

The Foundation of Hearts

Pars Supporters Trust 

Stirling Albion Supporters Trust

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