20 December ~ There are many issues in football that divide opinion, such as diving, goal-line technology and the best way of dealing with the financial instability of clubs. One topic that occurs on a near-seasonal basis is the winter break, especially in Scotland. This season, however, due to the arctic conditions and referees' strike, much of Scottish football has had to endure an involuntary winter shutdown all of its own. Celtic haven't played a match since their 2-2 draw against Inverness on November 27. Rangers' match against St Mirren was postponed on Saturday due to an indirect consequence of the cold weather which we can probably all relate to – burst pipes.
The problem with the weather in Scotland is not so much the stadiums (what happened at Ibrox on Saturday was a rare occurrence). With all SPL grounds required to have undersoil heating, the problem is getting there. Scotland is a geographically vast area and, despite the bulk of SPL clubs coming from the central region of the country, trips north to Aberdeen and Inverness in these conditions are near impossible.
It's interesting to see how different sports approach the idea of a winter break. I personally don't play football anymore, and the game's loss is one less average left-back. However I do play hockey (field, not ice). Hockey in Scotland takes a winter break between the end of November and beginning of February. Partly, this is to accommodate a league for its indoor equivalent, but also to avoid the postponing of matches due to frozen pitches. The team I play for, Glasgow University, have lost no matches to the weather so far this season, nor is it likely that we will.
Critics may suggest that the SHU (Scottish Hockey Union) can do this since there are fewer fixtures to fulfil. However this season I will be playing at the very least 34 times, not including any extra cup matches. Also, the hockey season does not begin until mid-September. National champions Kelburne had to play in the EHL (European Hockey League), not to mention the loss of weekends to the Commonwealth Games tournament in Delhi. It could easily be done in football.
Change to the SFA (Scottish Football Association) could be coming soon; former First Minister (and East Fife full-back) Henry McLeish's report on the state of the game, "Football's choice: facing the future", is, to put it politely, heavily critical. McLeish's report brands the SFA decades out of date and in need of modernisation. To fix this he recommends many alterations, such as starting the season a month earlier in July, a smaller premier division and regional leagues lower down the league pyramid. Another suggestion is to bring back the winter break – which Scotland had as recently as 2001. I won't be alone in hoping that these recommendations may be passed at the next board meeting in a few weeks time After all, nobody fancies Inverness away on a bleak Wednesday night in January. David Childs