A long-suffering supporter’s search for the soul of Scottish football
by Iain Hyslop
Luath Press, £9.99
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 308 October 2012
The tumultuous events of the last few months in Scottish football have made any effort to offer a narrative on the longer term implications a hazardous affair, even for those providing the most up to the minute commentaries on the unfolding litany of farce, ultimatums and actual drama. Pity then Iain Hyslop, who set out the season before last to research and write this overview on the state of the Scottish game. Though he has tried manfully to keep his manuscript as up to date possible by adding brief references here and there on the Ibrox crisis, the sheer pace and scale of what has taken place leave his efforts looking hopelessly Canute-like.
Hyslop is actually a Rangers fan himself and the downfall of his club fowled by the emergence of “Newco” has served up several unforeseen ironies, not least the fact that here is a Rangers follower undertaking a safari tour of the grounds of all 42 senior clubs in Scotland. Like most of us he probably never imagined that his team would soon be following in his footsteps, paying visits to Annan, Berwick and Montrose.
Hyslop makes the case for some radical changes to the structure of the Scottish game, including that hardy annual suggestion – League reconstruction. In a desperately cynical throw of the dice, the chief executives of the SPL and SFA, Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan, belatedly embraced all manner of changes to the league structure but only as a means of facilitating a soft landing for Rangers into Division One. The days of smoke-filled rooms having long since gone, everyone saw through that one.
Unfortunately it is not just the aftermath of the Rangers saga that leaves a sense of things not quite hitting the mark with this book. The format of visiting all the League grounds in Scotland has been just about done to death in recent years and observations about run-down facilities and sub-standard catering are hardly revelatory. There is little colour or insight afforded on the individual clubs, so the reader might as well head for the last 20 pages and consider Hyslop’s suggested prescription for getting Scottish football off its knees.
Even here there is a sense of frustration. Few would disagree with clubs developing stronger ties with their local communities, greater supporter involvement or reduced admission prices. Rather than taking up space describing the texture of meat pies and cost of Bovril around the country, however, it would have been far more informative to have spent time examining why these worthy initiatives have worked at some clubs, but not in all instances. If summer football is indeed the way ahead why not take stock of the impact it has had on the League of Ireland? If earlier kick-offs really are more supporter-friendly as the author suggests, surely put it to the test by canvassing some opinions? The baw may not be burst, but the reader is certainly left more than a tad deflated.