Archive for category Sport

Land reform for football

ParsMatchReportI24012012As per the Greens’ 2011 manifesto, Alison Johnstone MSP is proposing that football fans get first refusal when their clubs come up for sale. Teams aren’t just a business like any other: they’re often a cornerstone of their community, and they exist only because of their fans. Football’s not a competitive market for fans – barring the odd glory-hunter and the occasional refugee from a particularly mismanaged club.

And fan ownership works elsewhere, with some of the world’s most successful clubs run by their supporters, including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, São Paulo. Not to mention Stirling Albion, Clyde, Clydebank, Motherwell, etc. It’s practically compulsory in Germany, and it is actually compulsory in Turkey and Sweden.

How could any other owner have the same kind of commitment to the long-term interest of a club? Are fans going to sell their clubs’ traditional homes and move to a new stadium out by the ringroad? Are they going to get spectacularly into debt for one season’s glory? (actually, perhaps, on the latter – everyone gets carried away from time to time)

And even where the fans don’t yet own a club, just having this right puts them in a much stronger position and changes the relationship. You can’t ignore their wishes when you may have to sell to them. It’s not a magic bullet, though. Sometimes clubs will fall out of fan ownership, perhaps temporarily. And it doesn’t stop owners selling grounds for flats and short-term profit, although this would: if it’s good enough for Old Trafford…

And, pleasingly, Scotland on Sunday got a warm quote from SNP Ministers about the idea. They’ll shortly be consulting on the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, to which this would be an amendment, and they said:

We expect to hear the views of people from across the country and the parliament. We want to enhance the role of supporters’ trusts in football and already fund Supporters Direct Scotland.”

Sounds like this might just happen. And it’s surely time. The national game is currently dysfunctional at a club level and at a international level. Rangers, Hearts, Dunfermline: all three have hit the buffers just since the 2011 election. Just this week, though, it was agreed that fans’ group Pars United would take over Dunfermline.

Meanwhile, Foundation of Hearts are still in contention to take over at Tynecastle. Everyone I know in Edinburgh who cares about football wants to see their bid succeed: wouldn’t it be better if they had a right of first refusal at a fair price? As the Evening News put it this week:

A unique opportunity to make their own history stands within the grasp of those fantastic 
supporters. For decades, football fans around the world have talked about the dream of owning the club that they love and taking control of their own destiny. Right now, as a result of several factors coming together, the opportunity exists to make that dream a reality here in Edinburgh. After years of feeling powerless, subject to the whim of a feckless foreign owner, the fans could actually take control of the third best supported team in Scotland.

They list Hearts’ achievements on the pitch (and the sacrifices made during World War One), and conclude:

A takeover by the fans would stand alongside those achievements in the annals of the club.”

Quite right. Without wishing to sound too Bolshevik, no more Romanovs!

Disclosure: I’m helping Alison with this campaign and I wrote the press release

Faster, higher, stronger, Britisher

You can’t win these days if you’re a Scottish Nationalist trying to get through these British Olympics unscathed. On the one hand, you have the Telegraph arguably overreaching in its criticism of Salmond’s support for ‘Scolympians’ and then on the other you have the Scotland on Sunday claiming that Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony “will drive support away from Scottish independence”.

The attempts to politicise sport in Scotland have grown increasingly weary since the SNP, albeit tongue in cheek, laid claim to McFadden’s wonder goal against France and the Scottish press, like a pack of wolves, tore into Sir Chris Hoy and Andy Murray at press conferences just to generate a puff piece for their papers.

Let’s be clear, the Opening Ceremony was wonderful and Danny Boyle is clearly blessed with some sort of genius to achieve what he did, but the overblown rhetoric regarding its impact on independence doesn’t really match reality.

First of all, a cosy celebration of a very public 60s-esque NHS did not encapsulate the sneaking privatisation and broken promises of the past few years. The public health services is already cracking at the borders. Dancing nurses and a giant baby won’t change that reality over the next few years. An argument that a Scottish NHS is the only way to ensure a public NHS will be more persuasive than Friday night’s TV.

My favourite bit of the ceremony was probably the Industrial Revolution segment, with the sublime Kennth Brannagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel leading the celebration of that part of Britain’s history. It didn’t have any impact on my intention to vote Yes in 2014 though as the Industrial Revolution will still be part of Scotland’s history come what may. We’re changing the future with this referendum, not the past.

The Scotland on Sunday also talks of “the love of a shared culture” as a reason why people will flock towards voting No after the opening ceremony. Perhaps, but people wildly texting and dancing to 70s, 80s and 90s music doesn’t seem very central to the independence debate from where I’m sitting, and I’m sure that happens all across Europe anyway, even if that particular segment of Friday smacked of a lamentable The Only Way is Essex generation rather than some sort of glorious British culture that we all share.

The strongest argument that Better Together have with regard to the Opening Ceremony is Sir Chris Hoy holding the flag aloft with Team GB parading in behind him. Big, powerful, successful but nice as pie, Sir Chris is that rare A-list personality that comes with a unmistakable Scottish stamp and an unmistakable British stamp on him. Alan Cumming and Alex Ferguson making their feelings about independence known doesn’t really add up to much, Sir Chris Hoy would be a different kettle of fish altogether, and the visuals from Friday won’t have gladdened many Nationalist hearts, from a strictly political perspective at least.

But overall, I’m not really buying the significance. I mean, Murdo Fraser is welcome to place his confidence that a 5 second snippet of Gregory’s Girl on prime time TV will keep Scots in line with the unionists, but I reckon he’ll end up having to work a bit harder than that as 2014 approaches and the debate reaches crunch point.

Of course, even if these Olympics give the No vote a boost, this is to ignore one equally crucial but more timely factor: Scotland will host the Commonweatlh Games in 2014, with a Scottish opening ceremony and Scottish athletes. Who would dare bet that they won’t have a distinctly political edge to them?

As for the next few weeks, there is nothing wrong with supporting British athletes, there is nothing wrong with supporting only Scottish athletes and there is nothing wrong with supporting everyone and just enjoying the show. Maybe politics should take a backseat during the greatest show on earth.

HMRC 1, Rangers -10

Today’s big sporting news has sent a shockwave across British football with Rangers moving closer to administration.

It would take the most generous of hearts from rival clubs to feel sorry for the club’s plight. Taking the lion’s share of tv money, winning qualification to lucrative European competitions year after year and often robbing Scotland’s other teams of their best talent only to leave them rotting in the reserves. Goodbye and good riddance?

Well, that is a bit harsh.

Scottish football is worse off without a strong Rangers Football Club being a part of it. The club has brought young talent to the fore, combined with world class stars being brought in from afar (Laudrup, Caniggia, Amoruso).

A silver lining from all of this is that a new Rangers could emerge from the ashes that has less ambition but more local players making up its squad. Airdrie United was back up and running soon after liquidation thanks to a buyout of Clydebank so there’s no reason why something similar can’t happen down Govan way. Every silver lining has a cloud of course and, at the end of day, the club has diddled the public out of tens of millions of pounds for some as yet unknown reason.

A finger of blame has to be pointed in the direction of Sir David Murray. A tax bill of ~£50m doesn’t accrue overnight and the finances surely can’t have been in order during Rangers’ Champions League heyday of Nine in a Row. A football club is a business before it is a sports team and no club is too big to fail. Sir David wouldn’t be the first knighted Scot to have taken a big company and ran it into the ground before jumping ship of course.

So what next?

Well here’s an idea out of left wing – Celtic could bail out Rangers and ensure their rival’s survival.

Granted, Celtic only made a £180k profit this financial year which is a far cry from the £50m that HMR&C we are due but they could contribute to a repayment schedule and, together with Rangers, make giant strides to making serious progress in the fight against sectarianism in Scotland. Rangers fan would have to find a grudging gratitude and Celtic fans would tap a hidden reservoir of sympathy for their rivals during their plight. After all, there but for the grace of Fergus McCann, go the Bhoys.

It would be nice if there was a coming together, and Scottish football would benefit from Rangers keeping going, but at the end of the day this news has to be taken in context.

This is a club in a footballing world that generally has fewer and fewer redeeming features as the years go by. Rangers fans looking to other sports to direct their passions might, despite what I’ve written above, be the best that can be hoped for from this sorry tale but, for now, and as a fairweather Celtic fan, I have to restrain my smirk and hope that Rangers gets back to where it belongs, second placed in the SPL season after season.

Freeing Scotland’s Slaves

A key feature of the Scottish Enlightenment was the critique and opposition to the practice of slavery.  While in the eighteenth century many Scottish emigrants to the Caribbean and West Indies found themselves exposed to the realities of slave labour on plantations, back home an intellectual movement grew and developed and campaigned until slavery was abolished.

Or so they thought. Modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking is still there on Scottish doorsteps. But just as in the eighteenth century, it should be Scotland’s mission again to rid our country and then the world of this heinous violation of human rights.

An Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland, headed by leading QC Baroness Helena Kennedy and carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was published in Edinburgh this week. Kennedy makes 10 recommendations for Scotland to pioneer a new approach to the problem, and to introduce these measures prior to the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Kennedy’s calls comes on the back of Scotland’s first successful prosecution under the UK’s new anti-trafficking laws, with two sex traffickers jailed for a total of almost five years in November for arranging travel, accommodation and advertising for 14 women who worked as prostitutes.  However, this compares with almost 150 similar prosecutions in England and Wales. Phil Taylor, head of the UK Border Agency in Scotland, conceded in June that the length of time taken to investigate cases means too few are brought to court.

The main call in Kennedy’s inquiry is for a victim centred approach, with better systematic sharing of information and intelligence about cases, as well as a new Scottish act specifically to target the crime.

While any human who is trafficked and forced to labour undergoes a horrendous experience, Kennedy notes especially that women trafficked into the sex trade undergo “the most prevalent and pernicious manifestation of human enslavement”.

The estimate, widely reported in the UK press, that 40,000 women were sex trafficked into Germany for the 2006 World Cup seems to have no reliable source; nonetheless such sporting events are paramount to raising awareness and ensuring prevention of the prostitution of vulnerable women.

In London, anti-trafficking charities, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Met and the GLA  are working together to combat trafficking prior to the 2012 Olympics. If Scotland is going to be the leader in ridding the world of human trafficking, it is critical that the 10 recommendations in Kennedy’s inquiry are implemented prior to 2014.  Not just because of a fear, like in the 2006 World Cup case, that trafficking only becomes a problem because of sporting events, but because this a heinous crime which is all around us, at all times.

We should use the celebration of nationhood and sport and togetherness that the Commonwealth Games brings to recognise our essential humanity, and to find ways to treat human beings as that, not as chattels to be traded and used.

Scotland out of Europe? – think again

An eternal optimist supporting the Scotland football team can be a bit like an unstoppable force coming up against an immovable object. Once again, it looks grim for the long-suffering Tartan Army fan as another major tournament looks set to pass us by without participation.

The big one is of course the World Cup in 2014, in Brazil no less, but qualification to Euro2012 would be nice. Sadly, one injury time dive by a Czech substitute has robbed us of that chance.

Or has it?

Until qualification is mathematically impossible (and it’s a judgment call whether one should entertain the possibility of a points deduction for crowd trouble), I maintain hope should always remain high, if not expectation.

I’ve been here before of course – confident that a win against Holland would see Scotland into World Cup 2010 but despite an excellent performance, we lost out once more.

So, undeterred, and despite Scotland having as many points as a team that’s lost and drawn with Liechtenstein (who themsleves are only 1 point behind us), I thought I would spell out what would have to happen in order for Scotland to finish second in our Group.

Current Table:
Spain – 15pts (GD +10)
Czech R – 10pts (GD +3)
Scotland – 5pts (GD -1)
Lithuania – 5pts (GD -5)
Liechtenstein – 4pts (GD -7)

Requirement: Scotland needs to finish 2nd and ahead of the Czech Republic on points in order to make the play-offs (as head-to-head games are taken into account when teams finish on the same points – thanks to Niall S in the comments for that one!).

The 2nd place team across the groups with the highest points will qualify automatically. This won’t be Scotland, but one the remaining eight teams could be, and here’s how:

6th September
Scotland vs Lithuania

A big win required for Scotland here with lots of goals. If it’s unlikely that we’ll match the Czechs on points then it’s nigh on impossible that we’ll beat them on points so a superior goal difference is required. This is our only remaining home game and it’s against a despondent team that just drew 1-1 with the minnows of the group. We need to thump them 3-0 at least.

Spain vs Liechtenstein
It’s going to be nothing other than a horsing here and, although we want Spain to slip up in order to not have qualified when they face the Czechs in the next game, it’s not going to happen. 5-0 is my expectation with a large margin of error. The silver lining is that a Spanish win means that it will be the reserves/U19s against Scotland in the last game. Note of course that “the reserves” includes the likes of Fabregas.

7th October
Czech Republic vs Spain

It could be all over for Scotland here and, realistically, Spain will have qualified as group winners by now so there is a risk that the Czechs will have an easier game than Scotland had at Hampden. The tartan army can only hope that Spain are too silky, too good and run out as winners 0-1 or so.

8th October
Liechtenstein vs Scotland

If the above results fall into place, then a win by any margin here would suffice for Scotland to have 2nd place in their reach. 0-2 is surely (surely!) a conservative estimate.

11th October
Lithuania vs Czech Republic

This could be Scotland’s last chance. Any team requiring to beat Lithuania in order to qualify for a major tournament should be able to do it, but Scotland may need a draw here when this game comes around or, if results haven’t gone as planned earlier, even a win for the home team. Equally, Scotland’s fate may be in our own hands in the game below. It’s not entirely out of the question so let’s cross our fingers and hope it’ll be a home win or a draw but let’s say, safety first, that the Czechs win 0-1.

Spain vs Scotland
Feeling lucky? On paper there’s only one winner here and it’s a bit rich of me to suggest that Scotland will get an easier ride in Madrid while simultaneously suggesting that the Czechs won’t beat the same weaker Spain side in Prague. My back’s against the wall though. There’s a good chance that Scotland can’t qualify unless they beat Spain, that’s certainly the scenario I’ve painted in the above. However, and this is where our hopes ultimately rest, if Scotland do manage to still have a chance at kick-off, they have a history of over-performing in such situations (witness luckless performances against Netherlands and Italy in recent years). A stubborn draw could be enough if earlier results go our way and a plucky win isn’t out of the question. Let’s summon the spirit of the Paris 40-yarder, of Gary Caldwell’s Hampden tap-in and James MacFadden’s ricocheted Euro2004 winner against Holland and say 0-1 is the score.

Final table under above circumstances:
Spain – 21pts (GD +15)
Scotland – 14pts (GD +5)
Czech R – 13pts (GD +3)
Lithuania – 5pts (GD -9)
Liechtenstein – 4pts (GD -14)

Contrived? Of course. The margin for error is slim but we don’t need to give up just yet. Even a draw against Spain would be enough if the Czechs fail to beat Lithuania away.

I will not be putting any money on Scotland qualifying though, as much as I still hope that they can get through. A draw against Spain and a win against Lithuania isn’t too much of an ask for a team that was so impressive when visiting Hampden on Saturday and recently made the Quarter Finals of the World Cup.

Indeed, if you ask me where Scotland lost out on this group? It would have to be the baffling 4-6-0 against the Czech Republic last year – a sleekit, cowrin’, timrous, panic-in-the-breastie lineup if ever there was one.

Let’s hope we’re a bit more ambitious for World Cup qualifying, and in Ukraine 2012 when/if we qualify….