Eek! Â Whatever happened to the close season? Â Less of a stop, more of a pause really. Â The last football season ended with the Scottish Cup final played on 21 May and the new one starts this Saturday 23 July – eight short weeks apart.
There’s something faintly obscene about this rush to return to winter pastimes in mid summer. Â And given the inglorious end to last season, and events this summer, a longer period of contemplation and respite might have done us all the world of good. Â But no, common sense and football are distant companions these days.
The legislation might have been put on hold for more considered deliberation but the JAG – that’s Joint Action Group for the uninitiated – on Football has met and agreed 40 – count em! – points of action which aim to “improve the game”. Â It’s a slightly misleading headline, because having scoured the recommendations on your behalf, dear reader, nowhere do I see proposals to clone Kenny Dalglish.
No, these recommendations aim to improve the conduct of football by players and spectators alike. Â Some of it is so obvious the burd is frankly perturbed that it isn’t already commonplace. Â Indeed, it is remarkable that after years of huffing and puffing by the powers that be, to the effect that the computer says no, the SPL has agreed upfront to significant changes in the scheduling of matches.
New Year’s Day football for the Old Firm is a thing of the past – the traditional derby will now be played on 28 December. Â The police will have a say on the scheduling of the post-split Old Firm clash, Chief Police Officers will be consulted before the fixtures list is published each year to identify and consider any problematic fixtures and there will be only one mid week fixture round after the annual split. Â This last one is welcome news for fans who get fed up being expected to get from one end of the country to the other on a working evening, just because an SPL computer deemed it necessary.
Of course, all of this is fine and dandy in theory but while the JAG can try to control a range of elements, there is one – the weather – which is sadly still outwith its control. Â It better not snow on 28 December or the weather gods will have the First Minister to answer to.
Other proposals smack a little of of being seen to act instead of just acting. Â Apparently in order to co-ordinate better policing of games we need a new national football policing unit with a wee bung of nearly Â£2 million to help it on its way. Â Couldn’t they just all pick up the phone and speak to each other before and after “key games”?
Moreover, did we need to drag the SFA to a big meeting to get them to agree to develop rules preventing comment by club officials on appointed referees before matches, to reintroduce a Laws of the Game/refereeing decisions area to its website and to develop a “formal reporting protocol” for referees to “ensure absolute clarity and consistency in the reporting of all match related incidents”?
But for the main part, these are well-meaning, thoughtful efforts not only to clean up the vilest aspects of our national game, but also for the first time, attempt to link its role and impact on some of our other less edifying national pastimes. Â Many of the proposed measures take a long term view and consider how we can change the culture surrounding football so that it can make a better contribution to the common weal.
Especially welcome is recognition of the role of supporters and bodies like the Supporters’ Trust in reshaping this culture and also of the needs of the long-suffering, well behaved majority. Â For example. the coaching badge will contain a spectator safety element in the future, supporters will get their own code of conduct, minimum standard provisions will feature in all ticket sale conditions, and a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of police and stewards inside stadia will be developed. Â The burd respectfully suggests that the first lesson should be that shrugging shoulders disinterestedly when a complaint is made about offensive fan behaviour is not the required response.
Anyone hoping to see a permanent marginalisation of football to the sidelines of life should look away now. Â The JAG recommends that “there is early identification of the role that football/sport can play when initiatives are being considered at policy level, and that consideration is given to the early classification of the type of programme involved (Prevention, Early Intervention, Enforcement, Rehabilitation), supported by accurate identification of the target audience – recognising that unacceptable behaviour occurs throughout Scotland.” Â Nope me neither.
Roughly translated, football can play a positive role in a wider social policy context. Â Thus, one of the recommendations suggests that offenders who are also football supporters should be required to attend football-based programmes as part of their rehabilitation. Â Also welcome is the plan to undertake research into the relationship between football and domestic abuse, as are the proposals to restrict alcohol consumption.
But there is a gaping silence at the heart of this plan: Â it fails to address the need for football itself to clean up its act. Â For years now, players have gotten away with behaving badly: Â the cases that reach our eyes and ears for drug misuse, inappropriate sexual behaviour, drunkenness, speeding and the like are only the tip of a very big iceberg. Â For every role model who is the archetypal family man, there is a team mate who indulges in all the excesses a large wage and a privileged position confer. Â Whenever one oversteps the mark, ranks are closed, excuses are made and indiscretions are glossed over.
To fail to address this aspect of football, to leave it to clubs to agree a single code of conduct for everyone in Scottish football, to not make a clear and firm statement on the need for those inside football to adopt a zero tolerance approach to violence, drinking, inappropriate sexual behaviour and law-breaking represents a missed opportunity at an open goal.