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Players should have chance to influence revolution

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Jack Ross | 13:04 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010

Voicing your opinion as a footballer is not often encouraged. After all, if you do it in the direction of a referee, it can lead to a caution - and expressing your views to a manager can result in time on the sidelines.

However, in a week when the possible restructuring of the Scottish Premier League has been a major subject of debate, and at a time when Henry McLeish's review into Scottish football is still relatively fresh in the mind, I find it puzzling that, amidst all the investigation and explanation of our game and it's current shortcomings, those who play the game are not canvassed for their opinion.

I am quite sure that some would respond to this by questioning whether players are capable of having such insight - and furthermore whether or not they care enough about the future of the game in this country. My answer would be that there are many players possessing the necessary qualities to present their views on the game and almost all with a genuine passion for football that is strong enough to want to see the Scottish game return to headier days.

It should be noted that - in PFA Scotland - players do have a body to which they can try to make their feelings known, but as great as the strides this organisation has taken in recent years, there is still a reluctance from other organisations to take enough of their views on board.

Therefore, it may be that it is time for players to be given a greater opportunity to try to safeguard the future of Scottish football.

My own proposals cannot, of course, be seen as reflecting those held by every player across the country but in some cases have been shaped by conversations and discussion between team-mates throughout my career.

One significant change to the game that almost always finds favour with players is a move to summer football.

As we enter the last days of October, the reality of training and playing in difficult weather begins to set in, with the alternative of competing during months that are milder being much more appealing. Any player will tell you that the opening matches of the season are always keenly anticipated as surfaces are good and playing conditions kinder.

There is never any guarantee for an improvement in standards, but for me a restructuring of our season would take precedent over any league re-organisation.

I also believe that those in charge of our game should do more to keep players within football. Whether this is done through more subsidised coaching courses or, indeed, more specialised courses, is a further point for debate. My concern is that players are too easily lost to the game when they could offer a great deal to those aspiring for greatness at various age levels of the game and so on.

It may be that another way in which to encourage this would be to ask players to combine playing with coaching. For example, a player could help train a club's under-15 side while playing in the first-team and therefore gain valuable experience while also enhancing the possibilities of a club breeding their own stars.

For provincial clubs who are now perhaps struggling to justify the salaries they pay players, this idea could be extended to include a player working alongside the club's commercial manager or groundsman. Such a suggestion may sound strange, but clubs would perhaps feel they are getting better value for money, while players would be preparing for the future and also increasing their chances of remaining in the game.

These are only a couple of suggestions from one player, but there are others - and a number of other players with differing ones.

My own experiences mean I am aware that our game is on its knees - everyone knows we need changes - but why not make them radical? And perhaps those best equipped to lead a revolution are not those wearing suits but those wearing boots and shin pads!

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Jack,
    What are your views on the proposed expansion of the SPL, and would these views be altered if the Pars gain automatic promotion this season, which looks very likely?

  • Comment number 2.

    Jack,

    The summer football discussion is an interesting one. It has been in place for several seasons now in Ireland (Republic). I think the general consensus is that is has improved teams' chances in Europe. Shamrock Rovers certainly did well this season, though Bohemians bombed.

    I think some care is needed, though, in terms of assuming that you will end up playing on better pitches. I watched a few early season games in Ireland and was struck at just how poor the pitches were. Very bobbly generally, and other issues too. The ball just did not run at all in one case, leading to a game played almost exclusively with ball in air. I suspect the problem might be that playing to a broadly summer schedule would mean kicking off the season in early March, which in turn means preparing pitches in January-February. Hardly ideal in somewhere like northern Scotland.

    Have you looked at the schedule in Denmark? They stick to a broadly "winter" season, but just don't play in winter! They start the season in mid-July, play to early December, then break until early-March. They play a 33 game schedule, so it would need a bit of adjusting to work in Scotland. A three month gap mid-season is probably excessive anyway.

    Starting in mid-July might assist Scottish teams in the early European rounds from a fitness perspective. It would fit with that cycle. And cutting the mid season break to 4-6 weeks in January / February gets you out of playing when it's really cold. That timetable ought to allow a 36-38 game schedule to be accomodated though.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'd say no to summer football. But yes to some kind of winter break. Give the players and the pitches jan - feb to recover from the first half of the season and then get going again.

    But also combine leagues as this stupid 4 games a season against the same opposition is dire, mundane and if a country as small as Holland can have a structured 2 tier system then so could scotland. It may also break up the Old Firm dominance to combine teams and resources.

  • Comment number 4.

    Jack, couldn't clubs introduce coaching courses etc as a compulsory and subsidiary part of being a pro footballer as part of their contracts - after training for instance? ;) Thus providing additional skill sets for when they retire?

    The Summer football idea is an interesting one from the players' perspective - if only all jobs were so flexible, but the cultural void created by thousands of fans left to roam towns and cities are being starved of footie on cold Winter weekends hasn't been thought through...what would they all do? Plus on the flip side would they want to be stuck inside often delapidated stadium on the few Sunny hot days Scotland gets in Summer?

    Better for Scottish clubs to improve general facilities all around and create a few Sapporo Dome type multi-use stadia..investment and job-creation?

  • Comment number 5.

    Really interested to read that you're in favour of summer football. I think it would be a great move. However, as the change requires an element of bravery and forward thinking , I'm pretty sure that it will never happen!

    In my opinion the pros significantly outweigh the cons. Generally warmer weather to watch games in, makes it more enjoyable to go along. Better surfaces should obviously encourage passing (that thing foreign teams do) and more skillful play generally.

    Also, by not going head-to-head against the Premiership we might find that the SPL gets a higher profile, which could conceivably lead to increased TV money (the holy grail).

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Jack unlucky on the draw on Saturday but i agree with what you are saying players need an opinion too otherwise it is all "officials" making decisions

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Jack,
    As ever, a worthwhile read and some good points to debate. A couple of points I would raise back, however.
    Firstly, the old saying "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" springs to mind. I am aware of numerour SFL clubs through parterships with the SPFA that host SFA Governing Body Awards for free. The players are made to be there, but 95% of them don't want to be, can't see the relevance and disrupt it for others. They live for the now, think they are hotshots, and gain nothing from it while costing the system plenty. A club should carefully hand pick players with coaching potential or interest- the volume approach is negative.
    Same with regards to coaching. I actually find it a bit belittling of you that you presume that just because someone is a 1st team player that they should take an U15 side. Why? To fill their time? Can anyone just turn up and be a good coach? Under 15's (as is any age grade) is a critical time in a players development so to get a Billy big balls turning up, under prepared, made to be there, told it is part of his contract, checking his mobile phone, no interest and no will, I think helps no one. I have seen it and it drives me bonkers. Not everyone can or should coach. Being a player is not a qualification. Coaching is an art, a passion, a calling. Not something to be done on orders.
    Summer football? Definitely. Except we would clash with World Cups etc. and FIFA are trying to phase this out.

  • Comment number 8.

    Jack,

    Glad to see you bringing up this topic again as I believe there are some unanswered questions from the last time I challenged you on it.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/jackross/2010/08/do_fans_influence_the_outcome.html

    Getting the players perspective is long overdue in my opinion as it seems to me as if many clubs, coaches and fans think they are the sole arbiters of what is acceptable in playing terms.

    In my opinion if players want to be taken more seriously instead of being taken for granted, they need to take matters into their own hands and start defining their own standards of professionalism.

    The PFA is a Trade Union but what you need is a professional body. One that qualifies you as professional and sets the standard: in attitudes, knowledge, physical skills and in technical ability. One that earns everyone’s respect, on and off the park. One that is not blighted by legal conflict but capable of rising above all that.

    Trade Unions, Committees and top down dictatorial management that is non representative, are all things that are of the old order. They may still have a role but a much diminished one.

    Everywhere you care to look, industries, companies and organisations of all descriptions are being forced to pay more than just lip service to the rights of individuals as Hamilton FC found out with the Cormack case.

    Part of being professional is about educating one’s self as well as putting something back so that others can do the same.

    You say that “there are many players possessing the necessary qualities to present their views on the game”

    I can’t recall those in power ever starting a revolution so stop waiting for them to start one. Get a few of these like minded colleagues of yours together and start your own revolution.

  • Comment number 9.

    Really enjoying your blog and always keep an eye on for the pars results because of studying with a fan in Aberdeen and having visited east end on a few occasions. Great pastry thing at the snackbar. Saying that you ruined my treble at the weekend :)

    I am from Ireland and have watched the rise and fall of our attempts at professionalism or in better terms spending money on players that never existed, but although the crowds aren’t great we must also consider pour national sports of the GAA are at similar times and they draw the crowds at a time when the football should be capitalizing.

    I am completely in favor of Summer football for the Scottish league as it firstly means the games will be played in better conditions, but more importantly it will recreate Scottish football as a saleable product in terms of TV revenue, with no other league of worth or more importantly no other league with appeal to the British public playing it means the league may be worth considerably more to the Sky’s of the world.

    Your suggestion of on the job training regarding coaching and management is great

    I also have a suggestion, to imitate American sports on the basis of Scholarship courses with local universities, Scotland has an abundance of good universities and they could easily tie in with local clubs to provide that secondary option for players if the game doesn’t work out for them, but it may also be an attractive option for the more savvy footballer who understands about protecting his future by gaining real life qualifications whilst playing, I know one or two sportsmen who have now left their respective game and all were in the same position 30+ without a single minutes real work experience nor qualification. As we are aware not all will experience the vulgar wealth of Wayne Rooney et al. Plus certain courses could be done where the club provides a real time training place, accounting, marketing, business management, nutrition etc. It would alleviate the cost of players for the clubs involved and could be a beacon of light in a sport that has until now been so short term focused in its goals for the people involved.

    However I did once read Dave Whelan the chairman of Wigan offers all players the opportunity to learn the business systems and workings of his JJB Empire, according to himself not one of the premier squad has taken up his offer to date.

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you for your comments.

    Macca2, my own opinion is that the SPL needs to be bigger but my initial thought is that a change from 12 to 14 would make little difference to the difficulties the game faces at present-almost change for the sake of change rather than something bold.

    Jaypee, such views is what I am relating to in the above-it may or may not be feasible but at least investigating such change would be seen as a positive step.

    Nitemair, the point you make re players attending courses under duress and without the necessary application is a fair one and as I understand it some within the game would prefer to see this funding only made available when players are prepared to commit properly to courses. The under 15 side was only picked as a random example and rather than assuming that all players make good coaches as I believe I have commented before that this is not always the case I am of the opinion that a knowledge gained from playing professionally is beneficial.

    Iain Jack, appreciate the support and it may just be the right time for such a body to be established.

    Erico 1977, your final point re Wigan is very relevant as I feel that owners, directors, sponsors etc of clubs being willing to offer players work experience within their companies could be a way forward for our clubs. Of course to be a success it requires a willing mentality from the players!





  • Comment number 11.

    Surely if Rangers continue in the prolific form they currently have, they might consider moving into the English Leagues? Cardiff, Swansea, and Wrexham (+ various other clubs) have benefited from the better football in the English leagues. After, so far, doing considerably well in the champions league, and with a perfect start in the scottish premier, surely they'd consider it?

  • Comment number 12.

    Jack the main problem with football in Scotland is there not enough competion in all levels of the game the premier league in Scotland is to small and the lower league no that cannot progress as there stadiums are to small. This means that players have to go England to play in the lower leagues as that is them only way they will make an impact.

    Scotland nation team has the same problem as the England team they are training the players to play in a tradional way that emphasis playing on on strength and tackling instead on pass and movement.

    The answer to this would be more foreign coaches and a more inclusive league that allows for smaller stadiums and allows smaller team being promoted meaning a more competitive league .

  • Comment number 13.

    Jack - you are a genius!
    Honestly, I came to this blog expecting a 5 minute light read, yet what I find is one of the most revolutionary ideas for developing football in Britain that I've ever seen. One of the great problems recognised in Scottish and English football is the dearth of quality youth coming through, and the reason is said to be a dire shortage of coaches at that level. At a stroke, you've solved it. Well, not solved, but made a recommendation in the right direction.

    There's no doubt that full-time players have a heck of a lot of dead time on their hands when they're not training, and it is hard to justify their salaries. I'm sure many who get a fat salary for doing very little would resent being asked to 'do something for nothing', but with many journeymen players at the end of a contract the option would be to sign up or be released. It's a great idea and it proves your point - the authorities SHOULD listen to the players since they have more practical ideas than the suits.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Jack, very interesting article.

    Your point about changing the Scottish season to summer football would, in my opinion, be a great idea. Here in Ireland we have had the Eircom League playing summer football for a number of seasons now with albeit conflicting results. Around the country, opinion is divided on whether the switch has had a positive or negative effect, but the FAI are insistent that attendances are on the rise and that the product on show is improving year-on-year. I'd also agree emphatically with the FAI's belief that the product has improved, both on and off the pitch.

    This can be seen with Irish clubs slight improvement in European competitions - obviously being halfway through your season does help in fitness terms when playing early rounds of these competitions. We can suffer in attendance figures because of Gaelic games which are also played mostly in the summer months but Scotland would not have this same issue.

    I'm sure summer football would encourage a rise in attendances and in turn a rise in income for clubs which should, in theory, mean more investment and progression of the clubs. The only sticking point would probably be with the bigger teams that have international players although this does not seem to be an issue in places like Russia that have an extended winter break.

    There are pro's and cons to this argument and i obviously don't have all the answers but weel done for at least opening the debate.

  • Comment number 15.

    Jack,
    In the real world most of us have to pay for our continuous professional development and take responsibility for our own self development. Professional footballers have more spare time than most and must take a fair degree of self responsibility.
    You're comments about the PFA are revealing. If you don't feel others are taking them seriously enough then you have a problem, and as a group of people you should be challenging your union to do more for you, after all a Union exists to represent the views of its members. If I were you I would be asking difficult questions of Fraser Wishart et al and making them justify what impact they are having on your behalf, and for your future.

  • Comment number 16.

    FOOTBALL IS IN DECLINE
    Crowds are falling, corporate interest is waning, and income is reducing.
    Due to the high costs of admission, travel, and refreshment, it is no longer the working mans game. No amount of fiddling is going to address the fact that the game is in dire straits. Half empty stadiums will soon be derelict stadiums as more and more clubs go under. Keep losing the lesser clubs, and even the mighty will succumb. From now, until who knows when, people are going to be unsure of their employment, and going to football matches will be way down their priorities. The game is all about passion, atmosphere, and local team loyalties. How can a partly filled stadium incite team allegiance, pride, promote rivalry, and encourage vocal banter between supporters. A full stadium is what makes the game so intense, addictive, and enjoyable. Without capacity attendances, you destroy the lifeblood of the game. What can be done to save the game? Introduce summer football, watching the game in sub winter conditions is definitely a no go, who wants to pay a lot of money to sit in the rain and freezing cold, when you can watch a game on television. Allow season ticket holders to take their spouse and a maximum of three children under sixteen free to games that are not a sell out. Authorities need to reappraise the game, relevant to the modern world. Encouraging the young to attend and develop the habit of going to football is investing in footballs future. The game is now crying out for atmosphere and what better way to create an atmosphere than exuberant noisy kids. Today’s youngsters will determine whether commercial football is still around in the future. Ignore them at your peril. If football is going to have any future, it must again offer value for money, and not price itself out the market. Its survival depends on attracting the young.

  • Comment number 17.

    I am always amused by the thought that footballers opinions would be recognised , football is a business and is about money nothing more and nothing less. In business there are boards of directors and chief executives that are paid to make decisions , Terry Leahy doesnt consult the checkout girl in my local tesco,s before making big decisions about the future of his company.

    The problem is the big guys in the big companies make the decisions and stand and fall by them. The SFA on the other hand as a business model is the wrong way round and as such is the equivelent of the local arear manager at Tesco's tellling Tery Leahy what big decoisions are made, and you can betb your bottom dollar that if you were one of those area managers the very last thing you would be telling Terry Leahy is to make you redundant.

    Ita a nice idea to take the views of footballers but is never ever going to happen. As for real positive change for the future it just wont happen TURKEYS DONT VOTE FOR XMAS.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hi Jack

    Would you be in favour of reformatting the leagues to create two, 20 team divisions, with teams playing each other home and away and having 3 or 4 teams been relegated/promoted? This would not include the top SPL sides fielding a reserve side in the second division.

    Would this format not create more interest for the public particularly regarding relegation and would hopefully increase the crowds towards the end of the season.

  • Comment number 19.

    Jack

    Would you opt for altering the football calendar totally to achieve summer football (Mar to Nov) or go for an earlier start/later finish with a winter break ?

    Perhaps a flexible winter break would be optimal. In the years of World Cup/ Euros the winter break could be small but with no competitions the winter break could be longer.

  • Comment number 20.

    Michel Platini wore footie boots but an academic he is not, courting power utilising one's fame and stardom can back fire ? We need footballers involved but it must be tempered with academics like Gazidis who have a genuinely marvellous love of sport and football.
    Michel Platini is proving to be a disaster for football by his actions and by his inactions, and he wore footie boots.

  • Comment number 21.

    Revolutize football in three easy steps.
    Two video appeals per team, get the big decisions right ! two video appeals will not slow down the game.
    To stop the manager from abusing the law he can only make a video appeal in his own half if the ball is dead.
    2.
    The Referee must have the power to award the worthless yellow card "after the game," retrospectively. He can rescind yellow cards and reds also, he will be more empowered have much more "flexibility" in his decision making and the real beauty of it is the huge huge respect he will command from all the players and voiciferous blinkered managers.
    Increasing the ban for accumulative yellow cards would help get rid of the pro foul.
    3. The Linesman having to be more pro active as a result of video appeals would make more decisions and not hide so much, he will feel more empowered, garner more respect from the players, video appeal will embarass him into more decisions, psychological accountability.
    The linesman is "miked" up, take away his flag so he can run properly and keep up with the line of play. (In every "ten" uses of the flag the players already know 5 of the decisions, the Ref will decide one, and the Linesman will decide the other four decisions)
    With his new found self respect the Linesman can "encroach" on to the pitch to help with penalties and free kicks, when Agbonlahor is sprinting on to a 60 yard pass and the 39 year old Ref is 60 yards away, the Linesman can be ten yards away in line with play, helping to Referee.
    Instead of carrying a "clumsy" flag the Linesman can wear flourescent green sleeves.
    It's not rocket science ?

  • Comment number 22.

    Thanks for the continued comments on this subject.

    lee ross, in fairness PFA Scotland has grown as an organisation in the last two to three years and is becoming more able in making Scottish football's governing bodies aware of the thoughts of players. I know that it is an area in which they are working towards gaining a greater voice.

    I agree with your point re self responsibility, however I am not simply looking for easy options for players but rather plans that may prove to be beneficial to players, clubs and hopefully supporters if indeed the state of our game improves.

    Pragmale, value for money is a major concern as undoubtedly the pricing structure for our games is excessive. Of course, clubs justify it by their costs and probably with good reason but would reduced prices not help to encourage floating supporters?

    Our sports attitude to fans at times needs to be changed also. For example, I have had friends attend an SPL match in a sparsely populated away section and not be allowed to move seats from a shaded cold section to a position in the warm sunshine only yards away. In this case there was no safety issue with moving but no one was allowed to do so. Having paid twenty plus pounds surely a fan has the right to such a simple decision?

  • Comment number 23.

    Point 7...FIFA (and UEFA) has been failing to understand modern football and the needs of individual national leagues for a long time. They have shown a complete lack of leadership on matters of technology (which most professional sports have implemented with success), finances, rule changes to combat cheating, and the power of a few clubs over the good of the game, why should Scottish football care about what such an inept organisation wants.

    On the plus side for young Scottish footballers, they should see more time on the pitch during major tournaments if the foreign players were off playing in their respective international competitions, it might actually discourage teams buying these players in the first place!

  • Comment number 24.

    Footballers should have no more say in the restructing of Scottish football, than check-out girls have in Tesco's price-structuring policy.

    The idea that they understand the different economic problems facing the game, is to unduly flatter their intellects.

    They are, for the most part, let's be honest, educational under-achievers, many of whom, if left on grass for 90 mins without a manager's continually screamed instruction, would begin to graze.

  • Comment number 25.

    Jack

    Football players, these are the guys who every week bend or break every rule in football, why should we trust their views?

  • Comment number 26.

    spot on, there are so many things that would improve if we had summer football, better football, better crowds, better business. i dont understand why it has not been done.

    The coaching and wages part of your blog i reckon you would know best being an insider ;) lol but aye i hoope someone takes notice of this and does make changes for the better :)

  • Comment number 27.

    Hi Jack,

    some interesting points, and between the people who have already commented, I think they have basically covered all my thouhts.

    I agree with you that an increase to 14 teams is pretty meaningless, but what about 18 teams? Then stop this nonsense of splitting into 2 groups who the play each other twice more. I think that is harmful to Scottish football, in terms of both quality of play and commercial success. Do you agree with this view?

    I also agree with the point made about starting earlier, having a 6 or 8 week winter break, an then continuig. Should be feasible. What do you think?

    Yes, not all players make good coaches, but having the pros even assisting the youth coaches, and providing an insight into footbal at the pro level for the youngsters is a good thing. I remember, back in "the day" when I was a youngster, (here in South Africa a long time ago) we had this. It was not every trainging session, but probably 2 out of 3, ad I always looked forward to that - particularly if one of my "heros" was the assistant coach. In those days our league here was much smaller than now, with very little money involved, but I believe it worked well.

    Thanks for an interesting blog.

    Mike
    South Africa

  • Comment number 28.

    Mike, very much appreciate your comments all the way from South Africa. There is definetely scope to examine other countries set ups and perhaps extract parts which may benefit our game. For example, I believe the average attendance in the Norwegian top flight has increased from 5 to 10 thousand in recent times suggesting they are doing something right!!

  • Comment number 29.

    hi jack, i totally agree with looking at norway as an example for us! they have a much more open league set up with 16 teams playing each other twice. they have a similar population and a comparable climate albeit even colder!

  • Comment number 30.

    Learn from the experience of others absolutely but if its about improving the quality and the depth of teams in the top tier an 18 team division is not the answer and its naive to pretend otherwise. This would produce too many meaningless games.

    Options based on 14 and 16 are far more realistic plus the introduction of 'colt' teams.

    And what would the commercial impact be for the revenue of non-OF teams only playing the big 2 twice? For the cynics, turkeys may not vote for x-mas but I kind of sympathise with people trying to generate and sustain revenue in Scottish football right now. Personally I'd like to see the OF at places like Tannadice and Tynecastle twice a season. Its better entertainment than the alternative. Wonder what the implications for the TV deal (and audiences) would be if the broadcaster was offered PartickvCeltic as opposed to DUtdvCeltic?

 

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