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McLeish review points in the right direction

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Jim Spence | 21:16 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010

I really want to be positive about Henry McLeish's review into Scottish football.

But then I think of the old Karl Marx adage: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

Tragedy came in the shape of Ernie Walker's think tank set up in 1995, and for all anyone knows or cares is still pondering ways to change Scottish football.

At least the McLeish report has seen the light of day, whether it repeats as farce is now down to the Scottish Football Association.

They commissioned the report so it's up to them as the body responsible for the governance of the national sport to act on it.

With the report calling for £500m to be spent over the next ten years, there is every chance that the Scottish Government and local councils, from whom the bulk of the funding might be expected to come, will make sympathetic noises but plead poverty.

In his 74-page document the former First Minister claims our football is "underachieving, under-performing and under-funded".

Everything is relative but many would agree with his findings.

Similarly, most fans would concur with his desire for better facilities and infrastructure.

mcleish595.jpgIn an ideal world the money would be no problem and new indoor football centres and fourth generation playing surfaces would spring up like April daffodils.

But there's a financial crisis, money is tight and there are competing demands.

Here's how that cash crisis might affect the Spence family for instance.

My 18-year-old plays as a goalkeeper for a pro club at under-19 level. New facilities would mean he could actually risk diving about in training instead of potentially injuring himself on the rock hard out-of-date artificial surfaces he currently trains on.

However, my 15-year-old is a track cyclist, a sport in which the only two facilities in Scotland at Meadowbank and Dundee are very poor and also under-funded.

In football we haven't produced a world class player in years, while in track we have Sir Chris Hoy, Olympic and World champion, who had to train outside of Scotland to reach the top of his sport.

Why should the football half of the family be funded while the cycling half isn't?

Tennis offers the same dilemma. Andy Murray is truly world class yet we spend buttons on tennis facilities. Why should up-and-coming tennis players be disadvantaged to benefit football?

Personally, I think there is a good case for spending heavily on all sport. It would set us on the road to becoming a much healthier nation, emotionally and physically, and ease the burden on the health service in future.

It might also lead a generation away from the temptations and dangers of illegal drugs, where the annual bill in health care, criminal activity and other social costs has been estimated at almost £3.5 billion a year.

In that context Henry McLeish's call for £500m over ten years to regenerate our game is a drop in the ocean.

But that's not an argument the SFA can indulge in; that's one for society and government to confront.

There are undoubtedly flaws in the report, and cynics will argue the findings could have been jotted down on a fag packet over a couple of pints (or keeping in mind the brave new Scotland he hopes for, over a skinny latte and a veggie burger).

There are people in the game who perhaps should have been consulted, like former Scotland boss Craig Brown and George Adams, who was highly successful in his youth roles at Celtic, Rangers, Motherwell and now Ross County.

But that's nitpicking.

McLeish has laid a good few home truths on the line.

He was asked to review the state of the game. This overview of grassroots football is just the start.

A wider review of the other areas will follow.

He may have captured the mood of the nation with the recent Supporters Direct survey also calling for radical change in our football.

McLeish deserves some congratulations for his work.

In poring over the 74 pages in depth, no doubt faults will be found and mistakes pointed out.

But McLeish has put the main issues firmly on the agenda and it would be churlish not to give him due thanks for that.

It's now up to the powerbrokers and those who claim to have football's interests at heart to act decisively to sort out the crisis which McLeish has pointed up.


  • Comment number 1.


    Having briefly skimmed through the report, I am surprised at how badly put together it is. There are numerous typographical, spelling and grammar issues. How can we get the big things right when we can't get the small things right?

    You are correct to point out the shortcomings in funding in other sports. Our top cycling talent currently trains on the roads or have to "get on their bike" to Manchester most weekends. This will change when the new Glasgow velodrome opens.

    On the other hand it would be great to see a number of regional centres like Toryglen built. That was the original intention I believe.

    It would also be good to see many more schools with new generation, floodlit, artificial pitches which could extend their use into the evening throughout the year. These pitches can be used by sports other than football and can benefit local communities.

    Another good blog though.

  • Comment number 2.

    Shock! Horror!

    The no-mark Jim Spence - one of the Sportsound triumvirate who, out of utter jealousy, slaughtered their former colleague Gordon Smith at every opportunity as soon as he got the SFA job (the other two being of course the hypocrite Traynor and the ridiculous Young) offers up a typically negative response to a decent attempt by Henry McLeish to highlight the deficiencies of Scottish football.

    I sometimes wonder if these Sportsound clowns - lets add Richard oh-how-clever-am-I Gordon to that nasty wee group - sit in the studios on a Saturday and imagine their bitter little gathering is at the centre of Scottish football.

    To listen to the bore Traynor, you would think he was addressing folk who actually think he had something valuable to say, and as for Young, this guy is a quarter-wit.

    I sincerely hope for the future of Scottish football that no one involved in moving our game forward pays any attention to these parasites.

  • Comment number 3.

    The fact that we've had to commission somebody to investigate what's wrong with Scottish Football, in the first place doesn't bode well.

    Apart from raising the capital required for this revolution, it's a rather simple fix.

    But the changes that need to happen, won't.

  • Comment number 4.

    All very laudable suggestions in the report but the problems: getting a spend of £50m a year just on football in a time of extreme cuts when other sports are just as deserving and under-funded.

    I better like the emphasis on building facilities for all sports but here again there are financial issues. You would also think that better use should be made of community facilities like schools but some are very resistant to allowing access. Also, many schools have no facilties at ages when kids should be introduced to sports. For example, my two young primary-aged kids attend a school where gym happens in the shoebox of a dining hall and where most of PE gets cancelled because of competing uses. My garden offers better opportunties! If you can't catch them young...

  • Comment number 5.

    Money will likely be tight Jim, but that just means we need to think creatively. Communities should work together to fund 4G pitches, so that school kids, working people and serious footballers all have an opportunity to play and train on a decent surface all year round.

    The problems of marshalling funds from national government, local government, education sector and private sector would perhaps be eased by founding a Scottish version of the Football Foundation. They do excellent work south of the border, developing new facilities and improving existing ones, as well as funding things like kits for junior teams. They do all this with funding from government, the Premier League, the FA and private sector. What a difference something like that could make in Scotland.

  • Comment number 6.

    I am a Scot living and working in South Africa, after some years in Holland. I believe that Scotland as a nation must build into the basic philosophies of life, the benefits of sport, be it with investment or not. To gripe about lack of funding is pathetic, we are as a nation very rich compared to most of the world, but complaint about inadequacies seems to be prevalent and an excuse for under achieving.
    A recent trip to Brasil, highlighted the desire of people to succeed in sport, they do not have pitches, and G4 surfaces for the masses, just passion and desire. Pick one player from any Brasil squad who has born a silver spoon, impossible.
    There is a sad mentality of expectation, the welfare state parries the population into laziness.
    Let me not disregard reality for our people, and what simple things could change for the better.
    I am 37, my 1st 2 years of high school were blighted by the teachers strikes, no teams, no football, no nothing. A generation lost in the sporting wilderness.
    Any move to change is welcomed. And it must come from politics to enforce a society shift.
    The talent is there.
    No world class players? Find me a team which would turn away Fletcher, Gordon and Hutton.

  • Comment number 7.

    How much money was wasted commissioning Henry McLeish and his lot to provide a report telling us all something we all know. What a nonsense!
    Kids don't need 4G artificial turf facilities, the "No Ball Games" signs need to come down and children should be encourage to play. Too many of us are materialistic about our cars etc now. Kids are prevented from playing sports in the streets incase the ball hits a car.

    It's seems simple to me. Don't give the money to the SFA, SPL or SFL. These institutions and their members have proven themselves to be fiscally inept and don't deserve to be bailed out by public money. Give the money to school teachers who can make themselves available to coach children.
    Primary school kids don't want to be coached, they want to run about and have fun. If school teachers can encourage them to do this with a ball then surely thats a start.
    At my sons primary school the kids get one 1hr session of gym all week. The sports coaching doesn't begin until primary 4 or 5. Why?

    What McLeish and the rest of the sporting heirarchy should do is make it more transparent and easier for parents to find team sports clubs for their kids to get involved in.

  • Comment number 8.

    1 hour gym a week, it's comedy, it should be at least 1hr a day.
    I agree, make it easy for teachers, and part of the curriculum
    A nation is proudest of sporting hero's, and importantly, participants.
    A society is proud of healthy, strong, healthy interactive people makes it possible for the lucky few with the talent to follow their and our dreams.
    While we all want global success, achievements and recognition, the wellness of our people and mindset must be the goal.
    People should not wait to be led on such a simple concept, sport, health,and well being.

  • Comment number 9.


    Too true - Traynor is a complete balloon with a vastly over-inflated sense of his own importance. How a clown like this holds down any sort of media job is completely beyond me. I wouldn't even employ him to wash my windows.

  • Comment number 10.

    I was somewhat sceptical of the Henry McLeish review but nonetheless I have to say that he seems to have ticked all the boxes in what is an extremely complex set of issues. My concern is that he may well have ticked too many boxes when linking the crisis football with all the other health, educational and political ills.
    It doesn’t require a crystal ball to see football becoming confined to the sidelines when representatives of all those other interests jump on the political and funding bandwagon.
    I agree with #1 in that it is poorly written. After an inspirational start it deteriorates into vague ambiguity and it too lacks the focus that McLeish levelled at Scottish football. In the end it is a rambling oversized document that seems to be written as an “all things, to all men” solution.
    If Henry McLeish with all his experience of countless previous documents has produced a document of this standard then I think it is a measure of the scale of the problem rather than a criticism of the writer. Still, he could have and should have done a lot better.
    McLeish launched the review with an appeal to the media but what do you people really do to ensure that Scottish football’s glass is seen as half full? Not a lot as #2 has pointed out and if you ask me he let the Sportsound team off lightly.
    This and all the other contributions on this blog to date should be telling you that people aren’t stupid. Read the responses. They can see the problems for themselves. We don’t need to be constantly told what is wrong in the game and you lot are the architects of this relentless barrage of misery. Why can’t you be more positive?
    Similarly McLeish’s report expands on the ills of the game somewhat exponentially and merely touches on the good aspects. For me it fails to deal with the reasons why we seem to continually fail to deliver and don’t tell me it has anything to do with funding or facilities.
    It has less to do with a lack of strategy and more to do with a failure to develop and implement effective strategy.
    What I want to know is - what is going to be so different that these new measures will succeed where previous ones have failed?

  • Comment number 11.

    Havn't read the report, what does ot say about refereing as that is as big a problem up here as the quality and could also be helpe by funding?

  • Comment number 12.

    A recent trip to Brasil, highlighted the desire of people to succeed in sport, they do not have pitches, and G4 surfaces for the masses, just passion and desire. Pick one player from any Brasil squad who has born a silver spoon, impossible.
    There is a sad mentality of expectation, the welfare state parries the population into laziness.


    Well, Kaka was born into a very well off family, as were several of his illustrious predecessors. Leonardo and Dunga spring to mind.

    and whist in Brazil it takes raw passion and commitment to get to club level, once there the clubs have heavy investment in youth set ups and facilities. They have built a football club culture that recognises it cannot afford to compete at current times financially on a global scale, so is entirely geared towards developing and selling players.

    In alot of central Africa the players that come through are into academies run by European clubs early on, where they once again have decent facilities, before, if they show promise, they are brought over to Europe, especially Belgium, in their early to mid teens, where they work in great facilities.

    I do agree though that there is a mentality of expectation, even worse these days, that we can all have exactly what we want without trying, so why should you bother striving?

    Good article Jim, but you didnt even mention that Murray had to go abroad to Spain at about 14 regularly to get the proper levels of training to progress.

  • Comment number 13.

    A recent trip to Brasil, highlighted the desire of people to succeed in sport, they do not have pitches, and G4 surfaces for the masses, just passion and desire. Pick one player from any Brasil squad who has born a silver spoon, impossible.

    Not quite the entire picture though. Average Brazilian kids do nothing but play football as in general they have nothing else to do. Compared to Scotland, Brazil is a picture of poverty; not every kid has an Xbox or Playstation to keep them off the street.

    In this regard the report makes good points. It says we need to recreate that intensity of practice in the youth system. Any of us who've been through a kids football training session knows that, although the intent is good, they are not nearly comprehensive enough.

    Spence makes a good point about the goalkeeper training (funnily enough Brazil is not exactly noted for world class keepers). This perhaps requires investment, but training at the correct time of the year would ensure reasonably kept pitches (as the report points out). Perhaps some investment in synthetic pitches for the winter months would help. Can't see it being near £50m a year though.

    I'm not sure there is such an extreme need in investment but more of a serious change in methods and attitudes.

    We need to build a curricular model for the youth setups to follow that will allow talented youngsters to develop their skills. This doesn't necessarily require throwing dosh at the system, just a few innovative minds and then hard work and dedication from the coaches and of course, the young players themselves. No amount of cash can make up for a disorganised setup and lazy kids both of which are certainly prevalent in our game.

  • Comment number 14.

    Have to say this is missing a key point. It's the mentality within the game that has to change. If you are tall, strong and can run all day you fit into the profile the coaches are looking for, if you are small you are out.

    Anyone else think if Lionel Messi was brought through the Scottish system, he would have been shown the door by the under 15's coaches?

  • Comment number 15.

    The issues raised by Henry MacLeish are crying out for debate. But, after just a few days, any mention of his findings has all but disappeared from the BBC Scotland sports page. Do the hacks at Pacific Quay not think the future of Scottish football is a subject worthy of extensive debate?
    Many senior Scottish football players are unable to master the basic skills of the modern game, namely first touch and movement off the ball. Why is this the case? Exploring the reasons behind this skills' gap — a vital first step, in my opinion — will not happen if the media ignore well-placed public figures, such as MacLeish, who try to kick start debate.

  • Comment number 16.

    @ Rankis

    This is also a major problem and definitely needs to be addressed.

    I mean Ally McCoist was told as a teenager he probably wouldn't make it due to being small. And if you can believe it so was Craig Gordon - Hearts almost sent him packing because he wasn't tall in his mid teens.

    There is also the infamous incident when Ronald de Boer first came to Scotland. He asked why Rangers fans were booing him and was told it was because he didn't chase a ball to prevent a goal kick despite it being a lost cause. Ronald said why would I chase a lost cause when I can save my energy for when it matters. It just shows the difference in attitude between us and the Dutch. We'll cheer guys like Kenny Miller who have the touc of a donkey because they run around a lot but will boo a top class player like de Boer for not wasting his energy on a lost cause.

    This attitude is seen throughout our game. The hard graft should be in the preparation and honing of skills. Not that players shouldn't be fit and strong, of course they should, but it should be second to technique not the other way around.

    There is also too much of a focus on winning at a young age. Coaches at youth level will do anything to win, hence picking the biggest strongest lads to kick the other teams of the park.

    Again though this shows investment is not the be all and end all but that changes in attitude will reap massive benefits on their own.

  • Comment number 17.

    I've missed the boat on this blog a bit, and I haven't had the chance to get the full skinny on Henry McLeish's report, however when I first got wind of it, I was really encouraged.

    Without overstating the obvious, the Scottish game is as poor as I can ever recall, and whilst football is cyclical in nature, we definitely find ourselves in a prolonged 'winter of discontent', thus I reckon we have no option but to belatedly lay foundations for improvement NOW, in preparation for another inevitable seasonal change.

    Whilst it may all be part of the rich pageant of football itself, Scottish football has passed through various stages; from European Glory years, which continued until the early 80's, the Souness Revolution, the financial madness of the early 90's (which incidentally also graced us with a fantastic assembly of truly world-class players within the ranks of Scottish teams). We have now arrived at a time when there is simply no money, and no obvious appeal out with our own borders for the Scottish game.

    I believe there are numerous reasons that we find ourselves in this predicament. One obvious reason is the fact that we have a far more powerful and lucrative neighbour that pretty much blocks out any sun that may shine here. The financial connotations of the Premiership have impacted on pretty much all football leagues worldwide in different ways, both directly and indirectly; Serie A has declined both financially and technically, and thus in overall status (despite a potential Champions' League final on the horizon). La liga, despite the quality of football on display throughout the division, also has great financial sufferance to endure, epitomised by the plight of Valencia etc. The Bundesliga has kept it's financial house very much in order, however teams there will readily admit that the appeal of the league itself is not as strong, ergo the inability to attract the truly top-tier footballers (bar the odd exception).

    However, we have also been the errant architects of our own downfall. One recent Scottish manager seemed to endlessly tout the line that 'we are only a wee country' as some sort of pathetic excuse as to why we were unable to produce players who could even trap a football without it skelping off their eyebrows first. Rather than bumping his dentures about this supposed predicament, he should instead have invested energies in proclaiming the desperate need of grass roots development of Scottish Football! And this 'wee nation' syndrome, a disease that permeates through Scottish psyche, holds little water when we look at comparative nations such as Croatia (a country that has a national league of no greater esteem than our own, nor arguably possesses teams of the historical stature of Rangers & Celtic). More glaringly, look at the Dutch! A country of about 15 million people (approx. a third the size of England) has continually produced players of renowned technical ability etc. Cast your eyes to the emerging African nations; various countries that I can only presume lack anything like the overall infrastructure of Scotland (let alone of a footballing nature), however we see endless emergence of talent that is scattered throughout the globe!

    And it is hardly a surprise to hear the perpetual doom-mongerers like Traynor etc. - I recall Gerry McNee as a personal pet-hate, endlessly prophesising the demise of the Scottish game every Sunday in a well-known English-based rag, and lambasting various aspects of the game despite the abundance of quality available at that time! Whilst he may have been gifted a timely coincidence with his estimation of a financial crash, I'm sure he didn't realise it would be triggered by an overall greater worldwide financial predicament. He was simply a wee spiteful disease, hell-bent on using his fountain pen like a weapon, ultimately coming across as some kind of fire-and-brimstone preacher praying for the wrath of god to exact a revenge borne of his own personal grievances.

    This might seem like a flight of fancy, but whilst we are very much in a gutter, we should not stop looking at the stars; perhaps this is the time for teams like Rangers to sacrifice a few years of under-achieving, and concentrate on the only possible solution available; developing their own talent. If we cast our eyes to Catalonia, we have the best possible blue-print. Whilst there is obviously a galactical chasm between the overall status and success of Barcelona and that of Rangers and Celtic, they are no more an institution than the latter. And despite an equally glaring financial gap, we should not forget just how many of Barca's starting line-up are home grown. If we look at this in a different context, I'm pretty sure that the Catalan 'national' team would possess a greater standing than Scotland.

    My apologies that this post pretty much reads like an onverly-long diatribe, and I won't deny it holds a certain therapeutic value in being able to vent a long-standing grievance, but we should not forget that until perhaps as recently as 10-15 years ago, the gap in quality between the Scottish and English Premier Leagues was not as great as we perhaps feared it was, nor as great as those down south professed it to be…

  • Comment number 18.


    Great points. Yes I'm also sick of the 'wee nation' guff we hear all the time. All the more the reason to stand up and be counted.

    This is not a third world country and we have a history of great minds who have contributed massively on the world stage. Surely the apparent 'rocket science' of creating a world class youth setup can't be beyond us.

    It is ridiculous that a such a football loving nation has such an inept system at a grass roots level. It's not like there's a lack of interest in the game in this country.

  • Comment number 19.

    Rankis, You are absolutely right on the issue of height. Some coaches in Scotland are still discarding kids on this basis rather than addresssing other key questions of natural ability, spring in the legs, and the fact that kids mature and grow at different rates. It's outmoded thinking and needs to be addressed because many potentially good players then walk away from the game entirely.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am a rangers fan so not a natural supporter of Neil Lennon but he was absolutely correct when he said it is not about money. Celtic have great facilities but no team. The problem with Scottish football is the academy system and the desire of coaches to win at every level not develop talent. The teams recruit the biggest fittest players in every age group and spend little time on ball skills. This is clearly seen when any young player emerges they are always physically strong for their age not talented. If Messi was Scottish he would have been discarded for being too small at about age 13.


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