BBC BLOGS - Jim Spence
« Previous | Main | Next »

Part-time route may be prudent for Scotland's clubs

Post categories:

Jim Spence | 09:58 UK time, Thursday, 15 December 2011

The news that Hearts midfielder Ian Black is working on the side as a painter and decorator might be a portent of things to come in Scottish football.

While Black's situation arises through circumstances forced upon him, it got me wondering whether our game would be any worse off if we adopted the part-time approach as a model.

With St Johnstone attracting just 1607 fans to their game against Aberdeen, there must be real concerns about where our national game is headed.

Yes, I know that the conditions were shocking, but if people are not prepared to turn out in such weather and we keep refusing to play in the summer, then crowds seem likely to continue to decline.

Can our game go on sustaining full-time players among the 20 or so clubs who currently operate on that basis?

Hearts midfielder Ian Black

Might the mix of part-time and full-time, similar to the Raith Rovers approach, might be better suited to the modern economics of the Scottish game.

When Gothenburg beat Dundee United in the final of the Uefa Cup, it was reported that the Swedish players all held down jobs outside football.

Might it not be better if many of our clubs and players could operate an arrangement with employers whereby they trained in the morning and worked another job in the afternoon for instance.

The world of work has changed for a great many people, but not for football.

Maybe it's time that the game embraced a new order and accepted that full-time football for the many is simply unviable.

There are players at some clubs, mainly but not exclusively in the First Division, who would be financially better off making decent part-time wage from football, while doing another job which would give them some kind of security, in the very insecure world of Scottish football.

The former St Johnstone chairman Geoff Brown once told me that he had far fewer injuries with players when Saints were a part-time club.

He attributed it to players having other jobs such as roofers or joiners, where they had a different type of daily fitness.

As they went about their day jobs, they worked off the strains and pulls picked up on the park.

And just as importantly he said, they didn't have the time to think about their injuries and woes.

At the very top level, football will always be full-time.

But there is a case that is growing stronger for more and more clubs to see the benefits of turning part-time.


  • Comment number 1.

    Or players could be full-time on something like £25,000 a year.

  • Comment number 2.

    How about a national merger with England?

    Play as a whole country, even if all the scottish teams play at a lower level for a while, with their fan bases, they should be able to climb up eventually, and this can only benefit both countries.

  • Comment number 3.

    There are without doubt too many professional teams for this country to support financially. More teams should consider going part time to cut costs, however an alternative that allows more full time teams to be financially viable is to merge teams together.
    Such a suggestion never goes down well with fans who don't want to lose their club identity, but there's a real risk of more and more clubs going the way of Clydebank and ceasing to exist altogether.
    A merger seems to have done Inverness and Cally Thistle no harm and the combined club is now close to being one of the top 10 supported in terms of average attendance. Of course some fans of both have lost interest, but I see this as the way forward for Scottish football as a whole.

  • Comment number 4.

    When Rangers are in the 3rd division next season, they will be part time.

  • Comment number 5.

    Having watched Ian Black play, i'd thought he was only a part time footballer anyway....

  • Comment number 6.

    Part time football and club mergers are certainly the way forward for clubs in the lower divisions and I accept that there will be opposition from those who don't want to lose their identity but that fits in with the overall plan for the game in Scotland as a whole,but do we really want clubs in SPL to be a mix of full and part time?

    It's a sad reflection on our game that attendances are falling overall and we really do need to consider alternatives such as changes to the set up of cup competitions as well as winter breaks, alterations to the start/end of the season in an attempt to play in better weather.

    It shouldn't be beyond the wit of those who are paid large salaries to come up with some suggestions and, at present, we don't need to worry about mising out on european finals do we ?

  • Comment number 7.

    3 Ben

    Which teams do you suggest should merge Ben ?

  • Comment number 8.

    There may be too many teams in the Scottish professional game but merger would not work. If the four Angus teams were to merge where would they play there games? Lets say Arbroath and they become Angus Athletic, how many ex Forfar, Brechin and Montrose fans would travel to Arbroath to bolster the crowds? If the south west clubs merged and played at Kilmarnock how many Ayr, QOS and Annan fans would start going to Killie every fortnight.

    Half full time half part time could work and save costs but if clubs are serious about saving money a move to "summer" football is the way with likely higher crowds with fans moaning "its to cold to go to the game" no longer having an excuse, and savings on floodlight costs, undersoil heating, snow clearing costs etc. Only our administrators can't smell the coffee.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good blog .....

    Apart from the OF the whole of the SPL should and could be part time the crowds,standard and budgetry expectations state this.

    #2 A more realisitic merger would be with the Irish and Welsh leagues, the Premier League is the best in Europe not ranked 17th like Scotland.A Celtic league would improve Scottish,Welsh and Irish leagues in a similar manner that the rugby union has helped the smaller nations.It would also attract more sponsorship as the Welsh and Irish teams would soon catch up with the SPL teams.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sad but true Jim. I totally agree and fear the Killie would be one of the teams to go part time. I think our football would get stronger. It's paradoxical, but there would be a different approach, the current one is certainly failing. THe St Johnstone Aberdeen game is not a fair example but Killie's crowds have halved in ten years and we are not alone. I favour summer football, leagues of 16 and a pyramid structure. Teams at the bottom need to improve but there is no incentive.

  • Comment number 11.

    Maybe the respective FA's should encourage the economic migrants to represent their host country at a National level and thus the overall number of full time players would reduce in the higher leagues and the others would find their levels in a combined team from a regional area

  • Comment number 12.

    10 blueandwhiteforever

    Agree with you on summer football, leagues of 16 and a pyramid structure.

    People's habits have changed but the game in Scotland has not responded.

    It seems inconceivable now but in 1948/49 season Dundee FC's average crowd was around 24.000 and Scottish clubs generally were getting big gates.

    Fast forward sixty years and Dundee are playing to around four to five thousand.

    It seems inconceivable now that such numbers could ever attend games again.

    How did the clubs manage to lose those fans ? They were complacent and didn't appreciate that the world was changing around them.

    Strangely, I still think there is a great appetite for the game, but there has to be a sense of occasion about football games a sense of theatre and it's hard to get that when the wind is whistling round your ankles and your hands and feet are numb with the cold.

  • Comment number 13.

    Good blog.

    I think this is a good idea. As in order to survive financially, the clubs either need to increase income or cut expenditure. There is no conceivable way for clubs to increase income: the overall economic situation of this country means that fewer people will be attending football matches, meaning that income is dropping and increasing ticket prices would result in attendances falling again. The SPL and indeed most competitions are a duopoly between Celtic and Rangers, so this is not exactly going to entice supporters to attend games or buy merchandise, ensuring that there is no real way of raising enough income to support current costs and survive well enough to improve the football clubs.

    Therefore, cutting costs by switching to part time football may just help some clubs financially and perhaps allow them to be able to reduce ticket prices for the product they are offering; without the fear of extinction.

    However, financial stability does not always equate to success on the field of play. You just have to look at Hibernian, the club is run soundly in a financial sense and have even had the resources to invest in excellent training facilities for youth development and improve Easter Road as a stadium. But on the pitch, Hibs are extremely poor and are missing a great opportunity! The state of Hearts and Aberdeen should give them an incentive to see an opportunity to establish themselves as Scotland's third force. In addition, Dundee United are going through a transitional period after losing a lot of their best players.

    Cutting costs will hopefully allow clubs the opportunity to experiment with reducing ticket prices which may boost attendances. It is not like there are no supporters of the smaller clubs: there were more of them a few years ago, they do exist. They have understandably got sick of paying their hard earned cash to watch a product which is really poor and their club having little chance of winning any of the domestic trophies on offer.

  • Comment number 14.

    Changes to our game are sadly inevitable for all the reasons we already know. We can cling on to what we've got, watching it diminish or we can try and take one step back to (hopefully) take 2 forward. No matter what happens I will go and watch football, even if I can't watch MY team, I go to watch A team.
    While I can see the big advantages of teams merging (if its good enough for Scottish Regiments who have longer histories and arguably more loyal members) I think the vast majority of fans would fight it. The only other option is survival of the fittest which would mean teams completely dying out rather than being a part of something ongoing. I fear that football is one part of peoples lives that they're more than happy to behave like self indulgant, spoilt brats and would cut their noses of to spite their faces rather than merge with 'that lot' whoever they may be.
    I think part-time football is one option that can be investigated and certainly works in some countries or leagues but at the moment I think our top league should be strong enough to support full time players. If we don't change things we may well slip enough for part-timers playing in the SPL

  • Comment number 15.


    The dwindling crowds are down to one thing only. The lack of competitiveness.

    Fans would turn up if there was an outside chance of success. We accuse OF fans of being glory hunters but if we're honest we're all glory hunters, just the rest of us don't win anything.

    The fans are still out there. Any non OF team that gets to a cup final still seems to sell 20,000+ tickets. Fans show up for the cup finals as this is their only chance of success. If the league was less of a duopoly and every team had a chance of winning I'm certain crowds would go up.

    Would you spend your money on a raffle if you were told before your bought a ticket that you've no chance of winning anything as all the prizes are going to two sisters in the corner?

    Disposable income is tight at the moment. People are spending money on other things that bring joy into their life's as for most of us there little joy in watching our teams right now. The only success we can hope for is the bronze medal.

    I'm not blaming the OF here its just the way it is, but until things change lowering tickets, summer football or even part time football isn't going to help the game bring the crowds back.

  • Comment number 16.


    How do you make the league more competitive?

    It seems to me that the only options are for OF to decline and reach the level of the rest or for the remainder of clubs to improve.

    Of the two the latter is the obvious choice but to improve clubs must make hard choices including not aping the richer clubs but doing what suits them individually.
    If this means hanging on to their best players for another season or two then the club will have shown its supporters that they've played their part and it's the fans who have to do their bit by turning up.

    I've always been annoyed when SPL clubs with small attendances get to a cup final and the world and his wife want a ticket. I accept that not everyone can be a regular attender but where are the majority of these people the rest of the time?

    Football can't defeat the economic situation but it can certainly do more to help itself by trying new ideas such as summer football or a version that includes playing in what should be the better weather.
    If it doesn't then that will be it.

  • Comment number 17.

    15 Teddongo I agree that the contiuned domination of the Old Firm is a huge problem. but at 16 morbhoy makes the valid observation "It seems to me that the only options are for OF to decline and reach the level of the rest or for the remainder of clubs to improve"

    We need to find a way of addressing the competitiveness issue along with summer football, bigger leagues etc if the game is to be turned round.

    Credit where it's due though. SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan has addressed the HIghland league clubs on plans for a pyramid structure for 2014/15 season for the Scottish league.

    So some things are moving in the right direction.

    But supporters need to keep making their feelings known to the clubs about what they want as the way forward.

    Increasingly at present they are making their feelings known by turning up in fewer numbers.

    Alex Smith the former Aberdeen manager points out in his column in the P@j that the crowd at St Johnstone v Aberdeen of 1607 was exactly the same as that attending the FA cup 2nd round replay between Macclesfield Town and Chelmsford City. If that isn't cause for real concern I don't know what is.

  • Comment number 18.

    Jim, there are a wide range of factors.

    Why would anyone want to watch football in sub zero temperatures, when they could just as easily save themselves the money and be able to access the game on the television/computer?

    Why should supporters pay over the odds for a poor product? Some of the attendances involving junior clubs are higher than those of SPL and First Division clubs.

    Why do managers of non-Old Firm clubs not try harder in cup competitions? I bet Paolo Sergio and Hearts regret resting so many players against Ayr, their supporters could have had a cup semi-final to look forward to.

    If the SPL/SFL can answer those questions and address them, then it is a start.

  • Comment number 19.

    You summed up perfectly what's wrong with Scottish football with the sentence "Stewart Regan has addressed the Highland League clubs on plans for a pyramid structure for 2014/15 season..'
    Why does everything take so long ? It's a joke.

    And your blogs are like buses, none for ages and then one after the other.

  • Comment number 20.

    In Dundee and Edinburgh just like Glasgow, the intra-city rivalry itself is probably one of the things that keeps many of the people still interested, still interested. If the wrong mergers are performed, you risk eliminating something that might actually be holding gates up, as low as they may look now. I mean what's the point of watching Hearts or Dundee Utd if not for the rivalry? The top level in Scotland is structually fixed against competition by the economic dominance of the Old Firm, and no-one else has anything else to play for.

    Gates are falling and will continue to fall because the world is getting smaller and it's much easier, and for most, more fun to watch Barcelona and Arsenal (or Bristol City for that matter) than pay through the nose to sit in the cold and see a competitionless local variant of the same game which everyone continually talks down and disparages.

    Not a Unionist by any means, but sadly the real solution to the problems of the Scottish clubs is for the top dozen or so to join the English league system. Teams like Hearts and Aberdeen will probably more often than not play in League 1 or the Championship, but they have fan bases as large as many of EPL clubs and with English levels of tv revenue good runs could see them progress there. Success or not, it would be interesting and people would come back!

  • Comment number 21.

    "There are too many professional clubs in Scottish football" seems to be the wisdom doing the rounds.

    How is this conclusion arrived at? Certainly there are clubs in deep financial dooh-dooh but that has nothing to do with the number of clubs and everything to do with how they're run, which touches upon the theme of Jim's article.

    How would it go if the limited funds available to Scottish clubs were distributed equally across all 42 senior clubs? Gate money split 50/50 each game. Would that be an answer?

    If 20 of Scotland's senior clubs vanished overnight, would the rest benefit and an era of plenty begin? I think not; throwing money at football is like chucking buns at an elephant.

    Besides, in my experience the 'too many clubs' argument comes from followers of SPL clubs. Are they suggesting that those wicked, evil and greedy clubs in Elgin, Dumfries and Coatbridge are taking millions away from those poor teams that come a cropper in European competition every August? Nonsense.

    Part time football may very well be prudent. It might save a lot of First Division clubs that have been struggling for a piece of top-flight football but will never get there. The drawbridge was pulled up years ago and now that's official because Henry says so.

    There should be no stigma attached to part time football. It's a conceit that the only 'good' football is played by full-time players and we know that pros are quite good at serving up unentertaining sport.

  • Comment number 22.

    This blog has brought oot a few mair punters fae their hibernation,or in my eyes, should be oor close season.I have read all the blogs & mosts been said all before, inc me.
    #19 Bang on aboot the sfa(ASTRAY ON A MOTORBIKE) taking to long to do things,gie them a break tho,their only 40 years behind.
    Jim,IFK Goteborg won the uefa cup in 82 v Hamburg & 87 v united.
    Having been to that lovely city 12 times now,and having many mates over there i asked the question aboot the part-time fitba thing.
    They told me that many players had buisnesses or buisness intrests,but in no uncertain terms did that interfere with their training.Lets be honest,have you ever saw a scandanavian Andy Ritchie lookalike???
    Scandanavian countrys are streets ahead of us in their outlook on attitude,fitness,facilities and knowing when to play the game for all concerned.Football for most of them is not even their num 1 sport,which tells you everything about the(NIVIR KICKED A BAA IN THEIR PUFF) suits who dither our national game to oblivion.Why does someone like me who,s been to the whole of europe with united & scotland no go on a regular basis anymore??? I have been in the stand in Goteborg in august in my shorts & t-shirt 22C, sipping low alcholol beer.The pitch full of grass although 5 months into their season,the players able to stroke the ball to each other.A 16 team league,2 down,3rd bottom in a play-off.Work around internationals with minimum of fuss.I dont need to explain the difference compared to us,the empty seats says it all.

  • Comment number 23.

    League structures don't help. The gap between SFL 1 and SFL 2 is massive and there is a fear factor for many clubs to go part time as it will likely be a permanent change unless a sugar daddy comes along. I do find it strange that no there is no SPL reserve league there is not more players loaned out to the SFL teams. Players could train full time with their main club and attend the odd training session and play matches with their lower league club where they are on loan at. Hearts have a crazy amount of players on their books and apart from those they sent to Raith what about the other 20 or so players that have no involvement in the first team or youth squads. From an Ayr perspective I think part time has its advantages as there are maybe some players that could get a full time deal but the way things work out they make more and have more job security with a day job. Top part time players can get 3 figure sums a week pretty nice bonus on top of a full time job. We need more part time teams, if players are good enough they will get a gig at a full time club.

  • Comment number 24.

    For almost all but the top players in Scotland, any professional wage is perhaps sufficient to get by - but I would imagine not enough to put much away for life after football.

    Obviously a few players will get into coaching or media work, but compared to the number of players, this is a very small percentage.

    I would say clubs would do well to perhaps come to an agreement with local businesses whereby players could work part time around a training schedule. Obviously it wouldn't work with all professions, but for guys to have a skill base to pick up a career after football, would be a very good selling point for a manager trying to attract a player.

    When my team, Morton, were in the 2nd division it was always apparant that the PT clubs got more out of their players. We had guys training full time, but really there was no big advantage and the guys who worked during the day and trained perhaps twice or 3 times a week clearly got enough out of their training sessions to be very competitive. Brechin being the prime example at that time.

    In any case I think necessity will drive PT football to the majority of Scottish clubs within the next few years - even in the SPL.

  • Comment number 25.

    Enjoying this blog good comments

    Summer part time football is the way forward for Scottish football

    The weather is certainly better suited for football in summer than the extreme conditions in Scotland during winter which is similar to the Scandanavians and it may improve the standard

    The Scottish national team has not qualified for a tournament since 1998 so there would be no clashes with fixtures,and it would give the fans something to watch during the summer months.

    #20 The SPL teams should join the Irish and Welsh leagues(similar crowds PART
    TIME structure etc). The Premier league is way higher than the SPL which is
    League 2 standard or even Non League

  • Comment number 26.

    I live in oz now and am a season ticket holder at Adelaide United and even though we are rubbish there is nothing better than sitting in the sunshine with a beer watching the game.

  • Comment number 27.

    I don't think it's OF fans saying that there's too many clubs as the number of lower league clubs doesn't affect either Celtic or Rangers.

    The point was about changing the structure of Scottish football in order to preserve it and the suggestion of some mergers coupled with part time football seems to me to be sensible although I accept mergers will be very difficult to achieve for many reasons.

    Someone needs to sieze the initiative and start this process off and not some years in the future because failure to take action will lead to the closure of many clubs.

    As has been posted, there are many attractions on TV as an alternative to freezing at a sub-standard ground in the middle of winter.

    For years all we've had has been much talk and no action, it's beginning to resemble Nero fiddling !!

  • Comment number 28.

    Personally speaking, Scottish Football missed a great opportunity to increase the gates across all the leagues, especially the bigger clubs struggling at the moment.

    3 leagues of 14.

    Yes a slight tinkering with fixture numbers, or half-way splits etc may be required for the top of the Premier or other clubs in Europe, but for the rest, it wouldn't be much of a problem.

    Look at the tables today. Not much difference between the top of the 1st first and bottom of the Premier.

    Same rule can be applied between Divs 1 and 2, 2 and 3.

    Add summer football, free entry for kids accompanied by a paying adult, opening the facilities to the community, or creating Community Interest Clubs along the lines of Stenhousemuir and the rewards will come.

    The talking has gone on too long.......

  • Comment number 29.

    jim it doesnt matter pt ft the game is dead as we all write to you. a member of my clan has driven 250 miles to aberdeen today to be herded into a sheep fank. he had to stand up to see the whole pitch and had to jump up to see what was going on at times. when he could see, a guy had turned up who thought he was a referee ( he went on strike last year!! and would be earning more then some of the players for his 90 mins!!) and proved he wasnt getting every major dec wrong. you will now see an aberdeen player appeal a red card and get it rescinded however the same player will get offered a two match ban for diving!!!!!!! what a fine fine state the beautiful game is in in our beautiful country.

    This tragedy was broadcast for the Nation to see!!!

    Worse still 23 quid had to be paid to the herdsman at the fank gate with presumably no recourse under the trades description act.

  • Comment number 30.

    Part-time? Full-time? Mergers?

    None of it will make any difference when we have a media only interested in reporting on two teams, or negative stories about the other teams. Pick up a national paper, listen to BBC Scotland through the week, or on a Saturday and only two teams are covered at any great length. Post match the only interviews carried out are with Old Firm managers, or their opposition, in fact when I get back to my car after the game I barely know the lower division results as they are givien basically zero air time so we can move on as swiftly as possible to an Old Firm phone in.

    If this is the only media interest that yonugsters pick up on, then why would a lad or lass from Arbroath, Kilmarnock, Dundee, or Methill, want to go and watch their local team? I basically ignore all media coverage of Scottish football to the extent that other than my team, I have almost cut myself off from the Scottish game completely, which surely can't be a healthy thing for the future of Scottish football. Having said that, 2nd and 3rd Div games only receive about a paragraph of coverage on Sunday's now anyway, it is amost as though they don't exist, especially when the EPL gets more and more space in Scottish media.

    Those calling for mergers don't understand that the only reason that anyone turns up for games in the lower leagues is the sheer passion they have for their club. Remove that and you'll have absolutely nobody at games at all.

    We need financial parity, gate sharing and less self interest, but the top division won't have that and it will slowly strangle the whole game to death up here.

    You say there's still an appetite for the game in Scotland? I agree, unfortuntaly it is for the English Premier League and La Liga - listen to the terraces and half time and that's what people are discussing.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.