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Talent drain turns focus on Scotland's youth

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Jim Spence | 17:13 UK time, Thursday, 12 January 2012

Aberdeen losing Richard Foster to Bristol City demonstrates what Scotland's top clubs are up against in trying to retain their better players.

Foster's rebuke that any Championship side could win the SPL may be wide of the mark but there is little doubt that the clubs in that league operate in a different financial world from all but the Old Firm here.

The Dons have a far more illustrious history than the Robins, with a European Cup Winners' Cup and Super Cup in their trophy cabinet.

But Derek McInnes's new side had an average crowd last season of 14,604 compared to 9,071 for the Dons.

Bristol meantime, has more than twice the population of Aberdeen.

Hearts, our third best supported club, last season pulled in 14,184, a figure topped by a whopping 21 clubs in England's Football League, never mind the Premier League.

Bristol City manager Derek McInnes

Bristol City boss Derek McInnes has been recruiting in his native Scotland

Neighbours Hibs were watched by an average of 11,755, a figure on a par with Preston North End and Barnsley.

Dundee United's 7,389 is in the vicinity of teams such as Oxford United, Brighton and Bournemouth.

Motherwell, who pulled 5,254 through the gates on an average basis, compare with Southend United and Exeter City.

There are many English sides in the lower leagues who by virtue of population base can trump all but Celtic and Rangers, when it comes to attendances.

Those crowds, coupled with television revenue, equate to income levels that SPL clubs cannot hope to match.

In Scotland, we have historically lost top players to England but in recent times the torrent of talent flowing over the border had dried up to a trickle.

It appears that the previous order could be restored. If so what does that mean for Scottish football?

It would seem that youth will be the way forward more than ever before for all of our clubs.

That and a judicious use of the loan system appear likely to be our lot in the future.

The scenario though, presents opportunities as well as disappointments.

While it is galling to lose top talent to England, if clubs handle players' contracts properly, decent transfer fees should be made, helping to bring through the next batch of promising talent.

It might also lead to more adventurous football given the nature of youth: assuming that is, that coaches do not try to curb their natural expressiveness.

With more Scots playing at a higher level down south, our international future might also be brighter than once feared.

It is a real scunner to see top Scots players leave our best league to play in England, but in football money talks as it always has done.


  • Comment number 1.

    Struggling with your arithmetic Jim? Its not about gross numbers, its proportionate to population.

    Per head of population Scotland pulls in more people to football matches than practically any other country in Western Europe.

    Foster cannot be described as a top scots player. He's average at best and going to play in an average league for MORE MONEY.

    We have always lost our best players to the bigger paying English leagues. So what

  • Comment number 2.

    With more Scots playing at a higher level down south, our international future might also be brighter than once feared.
    If only we had a manager who is prepare to take advantage of this, his ignorance with regard to Steven Fletcher will cost us badly.

    Jim, it is disappointing to see, but the main focus for clubs in our league is merely to survive.

    Clubs like Falkirk and Hamilton tried to develop good young players and play good football, but where did that ultimately leave them? Once they sold them on, they did not have enough to supply once they sold them. That is why it should be imperative that Scotland should have a better second tier, relegation could kill a lot of clubs.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good blog ..... Good luck to Richard Foster .... Goodwillie has been a disaster at Blackburn he is Sub Standard (another Scottish manager brought him down, and Strachan buying Boyd is another example).These Scottish players are cheap because they are of a low quality.

    EVEN the English non league teams have larger crowds than Scottish 1st Divsion teams.The SPL teams play each other 4 times per season and it is a joke.The Scottish 1st and 2nd divsions should be part timers.

    Even with Scots playing in a higher standard at Championship level rather than the SPL, Scotland will not qualify however for the World Cup in Brazil 2014 because the quality of their players

  • Comment number 4.

    "If only we had a manager who is prepare to take advantage of this, his ignorance with regard to Steven Fletcher will cost us badly."

    Just one thing, Levein has said that he's prepared to pick Fletcher - Fletcher just has to get in touch with him to let him know that he's available again. Perhaps it's not just Levein who's ignorant?

    Anyway, back to main point. Hasn't it always been that way, Jim? Players have always left Scotland to play in England, be it in the lower leagues or the top league, and the only reason that stopped was due to the our clubs going money mental in the 90's, for which they are still paying the price today. It's hard to believe now, but remember when Stephane Adam was on £10,000+ a week at Hearts?!?! And that was before the Romanov era!

    The legacy of this is that clubs have no choice but to give youngsters a chance because they can no longer afford to go out and buy a ready made player. Because of this, and a general realisation that fans want to be entertained for their money or will go elsewhere, has lead to a sea change in attitude, and it's this that's suddenly lead to Scotland being seen as a bargain market again. It's a good thing.

    Tomslaford, you seem to have an obsession with Scottish football, given that every single comment you've posted has been to do with that - which leads me to believe that you're are actually Scottish and at the wind up!

  • Comment number 5.

    #4 He is scottish!!!!?????
    He gave the guff awa in the last blog by saying NAE CHANCE!!!
    Hoo mini morris dancers hiv yi herd cum awa we that ane???
    Efftir ah, he kens mair aboot oor gemme than ah us put tigither ahe???
    So tam o chancer,(BURNS ROON THE CORNER!!!) cum oot o yir rab the bruce cave and tell us wha yir team is??? Yi awiz seem tae swerve that ane ahe????
    Bring on the young lads.
    More positive and entertaining cos they,ve no got the fear factor that a lot of their experienced team mates have.

  • Comment number 6.

    richard foster can think of 24 "second tier" championship sides who wouldnt win the spl. plenty toiletball stuff played in that division as you will find out. how is this no caps, couldnt cut it on loan at ibrox average player even quoted.
    agree the more scots in the permiership the better but if the hugely limited national manager wont play them and then adopts a childish approach about how they MIGHT get back in his squad whats the point. A player has no contract with his country and to niavely take a club managers stance to an international problem is a farce.

    tosh again jim about adventurous football nothing will change until we stop 4 times a season and ten clubs trying to avoid relegation at the start of every season in our top league. the carpe diem moment for scottish football will hit his year with two of your top three above having to survive via brinkmanship but will it be seized- DOUBT IT.

  • Comment number 7.

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

  • Comment number 8.

    why do these blogs have to turn into a slanging match?

    Jim is right that scottish football has significantly lower finacial clout than a huge number of clubs england. perhaps the mistake he makes is considering OF to be seperate from that. now that the Champions league money looks unlikely for them, it is very possible that a host of championship clubs will be considerably richer than OF, particularly when you consider the massive premier league parachute payments. the championship is actually a better career move too as the league is more competitive. THE OF TOO will have to adapt to the realisation that the brief bubble of the early SPL is way in the past.

    i am wondering what the necessary wake up call will be for the fans and the clubs alike. nearly all scottish clubs lived beyond their means to create that brief illusion and my club lie on the brink because of it. the clubs and the fans alike need to be realistic and put the best interests of the surivival of their clubs first.

    so many argue that the loss of quality players in scotland to england will only make matters worse with respect to gaining gate money ( which is far more significant in scotland than TV), the main criticism of a league expansion. however i was an english league 2 match the other day, the quality of football on show was far lower than watching hearts and yet i was in a fairly full stadium paying almost as much as i would pay to go to see hearts. league 2 has 24 teams so the arguement of boring mid table matches with nothing at stake as a criticism also doen;t stand up.

    #1 is right to highlight that scotland is actually the most footy mad country in europe and that only goes to show how much we have disgraced ourselves in recent years. the switch back to reality that scotland cannot and was never an elite league and youth development should be it's core cannot come soon enough. yet people cling onto a dream that was only ever smoke and mirrors. even when Celtic won the european cup thay won it with young glasgow talent that went on to earn alot more in england. the system we had pre 1974 with 18 teams in the top tier worked extremely well for us. the clubs got greedy, forgot about youth, drove away the fans and twisted the minds of the fans that remained.

  • Comment number 9.

    Foster's broadcast interview highlighted the major problem with Scottish football - even the players are sick to death of playing each other 3, 4, 5 ,6 even 7 times a season.

    It's incestuous but until the financial bods are sidelined and the future of the game is considered the standard of play and the size of the crowds will dwindle.

  • Comment number 10.

    Not sure that I agree that players moving to the Championship are really going to improve the national team, if they are good enough to be playing regular 1st team football then perhaps but is being a squad member at Burnley or Bristol City really a step up from regular 1st team games in the SPL. Still, it does open up opportunities for other players to come through but will Aberdeen replace Foster with a youth player or will they try to get a more experienced cheap option from abroad to fill the gap right away?

  • Comment number 11.

    With regards to league reconstruction here's my idea, Jim. Some of it is flawed but this provides a realistic option and one that is also practical, we will never get a twenty team league! I suggest:

    *Three divisions of fourteen teams.

    *Play thirteen home games and thirteen away games, that accounts for twenty six games.

    * I would retain the split, simply because I would change it to make it better. Sure teams may finish on much higher points than others and still be below them at the end of the season, but it's a split!

    *The league splits into two blocks of seven. There are a further twelve games (Six home, six away). Hence, no team has an unfair advantage of home games and away games. Sky Sports get to keep their four Old Firm games. Teams qualifying in the top seven are guaranteed a home game against the Old Firm and more money.

    *The top three keep their traditional European qualifiers.

    *Teams finishing from fourth place to seventh place will be involved in play-offs for the fourth and final Europa League qualifying place. Two legged semi-finals, which should not be played at Hampden.

    * Relegation to consist of two down and two from the second tier up.

    As I say, it obviously has a lot of flaws, but I cannot think of a system which isn't which will sustain attendances as well as keeping the TV companies happy.

  • Comment number 12.

    About time you were back Jim, was beginning to think you must have had one hell of a new year !!
    Anyway, Happy New Year to you and all on here, but let's have more blogs with less gaps between and longer response times where appropriate to keep the debates going.

    As for this one, I agree with some of the points you make but I feel it's important that you compare like with like.
    Size of population,number of clubs in close competition and whether successful or not are all factors that need to be considered before making any comparisons.
    The above together with the real cruncher, tv money, are all factors which distort the overall picture.

    Foster's talking out of the back of his neck, what does he know about the standards in the Championship, he's only just moved to Bristol? Sounds more like sour grapes to me.

    I'm not sure that there is the real prospect of "our" top players moving south in numbers now unless you mean to include foreign players such as Jelavic.
    I agree that clubs need to pay more and closer attention to contracts in order to maximise transfer fees but far too often we've seen players move from Scotland for a pittance compared to the fees down south.
    While it's good to see young players get an opportunity it has to be remembered that fans are being asked to pay prices comparable with PL in SPL and most won't be willing to shell out if they are watching youngsters learning the game especially if they are to be sold once they reach a certain standard.

    There is no point in buying a season ticket if you don't have a belief that your team can win a cup if not the league given a reasonable share of the breaks. That would be ok if prices were much cheaper but there is little prospect of that ever happening.

    I agree with #9, the biggest drawback to progress is the insistence in sticking to playing each other a minimum of 4 times per season in SPL. What was it last season between OF, 7 times? The novelty does wear off even if your team is winning.
    Look at La Liga, Barcelona, arguably the greatest club team in history, are in danger of losing the league despite beating Real Madrid twice (hopefully) all because they only play each other twice.
    Until we try something different we won't know if it will be supported by increased attendances and if we continue the way we are Rangers won't be the only club going out of business.

  • Comment number 13.

    How about doing a blog on how Rangers will be in the 3rd division next season after they go bankrupt from losing their tax case?

    Everybody should check out the excellent Rangers Tax Case blog

  • Comment number 14.

    #12 you make good points except where you suggest spl ticket prices are comparable to epl. epl is horribly expensive now. like i said earlier in the blog i paid almost as much to watch a leaue 2 match the othe day as i would to go to tynie. yet the standard was much lower. despite this the ground was fairly full. the SPL cannot make a realistic arguement that we have to keep a tiny top tier or tv and gate revenues will fall. league two has 24 teams and lots of pointless games. but it's honest and genuine and about local people. the SPL forsake that.

    #13 thanks for the link. that may be the wake up call i said scottish football needs, but tbh i think they'll get away with it a bit.

  • Comment number 15.

    #14 I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was a bit of jiggery pokery to allow Rangers to continue in the SPL as if nothing had happened. It would be the final nail in the coffin of Scottish football though.

    I will certainly never go to another game again if they get away with it.

  • Comment number 16.

    In a moment of madness today I came up with this idea. My thinking simple, right now we're doomed if this fails: we're still doomed! I hear what you're saying about our pitiful attendences so why don't we throw open the gates of the non Old Firm (possibly not Tynecastle either) SPL grounds - in other words let people in for free - and try and get the private T.V networks (Channel 5, ITV 3/4, mabye Bravo, Watch, Dave etc.) to cover them with a contract agreeing that clubs get say 40% of extra advertising revenue generated. Though unlikley at first it is more possible when you consider all those stations have rubbish on at 3pm on a saturday anyway. The point would be to increase attendences and takings in programmes, pies etc. and mabye even make a bit of money out of T.V as well. What do you think? Insane or plausable or a bit of both? Everyone please feel free to give their opinion.

  • Comment number 17.

    1998,1972 and 1967 no sucess for a decades it is no wonder the young Scottish players are fleeing the SPL

    It must be groundhog day playing ... St Johnstone v Inverness CT 4 times a season no wonder crowds are wee diddy

    Good luck to Richard Foster

  • Comment number 18.

    Dearest Tom, I have been doing some thinking.. Because I could not fathom why somebody so sure of their own country's merits would bother to badger their smaller neighbour so often. I looked at your profile and the only things you have ever commented on are Scottish Football Blogs. And almost every one of them. As you are a self-confessed firm-believer that Fifa rankings mean all, you confused me.

    No more. 4th in the world, that means there are only three teams you can enjoy lining up to play against without that embittering sense of entitlement and expectation that comes with supporting an underachieving overdog. It makes sense that you could quite realistically go through your entire life only being disappointed with your team, they never exceding your realistic expectations.

    The image of you this generates for me is of a frustrated sad man. And I don't like to think of you as sad Thomas. So I will distort this image so I can see something different (a trick you taught me) and re-imagine you as SallyTomFord.

    Sally is a young girl, supporting her own team. Not yet hurt by failure enough to turn on the less fortunate. There is still hope for her. Sally is happy with her team because every other game they play they are quite likely to lose and she enjoys the game as sport, not some vent for repressed inadequacies.

    I beseech you to go out and find another team, another passtime. Or just go. ANYWHERE. For you will not make any friends here with that tone, continuing only to make an even bigger fool of yourself before I need even respond.

    So long Sally! And good luck for your own team!

  • Comment number 19.


    I gott admit I'm a big fan of yours. I love how you reguritate the same FIFA facts over and over again. A lot of people would say this a sign of insanity - not me! I a call it "determination"! Also, devoting yourself to something you hate - again, a lot of people would suggest you are devoid a brain cell or two (million) but again, I'd suggest you genuinely want Scotland to get better. This being said, I'm sure the Scotland under 21s recent thrashing of Holland (and it WAS a thrashing) bodes stunningly for the future of Scottish football and noone will be prouder than you, eh! So, good luck with England - every neutral's favourite team - probably because of determined, lovable chaps like yourself!

  • Comment number 20.

    just to throw something relevant back into this blog.. islam feruz... are chelsea ever going to give him a look in? he would've been given a chance by now at celtic. jim is right that clubs need to be very clever with their players not only for their sake but for the players' sake too.

    also just read that the highland league are pro pyramid but anti being forced to reduce to ten teams.. i'm glad one governing body in scotland has sense.!! they said their 'product' with 18 teams is far better


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