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Summer football will benefit both fans and clubs

Date: 25th August 2017

By Robin Hall

The new season has started. It is great to be able to attend matches in your brand new replica shirt with no worry of the rain or snow. Well maybe not up here in the North East of Scotland but nothing beats attending a game when the sun is shining. Both players and supporters are able to enjoy the match and the atmosphere is very much improved. The kids are happier in the warmer climate, pies and bovrils are no longer the required pre-match snack where instead a more cooler refreshment is called for. Yet come December the hardened football supporter is separated from the part timers or glory hunters. It is in the winter that true club loyalty is tested, it is one thing turning up at Hampden on a lovely May afternoon for the cup final, it is quite another to travel to Dingwall or Peterhead to cheer on your team, knowing that you may not be able to feel your toes by the end the match.

Yet here we are having a debate in Scotland about summer football again. There has not been much of a pre season break this season as due to such a low UEFA coefficient and the League Cup, clubs were back playing in July. There is no longer the time for the stamina sapping pre-season training and the glamorous tours abroad. The debate now is on how to ensure our clubs can stay in European competitions longer. The argument is that summer football would mean our teams are at their peak when they enter the qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa League respectively. Celtic have progressed with some style into the Champions Group stages earning an estimated £30 million windfall for themselves and other Scottish clubs but Scotland cannot constantly rely of Celtic to prop up our UEFA coefficient. All of our clubs need to be competing at the highest level in Europe.

Rangers, St Johnstone and Aberdeen all were knocked out by teams from Luxembourg, Lithuania and Cyprus respectively. Of the three victors only Trakai from Lithuania were midway through their season. There were of course other factors such as St Johnstone having only three first team defenders going into the match or in the case of Aberdeen they had lost two weeks of recruitment due to uncertainty over their manager’s future. The  reason for the Scottish clubs exit from European competition cannot be wholly attributed to lack of match fitness, in some cases you have to admit the opposition were just better than our clubs.

A quick look at the remaining teams in the competitions shows that not all the Northern European nations where summer football is played have representatives into the latter qualifying rounds, so it does not guarantee success. What is apparent though that most of these nations do start at least two weeks earlier than our league. We are only now into the second week of the season and it is fair to say that it is a highly competitive and exciting league. It is in no way a lower standard than many other European leagues, yet Celtic are our only sole surviving club in Europe. We do need to give ourselves a chance and where summer football may not be the golden egg it may well help. We introduced the winter break and many supporters are actually happy with it, as financially everyone is stretched in January so some respite is appreciated. The players are able to go away and get some r & r and come back stronger for the second half of the season improving the product on the park. Gone are the boring mid table battles played on a quagmire.

The case for summer football is growing as ultimately it will be a commercial decision. We cannot compare ourselves to our English neighbours or any other league for that matter we need to find a solution that is uniquely Scottish.  The SPFL is quite innovative when it wants to be, I mean who would have thought the top six split would have been a success but it has increased the excitement and competitiveness of the league. I am reliably informed that there is support in the upper echelons of the SFA for summer football but it is the clubs that are against it.  They believe they would miss out on vital revenue during the winter and that income would reduce during the summer holiday season. Personally I am not so sure, Scotland is a major tourist destination, would these tourists not enjoy taking in a match while on their holidays. Likewise would families here not be more inclined to take their kids along as they try to keep them entertained for 7 weeks of summer holidays?  Football fans tend not to stop watching football they try to get their fix somewhere else like televised international tournaments.

The bottom line is we do not know if it would be successful. What is apparent is that we will need to change our league as it is becoming highly noncompetitive and in the global game that is unattractive to players and commercial partners. Lets move to summer football what harm can it do. But then again it may be okay to watch a match in December from comfort of the director’s box.

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