Dementia in Football.

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This weekend we heard the sad news that Billy McNeill the former Celtic captain is suffereing from Dementia. A much as it is a sad story it has brought to the fore the need  for an investigation into neurological conditions and football.  It has taken some legends of the game to bring this to the attention of the governing bodies. Recently I read about Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith both former Liverpool captains  suffering from dementia. More former footballers conditions will no doubt emerge. I am not old enough to remember the heavy leather footballs which players in the 1960’s and 70s had to play with. But it doesn’t take a medical degree to know that blows to head can cause severe damge.
American football in the US and also rugby have done some extensive research which has found a corelation. That athletes from these sports have been found to be at higher risk. There has not been sufficient studies into football. Why is that? Thankfully Alzeihmers Scotland will be holding a summit into this with the football authorities and medical professionals. Dementia is on the rise across society  and there for it maybe that the high profile former professional footballers are an unfortunate coincidence. But given the amount of money in the professional game now it is only right that some of that is reinvested back into  medical research. After all many of these players brought us manys such joy.
We should not forget that football is a sport and should be enjoyed by all who play it. But it is also a career and the Health and Safety at Work  Act is equally applicable to professional footballers. The clubs have a duty of care and the associations have a responsibility to ensure that matches are safe for all participants. Hence the suggestion that players may have to sign a disclaimer from dementia is ludicrous. Everyone should be working together to ensure that footballers at all levels are able to enjoy the healthy benefits the game can bring.

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Bring back the Reserve League.

Malky Mackay the new SFA Performance director has called for the reintroduction of the reserve league. His voice adds to many who have voiced there views that the the U20 development legaue is not helping in our developing of talent.
Its a bit like when you play mates every week down the local 5 a side centre. You ain’t going to improve or test yourself against new and better players. I remember the Scottish Premier League reserve league it was  of a good standard and actually it was an honour to win the league . But more importantaly it aided the 1st team by keeping there players fresh, developing new young players and a means to get injured players fit quicker.

In days gone by the reserve league was played on a Saturday while the first team was playing away. This provided extra income and  for fans an opportunity to see some football without travellling away. Young players were able to devleop quickly as they had to learn how to play against some fairly seasoned professionals or wee talked through games by veterans. Some healthy attandances were ahieved  in the reserve league as its often remebered, an Old Firm reserve game which got over 35,000 attending it.

Nobody expects us to go back to those days as squads are smaller and fans have other options where to spend there Saturday afternoon. But Scottish football cannot rest on its laurels. The development league has not worked. Any young talent is fast  tracked to the 1st team and any talent ends up moving south. we have to be innovative. The reserve league can be rejuvenated to enable talent development and actually stimulate some excitement into a fairly stagnent game at the moment.Finances will dictate this but if fixtures are arranged at an alternative time and fans offered incentives, like children for fee. we could develop an attractive alternative to the current set up. This is not innovative as it going back to the original set up but it could well differeiate us from other leagues around.

Living Wage in Scottish Football

A couple of days ago St Mirren was named and shamed by HMRC as an offender in under paying a youth player the minimum wage. This  falls on the back of investigations going  on in Parliament into zero hours contarcts in which the SPFL gave evidence to. There are a few of clubs which seem to be setting a good example  Hearts, Rangers and a reluctant Celtic all pay the Scottish living wage. But there are some lower league clubs which are being investigated  for not paying youth players  the legal minimum. In this day and age it seems unbeliveable that clubs cannot run there operations without  paying the mnimum wage to their employees. We as supporters have never paid more for football either at the turnstile  or  through tv subscriptions and yet this does not seem to be filtering down to those that need  it the most. Much of the youth development is funded through corporate and fan sponsorship yet some clubs do not even pay the young players a living wage. Times are harder now in Scottish football, no longer will £12m be paid for failed EPL stars or outrageous wages paid to foreign journeymen, but surely we can afford to pay a fairer wage to our young players and catering staff for that matter. Most of the clubs are run by successful businessmen who suely must realise the advantages in staff retention and productivity in paying the Living Wage. Celtic were forced through fan pressure to implement the living wage  and maybe that is the real force to drive change. We fans tend to abhor the high player wages in the global game now but there should be a way so that money can be redistributed through the whole of the Scottish game.

Drubbings

There has been some high scoring results this week. Barcelona and Arsenal both on the wrong side of big defeats. And the best in my opinion as a Aberdeen fan was the 7-2 win against Motherwell. I struggle to think of such a performance in my time watching the Dons. I do remember a 6-2 for Aberdeen at Firhill when I was just  a wee lad. But incidently Aberdeen have won 8-0 and 7-2 in the past against Motherwell, allthough you need to go back to the 1970’s. It was as a fan wonderful to watch when you see your team buzzing with confidence sometimes taking the proverbial. The other team often capitualtes in these situations. As a Dons fan we have been at the other side of a drubbings normally on a visit to the East End of Glasgow. Whereas when you are winning you want the game to go on and on , when suffering a heavy defeat you wish the final whistle would come quickly. As players it must be hard to accept heavy defeats as most of them will have professional integrity   to maintain. As fans we will either go to the pub to celebrate or comiserate, but even  excessive amounts of alcohol does not numb the pain or lead to forgetfulness. No as a fan you will allways remember these matches whether winning or losing . The highs and lows that football fans experience is what being a fan about is. Many fans will glory hunt and follow a top EPL team  saying that the quality of football is superior, but even then they are some dull.matches. One thing a 7-2 match is not is dull.It maybe joyful at the moment but as night will follow day we know that sometime in the future we will feel exactly as the Motherwell fans did on Wednesday night. Give me the ectasy and agony over mundane 1-0 matches any day.

Off Field Leadership

Well the less said about the PR disaster in Mark Warburton’s departure from Rangers  the better. But it does ask the quetions as to who is in charge at Rangers  and where is the leadership. We as fans are told that football is a business and we are coming to reluctantly accept this. But in business as on the park you need leaders people who set and drive the ambition throughout the club.   A chairman in David King who does  not even speak to the manager  and lives pemanently in South Africa does not inspire confidence. This seeems a strange relationship and one which can only filter down throughout the club. It shows a real lack of commitment and yet he expects  the same of Warburton. The statement issued by the club seemed only to strengthen this view with a defense that the blame lay with the management team. The claim that £18m has been invested is also questionable. A club that is rebuilding and still has it financial troubles needs  strong leadership and corporate governance at board level that seems lacking in this situation.
If we are were to compare this to Hearts were Ann Budge has led by example getting in order the business side of the club. The football operations overseen by Craig Levein. Only by having  a strong chairman  and one who gets on with manager can a club  be successful. At all clubs the most successful are those where the board work together with the management. Fans may not allways agree with the board decisons but they can accept them if the see that there is an ambition to suceed.
Time will tell as to who the new manager of Rangers will be but what is clear that relationships between the mangemnet and the board will need to improve if there is any hope of Rangers getting back to the level they once compated at.

Why write this blog?

As this is only my second post I thought I would write as to why I am writing this blog. It is not as if my words will add to the many millions already written about scottish football. It is because I care about our game, like many I grew up watching my team and other  teams and developing an affection to the game . An affection which despite all its flaws I cannot shrug off. Some people have deserted and now watch the EPL  either at the stadiums or on the television, but I am unable to leave. I remember the good times and the bad times of scottish football and live with the constant hope that we will sort ourselves out. So this blog is in essence a form of counselling and of gathering my thoughts on our beloved national game.

Tennents Sixes

The Scottish League mid season break is back. Well at least for the clubs in the top flight. After three weeks rest and a week in the Arabian sun for some clubs it is back to normal for fans of the SPFL Premiership. But already there are calls to extend the mid season break to be at least a month, similar to Germany and Spain. Of course money is the major factor for this enforced break for clubs and fans.  We abandoned the mid season break back in 2003 after club chairman realised that they need the income during these three weeks of inactivity. And yet many fans during this break still took in lower league matches or travelled across continents to watch a meaning less friendly as they coped with withdrawal symptoms. The Scottish League is starting earlier now early July, little time for a break for players. Fans now have to plan there summer holidays around the European schedule or the League Cup .

Of course it was not always been like this, Scottish football had clear distinct seasons. The season finished in May with the show piece of the Scottish Cup final and restarted in August. There were no European qualifiers, straight into the knockout stages for the top flight teams.

But there was a competition which broke up the league and cup matches and provided light relief from the winter elements, the Tennents Sixes. Introduced in 1984 at Coasters Arena in Falkirk it provided a competitive light relief for players and fans. A televised six a side tournament based on the concept of the Major Indoor Soccer league which was booming during the early 1980’s in the US. Of course the Scottish tournament had professional clubs competing, cheered on with drink fuelled supporters provided an electric atmosphere. The inaugural tournament was won by Rangers before moving to Ingliston for a season and then on to SECC where it stayed until the last tournament in 1993 which was won by Partick Thistle. Of course the big teams of the time won there fair share of tournaments but there were some surprises. In fact Nottingham Forest and Manchester City were invited to play which added some Anglo – Scottish rivalry to the tournament . Where the skilled players of the time Davie Cooper, Paul McStay, Joe Miller and John Colquhoun to name a few excelled in the indoor tournament. There was always a few surprises Willie Falconer and Tommy Turner stood out for their clubs Aberdeen and St Johnstone respectively along with others who became unlikely heroes. The tournament was played in an energy filled arena providing exciting tv viewing on a cold sunday in January.This new  experience for fans came at a time when the commercial side of the game in Scotland was still in its infancy. Of course the fixtures became more congested and the clubs became more professional both on and off the park, the financial rewards were in the 11 a side games, There for by 1993, the last tournament, none of the top teams would risk there star players in a indoor tournament for little financial reward. So sixes died of an ironic death; the commercialism of the 11 a side game.

Of course it will never come back for the exact same reasons.  a congested fixture calendar and a lack of prize money, but a whole  new generation of Scottish supporters will never have experienced the excitement and atmosphere of the indoor sixes.  With Futsal on the rise globally and Messi and Ronaldo espousing as to the impact it had on there early careers, not to mention Scotland’s own Futsal import El Bakhtaoui. It does pose a question given where Scottish football is now, can indoor football in either 5 a side or 6 a side form provide a means for developing talent. One thing is for sure many supporters will always remember January fondly for the Tennents Sixes.