Is the ba’ burst?

IT is amazing what can be disguised by the metaphorical walking up to the knees in blood or peering through the smoke of flares cast on to a knobbly, rain-sodden football ground.

The behaviour of Rangers and Celtic fans have dominated the agenda as Scottish football moves into a 2016 that will present challenges. Events at Stranraer and Ibrox have given ample evidence for football’s capacity to be loud, obnoxious and boorish. Scottish football, however, is not in rude health.

This correspondent is increasingly bemused at the oft-proclaimed narrative that the national team is on the rise. The evidence seems to point to a different verdict. The team is ageing with few youngsters presenting a conclusive case for inclusion. The World Cup qualification campaign also seems to present an insuperable obstacle.

In club football, Scotland has dwindled from a nation that supplied finalists in major tournaments (Dundee United, Aberdeen, Rangers, Celtic) to providing fodder for the preliminaries for the main event. The best side in Scotland failed to make it out of the group stages of the Europa League. The second best side in Scotland failed to make it into Europe’s decidedly second-rate tournament.

To summarise, the ba’ is on the slates in both club and national terms. You could be forgiven for believing this blog is brought to you on behalf of the Rev IM Jolly.

But is there hope of redemption? There is the merest glimmer of promise in the next generation of youngsters. There is substantial hope in the fact that Scots still turn out in extraordinary numbers to watch the national game. There is a sustaining passion that should not be confused with the noise of obscene chanting. There is a will among good men and women to make the game better, even to rescue it from what could be a fatal decline.

The blunt fact is that Scotland must produce better players and keep them in the domestic game for longer. The Scottish Football Association is working on the former but it needs help. It is surely time for the Scottish Government to address the issue by increasing the number and quality of indoor facilities and by making physical education a plank of every school curriculum. Health, education and sport form the spine of any modern nation. This should be tackled as a matter of priority.

The introduction of youngsters to the senior game is problematical but I believe that major clubs should be able to place reserve teams, with a quorum of under 21s in the SPFL. There would thus be a pathway to the top that crosses the chasm between under-age football and the premier league.

These are but two, broad theories. But Scottish fitba’ needs action. And quickly.

BY Hugh MacDonald

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