I am prompted to write this post after a quick reading of a book with the above title, though without the question mark. It is subtitled, What we need to do next. The book is written by Paul Goodwin and was published in 2012. It purports to look at some of the biggest issues in the sport and to provide some answers. I am not sure that it does either.
In the first place it is a very insular look at the game. Goodwin has consulted a fair number of ex players and managers, but all are Scots who have spent all or nearly all of their career in Scotland. There is an almost total absence of international comparisons. Which is badly limits much of the book. There is not shortage of websites full of information about the game in Europe, but Goodwin seems to have ignored them all.
The books looks at various “issues”, without it seems to me, establishing just why these “issues” are in fact significant. I will not deal with all of them, but will focus on two of these “issues”.
The first is attendances. Goodwin is clearly of the opinion that the number of people going to football grounds is too low. He makes some suggestions as to how more people can be attracted, but tellingly, says very little about why the numbers are so low. There is no doubt that attendance at football matches has declined. But is has been in decline for a very long time, and most crucially of all, it has been in decline just about everywhere. Germany is the only place in Europe where attendances have been on a consistent rise. And even there, there was a decline last season. There will be all kinds of reasons for this long term decline, but as it has affected everyone, except Germany, there may not be any specific Scottish reasons behind the decline in Scotland. Certainly Goodwin makes no attempt to find any.
A quick survey of other leagues in Europe shows that average attendances for the Scottish Premier League are among the highest for comparable countries. By comparable I mean countries with a similar or not too dissimilar population. For example, according to the European Football Statistics website, Scotland comes out with the second highest average attendances among her peer group of countries. Only Switzerland scored higher, with an average of 12,022. The figure for Scotland was 10, 020. The data relates to 2012 and 2012/13. The full table can be accessed here. Even Portugal had a lower average than Scotland – 9,80. While the Czech Republic, even with a population double the size of Scotland, could only muster an average attendance of 4,798.
For a more detailed comparison I looked at the attendances at the top leagues in Scandinavia – Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The figures come from another very useful website, football economy, which you can access here. The data refers to season 207/08 as that was the latest season for which they provided comparable data for Scotland. This shows that attendances in Scotland come out on top in just about every category. With two such well supported clubs as Celtic and Rangers, it was only to be expected that these two clubs had the highest average attendances for that season. However, even when you extend the data to look at the top six clubs in each country, Scotland still comes out on top. The third, fourth and fifth placed clubs in Scotland all had higher average attendances than their respective rivals in Scandinavia. For the record the clubs were Hearts, Aberdeen and Hibs. It was only we reached the sixth placed club on the list, Dundee United, that Scotland failed to occupy top spot, coming in fourth.
Thus I would contend that Paul Goodwin has failed to provide convincing evidence that there is a specific Scottish problem with regard to falling attendances. Some analysis from Switzerland might have been useful, but there was none. The focus on attendances is also a bit misplaced. The starting point for just about all commentators is that more people should go to football matches. This is usually linked to a harking back to the glory days of the fifties and sixties or even earlier. Not a good way to start an analysis. There is no such thing as should in any walk of life. All the evidence suggests that our clubs attract more people to watch them than nearly all their rivals in Europe. Perhaps they could attract more, but perhaps not. Without a wider and deeper analysis than this book provides, there is no way of knowing.
The other big “issue” for Paul Goodwin is summer football. He makes quite a big play for this change. But again, without any real analysis. He mentions that the Scandinavian countries play in the summer and their clubs and national team do better than Scotland. However, even this claim is untrue. For a start, Denmark does not have summer football. They do have a long winter break, but that is not the same thing. And while the national teams are regularly more successful than Scotland, this may have more to do with their best players playing in the top leagues in Europe, than with summer football. And just for the record, Celtic has a higher UEFA co-efficient than any Scandinavian club.
When you look at the countries that play football in the summer, you see straight away, that they do so for the simple reason that most of the country is covered in snow and often frozen over. The countries that do play in summer, such as Sweden, Finland, Russia etc, do so out of necessity, not out of choice. I am not aware of any country that has willingly chosen to move from a winter to a summer season. There is also the small matter of comparisons with other sports. Rugby Union for example, is still played over our winter, without any call to move to summer. If rugby can survive and prosper in winter conditions, then it is hard to see why football cannot.