So, instead of relying on some kid’s dad to start up a team, let’s have the clubs and schools formalise a relationship and promote the clubs within the school.
“Who do you support, mate?” is a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times in life. The response I give depends on a) where I am and b) how much time I’ve got. My evolution of football support is one that die-hards would pour scorn upon. Flighty, fair-weather supporter. I’d probably agree. Given the nature of this blog, that may be self-evident. However, growing up in a commuter town meant that its football support was also ‘commuting.’ Football had a big place within the community but it could be described as a ‘proxy support’. But, before you tut yourself to sleep, hear me out.
I grew up in Beith, in North Ayrshire (or Cunningham District, as it was then) in the South West of Scotland. I have no particular fondness or nostalgia for the place and spent most of my teenage years yearning to escape. The nearest football club (for men) was Beith Juniors; a semi-professional team full of guys who had normal jobs during the week. The non-league semi-professional teams in Scotland are known as Juniors and it has nothing to do with their age. In order to hear anything about them, in the pre-internet age, you had to either read the local paper or tune into West Sound between 5.35 and 5.50 on a Saturday to hear what the local pundit made of it. However, we made the most of it and they were the local team. I was a loyal fan. I even ‘went out’ with a girl with links to the club to get a free training top!
If you wanted to follow professional football, the closest team geographically was St. Mirren, about 15km away. Might not sound like much but when there are 4 buses a day that take over an hour to travel that 20 minute car journey, it is an awful lot of hassle, especially if you’re a skint schoolboy. A few more (maybe 3) people followed Kilmarnock who, despite being further away, were an Ayrshire team and so people felt they had ties with them. Getting to Kilmarnock without a car was also ridiculously difficult. So, with that in mind, who did most of the locals support? Well, Rangers. Why? Because Beith is a ‘Rangers toon.’ I would guess that about 65% of people were Rangers supporters, 25% Celtic, 5% a mix of Dundee Utd and Aberdeen (who were both fairly successful at the time) and about 5% ‘the rest’. Amongst ‘the rest’, I include the ‘local’ teams. I don’t count Beith Juniors because, according to most, they didn’t count unless Rangers were away.
So, I first got into football around 5 years old. I, briefly, supported Aberdeen because they were the successful team of the day. Then when I turned 7 or 8, I realised most of my friends supported a team called Rangers. I liked football and wanted to be part of the gang so I started supporting Rangers. This lasted until I left ‘the Valley’ and left high school for uni. As a kid growing up, my first game was St Mirren v Hibs (St Mirren had McGarvey and McAvennie playing) at Love Street. I also got taken to Scotland v Brazil in the Rous cup (Mirandinha was Brazil’s striker) and Rangers v Aberdeen. All in the 1980s. From 1990-1995, I followed the Junior game. Then, when I went to uni and discovered the railway, I went to a few ‘senior’ games before deciding to regularly, when I could afford to, watch Morton. So, from 1996 onwards I have always told people I support Morton. What do you imagine the most common reply to this is? Well, that depends. In Scotland, you are either labelled as ‘a glutton for punishment’ or ‘a Hun/Tim without the bus fare.’ The latter of those two comment really annoys me for a number of reasons.
The West of Scotland has long had the ‘if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them’ mindset. Everything has to be partisan and polarised. This is increasingly contradictory when you look at the number of professional clubs per capita. The point I’m making is ‘why do I have to be one of either?’
A quick statistical look at the attendances across Scottish Football illustrates this succinctly.
The above link illustrates that 42.5% of all paying supporters in Scotland’s top league are going to watch Celtic. A similar picture is presented for the Championship with Rangers. And while the club are located in a densely populated part of the country, a large number of these fans are bussed in from surrounding satellite towns like Motherwell, Hamilton and Paisley – towns that have their own football club. So why do so many fans from these towns not support their local team? I’d have loved to have had a local team who played in the Scottish League and Cup and whose results were read out on the Classified Results on Grandstand.
Moving beyond the bigotry, its fumes and the supposedly humourous response of ‘cos the rest of the teams are shite’, there is a plausible explanation. Well, at least in my experience anyway. And the clubs themselves are partly responsible. Indulge me the following scenario:
All state schools in the country are linked to a local football club. The football club sends representatives from the club to the school and takes coaching sessions in the school for those who are interested. The school becomes affiliated with the team, as do its students. The club promotes its youth setup, encouraging young wannabes to have a go, and guarantees everyone a game at the weekend. If this means Kilmarnock have 200 kids at U-10 level, then fine. As long as kids are playing football and become associated with, and build allegiance to, their local team then proper ‘grass roots’ football is implemented. This would mean that every club would have a plethora of young talent to pick from, presence in the community and, from the majority of less gifted players, a large future support base.
To those who say ‘this would be too much work’ or ‘what about clubs that are in close proximity’ then I suggest that problems are being sought before solutions are being tried. As it works now, Football Associations run fee-paying courses or classes during the holidays. For a start, that only reaches the well-off or those whose parents feel that that is money well spent. Think about it as a kid. If you’re told “Bobby X used to be a professional and he’s going to make you dribble round cones and we’ll have a fun game at the end and you’ll get a certificate” then, yeah, it’s something to do. On the other hand, tell the child “Bobby X used to be a professional and he’s a coach for Kilmarnock and he’s going to make you dribble round cones and you’ll have a game of football against a team from Hamilton this Saturday morning” then that’s a lot different. I would have loved that as a kid. Since there was no proper inclusive infrastructure in the game then, I played rugby.
So, instead of relying on some kid’s dad to start up a team, let’s have the clubs and schools formalise a relationship and promote the clubs within the school. Maybe then, 90% of kids from Ayrshire might support their local team instead of Rangers and Celtic and a competitive league might ensue. Maybe then, telling someone which team I support would be less worthy of ridicule amongst the illiterati and I would have a recognised identity. Maybe then, I could tell people in Belgium that I support Morton without them saying “so are you Rangers or Celtic?” or having to say “but my wife’s family are Celtic fans” and it would be enough.