Sunday 13 March 2016

Culture shock and football’s woes

Rangers v Sydney FC

Happier days for Rangers in Sydney in 2010. Photo: Roy Hay.

Culture shock and football’s woes

Roy Hay

It is a severe culture shock to go from a country where the back fourteen pages of the newspaper are filled with Australian Football League material to one where the equivalent amount is given over to Association football. But that’s what happens when you arrive in the United Kingdom. It is a relief not to have to worry about the Cats’ form or the latest maunderings of Andrew Demetriou but the replacements include the English ejection from the European championships, on penalties, of course, despite hours of practice under new manager Roy Hodgson and the demise of Glasgow Rangers, half of the Old Firm and an institution in the Scottish game since the late nineteenth century.

The London Olympic Games organising committee are beginning to panic as they have only sold about 80,000 of 250,000 available seats at Hampden Park in Glasgow where the tournament will kick off two days before the opening ceremony on the 15th of July. The Scots famed love of football does not overcome an inherent prejudice against all things English on and off the field and the fact that at the Olympics the team is Great Britain, not the four home countries as separate entities as at World Cups and European championships. For once all the other activities seem to be close to being sold out, if the tales one hears about the impossibility of gaining tickets are true, while football languishes, at least in Scotland. Historically football has always had the highest aggregate attendance at Olympic Games, which is why the International Olympic Committee tolerates an Under-23 competition with four overage players, rather than the cream of the world’s performers as in most other sports. FIFA insists on this restriction fearing competition with its own quadrennial World Cup.

The European championships proceed without the English and with the best four countries in the semi-finals—Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal. There was enormous hysteria here about the extent of potential racism and hooliganism at the Euros prior to the tournament and though there were some nasty cases, for once it was not the English who were at the centre of most of them. I can still remember the palpable sense of relief when the English bowed out of the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and their wilder fans were no longer a source of thinly disguised menace. On the field the English were organised but uncreative. Wayne Rooney got a short range goal on his first appearance but ran out of puff against the Italians, who gave a master class in everything but goalscoring, prior to the penalty shootout. So the long wait for a major trophy continues for the English. One bright spot is that next year when the Football Association celebrates its 150th anniversary the England versus Scotland match, the oldest football international, will take place once again. A fixture in the calendar from 1872 to 1989, there have been brief revivals and meetings in European championships, but it will be interesting to see whether the Scots can give a reasonable account of themselves because their domestic game is in turmoil.

Glasgow Rangers and its previous directors face possible criminal charges as well as demands by the UK tax office for huge sums of unpaid tax and the operation of tax avoidance schemes. Players, who took a pay cut when the club went into administration, are free to leave, while the Scottish Football Association has put a ban on the signing of new players. UEFA has also eliminated them from their competitions. Now the Scottish Premier League clubs are about to vote on the entry of a new entity under the Rangers banner to next season’s competition. The word is that they will reject the application to join the league. The old phrase about being careful what you wish for applies and the television contract, if one can be obtained, is likely to be substantially less lucrative without Rangers.

So things are not all that happy in the world game in this part of the world at the moment, but I have only been on the ground for 36 hours so it is perhaps a bit early to be sounding such a gloomy note. Ayr United were relegated last season to the Second Division of the Scottish League, but hope springs that this August they can start a successful campaign and win promotion.

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