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The Rise of Football Democracy

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[media-credit name=”Pic: Patrick McGuire” align=”alignnone” width=”590″][/media-credit]
By the end of June, not only had everything including the kitchen sink been thrown out the window in an attempt to maintain the status quo, but Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster themselves seemed poised to jump head-first into the line of fire. Inside mission control Hampden Park, a top-down operation to save Scottish football with the powers of the SFA, including those not quite inside the rulebook, was well underway.

Regan himself proclaimed: “all I’ve ever done has been for the good of the game in Scotland”. Perched atop the pyramid of Scottish football. After all, he tells the fans, it was for their own good.

They didn’t see it that way. On the 13th of July, the message was finally relayed loud and clear to the football authorities – the fans are Scottish football – as Rangers were sent to the bottom of the league structure. Regan spoke of respecting the wishes of the clubs, but without unrelenting pressure from fan groups at matches and elsewhere, clubs may have been tempted to follow along in the charade.

Yet, as true today as when it was first said, the customer is always right. Fans wanted a game founded on the principles of fair play. Seemingly to the surprise of everyone involved, that’s exactly what they got.

For perhaps the first time in the history of the game on our shores the reigns of power were pulled from the bottom. Over the past 14 years, attendees at Scottish football matches have been told that rising ticket prices, early kick-offs and subscription TV deals have been for their own good. When told to accept that cheating would go unpunished, the final straw had been broken. The message was simple – this is our game, we can take our ball and go home.

[media-credit name=”© SPL” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]In the aftermath of these events, a new dawn is breaking for the SFA, the SPL and the SFL. The smoke-filled rooms of SPL board meetings where it was once discussed how best to leverage the Old Firm machine are no more. Newsrooms and radio shows are cutting staff formerly dedicated to exclusively discussing the merits of Celtic versus Rangers. In the Glasgow Derby’s place has been left a void which, at long last, innovation in our game must fill.

Last week, from an organisation who not but a month ago fought tooth-and-nail to preserve a hundred-plus year old moneyspinner, a partnership with YouTube was announced. In the first agreement of its kind, SPL fans around the world will be able to watch high quality extended highlights of all games less than 24 hours after they occur.

The old guard – comprised of Sunday morning newspapers and Sunday night broadcasts – have been left stunned by the move. With the aid of social networking fans now weigh in on their own, posting their opinions of matches as YouTube comments, on the league’s Facebook account and on their supporters’ forums.

No longer need anyone sit through 90 minutes chosen by an Old Firm-minded producer for a measly five on their own club, nor pick up a newspaper for the quarter-page on their cup campaign. Today, fans choose to discuss what they like, when they like. In a league where the gap between two teams and the rest has been exacerbated by the spectacle that surrounds them, the latest developments come as a breath of fresh air.

The ruins of what once was known as Scottish football must be rebuilt from the ground up with the fans as the architects. Rebuilding in their image has the possibility to lead to a fair, competitive and prosperous league. When put like that, one might wonder why it has never been attempted before.

Yet none of this need to be to the detriment of any club, least of all Celtic and Rangers. Sharing the proceeds of Scottish football more evenly may hurt in the short-term, but should the end product be that the game as a whole has grown then the gap can be refilled.

This season, should Celtic qualify for the Champions League, they will still increase their revenue multiple times over the previous, along with all other SPL clubs also increase their own through gate receipts. Rangers, while in a different situation, have returned to profitability and a sound financial footing that could see the club re-emerge debt free. It has become increasingly clear that we are all in this together, and with campaigns to get along and support local teams in the lower divisions it the benefits may be realised.

But are the changes enough? While the balance of power may have shifted in favour of the fans, the league structure remains largely the same.

Fan-favoured options like league reconstruction, including play-offs and a winter break or safe standing arrangements seem to have been put on the back burner. As a once in a generation opportunity beckons, it’s up to supporters to make their voices heard again.

If the fans aren’t listened to, then the football authorities must at least listen to Henry McLeish, who they themselves paid to probe such ideas only last December. After all, if it was a good idea then, and a good idea during the Rangers saga, then why not now?

The floodgates have been opened for fans to take up the mantle and provide proportional representation in their game. It’s up to them to grasp it, and the indications are that they will.

With Peterhead opening SFL3 in fine fashion, Ross County securing a fine result on their SPL debut, a full-house at Ibrox to watch Rangers take on East Fife and Celtic’s Champions League campaign being shown live around the world in over eight countries it’s hard to think of a better start to a Scottish league season, from top to bottom. Armageddon couldn’t have come sooner.

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