Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – The Dogma of Tradition

In a previous life, I fancied myself as a bit of a fan activist and decided to dip my toe into those murky waters of ideals and reality. I decided that TV was the enemy of football purists and it was my goal to bring the broadcasters down. The new (old) football utopia would involve us all kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday, whilst clubs would reduce ticket prices for all.

So, off I went, stumbling up the steps of Hampden Park. I met the SPFL in their boardroom with it’s brightly coloured chairs and badges of all 42 league clubs peering like ship portholes from the wall.

I sat there waiting on those I was going to convince, sipping the free Irn Bru and eating shortbread, whilst firmly believing that I was going to bring about change, and it would all be so simple.

Ah, the innocence of an ideological fool.

After an hour of being told about simple economics and being asked to collect a copy of Economics for Dummies from my local WH Smith, I left Hampden, admiring the big picture of Paul McStay in his Italia ’90 tracksuit and feeling like Paddy Roberts when he missed that open goal.

Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind with PROFESSOR PHIL SCRATON here:

The biggest thing that I learned was that those in the boardroom with me, who were genuinely nice, didn’t have any power whatsoever. It’s the clubs who hold all the power.

I also learned that listening and learning – not shouting about what you thought was correct – was a better way to understand situations that are not always black and white. You always have to shape to the facts and not your vision. There is always a middle ground that you need to stand on.

I still take an interest, though, and I do fear for the future of the Scottish game as we seem stuck in the dogma of tradition and fear of the flexibility of the future.

I love tradition. I write about and romanticise about it almost daily. But all things must pass and all things change and we need to look for the beauty in the game in other places and not just in nostalgia.

The 3pm kick-off being held up as the optimum time for football is only a recent thing in football terms. It only became a thing in the late fifties, as the introduction of floodlights allowed games to kick-off and finish before the autumn darkness. This lasted until the early nineties, so all in thirty years of 3pms and three generations to which that holds true.

We are now more than twenty years since it was the only kick-off time in town. For more than half of my football-watching life, we have had weekend kick-off times that weren’t 3pm. I’ve moaned about it but in truth I’ve learned to live with it.

Routines change and football has been a chameleon all its days. There is good and bad points. Friday night football is great, Sunday morning hangover football is viewed through a hazy sickness and the games usually mimic that feeling.

In years gone by, in certain regions, games kicked off at times when the local industries’ Saturday shifts finished; the reason midweek games are played on a Wednesday was that the shops used to close half-day and you also have Tranmere and Stockport playing on a Friday night so not to clash with games in Liverpool and Manchester.

Any decision ever made by a football club has been about money. The above were moves to increase gate receipts. And why shouldn’t they? Football has always been flexible in its chase of the punter pound and now is the time to be more flexible.

Clubs should be looking to maximise attendances. That should be their first, last and only consideration. This is the only thing that they can control. They can control the pricing. They can control / change the league rules, to allow greater flexibility to the scheduling of fixtures.

One thing that annoys me is that I have been to numerous conferences and listened to numerous speakers bemoaning the amount of supporters buses that leave their villages and towns to travel to Glasgow without giving a viable alternative to stop that happening.

Because they can’t stop it happening. It will always happen and the change in focus should be looking at a percentage of those who travel and being an attractive alternative to them on occasions.

I’m one who gets on a supporters bus and travels, leaving my local team behind. (I wrote about it here). I’m one who sees a complete lack of proactive promotion in my area to attract me and others along to the clubs in my local area. There is an acceptance that we won’t attend anyway so why bother.

I was astounded to find that a few years back my daughter’s school were getting free tickets to a club 10 miles away rather than a club 1 mile away!

They have a devil but it is a devil in disguise.

Again, going back to my daughter’s school, my daughter ‘supports’ – a term I use very loosely – Chelsea and Barcelona. She has no interest in Celtic whatsoever after Guidetti and Samaras left. She also likes George Ezra, so yeah, I’m failing as a parent.

The reason for Chelsea? Well… it’s the most popular team at her school. A look round the school playground sees Madrid, Man United, Liverpool and Barcelona school bags. The sound of the kids playing football is one of Hazard, Sanchez and Messi.

Ok, I know that when we were younger we all had foreign kits but, in those days – the days of only four TV channels – these ‘other’ clubs were largely unknown; pictures seen only in Shoot! magazine. You didn’t know how the players ran, what the goals they scored looked like or how big Jan Molby actually was.

I remember vividly the day Football Italia started on Channel Four. This was a weekly porthole to the glamour of European football that you usually only saw every couple years at international tournaments or when your team was beaten in Europe by speedy players who seemed so much better than the ones you were watching every other week.

The kids today know everything. The glamour of the King’s Road, the Stretford End or the Nou Camp are there every waking second of every waking day. They follow players, not clubs; they are interchangeable.

Scottish football is competing now in a crowded marketplace. It’s a market so busy that the age-old taking your children to a game is no longer a guarantee of lifelong devotion, love and heartbreak. It doesn’t mean that we should give up and it kinda feels like we have.

We say, and quite rightly, that our attendance figures per head of the population are one of the highest in Europe. It is something to be proud of, but there is always room for improvement and you can always do more.

More games not at 3pm on Saturdays is one of them. Don’t clash with something you can’t beat and don’t bemoan historical allegiances, but instead see how you can work with them to benefit you.

But what do I know? I never bought that Economics For Dummies. I’m about to force my daughter to listen to Oasis for the next four weeks and see if she would go and watch women’s football.

Kevin Graham

Watch Sophie Millar’s stunning rendition of ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly’:

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