Monday, July 26, 2010

Scotland. If you are Celtic fan – great season again. If you are not – boring sameness and growing trouble. Same champions since 1966 – 9th consecutive title. A double this year, winning the Scottish FA Cup and also finalists for the Scottish League Cup. Celtic too great or the rest of the league mediocre? Greatness was no longer in the books – Scottish football was traditionally dominated by two clubs, Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. Now it was reduced to one… Most of the clubs were small and by 1974 suffered financially – attendance was low, but expenses grew. So far clubs depended mostly on the gates. Impoverished clubs meant urgent sales of whatever player of talent. Scottish exodus to English clubs was nothing new, but now it was practically the only way of survival for both clubs and players. Ever shorter on talent, the Scottish League had no attraction for the players and it was only natural: there was no money. There were no strong opponents either, so a talented player actually to show his talent and improve it, and acquire stardom. Even Celtic and Rangers, the only wealthy clubs, were not able to keep talent at home. Old, crumbling stadiums were increasingly unfit neither for the requirements of modern football, nor for prevention of the new and growing phenomena: fans violence. Not long ago – only in 1972 – Rangers fans fought with the Spanish Police after the Cup Winners Cup final. Never shrinking violets, the fans of Celtic and Rangers only increased the ugliness of their Catholic vs Protestant feud. New or least repaired facilities were badly needed, but there was no money. And by 1973 it was only Celtic-Rangers derby attracting big crowds. The big clubs were increasingly unhappy visiting the likes of East Fife – that is, the most of the 18-team league. It was waste of time, effort, and money. The national team fared much better, but it was also alarming sign: Scottish-based players were fewer and fewer, the stars came from English clubs. Club football, pressured by the financial changes, set on survival – and soon, in 1975, major reorganization was introduced, reducing the League to 10 clubs. It was the fate of other European leagues too (Austria, Switzerland), facing the same sad problems: decreasing revenues, rapidly increasing costs, and shrinking audience. Bankruptcies, last minute mergers… the future was not bright for smaller leagues. At the end, weak leagues crippled big clubs as well – much evident in Scotland. Celtic’s domestic monopoly did not translate into European success, just the opposite. Scottish football was the very opposite to what ‘wisdom’ tells – if England had great clubs, exciting league, and weak national team, Scotland had weak clubs, boring league, and successful national team.
Partly because it was same-same Celtic on top, and partly for the sake of old football, on the brink of extinction, no champions and Cup winners here… Hibernian instead.
The Edinburgh club is very old indeed – founded in 1875! In a way, Edinburgh’s version of the same great religious divide of Celtic-Rangers ill fame: Hibernian was established by Irish Catholics. Scottish Protestants rooted for Hearts of Midlothian. Edinburgh’s derby is a mirror image of Glasgow’s, but on much smaller scale – Edinburgh clubs, although having occasional success, were never really strong force. The early 70s were good years for Hibernian, which experienced something close to revival. They were no good to win anything, of course, but were constantly among the top clubs. ‘The top’ tier is something relative – to finish in the top 5 in 18-team league is strong… to be 4th in 10-club league is actually mid-table… so reduced league increased the suffering of smaller clubs. Relegation zone was constantly on the minds… But it was still big league and Hibernian finished second. One last bow to the small fellows:
I am not sure of the names and there may be some mistakes…
Top, left to right: Smith, Spalding, McArthur, Bremner, O’Rourke.
Middle: Turnbull – manager, trainer, Blackley, McGregor, Higgins, Schaelder, Black, trainer, trainer.
Bottom: Edwards, McKenzie, Harper, Brownley, Goddon, Cropley, Duncan, trainer.
No big names, but some club’s legends, including the manager Turnbull – Smith, McArthur, Bremner, Blackley. As it is, good for second place and for a decline after 1975. Good old days… and a crazy dream today.