Time for a whole new ball game

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by Robert Cassells

So, they think it’s all over. The long campaign has come to an end at last with winners and losers, voices raised in acclamation and recrimination, and even a few tears. History was made and some folk got drunk.

Yep, the football season has come to a close.

Well, the Scottish Football League has anyway. The other lot are still going on, of course. No outcome there for a few days yet. Hard to get too excited, though – it’ll be Tweedledee or Tweedledum, as always. It’s not too hard to draw comparisons between the beautiful game and what we’ve all just experienced in the election campaign. Talk about change has been in the air for some time in both worlds, proposals for making things fairer it’s hoped, more representative. But not everyone’s up for it. Some folk like things the way they are. Safer that way, they reckon. Less risk.

The fix is in, of course. The current arrangements benefit Tweedledum and Tweedledee just fine. They’re doing very well out of it. Money’s going down right across the board, but they’re still getting the lion’s share. The rest are just holding on and no more. So we’ll keep on keeping on. What can you do?

Sorry? What am I havering on about, football or politics? You decide.

My problem is that increasingly I seem to live somewhere where these two worlds collide, and I’m finding it harder and harder to tell them apart. Think about it – a place where the Top League is dominated by the Big Two who are constantly at each other’s throats, while in the Lower Division a scrawny Thistle struggles to survive. Sound familiar?

And yet change is coming to both these addresses, whether they like it or not. We live in a world where a very real global economic crisis is having an increasing impact on us all. Money is definitely tight and the repercussions of this are affecting everyone, large and small.

In the world of football, we really need to find a structure which allows the smaller clubs to assert themselves if they’re even to survive. There’s no point in the Big Boys looking down on their smaller neighbours and thinking they can do without them, that as long as they can squeeze by, to hell with the rest.

The fact that is too often overlooked in our overly-competitive world, is that we all need each other. John Donne called it right – no man is an island, we’re all part of the main. The same is true of football clubs. No-one survives on their own. Even Tweedledum and Tweedledee would find playing with themselves boring after a while, if you know what I mean.

It’s the relationship between clubs that creates the dynamic that keeps things going. Not just the competition – although, clearly, there is that – but the feeding from each other in terms of skills development, ideas and talents. It’s a big world that we’re all part of and all benefiting from.

Of course, to achieve these benefits, clubs have to assert themselves, to become that which they most wish to represent – themselves. It’s the paradox of the game: to stand together, you have to stand apart.

It is one of the great ironies, I think, that the most pugnacious exponent of global capitalism, the United States of America, has, within its professional sports organisations, the most socialist of arrangements – the player drafts. Each season, the most talented young players are made available to those teams most in need of their skills – from each according to their means, to each according to their needs.

It is all, of course, arranged to achieve the great prize of capitalism – competition. And yet, there is an awareness within the process that we are all at our best in a fair, diverse and, therefore, interesting, world. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that the US of A should have embraced the scheme so enthusiastically, given it’s a country which is very sensitive to the rights of individual states within a greater union.

(It might be hoped that the US would embrace diversity outwith its borders with equal enthusiasm, but that’s perhaps for another article.)

It should be noted that the key ideas within the world of American sports – independence, respect and competition – are ideas we should seek to express in the world of Scottish football. Let’s respect that which expresses the independence and individuality of each club and ensures a fair competition between them, to the benefit of all.

And then maybe we could also focus our attention on how these ideas might just play out in the wider world too. Independence. Respect. Competition. Relevant perhaps in that other world?

A world where there are now more than just the glimmerings of something better ahead. A sense that, if we make the right decisions now, we might just achieve what we want for the future – a fairer, more exciting place where skills and strengths are encouraged and grown, where the struggle is one of equals and where the bright, shiny prizes become accessible to all; a world where that relationship between equals guarantees the possibility of a better world for everyone.

And if we could also just guarantee the chance of Thistle winning the cup as well, I’d be really chuffed.