Sunday 16 June 2013

The case for summer football

There are two main reasons why Scotland needs to switch to summer football - one is strategic, the other tactical.

More players, more competition, better skills

Scottish football is in severe decline, measured by almost any indicator you choose, and over a long period of time.  The performances and results of the national team, the performances and results of the clubs representing us in European competition, the development and exporting of young talent, the financial health of our clubs, and many other factors, all bear testament to decades of decline. The players of today may be fitter, more athletic, more tactical aware, and perhaps even have greater technique, but who doesn't yearn for the ball skills of a Jim Baxter, a Jimmy Johnstone, or even a Kenny Dalglish or Graeme Souness? To say nothing of the successes of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

The key to breaking this spiral of decline is to attract more young talent into the sport - the more good players we have, at every level, the greater our chances of developing the top players we need. Winter football is one of the main barriers to attracting and retaining that talent. Young people today don't have the opportunities to play and learn skills in street football, and new facilities have not been built fast enough. But it's the rain, the sleet, the wind, the cold and the mud that deters the new generations.

And why? Other than the fact that it's always been that way, I haven't heard any argument for playing the game in the least clement weather conditions. It's not as if Scotland has a popular alternative summer sport. We all know fans enjoy attending in better weather, the game looks better (other than to thrawn aficionados of the muddy slide tackle), and most importantly, the conditions are right to practise and repeat ball skills. Playing in the summer is not just desirable, but essential to encouraging more players, identifying and promoting the best players, and giving them the conditions to improve their skills.  That's the strategic reason.

More TV money

The tactical reason is that, for the moment at least, none of the bigger leagues in Europe (Spain, Italy, France, Germany and England) plays in the summer. That creates a gap in the TV schedules, and a chance to secure prime time slots and higher payments, boosting the finances of the game. Scotland could steal a march on these competitor leagues by acting swiftly and decisively. Or it may already be too late, with yesterday's Guardian reporting that Rupert Murdoch may be set to fund summer contests among some of the world's leading clubs - none of which is likely to come from Scotland.

The football community, not least its administrators, is notoriously cautious, conservative, and wary of innovation. On this issue, such a characteristic may be the barrier to progress. Summer football is not some sort of quirky eccentric idea - it is the natural solution to one of the biggest problems in the game. It needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency.

1 comment:

  1. The League of Ireland switched to summer football some time ago and while I have not read any analysis of how successful this has been, I don't detect any clamour to return to the traditional schedule. I'm going to Limerick at the end of the month to see them play on what hopefully will be a beautiful saturday summer evening and will report back on my impressions.