I’ve a confession to make: I’ve never really been that into football.
My one and only memory of the TV being on in our house was one sunny afternoon when my dad was sitting inside watching a game and allowed me to sit with him ‘if I wanted to’. I think I lasted five minutes before getting bored and going outside to play in the garden. My dad enjoyed football and had played for Celtic juniors in his youth (or so the story goes) and my granda had died of a heart attack on the stands at Parkheid (and was given the Last Rites on the basis that he was probably a Catholic – he wasn’t, he was an atheist) so I feel I ought to have football in my blood. I certainly tried to play the game often enough but I have two left feet and am right footed, so my ability lags somewhere behind my enthusiasm, which is not very high to begin with. But I enjoy the odd kick about now and then and have surprised myself by watching most games in this World Cup.
Part of my disengagement with football was also due to growing up in New Zealand where soccer was the also-ran and rugby was the game everyone talked about. I am no better at rugby than I am at football as it happens (hockey is the team sport where I have any modicum of ability), but let me tell you, as a Scot and New Zealander, how wonderful it is to have a winning side to support in the All Blacks! Though I had a horrible day a few years back when England were playing Australia and I couldn’t bring myself to support anyone…
I am on my way to becoming a sport and exercise scientist and it has made me re-evaluate the place of sport in a society (my interest is far more on the general health and well-being of the population than it is on the performance at the elite end of sport) and has made me realise how important the national game can be to a country. Football has many downsides in Scotland (links to sectarianism being the most obvious but the lack of proper attention given to women’s place in the game is the main one that needs tackling, in my view) but it can bring huge benefits too. Yesterday I read – in passing – some comments in Twitter that suggested that should Scotland vote No in September that the Scotland football team (along with the Welsh and Northern Irish teams) should be disbanded and for ever more Team Great Britain should represent all the Home Nations. I doubt that idea would gain much traction but the implications that a Yes or No vote could have on Scottish football and, by extension, Scottish society, are significant so this article from Bella Caledonia is interesting reading.
I would like to add another point to it though; if a country with as small a population as New Zealand’s (four million or so now but three million when I lived there in the 1980s) can produce top class rugby, decade after decade, with a fraction of the money that gets spent on football in Scotland, never mind the UK as a whole, there is something seriously wrong about our focus within Scottish football and sport in general.