A little over nine weeks have passed since Celtic triumphantly secured the historical Treble Treble at Hampden park on 25 May. Glasgow City Council have long since cleaned away the celebratory empties, and the hangovers may have just about cleared.
The last nine weeks have witnessed football fans searching to fill the void with other summer sports. The women’s World Cup kicked off the regular footballing post-season to encouraging crowds, but with much controversy around VAR and a deserved win for Team USA. The cricket World Cup culminated in a “Super Over” where England came out on top in a dramatic day of sport. Wimbledon served up its customary fortnight of action, back hands and power strokes, and the Tour de France has just been won by a Colombian for the first time and its youngest competitor since World War II.
As my wife will attest, I am a bit of a sport addict, so I put on my best tourist hat and t-shirt and ventured down to London to take in the ‘Biggest Rivalry in Baseball’ as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees slugged it out for two days at the home of West Ham United in the ‘London Series’.
The old Olympic Stadium looked fabulous shining in the hot summer sun. The less said about the view from the very back of the stadium the better, at over £60 per ticket you’d expect a lot more for your cash. Day one of the series honestly seemed to be populated by corporate ticket holders more interested in inflated merchandise stalls and crazily-priced food and drink. I was fortunate enough to get better seats for day two, still at the same price and the fans on the second day seemed a little more focused on the ball game. As a weekend of sport, I thoroughly enjoyed it and the interaction with visiting fans is always a great experience, trading stories and drinks into the small hours.
My son attends every Celtic game I go to, but he has taken a shine to Liverpool over the last three or four years. The extensive accessibility of EPL football means he can watch highlights on a Saturday night, Sunday morning and maybe even on the IPlayer if it takes his fancy. So, when the European Champions announced a match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, I promised to take him along to watch the encounter against Napoli. In truth, the trip to the capital was a great wee change of scenery and again a chance to mix with fans from Liverpool and beyond. As a sell-out crowd made their way to the stadium, the merch sellers were making a roaring trade in the half & half scarf market.
The match itself was a typical pre-season friendly with Napoli exploiting the stand-offish Liverpool midfield. The calm possession in defence when under pressure and the passing range from the Napoli midfield were the highlights of the day. Less so were the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” of a crowd happy to applaud a Napoli goal while trying to keep hold of their YNWA hat, scarf, t-shirt, poster and souvenir cup. At that point I realised I had become a football tourist, is it a low or high? I just don’t know.
Footballing authorities have being toying with the idea of playing a regular season match outside the ruling body’s jurisdiction and we got a sneak peek of this when the 2nd leg of the Copa Libertadores was played in Madrid last year. The sell-out crowd at Murrayfield would no doubt turn up again in the same numbers and probably pay more for a match that actually meant something in terms of league positions. The summer schedule for European teams is turning into a world tour – a World Club Cup – with the club and organisers winning every time.
The associations that run Scottish football need to rekindle its own love of the game. Football fans across the country turned their back on competitive football to watch a friendly at the home of Scottish rugby. How does this happen in a country that holds the historic attendance records for domestic, international and UEFA matches?
With European qualifying taking part in the early weeks of July, Scottish teams can no longer afford to play or even pay for big glamour friendlies against the European elite. Our governing bodies and club owners need to work together to find a way to stop selling our game short, and to start getting more investment in the beautiful game here before Scottish football is left behind financially forever.
Thankfully for the football fanatics and the ones who like to watch the product here in Scotland, we can stop shuffling our Adidas Sambas and begin to look forward to another season of SPFL action. The usual suspects will be out in front in the betting stakes for top spot and teams all over Scotland will be looking to take the scalp of Celtic to stop the juggernaut from Glasgow’s east end. I, for one, can’t wait for it to unfold.
Martin DonaldsonListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast