Norrie Hansen examines the relationship between funding and success (or not) on the pitch.
It was recently suggested to me that government funding in Scottish football should be cut, due to the fact that recent performances at international and club level have been sub-standard at best. Fiona Hay, lecturer of sports at the University of the West of Scotland believes that instead of focusing on a sport that the country isn’t good at, the Minister for Sport in Scotland should be investing in sports that the nation excels in, including table tennis and curling.
Whilst it’s no secret that Scottish football doesn’t boast a catalogue of accomplishments, we aren’t without our historical successes both internationally and domestically. Of the 19 World Cup tournaments that have taken place, Scotland have officially qualified on nine occasions. In 1967, Celtic became the first Scottish – and British – team to win the European Cup. Since then, there have been European tournament victories for Rangers and Aberdeen. The country has also been the breeding ground for some of the most successful football managers the world has ever seen, including Matt Busby, Jock Stein and Alex Ferguson.
Unfortunately, as financial investment in football has grown significantly in other countries, we seem to have fallen by the wayside. Hay’s point that more investment is needed in sport that we’re good at is a valid one, however to suggest that funding cuts be implemented in football is shortsighted.
Football is a business. It remains the most popular global sport there is and it pays to be part of it. There is no other sport in the world that can act as a positive advert for the country in the same manner that football does, which is exactly why so much money is being pumped into the game. The English F.A invest £60 million each year into national football, with £38 million set aside for grass roots. They have also ploughed £630 million into the creation and improvement of football facilities. The Dutch Football Federation (KNVB) enjoys investment of £862 million each year and has a strong ethos on youth development.
Compare those figures with that of the SFA and the differences are startling. Reports suggest that only £80 million has been invested in Scottish football over the last 15 years. Of that pittance-worth, £20 million has gone to grass roots and youth programs. In 2000, £10 million was invested by SportScotland to establish football academies, in a bid to grow a crop of exceptionally talented young players. In 2004, funding was withdrawn and studies indicate that only three academies were created – at Rangers, Hearts and the Highland Academy.
The problem doesn’t stem within over-investment in Scottish football. The reality is that there simply isn’t enough money going towards the national game. Prior to government initiatives in other countries that have allowed for significant investment in football, Scotland could compete at the top level - albeit with limited success. It’s not a coincidence that, since 1998, we’ve failed to qualify for any major tournaments. Nor is it coincidental that domestic teams in Scotland have embarrassed the nation at European level, with the exception of two UEFA Cup final appearances from The Old Firm.
There remains an argument amongst government officials within the SFA that, as a small nation, we can't live beyond our means on a global scale. However, there are other small countries that excel in international competitions, such as Uruguay. The South American nation harbours less than 4 million residents - some 1.5 million less than Scotland - and holds numerous accolades that rain all over any Scottish footballing parade. To date, Uruguay are the most successful team in Copa America history, notching up an impressive 15 titles. They have also won the World Cup on two separate occasions, scalping their Latin rivals Argentina (1930) and Brazil (1950). Perhaps more impressively, the financial investment in Uruguay over the last 5 years has not exceeded £1 million. As a so-called small nation, Uruguay have almost certainly not lived beyond their footballing means, yet have consistently exceeded expectations.
It begs the question: what are the Uruguayans doing that Scotland aren't?
Cultural attitudes and dietary behaviours aside, the primary difference can be found in the football strategies of both nations. While Scotland continue their 'chop-and-change' approach to budgets, Uruguay maintain an effective 3-point plan, known simply as The Goal Projects.
This is an initiative that was originally funded by FIFA, when Sepp Blatter granted the country with $100,000 to develop the National Centre of Excellence in the nation's capital, Montevideo. Opened in 2000, the centre is now the nucleus of footballing life in Uruguay. There is an incredibly strong emphasis on the development of youth players and coaches, an ethos that the country has always embraced. This was evidenced in 1997 when Uruguay reached the final of the U-17's World Championship in Malaysia, where the team were beaten 2-1 by Argentina.
The issues with sparse television revenue and dwindling gate receipts, although poignant, are separate ones. It’s not news to anyone that the SPL and SFL have been suffering on those fronts. How can officials expect to garner more interest from the media and fans when Scottish football as a brand is described as “dire”? While smaller nations are managing to flourish with limited funds, Scotland are failing to nourish the sport with regular financial investments. If the money simply isn't there, then a strategy needs to be implemented to build Scottish football as efficiently as possible on the funds available. Until such time, Scotland will continue to suffer the agony of loving a team that never fails to disappoint.