The Press and Football

It has been a week of trying to find answers to the seeming demise in the quality of Scottish football. Since the 3-0 defeat – the weekend before last – of the national team by Wales and the subsequent sacking of the manager, George Burley, the Scottish press has been full of analysis, criticism (lots of it constructive) and recommendations.

Of all, probably The Herald has been the most comprehensive, with a series of articles – looking at, among other things, youth football, facilities, PE in schools and league reconstruction – stretching over a number of days.

But the role of the Scottish press – to the best of allmediascotland’s knowledge – has yet to figure.

Not the role of the press in tending towards the negative; nor the role of the press in concentrating on the Old Firm pairing of Celtic and Rangers, so much so it often descends into soap opera. Rather, the role of the press at helping find solutions.

The evidence of the last few days has been all about trying to find answers to the apparent malaise in our supposed national sport. And Scottish football has provided enough heartache these last few years to merit ‘state of the nation’ investigations on a pretty regular basis.

But for the most part, football sections in the Scottish press are about match reports and player features and news rather than empirical research and serious policy debate.

It’s either the product of received wisdom or some sophisticated circulation analysis, but the average sports section is designed for everyone and no-one. Almost everyone gets a slice of their favourite club and no-one gets enough of their club.

Match reports in themselves can be entertaining reads, no matter who the teams are. No doubt, circulation managers have sophisticated algorithms at their disposal that tell them to what extent a report of a football match attended by 5000 people is read by those who have already been at the game, by those who wished they had been and by those with no great affiliation to either of the combatants but are simply curious.

Nowadays, the problem with many match reports is that they appear the day after many fans will have already interrogated the internet about their team and perhaps even caught some radio or television coverage.

It would be a brave sports editor to reduce match reports to briefs as it would be a brave sports editor to push football regularly behind other sports. But if Scottish football is being asked by the media to review its practice, so the Scottish press should be prepared to scrutinise how it does things.

Match reports, player features and occasional ‘state of the nation’ investigations don’t add up to a nearly good enough route map towards salvation for Scottish football.

There’s more that’s missing than there, including sports science, facilities audits, tactics analysis and the sharing of good practice. Plus the aforementioned empirical research and policy initiatives and debate.

Not that any of these come, of course, with any guarantee of making the Scotland team any better than it is now.