Why Scottish Football Deserves More Respect

It is no secret that Scottish football has been devalued and disrespected over the years. This has been the case for a number of reasons, let’s be honest - the quality of play is not always perfect, and there is a perhaps unjust reputation (especially south of the border) about the standard of football played in Scotland, whilst the way the SPFL is marketed is shoddy at best.

So, why does Scottish football deserve more respect? Simple really; because Scottish Football is uniquely brilliant.

One of the reasons why Scottish football is so underrated has been due to poor marketing. Other top leagues in Europe, such as the English Premier League, have revolutionised the way that they sell their game, with TV deals well into the billions commonplace. Even countries such as Belgium, who rank below Scotland in the European coefficient table, have TV deals worth almost triple that of the SPFL’s deal with sky, which is worth a reported £32m/year.

The issue is that there is a feeling that Sky Sports does not care about Scottish Football. Sky only opted to show 41 out of their 48 contracted games last season, with just 7 of those games shown not involving either Celtic or Rangers. This means that not only is the cash coming in a lower fee than Scottish football deserves, but our game is also now being underrepresented.

This makes Rangers and Celtic's particular European success even more impressive, as they operate on budgets that do not even compare to their European counterparts.

Scottish Clubs have always overperformed in Europe. A largely homegrown Celtic side were the underdogs going into the 1967 European Cup final against an all-conquering Inter Milan side, who had won 2 of the last 3 editions of the competition prior to the final in Lisbon and were heavy favourites. This didn’t stop Celtic, with the ‘Lisbon Lions’ crowned champions of Europe after running out 2-1 winners. In the process, Celtic became the first British side to win the European Cup, a monumental achievement against all odds.

[Billy McNeil receives the European Cup - Image: Central Press/Getty Images]

This European success continued for Scottish clubs, with Rangers winning the Cup Winners Cup in Barcelona in 1972, beating Dynamo Moscow 3-2 in the final. Aberdeen would then follow suit in 1983, with one of the biggest achievements in the history of Scottish football; Sir Alex Fergusson’s side beat Bayern Munich on their run to the final, before defeating Spanish Giants Real Madrid in the final 2-1 AET. A youthful Aberdeen side then made history by beating Hamburg in the European Super Cup, to become the only Scottish team to win 2 European Cups - a record which still stands today. This is one of the biggest underdog stories ever seen in European competition and is yet another example of Scottish sides overachieving.

Whilst that is the end of that when it comes to trophy wins, Scottish sides have also had some incredible results in Europe, not just historically - but also in the modern era.

Celtic’s run to the 2003 UEFA Cup final, which included wins over Liverpool and Stuttgart, where they took Jose Mourinho’s Porto to Extra Time, narrowly losing 3-2, and Rangers defeat in the 2008 UEFA Cup final 2-0 to Zenit Saint Petersburg, which included a draw with Barcelona, and wins over Sporting and Fiorentina along the way.

Rangers' run to the Europa League final in 2021/22 is the most recent and impressive example of Scottish Clubs over-performing in Europe. On the way to the final in Seville, against all odds Rangers defeated Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig over two legs, deservedly beating teams with budgets much larger than their own, not to mention wins against solid sides such as Braga and Red Star Belgrade. Rangers were unlucky not to win the final and lift the Europa League trophy, losing in the cruellest way possible - on penalties - to a very good Eintracht Frankfurt side.

Scottish clubs have also managed some excellent stand-alone results against top-tier opposition in recent years, with Celtic doing the double over Serie A giants Lazio, drawing 3-3 with cash-rich Manchester City and of course beating one of the best Barcelona teams in history 2-1 at Celtic Park. Rangers have also pulled off some great results, making the latter stages of the Europa League consistently in recent years, beating Porto, Galatasaray and Feyenoord, as well as the 2022 Europa League run in particular.

Outside of the old firm, St. Johnstone drew 1-1 with Turkish Super Club Galatasaray away in Istanbul and repeated this feat against European regulars LASK in Austria, teams with budgets inconceivable to the Perth Saints as they came painfully close to group stage football. Aberdeen’s draw with Premier League Burnley in 2018, and going back a bit, Heart of Midlothian’s draws with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the early 2010s.

[St. Johnstone draw away in Turkey - Image: Mehmet Eser/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

These European exploits have seen Scotland rise up the European coefficient table, earning the country an extra Champions League place, and a guaranteed Europa League or Conference League group stage place. This will see at least 3 Scottish sides in European competition until at least December each year.

One of the main criticisms aimed at Scottish football is the quality of play. There have been some poor footballers in the league over the years, but equally, there have been plenty of ‘diamonds in the rough’ too. Players such as Virgil Van Dijk, Victor Wanyama, Andrew Robertson, Stuart Armstrong and Moussa Dembele - to name but a few - have all shone in the Scottish Premiership, and gone on to have successful careers in Europe’s top leagues.

Not to mention the current crop of players who currently ply their trade in the top flight of Scottish football, with Joe Aribo, Calvin Bassey, Josep Juranovic and Alfredo Morelos, among others, all attracting interest from top European teams. European clubs, especially those in England, have always dealt with buying from Scottish clubs with perhaps a bit more caution than other leagues, but in recent times this has changed, with more footballers making the transition successfully across the border, more clubs have begun dipping into the Scottish market, with Liverpool’s recent addition of Calvin Ramsay a perfect example.

It is not just individual footballers that make Scottish football worth respecting, but also the style of play. The Scottish Premiership is a tough division to play in, with physically challenging and high-tempo football to be expected, with hard tackles and gut-busting runs up and down the field. Passion and work ethic has historically been prioritised over flair and it has made it a very difficult league. Payers such as Joey Barton, Shane Duffy and recently Aaron Ramsey have all struggled to make their mark in Scotland, showing that it is not just a pub league that can be walked all over.

Scottish football has not just shown its worth at club level, but also internationally. The resurgence of the national team in recent years has been a slow but steady rise. Scotland have endured a tough time on the national front since the 1998 World Cup, with the peak of this arguably being the 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan. There had been plenty of embarrassing defeats over the years, but this felt like the pinnacle of that downwards slump since the early 2000s. The team felt uninspiring, Alex McLeish had lost the support of the fans and national interest in the ‘tartan army’ was at its lowest in a long time, with an apathy building.

After this result, McLeish was sacked and Steve Clarke was brought in. Whilst it has not always been rosy, there has been a clear improvement for all to see. Scotland qualified for their first major tournament in over 20 years, beating Serbia on penalties to make it to Euro 2020. The performance at the European championships was poor, but they were drawn into a difficult group and still managed to draw with England at Wembley.

[Scotland qualify for Euro 2020 - Image: Nikola Krstic/SNS Group via Getty Images]

Scotland finished 2nd in World Cup qualifying, even beating Denmark who are one of the best national teams in Europe at the moment. Although they went down too easily to a determined Ukraine side, there are plenty of positives.

The playing squad has seen a major transformation, with key players such as Robertson, Tierney, Gilmour, McGinn, Armstrong, Adams, and Patterson who are all plying their trade in the English Premier League. The players that Scotland are producing are clearly improving, all that they are lacking is a few better attacking options. Steve Clarke has received plenty of criticism for his tactical approach in recent months, and it will be interesting to see how he moves forward, but overall, he has made Scotland a harder team to beat and it has seen better results. No team will want to play against ‘The Tartan Army’.

Scottish football has seen an improvement in the level of players produced in recent years, with academies churning out top talents who have earned big moves abroad. Players such as Hickey, Morrison and Gilmour have been plucked straight out of academies and into top European leagues, whilst even more recent examples such as Rory Wilson and Ewan Simpson being poached by Aston Villa. Expect these types of deals to become even more common, as English Premier clubs are forced to look elsewhere for talent, with new rules not allowing them to sign foreign players under the age of 18.

Clubs in England are starting to trust the Scottish market a lot more and a big reason for this is the youth development and the following success stories. Billy Gilmour is now a Champions League winner, although his spell at Norwich could have gone better, he remains highly thought of at Chelsea, who have just extended his contract. Players such as Tierney, Robertson, McGinn and Armstong have made a successful transition to the Premier League - showing top clubs that Scottish football is a higher level than previously thought. This has been shown by transfers such as Edouard to Crystal Palace, and Patterson to Everton.

Top European clubs and Leagues are starting to take notice of Scottish talent, and this shows why Scottish football deserves more respect - there are some serious players being produced in Scotland and fans of other leagues should take note.

Unlike other European Leagues, Scottish football is one of a select few that remain untainted by VAR, or even goal-line technology; it is football in it’s purest form.

When the ball hits the back of the net the level of passion and euphoria that is displayed in Scotland is unmatchable anywhere in Europe. There is no glance to the fourth official, no hesitation, no apprehension to celebrate until the goal is ruled legal. There is none of that. Scottish football is raw and authentic.

Whilst VAR is set to be introduced to Scottish football soon, sadly with the way that the rest of European football is going it is almost compulsory to follow suit, it has not been added yet, and it remains untouched.

A criticism levied at Scottish football is often that it is tinpot, and my response to that would be - yes, of course, it is, but it is our level of tinpot. From the cinch sponsorship (and all of the jokes that followed), to empty stadiums, terrible kits, terrifying mascots and some dire players Scottish football is, in essence, tinpot. That is not a bad thing.

This adds a level of charm to the game that we all love, with all of the embarrassing negatives, come some sensational positives, with Scottish football being a melting pot of different cultures, qualities, ideas and fun. At the end of the day, the fans are football and you do not get better fans than you do in Scotland.

This does not mean that the quality of football is poor, far from it. The aforementioned European results, the endless mix of talent, and different playing styles make Scottish football what is is - an energetic, tough and competitive system, but also one that can have a bit of a laugh.

Scottish football fans are not (well most of the time) delusional. We know what we are, Scottish football may not be equal to that in the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga or the Italian Serie A in quality, but who says it was? There is no chance for Scotland to compete with these countries, not really, but that does not mean that Scottish football does not deserve respect, because it is still one of the best in Europe and undoubtedly, one of the most unique in the entire world.