Crushed by the wheels of industry

Scottish football and the new economy.

By Stuart Cosgrove

This article appeared in Issue 1 which was published in September 2016.

quotation mark
Across the decade seven different clubs broke their home attendance records and the national stadium also out-reached itself, in 1937 over 140,000 watched Celtic beat Aberdeen in the cup-final.
quotation mark
It is now commonplace for Scottish football fans to admit an emotional interest in one of the big global teams, often Barcelona, but also major English clubs that can be easily reached by train or plane.

Where were you on March 31, 1990 as the sun scythed down on Scotland, burning necks and blistering dreams?

It was the day when a remarkable match unfolded and history slipped quietly by. The game was featured on Sportscene and Dougie Donnelly disbelievingly introduced it as “quite simply one of the best … we’ve covered for a very long time”. All that was at stake were three humble points, the weekly wish of every football fan, but it turned out to be Scottish football at its compelling best. The final score was St Johnstone 3-1 Airdrie. Unmemorable to many, but those that witnessed the game will never forget its endless twists and turns, and unconsciously, in the deepest recesses of their memory, they will measure every other game disappointingly against it.

More than 10,000 people crammed into MacDiarmid Park, the first purpose-build ground of its kind in Scotland, with the home team needing a win to keep their flickering title hopes alive. Airdrie just needed to turn up. It was one-way traffic from the outset, St Johnstone hit the bar four times and were defied by a series of spectacular saves by the Diamonds’ madcap keeper John Martin. Then suddenly the script was ripped up. Against the run of play and all reasonable justice Stevie Gray fired Airdrie into an unlikely lead. The huge travelling support from Lanarkshire appeared to surge forward as one, engulfing the net, sensing that a victory would bring them closer to the title. Then it turned again. The reliable and nerveless Mark Treanor equalised from the penalty spot. Roddy Grant headed St Johnstone into a precious lead and as Airdrie threw everything into the quest for an equaliser, Kenny Ward’s injury-time goal on the counter attack unleashed a frenzy of bottled-up emotions around three sides of the ground. St Johnstone won the game and soon after the old First Division title.

The final score not only wrecked Airdrie’s title bid but viewed from the wider sweep of history did untold damage to the very future of the club. Seen retrospectively, it was a game that tells us more about Scottish football than many more famous games. History had crystallised into a pulsating ninety minutes; and Airdrieonians had been crushed by the wheels of industry.

St Johnstone’s victory came in the warm spring of 1990, at the height of Glasgow’s historic reign as European City of Culture. The tectonic plates of the Scottish economy had been grinding into a new gear for several decades and in the face of international disbelief Glasgow woke up to the clamouring realisation that not only had heavy industry gone, but its citizens watched with bleary enthusiasm as the uncertain ballet of post-industrialism unfolded. Football had played a small part in the city’s transformation. On the night of May 12, 1976 the European Cup final had brought the fans of St Etienne and Bayern Munich to Hampden Park and in an enlightened policy initiative, the City of Glasgow granted a special drinks licence which allowed bars and cafes to open late into the night. It was a small but significant epiphany – like glimpsing Barcelona through rusting turnstiles.

Glasgow’s journey to a new economy divided the city at first but not in any ancient sectarian sense. The forward-looking wanted to re-brand the city and sandblast the harsh soot of the past away. Others clung frightened to the life they knew, weaving myths and repeating the reassuring clichés of ‘no mean city’. The Tramway, which had once housed the city’s clanking trams, was now a world-class centre for experimental theatre, and the old Govan shipyards, once the place where liners were built and fitted, now played host to a stunning site-specific theatre extravaganza by the Welsh company Brith Gof.

Despairingly, most football discourse leant towards the past and many opportunities have been missed. Many years on, some still see the game through the dispersing smoke of industrialism unsure of the present let alone what the fearful future holds. Our national game has often been circumscribed by narrow thinking, short-termism and baseless myth. Casually we have come to describe the sport in short staccato periods: the Jock Stein era, the Souness revolution, nine-in-a-row, the New Firm in the 1980s, the Bosman era, Armageddon and the Offensive Behaviour Act. All of them important but very short chapters in an epic and sprawling novel. 

Unusually, I want to break with short-termism and look back over a 100-year span, to try to make sense of what is happening now, in part for my own club, and to understand the challenges it faces in the Bildungsroman of the Scottish game.

Ask anyone to name the greatest year in Scotland’s football history they will instinctively say 1967, when three unprecedented events coincided: Celtic won the European Cup, Rangers met Bayern Munich in a European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, and Scotland beat the newly-crowned world champions England at Wembley. That’s it, three games, 270 minutes plus a wee bit of extra time in Nuremberg, all over in a few precious but over-remembered weeks, mostly based on European matches, in competitions that were little more than a decade old. What if we were to break with type and go back beyond our own times and give a different answer – what if we said the greatest era was in the first years of the 1930s in the troubled days of the Great Depression.  In the first full season of the new decade, Motherwell won the league leaving Rangers and Celtic in their wake. Leith Athletic were relegated and went down a division to joust with local rivals Hibernian. The Queen Mary was about to be launched and its gigantic ocean-going hulk sat majestically in the William Denny Yards in Dumbarton. A small immigrant group of Italian designers hired to fit the first class cabins moonlighted around Glasgow and helped furnish Rogano’s impressive art-deco interior.  Swollen by the Irish poor and the discarded Highlanders, Glasgow’s population was about to reach an all time high. In all, 1,088,000 jostling souls lived cramped together in Britain’s second largest city, ‘the second city of the Empire’: home to shipbuilding, heavy engineering and brutal poverty. It was a time of romantic stars: Neil Dewar, a trawlerman from Lochgilphead, was one of Scotland’s most exciting strikers and scored a hat-trick against France in the Stade Colombes in Paris. Nine different clubs competed in Scottish cup finals across the decade, among them Hamilton, St Mirren, East Fife and Clyde. The latter two took silverware back to their communities, where coal, shipbuilding and textile manufacturing reigned. The first Junior Cup winners of the 1930s were Glasgow Perthshire, a team originally founded by Perthshire agrarian workers who had been drawn to Glasgow to work in heavy industry but as the decade unfolded shipyard teams like Yoker Athletic and Govan’s Benburb came to dominate. It was a time of unrivalled drama and cathartic tragedy, most notably the death of John Thomson from the mining town of Cardenden, the young Celtic goalkeeper and evangelical Protestant who died after a collision at Ibrox in 1931. It was the decade of Jimmy McGrory’s titanic 408 goals for Celtic, and Dally Duncan’s mesmerising hat-trick against England. A total of 1,333 goals were scored in the 1932-33 league season alone, and Falkirk, who narrowly avoided relegation from the top league finishing third from bottom, still scored an astonishing 70 goals. Scotsport cameras, which had yet to be invented, missed all of them, so we can only imagine their daring significance. Europe existed but it was a place of wars not tournaments.

For those that still see crowd sizes as a phallic proxy for success, this was the decade that out-reached everything before and since. Rangers broke their formidable home record, attracting 118,000 to Ibrox for a game against Celtic. Celtic had already broken their home record, attracting 88,000 to Celtic Park. In 1933 Hearts played Rangers at Tynecastle in a Scottish Cup game and 53,396 turned up. Hearts then went on to help smash Hamilton Academical’s record crowd when 28,690 squeezed into Old Douglas Park. It was a quite remarkable cup contest won eventually by Celtic when a single Jimmy McGrory goal was enough to see off Motherwell and in an era for records, Alloa broke their ground record when a match against Dunfermline attracted 13,365 to Recreation Park. Seen from today’s vantage point these are outrageous crowds. Across the decade seven different clubs broke their home attendance records and the national stadium also out-reached itself: in 1937 more than 140,000 watched Celtic beat Aberdeen in the cup final.

It was an era of mass spectatorship across society. Benny Lynch’s fights at Shawfield, Celtic Park and Cathkin Park attracted tens of thousands, Wild Bill Hickok’s Travelling Wild West Circus took up residency near Duke Street in Glasgow in an amphitheatre that held 7,000 and performed three shows daily, attracting bigger crowds to sharpshooting than Celtic today attract to low-key league games. Rowdy musical hall theatres like Aberdeen’s Beach Pavilion and Glasgow’s Alhambra drew crowds that would please many SPFL clubs today to watch the best of Scottish variety – the gawky Glaswegian Tommy Lorne, the ‘Laird of Inversnecky’ Harry Gordon, character comedian Will Fyffe, and the ‘Scottish Charlie Chaplin’ Dave Willis.

Football was the king of crowds. We have all seen the sepia pictures of huddled masses, everyone wearing flat-caps, woollen overcoats and grim faces; we have seen the gentle swarm of white handkerchiefs flocking like seagulls above the heads, trying to attract medical help to the wounded. It was a time of impending war first in Spain and then across Europe. If attendances are a measure of anything – and it seems to be a measure of virility to the online supporters of Scotland’s bigger clubs – then the mid-1930s can lay claim to being the most popular period of Scottish football. Today we blame televised football for the decline in crowds but the most sudden decline came with the loss of heavy industry, as urban areas reliant on heavy manufacturing became de-populated, emigration soared and the new manufacturing and service economies offered more diverse lifestyles and choices.

Industrialism is a complex central character – generous and cruel in equal measure. It provided Scotland with work, with pitiful income and with a global reputation for engineering. But industrialism had calloused hands and brought with it poverty, disease and malnutrition, social stigmas that have yet to be chased from the internal organs of modern Scotland. The slums that pock-marked our major towns and cities were a fertile breeding ground for great footballers but gave oxygen to anti-Irish bigotry, to squalor and to thwarted ambition. It bequeathed a certain strand of football mythology too, allowing a miscalculation to take root. The 1930s misdirected us into two lingering beliefs: that the deprivation gave birth to footballers with supreme skills and that the rancid waterways of sectarianism infused Scottish football with a unique ‘sporting rivalry’ that supposedly we cannot survive without. Those opinions are slowly passing but the progress has been glacial. You frequently hear people today bemoan the loss of the industrial legacy – the tanner-ba’ players, the red-blaize pitches, the back-court tactics, midfield hard-men and changing-room bullying. In the mangled logic of memory some think that to compete on a world stage we need to return to the past. It stops short of saying ‘bring back poverty’, but only just.

Another by-product of the shadow ofindustrialism is that it shaped the management skills of our most successful football managers. That is also a myth that creaks beneath the weight of closer analysis. Sir Alex Ferguson was the son of a plater’s helper and for 18 months was a shipyard worker in the Govan yards where he participated in apprentice boys’ strikes. By the age of 19, he had signed his first professional contract with St Johnstone and travelled daily to Perth by train. Miles removed from his famous disciplinarian demeanour, he proved to be an ill-disciplined and surly recruit. Ferguson left the Perth club in disgrace after breaking a management curfew and going on holiday to Blackpool with two teammates. Much as Ferguson loathed it in others, discipline was not a prominent feature of his young life, and the leadership skills he acquired on his way to Manchester United, and subsequently Harvard Business School, were learnt across a lifetime, many miles from the shipyards of Govan. To ascribe Ferguson’s towering career to a very short spell in the shipyards is retro-engineering in the extreme. Bill Shankly also left home aged 19 to join Carlisle United. By the time he had left home, Glenbuck in Ayrshire, where he grew up, was already near derelict and on its way to becoming a ghost village. The local mine had closed down and mines in the surrounding areas of Lugar and Eglinton were facing extinction too. In his biography Shankly admits that the skill he acquired in his brief time as a miner was not character-forming discipline but theft, stealing vegetables from Ayrshire farmyards to help sustain the family. Despite the now virulent myth, Bill Shankly never played for the romantic Glenbuck Cherrypickers. They had already folded and as a young man Shankly spent more time in the Royal Airforce than he ever did as a miner. Of Scotland’s great industrial triumvirate, only Jock Stein can point to a significant time working in heavy industry, spending ten years underground in the Lanarkshire pits before joining the Welsh club Llanelli as a full-time professional footballer. Taken as an aggregate Stein, Ferguson and Shankly spent less than 15 years in heavy industry, less time than Shankly alone spent at Preston North End. But such is the powerful sway of heavy industry in Scottish football that the myth of ‘dressing room discipline’ and ‘industrial camaraderie’ endured long after the shipyards and mines had closed their gates. 

Industrialism has spun many yarns. One of the most robust among them is the fallacy that poverty was a breeding ground of great footballers. It has been handed down to us as a patented truth but test it closely and again it folds under scrutiny. To back up the theory that it was the poverty and social deprivation of the industrial era that bred talent you have to ignore Denis Law and Martin Buchan (Aberdeen), Dave McKay and John White (Musselburgh), John Greig and Sandy Jardine (Edinburgh),  Billy Bremner (Stirling), Bill Brown (Arbroath), Alan Gilzean (Coupar Angus), Colin Stein (Linlithgow), Charlie Cooke (St Monans), and in more recent times, Gordon Strachan and Graeme Souness (Edinburgh), Paul Sturrock (Pitlochry), Ray Stewart (Stanley), Colin Hendry (Keith), Callum Davidson (Dunblane), and  John Collins (Galashiels). Even as post-industrialism settled on Scotland, most of our capped players of recent times, have not been from traditionally deprived areas. Darren Fletcher (Dalkeith), Kenny Miller, Craig Gordon, Steve Whittaker and Gary Naysmith (Edinburgh), David Weir (Falkirk), Gary Caldwell (Stirling), Kieran Tierney (Isle of Man), Shaun Maloney (Malaysia), and any number of Scottish internationalists born in England who qualified due to their grandparents. Taken as a list, that is a formidable register of players, and it offers a powerful counter-argument. Many of Scotland’s greatest talents came from communities where heavy industry was at best peripheral or in some cases non-existent, some drawn from agricultural areas, many more from small towns, and as the decades unfolded increasingly they came from settled middle-class families, Scotland’s new towns and the aspirational suburbs manicured around the big cities.  In the current Scotland squad, only Robert Snodgrass from Glasgow’s Calton area is from an upbringing that could in any measurable sense be described as socially deprived. Ikechi Anya almost makes the cut. He was brought up in the sprawling Castlemilk housing scheme, but was the son of a Nigerian research scientist and a Romanian economist, and moved with his family to home near Oxford University after primary school.  We live in markedly different times.

Despite powerful evidence to the contrary we still cling to the shaky reassurance that football and industrial deprivation are somehow linked. Maybe in a complex way it was one of the reasons we were so slow to build modern facilities, naively believing that the backstreets would suffice. The myths cling to our game like asbestos and we have yet to fully shake off the hangover of industrial decline. In 1983, there were 170 working coal mines in the UK; by the time Graeme Souness came to manage Rangers, there were only four, and now there are none. At its epic height, Scottish iron production produced 540,000 tons a year, nearly 30 per cent of British iron production. Gartsherrie in Coatbridge was the largest ironworks in Scotland, followed closely by Summerlee. Local team Albion Rovers fed on the success of the local works and in season 1933-34 – as Scottish football peaked with industrialism – they beat Dunfermline to the First Division title and spent most of the immediate pre-war period in the top league, where crowds of more than 20,000 were commonplace. In 1936, 28,371 packed into Cliftonhill when Albion Rovers played host to Rangers, still a club record. The  most famous player in the club’s history, Jock Stein, was then a young teenager.  Local historians Peter Drummond and James Smith describe the decline. “The great Gartsherrie furnaces which for over a century contributed noise, smoke and verticality to the landscape, have now been completely covered over by a container storage and repair area and a small industrial estate, with only a couple of cranes to break the skyline. The Baird company’s tied housing, the cramped rows and squares that marked out Gartsherrie village, have been demolished.” In the 1940s the works were nationalised and by 1967 – the year now etched in Scottish football folklore – they had closed down for good.

Industrial decline was inevitable, sudden and cruel. Shipbuilding began its decline. Between 1921 and 1923 the tonnage built on the Clyde went down from 510,000 to 170,000. By the 1930s yards were closing as orders dried up and the hegemony that the Govan Yards had once enjoyed was living on borrowed time. Just after World War Two, manufacturing still accounted for 40 per cent of the UK’s economy. Now it is only a tenth of the UK economy and the services industry – the diverse and imprecise character of post-industrialism – is now 75.8 per cent. We can marvel now at the founding days of football when teams from Renton and Vale of Leven in Dunbartonshire were potent forces in the game and drew their players from shipyards and glass foundries. But flash forward to the glory days of the 1930s and we see the signs of even greater demise: eight of the league clubs of the decade no longer exist and six others have faced insolvency events that have seriously threatened their existence. Clydebank, a strategic town synonymous with shipbuilding, had been bombed into rubble during the war. At the end of the war it briefly flourished but soon joined the list of industrial casualties, their existence depressingly caught up in the chaotic history of Airdrieonians, who featured in that intense match at MacDiarmid Park – which must now rank as one of the great games of Scotland’s post-industrial era. 

So what is meant by post-industrialism and how does it shape Scottish football? Most sociologists agree that it is the stage of society’s development when the service sector generates more wealth than the manufacturing sector of the economy. New industries emerge and new types of wealth are generated.  One good example – whilst Donald Trump campaigns noisily for the US presidency – is the phenomenal growth of Scotland’s golf tourism economy, buoyed by new courses, major tournaments, better facilities and increased numbers of high-value visitors. Direct comparisons are tricky but it would not be too bold an assertion to claim that a stretch of Scotland from St Andrews in north Fife to Carnoustie in Angus and westwards to Gleneagles in Perthshire now generates more income for the nation than the traditional steel manufacturing areas that once congregated around Ravenscraig and Dalziel. In 2013, golf tourism generated  £1.171 billion in revenues in Scotland and employed an estimated 1,480 people. When Ravenscraig closed it cost Scotland only 770 jobs – significant, regretful but probably inevitable. In another bitter paradox the Ravenscraig plant, once Western Europe’s largest producer of hot-strip steel, was nationalised in the spring of 1967 as Celtic fans prepared to leave home for Lisbon and the club’s most famous game. By the time local team Motherwell played their most famous game – the 1991 Scottish cup final against Dundee United – Ravenscraig’s closure had been announced and a pall of decline hung over the town. Despite a damaging insolvency event, the club has clung doggedly to its top-league status, defying the many odds that are stacked against it, and they are now navigating the difficult transition to fan ownership. 

The journey to post-industrialism captured so eloquently in Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture and the fallout of St Johnstone’s 3-1 victory over Airdrie in 1990 offer up harsh historic realities. The fortunes of the two clubs on that day could not be more different. St Johnstone have spent successive seasons as a top six club, have regularly played in Europe with some very decent results, and have won the Scottish Cup for the first time in their history. Airdrie by contrast have been a basket case and their decline spectacular. An industrial club writ large, in 1926 Airdrieonians FC were runners-up to Celtic and competed for the league title throughout the decade, regularly playing in front of crowds of 20,000. Now professional matches in Airdrie attract a meagre 800 fans. Many are not even sure who they are supposed to be watching: the club’s name has morphed with misfortune and only the iconic diamond tops show any connections with past glory. In 2000, the auditors of KPMG moved to liquidate the club and made Airdrie’s playing staff redundant after Rangers chairman David Murray reclaimed an outstanding debt to one of his teetering network of companies. Much has been made of the irony of that intervention, but Airdrie had been breathing toxic fumes for many years before and had been a troubled club since they sold their old Broomfield Ground to the supermarket chain Safeway in 1994.  Change had been brutal to the town. Even at the height of the industrial era 50 per cent of the male population was unemployed and traditional industries like weaving and coal mining had disappeared, leaving Airdrie pockmarked by ugly brownfield sites and dependent for work on a commuter artery that led to nearby Glasgow.  The roads that took commuters to work were exactly the same road that took locals to Ibrox and Celtic Park. Unlike Perth, Dundee, Inverness or Aberdeen, Airdrie was simply too close to the powerful magnetism of the big two clubs and their growing self-importance.

Compared to the recent success-story of community clubs such as St Johnstone, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County, Scotland’s industrial clubs have suffered disproportionately. Renton and Vale of Leven are now quaint anomalies from a bygone era. Third Lanark no longer exist.  Clydebank folded and have been reinvented as a Junior club. Clyde F.C. are a faint shadow of their former selves and have struggled for years to escape from the lowest division. Greenock Morton have yet to fully recover from their demotion in 2001 when they were placed in administration, and have been out of the top league for 16 years. Although the town has been battered by the decline of shipbuilding, Greenock is curiously a place that has characteristics that may yet allow it to surf through the post-industrial era: it has a long vantage onto the River Clyde, it has cavernous old buildings ripe for reinvention, the first wave of warehouse lofts have already been sold and a small arts hub has flourished around the Beacon Theatre quadrant. But set back from the stunning riverside, Cappielow is in dire need of refurbishment. As older generations die away only fans in their mid-thirties and older can remember when Morton last played in the top division. There are only so many great Andy Ritchie goals to remember before you yearn for success in the present tense.

In 1986, Clyde, Morton and Airdrie were all playing in a division above St Johnstone and were broadly seen as ‘bigger clubs’. More dramatically, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County had yet to join the Scottish League. Frequently seen as poorly supported clubs, Ross County (4,171)Inverness (3,940) and St Johnstone (3,624) now easily exceed the average attendances of the industrial clubs they have ‘displaced’: Morton (2,907), Airdrieonians (844), Clyde (564) and Clydebank (200). Bizarrely, it is commonplace to hear fans of Central Belt teams, especially Celtic fans, bemoan the travelling distance to the Highlands, as if Inverness and Ross County have no real right to be in the top league, and no right to challenge the wheezing status quo.  It is one of the many casual defamations small clubs have to suffer in Scotland and yet much of it is premised on past mythology. Inverness is Scotland’s fastest-growing city, comfortably bigger than Motherwell, Ross County one of the best-resourced community clubs and Perth a more populous city than Greenock and now served by a motorway network that makes it more easily accessible than in the past.

It was in 1974, as Scotland were due to face Brazil in the World Cup at Frankfurt’s Waldstadion that the term ‘post-industrial’ first entered the vocabulary. It was the summer that a Harvard sociologist called Daniel Bell published his groundbreaking book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. It was a term that baffled people at first but soon surged in usage and is now used interchangeably with other related terms such as ‘the knowledge economy’ and ‘the information society’. All of these concepts have impacted on Scottish football. The exchange of knowledge is now crucial to a game that draws on the expertise of nutritionists, sports scientists and physiotherapists. The study of all of those new disciplines is growing within our education sector and the campus of Stirling University, where several professional teams train, is a centre of excellence in sports management. The knowledge economy is vital to the growth of data-crunching companies such as Prozone and Football Radar and the myriad of metric-analysts that now populate football. Many younger managers in the game – Derek McInnes, Robbie Neilson, Paul Hartley and Ray McKinnon – have grown up in an era of shape, systems and analytics. This is not simply superficial modernisation: it is a fundamental break with the management of the past and reflects societal change in Scotland. McInnes manages a club situated next to Scotland’s oil and off-shore engineering industry; Robbie Neilson works in a city which hosts one of the most progressive nanotechnology centres in the world, and when Paul Hartley goes for a drink in the café bar at the Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) he looks out on Tay Street the epicentre of Dundee’s thriving computer games industry, where Minecraft and the underlying code of FIFA Manager are everyday conversations. FIFA Manager is a great bellwether to how radical change has become. It was first marketed by Electronic Arts in 1997, the year that Celtic and Scotland’s Kieran Tierney was born. Electronic game play is an essential part of the world Tierney grew up in and he has probably learnt more about football from its sub-culture than playing games with jackets as goal posts. Rather than bemoan that change we have to face up to it and shape a football culture that can live with the disruptive changes yet to come.   

We now live in a global football world. Scotland is currently struggling in the FIFA rankings, our clubs are in danger of being excluded from the Champions League and players from virtually every nation in the world have played here in recent years. But globalisation is not the only determinant of post-industrial society. We live in an era of bifurcation where the local and the global co-exist. Many new businesses have thrived by stressing the values of ‘localness’: organic food, micro-brewing and stay-at-home vacations are all examples of robust and innovative localness. It is not too big a leap to see Scottish football through this bifurcating prism. The announcement of Celtic’s summer exhibition game against Barcelona in Dublin speaks to global ambition, but the vast majority of Scottish clubs derive their sustenance from localness: their core fans, their local sponsors and their economic community. Each has to find its own ignition and there is increasing evidence that smaller towns and cities, if they are well run locally, can draw on the strength of community. Ross County’s recent success in the League Cup is a case in point and far from being propped up by bigger clubs, St Johnstone have thrived on localness. The club’s stadium, on land bequeathed by a local farmer and lifetime fan, is happily situated next door to Tayside’s biggest crematorium. By offering affordable packages and free parking, the club now derives more net income from selling funeral packages to the bereaved than it does from the amortised income of visiting fans on a Saturday. They can sing “What a shitey home support” until the cows come home, but St Johnstone fans just smile back ghoulishly, in the knowledge that the club profits from death, an industry that will never fade.

Reflecting back on Glasgow’s tumultuous year as European City of Culture and what the era of post-industrialism has meant for Scottish football it is clear that some clubs have benefitted from the collapse of heavy industry whilst others have suffered.  We can also be fairly certain that some clubs – notwithstanding periods of serious financial stress Celtic (1994), Rangers (2012) are now listed clubs that are answerable to share-holder value and overseas based investors, so they are keen to benefit from scale and fear losing out in the globalisation of high-end football. Others such as Aberdeen, Ross County and St Johnstone have placed greater faith in regional community entrepreneurship or localness. Others such as Stirling Albion, Hearts, Motherwell and St Mirren and have leant more heavily towards fan-ownership models of success and survival. What is not yet clear is how the various demands of post-industrialism will impact in the decades to come.  We are already seeing one self-evident threat: that however strong a football club’s connections with its local economy are, global forces may drain emotional memory and financial loyalty away from the local game. It is now commonplace for Scottish football fans to admit an emotional interest in one of the big global teams, often Barcelona, but also major English clubs that can be easily reached by train or plane. Weekend football tourism – travelling to, say, the Milan derby – is now on many people’s bucket-list. Almost every week I read forum posts where a dedicated fan is missing out on a game because of securing tickets to Manchester City, Liverpool or Arsenal. This is a phenomenon that is helped by extensive television coverage of football and the concentration of super-talent in a small number of the top leagues. It is a reality every bit as formidable and threatening as the closure of the local yards and the pain of the P45. Only 100 years in the future will we really be able to say how Scottish society and its football clubs rode the rough tackles of post-industrialism. 

This article appeared in Issue 1 which was published in September 2016.

Issue 13
out now

Subscribe here Buy a gift subscription Back copies