I am sure a good number of us have sat through a match in freezing conditions, in the pouring rain, and in gale force winds; played in a stadium that at best can be described as dilapidated. The standard of the football probably wasn’t much better as the game was undoubtedly slow-paced and not particularly easy viewing. Some fans would say you are lucky – others would say that you are worse off for not going through such an ordeal in order to watch your side play. These sentiments are also shared by the clubs that occupy the professional league system within Scotland; as some claim that no fan wants to watch a match in horrendous weather and attendances are suffering as a result of the current system. While others state that the current system is far more beneficial as moving to the summer months would interfere with other major international competitions.
Scotland is easily the most northerly country in the world that still operates in footballing terms in the winter months and Glasgow averages 170.3 days of rain per year – which is enough to make it the wettest city in Great Britain. Scotland itself is no stranger to seeing games postponed as a result of this, one fixture between Airdrie and Stranraer in 1963 was put back 33 times before finally being played. Similarly, a match between Inverness and Falkirk saw 29 cancellations in 1979. The most recent season in Scotland has been relatively tame with just 21 postponements put into force throughout the course of season – although this was helped by a particularly tame winter and a number of clubs now playing on synthetic surfaces which are largely unaffected by more extreme conditions.
In a recent survey issued by BBC Scotland, 10 out of the 12 SPL clubs said they would consider the introduction of summer football in order to combat the sometimes very grim conditions in which some matches are played. In addition, 28 of the 42 clubs that were asked also felt that summer football could be a suitable alternative to the current scheduling. In fact, only 7 clubs in the entire professional football system in Scotland decided that a move from the current fixture list would interest them.
The current Scottish football season runs parallel to the English one – from August until towards the end of May. There are already a number of clubs that play their football in the summer months; these include the likes of Sweden, Norway, and the Republic of Ireland. Whereas numerous other nations such as Germany and Russia operate using extended winter breaks as the colder months can leave football unsafe for fans and players alike. The new system proposed has identified a league season running from March to November would be the most beneficial to Scottish football as a whole.
The survey also looked to identify the reasons why clubs would or would not consider a move to the summer months. The SPL clubs that were offered responses stated reasons including increased media commercial revenue streams, a competitive advantage for Scottish teams competing in European tournaments. However, while teams would be able to take the qualifiers in stride as, for example, Stjarnan of Iceland used to their advantage to defeat Motherwell last summer – this does not help to explain how sides will do in the tournament proper if they were to qualify and be forced into playing deep into the off-season. Further reasons put forward include better weather and improved conditions for pitches, not having to compete against English football would help improve attendances and viewing figures, and the poor weather can contribute to damaging pitches as well as the reduced chance of injury to players. Among the other current supporters of a change in the current scheduling system are Supporters Direct Scotland who identified that a restructuring of the footballing season could result in savings for clubs through a reduced need for lighting, friendlier conditions to attract more fans, and sharing the sentiment of some SPL clubs in feeling that the potential for more lucrative TV deals for Scottish football due to not competing with some of the most dominant leagues in Europe.
However, there are also a number of issues that have being raised by numerous sources throughout the Scottish footballing system. Some feel that there would not be any financial incentives to moving to the summer months and that a good amount of the problems with playing in the winter could be solved by using synthetic pitches, some feel that many players at part-time level could struggle to find time over the summer for time with their family, and that Scottish football may struggle to compete with other summer sports. A further voice of concern is that of SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, who has labelled the issue as “complex” and that it could prove to be an issue if Scottish clubs are still playing their football while the likes of the World Cup and the European Championships are ongoing.
It is the opinion of many that moving matches from winter into the summer months would provide strong benefits financially to the Scottish footballing pyramid, among other benefits, as the matches would not have to compete with the leagues in Europe that can boast greater quality and financial incentives to TV companies. However, it would be a shame to see the loss of what some would believe to be a great football fan tradition of trudging out and getting absolutely soaked through. I, like many others, believe that football support isn’t necessarily meant to be easy and that it sometimes feels like as much a chore as it does an exciting way to spend a Saturday afternoon or a chilly midweek evening. While many will applaud the consideration of moving matches to the more friendly summer months and the exchange of a hot drink and a woolly hat for an ice cream and a pair of sunglasses. However, there is definitely something etched into the romanticism of footballing folklore which includes watching your team in rain or shine and traveling for 6 hours in a cramped car only to find that the game is called off by a steward who pulled the short straw.