Originally Written for The Red Final 139 1/2
Bill Shanklys quote has been getting some amount of airplay in the last few weeks due to the bat flu induced postponements. “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that” said the man from Glenbuck(Supposedly). Although one of the most famous fitba quotes ever, in my opinion its well off the mark. Fitba isn’t the be all and end all. Shanks in fact didn’t say it either, he was referring to how much he sacrificed to make it and the quote is in fact not a direct quote but an altered version, but through the years, the falsified version has been taken at face value. Although I don’t agree one thing I will say however, football is a lot more important than it is given credit for. A better quote is “My love for fitba grew when I realised it was more than just ninety minutes”: Red Merkin 2015. Yes, it was me that said it and I have stuck by it since the day I first uttered those philosophical words. As previous TRF issues have mentioned I get about. Scotland is my oyster and I am in the middle of trying to conquer its fitba. In doing so I have my trusty sidekick and top loon Wee Man by my side. All he wants to do is go to fitba. He wakes up and asks if we are going to fitba. He comes home from school and asks if we are going to fitba. A Saturday consists of morning at a point of interest, a picnic/café for lunch then the game. The car journeys include the inevitable alternately reeling off teams Wee Man has seen and for a five-year-old he’s seen a few to date then doing it all over again. There is also being told the teams I must take him to, Motherwell, Ajax (but not until he is seven for some reason), Pollok, Crusaders, Kilwinning R******s to name a few. It is constant in our brains and as I have stated before it has brought us some invaluable bonding time and memories that we will never forget. Days out based around the fitba is our thing and for the foreseeable we have lost it.
That’s what it is now, but in the past, it has had many guises. It has been a hobby through twenty years of playing in the juveniles, juniors and amateur ranks in the area. But unfortunately, injury shat in my Umbro Specialis putting those days to the sword. The playing days importantly also brought me bonding with my own old boy as he was always involved in my clubs. So, Saturday teatime pints were a weekly occurrence and the Bridge Bar in Ellon who made a few groats off us over the years. It was also an excuse to get pished with my mates, whether following Formartine United when I had a raft of pals on their books, or when playing in teams with my mates. It was a huge part of my social calendar. It also came to my aid during one of the harder periods of my life, fitba acted as a crutch in phase where days were dark. Football acted as therapy for me. A few years back I found myself unemployed for the guts of a year, this coming at the same time as my marriage was falling to bits and Wee Man was just an infant. This was at the time the oil Industry had slumped meaning the jobs had dried up leaving me failing to find employment. The stress levels were as you can imagine at an all-time high and my heid had a wobble. A situational malfunction it was put down to. Interestingly when I spoke to a professional, he asked what my hobbies were. I explained I watched the Dons but have also taken on travelling round the Highland League. I will never forget the words I heard. “Keep it going and set yourselves other challenges when you finish”. After enquiring what he meant I was told this was the perfect get away from my issues. People turn to drink, drugs or even a lot worse in times of need. I though turned to fitba and since then it has become a colossal factor in why I am at the happiest and most contented point in my life while I write this very article. At this point I better add that my son and the lovely lady on the banks o’ Dee also help before I get abuse. They too are also gigantic elements of my current joy.
Whether this corona thing has been blown out of proportion or not. One thing that’s not out of proportion is the effect it is going to have on our game (and society in general but this is a fitba paper so restaurant closures, companies going bankrupt, debt and the impending economic clusterfuck can be left out for other outlets*). Our game as in the game in our country is looking down a barrel of a gun, there is no question about it. Teams will vanish. We were told of Armageddon when r*****s 1872-2012 let out their death rattle. I thought that was bullshit at the time and I like many others were proved correct in their assumptions. This however I feel is “Armageddon” and I have no doubts about this at all this time around. To start a very well-respected football pundit took to twitter to say he spoke to a former CEO of a club who predicted fifteen teams will not be around come the end of this fitba banishment. The pundit in question was Jim Spence and he couldn’t believe the number could be that high. He has now reversed his opinion and said it may even be more than what the source initially said. Whoever the source was, sadly they had a point. Where their numbers were from? I do not know but the sentiment was there. In layman’s terms, Scottish fitba is fucked after this enforced abandonment.
The game ground to a halt on Friday the 13th of March. A day synonymous with bad luck. I can’t help but feel this was an omen. Within two days Annan Athletic set the tone with an emergency meeting with the topic being where the club can go with no gate money and plenty of out goings. Then within the week the flood gates had opened. Next up ex Jambo Ryan Stevenson handed back all he has earned at Stranraer to help their financial challenges and I have to say it was a fantastic gesture from the man with more doodles on him than Gordon Reid has ever drawn. Since then Raith Rovers, Partick Thistle and junior side Irvine Meadow have announced they are looking for donations from fans to help. Other teams to voice concerns were Inverness Caley, Peterhead, Montrose, Stenhousemuir and Cowdenbeath in the SPFL. Keith and Bonnyrigg Rose in the Highland and Lowland leagues respectively and Linlithgow Rose, Musselburgh Athletic and Preston Athletic from the EOSFL who have also went public**. No teams have used words such as “bankrupt” or “out of business” yet but Elgin City pretty much have after they sat down and calculated that a 67% reduction of wages has to come into effect as of now or they will be locking up Borough Briggs for the final time at the start of August. That’s just four months away. This is a one hundred and twenty-seven-year-old Moray institution and they may just disappear in a puff of insolvent smoke. How are teams like Elgin supposed to survive when even the big names are talking of anguish. First off was Hearts who immediately asked for fifty percent wage cuts across the board which in my eyes shows they are not the well-run club off the field as the plaudits they receive seem to have made them out to be. A mere five days after fitba was kyboshed they announce halving the wage bill at all positions. “This reduction in income is not sustainable without taking immediate action to cut staff costs and overheads. As such, I need to act swiftly and take steps now to ensure that we, as a Club, can weather this storm”. This quote would worry me if I was a Jambo. Everything seems so immediate with that from “Queen Anne”. Closer to home and despite the “transparency”, “honesty”, “it’s a while away from a crisis” type talk on social media, our own club have spoken out. On 23/3/20 our chairman Dave Cormack told the world the club “are doing everything to mitigate a clearly unsustainable situation”. A five million loss is heading our way we can’t shy away from that. We have issues (while writing this it has emerged; they may be worse with the current ongoing shitehousery from the club’s insurers). But then again what club won’t have difficulties? Scottish fitba is cash poor, many clubs must adopt a hand to mouth existence. The figure from our club stated is on the assumption that the football ban lasts until July which now looks exceedingly ambitious. We are not stupid enough to not realise that inevitably, if the ban is longer the loss will be considerably larger. We all know money doesn’t grow on trees so panic stations will have to set in a one point or another if this drags out. There will be a problem in the long run. It’s basic maths of business. Something all the sevconian keyboard warriors predicting our speedy demise clearly fail to grasp the concept of. Aye come back when you have paid for Ryan Kent you fucking fannies. Our club are telling the truth which I admire. The have been open with the elephant in the boardroom. Other teams will have seen that and thought “oh fuuuuuuuck” because it is guaranteed there will be a lot of burying heads rather than facing this head on. We have seen this before in our leagues. The aforementioned elephant in the boardroom is in every boardroom in Scotland. Scottish fitba is like the Serengeti just now. At the end of the day we are one of the better run clubs in the country and we are taking heed of the incoming shitstorm. If the “bigger” clubs are speaking, then what is not in the public domain yet doesn’t bear thinking about.
That’s us well into double figures in a week or so. I spoke about my own dark times and how football saved me, but football will be in pretty dire straits come a few weeks’ time and it’s their turn to be saved. While all these clubs are coming out and clearly worrying, we have football people all putting their tuppence worth regarding how leagues should be decided, how restructuring should work etc. Hang on a minute, fuck 9 in a row, fuck Euro placings, fuck Scotland v Israel, fuck the Scottish cup, fuck the West of Scotland League. Fuck everything bar saving our clubs at all levels (with the exemption of a certain bunch). Let’s see which teams are left to compete first. There is no contingency plan, there is a wee bit of cash but its not enough to bail out all clubs. One and a half million between forty-two clubs is a joke quite frankly. Fitba clubs will just be treated as collateral damage caused by the pandemic. I fail to see the logic in how anyone can be talking about restarting the leagues or team numbers in divisions etc when nobody knows firstly when the hell we will get to see balls kicked again and secondly who will still be around to lick the said balls. I am not one for doomsaying but in this case, the outlook is bleak, seriously bleak.
The havoc will not just be football related itself. It will affect society massively. Again, I’ll say, football is more than just a game. It’s livelihoods and we are now seeing teams cutting hours of staff and other teams trying to cut wages. The layoffs are on their way, its unescapable. Worryingly I have read an article stating that eighty-three SPFL players have contacted mental health charities four of which were reportedly suicidal. If that is true it is an extremely worrying statistic given the relative short period of time since fitba stopped. Away from the employees of the clubs there is a knock-on effect. Take me for example, my social life is fitba. I don’t do anything else but travel around the country and sometimes further to get my fix then I write about it. I choose this as a life, but I will not lose it as there will always be teams to visit. The ones I feel sorry for are the those who during my travels I have spoken to, those longer in the tooth gentlemen who have told me they live for their Saturdays, whether it involves, Aberdeen, Inverurie Locos or Ellon Thistle. Their team is their life. Their team is what keeps them going. This is more prevalent the lower down the leagues you go with the likes of the Juniors being an aging population fan wise. Some people are going to lose this and that’s a crying shame, some will find themselves completely lost on a Saturday. But this will hit younger people too. If their teams disband then what’s next. People have devoted large chunks of their life to following their clubs. Another issue that will come out of this is pubs. If this ban on fitba lasts into August or September how are establishments who rely on every other Saturday income to survive. Worse still if clubs do face their demise that income will be gone for good.(I do realise a lot will go out of business in the coming weeks by being forced to shut, despite the ludicrous printing money idea from Boris). Other local cafes, food joints and such like will also feel the pinch in the same way as the pubs. Reporters must be taking a hit too, granted a lot of them are pricks but they are not all bad. Photographers are in the same boat with no match income and there is catering companies etc. Bus companies, public transport etc etc. The list is huge and seems to be endless. Yes, fitba lasts ninety minutes but a hell of a lot more goes into it than just that. It is absolutely more than just a game
Scottish fitba has lost numerous teams over the years from Abercorn to Dumbarton Harp, Kings Park to R*****s, Third Lanark to Vale of Leven and many others. The list has not grown much in recent times. I truly hope 2020 doesn’t change this trend (well maybe barring one team). When this is all over your local teams will need help. When the time comes and we are back up and running and the stink of tiger balm is in the air again, get down to your local club, grab a game, have that pint in the local pub or social club get your lunch in the nearby greasy spoon, buy a half time draw ticket. It could be the Dons, Golspie Sutherland, East Fife, Craigmark Bruntonians or whoever, fitba needs us and we need fitba and we should all be in it together. (With that one exception obviously)
Fuck sake fitba, haste ye back.
*However, if you find yourself in under any of these banners then I wish you all my goodwill in the long run and hope you are ok on the other side of these extraordinary circumstances.
**These are only the teams I have seen in the media and I fully imagine the list to be a lot bigger when this issue is published