Sad and scandalous - Why our national team in our national sport should be free-to-air

Last Wednesday’s game against Armenia was my first and yesterday evening’s versus the Republic of Ireland was the second. I’m talking about Scotland internationals I’ve missed, breaking a sequence going all the way back to goodness knows when.
Cheering on Scotland from home is costing even more with games moving on to new providersCheering on Scotland from home is costing even more with games moving on to new providers
Cheering on Scotland from home is costing even more with games moving on to new providers

I’m not a member of the Tartan Army, that doughty band who swish the kilt and plant a Saltire in Estonia and Lithuania, once characterised for me by the politician Kenny MacAskill as “divorced midlife-crisis Central Belt accountants”. A cheeky observation, perhaps, but one made from the ground as MacAskill has been a foot-soldier and, you may remember, was detained by the polis on a trip to Wembley, missing the match on account of being banged up in a cell. He was released later without charge.

I do visit Hampden when I can and tickets are already bought for the Irish in September which unlike last Wednesday isn’t a school night so my son and his pals from Spartans Under 15s can be there.

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No, I’m talking about TV coverage, on which I have to depend sometimes, not least in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. Heard of them, SFA? Heard of them, Scottish Government? Our national team in our national sport should be free-to-air, just like England are right now. It’s sad that they’re not. Sad and scandalous.

I couldn’t watch these Nations Cup games because I don’t have Premier Sports. I pay for BT Sport and Sky, who have broadcast Scotland matches for many years, but cannot justify another yet subscription. Add in Netflix and I already fork out £111 a month for TV and over the coming months something will have to give. I’m going to be reducing the total bill rather than adding to it and know I’m not alone here.

Premier came in late for this competition when it looked like Andy Robertson and the rest of the team were going to be hit by a blackout. Those who had already signed up with the broadcaster, and those who can afford to do so in spite of these tough times, will have been glad. But what about the rest of us?

It doesn’t say much for the marketeers that they had such apparent difficulty selling Scotland as product at this moment. We are not dealing with a team recently thrashed 6-0 by Holland or lucky to escape from the Faroes with a draw or excoriated for going 4-6-0. This is Robbo’s Scotland, John McGinn’s Scotland, the Scotland who competed at the last Euros. What was the problem?

It also doesn’t say much for Channel 4 who’ve signed up England for a terrestrial audience but not Scotland, given that they’ve had a stated commitment to the “regions” for as long as they’ve been in existence, a boast long predating the BBC’s move of much of their operations to Salford.

As I say, the sequence has been broken for me. If I couldn’t be at Hampden, then I’d watch Scotland for free, or breaking down the cost of a TV licence, for a few old pennies. The sequence goes all the way back to Arthur Montford yelling “Watch your back!” at a dawdling Gordon McQueen and to Archie Macpherson roaring “There’s an overlap!” as Martin Buchan galloped down the wing.

Televised Scotland games in the 1960s and 1970s were few and far between. The annual Auld Enemy skirmish was screened but hardly any others. The SFA at the time seemed to have collywobbles concerning TV similar to the native American and indigenous Australian’s fear of the camera: that it would steal part of the soul.

Mind you, it certainly stole part of the crowd when, in 1969, the beaks relented for live coverage of the Home International against Northern Ireland and, despite the attraction of George Best in his pomp, only 7.483 paid at the Hampden turnstiles.

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Perhaps stung by that experience, the SFA then dug in when vital qualifiers came around, trotted out the line that the attendance at, say, a Glenbuck Cherrypickers friendly might suffer from a game being shown on the box, and, despite petitions and much lobbying, wouldn’t always relent so we could cheer on the team in dark blue from the sofa.

To be honest, I’ve seen enough Scotland games now. I mean, I’ll watch more if I can, but it’s the kids I feel sorry for if matches are going to incur extra cost. Last summer my son, who’d been lucky enough to watch us qualify for the Euros via Sky, could get properly caught up in the finals with friends seeing the national team in action for the first time as BBC and ITV shared these games. The boys bought strips and made flags. They gathered in our local park to march around singing songs and could hardly wait for the next match.

It’s a foolish nation indeed which neglects the opportunity to capitalise on the next generation’s first-time fervour for Scotland, and to keep them involved for future campaigns. Come 2024, all our games will be shown on Viaplay. Heard of this Norwegian mob? Got your subscription ready? Thought not.

The deal will last four years, which allows for plenty of time for the next generation to wander off and find something else to interest them. How’s it come about? By the SFA leaving UEFA to organise in return for a guaranteed cut of the sale. The guardians of our game say they’ve had “positive initial dialogue” about some of the matches being free-to-air. But that’s not a definite yes. And it’s certainly not confirmation that the free matches will be the ones of greatest consequence.

Every Scot should be able to watch Scotland play. Goodness me, our emotional investment in the team is huge.



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