Scotland in February and the weather is rubbish. Not exactly breaking news, but as fans suffer the pouring rain, freezing cold conditions and driving winds when watching their team, is it time Scottish football turns to summer football?
Most of you reading this article will have a particular game that you’ll recall as the coldest football match that you’ve ever attended. One where it wasn’t an enjoyable experience in the slightest and your only desire was to get through to the full-time whistle, seek refuge somewhere warm and thaw out.
The most recent example for me is a 2-2 draw with Hearts at Fir Park in 2015 where my daughter (who was only three at the time) and I headed for the exits with around 15 minutes remaining. It was a decent game too, but when you can’t feel your legs, your hands are stinging from the cold and you’ve developed a headache that normally only comes on after trying to wolf down copious amounts of ice cream at Usain Bolt speed – you know you’re beat.
What makes more of a mockery of all of this is that we pay for pleasure to do so, well at least some do – it now appears fans are beginning to vote with their feet.
Last Tuesday’s Scottish Premiership fixture between Hamilton and Aberdeen attracted a crowd of just 1218, with 423 hardy souls making the long journey from the Granite City on a night in which even the most devoted Dons supporter must have taken a look out of the window and considered taking in the game on Sky Sports instead.
I rarely take much notice of attendance figures for football matches; generally they are only used in debates where a fan of one club will try to demonstrate how ‘tinpot’ another club is using their crowd as a stick to beat them with.
What can’t really be argued though, is when a game is broadcast on satellite television there are more eyes than usual on Scottish football. If someone was tuning in for the first time last week, their first impression would have been a match played out in poor conditions, to the backdrop of an atmosphere usually reserved for a bounce match and in front of a stadium where 75% of the seats were empty – there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s hardy a great look.
I’m not suggesting for a minute that had Accies taken on Aberdeen in the summer then suddenly the stadium would have been full, though it surely would have offered a great deal more appeal than last Tuesday evening did?
Of course, we’ve already had our ‘winter break’ where the players have three weeks off competitive action after a jam-packed December and in 2019 all teams in the top league each contested at least six games.
Between January 22 and March 4, Motherwell will have played five midweek fixtures, four of them in league. Is it the case that we are shoehorning matches into months where the weather is notoriously unpredictable? Not only that but it’s unpredictable in the sense that it’s hard to predict just how bad the weather will be.
It often feels like fan safety is secondary too in all of this. Weather warnings are issued and the public are advised to only travel in an emergency, but instead of going with the masses, Scottish football quite often throws down a challenge to loyal fans by allowing games to go ahead when the bigger picture and common sense dictates it’s unsafe to do.
Then there are the effects of bad weather has on games. After taking in the BSC Glasgow v Hibernian Scottish Cup tie, Hamilton boss Brian Rice called for wind meters to be introduced into the game.
“The worst conditions you can play in is the wind and I think it has been proven,” Rice said. “There must be a wind meter, something we can use because it just destroys the game. The players don’t like it, the fans won’t come out in it, the game is a lottery.”
Introducing summer football could prove to be a boost for our sides in European competitions too. Year after year we can only watch on with despair as our teams are caught cold in Europe as they suffer defeat at an early stage.
It surely can only be a positive if our teams are going into fixtures that they’ve worked so hard to earn in the previous campaign with the best possible chance?
I believe it would also work for enhancing the coverage of our game too. Scottish football would have the best part of three months uncontested between late May and the middle of August. It would present the perfect opportunity to remove misconceptions around the game and demonstrate why we all feel so passionately about it to a much wider audience – many of who tend to feel somewhat starved of football during the summer months.
It’s not all positives when it comes to summer football, and some may straight away point to the fact the season would start in March where the weather is every bit as uncertain.
There’s no denying that it presents a risk, though I’d remain confident the midweek fixtures in June and July will be much more pleasant than those we’ve experienced in the last few weeks of games in February.
Some may argue that the summer is spent playing other sports or is the obvious time for a time for a family break and I can see why there would be concerns that these factors could affect attendances.
There would also have to be consideration for the FIFA calendar, though with Scotland not having qualified for a major tournament since 1998, do we really put our domestic league on hold in case the national side manages to end a 22-year drought?
Instead the solution should be to react if and when the situation does arise, embrace change and at least consider the possibility that instead of having to brave the elements through the winter months and midweek games in particular, we could instead enjoy a vastly more pleasant experience in a move that could change the dynamic of Scottish football for the better.
It would be a fresh approach that could represent a step away from continuing to do things just because that’s always been the way things have been.