In the final article of the Scottish Young Fabian's blog takeover, Albie Mills discusses the politics of football in Scotland.
As we continue to struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, it is often hard to focus on something as seemingly trivial as football. This is why the Premier League’s race to restart matches, despite opposition from many of its players, including Troy Deeney and Sergio Agüero, left a sour taste in the mouth. In Scotland, Edinburgh-based philanthropist James Anderson announced on 10th June that he would be donating £3m to clubs in the SPFL, the professional men’s league in Scotland in order to show his ‘ongoing support’ for Scottish football during the crisis. Through all of these efforts to salvage something of the Scottish and English men’s seasons, their women’s teams have been ignored and left to fend for themselves.
For those who view football through the prism of the Premier League, the game essentially appears an entertainment industry, totally obsessed with either the extraction of money in the case of Mike Ashley or image-laundering in the case of the sovereign states of Saudi Arabia, Rwanda or the United Arab Emirates. The Premier League is at the centre of ‘sportswashing’ and overinflated ticket prices means that many clubs across the country may as well have become totally detached from the communities that they were set up to serve. And yet, after unprecedented success in growing the game in the UK after 2015, it is in the women’s game where the most severe impact will be felt.
The thin veil of ‘one club’ equality between men’s and women’s sides has been firmly swept aside during this pandemic even though the signs have been there for a long time. Liverpool FC, whose men’s team is about to win the Premier League title, posted a £553m turnover with pre-tax profits of £42m. In sharp contrast, their women’s team are about to be relegated from the Women’s Super League, underfunded and poorly managed with a £1m turnover.
Alison McGovern, Shadow Minister for Sports and a Liverpool fan herself, criticised the Football Association for ‘binning’ women’s football while racing to save the Premier League. In Scotland, Ann Budge’s proposals for an SPFL reconstruction have been almost entirely focused on saving the skin of men’s teams who can no longer rely on ticket revenue.
This is in sharp contrast to the actions taken in Germany. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen have all sacrificed television money to create a €20m ‘solidarity fund’ to be shared amongst women’s teams and men’s clubs in the third tier. This meant that the Frauen Bundesliga could restart their league two weeks after their male counterparts. On 25th May, the FA announced the cancellation of the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship.
Scotland is a place where the connection between club and fan still runs much deeper than it does in England’s top division but the pandemic has exposed the colossal fissures between Scottish men’s and women’s football. Almost all players in the Scottish Women’s Premier League are amateur or non-professional. Celtic and Rangers, the behemoths of men’s football, only made their women’s sides professional at the beginning of this season. By contrast, Scotland’s women have had much more success recently on the international stage than their men’s side, agonisingly missing out on the last 16 at the World Cup in France last year.
While James Anderson’s donation is a step in the right direction to ensuring that Scottish teams survive and that clubs can continue to provide employment and local football to the communities that they serve, this donation provides no help to women’s teams, including Glasgow City, SWPL champions for the last thirteen seasons.
Mr Anderson’s statement made no mention of Scottish women’s football, just as the race to restart the English Premier League has completely ignored the WSL. Upon the announcement of Anderson’s donation, Nicky Reid, CEO of the SPFL, wrote that ‘during this crisis, we have seen- once again- that SPFL clubs and their associated charities are trusted to support communities across Scotland’. One cannot claim to support communities when half of that community is betrayed.
In announcing his donation, James Anderson added that he was ‘committing [his] ongoing support to Scottish football’ through further donations in the future. I would suggest that any future efforts to save Scottish football include a package for the women’s game. Both Scotland and England had a vital opportunity to build on their respective successes in France last year. Both have failed.
Albie Mills is an Edinburgh-based support worker and Chair of the Young Scottish Fabians
He tweets @albiealbiemills