I’m not one for using this blog as a soapbox to rant and rave about things, but after the shambles that was the Scottish Cup fifth round replays, I have to ask some serious question of those charged with running the game at a continental and national level.
UEFA’s insistence on a TV blackout for domestic games when they clash with Champions League or Europa League fixtures is absolute nonsense. Do they feel that domestic games being televised at the same time as continental fixtures will be a threat to viewing fixtures and advertising income? Is there a fear that fans may actually watch domestic football over games like Benfica vs Zenit St. Petersburg? Maybe it’s to stop smaller clubs being able to make an extra, and in some cases much needed, few quid?
In the case of the two Scottish Cup fixtures last night, we aren’t even talking about them being broadcast on television. Both games would have been shown on subscription-based, in-house, club TV channels outside the UK & Ireland. I’d happily bet that fans of Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica and Zenit had absolutely no interest in the Scottish Cup replays and most “neutral” fans wouldn’t go to the bother of coughing up to watch Hibs vs Hearts or Kilmarnock vs Rangers on a wet, dreary February night. Maybe I’m wrong and there’s a huge Lewis Stevenson fan club in Lisbon. Then again, maybe not.
Now, the flak isn’t just flying towards the European game’s rulers in Nyon. Some of it is also aimed at those sat at Hampden Park. Surely one of the brain trust at the National Stadium were aware of this rule (The FA had £1 million of TV money withheld a few years ago for scheduling domestic games against the Champions League). Didn’t it cross their mind that maybe, just maybe, that fans would want to see their clubs in action? Both replays last night had strong attendances with Rangers taking 9,000 fans to Rugby Park while there was almost 19,000 at Easter Road. Interestingly, the FA escaped censure in 2013 for scheduling a Liverpool vs Everton game in direct competition with the Champions League on the basis that no British teams were involved in continental competition that night. If that remains in place (finding the specific details of UEFA’s TV blackout is near impossible), then having the Scottish Cup replays played on Wednesday instead would have allowed them to be broadcast without any problem.
Despite this, Rangers fans weren’t to be denied the opportunity to see their club claim a Premiership scalp and book their place in the quarter-finals. A few inventive fans decided to broadcast the game via the Periscope app. It wasn’t ideal but when you’ve completely sold out your ticket allocation of 9,000 and the hosts implemented a policy where fans purchasing tickets for the home end were required to sign a document stating they were Kilmarnock fans, then a creative solution is required. By full time over 19,000, including yours truly, had watched one Periscope broadcast alone. Not only had fans resorted to literally watching the match filmed via mobile phone, but Periscope actually began trending on Twitter in Glasgow. I think there might be a few guys not needing to put their hand in their pocket if they go for a beer before the next game at Ibrox.
There’s massive lessons to be learned from this. Hopefully in the future the SFA don’t schedule replays for the same night as Champions League fixtures and UEFA realise that fans don’t care about the Champions League when their own team are in action at home.
Away from TV broadcasts and hopeless governing bodies, Mark Warburton’s side have looked slightly out of sorts of late. A run of four consecutive clean sheets came to an end in the weekend draw away to Alloa and the light blues huffed and puffed but struggled to kill the game off. It’s been a fairly common complaint in recent weeks that Rangers have been wasteful in front of goal and need to find the clinical touch they were showing earlier in the season. 23 corners, 25 shots on goal and 71% possession is the kind of stats you’d expect to see attached to a five or six-goal thumping, but it wasn’t to be. Thankfully, Hibs continued their habit of bottling it when presented an opportunity to close the gap on Rangers and spluttered to a bore draw at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Finally, many of you will remember the furore over Nathan Oduwa’s attempted rainbow flick against Alloa way back at the start of the season. Well, football’s spoilsports raised their head again when Barcelona donned their Harlem Globetrotter costumes against Celta Vigo. As I said in this blog, when it was aimed at Oduwa the criticism of players showing off their flair is more disrespectful to the game, and the fans who splash out their hard-earned cash, than it is to any opponent. We keep being told football is entertainment. It’s about time we applauded the entertainers instead of trying to take the fun out of football. It’s bad enough watching teams sit with 10 men behind the ball never mind hammering the guys who perform tricks and flashes of brilliance more often seen in the latest FIFA or PES title.
Give me that Messi penalty, Andrei Kanchelskis performing the worst pirouette I’ve seen or Nathan Oduwa attempting a rainbow flick over Scott Brown crashing into tackles, Ian Black crashing into other players or teams parking the bus.