Apr 292011

By Fred Wilkinson with thanks to The REAL SPL.

For my sins, I am football fan and a diehard Dandy, but for many reasons, not withstanding the demands of my role in producing Aberdeen Voice, I am unable to attend games as often as I would like.

Instead, I indulge in animated, all too often loud, heated conversation with the radio, and very occasionally the telly, sure in my mind at the time that all on the park and on the touchline can hear me, and would do well to listen.

Often in desperate attempts to influence the fortunes of my once all conquering home team, I find myself deliberately facing the general direction of the match venue.

So from my position close to the radio, Pittodrie is the pasta cupboard, Easter Road is a chimney viewed from the window, and Ibrox is the pots and pans shelf… you get the gist. Ineffective, bizarre and utterly futile certainly, but at least I demonstrate huge commitment and effort; very much like Darren Mackie – minus the red boots and the lucrative contract.

I miss out on the sharing of views, the wisecracks and the banter I have come to expect from being there in person as a good game progresses. But all is not lost, there is enough room next to the radio for a laptop logged on to the Aberdeen-Mad fans forum where a range of views and arguments are exchanged before, during, after and in between games. From informed to infuriating, well measured to well mad, bouquets and brickbats, outrageous on occasion but always entertaining and often unbelievably hilarious. I am hooked.

Many fans fear that the Old Firm are slowly but surely strangling the game in Scotland

It was on said forum that I came across a newly formed campaign group who go by the name ‘The REAL SPL’. I found their philosophy rather refreshing, and their ambitions worthy of comment and a degree of respect.

I was compelled to find out more from their freshly constructed website.

The REAL SPL plan to run and publish a virtual league in parallel with the SPL from seasons 2011/12 onwards. They will allocate points on the same basis as the SPL for games played but no points will be awarded when a team plays one of the Old Firm.

The team with the most points will then be declared Champions of The REAL SPL and there are plans to purchase a REAL trophy to be awarded to the winners.

It appears this initiative is an attempt to bring back the interest and excitement to fans who have become disillusioned with the SPL mainly as the result of the Old Firm’s disproportionate influence on all aspects of the Scottish game. Aspects ranging from league construction, financial distribution to television contracts, and particularly of late and more importantly, the public image of Scottish Football as a whole. This extends to their influence with the football authorities, commercial rights and revenue generation.

Many fans fear that the Old Firm are slowly but surely strangling the game in Scotland, and if action is not taken there will be even more severe repercussions in years to come.

To reflect on my own ‘virtual game’ in the setting of my kitchen as described above, could this idea not be viewed as equally ‘Ineffective, bizarre and utterly futile’? – Apparently not.

Already, the idea has captured the collective imagination of followers to the point that many fans are pledging to stay away from old firm games, but rather than rob the game of money, will attend more games involving other teams or ensure the money they save will go to their club in other ways: ways in which the old firm cannot lay claim to a share.

“The number of fans going to games in Scotland is falling year on year. There are many reasons for this but we believe that an uncompetitive league is one of the most important.”

Few would argue that the Scottish game, as with my beloved, yet sadly underachieving Dandies could do with a ‘leggie up’, but one worries that an idea, however well meaning and potentially beneficial cannot inspire change without a significant level of public support. So I ask, what are the indications that a significant level of public support exists?

“We ran a poll for two days, when we started the site, to find out whether people agreed with our aims. In this time, we had over 1,200 people complete the poll with a 95% approval rating for The Real SPL”

The site itself recorded an impressive 115,000 hits in its first two days in operation – An excellent start indeed, and it is only a start.

I believe the REAL SPL may have more far reaching ambitions. Perhaps to become more than simply a virtual league and a snub to the old firm, and possibly develop a strong platform for REAL football fans to air their views on how our game should evolve. Perhaps to initiate campaigns for specific changes free of the selfish business interests of the ‘Big Two’.

“The fans want a competitive, exciting and ambitious league and we have come to the conclusion that it’s time for a change. We are excited by the challenge of bringing interest in football back to the fans who may not have attended a game in a while.”

You can offer your support for The REAL SPL by visiting their website, or contributing to discussions on Aberdeen-Mad. You may also wish to join their group page on Facebook.

“One of the things we are looking to do is get more Facebook fans than the SPL. They have around 13,500 and we have 500… Its a tall order I know but it will demonstrate the backing that we have for a more competitive league”