Just over a month since Scotland’s four European hopefuls kicked off their 2011/12 season in buoyant mood, every last one of them have been embarrassed and turfed out before any of the big boys have even been allowed in.
First it was Peter Houston’s Dundee United, conquered by Poles Slask Wroclaw on away goals after a spirited effort in overturning a 1-0 deficit from the first leg saw them secure a 3-3 draw on aggregate.
Then came Rangers’ efforts in the Champions’ League qualifiers. After being drawn against Swedish minnows Malmo, many believed it would be a walk in the park for Scotland’s champions. However, a home defeat followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw in Sweden put paid to that notion, and Ally McCoist’s men dropped into the Europa League qualifiers, alongside Hearts and rivals Celtic.
But it was at this stage of Europe’s “second rate” competition – described as the Champions’ League’s poor cousin – that Scottish football would fall to it’s lowest ebb.
After being drawn against English giants Tottenham Hotspur in a game dubbed the Battle of Britain, Hearts’ showing in their 5-0 drubbing at Tynecastle meant the tie was as good as over.
Rangers and Celtic, drawn against Maribor and FC Sion respectively, were once more expected to come through their ties with the minimum of effort. But again, both fell drastically short.
Celtic’s dismal effort began with a 0-0 draw at Celtic Park on the same night Rangers dramatically fell 2-1 away in Slovenia. Both clubs were then put out their misery in their next legs; Rangers drawing 1-1 at home to Maribor and Celtic’s ten men being beaten 3-1 in Switzerland. Hearts’ gutsy 0-0 draw down at White Hart Lane in the return leg against Tottenham did little to lighten the mood.
The demise of Dundee United, Rangers, Celtic and Hearts with such minimum fuss meant that, for the first time since European competition started, Scotland’s interest had ended before the end of August.
But what now for the Scottish game? No doubt there will be talk of meetings, in the hope that somehow words from people sitting around a table will improve the product on the park.
For me, the Scottish Football Association has to take the reigns, building a structure from grass roots right through to the top in a bid to make our sides more competitive abroad, as well as bringing the crowds back domestically.
However, there is no quick fix – in fact it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. The season after next, Scotland’s champions could face three qualifiers just to get into the Champions’ League. For our hopefuls in the Europa, that could be as much as four.
So who has the answers? Where will the ideas come from? Or will it be a case of just sticking our heads in the sand like we have done the last 30 years or so and act as if everything is rosey at Hampden.
By Joe O’Brien – Celtic fan – @Joe11OBrien