Teaching and the Decline of Scottish Football

Glasgow, 1974

Glasgow, 1974

I said yesterday (checks: no, make that earlier today) “whatever happened to Scottish football started happening in the mid-to-late seventies.” Here’s this to bear me out, from Harry Reid’s marvellous The Final Whistle?

Harry quotes Fred Forrester of the EIS, the principal Scottish teaching union:

Our preferred weapon in 1974 was the work to rule. That eventually spilled into strikes when we could not contain our members’ justifiable anger any more. The strikes, while unprecedented, were not as prolonged as those that were to follow in the 1980s.

The work-to-rule tactic was significant in that it concentrated on the teachers’ precise contractual obligations. At the beginning of the dispute there was a very strong linkage between your powerful grievance and confining your activities to the absolute minimum you were required to do in the working day.

What happened as a result of the work-to-rule was that voluntary activity at the week-end, and that mainly involved schools football on Saturdays, more or less stopped. Then, when the grievance was eventually resolved, it was very difficult indeed to get teachers to resume their voluntary activities. They found that they enjoyed having their week-ends to themselves. They asked themselves the simple question: ‘Why should I bother?’ They thought: ‘I’m really enjoying my week-ends now.’ … The effect of this on schools football was seriously harmful, but I would not wish the teachers of the 1970s to be presented as the villains in your book. You must realize that their working day had become so crowded, so overburdened, that even when their pay grievance was removed, they quite understandably saw no need to resume extra-curricular activities.

Football was without doubt the number one extra-curricular activity. So football indubitably suffered most. In the space of a few months, Saturday sport dwindled away, till it became not a mainstream activity but just the responsibility of a small number of enthusiasts. It did revive again, but the seeds had been sown. Schools football was never to be the same again, particularly in the great breeding grounds of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, Glasgow and Fife.

Harry Reid also spoke to Scottish football historian Bob Crampsey. Bob had just begun life as a secondary head at this time, and told Harry:

Teachers had this understandable sense of liberation, but the decline of schools football was disastrous. It was not just about producing great players. The not-so-good footballer played too, and while he might not go on to make his mark as a professional, he learned to understand and appreciate the game, and he might well go on to become a referee, or an official, or just a good, well-informed supporter. All that was lost.

In other words, large contributions to the Scottish education system were coming gratis from volunteers in a way that had long since interfered with any life they might want outside the academy. Rather than blame teachers, you want to thank them for keeping it going for as long as they did. If a job’s worth doing properly, it’s worth paying for. And no, this is not, not by a long chalk, the only reason for the decline.

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3 responses to “Teaching and the Decline of Scottish Football

  1. Does a similar effect show up for the rugby-playing state schools? It should be more pronounced because it’s easy to have a spontaneous football kickaround, but rugby really needs organisation. Cricket too.

  2. James Hamilton

    I’d like to know too, but I don’t know where I’d begin. I’ll have a sniff around next time I’m in the NLS and see what they have on this. Someone must have had the same thought.

    I saw a fair few spontaneous rugby kickarounds in London in the mid 2000s. I wouldn’t say that they were putting in too much tackling, though, and that’s a fine skill properly executed. I learned it eventually from a 1950s photographic book of rugby skills – the same book that taught me how to make the ball spin in the air during a pass (pure showing off, that one) – and started to give a few people nasty surprises.

  3. This one regularly came up in discussions of the “decline and fall of Welsh rugby” in the 1990s. It turned out that the problem also had a lot to do with romanticist selectors always wanting to pick Gareth Edwards figures; nippy halfbacks who turned out to be too small for the modern game. Also the multiply-reorganised big teams now put a huge amount of resource into development – apparently my old school team is now officially a “development partner” of Llanelli Scarlets (although I suspect that this has more to do with trying to increase interest in the game in a part of North Wales that has never really gone for it).