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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
10 April 2023
The great Scottish paywall: Fans are being robbed of football memories

Scotland football fan in Trafalgar Square | Alamy

The great Scottish paywall: Fans are being robbed of football memories

I grew up during the dark days. That sounds ominous and possibly overly dramatic, but indulge me for a moment.

I was born in 1998, three days after Scotland was dumped out of the World Cup by Morocco. That dismal 3-0 defeat laid the foundations for the glorious failure that I was to endure for the next 22 years, as Scotland narrowly missed out on qualifying for major tournaments, time after time. 

I won’t pretend to remember it all, thankfully. My first clear memory from the catalogue of Scottish football-induced pain was in an Italian restaurant in Glasgow, in November 2007. Bubbling tears began as a gleeful Italian waiter informed us that Italy had won, under dubious circumstances I may add, and Scotland would not be heading to Euro 2008.  

As my dad tried to deal with my grief outside the restaurant, hordes of Scotland fans walked by in a sombre state, heading towards the city centre. Two rather inebriated men stood out, clearly aggrieved by the dodgy refereeing decision that defined the game. They defiantly sang at the Italian restaurant “you can shove your f****** pizzas up your a***,” their chant quickly kiboshed at the suggestion of ordering pizza, presumably to eat.  

And then 13 years later, my dad and I jumped around the living room as Scotland held their nerve to beat Serbia to progress the delayed Euro 2020.

A lot of things about that night were unusual: Scotland qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in 22 year; no fans due to the pandemic; and it was free to watch. I want to focus on the latter. Normally, this game would have been behind a paywall, but it was designated as a ‘listed event’ meaning it must be live and free to watch for all in the UK.  

It would have been a tragedy if Scots hadn’t been able to watch this moment, after all the years of near misses, and not-so-near misses. The free broadcast gave us the infamous post-match interview where Ryan Christie failed to fight back the tears. It birthed the unofficial national anthem Yes Sir, I Can Boogie that the Scotland players danced to in the changing room. And it created personal memories in just about every Scottish household that night. 

Sadly, after the tournament, there would be no more Scotland men’s games shown on free channels, and last month, because of this, millions, me included, missed out on one of the biggest Scottish upsets in decades as the national team defeated Spain.

And despite England and Wales’s games being free to watch, Scotland’s games will remain behind a subscription-based paywall until at least 2028. I feel robbed. The game against Spain should have been one of those rare moments that brings the nation together, during a time people could really have used a break from the stress of multiple crises.  

And who felt it the most? Yet again, the poorest, people that can’t afford the extortionate sports channel subscriptions. Sadly, that has been the direction that sport, football in particular, has moved in the last 30 years, pricing out supporters as ticket prices increase year on year and the costs for the rights to televise games continue to skyrocket amid a market diluted with potential broadcasters, making it harder for the BBC, STV, and Channel 4 to justify purchasing the rights to Scotland games.  

I don’t know how we change this, but we run the risk of millions missing moments that have the power to unite the unfriendliest of foes.

Nelson Mandela famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” You need to see it, to truly feel it.

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