September 2019 saw another subscription-based platform unveil its line-up of Premier League fixtures, as English football fans faced further cost in watching all of their teams’ games. Meanwhile, north of the border, fans of the Scottish game were looking forward to the second series of football’s best TV show as part of a free Friday night of football on BBC Scotland.
Four men sitting around talking football may be nothing new but with no ex-pro to be found, A View From The Terrace (AVFTT) offers unscripted, passionate opinions, insight and original content, interspersed with sections that caught the imagination of viewers looking for something different. As top-level football eats itself around the globe, it portrays the Scottish game’s sense of community, whilst showing there’s more to the domestic scene than the Old Firm.
Viewers are taken on a journey to the isle of Eriskay and a look at a ground heralded by FIFA as one of the most unique places to play the game. No words are needed for a matchday at Arbroath – just an orchestral score and filmography inspired by American auteurist film director, Wes Anderson. These two clips, in particular, were soon doing the rounds on social media, retweeted far and wide, piquing the interest of football fans as Eriskay soon found itself inundated with requests of how people could take in a game.
A View From The Terrace was adapted from a similarly named podcast run by Craig Fowler, who now appears on the TV show. Journalist and Hearts fan Fowler is joined by fellow scribe and Jambo Joel Sked, alongside Shaughan McGuigan and Craig G Telfer. The latter pair follow Raith Rovers and Stenhousemuir, giving the show a rounded feel and the integrity to treat the lower leagues with the same amount of respect as the top division. McGuigan comes from a financial background whilst Telfer combines his Glasgow Caledonian University job with being the matchday announcer at Stenhousemuir’s Ochilview Park ground.
The Terrace has been one of Scottish football’s premier podcasts since it launched just over a decade ago. Fowler and Telfer’s paths crossed when an idea to expand the podcast to cover more of the lower leagues came to fruition. At the time, Teller was producing a website which took a look at the lower leagues, offering insight and match analysis of part-time clubs that they could only previously have dreamed of.
The brainchild of Fowler, its success caught the attention of BBC Commissioning Editor David Harron, who approached him about putting together a pilot episode for the nascent BBC Scotland channel. It was chosen ahead of five other productions and enjoyed an extended run of episodes last season before returning this autumn.
BBC Scotland launched earlier this year following calls for its own news bulletin from the broadcasting corporation that had lasted over two decades. Eyed with suspicion and hope more than expectation, the channel has achieved a steady rise in viewing figures, becoming the most successful non-terrestrial channel in Scotland. Part of its success comes down to its ability to engage with younger viewers as well as its outside-the-box approach to programming.
I’m old enough to remember when Soccer AM was good, when you kept the TV on after a game to watch Fantasy Football, and have recollections of my dad rolling about laughing to Saint and Greavsie on a Saturday lunchtime. Those days are long gone, overtaken by ex-pros in suits thanking their agents for landing them a job of stating the obvious every weekend.
When Sky Sports came along and blew all of its competition out of the water there seemed to be a new way of doing things. Andy Gray had his tactics board and would use the circles and arrows to explain to you just how Richard Dunne managed to put the ball past his own goalkeeper.
The Sky juggernaut was temporarily halted when they agreed to resolve a dispute with European Commission to end their monopoly over all of the match packages that the Premier League had on offer. On the eve of the millennium, ITV’s ON Digital, NTL and more appeared on the scene eager to take a piece of the televised football pie. With the Premier League out of reach for many, the net was widened to find more football to sate the public’s apparent ravenous appetite for the game.
The initial over-exuberance came back to haunt them. Having rebranded to ITV Digital, they soon became aware of the problems with subscription-based platforms as the money promised to both the English and Scottish leagues disappeared, leaving the company heading for administration and many clubs staring into a financial black hole. The TV deals were growing at the top table; more and more rights were sold overseas as the eye-watering figures on offer became the Holy Grail for club owners.
Scottish football licked its wounds and set about readjusting to life without the vast amounts of TV money that was flooding the game south of the border. Some struggled: established names within the Scottish game found themselves on the brink of going to the wall, yet slowly they have settled into their new standing in the global game.
The presence of Sky and BT Sport ensures Scottish football fans still get to pay for the privilege of watching their teams when televised, albeit at a vastly reduced rate to what they had previously.
BBC Scotland and Scottish-Gaelic language channel BBC Alba show live games most weeks from the lower leagues. A live Championship fixture on a Friday evening sets the table for A View From The Terrace as a precursor for the weekend of action ahead. The all-encompassing nature of AVFTT has brought attention to the lower leagues, with fans as likely to have heard of the impressive goalscoring feats of Arbroath’s Bobby Linn as they are of Alfredo Morelos at Rangers.
The first series saw the much talked about Boyata Index, which played on the assumption from John Hartson that should Celtic wish to cash in on their Belgian defender, suitors would have to pay £50m for his services. If Dedryck Boyata was worth this much then surely Linn is worth a vast amount more due to his goals – they of course win you matches. The tongue-in-cheek jibe at Boyata’s supposed value was an accurate one as the former Manchester City man departed Celtic Park on a free transfer this summer.
Scottish football isn’t the only thing on display throughout the program, with each episode ending on a musical note. However, it’s not your latest hipster band promoting their new release: its Scottish artists putting their spin on club and terrace anthems. A Eurovision-style banger about Livingston; a version of Hibs anthem Sunshine On Leith; or perhaps the series pinnacle, a slice of electro-pop by HYTTS, whose ’T.H.I.S.T.L.E’ is based on the Jags.
The advent of social media has presented a whole new avenue of access to the beautiful game and Scotland has been one of the main beneficiaries. A new audience of football fans have been introduced to the unique madness of the domestic game, something which Robert Borthwick rounds up on each episode of the show. Despite the Old Firm domination and the national team entering their third decade of failure to reach a major tournament, the Scottish game is still full of fascinating characters and clubs.
Progress in the Champions League and major tournament qualification would help improve the perception of the standard, but despite a whole generation of fans having yet to experience a Tartan Army-blessed World Cup or European Championship, domestic proceedings have taken centre stage. There has been a rise in the popularity of the game and improvements in stadiums, while more homegrown talent are making first XI’s at some of Europe’s biggest sides.
It’s almost as if Scottish football came back into its own when it stopped caring about what was happening elsewhere and concentrated on what was good about their own game. It has emerged from a shadow cast south of the border and is comfortable in its own skin, happy to stand alone. A world of pie rolls, over-enthusiastic rock legends making cup draws, and mascots dressed as tanks. A View From The Terrace embraces all of this and more, making it football’s most genuine and insightful TV programme.
By Matthew Evans @Matt_The_Met
With thanks to Craig G Telfer for his input
Photo credit: Studo Something