THERE was a time not that long ago when the prospect of the Scottish national team playing in your back garden wouldn’t have inspired the effort to get up and open the curtains.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Steve Clarke and his men though, the Tartan Army and the wider Scottish public are once again engaged with the Scotland side, with tickets for matches at Hampden and abroad at a premium.

Because of this, the only way that tens of thousands of Scottish supporters can see the team is through television coverage. And until this week, the only way to access the games on the box – aside from popping down the boozer or getting a dodgy Firestick for the back of your telly – was to get yourself a Sky subscription.

That all changed this week with the news that Scandinavian streaming service Viaplay – a company that won’t even launch until the second half of this year - has won the broadcast rights to all Scotland matches from 2024 until 2028.

Just as when Sky won the rights, the development went down like a cup of cold sick with the Tartan Army, a group that have shown on their travels that they can normally stomach just about anything.

This though made many of them queasy, with the fragmented nature of Scottish football coverage now such that a fan would have to subscribe to Sky, Premier Sports and Viaplay as well as potentially their own club channels if they wanted to watch all the games their club and country plays from the start of this agreement.

Few perhaps were mourning the passing of Sky as main broadcaster of the national team, with the disdainful resources they committed to Scotland’s recent friendly in Austria angering more than a few within the SFA.

In fairness to the broadcaster, mind, they have committed to showing Scotland’s World Cup play-off final against Wales free-to-air, should the Scots progress past Ukraine next month.

Predictably though, the anger of the fans now turned towards the game’s governing body, despite the SFA getting out of the gates quickly with the message that this decision really had very little to do with them at all. Even poor Neil Doncaster, embattled SPFL chief executive, was getting it in the neck from some on social media.

In fairness to the SFA here, they were absolutely right. There are enough sticks with which to beat them, but the fact is this was a decision made through UEFA’s centralised National Association media rights sales process.

The thinking behind it is that by ceding control of the marketing and sale of broadcast rights, all 55 UEFA nations are subsequently guaranteed a set amount of revenue. The SFA are also hoping to make certain Scotland matches free to air, and say they have already engaged with UEFA and Viaplay on this issue.

What this development does raise though is the debate over whether the national team, as a national asset, should be at the mercy of the markets at all, and whether all of their matches should be protected and shown free to air.

The Scottish Football Supporters Association certainly feel so, with chairman Andy Smith saying in a statement yesterday: “This is just wrong and bad news for all Scottish fans. It is really annoying to see England free on STV when to watch Scotland costs us all.

“The SFA are not at fault here and indeed I hope the substantial revenues from the deal will be announced openly and channelled into the grass roots of our game where investment is much needed and long overdue.

“But it is unfair that we have to shell out again and the obvious question we want answers to is, how do TV broadcasters in England value the English Team so much higher than those in Scotland?”

The perception of disparity with England that draws this issue into sharp focus is rather an illusory one, even though England supporters are indeed able to view their own national team’s matches on so-called ‘cooncil telly’ free of charge.

The truth is that the channel involved here doesn’t actually quite fit the ‘cooncil telly’ bill, with commercial station ITV winning the rights to England matches in much the same way as Viaplay have done with Scotland games. i.e. They ponied up the dough.

The fact they don’t see the value in bidding for Scotland matches is unfortunate, and sticks doubly in Scottish craws when the England matches are also shown up here free of charge on STV, especially when Scotland might be playing at the same time over on Sky. But what could be done about it?

Would a combination of government funding and licence fee money be enough for the BBC to consider bidding for the rights to Scotland matches? Or could the government even pass a law to ensure that Scotland matches were shown free-to-air?

It might sound fanciful, but back in 2016, the SNP pledged they would do just that if they had the power. Perhaps easy to say, cynics may argue, when they don’t.

Then SNP cabinet secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “We’ve repeatedly argued for Scotland games to be added to the list of sporting events that must be broadcast live on free-to-air television, the so-called ‘Crown Jewel’ events.

"We’ve not been alone in making this call, in fact an independent advisory panel on the list recommend the UK Government should do this seven years ago [2009] and it has still to be implemented by them.

“We want broadcasting powers to be devolved to Scotland, so Holyrood can have its say on what should be on the Crown Jewel list, and I have little doubt that if it was down to MSPs that Scotland games would be included.”

Such a system does actually exist in Ireland, where legislation was passed on the ‘Designation of Major Events’, ensuring Ireland's home and away qualifying games in the European Football Championship and the FIFA World Cup Tournaments were available free-to-air, as well as other events such as the Irish Grand National and the All-Ireland Senior Inter-County Football & Hurling Finals.

Indeed, in the UK, the Scottish Cup Final along with the FA Cup and Wimbledon are protected in such a manner. There are no plans, currently, to add international fixtures to the list.

Alas, for now it seems, fans will be forced to fork out. And hope for the odd crumb of benevolence from the broadcasters when the really big matches roll around.