I think the reasons are varied and complex HJ.
It is true that the Borders remains one of the only areas of Scotland where football is not the number one sport. (Perhaps shinty rivals football in parts of the Highlands?) It is important to understand what that means in reality and compare it to the experience of football clubs in places elsewhere.
Rugby being the number one, (and perhaps more importantly the “establishment”) sport manifests itself in a number of ways. The first is that rugby is compulsory at Secondary Schools in the region. At least for the first two years a child attends. There are little or no football courses across the region. It tends to be played intermittently if at all in schools. Added to this the SRU has invested in a schools programme that covers a number of things helping to alleviate the cost of professional coaches, travel and kit, indeed many of the costs that football has to find from sponsorship or membership fees charged to children. Basically it is cheaper and more accessible to play rugby if a child demonstrates talent either through their school or local clubs. Junior football clubs across the region will tell you how on countless occasions, their best players, those with natural athleticism, balance, speed and a sporting brain are lost to rugby once a child is forced to choose one or the other. The child doesn’t have to travel to Edinburgh to improve and the parents do not have to fork out as much in fees, travel or kit.
In terms of coaching, rugby has many more experienced and qualified coaches and ex-players in association with a governing body that helps develop the grass roots game. Football tends to be delivered by a handful of volunteer parents with a governing body which beyond delivering the most basic of training to coaches may as well be 1,000 miles away never mind the 80 miles to Hampden Park. Whilst primary school aged football is relatively thriving thanks to a magnificent volunteer effort, it is a struggle to maintain inter-town 11 aside Youth football at a decent level. In order to keep a hold of their better players some clubs are forced to play in Edinburgh leagues adding to the cost and travel involved.
Another impact is in terms of sponsorship money available to football in Borders towns. Whilst football clubs do get loyal and generous sponsorship, rugby has historically taken the lion’s share of finance in the towns where it is available. A company may pay for advertising boards at both their local rugby and football clubs but normally you can be assured that the rugby club will receive more.
Compare that to the sponsorship finance that may be available to teams in towns either comparable in size or smaller than Galashiels or Hawick. You can be assured that in Auchinleck, Bonnyrigg and Penicuik then more local businesses will be giving to their football clubs than they do in comparable towns in the Borders. And if we are honest, then money talks even at non-league level. There is a reason that the clubs at the top of the Lowland League and the East of Scotland Conference are where they are. In the main they offer players the most money.
Being the establishment sport has led to much greater coverage in local and national media along with help and support from local professional bodies and rugby has clearly enjoyed an advantage on accessing local and national funding.
Finally, in terms of numbers through the gates then rugby has always attracted much bigger crowds, even when local football clubs were performing well in the East of Scotland League in the past.
That doesn’t mean there is nothing Border clubs can do. When I was involved at Gala we began the process of for the first time challenging rugby for supremacy in the town. By becoming a genuine community club we increased the number of players, volunteers and supporters in the orbit of the club, made us more attractive to local sponsors. For the first time the number of children playing football has begun to have a detrimental effect on rugby. Added to the fact that the professionalisation of rugby has meant that the Borders clubs no longer dominate the domestic game as they once did then there is an opportunity for football to thrive and flourish. However, this would be despite of, not because of the governing body the SFA. The clubs are pretty much on their on in this regard and will have to stand or fall on the merits of their own efforts.
Another reason is a geographic isolation. Whilst the likes of Gala have invested heavily in youth development it will be a number of years, (if at all) before they produce enough quality players capable of making an impact in the Lowland or East of Scotland Leagues. That means in the interim that Borders clubs require to bring in players from the Lothians and further afield. This is a very competitive market at the moment. Even if money was not the main issue, then persuading players to train twice a week and play matches on a weekend incurring 70 or 80 mile round trips each time can prove a barrier to recruiting players. The alternative is for a club like Gala to train in Edinburgh or the Lothians, risking breaking the community ethos of the club in doing so.
Finally, the problems of Border football cannot all be laid at the door of rugby, geography or the SFA. There remains an excruciating parochialism, lack of ambition and vision amongst some players and clubs which added to the problems outlined above perhaps explains why the region is currently struggling. In every town, the Lowland or East of Scotland League clubs or even the Border Amateur clubs must have a relationship with the junior and youth teams in the towns. They should all be encouraging walking football and the woman's and girls game in a bid to maximise the number of people coming into contact with their clubs.
The Borders clubs, committee's and players should strive to be the best they can be. You would hope that players should aim to play at the highest level they can rather than taking the easier option of winning some Amateur trophies whilst club's need to have a longer term vision of the way they approach the future rather than short-term solutions to complex problems and issues.