Tom English: Is it really too late for a third way?

St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour and Ross County counterpart Roy MacGregor. Picture: SNS
St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour and Ross County counterpart Roy MacGregor. Picture: SNS
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THERE is something faintly preposterous about all the pressure being heaped on Roy MacGregor at Ross County.

All of this moral blackmail ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of the SPL clubs to vote, once and for all, on league reconstruction. MacGregor, chairman of an extremely well-run club, finds himself being dictated to by people in charge of footballing basket cases. Hearts, for instance, issued a statement the other day that was more than 3,000 words long. The thing should have had a black border around it given the sense of foreboding in the message. To whittle it down to a bottom line it basically said: “Dear Roy, please vote yes or else Scottish football will die. Yours sincerely, Hearts.”

Hearts must contribute to the debate but given the frightening shambles they have made of their own club they should ease up on the preaching. If MacGregor was feeling patronised by whoever the hell is in charge at Tynecastle these days then you couldn’t blame him. He’s entitled to say: “Hang on, we’re a stable operation and we’re getting a lecture from a club that not long ago was in such a pitiful state that they were taking piggy banks from kids to keep themselves going”.

As Monday’s vote draws closer the level of desperation is on the march.

Stewart Milne, a staunch supporter of 12-12-18, has played his own part in Operation Roy, pronouncing that jobs will be lost if MacGregor doesn’t weaken and vote the new format through.

Of course, Milne could have had a profound impact on league reconstruction had he voted in favour of altering the voting structure within the SPL. He had it within his gift to do so and didn’t do it.

So here we are in a situation whereby more than 80 per cent of SPL clubs are in favour of reconstructing the leagues into a 12-12-18 but it’s not enough. Milne now has to turn the heat up on Ross County in order to get the proposal over the line.

Milne and Hearts and other chairmen and chief executives of clubs and governing bodies who are in favour of 12-12-18 say that Ross County have to make up their own mind but some of these guys may as well have donned the garb of the Grim Reaper when addressing McGregor. “Yes, yes, Roy, this is a decision for your club and your club alone and we wouldn’t dream of trying to influence you but, if you vote no then be warned all of the death and destruction that will ensue will be on your head. No pressure…”

MacGregor has been impressively stoic through all of this. Here we see a man who is struggling to find the right path through this minefield. He has a manager, Derek Adams, who is utterly opposed to what the majority are proposing and a support that largely back the manager. On the other side of the argument, he has his contemporaries telling him that it’s all down to him. Do or die. But, of course, it isn’t. Or it shouldn’t be.

Yesterday, MacGregor came up with some sensible chat, clearly looking for a compromise between two opposed groups.

“I have to balance the interests of fans, shareholders and the long-term future of the game,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t take the good bits from the proposals. My big concern is for the First Division clubs because I know what it’s like to be there.

“There is a lot of good in the current proposals and I don’t see why we can’t distribute a fairer share of the money now to the First Division.”

To be fair, nobody on the outside looking in can see why the best bits of these proposals cannot be introduced next season while leaving the heavily controversial issue of number of teams and number of leagues to one side. The reply to this from the supporters of the proposal is that it is an all or nothing deal, a take-it-or-leave-it package that is being offered now and will not be offered again.

But why? Why is it all or nothing? Nobody who supports these measures has nailed the answer to that question apart from saying “It’s this way because… it is”.

MacGregor is trying to navigate his way through the mess and good luck to him. What he says is right. Bring in one league body in time for next season, bring in a new financial model, bring in play-offs. All of these things can be voted on and passed because, surely, 11 clubs are in agreement on all of them.

Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? Is it really too late for a third way? MacGregor’s way.

Nobody wants the status quo. Nobody. Nobody wants everything to be the same again next season, not the clubs, not the supporters, not television partners and not, you fancy, any prospective sponsor for the league which is decidedly unloved by the commercial world as it is.

All or nothing? It’s an infantile approach, a hissy fit.

There is enormous pressure on every one of the 12 representatives of the SPL to walk out the door at Hampden tomorrow with something to show us.

Lord help them – and Lord help the game – if the message they’re relaying is one that says nothing has changed.

Now is the time for open minds, not for heads being banged off walls. We’ve had too much of that for too long. Is it too much to expect that some commonsense could reign for once instead of confusion and rancour?

MacGregor sees a way through this and for that he deserves respect. And, more to the point, enough votes to bring this affair to a sensible and palatable conclusion.