Ann Budge and Leeann Dempster join ‘progressive’ SPFL board

Hibs chief Leeann Dempster will serve alongside Hearts owner Ann Budge on the SPFL board. Picture: John Devlin

Hibs chief Leeann Dempster will serve alongside Hearts owner Ann Budge on the SPFL board. Picture: John Devlin

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Neil Doncaster has welcomed the creation of a “progressive” SPFL board with the election of Hearts owner Ann Budge and Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster at yesterday’s Hampden agm of the governing body, attended by all 42 senior clubs.

A week after the appointment of Theresa May as only the UK’s second female Prime Minister, the elevation of Budge and Dempster to a board which also includes independent non-executive director Karyn McCluskey is a leap forward in the representation of women at Scottish football’s top table.

The three will be joined by fellow new appointees in the form of Celtic’s chief executive Peter Lawwell and Partick Thistle’s general manager Ian Maxwell in the Premiership roles. In the other Championship position, Raith Rovers chairman Eric Drysdale will continue, while Brechin City’s Ken Ferguson represents League 1 and League 2.

SPFL chief executive Doncaster, who sits on the board alongside chairman Ralph Topping, acknowledged that the changes were of a magnitude that would not always have been thought possible.

Doncaster said: “The prospect of having three women on the board when I arrived seven years ago, I don’t think many people would have seen that coming. So I think it is progressive.

“All of them will bring a new and different approach, as will Ian Maxwell and Peter Lawwell. We are a democratic, accountable, open organisation. It’s an open vote, straightforward, the clubs get who they want.

“The clubs wanted this board and they’ve got this board.

We look forward to working with them to further develop the league in the future.”

Budge, pictured, has previously been a critic of the SPFL’s approach to communications – though now chairs the committee dealing with that aspect – as well as the attitude from the top to tackling “disorder” at grounds. Doncaster sees no potential for “awkwardness” within the board by her questioning of the SPFL approach in certain areas.

“We’re a members’ association and we exist for the benefit of the member clubs; the 42,” he said. “There are always things we can do differently or better and we welcome, all of us, constructive criticism that is designed to make things better for the members. Ultimately, there will be new ideas that Ann will bring, she’s brought them already as part of the communications working group and I’ve no doubt she’ll bring them as a member of the board.”

It hasn’t been just from Budge that Scottish football has come under pressure to adopt a harder line on supporter misbehaviour.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson claimed he was prepared to impose a form of strict liability – whereby clubs are made responsible for their supporters regardless of any circumstances – in the wake of the pitch invasion and mayhem that followed Hibs’ Scottish Cup win in May if the game’s authorities itself did not act.

Doncaster, despite reiterating his unequivocal opposition to strict liability, believes the SPFL have responded to the political desire for a more robust approach to unacceptable conduct with measures set out at yesterday’s agm.

“The clubs today approved changes to the rules that will increase the onus on clubs to identify and discipline those fans who do engage in unacceptable conduct,” he said.

“That change brings us in to line with the Scottish FA’s change which was approved unanimously at their agm in June and I’m sure that will be welcomed by government.

“I think there is a desire to work with government as there is a desire to work between clubs and the SPFL. Today’s rule change demonstrates that the clubs are willing to work co-operatively. There has been dialogue with the government over the change and we have approved that change and again it’s in line with the approach of the Scottish FA. I think there is a collaborative approach which people are taking.”

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