Opinion: Stephen McIlkenny on why SFA review is necessary for real change

Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan. Picture: John Devlin
Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan. Picture: John Devlin
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For years, Scottish football has been belittled, with media across the world (and dare I say it, in our own country) often scornful about the state of our game.

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And it’s not just the media. Many fans, myself included, have been quick to judge the failure of the national team, the lack of league reform and many other matters that have affected the sport.

But despite the many gripes from fans from all clubs, Scottish football has always been able to pull through. Claims of ‘Armageddon’ a few years ago were quickly muted as attendances rose. A TV deal that was pulled from under the feet of all Scottish clubs created a period of lengthy financial uncertainty for many, but the game (and fans) stuck with it and most clubs came through unscathed.

However, the SFA’s announcement last week that they had rejected the offer to take part in a review into the handling of Rangers’ use of Employee Benefit Trusts could signify a real roadblock for the future of the game in our country.

Celtic have accused the SFA of “a failure in transparency, accountability and leadership”.

Contrary to what some have reported, Celtic are not calling for a review of Rangers, but a review of the governing body as a whole in the light of new evidence. The Parkhead club’s statement read: “This is exactly the same position as adopted by the SPFL board on behalf of all Scotland’s 42 professional clubs. The club believes that such a review is essential if a line is to be drawn under this whole affair. On that basis, Scottish football could learn lessons and move on.”

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And with a review, it would move on. For too long, the SFA has been the bogeyman and the target of much abuse from fans whenever there’s an issue with their club. So the real question is why should we not have a review? What possible benefit can it bring to not be open and honest with the fans? Why is there such secrecy?

Furthermore, why are the reasons for refusing a review so weak and ill-formed? In 2011 the buzzword at the SFA appeared to be transparency, so what has changed? Stewart Regan, the chief executive, said in a recent interview that “Not a single phone call, not a single e-mail, not a single letter has been received from any of our members other than Celtic.”

However, the SPFL board called for an independent review into the process on July 26. For those of you that aren’t aware, the SPFL board is made up of 9 representatives. 6 being from clubs, 2 independent non exec members, plus Neil Doncaster, the CEO of the SPFL.

An Aberdeen fan group has already called for a review, while some Hibs supporters seem incandescent on fan forums that their club has officially backed the SFA stance and announced that it’s time to move.

I refuse to accept that it is only one club and a minority of fans who want to see a review of the SFA. In fact, if that is the case and no other club or fans want to have a transparent organisation or a review into proceedings, then we may as well call an end to Scottish football right now.

This year, Financial Fair Play has been found to not be working. PSG and many others have allegedly benefitted from loopholes in the system. Rather than shy away from it and staunchly state that FFP is working, UEFA is set to launch a full review into the system. Why can the Scottish governing body not be as reactive? Why can we not be more open to acknowledging the needs and desires of fans?

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The refusal to grant an insight to fans into their procedures at the very top of our game is only adding pressure to an organisation that is fast-becoming out of touch with those it serves. You only need to look at the Twitter debate between Stewart Regan and a Scottish football fan a few weeks ago over ticket prices to further see my point.

The fans who go to games this weekend and pay for the privilege of seeing their team deserve to know that the game is being played fairly and being run by a capable governing body. Do they not deserve to know without doubt that the rules are being upheld by the governing body which is open and transparent? We talk of improving the game, improving grassroots and building for the future with more coaches, better facilities and better stadia, but by driving fans away by ignoring their wishes, how can this be achieved?

A truly independent review offers a unique opportunity that would not only provide closure over an exceptionally controversial chapter of Scottish football but would repair much of the damage that has already been inflicted. The simple fact is that if a review was to be held, we do not not know what would happen or be revealed, but at least fans and clubs would have answers and a line could be drawn under a sorry saga in Scottish football.

In their statement, the SFA said that one of the “key learnings” that has been addressed in the last six years has been the “bolstering the duty of good faith”. The reaction of many fans suggests that faith in the integrity of the SFA may be in short supply.

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