STEWART Regan was once a disciple of Twitter, his presence on social media designed to show the public that the foosty SFA had modernised on his watch.
No more cobwebs, no more dark-age thinking. Under Regan, the association wanted to show that it was accessible in a way that it never was before. The Rangers saga altered that somewhat. When the crisis erupted last February the tone of the interaction on Twitter changed dramatically. From 80 per cent positive to 80 per cent negative in a relative blink. “It just descended into personal attacks and threats. It ceased to be a productive tool. I decided for my own peace of mind and to protect my children from reading horrible things about their dad that I was going to come off it. It was no longer a fun thing to do.”
Fun? That was hardly a part of the job description, surely? Madness, yes. Mirth, no. Mention of Charles Green, pictured below right, and his scattergun ways draws a smile, Green being the man who appeared to applaud Rangers fans as they chanted their hatred of the SFA chief executive at the beginning of this season, Green being the man who has, in his blunt Yorkshire ways, made no secret of his distrust of seemingly everything that goes on behind the doors of Hampden.
On Friday, tooled up with sarcasm, Green painted Regan and his ilk as Mother Teresas riding to the rescue of the little clubs in the search for league reconstruction. “Since the summer,” says Regan, “myself and Neil Doncaster have been bracketed together as some kind of pariahs of Scottish football.” For a man under constant attack, he didn’t look too bad. For a pariah, he appeared in remarkably good fettle.
In the beginning, he talks about his admiration of Green. Admiration laced with an understanding of precisely how he has done what he has done at Ibrox, a Lazarus-like rise from death threats from fans of his own club to something approaching hero-worship. “What can I say about Charles?” On a one-to-one level their relationship is described as professional. “If you look at what Charles has managed to achieve, from where Rangers were and from him hiding out in hotels in Glasgow and being afraid, to where he is now, I think he’s done a remarkable job, quite honestly.
“He’s recognised that the way to get success is to play to a group of supporters that now idolise him. He’s actually worked out the secret of getting his fans on his side and that’s to be very outspoken, to be very challenging to the authorities, to be seen to be standing up for Rangers when nobody else would stand up for them and he’s turned the club around. Charles is not a big fan of the SFA and that’s probably because his fans aren’t. But, privately, sitting across a table, we get on fine.
“He’s an outspoken guy. He calls a spade a shovel and he’s not afraid to put his views across. Equally, I’ve had to defend the SFA on a number of issues over the last few months. We’ve disagreed on things. The SFA can’t be seen to be dealing with Rangers in one way and other members in another way and that frustrates Charles at times simply because of the profile of Rangers. Certain issues have caused differences of opinion. We’ve begged to differ.”
No prima donna in Hollywood’s history has been capable of throwing a hissy fit quite like Green, one of several last week being this notion that Rangers should get up and leave Scottish football if the leagues are reconstructed on the 12-12-18 model, as looks likely. Nothing that Green does or says surprises Regan any more.
“Charles has made his point but I would ask the question as to why there is a desire to leave, having spent so much time trying to get back in the first place? Look at the facts. Rangers will arrive at the top of Scottish football in exactly the same time period as they would do if the leagues stay as they are now. Really, there is no huge difference, so you’ve got to ask what is it that he’s concerned about. Why say it when he knows full well that he’s got nowhere to go and in order to leave he needs the approval of the SFA, and the board would not be minded to allow one of the biggest clubs upping sticks and leaving at the drop of a hat. It would also need the approval of UEFA and it would also need another league to say ‘yes, come on in’, and in recent months and years there have been very clear responses from the Premier League and the Football League in England. I’m not sure it’s anything other than just making a statement for impact.”
Some say that there are but two certainties – death and taxes. It’s a myth. There are three – death, taxes and conspiracy in Scottish football. Regan has been hit with a lot of flak since he took the job in late 2010. With wearying monotony and total predictability he has been attacked for being pro-Celtic and pro-Rangers when, of course, he is neither. He has made mistakes, of course, but he tries to put into context where he was coming from last summer when he spoke of a “slow and lingering death” of the game in Scotland if Rangers were not granted entry into the First Division as opposed to the Third. The comment has been a millstone around his neck ever since. That and other things surrounding the fall of Rangers.
“Dealing with the Rangers situation last summer was like being in quicksand,” he says. “There was a concern about the financial impact of them starting again in the Third Division [SPL figures at the time wrongly put that impact as a £15.7 million loss]. My comment was designed to make an impact on what the ramifications could be. [Slow and lingering death], you can extrapolate the timescale I was talking about, but even now you cannot say that Scottish football is in a healthy place. You’ve got Hearts unable to pay their players, you have Dunfermline struggling, you have a number of clubs particularly in the First Division putting their hands up and crying out for more cash. We’re not in a good place.
“We didn’t have a crystal ball last summer. We were trying to second-guess what might happen in the future if the television contracts collapsed and all the rest of it. Without all of the facts and with only a sparse amount of information we had to try and present what the possibilities might be.”
Regan tried to manage the crisis, but it proved unmanageable. Rangers went to the Third Division and the rancour has carried on ever since. The SFA, and the SPL, are now cast as villains in the eyes of Rangers people because they have held them to account for the sins of a previous regime. “The judgments that were made against Rangers were made by an independent judicial panel and by a supreme court judge. That’s not Stewart Regan handing out personal punishments to Rangers, that’s the independent process that we put in, that the clubs voted in, that they wanted.”
It’s true. And Regan tried to impart this truth to a group of Rangers fans he invited to Hampden, but it did not end well.
“Look, I didn’t come here to win a popularity contest. I don’t know any chief executive of any organisation in the world who is an icon. You have to accept that because you’re head of the governing body you are going to be taking decisions that sometimes people don’t like.
“I’m not really interested in what my popularity rating is. I’m here to do a job. But a lot of lessons were learned by an awful lot of people in Scottish football over the summer, nobody more so than myself.
“We as a group of governing bodies tried to deal with things in the summer and it didn’t work and in hindsight you wonder what could we or should we have done differently and maybe we tried to take on too much, tried to move the whole reconstruction agenda forward at the same time as trying to deal with the Rangers situation. At the bottom of it all, hand on heart, I can say that myself and my colleagues have only ever tried to do what is right for Scottish football.
“Because I’m the figurehead of the Scottish game I have carried the responsibility and I have no problem with that. One thing we have not done is shy away from anything, be it the issue with referees, the Hugh Dallas e-mail situation and many other things. In the midst of all that we have tackled some of the biggest change programmes that the SFA have dealt with in recent times including the dismantling of the committee structure, the dismantling of the judicial process and creation of a new process, the splitting of the game into professional and non-professional, the introduction of a performance strategy with a performance director, the opening of seven new performance schools.
“A huge amount of things have gone on at the same time as all of these major issues that most organisations wouldn’t have to deal with in a lifetime. We’ve dealt with them head-on. The Rangers situation has been the biggest of all. I’m not sure we’ll ever get something quite like that again.”
Regan will always be seen as an enemy of some group or other. It’s the way of things. It’s not right, but it’s the world we live in, a world he understands better than most.