THE Scottish Professional Football League was dragged kicking and screaming into existence at Hampden last night after a marathon 16-hour gathering of club representatives.
The birth of the new unified body proved painful after the Scottish Premier League only provided full details of their finances to the Scottish Football League on the morning of the meeting which had been called to constitute the 42-club SPFL.
After several months of acrimonious wrangling and negotiations among both organisations in the bid to reconstruct league football in Scotland, it was a less than auspicious start to what has previously been hailed as a bright new dawn by the game’s powerbrokers.
The deal was finally clinched just before 11pm last night, after which the six club representatives for the inaugural nine-person SPFL board was elected.
The three top-flight members are Celtic director Eric Riley, Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson and Aberdeen managing director Duncan Fraser.
The First Division have two representatives – Hamilton Accies chairman Les Gray and Alloa chairman Mike Mulraney. The remaining 20 clubs from the Second and Third Divisions have just one representative, Bill Darroch of Stenhousemuir.
They will be joined by a yet-to-be-appointed chairman, chief executive and one independent non-executive director. The four divisions in the SPFL are likely to be rebranded as the Premiership, Championship, League One and League Two in the coming days when a title sponsor will also be sought.
Expectations that the meeting would simply ratify the outcome of the SFL general meeting vote two weeks earlier, which approved the move to a unified body by a 23-6 margin, were quickly confounded as it became clear significant concerns remained over the standard of due diligence which had been carried out.
Alarm bells had been sounded by the SFL’s accountants, along with some of the six dissenting clubs, over the lack of clarity and assurance which had been provided by the SPL.
Full disclosure of the SPL finances had been requested last month but the top-flight organisation had appeared reluctant to provide it.
The respective boards of the SFL and SPL met separately on the sixth floor at Hampden,
before the 30 SFL clubs gathered for their first meeting in the second floor auditorium.
But, with a team of lawyers scrutinising the detail of the SPL’s finances in conjunction with the SFL board, it soon
became clear there would be no rapid outcome. Several adjournments were called and clubs asked to return at 4pm and then 7pm but told on each occasion that the SFL board were still not satisfied with the due diligence. Several representatives of clubs missed their last trains home and were forced to try to arrange accommodation in Glasgow as the wait continued into the evening.
They were finally called back into the auditorium at around 10.40pm to be told the SFL board had finally accepted the SPL diligence.
“Everyone has approached it in a positive and professional manner and it’s right that everyone took their time to make sure they got the fine detail right,” said Hibs chairman Rod Petrie as he left Hampden shortly before midnight.
“Here we are in agreement and all the clubs can go forward in a positive vein now. From a supporters’ point of view, they probably don’t see a lot of change. But for the management of the game and the way we organise ourselves, it will streamline the way things are done. Hopefully, we can all get behind some new initiatives for the game to help things going forward on the pitch.
“I’m not sure I agree there has been infighting, but people have strong opinions and they are right to do that in trying to do the best for their club.
“We now have 42 clubs agreed on a way forward and that’s got to be a positive stance for Scottish football.”
Annan Athletic chairman Henry McClelland had been one of the biggest critics of the procedure leading to the formation of the SPFL and expressed his dismay and frustration once more yesterday.
“This morning when I went in, I made everyone aware of Resolution 3,” said McClelland.
“That is primarily where the responsibility lies with the SFL board to ensure that appropriate due diligence is taking place and they are satisfied with the outcome of that. The board this morning made it quite clear that they were dissatisfied with the level of due diligence and they put that to the SPL.
“I believe what’s happening now is that the SPL have eventually opened their books.
“This is absolutely crazy that today, when everything was meant to be signed off, they have finally agreed to open their books.
“They are now opening the books to the SFL people to try to get some kind of sanity on the due diligence exercise that would give our board comfort to sign everything off, and allow the clubs to resign from the SFL and complete our applications to join the SPFL.
“I feel sorry for the fans
because this just comes across as an absolute shambles and a mess. To be perfectly blunt, it is. It should never have got to this stage.”