SPL chairman urges 12 clubs to end bickering and work together
THE chairman of the Scottish Premier League has urged Scotland’s elite clubs to end their bickering and work collectively to improve the state of the top end of the game or risk damaging it beyond repair.
to improve the state of the top end of the game or risk damaging it beyond repair.
Ralph Topping yesterday urged the group of 12 to move forward as 12 and avoid being distracted by battles which he believes splinter parties cannot hope to win. He described the move of the ten non-Old Firm clubs to push for change by holding talks without the involvement of Celtic and Rangers as “not the smartest thing”.
Topping told The Scotsman: “I cannot underplay it. The 12 most powerful men in Scottish football have the future of the game in their hands. We have to focus on the way out.”
Although the Old Firm have been excluded from recent rounds of talks regarding changes to the SPL, Topping hopes all top Scottish clubs can play a part in rebuilding the SPL’s reputation and avert what he described as “atrophy”.
He has urged all 12 clubs to be conscious of the need to attract sponsors and other outside investment sources as they prepare to gather on 12 April for a specially-convened general meeting at Hampden Park. Top of the agenda is a proposal from the ten non-Old Firm clubs to change the voting structure, where, at present, a majority of 11-1 is required to make landmark decisions. The sticking point is that the change to voting structure is itself one of these landmark decisions. Rangers, although currently in administration, look set to disappoint those clubs who felt they might be persuaded to consent to change given their currently straitened situation. “If you are looking to persuade someone to change their mind then I suppose not having them at the discussion is not the smartest thing,” said Topping. He believes it would be “helpful” if Duff and Phelps, the Ibrox club’s administrators, declared their hand in public.
While sympathetic to the need for each club to seek to maximise their earnings, Topping considers the issue of the re-distribution of television money to be a red-herring at such a critical time. Instead, the preoccupation should be with ear-marking ways to increase the amount of money in the pot rather than arguing over dividing up the current, diminishing sum.
“They have a right to discuss it [the change to the voting structure],” he said. “But what they have to remember is that they voted for it. That’s almost forgotten. They voted for it, now they don’t want it. In business, as in life, accept the parameters and focus on what can be delivered within the parameters.”
Kilmarnock’s Michael Johnston has become the latest chairman to speak out in public when criticising the lack of democracy in the SPL. Peter Lawwell, the chief executive of Celtic, described the breakaway meeting held by the ten non-Old Firm clubs as “divisive” and not in the best interests of Scottish football. He also generated surprise by agreeing to look again at a proposed idea for a top league comprising 14 clubs.
“I would say this to the guys: for goodness sake make your mind up,” said Topping, who has held the non-executive post of chairman of the SPL since replacing Lex Gold in 2009. “Decide upon it and make it work.”
The Clydesdale Bank, the SPL’s current title sponsors, step away at the end of next season and a new television deal hinges on the participation of both Rangers and Celtic. Although the situation at Rangers “has yet to fully develop”, Topping is clearly alert to the Old Firm’s status as a financial mother lode for Scottish football.
“When you look at it, there is a lot of income flows through those two clubs,” he said. “They attract a lot of attention and they have a big fan base. They are our ambassadors in Europe year in, year out. It would be foolish to not recognise the contribution of the Old Firm and look at their football needs in terms of the scale of their operation.”
According to Topping, the image of the SPL has to be protected at all costs. He is concerned also by the threat of government intervention.
“There is a hell of a lot of emotion being brought out and old scores being settled – that adds to the negativity towards the game,” he said.
“And at some point we are going to see the government get involved. You can have a partnership [with the government] but the last thing we want is the government saying we are going to sort this out, we are coming in and we are going to do an investigation. The last thing you want is that degree of scrutiny.
“Look at the last few months; we have had wages not being paid to payers, HMRC challenges to SPL clubs, Uefa judgments on fans’ behaviour, altercations with the government over sectarianism, the exit of Scottish clubs from Europe – the league is remarkably adept at attracting negative publicity.
“That makes it difficult for sponsors to align themselves with a product where they risk brand damage.
“We have a great propensity for not just shooting ourselves in the foot – we blast away at both feet.”
Topping’s view is supported by Henry McLeish, whose review of Scottish football has led to significant improvement being made to the Scottish Football Association. McLeish has been working with the SPL since the end of last year as he attempts another “revamp” on the scale of the on-going reform of the SFA. “This is phase two,” the former First Minister said yesterday. “The 12 club chairmen are in a pretty powerful position – with that power and authority comes enormous responsibility. The SFA are now powering ahead. There are a lot of positive things happening. And the SFL are doing a lot of innovative things,
“But what needs to happen in the SPL is this: 12 chairmen and their clubs who are under enormous pressure need to be involved in a collective modernisation of the game.”
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