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Stewart Regan: 'Forget the past and I can cure your game's ills'

BORN in County Durham 46 years ago, Stewart Regan becomes the first Englishman to hold the title of chief executive of the Scottish Football Association.

The notion of an outsider being appointed to shake up the game in Scotland seems sensible enough, particularly given his clearly accomplished background in both business and sport.

The SFA wanted someone with commercial acumen, after the experiment with Gordon Smith was judged to have been a failure. Regan has this and more, although it is notable that while he left university with a degree in American Studies, his predecessor, the 'football man', has one in business. But Regan's subsequent experience of the commercial world has been substantial. He spent 16 years in the brewing industry with John Smith and Bass. Regan, who has three children and is currently based in Leeds, was involved with Bass when they owned Tennent's, who recently ended their long sponsorship association with the SFA. He also helped set up the Scottish division of Coors, and was involved at Carling when they sponsored the Old Firm. "I do understand Scottish football," Regan said yesterday, as he faced the first of what will become many media appointments in Scotland.

Regan was brought up at Durham Constabulary's Harperley Hall training school, where his policeman father Steve was based, then moved to Crook, near Bishop Auckland. He applied to join the police himself but had his application turned down after he admitted to being deaf in one ear. Although Regan is coy about which team he supports - previous profiles have hinted at a soft spot for Sunderland, his local club when growing up - he appeared unfazed in front of the cameras yesterday, and is clearly a reliable performer. Following Smith's eventful three-year reign, some might say the appointment of the Englishman is the safe choice.

Although his last job was in cricket, Regan is a football fan and was perceived to be an interloper when he was appointed chief executive at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club in March 2006. Yorkshire wished for someone to come in and provide dynamism at a club chased by the shadows of history. Regan believes Scottish football is afflicted by a similar tendency to live in the past. For Trueman, read Baxter. For Boycott, read Dalglish. "I'm not looking at history," Regan said yesterday. "What's gone is gone. We need to draw a line in the sand now and move forward. Scotland spends too much time looking back the way at how fantastic they were in years gone by. As a country it doesn't focus on the future and what we need to do to get better.

"I'm only interested in the future and getting key people to the table to make it happen," he added. "When I started at Yorkshire County Cricket Club they had a fantastic tradition of success. They had won seven championships in the 50s and 60s. They had fantastic players like Geoffrey Boycott and Fred Trueman. But they'd won just one championship in 30 years when I took over.

"Everyone talked about them as a great old club and said: ‘it wouldn't be like this in the good old days'. I couldn't dismiss the history but I had to look forward. You can't achieve success without a plan in place. I don't just have cricket experience. I've worked in the Football League, the second tier of English football. I developed that into a major brand. The Championship is the fourth most supported league in Europe and punches well above its weight in terms of numbers."

In his role helping re-brand the Championship - it was previously known as the Football League First Division, and before that just the plain old Second Division - Regan worked with Neil Doncaster, then the chief executive of Norwich City. The pair will be re-united on the sixth floor of Hampden Park, with Doncaster having been appointed chief executive at the Scottish Premier League last year. One of Regan's aims - and it is shared with Doncaster - is to develop a greater sense of co-operation between Scottish football's three governing bodies, something which Henry McLeish urged in his recently-published McLeish Report. The Scottish Football League makes up the trio. But it has often seemed the case that two is company, three's a crowd. Even before the SPL's formation, an uneasy relationship existed between the SFA and SFL. "What I suspect has happened up here and the feeling I get is that there has been too much conflict between the ruling bodies in Scotland," said Regan.

"There hasn't been enough focus on the common agenda. I'm not saying I'll sort it out right away but the fact I have a relationship with Neil [Doncaster] will help. I also have experience of working in the Football League so I understand the politics and the relationship between clubs and a governing body. I've sat on both sides of the fence, albeit with a cricket club."

He knows how tough it will be, although Regan has elected not to make contact with either Smith or David Taylor, his two predecessors. He prefers to take his own soundings. "I'm not really interested in what's happened previously or whatever their issues were with the SFA or with the game," he said. "That's really down to them. I'm interested in my tenure here and looking forward to what I can do to help the game up here." There is much to learn. Wisely, he is not pulling the wool over anyone's eyes. He is not steeped in Scottish football. But this can also be an advantage. Helpfully, he has no perceived association with any club. He seemed slightly off message when he mentioned the Olympic Games in his opening address, and called it an opportunity for Scotland.

This seemed at odds with the SFA's party-line, amid fears about the implications of involvement with the Great Britain football team at the tournament. "I am not up to speed on the Olympic discussion and one of the first things I'll need to do is discuss that and get an understanding of it," he said, reasonably. Regan officially starts in his new position in October.

"I appreciate I'm not going to be accepted overnight," he added. "I am part of the institution and I think there are some out there who like to knock the institution, especially people who struggle to understand why Scottish football isn't more successful. But I'd like to think that over time I can try to win people over, (even if] I know I won't win everyone over."

 
 
 

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