‘A minority won’t stop me doing the job’ vows Stewart Regan
WHEN Stewart Regan became chief executive of the Scottish Football Association in the summer of 2010, he saw it as a step up from his previous post with Yorkshire County cricket Club. Instead, in the two years since, it has often felt like a step backward – into the 19th century.
In his first season, Regan dealt with a referees’ strike and witnessed a series of threats to Celtic manager Neil Lennon. In his second, he faced meltdown at Rangers – a crisis which has continued into the close season and shows no sign of ending any time soon.
Regan is confident that over the same period the SFA has done a lot of useful work, both financially – yesterday it reported an increase in turnover of £4.5million – and in terms of governance of the game. But, speaking after the governing body’s annual general meeting, he accepted that the reputation of Scottish football had been damaged by recent events, and admitted to having been taken aback by the intensity of emotion expressed by many supporters of the Old Firm.
“What we are seeing in recent months is, unfortunately, the West of Scotland culture coming out and it’s quite surprising for me, quite bizarre at times, that you have this outpouring of emotion from both sides of city,” Regan said. “At the Scottish FA we are trying to do what is best, but unfortunately, we’ll never please everyone. My own philosophy, and the view also of the board, is that we’ll do what’s right for the game of football in Scotland. We will not deviate from that.
“Scottish football has taken a knock from what’s happened in recent months. It’s detracted from the fantastic progress that’s been made away from the elite end of the game. This has overshadowed and undermined a lot of good work that has gone on over the last 12 months.”
Having grown up in the north-east of England, Regan thought he was well acquainted with the depth of passion that football can arouse. But he admitted that he had not been prepared for the sheer scale of passion – for better and worse – aroused by the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic. “I think Scottish football fans are more passionate than any fans I’ve seen anywhere in the world,” he continued. “I’ve grown up in the north-east of England in a football-loving family and a football-loving culture, and I’ve been to some of the most passionate derby matches you can imagine.
“However, I haven’t seen anything like the Old Firm rivalry and how it takes on the a very different perspective when you roll in religion and roll in politics all into one pot. That, unfortunately, leads to a minority that actually choose to use any attempt they can to undermine you, to create conspiracy theories to try and deflect from the good work that is going on.
“And I think it’s sad. It’s very sad for the world of football, but it’s the world that we live in, and we deal with it. I’m big enough and grown up enough to say it’s not going to get in the way of doing what’s right and I will continue to do what’s right for Scottish football no matter how people try to derail me.”
Regan was warned by the odd wellwisher shortly after taking the job that he would inevitably face a challenge to his authority from both sides of the Glasgow divide. But he has arguably been caused more difficulty by those supporters who have accused him of favouring their rivals than he has been by any Celtic or Rangers official. He insisted, though, that every setback he faced had merely made him more determined to succeed.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. I could never have envisaged in my wildest dreams just what faced me and our board in trying to do what we’ve done in the last 12 to 18 months. I think we have come a remarkable distance and we have made some huge changes, not just on the performance side. We now have one table for the entire non-professional game to sit around, and one plan. The development of the women’s game, turnover up 16 per cent, the changes we’ve made to board structures, the new judicial system: huge, huge progress.
“But while that’s been going on there have been just an unbelievable number of fires to put out. But we’ve put them out. I think we’ve dealt with them, and dealt with them swiftly, professionally and transparently, and I don’t think anyone can criticise the work we’ve done. I would say that I personally have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this job. I love it, I really do mean that.
“We have some fantastic people, particularly at the grass roots of the game, who go unmentioned. I love the fact we have made so much change in such a short space of time. And I like the fact the game is moving forward. There’s still a long way to go, especially with league reconstruction, but I really have enjoyed it.
“Of course I get frustrated when I get the police giving me advice on how to behave in Scotland, given the culture we operate in, and I get frustrated when people send me inappropriate emails and messages but I’ve learned to live with that and put it down to experience.
“I’ve always enjoyed doing jobs where there has been a challenge. I don’t think I could quite have anticipated what the challenge meant. But I worked hard to turn around Yorkshire Cricket Club from a very old-fashioned, sleepy organisation to a much-more progressive commercial business. I was at the Football League when it was recovering from the post-ITV Digital collapse and we needed to rebrand the First Division into the Coca-Cola Championship and make it more commercial. So I’ve always been involved in jobs which needed resilience or a degree of tenacity. If you knock me down I will keep coming back.”
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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