In normal circumstances, the only forms PFA Scotland members would have filled in at this time of the season would be their Player of the Year ballot papers. The annual awards shindig was due to take place in Glasgow this Sunday but, like every other aspect of the football season, it has been put on hold by Covid-19.
As they wait to see when their profession can resume, the players have instead been providing feedback on the more serious topic of reconstruction.
Unsurprisingly and justifiably frustrated that their input is never sought by the game’s administrators when it comes to issues which so significantly impact upon their working environment, PFA Scotland undertook a survey of players at all 42 SPFL clubs.
With around 70 per cent of their members responding, a high rate of engagement by any standard, the union has sent a clear message which it now wants the SPFL’s working group on reconstruction to take on board.
The numbers speak for themselves – almost 80 per cent in favour of a new set-up from next season, 76 per cent backing a permanent change and over 60 percent in support of a 14-14-14 divisional structure.
But, as PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart, pictured, is keen to point out, there is more substance to the players’ response than simply making a choice from the multiple choice options on the survey.
Many of them added observations to their survey forms, expressing clearly why they believe the present SPFL set-up has run its course. According to Wishart, players are bored with the repetition of fixtures they currently play.
“This wasn’t just guys ticking a box, there were a number of interesting comments we got back,” said Wishart.
“Boredom was mentioned and how this is an opportunity for more clubs to play in a higher division. You would have two more clubs in the Premiership, playing games against the very top clubs.
“You would have 28 clubs in the top two divisions, so instead of sitting in the middle of League 1, for example, you would be playing against teams like Dundee and Dunfermline in front of bigger crowds.
“It’s also about jobs, that’s clearly the biggest thing we have to look after as a union. We have made that clear since the start of Covid-19.
“The SPFL working group have been given a remit to come up with a proposal for reconstruction very quickly. But it can be done – if you remember the merger of the SPL and SFL back in 2013, that was done in a relatively short period of time.
“It’s clear our members want reconstruction done for next season. Part of that is down to the environment they are working in. There is uncertainty over jobs, uncertainty over income for football clubs and our members see this as a better way of protecting jobs.
“Until we find more certainty to it – and we’re in the hands of the government, scientists and medical people – then it’s going to be a rough ride for a lot of our members over the summer.
“That, again, is a reason why the players are looking for change. If you’ve got two more clubs in the Premiership getting games against the Old Firm, Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen, if you’ve got six more clubs in the Championship playing games against Dundee and Dunfermline and Patrick Thistle, then when we do restart, there might be bit more income coming into more clubs.
“We want to come through this as unscathed as possible. If we still have 42 clubs when football restarts, that means there are 42 employers for our members, at whatever level of salary they can afford.
“I think it’s realistic for all 42 to survive but it’s going to be tough. Leeann Dempster at Hibs is talking about a meteor coming, Dave Cormack at Aberdeen has made similar comments. They are right in a sense, we have tough times ahead. That’s why we have to get the reconstruction issue sorted very quickly. We have to be ready for whenever football restarts.”
Whenever that does happen, Wishart believes it is not only the make-up of the SPFL which should be different but that football on a global scale will have to change its economic model.
“From the top to the bottom, I think there will be a recalibration,” he added. “Trying to say anything with any certainty just now is impossible. This changes from day to day – from hour to hour sometimes.
“PFA Scotland are members of FIFPRO, a huge organisation. Myself and Tony Higgins are very active within it, on various working groups.
“We are hearing stories from all over the world. In many countries in eastern Europe, Africa and South America, players just aren’t getting paid at all.
“That causes problems through Fifa regulations on fixed term contracts for players which can’t be unilaterally terminated. So the whole thing is changing on a daily basis.
“You look at the ‘big five’ leagues, who seem desperate to get their seasons finished because of their reliance on commercial and broadcast revenues.
“In Scotland, clubs may have a better chance of surviving because so many players’ contracts are running out. That’s not so good for our members, obviously. Football has never been so rich as it has been over the last few years. But the money seems to go to big name clubs, big name leagues, big name players and their agents.
“We have to recalibrate from the very top and find a way of getting that wealth down throughout the leagues and organisations better.”
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