Despite rushing through the premature conclusion to the league season, the SPFL is facing charges of dithering over other key issues, as Scottish clubs try to extricate themselves from the enduring complications of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the beginning of August pencilled in for the start of the new Premiership season, and no sponsor yet secured, some clubs in the lower divisions have been weighing up their financial ability to embark on a new campaign, which would kick off behind closed doors, while others have been more focused on simply surviving the crisis.
But cash-strapped clubs have been offered a lifeline, even if the SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has been tardy in reaching out to grasp it, according to Hearts owner Ann Budge.
The Tynecastle chief said she had been approached by benefactors who have already demonstrated their selfless generosity by ploughing £9 million into the capital club – including £4.5m towards the cost of the new main stand – without any caveats.
Simply happy to see football flourish and keen to retain their anonymity, they have now turned their attention to the wider game, as the consequences of on-going self-distancing take their toll on the sport.
But having passed the good news on to Doncaster, Budge was disappointed by the response, claiming she was asked by the SPFL chief to submit a paper on the no-strings-attached cash offer.
Budge said: “Could I put it in a paper? Well, I will because I haven’t got any choice but in the same way I don’t think it should be down to me to say how we should fix the problems in Scottish football, I don’t think it should be for me to say ‘here’s a pot of money and this is how I think it should be spent’. This is what frustrates me more than anything, we are not addressing the right problems here at all.”
She has already been charged with drawing up proposals for league reconstruction, which will be discussed further by clubs this week as teams weigh up squad numbers, testing costs and the other financial realities of a return to competitive action. But, adamant that she wants Hearts to return as soon as possible, she says the cash gift, anticipated to be worth multiple millions, could alleviate some of the constraints.
And she dispelled any fears that her introduction would come with conditions attached. Despite her ongoing battle to push through her preference of a 14-team top tier to right the wrongs of the decision to make Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer scapegoats in a speedy conclusion to the season, Budge said the donation is about the bigger picture. “They are philanthropists, they are people who can see what’s happening and, yes, they know me because of Hearts but that’s irrelevant in this situation, what they are saying is they would like to help Scottish football and I can’t even get that moving,” added Budge.
Questioning the governing body’s leadership throughout the testing past few months, claiming that the game in Scotland had been getting nowhere “and without leadership we won’t get anywhere”, she said she expected better.
But responding to her comments, which were aired on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound programme, Doncaster suggested he had been unaware just how unencumbered the philanthropic gesture is.
“I am delighted to have heard Ann’s comment on the radio this afternoon that there are, in fact, no conditions attached to this money. I had been under the impression that Ann was going to continue talking to the potential investors, but if it is now appropriate for me to talk to them directly, I am very happy to do so.
“Clearly, any income for our game, especially at such a difficult time, is something we would all welcome. I will be speaking again to Ann over the weekend and hope to be in a position to update our divisional meetings this week.”
That would be welcomed by Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, who warned there are still obstacles to clear as clubs edge closer to resuming training, and he revealed “there is still a bit of pain ahead for us as a club” as the Pittodrie outfit seek to safeguard the future of the players and staff. Admitting there would have been a real possibility of a cull had more players been out of contract, he believes any potential injection of cash would be a boost.
“Obviously it would be a huge shot in the arm if that was to be the case,” said McInnes. “For all clubs. Hopefully those talks are being had or are going to be imminent because any money coming into the game would be a godsend.”
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