‘Foolhardy to believe no Scottish clubs will be lost’ says Mike Mulraney
Back on 7 March, Mike Mulraney sat at the Indodrill Stadium watching his beloved Alloa Athletic beating Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2-0 to significantly boost their chances of Championship survival.
Six days later, the Scottish FA vice-president was one of the men who took the decision to suspend Scottish football until further notice.
It’s fair to say the impact of Covid-19 has placed a relegation battle firmly into perspective. Mulraney, as a founder member of the SFA/SPFL Joint Response Group set up to tackle the impact of the pandemic on Scottish football, now finds himself at the heart of the desperate battle to preserve the game in this country.
The Alloa owner will take part in a meeting with Scottish government sports minister Joe FitzPatrick, pictured, tomorrow which may bring some clarity on when and how professional sport can be resumed.
But Mulraney doesn’t expect that to be any time soon and has warned of the grim scenarios Scottish football could face beyond lockdown, the worst of them including the prospect of some clubs going to the wall before then.
“To not believe that is a possibility is foolhardy,” said Mulraney. “I believe the SFA have a responsibility to look at all eventualities to save and protect our game.
“So we are working incredibly hard, and have been for weeks, to look at how we shape a position whereby when we come through this, we have a game.
“But do I think there is a realistic danger of us losing clubs at all levels of Scottish football? I think anyone who doesn’t believe that is foolhardy.
“We have to be realistic. The shape of Scottish football next season may not be something we recognise from last season.
“We can’t think that how other countries are dealing with it will give a route map for Scotland. We have different challenges. Look at the £5 million to £10 million for testing to get a few games on in England – we know the numbers up here are totally different.
“So some of what has been discussed in other nations is ambitiously optimistic. Do I think some of the answers we have been hearing for weeks now are realistic?
“No, I do not. I believe we need a Scottish answer to Scotland’s problems, that the government, fans and people who run the clubs can buy into collectively.
“We are not expecting any huge statement to come out of [tomorrow’s meeting] that will in any way answer the problem. That’s unrealistic.
“It’s part of a journey that football is taking with the government and everyone else to try and get football back safely in Scotland.
“It’s clearly going to be a long and difficult journey but if we don’t prepare to deal with it, we will extend that journey needlessly. If you don’t have a plan, you will never get it up and running. We have to focus our minds on finding answers. Those answers are going to be incredibly difficult. We have been looking at bio-secure environments for weeks and how we restart the game in Scotland – what those would look like, where they would be and how far down the football family they could be created.
“How do we restart football without putting an unrealistic burden on the services we will require? We have to keep the nation safe first, then we look at how football can be brought to the new world we are going to have to operate in.
“While we are very well informed at the Joint Response Group, the environment we are operating in is changing almost daily.
“When we first banned hand-shaking among players, everyone thought we were crazy. Two weeks later, there was no football in Britain.
“The Joint Response Group closed down football on the Friday morning. We made what we felt was a responsible decision that day.
“We just couldn’t see how, in good conscience, we could have the Old Firm game on the Sunday.
“I feel we have taken responsible steps at every stage. We have undoubtedly made mistakes. At times of crisis, you make mistakes. But we hopefully have made as few as possible.”
Mulraney, speaking on BBC Sportsound, revealed his club have even considered the possibility football may not be able to return in any form for the whole of the 2020-21 campaign as they lay out their survival plans.
“We see three main visions we may have to deal with as a club,” said Mulraney. “One is a very restricted fan base returning to football, which we think is a possibility. We are running how that would work – how people would get changed, how you would access the ground.
“The second is how we would run a season with no fans, if it is behind closed doors for a season. That’s a very stark position and we are running those numbers.
“Then there is the total disaster scenario, which we have to look at as a club, which is what if we can’t play football for another season? What would that mean to Alloa Athletic?
“We have to look at that, because right now we can’t play football. We don’t know when that will end, so you have to consider how your club would cope with not playing for an unlimited time.
“It would be incredibly difficult, there is no point in pretending otherwise. We’ve run the numbers at Alloa and think we could probably do it for one season with no fans.
“We think it’s theoretically possible for us. We think it will be incredibly difficult in the Championship. Below that, the clubs would have different numbers to run with no crowd.
“In the short term, the Joint Response Group always felt the smaller clubs were going to be impacted first and that proved to be the case.
“But we also believed that the medium to longer term impact would be larger on our bigger clubs.
“From an Alloa point of view, our crowd is critical to us. But our whole business model allows us to change course quickly and that’s the same for many part-time clubs.
“Whereas the full-time clubs, with their structure and the way their contracts are set up, are going to be presented with problems which are very, very significant.
“It’s not a case of one size fits all and some of our larger clubs are going to face some searching questions over the coming months.”
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