‘There has to be one solution everyone agrees on’ says Hamilton’s Les Gray
When he logs on to the first videoconference meeting of the SPFL’s newly constituted Reconstruction Group at 4pm this afternoon, Les Gray jokes that he and joint-chair Ann Budge will have to press the mute button on the other 13 members of the committee just to get their initial points across.
Hamilton vice-chairman Gray and Hearts owner Budge have been handed the task of coming up with a league reconstruction plan capable of both healing the wounds caused by the SPFL’s resolution to end this season and of earning sufficient support among the 42 clubs to be implemented in time for 2020-21, whenever the coronavirus pandemic allows that campaign to start.
Gray has already noted the comments by Ayr United chairman Lachlan Cameron, below, one of the group members, who last week described a 14-team Premiership – which would be part of the new structure – as “insane”.
Falkirk chairman Gary Deans, also recruited to the group, has already delivered a scathing attack on the SPFL board upon which Gray sits.
Getting everyone on the same page appears a daunting assignment, which is perhaps why Gray feels Budge’s call at the weekend for a resolution on reconstruction to be placed before clubs in three weeks’ time is hugely optimistic.
“Ann and I will get our terms of reference across to the rest of the group first of all,” said Gray. “Once we have done that, we will ask them all for their views which we can minute.
“Then, let’s ask them to go away over the next few days and come back with their preferred option.
“I want everything in the melting pot. There should be one solution at the end everyone agrees on, or there’s no solution.
“My view is it will take a week to do that, a week to consider it. Realistically for us, to have a resolution in front of members by the end of May is about as realistic as I can see it.
“I think when Ann listens back to what she said, she will maybe need to look at that. Ann, and everyone else who has a view, will have to probably come back to the middle ground or we can’t start.
“We need to deliver this. Let’s put people on this group who want to deliver reconstruction, that was the starting point.
“At the start of this, I thought it was 60-40 in my favour I could make this happen. But yesterday I was 50-50 and, listening to the public commentary, I’m not sure.
“I’ve heard comments from Lachlan. I don’t know him, I’m looking forward to speaking to him. I want to make sure everyone gets a voice in there.
“I spoke to Gary for the first time the other night. He’s a really good guy and I’m really looking forward to chatting to him. He is angry because of what has happened to his club. There is a lot of anger and disappointment out there just now.”
A key issue for Gray’s group will be whether league reconstruction is a temporary fix for one season, to solve the injustice of Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer all being relegated without completing their fixtures this season, or a permanent new set-up.
With any proposal requiring 11-1 support from the 12 current Premiership clubs, it’s a tall order either way.
“We need to find out pretty quickly what the barriers are,” Gray told BBC Sportsound. “I’ve done my research on the previous reconstructions I was heavily involved in when we merged the leagues (in 2013) and on the failed reconstruction as well.
“So I’ve done this twice before, it’s my third time. I’m seasoned at it, I know where the problems are, I know what the major issues are. That’s before we talk about the Pandora’s box that is the (financial) distribution. Once you get to that, the toys are out of everyone’s pram.
“I know my board (at Hamilton) want a permanent fix. But they will also be prepared to accept a temporary fix if it’s the right thing. Can everyone else do that?
“I volunteered to try to drive it. I feel really passionate about having made the decisions as a board of the SPFL, which are under scrutiny at the moment and were made for all the right reasons. We need to see it through. We need to try to deliver a situation where clubs that were disaffected are remedied. I’m a Partick Thistle fan, born and bred – Hamilton fans probably don’t know that. I was born in Maryhill and it’s painful for me to see Thistle getting relegated. I don’t want to see Hearts get relegated on the back of a decision like this.
“So I want to make sure the terms of reference are made clear and it will be laid out. They will be simply to create league reconstruction through an expanded Premiership which will then obviously have impact on Championship, League 1, League 2 and potentially the pyramid.
“That’s the simple terms of reference. We don’t need to get caught up in distribution or all the other stuff just yet. When self interest comes into play, you’ve got a problem getting everyone to see the other side of the fence.
“We have polar opposite views here on temporary and fixed. What we’ve got to do is not preempt that. Hopefully Ann and I, as co-chairs of this group, should refrain from talking about temporary or fixed at this stage. We don’t get any money for this, we are bursting our backsides to try to make this better and fix it.
“Equally, we are trying to get clubs onside and take people with us. I started off thinking I could make it happen. I think we can take everyone with us as long as there is compromise.
“Everyone can’t get their own way. It’s impossible.”