Henry McLeish: Scottish football is falling apart and American-led review is by the few, for the few

As the author of a two-part review into Scottish football ten years ago, I can only feel extreme disappointment at the way we are now looking at the future of the game.

Former First Minister Henry McLeish published the first part of his review into Scottish football over ten years ago
Former First Minister Henry McLeish published the first part of his review into Scottish football over ten years ago

It is hard to escape the conclusion that this new so-called independent review, spearheaded by five clubs, seems to be saying to Scotland: 'look, we have a solution, and we are merely doing the review to help justify that'.

Much of Scottish football is being excluded in this exercise by Hearts, Hibs, Dundee, Dundee United and Aberdeen. The key participants, four of which are American-based, already know what they are trying to do. The object of the exercise is to come up with the answers they want to hear.

The game is in crisis. It is now about whether Scots in the main and government and political parties and all those concerned with the beautiful game are interested enough to try and save it.

Hibs owner Ron Gordon claims that almost halving the number of professional clubs in Scotland will benefit the game (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

Of course, there must be changes in Scottish football. But these changes must be looking at key issues such as the financial distribution model within the game, the structure of the leagues and the dwindling support being given to elite youth development.

It should be part of a wider ambition involving every aspect of the game and not a narrow segment whose views are increasingly obvious and driven by the maxim: of the few, by the few, for the few.

Clubs in League One and Two now fear for their future. They, of course, should have a future. However, because the SFA is not functioning and the SPFL have been taken over by a few clubs, the prospects don’t look good. I have a hint of personal sadness when it comes to a club like East Fife where the future may be challenging but the history is remarkable.

The new group are proposing a franchise set-up or near-franchise set-up where the colour of your money is more important than the quality of the game you are playing.

I have no doubt Rangers and Celtic are standing aside because they will only see themselves benefitting from the kind of changes that are being proposed.

What we are saying in miniature form here is the creation of a Scottish Super League. We have indications that they want to see the number of “professional clubs” halved.

This is a massive step backwards for Scottish football if that it what is intended and puts in peril the ideas of the national side, the quality of elite young players and widening the importance of the women’s game.

Linked to that is a question that perplexes me greatly: what on earth are the SPFL and the SFA doing? The SFA in particular seem to be abdicating their wider responsibilities to the game – and it’s the wider, national game that most Scots are interested in. This seems to be forgotten when we talk about the fanbase.

The SFA are abdicating their responsibility to every Scot. They now seem to have no role in what it is doing apart from getting involved in technical issues on the margins of the game when, quite frankly, we need leadership. The SFA needs to take a long hard look at themselves.

The other big issue is that there is no indication whatsoever that this is a serious consultation. Who are they consulting with? Who are they asking for information? I feel aggrieved that despite the fans contributing an enormous amount financially to the clubs there is no recognition within the clubs that these supporters are a vital component of the game and crucial to how we move forward.

All these concerns are very worrying. If you stand back and look at the logic of this, we are talking about a review hosted by five clubs. They know what they are doing. They know what the outcome is. This is an exercise where they ensure that the financial review being undertaken by the consultants, in this case Deloitte, matches their own aspirations.

This is not the way to investigate the future of Scottish football. Nearly a decade on from my big review I feel personally let down.

I had so much hope that the game appreciated it was a low point and we needed to do the right things to move forward.

I believe if my report had been fully implemented and invested in then we would not be in the position we are in now. It is very disappointing that instead of going forward we are, in my judgment, regressing.

We are narrowing down our field of interest to a few clubs when we should be looking at the wider game. The commitments that were promised in terms of youth development and elite development have simply not been honoured. If you want an update to my review of Scottish football then it is a completely different one to what is being proposed.

The governance of the game in Scotland is in ruins. A small number of clubs in the Scottish Premiership have taken over the SPFL and in turn the SPFL has migrated into the SFA and there is no longer an independent voice in Scottish football.

I would like to pose two questions to those who are organising this review without consultation: what is the real agenda and how far-reaching will it prove?

What I am saying to the clubs organising this is please come clean. Come clean in the eyes of Scottish football.

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