Hibs chief Leeann Dempster warns some clubs won't survive and predicts decade of recovery if they do as summit meeting called

Prolonged fans’ shut-out will be devastating for Scottish football, says Leeann Dempster
Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster wants Scottish clubs to work together. Photo: Ross Parker/SNS GroupHibs chief executive Leeann Dempster wants Scottish clubs to work together. Photo: Ross Parker/SNS Group
Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster wants Scottish clubs to work together. Photo: Ross Parker/SNS Group

Scottish football’s top clubs will hold an emergency summit next week as they try to come up with survival plans after the phased return of fans to stadia was paused indefinitely.

Responding to the tightening of restrictions as the government attempts to deal with the second wave of coronavirus infections, Hibs issued a rallying call to clubs to pull together or face devastating consequences.

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In Scotland, where gate receipts account for over 40 per cent of club earnings, there is an increasing fear that some may not survive the financial drought and those who do could take up to a decade to recover.

“Clubs need to use our collective voice to get the message out to fans, letting them know just how devastating this is going to be,” said Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster, who instigated the upcoming crisis meeting.

“We have been through a five/six-month period of great difficulty and great uncertainty and to all intents and purposes we have all resized and refocused and we were hoping that we were starting to come through the other side of it with some hope but Tuesday night showed us that there is no real hope, certainly short-to-medium term, that we are going to get our main income stream back and we are now past it just being incredibly serious, it is now devastating. Even if clubs survive, it could take a decade for even our biggest clubs to recover from this.

“Everyone strongly feels that we need to help each other as much as we can to get through this. That might be emotional, it might be planning support, it might be shared resources, who knows, but we have to work together. We need help.”

With two successful test events safely behind them, there had been growing anticipation that reduced and safely distanced crowds could be on their way, as clubs tip-toed towards the promise of limited hospitality and bolstered earning potential. But that now looks unlikely until into the new year, with a creeping sense of doom as clubs contemplate the unpalatable possibility that they may have to negotiate the entire 2020/21 season without supporters making it into stadia in Scotland.

With Hibs reporting a projected £4m-plus income shortfall, it is feared that the tally could be closer to £140m across the entire Scottish game by the end of the season.

The pandemic is also draining them of funds, with top tier clubs already around £100,000 out of pocket due to coronavirus testing, sanitisation and the PPE equipment needed to meet government protocols and safeguard the tv deal by kicking off the season.

But, the latest setback means that clubs are now in danger of going under, taking centuries of history and hundreds of jobs with them.

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“It is not just about football as a sport, it is also a multi-multi-million pound business in this country,” said Dempster. “Football in Scotland, both directly and indirectly, employs thousands and thousands of people and, directly and indirectly, it is responsible for hundreds of millions of pounds of income into the economy. And, let’s not forget that it has an absolute role in being a business engine and all that goes along with that both in the local communities and in the wider scottish business.

“I don’t think anyone is saying football is 100 times more important than any other industry, but we are one of the main cultural and societal hooks in Scotland and if we don’t act and if we are not given help, whatever that might be, then, and this isn’t me exaggerating the worst case scenario, clubs won’t survive and those cultural links and straight lines back into the late 1800s of football and its important role in Scottish life will be devastated and broken. We can’t let that happen and we shouldn’t let that happen.”

Painting a worrying picture, the Hibs chief executive says things would have reached drastic proportions a while ago had it not been down to the generosity and loyalty of football fans.

“It would have been even worse without the support and backing of our fans. Everything we are achieving on the pitch at the moment is down to them. Nearly 11,500 season tickets is incredible at a time of such uncertainty.”

That, along with the sale of the new strip and the monthly contributions via the HSL, amounting to £75,000 since mid June, has helped ease the burden.

But like every other industry, Hibs have had to lay off staff, furlough others and ask players and agree wage deferrals and salary cuts and with all those difficult decisions taken, there is little scope left for further savings warns Dempster.

“We need to make it clear that we need help. We need to let everyone know just how dire the situation is and we need to work together to get through it.”

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