Leeann Dempster: Hibs are happy to wait on calling league - we must all stay calm

Easter Road chief executive stresses need for ‘calm heads and clear thinking’

Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster. Picture: SNS

Calling for “calm heads and clear thinking,” Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster says that instead of “battering towards a decision” on its future, Scottish football needs to take a breath and make the most of the opportunity it has been afforded to hit the reset button.

While some clubs want to call time on a season that was suspended last month due to the coronavirus pandemic, she would prefer to see out the remaining games, although she is well aware that may require a lengthy wait.

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“What we know at the minute is that we are not playing football for the next three, maybe four months. If we do manage to kick a ball in July then I think we will be lucky. I’m much more optimistic about August or beyond and that is what everyone is dealing with at the moment.

“Let’s be honest, every day that goes by and every bit of information we get out from the medical people, suggests more and more that it is going to get harder and harder to finish the league, unless we are willing to finish the league in August or Sept but we [Hibs] would be open-minded about that.”

It is one possible solution to a problem that has no foolproof answer. Dempster accepts that it is complicated, and acknowledges that while there has been a feeling of unity within the football community as they strive for ways to protect jobs and safeguard clubs, views are undoubtedly skewed by circumstance.

The Easter Road club, like many others, have had to furlough staff and players and have the majority of their employees, including manager Jack Ross, agree to wage deferrals as they pick their way through the financial minefield of an unwelcome hiatus and ongoing obligations.

Ambitions they cited at the recent AGM have had to be shelved for the foreseeable future, while surviving work on new kiosks and improved hospitality have become bogged down in lockdown logistics.

Facing their own struggles, league clubs have been offered the chance to vote for a SPFL resolution that would bring the curtain down on the season for Championship, League One and League Two clubs but Dempster is in no rush to see the top flight rush to its league denouement.

“I feel differently than I did two weeks ago and I probably will feel differently in another week or so. I think I know which way things are likely to go or what seems the most obvious, and I’m open-minded about other perspectives and ideas because at this moment in time, for us, whether it is called today or next week or in a couple of weeks time, a quick decision is not imperative for us.

“Ron [Gordon, the club owner] has a phrase that he uses and I like it: “A quick decision is sometimes a bad decision”. And I don’t see the need when the actions of the government has allowed us a bit of time to think about it.

“If I’m honest, it is about the context, and the context changes every couple of days at the moment. If you had asked everybody in the first week, when it was dawning, slower on some than on others, what was ahead of us, then I think we all would have said we needed clarity. We wanted to know what was happening and needed to plan but, as things like the very welcome and very necessary support from the government became clearer, that has bought us all a little bit more thinking time. We have had some distribution money coming in from the centre, some accelerated money from the SFA. It has helped a little bit and taken some of the cashflow pressure off. Alongwith the work we have done, we can see us being able to steer ourselves through the next four or five months. There will be other clubs who are not in as fortunate a position and there is a sense of urgency for them.”

A decision to end the season prematurely and dish out silverware and make promotion and relegation decisions based on current standings does not sit well with Uefa who warned that European places would be jeopardised if the season wasn’t concluded.

Dempster dismisses that threat and claims there appears to be a softening of their stance, anyway. An abrupt end to proceedings is not her preferred option, although she admits it is preferable to voiding the campaign, which she believes is a non-starter and even more unfair, something she has been candid about when discussing solutions with Hearts owner and derby rival Ann Budge, pictured below. The Gorgie side would drop to the Championship if the campaign is halted now, unless there is a consensus for league reconstruction.

Dempster advocates consideration of all suggestions, stressing that more than a couple of short and congested conference calls are required to ensure they arrive at the correct decision.

“Just battering towards a decision, for me, is wrong and there has not been enough opportunity for us to speak about it as clubs, together. There have been conference calls but they last 40-50 minutes and there are a lot of people on them. For decisions like this, respectfully, it needs to just be owners, chief executives, and finance directors who actually spend some time together on a call and put everything on the table. Then there is no dubiety, no double-talking and everyone is honest.

“I think it is time for calm heads and clear thinking. I think it is also time for some new influencers in the game, new ideas and more openness. I think it is great that we have Ron and Dave Cormack, who are two really creative thinkers who ask the question: “What does the modern game look like? What will it look like? Where do we fit in that?

“This is a time that you can’t even describe as bizarre or crazy or surreal because I think that underplays the serious nature of it.

“The game in Scotland has been materially affected and we need some calmness to consider the implications not just for next term but longer term. Until now it has been information coming from the SPFL, about the medical status, what the feedback from UEFA and FIFA is; there has been a lack of conversation about the bigger issues Scottish clubs are facing. There are still conversations to be had before we make the big decisions.

“These will be really testing times but really interesting times because I think it is going to change everything. Actually, probably, in some small way, everything in football had to change anyway.”


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