How League One and Two clubs secured their own return to football after being abandoned by the SPFL

This weekend will see the re-start of SPFL football for Leagues 1 and 2. After the unexpected suspension was imposed back in January, the enforced hiatus has felt like an eternity for clubs and fans alike.

Ochilview, home of Stenhousemuir FC, is preparing for the return of football. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Ochilview, home of Stenhousemuir FC, is preparing for the return of football. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

In many ways it feels like the start of a new season, the layoff was about as long as the traditional summer break between one season finishing and another getting underway. But of course this isn’t a new season and we pick up where we left off, with points already on the board and with the majority of clubs having the same squad in place.

Due to the dates of the suspension, clubs in Leagues 1 and 2 effectively missed out on the January transfer window. One or two clubs were able to get a little bit of business done, but for many, the window was a write off. Targeted players were unwilling to commit to clubs that may not have kicked another ball for the rest of the season. So apart from the loan market, clubs lost out on strengthening their squads for the rest of the season ahead.

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To be honest, there were times when I wondered if we would even get back to playing this season. There was a full 42 club SPFL meeting just days after the season was postponed but perhaps unsurprisingly, there was next to no discussion on the suspension. This was the much-publicised meeting where clubs were muted throughout and were unable to speak at any point. If this wasn’t bad enough, at no point did the SPFL leadership offer any kind of plan or idea to get teams back playing.

Stenhousemuir FC return to training after the Scottish Government permitted the resumption of Scottish Leagues One, Two and Women's Premier League One.

Bearing in mind that the SPFL is a membership organisation, owned equally by all 42 member clubs, and 20 clubs, nearly half the total membership, had just been suspended from play, you would have thought that the organisation would have sprang into action, but alas, there was no plan, and no suggestion that a plan was even being considered.

Therefore, the 20 clubs themselves formed a small working group to develop plans to get the two leagues back playing. This group, of which I was one of the five members selected, acted as a driver for club ideas and information. The group consulted clubs on options, and then fed back the results. This gave all 20 clubs the opportunity to understand each other’s position, identify where the common ground was, and clarify where any red lines might be.

The group also acted as the go between with the Scottish FA who were the ultimate decision makers in consultation with the Scottish Government.

What is quite remarkable, is that throughout the whole period from January to mid-March, the 20 clubs across Leagues 1 and 2 worked together harmoniously. Of course there were different opinions and ideas, particularly around the number of games that could realistically be played, but everyone was fully informed and therefore willing to focus on the common ground.

Iain McMenemy, chairman Stenhousemuir FC.

Anyone that follows Scottish football off the field, and those who remember the goings on from last summer with the missing vote and reconstruction saga, will appreciate how unusual it is for clubs to work to a common goal.

It was challenging at times as, to be honest, I don’t think that there was much desire amongst the league authorities to get us back playing. Their focus was squarely on the Premiership. I get that, but that shouldn’t mean that the leagues below are an afterthought. Every supporter who has bought a shirt, paid for a Pay Per View game, or bought a season ticket, has as much right to follow their team, regardless of what division they play in and how expendable someone decides them to be.

However, the 20 clubs stood up for their supporters and those of their fellow clubs and each contributed to reaching consensus over the route back to playing, and the plan to complete the season.

By the time we reached a deal, it is fair to say that each of the 20 clubs had compromised somewhere, but obviously some had to compromise more than others. It is to the credit of those clubs who arguably had more to lose or who faced the biggest challenges in completing a season, that they were willing to compromise and go with the consensus.

It would only have taken three clubs in each division to scupper any deal. The fact that this didn’t happen should not be overlooked. Throughout all the discussions, of which there were many that went on late into the night, there were no red line moments. No club drew a line in the sand and refused to move. When it became clear that an option had little support, all clubs were willing to move on and examine someone else’s idea.

In the end, the deal that was reached to play out a 22-game season, with a target date by which the first 18 must be played, was a deal that the majority could get behind, even although it wasn’t the option that any club wanted at the outset.

When the deal was put to the SPFL it was all the more disappointing when there seemed to be some initial resistance. What was perhaps most disappointing was that it became clear early on that the other divisions were not willing to compromise in the same way that Leagues 1 and 2 had in order to support the return of our leagues. This in turn led to the very tight calendar that clubs are now faced with.

However, when the whistle blows at 3pm on Saturday, and we get back underway, we know that not only did we deliver our own return to football, against the odds, but we are a much more united voice that we can take into future negotiations to argue for our leagues in the next set of unforeseen challenges that may lie ahead.

Iain McMenemy is the chairman of Stenhousemuir FC

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