Iain McMenemy: Let’s get creative and come up with a plan to save our game

A television camera overlooks Alloa’s Indodrill Stadium. Iain McMenemy believes Scottish clubs could introduce cheap automated camera systems to reduce the cost of broadcasting games. Picture: SNSA television camera overlooks Alloa’s Indodrill Stadium. Iain McMenemy believes Scottish clubs could introduce cheap automated camera systems to reduce the cost of broadcasting games. Picture: SNS
A television camera overlooks Alloa’s Indodrill Stadium. Iain McMenemy believes Scottish clubs could introduce cheap automated camera systems to reduce the cost of broadcasting games. Picture: SNS
People say that closed-doors games are not an option for lower leagues 
- but I disagree

As the Government
releases plans to ease the nation out of lockdown, Scottish 
football has hit another crossroads. There are those that believe football can restart in August behind closed doors, and those who don’t think this is possible.

The real problem is how you satisfy both positions.

For example, if one club in the Premiership says no to closed-doors games, what happens next? Does that mean that no club can play? Or if every other team gets to play, does the one club that said no automatically finish bottom and is relegated next season? If so, then you are effectively holding a gun to their head and forcing them to play. What happens if they are forced to play and end up going bust?

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So many questions, and just as many scenarios to consider, with so few answers. And this is only looking at one division. What happens when you include other divisions, and throw in different problems for full-time teams as opposed to part-time teams? Is it right that relegated teams are dropping out into leagues that might not be able to start in August?

However, we need to view these as mere challenges, and look to see what solutions
we can find to give clubs confidence that football can return.

On Friday, Dunfermline put out a statement to the effect that they were not signing any players that were out of contract at the end of the season. This decision was perhaps more significant than people realise. Dunfermline are a club that have had their problems in the past. However, since they became fan owned and run, they have steadily rebuilt their club and delivered success. Their chairman, Ross McArthur, is someone for whom I have a lot of respect.

When he is unwilling to 
re-sign any players, including a number of first-team 
regulars, due to the financial 
difficulties that lie ahead, then we should all take note.

Those same discussions are taking place in clubs right across the country. One thing is for sure, there will be a lot of players struggling to find an employer for the next couple of months. In Scotland, away from a few big clubs in the top flight, players don’t receive big salaries. We are talking about players, on modest incomes, potentially out of work. They have bills to pay, families, mortgages and all the usual costs that we all have. They face a difficult time.

But where do we go from here? Football behind closed doors isn’t as straightforward as it may sound. Clubs will need to continue to pay out on most of the costs in terms of player wages, backroom costs, travel and training. But there may be little to no normal matchday income. Add in the Covid testing regime that would need to be introduced to keep players safe and you are adding thousands of pounds of additional costs into the mix.

With all this in mind, you might think that any kind of football below the financially lucrative Premiership is a non-starter. I would disagree.

I think Scottish football needs to start finding solutions, rather than deliberating over the problems. Of course there are huge challenges, many of which I have laid out, but we can find a model that supports all 
divisions to restart at the 
earliest opportunity for each, and help all clubs get through this.

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This will involve creative thinking. The leagues might look different. The number of games may change. Technology can be our friend. We can introduce relatively cheap automated camera systems to reduce the potential cost in broadcasting games. We can look into a pay-per-view model for supporters that is shared across the Championship, Leagues 1 and 2. Better still, we can talk to Scottish broadcasters about supplying them much-needed local football content.

We can share the costs of virus testing and pool resources where required. In terms of making our facilities Covid ready, we can explore setting up regional hubs to play our games and share the costs.

We can engage with the PFA and players and agree a way where players facing little or no pay can stay employed and playing football by working together with clubs to identify workable and affordable solutions.

There may still be a financial shortfall, but we can look at this collectively and identify ways to plug this gap as much as possible, but until we know what it is, we won’t be able to find the solutions.

All the while, we can continue to work on getting supporters back to our games as it becomes safer to do so. This will inevitably be a staged process. Let’s model those stages and work out what we can do to drive the game towards this, as opposed to sitting out waiting for it to happen.

None of this would be easy, but football is coming back, and we should be leading on it. We have 42 SPFL clubs, 42 communities, we count on the support of hundreds of businesses and business leaders. We are well connected into dozens of local authorities. We have hundreds of thousands of supporters. We have the reach, we have the skills, we just need to plot the course and believe that we can do it.

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