Iain McMenemy: Philanthropist’s cash must not be swallowed by Premiership

The offer of a multi-million pound donation is incredible and must be used for the good of all the game

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has held talks with philanthropist James Anderson. Picture: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has held talks with philanthropist James Anderson. Picture: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire.

Scottish football is coming back. Soon, we hope. The Scottish FA and the SPFL have submitted a request to Scottish Government to allow for the return of football, for the Premiership at least.

This would mean a return to training in June, and the first games in early August. This is welcome news. We will now need to continue discussions that will enable the remaining professional leagues, and the non-professional game, to return too.

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From a personal perspective, I’d rather the football authorities hadn’t gone into the meeting with Government asking for just the Premiership to resume. The name of the division should make no difference, as the decision will be based on each club’s ability to meet the stringent Covid-19 health criteria so that the game returns safely for staff and players.

But hopefully, clubs in the leagues below the top flight will continue to look at the feasibility of returning and finding the way in which we can make that happen.

Not all clubs will be able to return if the games must initially be played behind closed doors. The revenue generated from match days is such an important part of the business model in Scotland. This could mean that there will be some clubs willing to return, and others who can’t. This may lead to the forced amalgamation of divisions on a temporary basis in order to ensure that those who are able to play, can do so.

Some may refer to it as amalgamation, but it could also be called reconstruction. This leads me on to the proposal from Ann Budge to redraw the leagues. When news of the second attempt at reconstruction broke in the media, many of us let out a sigh of frustration. Reconstruction talks had just broken down, through no fault of Ann’s mind you, but here it was back on the table just a week later.

However, there is an argument that events may now be overtaking us and league reconstruction, albeit through circumstance rather than design, might be coming in any event. On Saturday, we learned that a potential philanthropist, James Anderson, was willing to put money into the lower leagues to help them through the pandemic. This could have a bearing on the ability of teams to return sooner rather than later.

So whilst my initial desire was to deal with Ann’s reconstruction talks as quickly as possible, the events of last week have perhaps overtaken us. If the Government gives permission to the Premiership to return, and, if there may be significant funds available to clubs in the lower leagues to aid their return, then we need to stop and consider these important events and the positive impact they could have on our ability to open back up.

Therefore, I believe we should let the Ann Budge proposals sit to the side for the time being. We can consider these alongside the overall ability of the game to return.

The most crucial piece of news was of course the revelation that there was a potential philanthropist willing to support lower league clubs through the pandemic. It is heartening to know that there are people willing to support clubs in this way. I’ve previously remarked on how many supporters have stepped up at my own club at Stenhousemuir and are helping to support the club through these challenging times. The news that there are others willing to potentially support clubs with a multi-million-pound donation is incredible.

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I’m sure that we’ll hear details of how this will play out over the next few days. Now that the SPFL has entered negotiations with the philanthropist, I hope that they continue to progress this in the spirit which it seems it was intended. If they attempt to swallow up the donation for the minority of big clubs in the Premiership, at the expense of the majority of smaller clubs down the divisions, then that would be bitterly disappointing.

All eyes are on them.

Now that some restrictions are being lifted, and Government is now looking at dates when clubs can resume, with the possibility of additional funding for smaller clubs, then for possibly the first time since this pandemic began, we have a glint of light at the end of the tunnel. But it is just that, we are nowhere near the end.

The decisions we make now are vitally important. This is the time to plot the way forward, and to find a survival route for all clubs.

Iain McMenemy is the chairman of League 2 club Stenhousemuir.

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