It’s nearly time for you to leave for the football”, joked my wife on Saturday morning. The sun was shining, and it was a perfect day for what would have been the final game of the season.
“I might be later back tonight, I’ll probably hang on for a few in the Wee Bar with the supporters”. I half joked back. Half joked, because I probably would have found myself in there for a while after the game had ended on Saturday and we made our way back to Ochilview after the final whistle. But alas, it wasn’t to be of course. There is no football. My car hasn’t left the driveway for a couple of days. Apart from food shopping or trips to the chemist, I haven’t been anywhere else in weeks.
Instead, I listened to Sportsound on the radio this weekend. The football drama off the field has arguably given that show a new lease of life in recent weeks. I listened to parts of the interviews with the two top men at the helm of the Scottish FA, the president and his vice, Rod Petrie and Mike Mulraney.
I commend them both for their honesty.
Neither sought to put a glossy spin on things. Rod is a thinker and it was clear that the human cost of Covid-19 was weighing heavily on his mind. Football can only restart when it is safe to do so and Rod clearly supports that view.
Mike Mulraney pulled no punches when he gave a stark assessment that it would be “foolhardy” to believe that all SPFL clubs will survive the shutdown. This is a message that we have heard already from a number of clubs at all levels. I hope that people continue to take notice.
I would expect that the Scottish Government will announce this week that the lockdown is due to be extended for another three weeks. This will take us to the end of May. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone but is a sobering thought for any business currently closed.
Whilst staff are furloughed and premises locked, you can take steps to reduce costs. However, you can’t eliminate costs completely. Finance arrangements, leases, subscriptions, utilities etc all continue. Money continues to flow out, while income has disappeared completely.
So Rod and Mike were right to present a bleak immediate outlook for Scottish football clubs. However, is there not a legitimate argument that the same two leaders of the Scottish game are in prime position to help do something about it?
The Scottish FA made advance payments to clubs back in March. This was welcome, but it was also flawed on the basis that the release of funds was based on a club’s licence award. The bigger clubs received tens of thousands of pounds, whereas the smaller clubs only a few thousand. If that distribution had been on a more equitable basis, then more clubs could have been helped in a more meaningful way.
This brings me on to the monies that Uefa has apparently earmarked for the Scottish game. In total, a sum of €236.5m is to be distributed to Uefa’s 55 member associations to help meet the challenges of Covid-19 in their respective countries.
When the Scottish FA receives its share, it will be interesting to see how they intend to distribute this. If Rod and Mike develop a distribution system that delivers sizeable payouts into the coffers of as many of its member clubs as possible, then they might just stave off the doomsday scenario that they themselves are predicting.
In amongst the bitterness and infighting that continues in Scottish football, a positive good news message could be delivered where clubs at different levels of the game are saved from financial distress, thanks to the Scottish FA. This could be achieved by simply accepting the view that we are in extraordinary times, and we need to come up with innovative thinking. We need to abandon the concept of trickle-down funding by which a minority of clubs at the top sweep up an overwhelming majority of funds with only tiny amounts trickling out to the dozens of clubs below.
Mike is right, there are many clubs balancing on the edge of financial collapse. Rod is right, football in front of stadia filled with supporters is a long way off.
But now they both have an opportunity to help lead Scottish football through these dark days.
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