Moira Gordon: SPFL board’s open letter is condescending and counter productive

Fans and clubs will not move on from vote fiasco without answers

The signature of Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson was missing from the SPFL’s open letter to clubs. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
The signature of Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson was missing from the SPFL’s open letter to clubs. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

How the SPFL must be longing for an on-field flashpoint, a dodgy refereeing decision or a controversial Old Firm press conference. Anything to take the spotlight off their questionable handling of a saga everyone would love to see concluded but few are willing to sweep under the rug.

In the past, the tedium of issues involving the game’s executive bodies have tended to wear punters down and fresher, juicer tales have usurped them on back pages, blogs and radio debates.

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In the fast-moving world of Scottish football, if the SPFL board keep their heads down long enough, there will always be another story just around the corner that will take the heat off of them. Until now.

Now, with football-free months stretching ahead of us, like a jail sentence for crimes unknown, there is plenty of time for fans, media and club owners to dissect issues, and the way the SPFL executive and, at times, other members, have dealt with them. There are also very few distractions.

Which is why the tone and content of the latest SPFL communique is not helpful and likely to stir up greater antipathy, mistrust and division. The exact opposite of what it apparently set out to do. The open letter to all 42 clubs from six of the seven SPFL board members – Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson did not put his name to it – calls for “reconciliation and contrition from all parties if we are to safeguard the future of Scottish football”.

Reading like a condescending admonition from a stuffy schoolmistress, it tells off the pesky troublemakers for daring to question authority. It also attempts a sleekit bit of divide and conquer by reminding them that they are spoiling it for everyone, costing their pals money, and playing on the emotive notion that because people are dying of Covid 19, the unseemly bickering paints a poor picture of our game.

The latter is a shameful and tasteless diversion tactic.

Football fans, like everyone else, are only too well aware of the human cost of the pandemic and no one involved in scrutinising the SPFL would suggest that football is more important than life. But people can be heartbroken and still multitask. The pandemic is not a convenient smokescreen for the SPFL to behave any way they like and then demand everyone move on for fear of how it looks to the outside world.

There is also an ill-concealed dig at next month’s Extraordinary General Meeting, requisitioned by Hearts, Rangers and Stranraer and the proposed vote for a more thorough independent inquiry into the SPFL board’s handling of the decision to end the season for the lower leagues and put in place the mechanism to do likewise for the Premiership.

The SPFL board have been clumsy and bumptious in their handling of things thus far and until circumstances surrounding that – including their highly-unorthodox decision to release incomplete voting results – it is unlikely everyone will simply move along.

Painting the requisitioners as the villains of the piece and themselves as the paragons of democracy, they state that, if 75 per cent of clubs vote to “spend our executives’ time on matters other than seasons 2019/20 & 2020/21, and clubs’ money on lawyers fees, then we will”.

But they don’t stop there. In an ill-judged attempt to hold football hostage, it seems a tad disingenuous to suggest that “further recrimination and division will only decrease our chances of playing football matches in Scotland any time soon”. The coronavirus and government policy will determine that.

Rangers insist they have “whistleblower” evidence about the way the original vote was conducted and have called for the suspension of SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and legal advisor Rod McKenzie.

In yesterday’s letter, the SPFL board insisted there had been no impropriety. If that is the case, they simply need to sit back, shut up, let the inquiry prove it and we can all move on. If not, then they are going to look more than silly. These board members will look complicit.

They talk of contrition but, after highlighting a lack of staff due to furloughing, they ask if “as a consequence, has everything been done perfectly and has it always been fully communicated? Of course, it has not”. The board claim that point has been addressed and that a Q&A document will be issued to explain matters.

Given that the SPFL board have been selective in either hearing concerns or deciding which ones to address, they are going to have to be far more comprehensive in that document if they are to quash the ill-feeling that appears to be swelling rather than abating.

If there was a genuine desire to clear the air and move on, they should not have batted away calls for an independent inquiry before surreptitiously appointing auditors Deloitte’s to carry out a probe and setting their own parameters.

The board should not have left themselves open to accusations by announcing voting results prematurely and placing one club in a position to flex their muscle and subsequently change their mind. That is what left everything open to conjecture and it still has not been adequately explained.

Just like respect has to be earned so, too, does trust and forgiveness. It doesn’t simply happen because some of those in the spotlight are finding it a tad uncomfortable.

Scottish football needs answers before it can move along.

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