SFL brought to an end by ‘reluctant heroes’

AS the television crews packed up their equipment and reporters rose to leave the Hampden auditorium where, a little earlier, the Scottish Football League’s death warrant had been issued, David Longmuir managed a wry smile and said: “Will somebody please put the lights out?”

Campbell Ogilvie, Alan McRae, Rod Petrie, Stewart Regan, Tom Johnston and Barrie Jackson prepare to address board members. Picture: SNS

It was gallows humour for the man who, six years ago, was ­appointed chief executive of the SFL at another time of crisis. Is there ever anything else in ­Scottish football?

Back in 2007, Longmuir’s first task was to stave off the threat posed by ten clubs to break away and form an SPL2.

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He succeeded on that occasion but yesterday saw the SFL disintegrate around him, 23 member clubs taking the decision to wind it up and accept the restructuring proposal which will see a 42-club Scottish Professional Football League constituted later this month.

Having been generally regarded in a better light than either of his contemporaries at the Scottish Premier League and Scottish FA, Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan, for his approach to the Rangers crisis which ­engulfed the game last summer, Longmuir and the 123-year-old SFL have now become casualties of this year’s close-season turmoil.

Longmuir’s future, and that of the other five full-time and three part-time staff at the SFL, is now uncertain.

It is understood their contracts will be transferred over to the SPFL under employment legislation, but it remains to be seen if there will be long-term positions for all of them in the new body. “That’s something I’m not considering at the moment,” said Longmuir. “Others will tell me if I have [a role].”

Although Longmuir has long championed a 42-club solution for Scottish football, it is clear he has been uncomfortable with the way it has been engineered by the SPL and SFA. While trying to remain positive yesterday, the former drinks industry executive warned that clubs could come to regret yesterday’s decision if there is no change in the approach from those governing Scottish football.

“People have to learn a lot from this process,” said Longmuir. “If there are no learnings from this, then we are making a big mistake. People have to learn that the way to do business is to bring people with you at all times.

“When you are embarking on a process of change as big as this, the important step is the first one – to get everyone on board at that very early point. I don’t think there was enough care and attention paid to the need to do that.

“Today’s result has brought us over the line but it could have been done a lot better.

“I feel there were some reluctant heroes today. In principle, we have always embraced the 42-club solution.

“Once you start going into detail behind the big principles, there were areas of major concern for clubs. That was reflected in the vote. Nevertheless, a lot of them have seen it for the good of the game.

“It is a means to an end. The only major tangible benefit that the fan out there is going to see are play-offs between the ­Premier and First divisions, along with the possible impact of a pyramid coming in at the bottom of the Third in 2015.

“You are hopefully going to see a focus on trying to bring fans back to the game, trust back in one league body running the game. It’s not the end in itself, there is a lot more which needs to be done.

“What we have all been through over the last few months has been intense and relentless in some places. It has been full of frustration and ­littered with variables. But today, the clubs made a decision in significant majority to accept the proposal as it ­currently stands.

“Therefore we go ahead with the five core ­principles which were agreed coming out of the McLeish ­Report a couple of years ago.

“Today we have voted as an organisation to embrace those principles and look forward to a positive future for the national game at league level. You only need to look at the make-up of the SFL to see that certain issues will have more of an impact on certain clubs.

“I think it is a fair result based on the needs and requirements of the clubs in the league. So I wasn’t too surprised by the ­result. It’s a big day in terms of the future and it’s an important day in terms of its past.”

Longmuir will spend the next two weeks overseeing the legal arrangements necessary for the SFL to be wound up and for its 30 clubs to become part of the SPL-owned SPFL on 27 June.

“A board of directors for the SPFL will also be formed on that date, including three representatives from the top flight, two from the First Division and just one to represent all 20 clubs in the Second and Third Divisions.

While the influence of lower -tier clubs is clearly being diminished, Longmuir expressed the hope that the core values of the SFL can still be retained to some dergee in the new organisation.

“The SPFL still contains those three words – Scottish Football League,” added Longmuir. “I see a bright future for everyone ­involved in the SFL. It is ­important to deliver professional football for 42 clubs. If we can do it under one roof, then all the better for the game.

“Before 1998 there was only one body running league football. We are going back to that situation, albeit under a new name with different branding and maybe some new people.

“The good of the game is the most important aspect.

“As long as there are some learnings from this process that the new organisation takes with it, as long as there is recognition of the important role the SFL has always played.

“That should not be lost because it has been a huge asset to the game.”

Why we voted Yes: Martin Ritchie (Falkirk FC)

FALKIRK chairman Martin Ritchie believes that yesterday’s historic decision at Hampden has saved First Division clubs from stagnation.

One of the chief proponents of a “Yes” vote, Ritchie was among those prepared to resign from the Scottish Football League and apply for membership of the Scottish Premier League if the ballot had not delivered the outcome he wanted. He said: “This is a big step forward and it gives us a great platform to build on.

“It will be fantastic for the First Division, which was stagnating with only one team promoted every year. Our fans now have more reasons than ever to buy season tickets, because there is now a play-off route to the top division. The likelihood is that six or seven of the 10 clubs will now be competing right up until the last game of the season to either move up or stay up. So it is brilliant for the First Division and it also gives us a chance to go forward as one body, which means that, if we want to make further changes in the future, the structure is a damn sight easier to tweak than it has been. Because this is a whole package of measures, every club will have had identified some element of the plan they don’t like and I include Falkirk in that. But, during the process of discussions, people talked about what they didn’t like, rather than the positive aspects. There was no expression of ‘is this better or worse than what we have or what would be left?’.

“The First Division clubs always wanted a single body but we would have looked at the other options had the status quo remained,” added Ritchie. “What does it mean to us financially? It gives us a bit of breathing space and allows us to keep things as they are, rather than add to the cuts we have made in recent seasons.

“The increase in money will not mean we go and pay transfer fees for players, but it does mean we can continue to run an under-20 side.

“We can keep doing the basics which, in itself, is massive.”

Why we voted No: Henry McClelland (Annan Athletic FC)

ANNAN Athletic chairman Henry McClelland has been one of the most consistent critics of the league restructuring proposal passed at Hampden yesterday.

He was one of six club representatives to vote against the resolution and feels it has been pushed through without proper consideration of the potential implications and as a result of scaremongering from the rebel First Division chairmen. “I am still trying to come to terms with the decision,” said McClelland.

“Some of the guys in the meeting were not happy with the way the merger had gone, not happy with the voting structure and governance, not happy with the financial distribution model, not happy with the pyramid and play-off structures – but despite all of that were still voting ‘Yes’.

“So the fear that a number of people had about what the outcome of a ‘No’ vote would be and all the threats of a breakaway from First Division clubs have not helped. It has all been explained with indecent haste and it was typical of how information has been fired across from the SPL. The due diligence we finally got from the SFA isn’t binding, it is just guidance. They are not qualified to do due diligence. Even today, there is uncertainty over the financial numbers which have been presented to us. Even with that uncertainty, clubs have voted ‘Yes’ to the risk associated with it.

“It is so wrong the way pressure has been applied. Even 36 hours before our final decision was taken, we were still missing key information about the relevant finances. As the fine detail does get clearer, everyone will start to understand and learn how the clubs at the lower end of Scottish football have been marginalised. We have definitely been had. Clubs like Annan will be facing a £20,000 deficit in our end of season payment. If you believe the number being touted of £18 million for distribution, based on £22 million turnover, Annan would get £36,000.

“Under the new governance, 40 clubs could support a resolution in the future and it could fail because just two clubs say ‘No’. Going forward, the 20 clubs in the Second and Third Divisions now have very little input into decisions with one representative on the new board.

“Annan analysed all of the detail before us and voted ‘No’. Our conscience is clear. We have only been members of the SFL for the last five years of its 123 year existence but we have felt privileged to be a part of it.”