Signs of distrust already as new SPFL board elected

Motion to hand governing body full authority over Covid crisis destined to fail
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell was voted on to the SPFL board at its remote agm. Picture: SNS.Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell was voted on to the SPFL board at its remote agm. Picture: SNS.
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell was voted on to the SPFL board at its remote agm. Picture: SNS.

A new SPFL board has been confirmed for the forthcoming season but it is unlikely it will be handed the authority to curtail the new campaign in the event of a Covid-19 flare-up.

Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, was inducted on to the SPFL board as expected along with Steve Brown, the St Johnstone chairman, at an agm yesterday held by video conference.

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They join Les Gray, the vice-chairman of Hamilton Accies, as Premiership representatives with Dunfermline Athletic’s Ross McArthur and Ewen Cameron of Ayr United representing the Championship. Inverness chairman Ross Morrison failed in his bid to be appointed to the board after gaining only two votes.

Leagues One and Two will be represented by Brechin City’s Ken Ferguson, who retains his place on the board, and Gordon Thomson of Clyde. They all have the onerous task of steering Scottish 
football through its re-start programme following the impact of the pandemic on last season’s campaign.

However, with the deadline for voting on handing the SPFL board power to act on all issues related to Covid-19 falling at midnight last night, the result looks set to reflect continued distrust of the board – whoever it consists of.

A statement confirming the resolution has failed is expected today.

The bid to give the board this authority for one season only was to avoid “the division and rancour” that has scarred Scottish football since a controversial vote by clubs to curtail the season took place in April. Dundee’s decision to change their vote after it was held up in the SPFL’s quarantine system triggered an on-going dispute involving relegated and promoted clubs. SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, inset, admitted in a letter to clubs last month that “it remains entirely feasible that season 2020/21 may be disrupted by a second wave or further spikes in the occurrence of cases of Covid-19”.

He admitted the current SPFL rules “do not adequately cover the situation where a season has to be curtailed, with a number of games remaining to be played”. Hearts and Partick Thistle are currently involved in an arbitration panel hearing as they continue their bid to have their relegations overturned. The case was referred to arbitration following a Court of Session hearing earlier this month.

“Too many clubs are hesitant about giving the board power – there is a lot of distrust given all that’s happened,” said Iain McMenemy, chairman of League Two side Stenhousemuir.

“You add in the fact that they didn’t know the identity of the board until the actual deadline day. Others,
like myself, do not believe giving the board extra power would solve anything or eradicate the rancour. We need to define now what the conditions would be to end the league, not just pass the buck.

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“Most of the people I have spoken to were of the same view – that the resolution would not get sufficient support across all the divisions.”

A 75 per cent majority is required from three different sections: the Premiership; the Championship; and a combined Leagues One and Two vote. Clubs were sent a reminder last week to submit their voting slips by Monday 20 July if they agreed with the resolution. If they did not agree, they did not have to do anything.

The new top-flight season is due to start a week on Saturday with the three other leagues set to kick-off on 17 October. Yesterday’s SPFL agm also confirmed the dates for the Betfred Cup competition with all 42 clubs having agreed to take part. Participation was not compulsory due to the financial constraints resulting from clubs having lost significant income due to the shutdown.

Highland League champions Brora Rangers and Lowland League winners Kelty Hearts will be asked if they wish to take part after being denied the chance to play-off for a place in League One.

The competition will retain its groups format in the opening round before proceeding to a second round, quarter-final, semi-final and final, which will be held next year on 28 February. The group section is scheduled to begin on 6 October.

“Our game is facing a series of challenges unlike anything it has ever experienced, and everyone involved in Scottish football is working tirelessly to restart matches soon,” 
said chairman Murdoch MacLennan.

“The SPFL directors have a key role to play in navigating those challenges and I’m pleased to welcome them on board for what promises to be a unique season ahead.

“Thanks to the dedication of thousands of people involved in our game, we are within touching distance of matches being resumed. It’s vital that we maintain that vigilance and discipline as we move towards a greater semblance of normality for our teams and for the supporters up and down the country who form the backbone of our sport.”

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