TWO years ago, the battle for control of Scottish league football, sparked by a desire to have one more promotion place to the top flight, was heating up. The end result was the demise of the 123-year-old Scottish Football League.
However, Queen of the South and Rangers embark on a journey today to fight it out for that promotion place.
The first and last chief executive of the SFL, David Longmuir, lost his job during the take-over by the Scottish Premier League and little has been heard of the one-time Scottish Bowls internationalist since.
Neil Doncaster rather than Longmuir was chosen to be the top man in the Scottish Professional Football League but it was not hurt pride that made him take time out. “I did not disappear,” said Longmuir. “Fate stepped in and took me off in a different direction. My elder brother Jimmy was diagnosed with cancer and I put everything on hold to look after him.
“Jimmy was my daily routine for four months and I am glad I had the time to be there for him during that time. I was able to sort out what was important in life. Things happen for a reason but I now disagree with Bill Shankly over ‘football being more important than life or death’.”
Longmuir could have been forgiven for disappearing after a bruising leadership campaign that got personal at times but, instead, he gained a new perspective. “After Jimmy passed, it was time to think about what I was going to do next and I was much clearer about my future and what I could deliver,” he said.
“Running the SFL was challenging but it was a good experience. When I went in it did not have a sponsor for the league or the Challenge Cup and the League Cup deal was coming to an end.
“After one season everything was sponsored and we brought in big brands like Irn-Bru, Ramsdens and even the Scottish Government.”
There were significant challenges, too, with administration at clubs like Livingston and Dundee and then there was Rangers and their financial trauma in the summer of 2012.
The Ibrox club were asked to apply for membership at the lowest level of the SFL and Longmuir said: “Rangers were a challenge for everyone as no-one had a firm grasp on how to handle the situation. I reckon that the SFL handled it as well as could have been expected.
“The scale, history and heritage of Rangers means that they will continue to rebuild and come back a stronger club. I am delighted that they are involved in what will be exciting play-offs.”
Longmuir talked long and hard about the need for extended play-offs when he was employed and he added: “Play-offs were a key part of the SFL season and fans engaged with them as they gave teams mini cup finals. More play-offs are here now and, although they are not in the format we were familiar with, at least there is an opportunity for more clubs to break through.”
As for Longmuir and his opportunities, he said: “When I was ready to work again, I spoke to my mentors and their advice was to become a commercial consultant.
“I have done that by setting up SportsBridge, which looks to help sports organisations with their commercial activities. Now I am building up a portfolio of clients and not just in football, as I am doing some work with the Scottish PGA.
“I grew up in Airdrie and now live in Perth so it was natural for me to work with the Diamonds and the Saints. One of the things I have done for them is to create a business alliance between the club and local businesses. The businesses get a marketing package, including branding at the stadiums, hospitality and business seminars. The club is at the heart of it and I am looking to take that forward at other clubs and sports organisations.”
It is not just business fans that Longmuir is courting. He said: “I have also launched a new business where fans can support youth developments at no cost to them. At the SFL, we worked with a dynamic website business and I have teamed up with them again on what we believe is a real winner called Sportscashback.
“It uses the willingness of retailers to pass on a commission for online business to sporting organisations and Airdrieonians, St Johnstone and Dundee United have bought into this one already.
“Supporters register their interest by selecting their club via the Sportscashback website and, when they purchase via an on-line retailer, a small commission is paid to their club. Fans like helping the next generation of players and retailers like it as they are showing themselves to be contributing to the health of the nation.
“Clubs like it as it does not cost them anything, other than reminding their fans that it is there and to use it every time they shop online. It is a new source of income for grassroots sports and, whilst it is for football just now, it can work across all sports. We have over 500 well-known retailers involved and, this week, we secured Marks and Spencer as well as Amazon.”
Longmuir was asked if this work is enough for him or would a return to football administration be on and he replied: “I would never rule anything out because I know how to sell and market Scottish football and my record proves that. It is incumbent on everyone running Scottish football to look at every opportunity to be creative in trying to bring new revenue into the game.
“The work we are doing with Sportscashback helps with that.”