Stewart Regan undone by series of misjudgments at SFA

Stewart Regan is unveiled as the SFA's new chief executive in July 2010. Picture: SNS.
Stewart Regan is unveiled as the SFA's new chief executive in July 2010. Picture: SNS.
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Stewart Regan was ultimately submerged by a series of unfortunate events. And some sorry missteps, it must be acknowledged.

It has become apparent that he only resigned from his position as chief executive of the Scottish Football Association yesterday because an uneasy board meeting made him painfully aware he had lost the confidence of those to whom he is answerable.

It is doubtful if Regan, in common with every single figurehead of the SFA to precede him, ever really enjoyed the confidence of the wider Scottish football populace. That was not the fault of the personable 54-year-old Englishman, whose modernising of the hellishly monolithic association across his seven and a half years in post was admirably widespread and deserves recognition and appreciation. It is merely a consequence of the febrile, and often juvenile, environment that envelops our national sport.

Regan, in the final analysis, was probably brought down by the failure to land Michael O’Neill as national manager, and the ill-considered summer friendlies for the international side away to Peru and Mexico in June.

The fact is, though, he was building up a charge sheet for his inveterate critics from his earliest days in the job. Even as he took it up, in fact, through being an outsider from south of the Border and – worse still – having a background in 
cricket.

Regan was unquestionably driven by a desire to do the right thing by Scottish football, and for Scottish football. He just often chose the wrong means.

He soon walked into a controversy when referee Dougie McDonald was caught out for fabricating a version of events over a penalty incident involving Celtic at Tannadice in October 2010. Regan, in one of his first serious media grillings, continually referred to McDonald “miscommunicating” as he sought to fudge the fact the official had lied to then Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

Immediately, though, he recognised the damaging lack of transparency surrounding on-field decision making and sought to bring in disciplinary procedures for referees. In response, they went on strike. Regan was lambasted for bringing in referees from other countries but, with the passing of time, to blame him for this wholly unedifying episode is to point the finger in the wrong direction.

That is true over the events of Rangers’ slide into liquidation in 2012. It wasn’t the SFA chief executive who misused a tax avoidance scheme and in the process deliberately flouted footballing rules, brought Craig Whyte on to the scene and then failed to pay taxes.

Regan, though, was left to mop up the mess created by these events at the Ibrox club, many of which covered the previous decade and more.

It created an unprecedented situation, and Regan was blinkered by commercial considerations in how he chose to attempt to sort it out.

He misjudged the mood in seeking to shoehorn the newco Rangers into the then First Division. His talk of “social unrest” in reference to the fate of the Ibrox side as Scottish football convulsed in the early summer of 2012 was, to put it mildly, ill-judged. But even then he was damned for something he never said – it having entered footballing folklore that he offered the “social unrest” comment about the possibility of Rangers being denied the chance to start again in the second tier when he actually only said it could be the consequence of the country’s biggest fan base having no team to support 
at all.

Regan has been, and will forever be, slaughtered for his handling of the Rangers situation in the media. However, there were only a few of us in this domain who stated natural justice had to be served by the Ibrox club reforming in the lowest senior tier, and that financial considerations should not be placed above that.

There is a trawlerful of red herrings related to Rangers’ malfeasance that Regan is fingered for and he must have watched ruefully as Coventry City were liquidated in 2013, given a ten-point league penalty, and otherwise allowed to carry on as before. He had an impossible job to come out the other side of the Rangers disintegration amid the level of mistrust and conspiracy-fuelled atmosphere.

Of course, Regan didn’t help himself when it came to recognising the importance of perception. Never more painfully so than with his stout defence of SFA president Campbell Ogilvie – a man whose position should have been rendered untenable through his having a role in Rangers not registering their players properly with the SFA in how they administered a tax avoidance scheme.

More recently, and more tellingly for his own employment, Regan seemed to make – or at least was party to – ever-more questionable calls. There seemed no need to plunge the SFA into the furore that was the inevitable consequence of appointing Malky Mackay as director of football in late 2016. To then place Mackay in charge of the Scotland national side in the wake of Gordon Strachan’s departure for November’s Holland friendly, allow an impression to be created that he might be a contender for the job, then nip that in the bud on radio the very night of Pittodrie fixture was ham-fisted.

In some more feverish football circles, the unsuccessful pursuit of O’Neill has been presented as the biggest botch-up in the history of the game. It wasn’t. The standard of candidate that has since emerged to succeed Strachan demonstrates that the SFA, with Regan at the vanguard, was quite right to make the Irishman its preferred option. What it was not right to do was subsequently allow a drift at the tail end of last year, and leave it another month before staging talks with him. Regan is entirely culpable in this fatal indecision.

What he was thinking of in sanctioning friendlies 5,000 miles away little more than a week before Scotland’s European entrants will return to pre-season training this summer was anyone’s guess. It isn’t the life-or-death issue it has been presented but it created a perception that Regan was out of touch; a leader whose leadership abilities had well and truly deserted him.

His increasing propensity to become the narrative rather than drive the narrative in one of the most high-profile positions in Scottish public life placed him in a highly vulnerable position. So often vulnerability gives way to weakness in such situations. With that combination, it becomes open season on the beleaguered figurehead. And when that happens, as it did with Regan, the fatal blows soon rain in.