Gordon Smith resignation: Archaic SFA is no place for anyone with vision

Smith's demise offers little hope for what his replacement will be able to achieve

• Former SFA chief executive Gordon Smith

HE CAME in with a desire to modernise but was ground down by a system which to all intents and purposes remains just one step removed from its 1950s structure, when the Scotland football side was selected by committee.

Scottish football will survive Gordon Smith's resignation as chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, but the game's governing body doesn't deserve to – at least not in its current guise.

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No-one needs to be told that the organisation is an anachronism in this day and age, except perhaps the SFA itself. One glance at the governing body's own handbook can tell you that moves to improve the game have to be hampered by a system which will continue to strangle any move to make things better at almost its very point of conception. In one section is listed "standing committees". These amount to ten, including the board of directors. There is also an 11-member strong recreational football committee and seven people sit on the licensing committee, led by Hibs chairman Rod Petrie. The SFA board of directors generally retains the most power but Smith was only one of 11 present on this committee when he started, with George Peat, the SFA president, handling chairman duties.

A system which relies on consensual decision-making by committee is not likely to prove fertile conditions for a revolutionary to operate in. Smith yesterday confirmed that a number of factors had led to his resignation. Personal issues were not the only reasons behind his decision to walk away after less than three years in the job, and prior to the publication of Henry McLeish's Review of Scottish Football. It is hoped the former First Minister's assessment of where the game is going wrong will highlight those areas which Smith believed could be improved, with the stream-lining of committees one of the most urgent issues he wished to address. None of this is Smith's problem now.

You wonder if the SFA labours under the impression that it is in fact the last word in go-getting, modern business models, where the chief executive has "a proven track record of success in leading a complex business". Surprisingly, given the identity of the successful applicant, this is what was listed as an "essential" credential in the association's job advertisement ahead of Smith's recruitment. Contenders were also expected to be an "existing managing director or chief executive or ambitious deputy".

Smith was none of these but was generally welcomed by those who anticipated his arrival as being the catalyst for change within not just SFA corridors, but also the entire game in Scotland. Without an appearance at the finals of an international competition since 1998, and with clubs producing some of the worst European results in Scottish football history, a new vision is badly required.

Smith was from a sufficiently different background to the dreaded blazer pack, and had played the game at the top level. His profile was different to those other mandarins occupying roles at Hampden like they are seats in the House of Lords. And then there are the layers of different bodies which run Scottish football. Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Premier League, has spoken of his surprise at Smith's decision to quit. "I had no inkling this was round the corner," he said. Why should he have? The SPL only occupy the same sixth floor at Hampden as the SFA. One arm does not know what the other is doing, never mind thinking. This floor is further cluttered by the presence of the Scottish Football League.

Although Smith made all the right noises on his arrival, he appears to have been beaten by the constraints that will surely make any well-qualified candidate to replace him think twice about applying for the position.

First of all there is the tricky issue of a president who could undermine Smith every time he chose to speak his mind. In the BBC documentary From Player to Power, which chronicled Smith's first few months in charge, he is seen joshing with Peat in – tellingly – the president's office. They tossed "I'm in charge" claims back and forth across the table and although jocular in tone, it is a hugely significant issue. Just who was in charge? Just who is in charge?

Startlingly, Peat alone holds the reins just now – perhaps as he always truly has. If Craig Levein, the current Scotland manager, was to resign tomorrow, then Peat would be the man leading the hunt for a new manager.

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Perhaps only in Scotland could someone ascend to such a position of power after his only previous significant contribution to the game was, as an Airdrieonians director, helping to sell Broomfield without having found the club a new home – a decision which contributed to the club's eventual demise.

But it would lead us down a false trail to portray Peat as the bogey man in this affair. He is merely the symbol of an ancient regime that Smith hoped he could buck into the 21st century. That not even someone with his reforming zeal could effect change means hopes cannot be high ahead of the next contender's coronation.


PRESIDENT: George Peat




BOARD OF DIRECTORS: George Peat (chairman), Campbell Ogilvie (vice chairman), John Gold, Lex Gold, Tom Johnston, Donnie MacIntyre, Brown McMaster, Alan McRae, Rod Petrie, Richard Shaw, Gordon Smith, Sandy Stables.

PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL COMMITTEE: George Peat (chairman), Campbell Ogilvie (vice chairman), Jim Ballantyne, Iain Blair, Andrew Dickson, Lex Gold, David Longmuir, Brown McMaster, Gordon Smith.

APPEALS COMMITTEE: Donnie MacIntyre (chairman), Derrick Brown (vice chairman), Steven Brown, Colin Holden, Finlay Holden, Eric Riley, Martin Ritchie.

DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE: Sandy Stables (chairman), Eric Riley (vice chairman), Colin Holden, Michael Johnston, Angus MacKay, Scott Struthers, Stephen Thompson.

GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE: Richard Shaw (chairman), Scott Struthers (vice chairman), Derrick Brown, Steven Brown, Andrew Dickson, Finlay Noble, Martin Ritchie.

RECREATIONAL FOOTBALL COMMITTEE: John Gold (chairman), Angus MacKay (vice chairman), Donald Beaton, Rod Houston, David Little, Maureen McGonigle, Tom McGowan, Alex McMenemy, Gordon Pate, Ian Richardson, Stewart Taylor.

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REFEREE COMMITTEE: Alan McRae (chairman), David Dowling (vice chairman), Ian Fyfe, Jim McCluskey, Sandy Roy, Donald McVicar, Alan Freeland, William Young.

MEDICAL COMMITTEE: Tom Johnston (chairman), Maureen McGonigle (vice chairman), Donald Beaton, Jim Fallon, Prof Stewart Hillis, David Little, Gordon Mackay, Dr John MacLean, Campbell Ogilvie, Andrew Waddell.

EMERGENCY COMMITTEE: George Peat (chairman), Campbell Ogilvie (vice chairman), Lex Gold, Brown McMaster, Alan McRae, Gordon Smith.

LICENSING COMMITTEE: Rod Petrie (chairman), Brown McMaster (vice chairman), Jim Ballantyne, David Dowling, Michael Johnston, Stephen Thompson, Andrew Waddell.

Committee membership appears here as was published in the 2009/2010 Scottish FA Handbook. Some personnel may have changed over the course of the season.