Iain McMenemy: No winners in SPFL war, but we need to move on

Lessons must be learned from this embarrassment for Scottish football

Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack has said the SPFL needs a better vision and branding strategy. Picture: Bill Murray/ SNS Group
Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack has said the SPFL needs a better vision and branding strategy. Picture: Bill Murray/ SNS Group

After many months of rancorous debate, peace seems to have broken out within the SPFL. The legal action is over, immediate reconstruction is off the table, and the make-up of all four divisions are set.

All of this has happened just in time for the SPFL Premiership season to kick off this weekend. It will be nice to see the rivalries played out on the pitch instead of in print.

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But let’s not kid ourselves; there were no winners in any of this. All that has been established is that the league rules weren’t broken when the decision to end the season was taken by clubs. Whether or not it was fair is another matter. What is beyond doubt I believe, is that the whole thing was poorly handled, badly executed and a total embarrassment for Scottish football.

No-one could have predicted a Covid-19 scenario. But it happened anyway. As a league body, we should have been the first to react to protect our organisation and all of our members. We failed to do so. We couldn’t find consensus to save ourselves from harm.

But, it’s all in the past now. We need to draw a line under it and move on. However, we also need to learn the lessons from everything that has happened. I fear that we won’t.

Covid-19 is still out there, and we can peer across the channel to Europe and see just how difficult this virus will be to control without a working, freely available vaccine. We can look closer to home to see that football clubs can still be affected. Covid may impact upon the season ahead, so what are we going to do differently, and more importantly, what are we going to do better? At the moment, there are no plans in place at all which is disappointing.

The SPFL did put forward a suggestion to give the board full responsibility for deciding what would happen next season should it be affected by the virus. The clubs decided not to give them that power. So at the moment, there are no plans in place and it is a case of wait and see once again. That is a recipe for disaster. Should we find ourselves in a similar scenario, the infighting will start over, the lobbying will begin, the challenges will be mounted, and the media will be the battleground once again. We can’t let that happen.

This is where we need leadership. If one solution fails, we need to find another. We need to do it now, before we get headlong into the season, and before it gets personal. At the moment, we do not know which clubs will occupy which slots in the league table so decision making is easier. If we wait until clubs start occupying those positions, then self-interest will kick in and it will get acrimonious once again.

But where will the leadership that we so badly need come from? Only the clubs can deliver it. It is noteworthy that there are now a number of clubs openly expressing a desire for change within the SPFL.

I have been critical of the culture for some time. However, more recently, some of Scotland’s biggest clubs are now calling for change. This includes Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts. There are many more, not all of whom have been so open.

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Let’s not forget that 30 per cent of clubs supported recent calls for an independent investigation into the SPFL’s handling of the vote to end last season. The number disaffected is growing.

The smart thing to do is to recognise the concerns and put plans in place to ensure that all views and opinions can be heard. Let’s review how we go about our business and where change is needed, let’s get it implemented. The worst mistake they could make right now is to pretend that there isn’t a problem. The concerns won’t go away.

Dave Cormack from Aberdeen FC made some very good points in an article recently where he said the SPFL needed a better vision and branding strategy. He’s right. We need to have bigger ambition. We need better strategic planning. We need to start acting like a hungry, ambitious, growing commercial business that cares about its brand, its image, its reach and its position in society.

It could all start here. We take the difficulties from the past few months and use these as the catalyst for change. We use our problems as pointers to direct us where to go to do things better. Now is the time.

* Iain McMenemy is the chairman of League 2 club Stenhousemuir.

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