You could be forgiven for forgetting that it has been almost four months since we have had any competitive football played in Scotland. Football has continued to keep the sportswriters busy, although this has been due to the off-field antics.
I won’t go over old ground and reignite the arguments over lost votes, resolutions, and reconstruction, and I definitely won’t get into the current Hearts and Partick Thistle legal case. But one thing is abundantly clear and needs to be discussed. We need to change how we do things in our league body, the SPFL.
To be clear, I’m not criticising any of our board members in particular. As it happens, we are about to elect a new board at Tuesday’s AGM. The problems will most likely stay the same, because they are far more systemic. We have set ourselves up with a structure and system that isn’t fit for purpose.
We can shuffle the chairs around as much as we want, it won’t make much difference, we need to review the structure and governance in our organisation.
One of the fundamental issues is the unworkably high majority that is required to pass any resolution within the Premiership. The current setup requires the support of 90 per cent of clubs to pass any business. This means you need to carry the support of 11 out of 12 clubs. This mechanism was originally put in place to ensure that the three divisions below couldn’t out vote them. However, as we’re now finding out, it means that unless there is near unanimity amongst Premiership clubs, then they can’t pass anything even where 10 clubs are in support with only two against.
It also creates an ever-present divide between the Premiership and the other 30 clubs across the lower three divisions.
When a resolution is put forward, unless the top tier clubs support it, then the other divisions don’t even get the right to vote. They act as an effective veto mechanism for the league.
In any walk of life, having a voting threshold that high acts as a barrier to change. Often, the best ideas are controversial. You’ll have some who support, some against, and some in the middle who need to be persuaded. If you need to carry 90 per cent support for any change, then that change will never happen. So nothing goes forward.
We are therefore locked in a perpetual groundhog day. We stifle innovation, deter progressive thinking and hold back creativity. We need to fix this as these are exactly the type of attributes our organisation needs.
It isn’t just the voting mechanism however; we need to create a culture that encourages big thinking. We need the best creative and commercial brains we can find, and we need to develop a structured plan that has clear targets, goals and objectives.
There are many highly talented individuals in football club boardrooms. Many have had or continue to have successful business careers. You can find these people in clubs at all levels in the game. We need to find a way to tap into this resource and use it for the betterment of our game.
Scottish football could be so much better. We just need to aim higher and develop a plan that takes us there. As a nation, we sit at the bottom of the table across Europe in terms of TV broadcast deals. We fail to progress in club European competitions. We haven’t qualified for a World Cup or major tournament in 22 years. We couldn’t even agree on a solution to support our own members during a pandemic.
Do we need any other indicators to tell us that our current way of doing things isn’t working?
Let’s build our brand, improve our commercialism, and identify ways to improve and enhance football across all our divisions. We should encourage and reward youth football setups and ensure there is a pathway for talent development in every part of Scotland.
Above all else, we need strong leadership, commercial acumen, and arguably, strong independent voices that can help us get to where we need to be.
None of these changes needs to come at the expense of anyone else. In other words, for a League 1 or 2 club to grow, it doesn’t have to come at the financial expense of a top Premiership club fighting to progress in Europe. The game can progress and grow at all levels, together.
As we hopefully start to emerge from the long, dark tunnel that Scottish football has been in over these past few months, we need to take the opportunity presented to us to reflect and learn some lessons.
If we do one thing, let’s address the fundamental issues in our league structure and fix it. Only then can we start to build and grow.
l Iain McMenemy is the chairman of League 2 club Stenhousemuir.
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