Tom English and Henry McLeish are on the radio this morning telling us that heading up the SFA is a uniquely toxic post, and that being head of Scottish football is a ‘poisoned chalice’. This is myth-making to excuse decades of collusion, mismanagement and incompetence, not least of which has been the disastrous reign of Stewart Regan at the SFA, and Neil Doncaster at the SPFL. It’s a lack of leadership ambition and strategic thinking that is only possible with the connivance of a sports media which often finds it difficult to exert its own independence and lacks guts (and credibility). It is chummy self-serving and unquestioning.
The simple reality is that Regan has presided over managed decline over many years and has been at the very heart of the failure to confront both a failed duopoly model for the game and a weird sense of entitlement for a club mired in bad practice and financial shenanigans.
His statement in 2012 that:
“Without Rangers [in the SPL], there is social unrest and a big problem for Scottish society” is the epitome of an attitude that is craven, inept and displayed an ignorance of Scottish society that should have made clear he was unfit for the lucrative post.
The notion of “financial Armageddon” posited by himself and Neil Doncaster has failed to arrive, indeed the game has thrived despite their best efforts, and the statements were an embarrassment to any football authority.
That the SFA thought it credible or viable to appoint the head of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club to run Scottish football tells you that the ills of the game go way beyond capitulation to aggressive vested interests or the (in) action of one man. The charge-sheet is as follow:
1. At a time when a huge scandal of child sex abuse is being uncovered in Scottish (and British) football, Stewart Regan and the SFA appoint a man who had been unemployable and who was synonymous with racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-semitic views. The Performance Director role, a post carrying a salary of abut £200k, this is a post “which oversees schools, academies, male and female teams plus the coaches responsible for them.”
2. Regan stands accused of bringing money into the game with dodgy deals and ripping off fans. In December 2016 it was revealed by Channel 4 News Ciaran Jenkins that:
“The government said it was cutting ties with JD Sports until it was satisfied workers were being treated “appropriately.” In an incredible and under-reported story the DWP announced they were severing ties with the company after revelations about the Rochdale plant revealed extremely harsh and exploitative work conditions.”
SFA have an exclusive kit deals with JD Sports.
3. The SFA presided over the McGregor/Ferguson Boozegate farce.
4. The lack of any due diligence over Rangers.
5. Resolution 12.
6. The price of tickets at Hampden.
7. The Referees Strike .
8. A complete failure to resolve or lead people to any form or reconciliation about the crisis in the wake of industrial scale tax avoidance. This statement (‘SFA refuses to participate in review into handling of Rangers’ EBT use‘) on its very own is enough to make Regan unsuitable for the post. He should have been forced to resign in the wake of it.
“The image of the game in Scotland can only be damaged further by ‘raking over the coals’ of everything that has happened in the last six years for a further lengthy period of time. No-one is complacent or insensitive to the issues. It will be impossible to satisfy every supporter, every club official and every member club. Nevertheless, the board of the Scottish FA is resolute. It has acted with integrity and in the best interests of Scottish football at all times.”
10. But the main charge against Regan and the SFA is their failure at an international level.
There is no-one other than the SFA responsible for the catalogue of failure that has seen us now watch our ninth major tournament in succession from afar. They have presided over the following managerial appointments, which, apart from Smith and McLeish, have been unmitigated disasters, often exhibiting a sort of shameful sporting cringe, dreadful man-management and tactical incompetence.
Gordon Strachan (15-Jan-13 – 2017)
Billy Stark (06-Nov-12 – 15-Nov-12)
Craig Levein (23-Dec-09 – 05-Nov-12)
George Burley (24-Jan-08 – 16-Nov-09)
Alex McLeish (29-Jan-07 – 27-Nov-07)
Walter Smith (01-Jan-05 – 10-Jan-07)
Tommy Burns (04-Nov-04 – 01-Dec-04)
Berti Vogts (01-Mar-02 – 01-Nov-04)
That’s eight managers in fourteen years.
There is nothing uniquely toxic about Scottish football – and the discord and grievance that does exist is the result of problems being swept under the carpet, ignored and allowed to fester. It’s not credible that a game can go though the sort of financial crisis that we have without confronting and dealing with them.
It is time for Scottish football to enter the 21st C with a unitary authority that has the ambition and vision to actually operate with some confidence and for the national game. We need an independent sports media and an authority that is accountable to the grassroots of Scottish football (for which we already have a blueprint in the work of the Scottish Football Supporters Association).
The tragedy of all this is that people continue to support their clubs and the game in huge numbers – proportionately some of the highest in Europe – and we have a generation of footballing talent and a newly thriving women’s game that should not be wasted.
As the saying goes “never waste the opportunity of a crisis”.