An Open Letter to Ian Maxwell from the Scottish Football Supporters Association

This from the SFSA is an attempt to inject some much needed independent scrutiny, measures to ensure transparency and accessibility, into the Scottish game.

The SFSA are disappointed but not surprised by the misinformation that was put in the public domain by the SFA at this recent meeting at Holyrood. ( scroll to 10.40)

Today the following open letter was send to Ian Maxwell the SFA CEO:

19th January 2024

Dear Ian,

I watched with great interest a recording of your recent appearance in front of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee in your role as Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association (SFA). The questions posed to you were wide-ranging, covering the scope of SFA activity – including VAR, safeguarding, independent regulation of our national sport and Viaplay contractual obligations relating to our men’s National Team, grassroots football, elections to the post of SFA President and much more, including transparency.

These subjects similarly feature high on our priority list here at the Scottish Football Supporters Association and the Scottish Football Alliance. During the session it was encouraging to hear of the good work being conducted by the SFA, and we welcome all good news stories and positivity linked to our national game.

However, several of your detailed responses during the session immediately caught my attention, and consequently I feel compelled to write this open letter in the interests of balance, respectfully challenging some of your comments and assertions, and to set the record straight on others.
I found your replies relating to the proposed Independent Regulator issue, and the detailed work of the Scottish Football Alliance, particularly interesting.

Firstly, when asked about the relevance and need for an Independent Regulator in Scotland, you used the financial gulf between the Scottish and English football set-ups effectively to dismiss the proposal as unnecessary. The examples you provided included the Super League breakaway saga (which did not apply to Scotland), historic individual clubs’ financial failings in England, Covid19 impacts on the overall health of the game, and the behaviour/actions of club owners who often act without the agreement and consent of their public. You suggested that these issues were not relevant to Scotland, eliminating the requirement for an Independent Regulator. You also cited current governance arrangements at Hampden as “robust”.

However, I would challenge all these points. We should consider, for example, the Covid19 impacts and resulting decision-making that led to the detriment of Hearts and Partick Thistle, amongst others, the notorious “missing” Dundee vote episode, and the considerable financial strains across all tiers of the game.

I would also respectfully remind you of the serious financial implosions at Rangers, Dundee, Dunfermline, Gretna, among numerous others, where the behaviour of club owners directly impacted these institutions and threatened their very existence. There are also serious questions around the ownership situation and the ‘fit and proper persons’ issue at other clubs. This demonstrates clearly that current arrangements and structures are not working as they should.

Also, the fact that the financial entailments of Scottish football are much smaller than those of our larger neighbours down south in no way means that proper transparency, accountability and appropriate scrutiny and regulation should not apply here. I am frankly rather surprised to hear you suggest otherwise.

Additionally, you compared the work of the independent review in England with the work of the Scottish Football Alliance, praising the English version but effectively dismissing the Scottish Football Alliance one on the basis that supposedly, unlike its English counterpart, it did not engage fully with stakeholders (including the SFA and SPFL) and that it was solely the work of two individuals. You also challenged its independence. These accusations are not substantiated by the facts.
I found the attempt to undermine a report put together over a long period of time, with wide involvement across the game, particularly disappointing and disrespectful. In fact, it is wholly incorrect. The report was compiled following a comprehensive engagement process with stakeholder consultation across Scottish football, and certainly not by “two individuals”.

It is important to stress that both the SFA and the SPFL were invited to participate in this process, but elected not to do so. You will recall I had previous conversations with you and Neil Doncaster on this very issue.

Additionally, any and all supporter organisations were also welcome to contribute. No individual or organisation was excluded, and the exercise was widely publicised (including in the media) with inclusivity considered key to its success. To illustrate this point, over 90 football clubs were represented in evidence, as well as representations from the Scottish Football Supporters’ Association (SFSA), the Scottish League Managers’ Association (SLMA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA Scotland).

A number of online evidence sessions were also held with experts in finance and other relevant areas, as well as former CEOs, international players, coaches, managers, and football administrators. To casually dismiss expert contributions from eminent individuals (such as the late Craig Brown and Walter Smith) cannot pass without comment. Members of parliament, senior figures in Scottish public life and individuals and organisations across the game at all levels were engaged with our review and report.

The review also conducted an online survey, seeking views on the key issues being considered. Over 2,500 responses (summarised in the appendix below) were received, and this followed earlier research conducted by independent, expert German sports academics with over 16,500 responses.

The detailed case for an Independent Regulator is set out in our report, Rebuilding Scottish Football, which was profiled in a constructive and thoughtful meeting at Holyrood when it was published last year, and which will form part of a members’ motion at the Scottish Parliament shortly. We would urge both the SFA and the SPFL to engage positively with its arguments and proposals. This is in your interest, our interest, and that of the game at all levels and wider society across Scotland.

Independent scrutiny, measures to ensure transparency and accessibility, and appropriate forms of regulation are being developed and extended in many areas of society at present, including sport. There is an opportunity here to move forward together for the sake of the game. In that light we hope you will reconsider your dismissal – which does little to build the kind of confidence our football authorities need to flourish – and work with us and others to look at how the game we all love can be reformed and reenergised.Yours Sincerely

Stuart Murphy
Chief Executive Officer
Scottish Football Supporters’ Association

Appendix: What fans have asked for (from our survey)

• Anger
• Poor leadership
• Distrust
• Self-interest and conflict of interest
• Not accountable
• Disregard for supporters
• Self-serving / contempt
• Lack of empathy for the customer
• Secrecy
• No vision
• Consultative / Customer-focused
• Inclusive
• Open / transparent
• Accountable / independent
• Working for the common good
• Strategic
• Innovative
• Democratic
• Commercially astuteWHAT DO FANS WANT TO SEE?
(Based on six years of research data)
• Fan representation at the highest level
• Larger leagues
• More competition in the top league
• Stop playing the same teams four times a season
• Summer football
• Alcohol allowed at games
• An independent board to combat self-interest
• End of excessive CEO salaries
• A coherent SFA talent strategy for national teams
• Better sponsors – over-reliance on betting and alcohol
• Influence on TV scheduling
The Cross Party motion that has been raised by Ben Macpherson MSP and detailed below will shortly be debated at Holyrood we ask that all MSP’s reflect on what has happened at Westminster which has endorsed the need for a radical change in football that can bring about transparency  and accountability through the development of  an Independent Regulator ..

Comments (4)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. James Mills says:

    The SFA should adopt , as its logo , an Ostrich with its head in the sand as this , to ordinary supporters , appears to be the dominant position it has maintained as far back as I can recall ( over 6 decades ) .

    One has only to peruse ”The National Stadium ” which we have been saddled with since its ”reconstruction ” in the 1990’s to judge the ambition , if not the incompetence , of those in charge .
    I defy any football supporter who has viewed a match from the East or West terracing to enthuse about the experience and congratulate the authority who landed us with such an arena in the late 20thC . Only those with the foresight to bring along their high definition binoculars with super-zoom lenses will have been able to confirm that the two teams on the pitch were those as advertised in the programme .

    Many clubs’ supporters will have have their own criticisms of the failings of the SFA over many decades but there does not appear to exist a mechanism which can be utilised to effect change . This is almost entirely due to the clubs and those who control them being satisfied with the status quo – for whatever reasons ! Looking at the movers and shakers ( ha ! ha ! ) in the hierarchy of the SFA over the years it is not a role call of those with a penchant for innovation or success in developing businesses . Too often it has been those with ”connections” to those in power who have been foisted on the Scottish public . The position of CEO/Secretary of the SFA in the past has too often been occupied by dictatorial figures whose prime concern was to maintain their fiefdom regardless of the impact on the Game , clubs and supporters .

    From Ian Maxwell’s comments at the Scottish parliament it would appear that that little has changed .

  2. Roddie MacLennan says:

    I can’t argue with the content of this post, apart from one crucial detail.
    Football is not Scotland’s “national sport”. That title applies only to the sport of Camanachd or Shinty.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    “Alcohol allowed at games”.

    All clubs were punished after the riots at the 1980 Scottish cup final. Why? They should’ve banned its sale at any game involving the clubs involved (or at least at the section of the ground their supporters occupy) and allowed the other fans to indulge. Reintroducing it would give the football authorities a means of punishing fans for anti-social behaviour.

  4. John says:

    Two questions always jump out at me when an organisation states it doesn’t want or need an independent regulator:-
    2.What are you afraid of?

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.