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Paul Goodwin, Head of SDS Writes

June 24, 2013

SCOTTISH FOOTBALL MUST EMBRACE RADICAL CHANGE

We have a new league structure with the Scottish Professional Football League ready to emerge from the shadows in early August to an expectant public. We will have the excitement of seeing how this new body emerges and who will lead it and more importantly how it will be lead.

However, much as this is a positive move it is but a ripple of a wave when it the fabric of our game has been battered by a tsunami in the past 9 months. We see Dunfermline Athletic trying to find a way out of Administration, Heart of Midlothian are just starting the process and we have a boycott against Kilmarnock’s owner and Chairman who sits on £10million of debt and has been unable to convince the fans that he has the answers to the clubs problems. If we add Rangers into the mix, these were, until recently shining lights of the SPL.

Scottish Football is at a cross roads but with a new league structure and hopefully some positive leadership from the SFA/SPFL it can emerge stronger and be fit for purpose. Society is changing and football no longer has the right to preferential treatment that it often has held sway in Scottish Public life. In Scotland we used to have packed terraces, our churches used to be full and everybody used to vote in general elections; but those times have changed and the super loyalty that football fans used to show is diminishing. It is also harder to attract a new audience when there are so many competing alternatives that don’t involve the potential of hypothermia in the winter. And when you sell the jerseys to TV you have fans watching football where and when you want it on the ipad or tablet. The really galling aspect of that is it is more likely to be the Barclays Premier League or La Liga they will be watching.

Imagine saving to buy a season ticket for your club and not even knowing if it will be valid for next season? Until a few days ago this was the nightmare scenario that now engulfs around 7,000 Hearts fans that have been left high and dry by the latest white knight that fell from his horse into the mud. Now is surely the time to embrace some of the more radical solutions that we as fans have been suggesting for years to avoid is constantly lurching from crisis to crisis.

Outside the Premier League in London today saw the first major demonstration of fans against the League and its failure to restrict ticket pricing. The event has been organised by The Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool Supporters Trust and is supported by fans of all clubs. Their view is that ticket prices and the overall experience for the present day football fan are issues that cannot simply be dismissed and that lasting change in the game is called for.
These actions are driven by a feeling that football is run increasingly for the benefit of a super-wealthy wealthy elite, and not the fans that are the game’s lifeblood. Whilst we don’t have the same concerns in Scotland about the super wealthy we do stand firm with our colleagues down south in believing that increased supporter involvement and ownership at clubs will provide a better structure for the game and a fairer deal for fans.

Where we go from here is in the hands of those who will run our game in the new SPFL structure. There is no doubt that there is a massive amount of work already being done to create a new football rule book; but I believe that there is a huge scope to be far more creative and dare I say it, radical. Below are just a few suggestions that should start the debate:

• Make it mandatory for all clubs in senior football to have an elected fans representative on the Board of the club.
• Supporters along with Players and Managers/ Coaches to have a permanent place in the game where the serious decisions are made about the future of the game.
• Governance rules put in place to ensure those clubs who have excessive debt have plans in place to reduce this debt where it has been accrued to give competitive advantage.
• Sustainability rules to ensure that wages to turnover ratios are agreed upon and are not broken.
• Rules in place where sporting punishments are given to current owners rather than new owners, post an Administration of Liquidation event. For too long the fans and new owners of clubs who go under are punished yet those who have caused the mayhem are free to walk away from the damage they cause.
• Development of customer service standards at all clubs and the development of a platform where feedback from fans can be received and acted upon.
• Development of a national marketing action plan that is designed to drive lapsed fans back to games and a similar plan to drive new fans to clubs.
• Development of a Fans loyalty programme that recognises the overall impact that these supporters make to the game.

Paul Goodwin is Head of Supporters Direct Scotland and author of Saving Scottish Football.

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