Saturday, 15 January 2011

Twelve into ten may not go

First published as The Power of Ten Diminishes on the Sonstrust website.

What will emerge from the upcoming Scottish Premier League meeting about reconstruction? A few weeks ago some were talking about a ‘done deal’. But now things look much more uncertain, with the proposal for two ten-team top divisions attracting multiple dissenters.

Yesterday evening, Dundee United manager Peter Houston and ex-Dumbarton player and gaffer Murdo MacLeod (pictured), invited on as pundits by STV’s Sports Centre, both made strong comments about the need for a larger structure which nurtures talent and interest. Similar arguments about the importance of finance being based on football development needs, rather than the other way round, also apply to the Sonstrust‘s central concern: the future of the SFL, lower league football, and Dumbarton Football Club.

There’s a very good article raising these issues on the BBC Football website. Dunfermline defender Jack Ross has posted a thoughtful, articulate blog entitled ‘In Scottish football size does matter’. Jack’s observations are based on his experience of being released as a teenager from the SPL, entering the school of hard knocks in junior and part-time football, and then coming back in the direction of the top flight (with four years at university thrown in).

He doesn’t mince his words. Welcoming signs that the drive towards a top 10 is slowing, the Pars man declares: “I am amazed by the almost steadfast refusal to listen to those who make the game possible: players and, of course, fans. Football supporters are the customers, and would such strong customer-opinion be similarly ignored in other businesses or industries?”

He continues: My own career in the game has afforded me first hand experience of some of those who run football clubs and who are now charged with choosing the best way forward.
“While many are astute individuals capable of building hugely successful businesses, and whose conversation I have both enjoyed and learned from, there are others who are not the best individuals for our game to place its trust in.”

Amidst sensible comments about stadium-size obsessions and salaries (“perhaps the only way to ensure wages stay within sensible limits is to turn attention back to size again and agree a limit on salaries as a percentage of turnover”), Jack also bemoans the huge gap between boardroom and terrace perceptions of what is at stake in decisions about the game.

What he perhaps hasn’t sufficiently allowed for is that the development of Trusts and bodies like Supporters Direct is turning fans into more than ‘outside complainants’. It is giving them the opportunity (and the responsibility) to challenge the way football is run – and the narrow interests that dominate it – in a much more positive way.

Over the coming weeks and months, that will be a vital factor in shaping the outcome of deliberations about the future of the Scottish game.

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