Saturday, 29 January 2011

Working for the future of Scottish football

First published in Sons View, 29 January 2011, Dumbarton -v- Brechin City

The proposals for the reconstruction of Scottish football put forward by the SPL and by former first minister Henry McLeish have attracted a huge amount of publicity and response. But so far it is the TV companies, banks and elite teams who seem to be driving the process – the fans, as ever, are being virtually ignored.

That’s something Supporters Direct Scotland, of which the Sonstrust is proud to be part, aims to change over the coming weeks. To this end, some 50 people from 33 teams at all levels of the game in Scotland met together at Falkirk Stadium six days ago.

The purpose of the gathering was to look at the changes being proposed, to compare them with the results of the Supporters Direct online survey (which many Dumbarton fans responded to), and to work out how organised supporters’ organisations like Sonstrust can begin to push the agenda in a different direction – alongside clubs and players.

So far, SD is the only organisation to directly consult ordinary Scottish football fans about what they want. And the results are pretty clear.

Analysis shows that the 5,000+ people who responded to Supporters Direct in a little over a week do not want to see a ten-team SPL. What’s more, among lower league fans, there is overwhelming opposition to the idea of being cut adrift in regional set ups and treated as a ‘training ground’ for a few SPL ‘colt’ or ‘B’ teams – which is what the SPL is proposing, even though much of what they are talking about is actually the provenance of the Scottish Football League (SFL).

At last Sunday’s SD meeting, there was overwhelming agreement that the plans currently on the table do not amount to a basis for securing a sustainable future for Scottish football. There was a resounding ‘yes’ to proper consultation with fans and clubs, to encouraging a proactive stance from the SFL, and to Neil Doncaster and the SPL being required to be transparent about the data and assumptions upon which they are basing their current arguments – so that reasoned and viable alternatives can be considered. That’s in everyone’s interests.

Importantly, from the perspective of Dumbarton supporters, who have been putting their views forward on the Sonstrust website, there was also a resounding ‘no’ at the SD meeting to regionalisation and to ‘colt’ teams being deployed in the lower league.

A commitment was additionally made to strengthen and build Supporters Direct and its member trusts to that football fans have a strong voice in the debate about which way Scottish football should be heading.

Indeed, bodies like the Trust here at Dumbarton and the Supporters Direct Scotland network exist precisely to enable fans to be participants and stakeholders in the game – rather than mere paying observers, complaining from the sidelines but unable to influence events.

So was the Falkirk gathering just a lot more ‘hot air’?  No it wasn’t. Supporters Direct are due to meet with Mr Doncaster again next week and have a clear mandate from a wide range of fan bodies for the key issues – outlined above – that they want tackled. SD will also be in touch directly with the SFL, and will be using the ideas and opinions from Sunday’s meeting to organise a campaign and media strategy over the coming weeks.

The Survey was a landmark and became headline news. But it is the beginning, not the end.

In my view, the broad agreement among Supporters Direct members (much broader and more agreeable than anything the SPL has come up with so far!) was both surprising and encouraging – given how incredibly diverse our clubs and interests are.

On the field we compete aggressively. Off the pitch we can be just as assertive in demanding that football development leads finance (not the other way round), and in putting forward alternatives (not just complaints). 

The Sonstrust Board was represented at the SD gathering by Trust director Alan Findlay, chair Brian Payne, David Powell and myself. I’ve agreed to be the regular campaign contact for the Trust here at Dumbarton

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