Earlier this week Club Chairman Gary Deans gave an in-depth interview to Michael Grant at The Times…
Plea to SPFL: Identify clubs willing to play
Falkirk chairman wants emergency reform of league
Michael Grant, Scottish Football Correspondent
The Falkirk chairman Gary Deans has called on the Scottish Professional Football League to devise a league structure involving only the clubs which volunteer as willing and able to play next season.
Many League One and League Two clubs, and even some in the Championship, fear going out of business if they have to play behind closed doors with minimal match-day revenue to pay players’ wages. But full-time Falkirk and Partick Thistle, both now in League One, would face ruin if they were denied the opportunity to play and are desperate for league reconstruction which could place them both in a redrawn second tier.
Ann Budge, the Hearts owner, will present a reconstruction paper to the SPFL in the next 48 hours and she will also speak in a Zoom conference of the Championship clubs this morning. Her push for a 14-team Premiership — it would save Hearts and promote Inverness Caledonian Thistle along with Dundee United — has been boosted over recent days as clubs learned that the economic crisis was so grave that Championship clubs were considering only an 18-game season.
Roy MacGregor, the Ross County chairman and one of those who caused the collapse of reconstruction talks on May 8, appeared receptive to change yesterday and said he was “horrified” to learn of the Championship plan.
Budge is expected to suggest a temporary reconstruction plan, although some within the SPFL will push for a top 14 to be maintained by only a majority vote in two years’ time, which would make it far more likely to become a permanent change.
Deans said it was inconceivable that full-time clubs Falkirk and Partick Thistle could be left stranded without a division to play in if League One is mothballed for a year. He insisted the priority should be to find out how many clubs were prepared to voluntarily compete next season.
“The phrase being used is ‘forced reconstruction’ and I think that’s where we’re going,” Deans said. “I think there is a focus now on ‘can we actually play or not?’ The SPFL will have a decision to make on what to do. I think there are two or three clubs in the Championship which will struggle to meet all the costs and the infrastructure is not great.
“Then you have Partick Thistle and ourselves, and maybe one or two others in the lower leagues, who are saying ‘we are up for playing’. It’s not about the SPFL saying the bottom two divisions can’t play; it’s about asking who can play. Leave it up to the clubs.”
Divisions might be split between those able to play a full campaign and those able to compete for only half the normal number of games, with the rest voluntarily mothballing and the SPFL then devising a fair way for all clubs to reintegrate for 2021-22.
“My argument would be you need something to fit all the clubs back into,” Deans said. “At some point that reformed structure is going to be required, whatever that looks like. If you have, say, 24 clubs that are saying ‘we can play’ you have to find a place for the other lot to slot in at the end.
Deans said it was an emergency solution for an unprecedented crisis.
“You can’t look at it as sporting integrity or footballing fairness or whatever,” he said. “This is the reality that was always going to bite people. How do you manage to get flexible structures together to allow people to get through this?
“Falkirk are planning for playing this season. That’s our stance: we will play. When the SPFL are asking are clubs able to play, our answer is yes. While I think the voluntary route is the right way to go I would still say there has to be some guidance, given to what’s going to happen and what happens at the end.”
Budge’s prospects of saving Hearts via reconstruction must clear the high bar of securing support from at least 11 of the top 12 and then 75 per cent from the lower leagues.
MacGregor’s comments on BBC’s Sportsound suggested he could be won over, having been against reconstruction only 18 days ago.
With Aberdeen also now prepared to offer support, Budge will have to win over St Mirren, St Johnstone, Hibernian and Dundee United from the top flight.
“I do believe we need to unite for the sake of the game,” MacGregor said. “Us at the top level have a responsibility for the clubs at the bottom, even financially. I am very worried for lower-league football and part-time clubs. I was horrified when I heard the Championship might consider playing just half a season. We have a responsibility as 42 clubs to stick together and try and make sure everyone gets through this traumatic period.
“We are in a health crisis. I think the worst is yet to come. We’re going to have a tsunami of unemployment and mental issues and big things to deal with, and lack of disposable income. I think the challenges ahead are more than the challenges we’ve had up to now.
“This season [2020-21] is going to be a very different season to all the time I’ve been involved in football. We have to be open to everything, because I think the reality of where Scottish football is going to be is beginning to hit home.”