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Andy’s Sting In The Tale (26/01/24) ” Questions for Holyrood’s Debate?”

Date: 26th January 2024

(Photo:@Homesoffootball)

 

Here are Andy’s First XI Questions ahead of what promises to be an interesting Holyrood ‘Starter for 10’ on Wednesday.

i) Do you know how much the SFA’s/SPFL’s secret ‘5 Way Agreement’ will eventually cost the Scottish taxpayer?

ii) How many Scottish kids have missed out on the joys and lifetime health benefits of playing schools football since 1982?

iii) Where would you find a voting structure where just 2 votes dominate all 42 members?

iv) How much from the £1.35M Sports Scotland money actually makes it through to the grass roots clubs?

v) Is it true that money laundering has found its way into Scottish Football?

vi) How much Holyrood and Westminster government money has gone into Scottish football in the last 10 years?

vii) Why do the SFA charge grass roots volunteer coaches for SFA qualifying courses to volunteer?

viii) Why did the Scottish Women’s team have to be on the steps of an employment hearing before they were treated equally?

ix) How many youngsters get ‘built up’ by our elite system then dumped without any support, with resultant mental health issues and no support from football?

x)  Was Ian Maxwell’s  “Fans need to be educated” a Ratner moment?

xi) What is our collective smartest first step?

(The answers are in Sting point 1, below)

 

Andy Goes to Holyrood

This Week’s Sting in the Tale

Scottish parliament | Institute for Government

On Wednesday 31st at 5.30pm I’ll be in Holyrood for MSP, Ben McPherson’s “Enhancing Scottish Football with an independent regulator debate’ takes place.

It already has significant cross-party support and is an important step in a much-needed process of Scottish Football turning from managing a decline from its current ‘self-interest straitjacket’ towards a more balanced form of governance.
Governance and structure where the common good of the game and its communities become a key future strategy rather than an afterthought.
A new Scottish football world where ingrained bad habits dating back to Victorian times, and greed, get questioned and replaced, and where some longer-term thinking becomes the core framework.
In England the Westminster government are well down the road of introducing by statute an independent regulator for more or less the same reasons.
It’s not a huge jump or leap of faith, just good business.

And independent regulators exist in many industrial sectors and mostly for the good.

SFA Fan Led Review

You may remember back in June this year after over two years of discussions within Scottish football we, the SFSA published our report, “Rebuilding Scottish Football: A Fan Led Review of the Game in Scotland”.
There were no real surprises in our collective findings and recommendations, just insight from people who know, care and see the need for strategic change.
Honest and thoughtful input from people who have enjoyed both the game and what it has done for them and simply want to leave it all in a better place.

Neither the SFA nor the SPFL wanted to engage either with the two-year research programme or the key proposals.

In fact the response afterwards was initially the usual “Nothing to see here, move along”, before evolving into a ‘belittling’ ‘We know best and we’re fine”.

I guess, they feel superior and think it is their ball but fans are the key stakeholders in football and the SFA are on the wrong side.
I’d suggest that to maximise the game they adopt and actively pursue a new mantra.

Scottish Football is Everybody’s business.

Both the SFA and SPFL will push back on any external pressure and tell us that Scottish football is run by clubs for the clubs and that is why they do what they do.

They won’t tell us that in reality the fulcrum of control means that decision making and ‘doing what they do’ is dominated by their biggest and money-hungriest members.
Nor will they acknowledge that self-interest and short-termism are realities that get in the way of future planning to the point of stopping it altogether.

 

It is important to emphasise that this whole fan-led review is not a power play by any individual or group.
But neither is it about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
There are a lot of good things in football and in our game including some incredible people within the SFA and SPFL and at our clubs.
And when you drill down to the volunteers at the grass roots level and what they achieve you just want to thank them.

Retain the game Grants – £750 Grants to Support Adult male teams – Team GrassrootsBut it’s embarrassing because they work in a whole level of football and community that is much ignored and constantly struggling because the roots of our game are cynically and critically underfunded.

Very recently the SFA have become aware of the growing independent regulator threat and have cleverly been seeding ‘good news’ stories through their PR people.
They haven’t always checked the detail or veracity but normally nothing they say ever gets challenged and this is unnerving them. (More below in Scott’s letter).
And our SPFL which is still riven with deep internecine boardroom divisions has recently, after a sponsor and sponsorship own goal, undertaken a corporate review by accountants Henderson Loggie of its own governance.
The report is said to have found corporate governance issues which are being kept secret for now unless you are one of the favoured clubs already in the know.

 

2024 and Beyond should be boom time in Scottish football.

With the global uprise in women’s and girl’s football our game should have an long-term upward trend that is also cradle to grave good for the nation as a whole and we should have a queue of wholesome sponsors wanting to associate with us and share the positive publicity.

Aye right.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke's press conference in full - Football Scotland

The somewhat unforeseen renaissance of our international team under Steve Clarke and the future anticipated but un-budgeted revenues from the Euros in 2024 and Euros games coming back to Hampden in 2028 could be a base for a massive reset of the core elements in our game.

Imagine we had leadership now actively driving a plan to future-proof our game top down and bottom up?
It can be done.
But it won’t happen with outside questioning, a change of governance and attitude within, and then vision, and skills.

There are so many good people in football who would relish that change and would bloom.
The politics would be positive too and inclusive.

And talking of politics, Scottish football’s links into politics and Holyrood and Westminster is complex.
Yes football is a business, a particular business, and is mostly self-funding, but it also receives significant tax payers monies from both parliaments.
There is however little transparency in how it disburses these funds.
There is also no public or open debate about how the monies are used.

We at the SFSA understand that not every MSP is a football fan and indeed many people in Scotland believe that football grabs too much attention in both the media and by society.
That’s fair enough.

But it is a fact that every MSP has football fans in their constituency and football offers real opportunities to reach individuals and collectively promote positive messages about health, and lifestyle.
Football is effectively ‘an Open Topped Wooden Horse of Troy’ waiting to partner the Scottish Government on health and well-being.

 

This Week’s Sting

1. Eleven Answers

 

i) How much will the SFA’s/SPFL’s secret ‘5 Way Agreement’ eventually cost the Scottish taxpayer?

Without including original never paid tax from the financial collapse of one of our big club duopoly the downstream costs all in are reckoned to be of an order of £100M to the public purse.

Ruthin area school football from the Free Press archives | Denbighshire Free Pressii) How many kids have missed out on the joys and health benefits of playing schools football since 1982?

We have circa 5000 schools and most used to play in a network of local leagues at both primary and secondary level.
After the righteous teachers dispute in the early 80s a vast array of volunteer teachers simply stopped and the league structures mostly died.
Since then there is some parent led activity, mostly at primary level and in pockets.
There has been no central move to regenerate what was a core element of Scottish football success?
Why?
Andy would say there is a fight for resources on the 6th floor and schools football loses every time.
The late Craig Brown said, “The one thing I would do is over-invest in schools football and at the grass roots because it feeds every aspect of our game”.
Alex Ferguson said, “Schools football was a national asset that produced a conveyor belt of the best kids”.

After 42 years of silence Hampden is still deafeningly silent.

Black Check Mark Icon Box Tick Stock Vector (Royalty Free) 536858506 | Shutterstock
iii) Where would you find a voting structure where 2 votes dominates 42 members?

In the SPFL. It’s all about power and controlling the agenda and while it works in the short term for each club it is a long-term growth inhibitor

iv) How much from the £1.35M Sports Scotland money makes it through to the grass roots clubs?

Just 4.1% last year, or £55.5K out of £1.35M from Sports Scotland.
It is all justified by what looks to be tick-box meaningless/spurious targets that should be in the public domain and known to every MSP.

v) Is it true that money laundering has found its way into Scottish Football?

I know people who say yes and can name the clubs.

vi) How much Holyrood and Westminster government money has gone into Scottish football in the last 10 years?

I have no idea but this is something every MSP and voter should know and they should also know what it is spent on.

Coaching Pathways given 2020 restructure | News | Scottish FAvii) Why do the SFA charge grass roots volunteer coaches for mandatory courses to qualify to volunteer?

It’s a cynical revenue stream.
“To coach your/our kids you need to pass our coaching programme.
If you don’t you can’t.
A cynical wee scam.
It’s our game and we can do what we like.

viii) Why did the Scottish Women’s international team have to be on the steps of an employment hearing before they were treated equally?

Because nobody important enough at the SFA saw, or thought treating our women as inferior was a problem.
We now pay lip service to investing in women’s football but that is what it is.
We’re not fully riding a world wide wave.

ix) How many youngsters get built up by our elite system then dumped without any support with resultant mental health issues?

Kids Football Sad Photos, Images and PicturesAt elite levels i.e. all clubs, football in Scotland is playing a numbers game and still effectively ‘sells’ children within football.
It rides their dreams of success and riches.
Then the final outcome is it dumps the vast majority and by then the clubs have already moved on to the next crop of shirt-fillers who might just be that ‘precious diamond’ they all seek.

x) Is “Fans need to be educated” a Ratner moment?

During a car crash appearance on the record at MSP Clare Haughey’s Public Health and Sport Committee Ian Maxwell, SFA CEO said a few things that were not true.
One of my lawyer friends said two wise things after last week’s Sting.

The first was that this interview will come to haunt him because for once what was said by the SFA is in the public domain.
Secondly he said that MSPs now know they were being played and all terms of communication with the SFA will go through a fast evolution.

xi) What is the smartest first step fof change?

The growing threat of an external regulator will act like a kick up the proverbial and we’ll see wagons being circled and surface level nonsense.

But.

What really needs to be done is to ask three macro questions.
The same three that bring success in whatever achievement field you’re ploughing.

1. Where are we now?

2. Where do we want to get to?

3. How do we get there?

I’d add two extras.

A belief and deep policy that ‘Scottish Football is Everybody’s Business’.
A mantra of transparency to open up the game.


2.  Scott’s Letter to Clare

A Man Writing A Letter · Free Stock Photo | estudioespositoymiguel.com.arThe people who run our grass roots clubs are amazing but they are feisty.
People who run kids football saw ‘Ian’s Ratner moment‘ interview and also the subsequent SFA PR claims on line about record kid numbers.

He then sent a measured response to the MSP committee and basically told them they had been talked down to and fed some nagumbi too.
It’s a longish (because there is so much that has to be said), but good letter.
I’ve printed it out in full at the bottom under this week’s Album of the Week.

 

3. The Fifteen Recommendations From Football People for Football.

The Scottish Football Alliance (TSFA) of individuals and groups was not expected or required to agree on every detail of reform covering all aspects of the game, but these 15 are a starting point.

SCOTTISH FOOTBALL NEEDS TO:

01 Improve the product, build the brand, and better market itself in order to attract more income.

02 Increase the level of competition between all clubs, and in particular the Premiership.

03 Produce better quality players by nurturing youth development, with a fully funded Scotland-wide youth and elite strategy.

04 Develop a fairer distribution of resources.

05 Nurture the whole game from grassroots to elite levels for both sexes.

06 Maintain a full pyramid system in which every club can find its level.

07 Be accessible and welcoming to everyone, especially those who can least afford it, with a particular emphasis on tackling inequalities as a barrier to participation.

08 Improve the player and fan experience by improving the game’s infrastructure. 09 Recognise fans as the lifeblood of the game and a key source of revenue.

10 Ensure fans can have an ownership stake and a strong voice in how their clubs are run.

11 Ensure the longer-term vision for the women’s game is seen as a priority.

12 Ensure that fans have a strong input into how the game is structured and governed.

13 Change the game’s culture from short-termism and narrow self-interest to seeing the bigger picture.

14 Achieve a root and branch reform of the governance of the game, with a remodelled SFA and a democratic means of working for the SPFL.

15 Work with Scottish Government and with other sports to create one of the healthiest and fittest nations in the world. 1

 

That’s it for this week

Feedback welcome and the wee-est of stories you send aren’t always wee.

andrew@scottishfsa.org

 

Andy’s Album of the Week

Supernatural (Santana album) - WikipediaWhile I was a 7 hour captive on a very crowded Emirates flight last week I was disappointed to find it was two weeks too soon for Oppenheimer on the entertainment system.
However, a documentary about Carlos Santana helped saved the day and killed an hour and a half.
It also brought me back to an Album I hadn’t played in full for ages.
A man of constant re-invention I remember being captivated by ‘Supernatural’ which is up there with ‘Caravanserai’ as his finest. I particularly like track 5 ‘Smooth’ but it’s a great set against a sunny Edinburgh afternoon.
It is scary that it will be 25 years young this June and Wiki tells me it sold over 30 million copies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Real Grass Roots’ Letter (Please excuse my clumsy cut and paste, but you’ll get the gist)

 

Dear Convener & Committee Members, Committee Meeting

– Tuesday 19th December 2023

I wished to write after watching the evidence session where Scottish Football Association (SFA) Chief Executive Ian Maxwell addressed the Committee.

By way of some background, I have been involved in the running of youth football teams for 35 years.
I have predominately, coached teams at School level and boys club.
I am now President at Musselburgh Windsor FC which caters for young players ranging from the age of 5 to 17 years.
Along with William Smith, I founded the Realgrassroots campaign, and we lodged a Public Petition (PE1319 – Improving Youth Football) back in 2010.
This became the longest-running Petition in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
In terms of the Petition, a couple of headline points regarding our campaign.
It took seven years of campaigning, countless letters, meetings, sessions at Holyrood, and media articles to drag the Scottish FA to change one rule.
That was to abolish a rule that prohibited youngsters from playing for their school football team.
Yes, the SFA and their member clubs prevented talented young players from playing football with their school friends.
It took a further two years for them to finally stop the compensation system for Under-16-yearolds.
The then Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tam Baillie described the system as a ‘transfer market in children’.

The Scottish FA oversaw and felt it entirely appropriate for member clubs to buy and sell children.

More recently, they have amended regulations that permitted clubs to register a young player for a period of three years.
Professional football clubs could sign/register a young player and then hold the player for a further two years, if the club wished.

The player had no escape clause and could effectively be put out of football if he were to fall out of favour with his team or club.

Again, The Children’s Commissioner blasted this one-sided agreement as an outrageous power imbalance.
During the life of our Petition, the Scottish FA introduced a Player Protection and Well-being officer and instigated a Well-Being Panel, as well as a Scouting Protocol.
All these steps should have been taken years before.

The Scottish FA is resistant to change and intransigent to progress.
It clings to outdated practices designed to give the member clubs maximum control of young players.
After a decade of campaigning, it is clear this governing body, custodians of our national game must be dragged uphill kicking and screaming before any changes are introduced.

However, I wanted to comment on the evidence given by Mr. Maxwell and perhaps give the Committee an insight into the hard facts faced at the real grassroots of Scottish youth football.

Independent Regulator:
It came as no surprise that Mr. Maxwell and the Scottish FA are opposed to this.
They argue that the issues in England do not apply to Scotland.
I agree.
Two entirely different leagues, but with two different sets of issues.
Scottish football has been plagued by the scourge of bigotry and sectarism, yet failed to eradicate it.

The SFA has the lightest of touches when it comes to dealing with its member clubs.
Perhaps a regulator would be a more successful weapon in the fight against these issues that blight our game.

We have our two biggest clubs, Celtic and Rangers FC unable to have visiting supporters due to the hatred and violence that they bring.

The Scottish FA has historically failed young players and the on-going Child Sex Abuse inquiry is well-known and high-profile.
The Scottish FA continues to allow the power imbalance between club and youth players.

Youngsters in the highest tier of youth football can still be tied to a club for a 30 month period, with no right of release.

The governing body, despite receiving millions of government, therefore taxpayer money operates in secret and is accountable to no one.

No Minutes of Board meetings are ever published.

Mr. Maxwell states the Scottish FA governance is robust.
I would disagree.
I very recently had to complain to the SFA regarding over a dozen breaches of the rules over five years involving a professional club.
Despite providing proof beyond question and the club admitting their guilt,  the Scottish FA took no action against them.
Hardly robust and provides no deterrent to other clubs to simply ignore the rules.

MSP Gillian Mackay raised Project Brave and specifically cited two clubs Livingston and Greenock Morton.
These two clubs were operating out with the SFA rules. In the Livingston FC case, Realgrassroots supported a young player and his father
at a Judicial Panel Hearing which found the club guilty of rule breaches.

The whole complaint process was as the father described it ‘daunting and designed to put anyone off complaining’.

Finally, a Regulator could potentially have the power to move the Scottish FA to become a more open and transparent organisation.
Youth Parliament Study
Mr. Maxwell states that 90% enjoy football. This is great.
He went on to say that a players’ biggest fear is getting injured.
I am not clear who they surveyed.
It would be beneficial if Maxwell made the clear distinction between youth players who play their football at local clubs i.e.
for teams in membership of the Scottish Womens Football (SWF) and Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA).
I am not aware of players in these realms worrying about becoming injured.
If he is talking about players in the Club Academy Scotland system (i.e. players identified and signed by professional clubs)
then I could imagine that they might have a worry over injury as they will believe they are on the path to fame and fortune.
However, this is less than 2,500 players. The SYFA and SWF account for over 80,000 players.
So again, what players were surveyed?

Maxwell then agreed with Committee member Tess White that players are fearful and hate it when coaches shout at them and parents shout, argue or fight at the side of the pitch.
This is understandable.
I’ve witnessed it. Mr. Maxwell states this is for the SYFA & SWF to address.
Let’s be clear the SYFA (circa 68,000 registered players) is run by a small team of employees. 99.5% of youth football is delivered by unpaid volunteers.

The SYFA has no resources to monitor the behaviour of supporters and parents at the side of pitches.

The Scottish FA with local staff in every region takes no responsibility and does not engage in any type of club monitoring.

SYFA complaint systems are weak as there is no staff to undertake investigations.
Therefore, appalling sideline behaviour across Scotland continues unchecked and with no punishment.
Mr. Maxwell’s response is utterly disconnected from reality.
Scottish Youth FA and SFA Relationship Mr. Maxwell lauds how the relationship between the two orgainsations
has ‘grown immeasurably’.
It sure has.
The unpaid volunteer coaches of the SYFA are rule-bound to undertake Scottish FA Coach Education courses starting at £45 and rising to £60 for the following level.
There are over 3,000 coaches in SYFA alone, so the income generated for the Scottish FA is considerable.

In contrast the Scottish FA gives an annual grant to the SYFA.
In 2023 this sum was £55,574.
This is approximately, 81 pence per player for one year.
This is pitiful.
Only last month the Chief Executive Officer for the SYFA resigned.
There has been no communication to the members as to the reason, indeed the member clubs have not been officially informed at all.
In the same week, two Directors also resigned from the SYFA. Clearly, something very wrong is going on.
For Mr. Maxwell to inform the Committee all is well only 8 days after these resignations is astounding.
I should also point out that the company listed as SYFA Limited (Company number SC196565) has five active directors.
The SYFA Articles of Association require a minimum of seven.
To date no replacements have been installed and therefore for over a month, SYFA has been in breach of its Articles.
Coincidentally, the SWF lost two employees last month as they moved on.

The Scottish FA seems to have an arms-length relationship with the organisations that provide football for the vast majority of children and young people in Scotland.

The Convenor touches upon a previous Committee report which criticised the Scottish FA in 2017. Mr. Maxwell states ‘we have very stringent protocols in place in terms of coaches
PVG and coaching qualifications’.
Let me be clear, it is people like me who administer the process.
I would estimate I spend some 10-15 hours a week completing the 20-plus steps required.
The Scottish FA does not pay me and does not provide any training.
It was almost comical that Maxwell did not know if the SYFA Board members (there are only 5 presently) have completed Child Protection Training
despite this being a major criticism from the Committee’s report.
Indeed, I would imagine that Maxwell would have been unable to name the five SYFA directors.
Compensation Payments The Convener questioned Maxwell regarding these payments, and he confirmed that the SFA changed their rules to bring them in line with FIFA guidelines.

I would make the point that Realgrassroots campaigned for this for several years and the Scottish FA refused point-blank to move.
I have letters and there is documented evidence from oral PPC evidence sessions that confirm both Neil Doncaster, Scottish Professional Football League CEO and former SFA CEO Stewart Regan
refused to change the rules, thus allowing the transfer market in children to exist.
It was ultimately, the pressure exerted by the Scottish Parliament that dragged the Association to make the change.
Player Registration In terms of this point, Mr. Maxwell is misleading the Committee at best.
For players under the age of 16 years of age, it has always been the case that the player, parent and club are required to sign the registration form.
There is no improvement here as claimed.

More importantly and crucially, only the club can cancel the registration.
The parent and player have no power to exit from the registration.

As this is a registration, not a contract the club has no obligation to pay the player a single penny.
Therefore, the club simply registers the player, and they can have his footballing services for free for 30 months.

At the end of this term the player could be 17 or 18 years of age, earned no money and ultimately released from the club.

Funding Mr. Maxwell when questioned stated that ‘the vast majority of the income that we bring in goes back out to the clubs or to do the excellent work that Scottish football does across the community’.
When he says ‘clubs’ he means the clubs in membership of the SFA.
These are limited companies and businesses i.e. Hearts, Hibs, Celtic Rangers etc.
The Scottish FA does not give money to the real grassroots clubs in Scotland i.e. those in membership of SWF and SYFA.

Between the Scottish Schools FA, SWF and SYFA some 105,000 young players (24,000 + 13,300 + 68,5000 respectively) participate in football.

In Club Academy Scotland there are approximately, 2,400 players.

The Scottish FA money is given to member clubs which accounts for 2.3% of the young people playing football.
Hardly something to be proud of.
I would be interested to learn more of the ‘excellent work’ being done across the country by the Scottish FA.
SWF Player Numbers
Mr. Maxwell stated that there are 22,000 registered female players across the country.
This was echoed in an SFA Tweet posted on 19th January – , However, the SWF CEO Report before their AGM on 3rd February 2024, Aileen Campbell writes ‘Nov 23 – 13,303
(still to complete year end figure) Dec 22 – 12,739 2021 – 11,243 2013 – 4,454 (to illustrate growth over the decade).
It seems somewhere over 9,000 female players are missing!

It may be of interest to note that one of the stipulations of funding from Sportscotland for 2023-24 is to ‘Increase female participation to 23,000 registered players by 31st March 2024’.
Is the Scottish FA massaging figures?
I would take this opportunity to draw your attention to the funding received from Sportscotland over the years:

TOTAL – £15,993,791
By way of some perspective SFA Grants to SYFA
2016 – £36,250
2017 – £67,954
2018 – £63,626
2019 – £73,361
2020 – £70,736
2022 – £61,802
2023 – £55,574
Total – £429,303

If we add up the Sportscotland funding for the same years –

the total is £10,437,238.

This means that the Scottish Youth FA which accounts for some 68,500 players in Scotland has received just 4.1% of the funding provided by Sportscotland.

I would ask the Committee to give some thought to the Scottish Government’s (via Sportscotland) continued funding to an organisation that has failed its young players, is not open
and transparent, is stubborn and resistant to change and dismisses any outside interference which would potentially disrupt the power and control enjoyed by its member clubs.

Why should the Scottish taxpayer and its future taxpayers fund this orgnisaton when it fails on so many levels?
I have recently become involved with the Scottish Football Supporters Association and if the Committee feel it would be of benefit I and representatives from the organisation would be willing
to provide oral evidence at a future session. I thank you for your patience and attention.

Yours sincerely,

William Smith Scott Robertson

(On behalf of the Realgrassroots team)


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