Date: 9th July 2021
An open letter to the ‘Scottish Football Innovation Project’ group working alongside the Scottish FA’s Professional Game Board:
Stewart, Steve, Gerry, Iain and George,
Thank you for the ‘Big Thinking’ in your ‘Making Scottish Football better’ paper.
Now is indeed the time for ‘Big Thinking’ or we will be another 23 years till we make it again to a major final and by then we will also have missed the chance to capitalise on the growth opportunities in the women’s game
We write today to say that both the Scottish Football Alliance and The Scottish Football Supporters Association are pleased to see that The Scottish Professional Game Board and Scottish Football in general are looking seriously at positive and significant change from within the game.
We are both supportive of positive action from within and willing to engage and help the process.
The Scottish Football Alliance is a new and open group set up to help Scottish Football plot a new path.
From our meetings we know that people throughout the game fear for its future, want to make the game better and are willing to put something back to achieve results.
This goes well beyond individual club support and looks at the bigger picture and a better future.
We summarise the role of The Alliance as:
‘For the game.
By the game.
Of the game,
And for the common good of football’.
You will find more at scottishfootball.org
We all know that football needs to move out of the current silos and groupings to make the right moves see change through the prism of vision, collaboration and openness.
The Scottish Football Supporters Association is an independent organisation with just over 76,000 members from every senior club.
The SFSA understand that while fans will never agree or disagree 100% about anything, we know they can come together to see the big picture.
Because the Scottish Football Alliance and The SFSA are independent and have no interest in any particular club, league or governance system they can be a power for positive change.
In your ‘Making Scottish Football Better’ paper both The Scottish Football Alliance and The Scottish Football Supporters Association can see much common ground and want to work with you to help.
Hence this letter offers our support and suggests that now is the time for even ‘Bigger Thinking’.
We are all too aware of the difficulties in generating change in the structures that Scottish football has to work within and feel the key to unlocking age-old barriers is genuine openness, reaching out to all Scotland, fan consultation and obtaining the widest possible support for subsequent plans.
Fans are the life blood of the game.
Fans fund our game.
Fans want our game to succeed.
We have seen in the last few weeks just how important football can be to our nation.
The more fans we have the more successful our game will be in terms of both support and finances.
‘Better Players, Better Finances, Positive Change’
Nobody can disagree that your three key pillars are desirable.
There are however two particular issues raised in your paper that we offer our insights and help with and one combined omission that we feel needs to be addressed.
The two items are ‘Elite Pathways’ from grass roots to our international sides and all levels in between, and ‘Reconstruction’ of our leagues from top to bottom and vice versa.
The omission combination is openness, transparency and early and continued consultation with fans.
Looking at each:
Few people in Scottish football would disagree with the need to identify, nurture and develop talent and to improve the development lines and supply of top-level talent for those who make it.
It also needs to ensure that those who don’t reach the heights, but who love the game, continue to want to be associated with the game and remain involved in sport and football.
No young person, boy or girl, should be left behind for a variety of personal and commercial reasons.
In your paper there is a belief that ‘Colts’ teams are a key part of the future solution.
That maybe the case.
Likewise we note ‘Strategic Alliances’ between large and smaller clubs can play a major role.
That makes sense to us.
But for now, both of these ideas need to be part of a much bigger and honest discussion that has to happen in the open and that can be seen as part of Scottish football genuinely and openly refocusing and looking forward.
Scottish football needs to take a holistic and more expansive view on how we ‘recruit’ both players and future fans for life.
This means a joined-up process and plan from the grass roots right through to international selection facilitating and maximising both Elite and Non-Elite pathways.
The reality is that there is no single solution.
To allow this to happen support is required from the vast majority of clubs, fans, and politicians too.
Colts teams in the senior leagues may indeed be one part of the solution chain but the reality is that Colts alone can never be a panacea and they can only be part of a more comprehensive and inclusive plan.
Sadly, that plan doesn’t exist right now but our future needs it
So, this is an opportunity to be seized, but in our view where much more work needs to be done.
Now is the time for ‘Big Thinking’ on Player Pathways comprising both Elite and Non-Elite and starting from schools and local clubs upwards.
All the research we have already undertaken with fans welcomes your paper’s willingness to consider looking at the current league structure as part of the solution.
Our findings would suggest that fans would prefer significantly larger leagues and pyramid consistency through all levels of the game.
As such in our view your current ‘12 teams across 4 leagues’ proposal doesn’t actually go far enough.
We say that because we have significant research that confirms that fans want bigger leagues.
The reasons are simple. They don’t want to see the teams they support playing other clubs up to 6 times or more a season.
Also clubs are businesses and need more stability.
Businesses needs are not satisfied in the uncertainties of 10 team leagues with potentially 40% annual churn.
Brechin have also showed how a 3 year-slide can be catastrophic even for ‘well run’ clubs.
So again we welcome the thoughts in your paper but say and urge that now is a time for even ‘Bigger Thinking’.
We suggest opening-up all these discussions to the fans and welcoming genuine input.
We can certainly help with that because as a fan organisation we are independent and rooted in the wider “common good” of the game with no special or narrow interests to contend with.
We welcome the initiative you have undertaken but don’t think it will deliver without capturing the imagination and support of the fans.
This is huge for Scottish football and we tend to agree with what the SFA notes are quoted as saying in your report, – that lumping different strategic changes and proposals together as ‘take it or leave’ it decisions to your members is not helpful and may indeed frustrate progress.
Again we feel now is the time to ask you to Think even Bigger and better and to involve your key stakeholders in the process.
If that takes a little longer then as long as it is for the common good we have no problem with that.
It really is important to get the first move in the big structural changes that are needed right.
We understand that you have already asked your members for a response to your current report as part of a process that may or may not lead to a vote.
In the meantime we ask that you circulate this open letter to your member clubs so they know that fans and others are in favour of change and want to be part of the solution.
To summarise: ‘
Player Pathways’ needs to be part of a holistic and joined up process starting from the bottom and building upwards.
Our league structures are neither ideal for the clubs who play in them nor the supporters who are the key financial stakeholders: fans and many clubs want bigger leagues.
Fans have the ability to see the bigger picture and the need for common good.
Baseline stakeholder input and active support is essential.
Let’s combine, work together and ‘Think even Bigger’ for the good of the game we all love.
Henry McLeish, Co-Founder Scottish Football Alliance
Andy Smith, Chairman Scottish Football Supporters Association
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