HENRY McLEISH has warned the boards of the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Professional Football League that another period of prolonged off-field conflict would send out a deeply damaging message at a time when Scottish football needs to attract fresh investment and a new generation of supporters.
The former first minister is waiting for news from today's meeting between both organisations which follows 48 hours of claim and counter-claim over the game being plunged into civil war due to a perceived power grab from representatives of the league body.
The SPFL group, spearheaded by Mike Mulraney, the chairman of Championship side Alloa Athletic, intend to put forward four resolutions at the SFA agm on June 27 which could cause the clubs to take control of the national association's seven-man main board and the multi-million pound budget for youth development, as well as alter procedures relating to the appointment of SFA office bearers and acceptance of clubs as full members.
Loading article content
McLeish played a part in the creation of the existing SFA Performance Strategy - which was recommended in his Review Of Scottish Football in 2010 - which has shown promising early signs, with Scotland's Under-16s winning the Victory Shield for the first time in 15 years, the Under-17s reaching the finals of the European Championships and the Under-19s preparing to compete in their elite qualifying round in England next month.
He understands the economic pressures which are forcing all clubs to reappraise the distribution of finances, with the SPFL having failed to find a sponsor for any of their tournaments other than the Ramsdens Cup. But he yesterday issued a plea for peace and asked all parties to consider what another summer of negative publicity would do to an industry struggling already to attract both supporters and sponsors.
"I like to think we are trying to build a better future for Scottish football and what we don't require is a fall-out or conflict at this crucial moment," said McLeish. "We really cannot afford pitched battles at any level given the seriousness of our plight. The game is not in good shape and there are plenty of concerns around to occupy us.
"No-one is entitled to a living from the game and there is no obligation on people to come through the turnstiles. We have got to win that. We need to attract more investment into the game from other sources and that will come if we can show that we are worth it, but there can be consequences should the game look like it is feuding.
"With the SPFL putting in amendments like that, it clearly reflects a major problem of finance facing football clubs. The danger is that they may look towards alleviating that by obtaining a more direct route to cash for young people coming into the game.
"In a way I understand the frustrations of the SPFL clubs but, quite frankly, the major priority should be to attract investment and finances to the clubs by self-help.
"The game is simply not attractive to a lot of people. There has to be a major makeover of the game. It is not attractive. Some crowds at Premiership level are below the threshold that is tenable."
There have been concerns that a number of sponsors currently supporting grassroots development such as Tesco Bank, McDonald's, sportscotland and the government-backed Cashback for Communities may withdraw from the game should senior clubs have a greater say on how finances at that level is spent.
McLeish has also drawn attention to the funding provided from Holyrood for the National Performance Centre at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, which the SFA has described as the "crown jewel" of its Performance Strategy.
He believes the Scottish Government does have a long-term commitment to football, but has hinted that support could be adversely affected should the elite end of the sport start tearing itself apart just two years after the bitter wrangling which resulted in Rangers newco being shut out of the top flight and instructed to start out on the bottom rung of the ladder.
"The government is putting up £25m for a National Performance Centre and I have been involved in all of that," said McLeish. "It shows the government has confidence to move forward. The government are being generous and I expect that to continue no matter the result of the independence referendum, but we cannot take that for granted."
McLeish has also stated that the Performance Strategy programme must remain firmly in the hands of the SFA. "We must be careful over who is responsible for young people," he added. "The national association has to be responsible for ensuring elite talent for our national sides."