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Regan: Rangers meltdown hasn't finished Scottish football, although wider financial concern remains

WHEN Stewart Regan was yesterday invited to give a state-of-the-nation appraisal of Scottish football as it enters 2014, it was safe to assume the Scottish Football Association chief executive knew which quote might boomerang back at him.

Stewart Regan is optimistic about Scotland's chances of qualifying for France 2016. Picture: SNS
Stewart Regan is optimistic about Scotland's chances of qualifying for France 2016. Picture: SNS

It was on July 4, 2012, the day newco Rangers failed in their attempt to be voted into the Scottish Premier League, that Regan came out with the words for which he is always likely to be best remembered. He spoke of Armageddon, social unrest, and the Scottish game withering on the vine if Rangers were consigned to the anything beyond the old first division. They were not of course - instead of dropping one division as Regan wanted they fell into the fourth tier - but the game survives.

In hindsight he misread the situation. There was no social unrest and no Armageddon. The game is hardly buoyant, but nor can it be said to be withering on the vine. Or more accurately, its established and long-term decline has not been accelerated by Rangers' implosion.

"We're in a different place now," Regan acknowledged yesterday. "From a Scottish FA perspective we've got a television deal and the league themselves have put their own plans in place and protected their own commercial position. So we're in a different place. There's been some very competitive matches, which have resulted in quite an exciting competition at the top of the Premiership, and there's a number of emerging young players that have created quite a lot of excitement. Perhaps we're in a better place than we might have been 12 to 18 months ago.

"But the financial state of football generally remains a concern for everybody and not just in this country. You go to some of the smaller associations as I do on a regular basis and talk about the state of the game. Scotland is in a healthier place than a number of smaller countries where they don't have the turnover we do and can't make the distributions we make. Everybody would like more money. It's like asking if they'd like a bigger pay rise, the answer is always yes."

The SFA is working on a way to introduce Financial Fair Play rules for clubs to prevent unsustainable spending. A sub-committee of the SFA's licensing group, which includes representatives from the Scottish Premier Football League, is currently trying to draft regulations which might be acceptable to the clubs at a vote.

"The game needs some degree of control," said Regan. "You can't argue with the principle behind financial fair play. There's a need to avoid overspending particularly on areas where money is dripping out of the game. You need to be able to cover your costs, pay your bills, not be breaching your banking position or getting into financial difficulties."

Those are exactly the sort of difficulties which continue to hover over Rangers, of course. Like all 42 of the SPFL's member clubs Rangers must submit audited management accounts to the SFA by the end of March. The Ibrox club has admitted it is continuing to lose money, must make major cuts, and is the subject of a 120-day internal review under chief executive Graham Wallace, but that is not likely to cause any difficulty in terms of getting an SFA licence to play in 2014-15.

"As far as Rangers' position is concerned clearly there is a lot of work that Graham Wallace is putting in place to get the club back to a stronger place," said Regan. "I sincerely hope he's successful. It's good for Scottish football to have the club back on a firm financial footing.

"He needs all the support he can get to get that in place. It's a big challenge. We'll wait and see what comes in. We've spoken to Graham in the way you would speak to most of the clubs that have got challenges ahead of them. So we've had an opportunity to talk about some of the challenges he faces. You can't underestimate the work he's got ahead of him.

"From a financial point of view, until we get our new Financial Fair Play rules in place, we don't really drill down to the management accounts and we don't drill down into saying what a club can and can't spend its money on. One of the proposals which is currently being debated is putting in place a measure which would restrict the amount spent on wages. That's one of the elements being discussed."

Regan downgraded his prognosis for the game from "Armageddon" to "challenging". The SFA's own financial health is robust because of sponsorships which run to 2016 and the UEFA centralised television deal which runs to 2018. "At a club level there are a number of clubs feeling the pinch, and it remains a tough environment. So that's probably one of the biggest concerns."

The merger of the SPL and the SFL into the SPFL was a positive, though, as were the introduction of play-offs for the end of this season, the formation of the Lowland League, and the progress made by the national team since Gordon Strachan was appointed a year ago today. "There are some encouraging green shoots. Gordon has made a big impact and turned around what was a very disappointing campaign and given us a degree of optimism for the qualifying draw next month.

"Everyone's looking forward to France 2016. When you look at the emergence of young talent there's some very encouraging prospects starting to come through the system. I guess it's the classic school report card syndrome, isn't it? 'Progress has been made, but still a lot of work to do.'"

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