THEY were odd-looking revolutionaries. Down the Hampden stairs they came in ones, twos and threes. Some headed straight for their cars and home, some stopped for a wee chat with guys they’d known for years. Plenty were grey-haired, plenty were bald, some carried a bit too much around the waistline, all were in suits. None resembled Che Guevara.
They were football people, every one of them, folk who have given countless hours to the game at their community level and occasionally having a say on much bigger concerns. But the bodies filing out of Hampden yesterday were also the living, breathing representation of what had to change about the SFA. Far, far too many interests were represented by their own man – or woman – at yesterday’s annual general meeting. It will never be that way again. Here was the rump of a management structure which has helped the SFA as much as the chains helped Jacob Marley’s ghost, and it was its dying day.
People said the SFA would never change. The self-sacrifice required to reduce the numbers on those infamous committees would be too great, they said. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, they said. In the end the turkeys didn’t vote at all, they merely acknowledged that Christmas is irresistible.
There’s no need to get too wet around the eyes about what men from the likes of Clachnacuddin, Civil Service Strollers, Edinburgh University, Newton Stewart and the amateurs, junior and welfare leagues did yesterday, but there’s no denying that dozens of them agreed to proposals which effectively cut them out of the mainstream. They gave up their perks, their free meals, their trips, and their sense that if they remained around for long enough they’d eventually rise without trace into high office. No doubt they’ll all be back at Hampden in one capacity or another in the future – as spectators, or to visit the museum – but the vast majority of them will never again have status or power within the SFA.
It was a revolution and an awakening which goes down as a triumph for three men: Stewart Regan, Campbell Ogilvie and George Peat. Peat’s term as SFA president ended yesterday and, whatever else is said about him, Peat can crow about being the catalyst for radical change at a body which had previously seemed as open to change as Brezhnev’s Kremlin. It was Peat who commissioned former First Minister Henry McLeish to undertake a root-and-branch review of the SFA and then promised to act on the results, even when McLeish tore through the whole place and basically wrote off its modus operandi as an outdated mess.
Ogilvie has always been an administrator rather than a leader – let us hope that he will become more vocal now that he is the figurehead – but, along with Regan, he covered the length and breadth of the country in recent months, tirelessly grafting to win voters’ support for the proposals being put to the agm. The pair of them gave presentations, they talked, they took questions, they listened and they even amended the resolutions when good ideas were put to them. This phase was crucial. Previously, whenever “change” was proposed to the SFA members that meant a huge slab of paperwork coming through their letterbox which they were expected to read and endorse without elaboration. Ogilvie and Regan sensed the futility of that: if they were to win over the members they had to meet them in their own back yard and win them over.
But yesterday was one man’s triumph above all. After eight months in the job Regan has pushed through radical changes which were beyond Gordon Smith, David Taylor, Jim Farry or any of his other predecessors. Regan has been clear-headed and focused on this project almost from day one, a composed and persuasive figure who has dealt in common sense and diplomacy despite the often chaotic events which have enveloped him as the face of the SFA in this ugly season.
Regan has never been privately pleased about his employer being slagged off by McLeish, or lambasted by Celtic, or challenged and embarrassed over its own rules by Neil Lennon’s lawyer Paul McBride QC, but he was shrewd enough to sense that he could use those episodes to his eventual advantage. The SFA’s reputation and credibility were at such lows that if there wasn’t a groundswell for change now, there never would be. Regan knew that a campaign of almost relentless crisis could ultimately work in his favour. McLeish’s findings helped him lead the turkeys to the ballot box.
“The ‘crisis season’ helped, absolutely,” said Regan after yesterday’s meeting, sipping a coffee when he might have thought some Moet more appropriate. “As daft as it sounds, a lot of the big issues we have faced in the game over the last eight months helped me to almost put a mirror up to Scottish football and say ‘do you want to carry on like this in the future?’ It was like ‘is this how you want it to be every season or do you want to actually draw a line under this?’ As the season went on there were various issues where our disciplinary procedures just didn’t stand up to legal scrutiny. Obviously that was a great opportunity to say ‘there you go, we have to get this right, we can’t go on like this’.”
The 138-year-old SFA rulebook – the articles of association, recently exposed as so deeply flawed – have been redrawn. Regan even pushed through a resolution which means managers or players will be punished if they criticise or pressurise a referee leading up to a match. He had the SFA in the palm of his hand yesterday. If he’d recommended a tenfold increase in the chief executive’s salary they’d probably have agreed to that too.
What happened will make no difference whatsoever to the Scotland team, or to finding the next young Jimmy Johnstone or Kenny Dalglish. It won’t help us qualify for tournaments. That’s down to new facilities, getting more kids playing, and coaching them properly. But it will make the SFA sharper and credible, and it’ll be beneficial to the domestic scene with almost immediate effect.
The chief executive’s standing has never been higher. He appears powerful, impressive and independent. He has precisely the streamlined structure and modernised rulebook and decision-making process he wanted all along. Now it’s up to him, Ogilvie and one or two others to make sure the right people are appointed to the right positions and that the most impressive voices among the 93 at Hampden yesterday can still be heard as loud. There will be battles and controversies ahead for Regan, and he won’t win them all. Such is the way of the SFA. But this morning it’ll feel as if he’s arriving for his first day at a new company.