EVOLUTION happens at a glacial pace in Scottish football but Henry McLeish is not too disheartened.

The former First Minister knows from first-hand experience that change can be implemented if there is sufficient goodwill and co-operation to make it happen. It was McLeish who was given the relatively thankless task of producing an extensive review of the game back in 2010. His findings were published in two parts and ran to a total of 180 pages. They seemed ambitious and far-reaching but slowly but surely the vast majority of his recommendations and proposals - including the creation of one football league structure, overhauling the Scottish Football Association's structures and committees, and the introduction of more play-offs - have been gradually implemented.

Five years on and McLeish believes there is still plenty more than can be achieved. He has lent his support to a newly-created independent fans organisation - The Scottish Football Supporters Association - and will join their national advisory group as one of their "experts on football and governance matters". A former player with East Fife in the 1960s, McLeish says he "loves the game with a passion" but fears it is in danger of losing touch with its fanbase. Too many supporters, he believes, are becoming disenchanted with the game, while there is a danger of a younger generation being lost entirely.

"I look back with some nostalgia - and it was before my time I should add - at the history of my old club, East Fife," McLeish told Herald Sport. "In 1937/38 they won the Scottish Cup and on that run they played in front of 500,000 people. Half a million people watched a team like East Fife reached then win the final.

"Now, I'm not expecting for a minute that we can look forward to those days again but there is often a danger, in a world dominated by television coverage, that we forget about those people who go through the turnstiles. I still see people coming to Bayview - and there's only 500-odd these days - who watched me play in the '60s. So football draws a tremendous loyalty from its fanbase and that's something that has been generational over the ages. But you cannot take that for granted. We have to make sure that football doesn't age as a game. We need to do more to keep the fans enthused but also feel they are a part of it."

Among the biggest gripes held by many supporters is that their voice is rarely listened to. Few businesses market their product as poorly as football where the expectation is that "customers" will continue to turn up regardless of the product or price. McLeish admits the promotion of the game in this country "could be better".

"Football is huge in Scotland," he added. "It boosts the national psyche whenever we do well and it depresses us when we are not. So supporters need to remain the fulcrum of the game. We must do everything possible to make sure they are aware of what's happening, feel included, and we listen to their voice on as many issues as possible. The development of fan involvement over the period has not been as good as I would have liked. There have been spurts of growth and then it's levelled off.

"We need to encourage more children, both boys and girls, women and families. Attendances are dwindling. There are Premiership clubs who get fewer than 5000 fans. So there's an issue there. There is also debate about issues inside football like safe standing areas and the sale of alcohol inside grounds. So there is a big agenda there and it seems an appropriate time for this venture to get off the ground to see how best we can get fans more involved."

You would expect a former footballer-turned-politician to have mastered the art of the bodyswerve and on the subject of community-owned clubs McLeish demonstrates his dexterity.

"There are a lot of models out there, I wouldn't want to be prescriptive," he added. "Ownership of clubs and what that can mean to supporters is a very important issue. For some clubs that's more important than others so I don't think it should be the sole focus of any group."

One of his recommendations 2010 was for the introduction of a winter break. He believes moving to a summer calendar should still be an option, or at the very least debated. "This period from April to October the weather tends to be good - it's nice and sunny in Fife today - so I think that's an idea. If we can't switch to summer football what we need is a more significant winter break. But let's debate it. Get the fans, the clubs, the authorities and the government involved. Let's not fear taking on the bigger issues and discussing them. Some things will be taken forward, others thrown out. But we do need to have a bit more confidence to discuss a whole collection of issues."

Two years ago, on the eve of the inaugural Scottish Professional Football League season that he helped bring into being, McLeish lamented the fact that this new body was without a title sponsor. That remains the case.

"That is a surprise and a disappointment to me," he admitted. "I love the game with a passion but I think we need to try to do more. The financial situation is not easy [to resolve] but we do need sponsors. We've got a sponsor for the final part of the League Cup but not the first part, the Scottish Cup is sponsored, but we still have the problem with the league. I think we need to show we can reform, renew and revisit the big issues and make football a really attractive and fashionable game for families. That might in turn prove attractive to potential investors."

McLeish is heartened by the steps taken since he concluded his report. "The SFA have stayed in touch with me and there has been a lot of progress. But we have to be patient. The national team is on a good run just now which is encouraging. And in the longer term, as the reforms work through, we should have a broader base of young Scots who will maybe not grace our clubs here but will maybe go to other countries while improving our national side.

"Where we do still need to move forward, however, is at club level. We should never give up on reform and there is no better time to do that. I still feel very positive that together we can continue to move our game forward."

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