Project Brave is a dreadful idea. It’s expensive, it’s elitist, it’ll undoubtedly be replaced by…
You’ve all read about the proposed favourites for Stewart Regan’s job. Leann Dempster, Alan Burrows and even Gordon Strachan have been linked with the role of chief executive at the Scottish FA. Past experience, applicable skills or even public favour matter not when a tabloid or bookmakers wants to drum up interest.
Yet, regardless of the varied selection of names on show, there’s no doubt that whoever takes over from Regan will be tasked with a number of issues they simply can’t avoid. Sure, appointing a new Scotland manager will be the very first priority, but after that are a whole catalogue of short and long-term problems that will need to be addressed.
When they push past the media frenzy, climb the stairs and stumble through the glass doors of Hampden, the next chief executive will get to their desk and find a to-do list that would put any damp, cold morning in Mount Florida to shame. This is it.
Nobody knows what will happen with Project Brave or whether it’s a good idea. Sure, there are dozens of clubs, managers, chief executives and sports scientists that will argue the pros or cons until the cows come home. I tried to do exactly that here. Yet the truth of the matter is that we’ll never really know unless we do it properly and wait to see what happens.
However, what is known is that there can be no half measures. Clubs have committed far too much money and the changes will be far too severe to simply push ahead with a watered down version of Regan’s plan. Every chairman in the SPFL knows that and one of the first questions asked of the new chief exec will be for their thoughts on the proposed future of youth football in Scotland.
Essentially, the new SFA boss will have to make up their mind on Project Brave, commit full heartedly and draw a line under the matter. Whichever decision they make will undoubtedly anger some within the game and set Scottish football down one of two diverging paths, yet it’s conviction that we, the fans, so desperately want and this issue offers a perfect opportunity for exactly that.
Scottish football fans are undoubtedly one of the most passionate – if not the most passionate – football fans in Europe, yet that unmatched vigour is a double-edged sword. And among each group of supporters within the Scottish game there are always a small, yet vocal, minority that are convinced that the Scottish FA are out to get them. If you’re an avid Twitter user you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, I envy you.
Football fans the world over are fickle and routinely let emotions get the better of their judgement, however in Scotland we have a special breed of supporter that harnesses social media and cling to their cause as if Hampden was the seat of a vicious dictator, hell-bent on destroying their club. Ten years ago they were the lone drunk, sitting in the corner of the pub spouting conspiracy theories to an empty chair. Now they sweep across Twitter with an army of boorish followers.
Fans from all walks of life loathed Regan but these fanatics, with their hermetically, passionate brethren were convinced a man from the Yorkshire County Cricket Club was a born and raised supporter of their rivals. And will the witch hunt stop now that they’ve finally got justice? Of course not. The next man (or woman) will simply become the new bogeyman (or woman) and the cycle will continue.
As such, the next chief executive of the SFA will need to ensure their peers that they have the thick skin to not only face the screams and shouts from the stands, the forums, the columns and even face-to-face in the street – but most importantly ignore them.
The SPFL is a bizarre thing. Not the actual leagues themselves – they’re absolutely fine – but the embodiment of every club in the land forming an institution that has a very clear remit to defend their interests is definitely a little odd.
Why? Well, because there’s nothing else quite like it in European football. English football – which had to deal with its own breakaway league in 1992 – doesn’t have a members club, board and executive intent on wrestling control from the Football Association at every point. Neither does Spain. Or France. Or Italy. And in Germany the Bundesliga is more than happy to point out that the clubs and the leagues that they belong to all answer to the Deutscher Fussball-Bund.
Unfortunately that doesn’t happen in Scotland. Most fans like to point the finger at the Old Firm (or what certainly used to be Celtic and Rangers working for their own interests) but every club within the 42 is at it too. In an ideal world we’d happily leave the governance and planning of our national game to the clubs themselves but in practice its a system that encourages self interest and very little action. And it needs to go.
For a new chief executive to have the absolute best chance of making reforms and changes they must have absolute power. Everyone needs to be facing the same way and heading in the same direction and that can only happen when the custodians of football in Scotland are given the power that their counterparts in every other country in Europe enjoy. That can’t happen while the SPFL still exists.
While we all bicker among ourselves over the parochial, endless debates that seem to engulf Scottish football (and it rarely has anything to do with the football by the way) European football has been getting on with things. And beyond the shiny lights of the English Premier League is a continent slowly turning on its tectonic plates.
A European super league – i.e a continental league structure that foregoes domestic divisions in favour of a larger conglomerate of clubs to challenge the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga – is all but inevitable and when it comes it will shake Scottish football to its core.
Peter Lawwell and Celtic no longer shy away from the topic. In fact, the Parkhead chief can’t even be bothered to remain coy on the matter, admitting as much at the club’s AGM last year when he said “European football will change, that’s for sure.” And as a member of the European Clubs Association’s (ECA) executive board he’d certainly know.
However, this isn’t just another attempt for Celtic or Rangers to depart the small pond of Scottish football. Aberdeen would mostly likely go too. Just a few days ago, when speaking to BT Sport about their new stadium and training facilities Derek McInnes states: “We’ve got aspirations to be part of any modern, European setup. To be a top 100 European club.” And if Aberdeen are going then you can be sure that Hearts and Hibernian will want a piece of the pie too.
Any restructuring of European football – at least among the smaller nations – would most likely involve a promotion/relegation system that would allow the SPFL to feed directly in to a series of larger continental divisions. However, the next chief at Hampden will undoubtedly need to prepare for the day in which not only Celtic and Rangers but also Scottish football’s other big clubs may no longer be around. Due diligence tends to go a long way within the modern game and in this scenario the SFA must be prepared for any possible outcome.
Before Regan resigned, amidst the colt fiasco and just after Strachan was sacked, the topic that was driving Scottish football fans crazy on a day-by-day basis was that of which stadium should the national team play their home games.
Some thought Celtic Park and Ibrox could carry the load in a post-Hampden world, with smaller fixtures played around the country. Others suggested we abandoned the spacious national stadium in Mount Florida for another one in the west end of Edinburgh. While most Tartan Army devotees remained loyal to their old home.
In truth, there’s probably no easy solution to this debate however the most appeasable solution seems to be a redevelopment of Hampden. Despite its obvious flaws, most fans would rather see money spent on renovating the Glaswegian cauldron than watch in horror as its raised to the ground and replaced by expensive townhouses.
Indeed, there’s no reason why we can’t fix the stands behind each goal. Numerous stadiums around Europe have shaken off their running tracks and brought their stands further in to the pitch. It would undoubtedly cost a lot of money – which would undoubtedly be redirected from the bank accounts of our clubs – but it would be a price worth paying if it managed to put the issue to bed.
With one fell swoop a new chief executive could earn the adoration of millions whilst simultaneously exerting his power and authority over each football club in the land. Fans want a chief executive with bold ideas, but also one that has the conviction to see them through. And rebuilding Hampden could prove he (or she) has exactly that.