Henry McLeish and that Report

Published on Monday 23rd August, 2010 by Celtic Trust

Marie McCusker reports on a recent meeting between Henry McLeish and the Celtic Trust

Now that Henry McLeish has finished the first part of his enquiry into Scottish football and published his findings on the state of the grass roots of the game in this country, he has turned his attention to the senior game. Speaking at last year’s Supporters Direct Conference he said that he was interested in and willing to meet any group which might wish to have any input into his research. Taking up this offer, officers of the Celtic Trust, contacted Henry who true to his word was very willing to meet with us. That meeting took place last week, appropriately enough, close to the place where Celtic came into being in St Mary’s in the Calton Glasgow. We had decided that we would put three items on the agenda • Kick-off times and how these exemplify the way in which supporters are treated. • Refereeing in Scotland...with all that that entails • Fans relationships with Clubs including representation at decision making level and the implications of Plc status on this. The meeting lasted almost 90 minutes (something significant there?!) and the discussion was very full cordial and constructive. Our first point was the sometimes weird and wonderful kick-off times those of us who attend away games, in particular, have to endure throughout the season. We met just two days before Celtic’s opening fixture which was Inverness Caledonian Thistle in Inverness with at kick-off of 12.15pm, making it essential that those attending from Glasgow had to be on the road by 8am at the latest. This is not even mentioning all those who travel from further afield and for whom every game is an away game. For supporters coming from Ireland, England and the like these kick-off times often involve an overnight stay with all the additional expense that that entails. We discussed the reasons behind these start times and how the game seems to be enslaved to television coverage and the money it brings in. We also touched on the regular shifting of games from Saturday to Sunday to again accommodate TV coverage and the affect this can have on the family lives of supporters. Henry was very interested in all of this as it had not been something which had previously been raised in meetings. We then moved on to the vexed question of refereeing standards in Scotland. The Trust has been in correspondence with the SFA on the subject of disciplinary procedures and the multitude of ‘honest mistakes’ which always seem to favour just one team! In their reply the SFA had chosen to concentrate on the changes to the disciplinary procedures, and to ask for our comments on these while completely ignoring the wider issues. Our initial letter to Gordon Smith coincided with his resignation from the SFA and as it appears that his successor will not take up his post until October, we have time to consider and formulate any response we may wish to make. So if you are reading this and would like to give us your thoughts feel free to do so. You can email the Trust Secretary at celtictrust@hotmail.com On the wider issue of referee’s (in)competence/bias /whatever, we touched on some of the more glaring examples of this from last season and gave Henry a copy of the 40 Honest Mistakes which someone had drawn up...thanks to whoever it was! We did remind him of the old cliché “just because we’re paranoid disnae mean they’re no oot tae get us”! I’m sure it will make interesting reading for Henry and yes, I am confident that he will read it as at no point did he seem to discount anything we were saying. We then moved on to discuss the relationships Clubs have with their supporters. There is no doubt that Michel Platini and UEFA officials are very concerned about what is happening in England where some Clubs are becoming the playthings of people with more money than they know what to do with. Of course this money can disappear as easily as it arrives, so it is essential that some system to ensure that those who have real interest of the Club at heart i.e. the supporters have a say in what happens at their Club. How all of this will pan out and whether the status of the individual Club e.g. those which are PLC’s would impact on the structure remains to be seen. Of course as usually happens in meetings there were times discussion went off at a tangent and Henry shared with us some of the ideas he was considering. For example he is very interested in encouraging Clubs to consider going along the European model and becoming sports rather than just football clubs. Anyone who has been to Barcelona could not fail to be struck by the various stadiums around the Camp Neu itself, housing facilities for basketball, hockey and various other sports all under the umbrella of Barcelona itself. He is considering suggesting this model to our lower league clubs initially. Another topic concerned the development of the game in this country. Henry is firmly of the view that there is talent in Scotland so what is preventing the development of that talent as happened in the past? One aspect is the lack of appropriate facilities. No longer are children able to kick a ball about in the street and Scotland lags behind countries like Iceland, Lithuania and Croatia in the provision of facilities which could replace this. While government has a part to play in providing these facilities we should also be encouraging a culture of self-help with clubs and other relevant groups getting involved. He was also concerned that the competitive element is introduced into the game much too early and that young children are being discarded before they have a chance to develop and hone their skills. He mentioned in particular the Spanish team who recently won the World Cup and how noted comfortable they all are on the ball so much so that it becomes literally an extension of the foot. These skills need to be learned and practised until they are second nature before any competitive element is introduced. In other words just let the weans have fun!!! Henry McLeish is himself a former professional footballer who played for his local Club East Fife, the Club he still supports. He enquired about Barrowfield and recalled playing there against Celtic Reserves. He also shared his memories of Jock Stein whom he described as ‘a giant of a man in every sense.’ The tone of the meeting was open, warm and constructive. We did feel that our views were being listened to and taken on board. We now await the Report which Henry will produce and then we will have to see what the SFA and others of that ilk do with it.


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