Henderson heads up SPFL change meeting

Falkirk chairman Doug Henderson
Falkirk chairman Doug Henderson

To some, it’s seen as the spectre of modern football, causing early rises on Saturday and Sunday mornings for weary travelling fans to traipse around the country, but to others it’s a platform to showcase the game to all corners of the globe.

And so Doug Henderson, Falkirk’s chairman, says it’s time to embrace television and enhance the game in a way to entice supporters AWAY from the box and into grounds, while maintaining it’s appeal to the cash-abundant broadcasters.

That’s why he kick-started the debate over league reconstruction this week at a meeting of the SPFL board on Tuesday.

“TV is here to stay, it’s a component of modern-day football – the deal is up in a couple of years and it will be time to re-negotiate the deals with them – what will be attractive to them, with the other considerations?

“That’s the discussion and why it’s on the agenda” he told The Falkirk Herald.

Those other considerations, being led by the former member of parliament include addressing the number of young players making the grade in first-teams around Scotland and improving the footfall at Premiership grounds.

All of that, he believes, could be encouraged by a change in set-up and a re-structure and that’s why the former politician kicked off his own debate in the SPFL boardroom.

“There is a growing realisation we need to review the league structure and look at winter, and summer, football. This week was an opportunity for all clubs in Scotland to consider what we do once the restructuring moratorium is up in the summer.

“It was pledged not to be altered within three years but now that period is up and it’s time to address what has gone on and look to what could be done. The television deal is up in 2019-20 and we need to start talking to re-negioatiate two years before that.

“All we were looking for this week was to return to looking at the issues and starting up some procedure to to review and make changes if they are thought to be necessary.

“The issues I am most focussed on, which I think are important to be reviewed are: – how do you get young players involved within first team football at all clubs. That of course will have a knock on effect and is necessary to improve the future standard of the game going forward but will also improve the national team. Ask any coach and they will agree with this.

“The crowds in the middle of the Premiership particualry are beginning to dwindle, and how do we address this downturn in footfall - all supporters’ surveys show there is a growing desire for more variation, and more teams in the leagues.

“No-one wants to play teams four times a season, There is a scenario where, if we were to progress and draw Hibernian in the Scottish Cup this season we could play them EIGHT TIMES, including a two-legged play-off and a replayed cup tie. Supporters have told us they don’t want that.

“The League Cup has started to change and while I think those are welcome, does there need to be more altogether?”

The Championship sides will meet late next month to discuss their positions , and the Premiership sides will do likewise.

At last year’s Falkirk FC AGM he revealed his ambition for a 16-team league putting Falkirk at the forefront for change, but he has conceded it won’t be rushed through after tabling his discussion point at Hampden on Tuesday.

“We didn’t take a giant leap forward at the meeting but it was a positive step. I understand you can’t move forward without consensus and that was a step towards achieving that.”

The chairman has his own views on where the focus should be on the future of the game, but supporter conduct was also a heavily discussed point at Hampden, and fell into further focus on the back of further spectator unrest at Station Park, Forfar during the Loons Scottish Cup replay with Linlithgow Rose.

A flare was thrown onto the pitch, damaging the surface, during the evening when the match was postponed – for floodlight failure after just eight minutes of play.

The idea of facial recognition technology was discussed to aid police in maintaining order and keeping known trouble-makers away from grounds.

Mr Henderson, as a former politician, is well versed in legislation and urged caution over the ‘strict liability’ laws being mentioned.

“There’s no point in having legislation if it cannot be implemented,” he told The Falkirk Herald. “I am, though, very much in favour of strict liability regulations.

“There will be a five or six step process for the clubs to follow in terms of strict liability rules, and I think that’s the sensible option.

“With regard to facial recognition technology we need to look at it carefully in respect of the civil liberties of fans.

“I’d like to see further evidence of the technology over the next few months and establish if and how it would take effect.

“It must be carefully considered and thoproughly investigated and will be discussed by our own club board.”