Chris McLaughlin's words of the weekend: Lawwell sends clear message to SFA

BBC Scotland’s senior football reporter, Chris McLaughlin, analyses a talking point from the weekend’s action, asking what’s behind the words.

“What we need is someone who will bring Scottish football together.”
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell on the Scottish FA’s search for a new chief executive.

On Thursday afternoon in an office tucked away at the end of a corridor on the sixth floor of the national stadium, an SFA press officer hit the send button on another press release, closed his laptop and probably reached for the drinks cabinet.

This particular communication was informing the Scottish media that chief operating officer Andrew McKinlay, the man in temporary control of the governing body since its board ousted under-fire chief executive Stewart Regan, was leaving to become chief executive of Scottish Golf.

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As it hit the inboxes of journalists across the country, all that was missing was the Punch and Judy sound effects. The latest twist to a tragic comedy that nobody really finds funny anymore. That’s the way we do it in Scottish football.

As well-worn keyboards were being pounded by weary hacks in response, shaking their heads in complete disbelief at the latest debacle, in the east end of Glasgow the Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell was preparing words of his own.

Chris McLaughlin's words of the weekend: Lawwell sends clear message to SFA

Lawwell rarely speaks to the media these days and since stepping down from various governing body boards, his Hampden outings are mostly restricted to cup finals. Safe to say, though, that he still knows the way there.

So why speak out now? As the longest-serving chief executive in the Scottish game, he’s pretty much seen it all. A fierce operator – he knows the game, the politics and the media. Like him or not, his opinion carries weight. That is a given.

As ever, he chose his words wisely but his message was clear – wholesale change is needed at the top. In terms of blame for the current situation, he didn’t name names but then he didn’t have to. The president Alan McRae and his vice president Rod Petrie were those left in little doubt about where Peter was pointing.

If you’re going to topple the figurehead, then have a strategy for what comes next. Give the new chief executive more power to make big changes. Task him/her with bringing the SFA and the SPFL closer together.

Chris McLaughlin's words of the weekend: Lawwell sends clear message to SFA

It’s not just Lawwell’s wish list but the wish list of a number of other influential people in the game who I’ve spoken to over the past few weeks. The problem is, the make up of the SFA is such that turning the wish list into reality is almost impossible.

The governing body of Scottish football is a members organisation and from top to bottom those members’ needs and ambitions are very different.

Celtic’s latest financial figures boasted revenue of £71.5m and cash in the bank of £30.9m. That’s enough money to buy almost every other club in the Scottish game combined.

The current SFA president is a director of Highland League Cove Rangers – a club currently building a new 312-seat stadium on the outskirts of Aberdeen. Bringing Scottish football together should never be about dominance dictating the decision-making, but it’s an issue that has always caused rancour and division.

Chris McLaughlin's words of the weekend: Lawwell sends clear message to SFA

If that issue is to be addressed, are we really to believe those members will rip up the constitution and raise their hands in favour of transferring their power to one man? Now is their chance, but it’s highly unlikely.

Regan drove the modernisation of the organisation. The blazers weren’t quite removed completely, but their powers faded as committees were disbanded in favour of a slicker and more slimline operation.

He could never truly lead, though, and when structure prevents leadership then politics and infighting usually prevail. His predecessor Gordon Smith has spoken about his frustration at not being able to call the shots when he was in the position and that never really changed when he made way for Regan.

If there’s a widespread understanding that more executive powers are needed, then lip service will no longer do.

Chris McLaughlin's words of the weekend: Lawwell sends clear message to SFA

“Bringing Scottish football together” has almost become an oxymoron. A phrase trotted out by those who need to say the right thing for the benefit of those who want to hear the right thing.

Now, a window of opportunity has opened and change is there if the members really want it. Only they can make sure the embarrassments of the last few months are never repeated.

Only they can help heal the wounds created by a long civil a war with the SPFL over who is in charge of what.

Only they can vote to appoint a chief executive and give him/her the powers needed for Scottish football to be led properly. A line must be drawn on the blame game from within – we watch and wait with interest.