Iain McMenemy: More like the Hunger Games than football

‘You’re forced to send in your contestants, and the winners will be the last surviving at the end’

Friday, 2nd October 2020, 7:00 am
Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy. Picture: Michael Gillen
Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy. Picture: Michael Gillen

One thing I am absolutely maybe sure of, is that the new SPFL season for the Championship, Leagues 1 and 2 will possibly definitely kick-off this coming week. That sentence sums up the confidence across football clubs and leagues at the moment.

We’ve pledged to start the season next week, but we are living day by day to see if we can honour this commitment. The news last week that fans aren’t being allowed into stadiums has made a precarious financial position that much tougher.

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Therefore the SPFL called each division together into a video call so that clubs could consider the implications and decide on what to do. This looked like the final chance for clubs to decide whether or not they were in a position to commit to a brand new season with all the financial and procedural changes this could have.

However, in the usual SPFL style, the session adopted its usual tone of the regulator issuing warnings around non-compliance. The only way that clubs could get out of starting the season next week was if a majority in each division supported that stance and the division agreed as a collective not to start. This was never going to happen. Therefore by default, the strongest clubs are effectively forcing the hand of the weakest to commit. The season will start with all clubs involved, whether they will all complete the season remains to be seen. It was a no-win situation for any club.

If any club had decided to step forward individually with an honest admission that they could not commit to a new season due to lack of funds, then there would most likely be penalties. If it was a club in League 1 for example, then they would end up in bottom spot and be relegated at the end of the season. If it was a League 2 club, then they could end up in the bottom spot and face being forcibly removed from the SPFL and replaced by a team from non-league clubs.

Furthermore, by not completing their fixtures, clubs would be in breach of the rulebook and it this would likely mean disciplinary action leading to points deductions, fines and eventual relegation.

Who was going to sign up to that?

So as it stands, all 42 clubs are in the new season, which is fast becoming more like a sequel to Hunger Games. You’re forced to send in your contestants, and the winners will be the last surviving at the end.

This is all coming down to finance, and the outlook is quite frankly frightening. There have been no “customers” through the gates of any clubs since the middle of March. This is where clubs make their income. We are an entertainment industry. We hold events, people pay to come and watch. They buy goods when they are there. They have their heroes, and buy souvenirs. All of this income was abruptly switched off six months ago.

By announcing that fans won’t be permitted into grounds for the foreseeable future, this keeps our income streams closed off to us.

It’s like telling a pub they can open, but they can’t let customers in. That is financially unsustainable. Telling football club businesses that they can get back to playing football, and staging their Saturday events, but you can’t have paying customers is unworkable.

But clubs have had their hand forced to commit to the season ahead so off we all go.

Ultimately, what will be left at the end of the season? Clubs may survive, but that might come at a significant price, not just to them but to society as a whole. Jobs will go. Youth development football will be raided for cash savings. Community programmes will be cut, and all the good things that football clubs do in their communities will be put under threat.

So many other businesses have been helped by Government, either through grants, or by allowing them to get back to some sort of trading. Hair salons, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, all indoors where there is an increased risk, the Government has allowed limited trading to ensure their survival. But no such leeway for football, where games are played outdoors with substantially reduced risks. This is despite the role that many of these football clubs play in their local communities through community programmes and charitable activity.

Football clubs could lose their soul by the end of this, and towns and villages faced with the loss of their community hub.

So let’s get the Hunger Games season started, and may the odds be ever in your favour.

Iain McMenemy is the chairman of League 2 club Stenhousemuir.

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