Scottish Football, SFA, SPFL

Surveying The Damage?

Good Afternoon 

You may have spotted the “Scottish Football Supporters Survey 2016” being promoted on social media – not least by the SFA – over the past few days. 

You can find the survey by following this link.

When officialdom makes noises about seeking the views of the general public I always think it is a good idea to ponder

  1. Who is asking the questions,
  2. What is being asked; and
  3. What will become of the findings?

So let’s do that, with a particular focus on the issues of governance and level playing fields which are at the heart of this blog’s ‘work’. [Not that I get paid for it!]

The survey is being run by Supporters Direct Scotland. “Who are they, and how are they funded?” I hear you ask…

[Extracts taken from the Supporters Direct UK website]

“Supporters Direct has been working since 2000 to help supporters gain influence in the running and ownership of their club. In the last fifteen years we have helped our members to establish 192 trusts in the UK and we have worked with supporters to purchase and develop more than 40 community owned clubs. We have supported these members in raising more than £50 million to be reinvested back into their clubs and communities including £6 million through community shares projects; an area where we are market leaders.

We exist because we are needed: The game can be better run and should be more responsive to the needs of its fans and local communities.”

“Supporters Direct Scotland are a member of the Scottish FA’s Congress as a supporters representative and operate and facility ‘The Scottish Fans Network’. The network was specifically developed to capture the views of Scottish football fans and to help influence key decision makers through the formal governance structure of the game.”

“We also operate through the Scottish Fans network, covering wider issues such as ticketing and matchday issues, and also the anti-sectarian Colour of our Scarves project”

“Currently we receive grant funding for specific projects from the Premier League Fans Fund for the following projects: Community Shares, Diversifying Revenue, Fan Share and New Model Rules.

We have received funding from UEFA for our work in Europe since 2006, and have also been commissioned by UEFA to facilitate the introduction of the new Supporter Liaison Officer requirement, set out in Article 35 of UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations.

In March 2012, a European Commission-funded project, Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership, began. The project will last until June 2013 and involves nine partners from across Europe. To find out more, click here.

We receive grant funding from the Scottish Government for the Scottish Fans Network.

We bring in income from the consultancy arm ‘SD Club Development’ which is partly aided by the work we do as a delivery partner for the Co-operative Enterprise Hub.

Finally, membership fees and donations make a small contribution to our annual income.”

The survey is being conducted “in partnership with the Scottish FA and supported by the SPFL”. It would therefore seem essential to check what the SFA say about the survey, and their intended use of the results.

Here is their announcement from 26 March 2016. I am reproducing it in full as it provides a fascinating insight into what the SFA views as some of the governing bodies’ ‘achievements’ in recent years, as well as providing information on how your views will be taken into account.

Scottish Football Supporters Survey 2016 launched

Supporters Direct Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish FA and supported by the SPFL, today (Saturday 26 March), launch the Scottish Football Supporters Survey 2016 – designed to give supporters across the country their say on the big issues affecting the national game.

This year’s survey is expected to engage tens of thousands of supporters, with clubs supporting the call to ask fans, “What’s the view from where you sit?”
Since its inception, the Scottish Football Supporters Survey has helped shape strategy and facilitate change at all levels of the game.

Feedback from supporters is essential in the next stage of supporter engagement and to help provide a better fan experience whether supporting club or country.

Already, supporter views have been taken on board and helped achieve the implementation of innovations such as:

• The creation of a single league body, the SPFL

• The creation of the Premiership Play-Offs

• The appointment of SDS and other independent groups (Players, Coaches and Referee Representatives) to the Scottish FA Congress

• The reformatting of the League Cup

In addition, the survey feedback has also enhanced the debate on the fixture calendar, pricing strategy, barriers to attendance, alcohol in football and fan engagement and ownership models. 

How will supporter views count?

• The Scottish FA, SPFL and Supporters Direct Scotland will publish the full survey results in a comprehensive format

• Supporters Direct Scotland will identify key “supporter asks”

• These will be presented to the Scottish FA Congress’ July meeting

• Supporters Direct will report on the progress of the “supporter asks” in July 2017

Stewart Regan, Scottish FA Chief Executive said: “We are delighted to work in partnership with the SPFL and SDS to launch this year’s Scottish Football Supporters Survey. The Scottish FA is committed to improving the game at all levels and the feedback from the fans – the lifeblood of the game – is important in shaping our plans for the future.”

Head of Supporters Direct Scotland, Andrew Jenkin adds: “As an organisation, Supporters Direct Scotland, plays a vital role in influencing key issues for supporters in Scottish football. This year we are more ambitious than ever before and plan to present the findings to all supporters, and then identify the key “supporter asks” we think Scottish football as a whole should focus on. Our aim is to be collaborative, to represent supporter views clearly, and to work with governing bodies & clubs to deliver ongoing change.”

Neil Doncaster, SPFL Chief Executive, comments: “The SPFL welcomes this survey and the opportunity it provides to hear and take on board the views of Scottish football supporters around the issues of most interest and concern to them.”

There is some laudable (if decidedly bland) stuff in that announcement. However, there is absolutely nothing about the standard of governance in our game or the confidence that paying punters have in our esteemed leaders. And from where I am sitting, those issues seem to be of fundamental importance!

Nor is there anything about the importance of valuing and promoting the ‘product’ on offer. Call me naive, but you might have expected such things to be high on the agenda following the systematic trashing of the game through talk of ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Slow Lingering Death’ in 2012…

Mr Regan talks about the value of  “feedback from the fans – the lifeblood of the game”. This is a lovely sentiment, but not one likely to ring true with any fan who has tried to get answers from the SFA regarding Resolution 12, or tried to ask questions of SFA employees on Twitter…

And fair play to Neil Doncaster for contributing the most anodyne quote in the history of PR! Surely the survey is worth conjuring up a little bit of jargon for?

As for the survey itself, well it is commendably wide-ranging, and I encourage you to take part.

Its questions consider the following issues

  • Which club/ level of football you follow.
  • How you rate the performance of the Scottish National team and clubs.
  • Rating the importance of various factors which might improve the standard of the professional game.
  • Awareness of, and barriers to, grassroots programmes.
  • Initiatives around fan ownership and representation.
  • The number of senior divisions.
  • The ‘match day experience’ for fans.
  • The fairness and efficiency of the judicial process.
  • The factors which influence your decision to attend – or stay away from – matches.
  • Rating various developments and ‘improvements’ that have already taken place.
  • Whether Scottish football has a problem with racism, sectarianism, sexism or homophobia.
  • Safe standing.
  • The Living Wage.
  • Mental health issues.
  • Facilities for disabled people.
  • Alcohol consumption at football grounds.

Questions 12, 13 and 20 are perhaps the most interesting as far as I am concerned. They provide an opportunity to comment on the extent to which you think the SFA is committed to “Improved governance of the game”, “Ensuring clubs are well run” and “Stronger financial regulations” as well as whether you are “optimistic about the future of Scottish football”, and “concerned about match-fixing in Scotland”.

This is all well and good. However, simply giving an indication of how concerned you are about these issues is likely to result in limited impact.

There is no accompanying opportunity to explain WHY these matters concern you, and WHAT you would like to see done about them. This would seem to be a major omission when terms such as the “governance of the game” are 

  • so general as to be almost meaningless; or 
  • wide open to interpretation by those who have to decide whether to act on the results of the survey.

The same points could be made in relation to the survey’s questions about discrimination.
In the normal course of events you would perhaps expect there to be a free-text box in which to expand upon your thoughts (for ‘the avoidance of doubt’), but sadly the survey makes no such provision.

Hmmm. An opportunity missed!

Overall, I applaud the sentiment behind the survey, and much of its scope. However, I am sceptical about what will become of its recommendations. It is abundantly clear from the SFA announcement that there are no promises being made with regards to action:

The Scottish FA, SPFL and Supporters Direct Scotland will publish the full survey results in a comprehensive format

Supporters Direct Scotland will identify key ‘supporter asks’

These will be presented to the Scottish FA Congress’ July meeting

Supporters Direct will report on the progress of the “supporter asks” in July 2017.”


And Stewart Regan’s own comments say little more than “the views of fans are important”.


Regular readers will know that it is in my nature to be cynical. After all, I have seen how Scottish football has been administered over the years! Whilst I unreservedly applaud the sentiments behind the survey and much of the ground it covers, the cynic in me certainly believes it is entirely possible that 

  1. It won’t get to the heart of the key issues of governance and fair play that concern followers of this and other publications; and 
  2. The SFA and others will simply approve and implement the findings and recommendations they like, and kick the rest into the very long grass.

Hopefully that will not be the case, and Supporters Direct Scotland will make a real nuisance of itself in pressing all the issues that concern fans. Even if that means some uncomfortable conversations and embarrassing publicity for the SFA.

Over to you Supporters Direct Scotland! 


NB if Supporters Direct Scotland wish to respond to the points raised by this piece, I will gladly publish them. Contact me on Twitter @TheClumpany


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