Former First Minister Henry McLeish has launched a withering critique of the decision to pause the Scottish football season below the top two tiers, describing it as an “outrageous act of betrayal”.
McLeish, who played for East Fife before he entered politics and later conducted a review of the national game, made no attempt to hide his anger that the Methil club and others in the bottom two professional divisions and further down the pyramid won’t play again for three weeks at the earliest.
He believes they have been “sacrificed” as a result of the Celtic in Dubai saga that the sport’s governing bodies have been running away from confronting.
‘They’ve been sacrificed to overcome an issue football authorities failed to deal with’
“This is an outrageous act of betrayal in relation to League One, League two and other leagues affected,” said McLeish, the chair of Fife Elite Academy.
“It reflects the two-level mentality within the game at Hampden and illustrates the lack of leadership.
“No-one was consulted. The chairmen of these clubs were told about it at the same time as the media.
“It’s an outrageous way to run anything and illustrates a complete lack of democracy.
“Now they’ve reached a point where these clubs have been sacrificed to overcome an issue that the football authorities have failed to deal with – Celtic’s trip to Dubai.”
McLeish insisted there is an inextricable link between the lower league suspension and a Celtic player, Christopher Jullien, testing positive for coronavirus on return from a warm-weather training camp and a raft of others having to self-isolate.
“The timing is no coincidence,” he told Courier Sport.
“Nicola Sturgeon was absolutely right in her briefing to say: ‘Why do I have to talk about football when people are dying every day?’
“It’s something that the football authorities should be dealing with, not the government.
“No-one seems to be willing to take responsibility for it in football. There are no serious apologies being offered and no serious suggestion of sanctions or discipline.
“It can’t be a coincidence that with the government coming after the Scottish Premiership because of their lack of responsibility, without consultation sacrifices were made of the lower league clubs.
“This is a dark day.”
Fight for survival
Returning to the unjust imbalance of the suspension and the worrying ramifications, McLeish added: “Of course the government want to cut down travel but what’s the difference between League One and League Two clubs travelling and those in the Premiership and Championship?
“For my old club, East Fife, and many others with great histories, they want to have a great future.
“A lot of them are just striving to survive.
“Is there going to be more compensation for the clubs which are being abandoned?
“We’ve got three weeks of this SPFL and SFA-imposed lockdown. We don’t know what the situation will be in February.
“Ask the question – why are half the leagues kept open and the other half closed? There is no sensible answer.
“Someone, with no consultation, has taken a decision to close down these leagues and it represents a sell-out of the clubs in them.
“When there should be solidarity, common purpose and looking out for each other, we have this rift developing.
“My challenge for the chairmen of League One and Two clubs is to accept there is no democracy at the moment and stand up and be counted to not allow this to happen again.”
It now falls to the SFA and SPFL to repair strained relationships with the Scottish Government.
“I’ve seen this for a long time,” said McLeish. “There’s a lack of trust between the Scottish Government and the football authorities.
“This has been created because the football authorities want the support of the government but on a number of issues, fail to take responsibility for what is going on in the game.
‘We’ve reached the lowest point in the game for a long time’
“Will the SFA and SPFL step up to the plate and deal with the Celtic issue? Don’t burden government with football’s problems.
“My main concern is the rock bottom relationship between Scottish football and the government.
🎥 WATCH: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts as 13 Celtic players, Neil Lennon and John Kennedy are being forced to self-isolate following Christopher Jullien’s positive coronavirus test.
“I have doubts whether the trip to Dubai was essential". pic.twitter.com/GHmoTJsHhh
— Clyde 1 Superscoreboard (@ClydeSSB) January 11, 2021
“It doesn’t need to be like this and it’s not the government’s fault.
“The wagons are circled at Hampden and critical friends often become enemies. It can’t go on.
“We’ve reached the lowest point in the game for a long time – as if we haven’t had enough of those in the last few months and years.”