Dundee United owner Mark Ogren has questioned the merits of football continuing during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the club’s sporting director.
In an hour-long interview with the club’s in-house TV channel, Tony Asghar also takes aim at the Scottish Government over its approach to supporting the country’s top-flight clubs.
He claims rugby gets favourable treatment because politicians think football fans who go to games “drink beer, shout abuse and get in fights afterwards”.
The Tangerines have been hit hard financially and last week asked fans, who remain unable to go to stadiums, for a second cash injection to “assist recovery from the Covid-19 crisis”.
They approached the Dundee United Supporters’ Foundation (DUSF) – whose members voted to make a £100,000 investment in the club in June 2020 – to request another “one-off” payment of “up to £100,000”.
Staff, including manager Micky Mellon and his players, have taken pay cuts to ease the financial pain while the Tannadice side utilised the furlough scheme last year.
Asghar said: “The owner looked at it and said, ‘Financially, every month I’m now having to write a large cheque because there’s absolutely no income coming in. Great, the season ticket money, but that’s gone’.
“We tried to utilise things from DUTV and the media department put together shows (live games for the fans) under intense circumstances, while on flexi-furlough…it’s been unbelievable honestly.
‘We all want football played because it helps mental health, it keeps us going’
“But people can only see the game now through that medium. It’s a frustration. No matter how good the product is, that’s a frustration.
“We discussed a lot of the things Mark had thrown in. Why are we still trading? Why’s any business still trading when it’s almost like a restaurant? Filling a restaurant every month and nobody comes, then filling it again. Paying all the wages.
“Why does Scottish football continue?
“It’s a question I saw the SFA brought out to the Championship clubs last weekend (Note – second-tier sides opted to continue playing games).
“I think we all want football to play on because it helps the mental health, it keeps us going.
“We also have sponsors that are saying, ‘I’m not getting the same type of exposure I paid for’.
“I’ve got players brought in to be sold – they can’t be sold because nobody’s buying or they’re not getting the same exposure.
“There was an adage from the board that maybe the thought process is that we just try and lobby to get football stopped.”
Scottish Government and sport
Last month it was confirmed Scotland’s 10 second-tier clubs were to receive a £500,000 Scottish Government grant, with League One teams getting £150,000 each and League Two sides getting £100,000.
Premiership outfits were told £20 million had been set aside so they could apply for low interest loans.
The total package for spectator sport in Scotland is £55m, with £30m earmarked for football and rugby receiving £20m.
Scottish Rugby welcomed the funds and announced they would be split between grants (£15m) and low interest loans (£5m).
But Asghar – who confirmed in the DUTV interview that he has taken wage cuts – isn’t happy about the situation.
‘The guys up the road at Dundee got £500,000 as a nice Christmas present’
He said: “Still to this day, we’re sitting at the end of January, we still have no government funding.
“People will say, ‘Other organisations in different sectors 100% need it’.
“But at Dundee United, and at other clubs, we’ve been offered a loan that is based on a certain criteria which we still don’t really have a full clear picture on.
“While the government gave grants to the Championship.
“For example, the guys up the road at Dundee have been given £500,000 in their bank in January as a nice Christmas present.
“Hearts have been given £500,000…part-time clubs like Alloa.
“Clubs like ourselves, Hamilton and Motherwell, need money to fulfil their needs because we don’t have any income coming from supporters.
“Without this getting into a party political broadcast, I do think we as a football nation have been cast aside.
“I’ve been in meetings with the government when they’ve talked about football clubs…they’re effectively thinking working-class males who come to the football, drink beer, that maybe shout abuse and maybe get a fight later on at night and that’s what they think of Scottish football.
“This is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.
“They look at rugby, for example, as a game for well-educated people who come and get a few glasses of wine and watch it and don’t swear, and they’ve given them grants.
“We are more than just putting a team on the pitch, the (Dundee United) Community Trust we have is huge.
“David Dorward (United board member) just got an MBE for the work he did (with the Dundee Bairns).
“There’s the mental health aspect too.”
How will the 2020/21 campaign be concluded?
The 2019/20 season in Scotland was brought to an end by the controversial SPFL ballot.
Dundee’s vote U-turn saw Celtic, Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers crowned champions.
Hearts and Partick Thistle – relegated as a result of the ballot – then embroiled United, Raith and Cove against their will in a dispute with the SPFL that placed a question mark over the trio’s promotions.
The case went to the Court of Session before being referred back to Hampden where an SFA arbitration panel found in favour of the Championship, League One and League Two title winners.
Asghar – who says United are working on an insurance claim “which is a game-changer” – believes a Scottish football war could break out again in 2020/21 if Covid-19 halts football.
He said: “We will be back to the same as we were last year, dogfights with clubs, ‘I want to win the league, I could win the league’.
“So it’s a mess in my opinion.
“Where Dundee United stand just now is we will continue to fulfil our fixtures and continue to do our best on the football field.
“Financially, we will find it difficult to look in the transfer market.
“We feel we have a good squad just now but we also feel we have a good group of young players.
“The future, for me, just now in the short-term is bright.
“I spoke in the board meeting the other day about a five-month strategy report and maybe, looking to the summer, we can get back on track to where we were (before Covid-19).
‘This is a time to come together’
“That’s the challenge we have just now.
“We need government assistance, that’s for sure, because no matter how deep his pockets are and how much he loves the club, there’s a limit to what Mark can put in.
“Especially in the second year because he also has a long-term plan to invest further at the club later on.”
Sporting Director Tony Asghar with Club legend Seán Dillon on DUTV – The rise back to the Scottish Premiership, Transfers, Covid Pandemic and the drive to get fans back in the stadium ➡ https://t.co/bwnkU6Y0oc pic.twitter.com/AuUy3XXP1v
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) January 24, 2021
He added: “I want the supporters to understand the generosity of them – to continue to support the club – is not for the sake of paying players over-inflated wages. It’s to keep the thing going.
“We’re all taking wage cuts, I’m taking wage cuts.
“A lot of people could’ve taken cuts and said, ‘I’m going to find a job elsewhere’. There are talented people at this club.
“They’re saying, ‘I’m going to dig in and I’m going to be here’.
“This is what everyone needs to understand. This is a time to come together.”