The man who has financed Highland outfit Brora Rangers has claimed that the Scottish FA forced the Highland Football League clubs to vote for the pyramid system under ‘duress’.
Ben Mackay, speaking to The Highland Times, hit out at Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan for claiming that the HFL side’s complaints were too late.
In a damning indictment of how the Scottish FA acted during the process of promoting the Highland Football League, Mackay claims that the governing body threatened to dismantle the league if they failed to support the new system.
Mackay said: “I am a fan, not a Brora official, although I help fund the club. But I am very confident indeed the majority of Highland League clubs are against this. Unlike Stewart Regan, I visit Highland League grounds and speak to club officials and I’ve only been to four this season where they would welcome the chance to be promoted.
“He says the Highland League voted for it. Well, the Highland League voted for it under DURESS. The club officials were actually, allegedly, told at the briefing that unless the Highland League agreed to this the SFA wished to create another Highland division.
“They would invite clubs from the Highland League – and effectively burst the Highland League wide open. There has been that veiled threat all along.
“The reality is, let’s be frank, that there are at least 12 clubs in the league who are not going to win it. So these clubs had nothing to gain from voting against it and nothing to lose from voting for it. I have read some really disingenuous stuff this week from Stewart Regan. Brora Rangers have tried to be respectful to the other 17 members of the Highland League.
“We won the Highland League five or six days ago, so everyone has since been running about asking us for our comments, which we have given. It would have been disrespectful for me and the football club to have spent the weeks and months leading up to winning the league having conversations on this subject.
“But I have been very vocal, from day one, in saying that the bottom divisions in Scottish football must be regionalised because it is better for the supporters – and surely football is all about the fans. This is absolutely not in the fans’ best interests.”
Scottish FA chief Stewart Regan claimed that Brora Rangers’ comments on potential promotion to League Two was fear talking.
He claimed: “The time for talking about these issues was two years ago. It’s frustrating that the whole matter of the pyramid is being talked about — whether it is good for clubs to be involved in.
“Back at the outset when the Highland clubs debated this, they supported this as the right thing to do for Scottish football.
“This is all about fear and I feel Brora are flagging up their concerns because they have some players who don’t fancy the travel. I understand that but they have to think this through and start to plan. Fear of the unknown is something clubs have to deal with but the decision was made about the pyramid back in 2013.”
However, Mackay hit back at Regan’s claims, he added: “First and foremost, Stewart Regan has come out and said it is too late for Brora Rangers to complain. Brora have been very vocal, from very early on – along with a number of Highland League clubs – over concerns on the travel commitment involved if the lower leagues weren’t regionalised.
“The Scottish Football League has 42 senior teams for a population of 5 million people. It is utter nonsense and unsustainable. We are talking about taking teams from the Borders up to Brora, or Brora to the Borders, on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.
“If you look at Elgin City’s recent match against Berwick Rangers, there was a crowd of 370 or so. You’re killing Scottish football at that level. Brora Rangers will abide by the rules, they’ve told me that, and they’ve asked me to further fund them, which I will try my absolute best to do.
“But what really interesting is that the SFA and the SPFL didn’t get back to Brora [over enquiries about finance]. Brora had to go and ask this week how much money would be available to them for joining the league. There was mention some time ago that the figure might be around £50-60,000. Now it seems the figure is closer to £30,000.
“We have eventually got a vague letter saying this is what was paid to league clubs last year and there might be a little bit more. What does that mean?
“Right at the beginning of this process, we were told that no club would be forced to do anything beyond it’s means and wishes. There would also be proper financial scrutiny of any club that was joining because they didn’t want to put clubs to the wall. Three weeks ago, all that criteria was miraculously no longer required.
“All that is now required is a ‘bronze’ licence which basically means you have a park big enough and a fence around your ground to be capable of playing in the Scottish leagues. They’ve broken down every law to make sure there is no barrier to taking part.”
Mackay’s comments mirror those made by former Raith Rovers chairman Turnbull Hutton back in 2012, when the SPL and the Scottish FA were trying to force newco Rangers’ path into the First Division rather than start life again in Division Three.
Hutton, at the time, said: “[We are being] bullied, railroaded and lied to. We are being lied to by the Scottish FA and the SPL. We are being threatened and bullied. It is not football as I know it.
“It was a ridiculous document which came out last week whereby the threat was there that if you don’t vote for an acceptance into the First Division, a breakaway SPL2 will come along and those who didn’t vote wouldn’t be invited.
“What kind of game are we running here? It is corrupt.”