Football: The great flaw of Scotland

Phil Gordon looks at Jim Farry, the SFA's chief executive, labelled Mr Insensitive
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The Independent Online
The headquarters of the Scottish Football Association has long been dubbed The House on the Hill by the Glasgow media and the title bestowed is not simply to reflect the building's leafy location overlooking the city's Kelvingrove Park.

A feudal nature has characterised the SFA's relationship with players, managers, clubs, fans and media over the years. It has played the role of Lord of the Manor while everyone was treated with the kind of disdain your average serf was given around the Middle Ages.

The fiasco of Scotland's much-publicised match with Belarus today could turn out to be the Peasants' Revolt, at least as far as Jim Farry is concerned. Ally McCoist may be no Wat Tyler, but the Rangers striker's refusal to play if the game was staged yesterday has given the lead to a volume of public opinion against the SFA's chief executive.

"Go Now!" screamed the Daily Record following the SFA figurehead's climbdown on holding the World Cup tie yesterday afternoon just hours after the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Sun's Scottish edition greeted the match change with "Off - And So You Should Be, Farry!" The clamour for his resignation has spilled off the sports pages and on to the news pages.

The man who was merely an unpopular figure for those on the terraces - he was roundly jeered by fans at last season's Scottish Cup final as he was presented to the players of Falkirk and Kilmarnock - suddenly found his name uttered on every street as he became public enemy No 1 for his handling of the whole issue.

The irony is that the SFA is probably the world's least accountable organisation. It has, frankly, never given a damn what anyone thinks. This time, however, it revealed its flaws not merely to the football fraternity but the public arena.

Solving the problem of fitting in an essential football match - and the World Cup programme is running out of time - when the public's thoughts were elsewhere, called for sensitivity, not a characteristic the SFA or Farry are over-endowed with. This, after all, is the man who once delayed a charity game in aid of Bosnia because the Bosnian FA had not given clearance.

Farry should not be condemned for suggesting the game remain on Saturday. He was not alone in that belief. I, along with number of people whose opinion I canvassed, subscribed to the view that Scotland should have been at Pittodrie at 3pm yesterday if there was no alternative. It would not have been the first time sport simply got on with life, leaving others to grieve; Munich 1972 and Heysel 1985 spring most readily to mind. Nor, it must be remembered, did Britain grind to a halt after the Dunblane tragedy, a far more horrifying event which had a traumatic effect on this part of the world.

However, if an alternative existed - and one miraculously appeared - then I was willing to bow to the greater body of opinion which wanted the game rescheduled. So should the SFA, but it didn't take that route until forced into a very tight corner. Farry 's crime was to fail to read the public mood on the issue and claim that the initial decision to play on Saturday had been taken only after full consultation with the Government, Buckingham Palace and Belarus: all of whom later denied this.

Some of the SFA council's 48 members have asked for an inquiry into the PR nightmare. Yet those on the seven-strong international committee defend their chief executive, blaming Fifa, whose top brass were at a conference in Cairo, for the delay. Indeed, the SFA president, Jack McGinn, has claimed they were on the verge of pulling out of the World Cup because they hit so many stumbling blocks in trying to re-arrange the Belarus fixture.

Worst of all, the procrastination affected no one more than Craig Brown, the man Farry is supposed to be helping to reach the World Cup finals. The Scotland coach held a training session late on Wednesday afternoon not knowing if the game he was planning for was two, three or, as it turned out, four days away. Neither did he know how many players would follow the line of McCoist, Andy Goram and Gordon Durie and become conscientious objectors, nor could he be sure if the public would not snub his team if they played on Saturday afternoon and see the tie played out in front of a ghostly Pittodrie gathering of just a few thousand fans.

Brown, who wanted the kick-off moved, admits: "We want the public, players and country behind us. That has been changed because of what has been decided."

Scotland need a repeat of the victory they achieved over Belarus in Minsk three months ago to maintain their push for France 98. Qualifying would uncork the enthusiasm in a country where football is still very much the people's game. Unfortunately, the game is led by by men who are not the people's choice.