Andy Walker: Surprise investment in Scottish football should be welcomed with open arms

At a time of major crisis, any investment in Scottish football should be welcomed with open arms.

But I think everyone north of the border was shocked and surprised when they heard last week that 60-year-old James Anderson, a hugely successful investment manager, was prepared to offer all 42 senior clubs an unexpected funding boost.

  • SPFL hold ‘positive’ talks with philanthropist
  • Hearts release 12 players following relegation

Anderson is English-born but Edinburgh-based and has a remarkable pedigree. He can count on Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Elon Musk of Tesla as close colleagues, and it’s common knowledge that he helped Hearts in the last few years with their recovery from administration in 2013, as well as financially supporting the building of a new stand at Tynecastle.

It’s encouraging to hear that the SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan and chief executive Neil Doncaster have spoken to Anderson and, apparently, had a positive chat regarding his proposal to provide financial backing to all 42 clubs. Crucially, the support is intended to assist the clubs in dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scottish football has been hurt before

Scottish football has, of course, been hurt badly before in times of trouble, when an apparent saviour with “wealth off the radar” had been reported as riding to the rescue of Rangers. When Sir David Murray sold his stake in Rangers to Craig Whyte for £1 in 2012, the “billionaire financial whizzkid” very quickly took the Glasgow club into administration before they were eventually liquidated.

And who could ever forget the involvement of convicted fraudster Giovanni Di Stefano at Dundee in 2003? A friend of the Serbian warlord Arkan, he persuaded stars like Fabrizio Ravanelli to live on Tayside, but the White Feather didn’t last long before the club very quickly had financial trouble and more than a dozen players were released from their contracts.

So, obviously, questions have to be asked of Anderson and exactly how his gesture of helping to restart Scottish football will actually work. The cynics among us might think that, because of his close ties to Hearts, maybe a condition of his generosity would be for Hearts to remain in the top-flight, despite their “unfair and unjust” relegation, when the SPFL took the majority decision to call the leagues early before all games were completed.

In short, you simply can’t take money from anyone, no matter how rich and generous they seem to be, without doing any due diligence. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this column, the biggest barrier to Scottish football getting back to playing will be the cost of testing players, coaching staff, officials and others involved in ensuring any games are played in a virus-free environment.

The cost of testing will be huge

Every team has backroom staff and they too must be tested. I imagine stewards and hygiene experts will be part of every club if they’re hosting a game. They’ll have to be tested. And, at every match I’ve commentated on for Sky Sports, you come across a match delegate and he too requires a test.

The cleanliness of the stadium, the dressing room area, the travel to and from the grounds, all of this will be expensive. Maybe hotels will be required for some travelling teams with the extra expense of ensuring cleanliness everywhere. In a country that has nowhere near the riches of the English Premier League, the costs will be enormous.

This would surely be the best use of Anderson’s extraordinary offer of financial assistance to all 42 clubs. A couple of weeks ago in this column, my guess was a cost of anything between £3,000 to £6,000. More recent estimates suggest that Covid-19 testing kits could cost clubs £4,500 per week. It’s simply out of reach for the majority of clubs in Scotland.

If we assume Anderson’s offer is a genuine financial boost to Scottish football with no strings attached, then the best use of his money would be to help every club with these extraordinary and unexpected health costs. If all clubs get to kick off the new season on time, they’ll forever be in his debt.

And another thing…

On the subject of Hearts, they have confirmed that former manager Craig Levein and his assistant Austin MacPhee have now officially left the club along with 15 players. The underachievement at Hearts in the last 18 months has been astonishing.

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