Queens Park are to football what the R&A are to golf, and the MCC to cricket. Nearly 150 years ago, the Spiders spun the game out to the world.
It’s monumental then to find them, all these years later, advocating a package of changes that could cast the club into the unknown. The Scottish Football League’s members meet on Wednesday to vote on League reconstruction. It is an on-going saga, and deeply divisive.
For Malky Mackay Senior, former Queen’s Park star, past President, current Committee Member and father of the man who has just won the English Championship, it’s a scenario to be avoided at all costs.
“What we need from our clubs now is a leap of faith,” he urges. People need to have trust in one another. That is the biggest thing for Scottish football.”
Back on July 9, 1867, the biggest thing was the foundation of Queen’s Park, recorded thus for posterity: “Tonight at half-past eight o’clock, a number of gentlemen met at No. 3 Eglinton Terrace for the purpose of forming a football club.”
They proceeded to collect a host of trophies, became the only Scottish club to play in an FA Cup Final and are unique in being the only amateur outfit in the country’s senior leagues. The Hampden outfit have rarely, however, been faced with the sort of challenge that is looming. If they help usher in a 42-club solution this week, the Spiders will be signing up for pyramid promotion and relegation from leagues outwith the senior set-up. For Queen’s, that could mean an uncertain future. They have been holding their own in the Third Division but will that always remain the case? A ‘No’ vote, however, has the potential to split the country.
The rebel First Division clubs have promised that, in such an instance, they will quit the SFL and throw their lot in with the Scottish Premier League. They would then play in what would effectively be a Scottish Championship, with the remaining lower leagues cast adrift. Queen’s continue to play their home games in the 52,000-capacity National Stadium to average crowds of around 500. How much longer might that remain the case?
Mackay admits: “Of course there are issues around the reconstruction proposals. They say the devil is in the detail, yet clubs are not getting told exactly how things will work. And everybody in the Third Division has a concern about the change to a pyramid system.
“If clubs think it isn’t going to affect them, then they’re deluded. But they need to trust that everybody will try their best for the good of Scottish football. Queen’s Park is prepared to take the risk. We started football, so why would we not want it to go on? For that to happen, we need a 42-club solution.
“We have accepted the general principle that if we are prepared to be promoted, then we also have to be prepared to be relegated. And, remember, we are a club that doesn’t pay players so we are always vulnerable to losing our guys to rivals who do. This is in everybody’s best interests. The history and heritage of the game has to be protected.”
Annan, East Fife and Stranraer are among those against the present proposals. They would rather see reconstruction postponed for a year to allow for greater clarity. Mackay continues: “I would sincerely hope the few who are doubtful about it will decide to back it, so it can go through. There are seven or eight clubs who don’t want it to go through this year. That’s just enough to block it.
“You can understand why, as sporting integrity demands you know what you’re playing for. To an extent, clubs are being asked to go in blind. But sometimes you can take so long with due diligence that the deal doesn’t go ahead!”
The Spiders’ official insists the alternative is grim. He says: “Right across the board there’s a desire to save money. That means wage cuts, and players out of work. Most clubs can’t afford to pay their bills. There aren’t enough people coming through the gates. In situations like this, we need to put self-interest to one side.
“Pulling the 42 clubs together will hopefully get us to a position where everyone is trying to look out for one another. I’m actually not sure about the pyramid plans. I don’t know if it can pay for itself.
“It’s a pilot scheme, and in the first instance it’s going to be subsidised by the SFA, who are doing their best to promote it. For the moment, we just have to compromise.”
It is a skill that runs in the family. His son, Malky Junior, went along with Cardiff City’s controversial switch from blue shirts to red.
“It has been a big issue down there, but who has been most upset by it the fans or the media?” asks Mackay Senior.
“When Neil Warnock was still at Leeds United, he told Malky: ‘If our owners want us to play in polka dots, we will do it! And so often teams play in their change kit anyway. Each time I’ve seen Celtic this year, they have been in black.
“Cardiff have a Malaysian owner who likes to take an active control of the club. If you are putting in lots of money, then why not? Every club in Scotland has had that kind of situation one time or another. Bill Barr used to sit in the dug-out at Ayr. The Kellys ran Celtic, David Murray did the same at Rangers. If they had wanted to put their players out in pink, it would have happened.
“At Queen’s Park, the Committee used to pick the team. If we won, everybody wanted the credit. If we lost, everybody pointed the finger at the guy sitting next to him.”
Mackay wasn’t talking about this week’s vote but the suspicion lingers he might as well have been!