SFA President Rod Petrie is back in the firing line of Scottish football after health concerns (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group / SFA

When the pandemic broke out 16 months ago, there were 42 clubs in the top leagues of Scottish football. Fortunately, in this Covid era, there are still 42 clubs with us at the start of a second full season, even though Brechin City, while still in existence, has been replaced by Kelty Hearts in the second division.

At the last annual general meeting of the Scottish Football Association, which took place on Tuesday in Hampden, this achievement was to be celebrated.

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Not all club officials were gathered around a table, as would have been the case earlier, but some were. Others have dialed into Zoom. Everyone was allowed to say a little prayer of thanks for being saved.

The battle is far from over. In fact, it might just be the beginning. Of course, the SFA is not only responsible for the first four divisions. However, it was the larger clubs with higher overheads that were generally felt to be most at risk. But no club, big or small, old or new, has been abandoned to this day.

Petrie admitted that he shared people’s fears of likely losses when he made the immense decision to force Scottish football to shut down last March after high-level, urgent discussions. The former Hibs chairman only succeeded Alan McRae as SFA president the previous June.

“Back then, in March and April of last year, there was a lot of noise about it,” Petrie recalls. “We had to suspend the game on March 13th to be suspended. That’s not really what you want to do as the SFA president in your first year in office – shut down all of Scottish football.

“Was that a lot of pressure on me? It’s just what happened, it’s what everyone has to deal with.

“We all faced challenges, but we have some fantastic people at SFA. I had to make some tough decisions along the way. It is a great satisfaction that all the clubs have made it and are now looking forward to the new season in front of the fans. “

With the stadiums now getting crowded, Scottish football is back to normal. Local authorities are working with clubs to ensure that the number of fans who are allowed in continues to go in the right direction. The teams will go out cheering at most games next weekend when the league action starts again in the top four leagues.

An unprecedented period of turmoil has seen many clubs reassert themselves in their community and become social channels. Petrie highlighted the role of both the SFA and the SPFL in serving clubs while also recognizing the contribution made by the Scottish Government during the pandemic.

“When it came out 16 months ago, one of the things we wanted to do was make sure every club in Scotland got through,” he said. “There was great uncertainty about the financial implications.

“It was good to be able to confirm at the annual general meeting that every club made it and was able to participate. It did so through the financial prudence of the SFA and the financial support of FIFA and other steps that we have taken.

“The SPFL and we advanced money to the clubs earlier than would otherwise have been the case. I thank the Scottish Government for providing £ 30 million in financial support – not just loans to top clubs, but grants all the way to the financial pyramid.

“This came from extensive discussion and collaborative work with governments to show the need for football – and the importance of the sport to the communities it supports. It also offers encouragement, entertainment and lifts people’s spirits at a time when we have had to deal with locks and other restrictions in our lives. “

There was another blessing that I had to acknowledge. Someone else had made it through a period of great concern. Shortly after the announcement of the temporary closure of Scottish football, Petrie himself temporarily resigned due to an undisclosed illness. The President left the matter in the hands of Mike Mulraney, his deputy.

Fortunately, Petrie is back on site. It is characteristically vague when referring to this spell off the line of fire. He only notes that growing up on a farm in northeast Scotland is fortunate to be endowed with resilience. Even these personal details are a reminder that for someone who ran one of the largest clubs in Scotland and now oversees Scottish football, very little is known about Petrie. The news that he grew up on a farm himself seems telling.

“Everyone tells me I’m good-looking, so that’s great news!” Said Petrie. “It was a challenging 12 months, both professionally and personally.

“If you don’t mind, I don’t want to go into the details. I feel good. I’ve seen a lot in that time. I had to take a month off, which resulted in missing the annual general meeting last year. Mike was fantastic. I now work every day in this new, virtual environment with Zoom meetings. I think my colleagues would say I did my fair share. “

He hadn’t thought of stepping back completely. “No, I’m someone who works hard,” he said. “I think people would always say that about me.

“I have a pretty robust constitution as I grew up in a working environment on a farm. I have a certain level of resilience about myself.

“If I can’t do the job, I’ll be the first to stand aside and let people move on.

“I am pleased to be here. I’m looking forward to qualifying for the World Cup in September. I am concentrating on what needs to be done in the next two years in office. “

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