Falkirk chief fears clubs ‘couldn’t afford’ promotion without support for teams with plastic pitches

-Credit: (Image: SNS Group)
-Credit: (Image: SNS Group)

Clubs could face a choice between passing on promotion or being plunged into financial problems – unless a support package is put in place to dump artificial pitches. That is the stark warning of Falkirk chief exec Jamie Swinney as he claims the powers that be need to now focus on the bill rather than ballots.

A two-year spell for clubs with an artificial pitch to plan for their phasing out in the top tier is under way after Premiership clubs voted in May to get rid. The Bairns are preparing for life back in the Championship, with Swinney setting out their aim to be in the top flight come their 150th anniversary in 2026.

Falkirk were one of six SPFL clubs to do a paper setting out an alternative but their surfaces will need switched ASAP if they go up beyond this coming season. Swinney said: “You’d have to pay that £1.2million up front so who’s got that money?

“We certainly don’t and I don’t imagine some of the other clubs. But the second thing you have to do is completely change your business model. You no longer train on the pitch, no longer have your academy train on the pitch, no longer have your women’s team train on the pitch.

“Not only have you a major decision to make with regards to how you finance £1.2m, you’ve this change in business model. Now a board’s ultimate role is to safeguard the club, to be the custodians so the club is here in 10, 20, 50 years’ time.

“As a board, if you’re faced with a situation that says the only way to achieve promotion to the Premiership is to go into a serious amount of debt, to change your whole business model, to potentially get relegated within a season, would every board member say it’s definitely worth going to the Premiership and taking on that?

Potentially putting the club where they might end up in a really worrying situation with administration or whatever? As board members would you say yeah let’s go for that definitely? Would you be confident saying let’s go for that?

“I think most board members would say, ‘My job is to make sure this club is here for years to come... if I think there is any chance our club could go under as a result of trying this, I might say just stay where we are’.

“We could’ve probably gone under at any time in the last five years. The fact we have been able to get the club back to the Championship and survive – that is all we’ve done for five years – to potentially put the club into a really precarious financial position again within a couple of years would be a huge, huge gamble.

-Credit:Sunday Mail
-Credit:Sunday Mail

“Even if you’re spending your future money, so taking out the money you’re going to get from the Premiership effectively to pay for the pitch, you’re £1.2m down. How competitive are you going to be if the newly promoted side but got a million pound less in your football budget?”

Swinney admits finances for now dictates the only option to Falkirk – back in “a really competitive” league – is try to get themselves up in the coming years then worry about a switch. He added: “We don’t agree with the decision but we accept it on the basis we don’t have any power or influence. What we’ve not given up hope on is advocating for more financial support. There are probably three ways it can come.

“In Holland, the top teams put a grant from the European monies so if you’re a club coming up to the top league you can get a grant that helps you to put a grass pitch down. You’d be asking the Premiership clubs to do something there.

“The SPFL executive, the board, asking them to create some form of grant or pool of money. It might not be used because maybe no team in the next five or 10 years with an artificial pitch will get up. In seven years’ time, if we’ve still not been promoted and that pitch has got to the end of its lifespan, it would be silly to go back to artificial.

“The other thing is the SFA because, although this is an SPFL decision, as the governing body it would be really bad for the Scottish game if a club like Airdrie or Falkirk or Raith won the Championship but couldn’t afford to go up.”