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how to handle a crisis, pink elephant communications, aberdeen

How to handle a crisis

Get on the front foot.

Unless you’re a footballer who should have been in quarantine.

In which case, stay at home.

Being proactive is key to taking control of communication.

Whether talking through the media.

With customers.

Or employees.

And this week, the Scottish Government has been showing the football administrators how to handle a crisis of confidence.

What happened?

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First, eight Aberdeen players broke the Covid rules.

By socialising together in a city bar.

The government ordered the postponement of Aberdeen’s game with St Johnstone.

The club and the players apologised.

Then Celtic’s Boli Bolingoli flew off to Spain without permission.

And instead of self-isolating on his return, played against Kilmarnock days later.

Celtic Manager Neil Lennon was ‘absolutely livid’ and described the player’s actions as ‘appalling’.

But the Scottish Government again got on the front foot.

Banning Celtic and Aberdeen from playing pending matches.

Taking control

how to handle a crisis, taking control, scottish football

So where were the Scottish football authorities in all this?

Sitting round the table being given orders by the politicians.

‘Consider today the yellow card’ warned First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

‘Next time it’ll be the red’, she said.

Giving her best impression of a frustrated referee.

I know this because she told me in my living room.

As I watched the teatime news on the BBC.

But once more, the football administrators were reduced to a one-line quote.

On the back foot yet again.

How to handle a crisis

At Pink Elephant Communications, we talk about incidents and attitudes.

The incident here is the breach of rules, which are already more flexible than most of us are enduring.

The attitude is how everybody reacts.

Here, Aberdeen Football Club and their manager Derek McInnes should be applauded.

For their strong condemnation and subsequent apology.

McInnes spoke at length at the weekend.

Distancing himself from his players’ actions.

Well done also Celtic Football Club and their manager for acting similarly.

Neil Lennon was unequivocal in his condemnation.

Questioning the player’s future at the club.

The league administrators – the SPFL – were made to look slow.

As the Scottish Government got on the front foot and read the riot act.

The SPFL were made to look like a teacher unable to control a rowdy class.

The full-time analysis

how to handle a crisis, pink elephant communications, neil lennon

So how could they have done better?

How should they act in a crisis?

There are two ways of taking back control of Scottish football from the government:

  1. Act before they do

If the SPFL had got on the front foot in condemnation and action, the government’s job would have been done for them.

  1. Go further with sanctions

If the governing body had penalised clubs and players, they would have prevented the government from forcing an agreement to do so in future.

I spent over two decades reporting on Scottish football for Radio Clyde, STV, BBC, Sky Sports and Setanta.

Then as now, clubs acted out of self-interest.

Rather than an interest to protect and promote the sport as a whole.

Only if the clubs and administrators can achieve that will they get on the front foot.

But until they do, they’ll be defending their game deep inside their own penalty box.

While the government shoots at their vulnerable goal.

What are the odds now of the Scottish Premier League completing its fixtures without that ominous red card?


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.

And click here for our Pink Elephant vlog on handling a crisis.


Photos in How to handle a crisis blog by Scottish Government / CC BY-NC / daniel0685 / CC BY / Tom Brogan / CC BY-ND / on
How to handle a crisis blog edited by Colin Stone.

How to handle a crisis

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