Behind the Scenes at the Football Museum

Jim Farry 1st Meeting

My first meeting with Jim Farry, was in the company of Ernie Walker. One was outgoing Secretary of the SFA. One was incoming. The stability of the job meant that I was chatting to only the fourth and fifth holders of the post, since JK McDowall, in 1882. He is the man I regard as the first ‘professional’ secretary.

This would be in the summer of 1990. I had come up to Scotland, again, to discuss the work I had been doing. Ernie was still in the Secretary’s chair, but he was moving on to FIFA. He was leaving Jim Farry with the task of steering football through, what would be, a challenging decade. Jim had been the League’s youngest secretary. The SFL operated out of offices, round the corner from Blythswood Square.

I recall my first meeting with Jim Farry as SFA Secretary, in 1992. I told him how I would approach the issues of a) finding a site for the Museum; b) finding the money for a Museum; c) finding the content; d) working out how to build the idea of a proper national football museum. He listened intently and basically allowed me to get on with it.

In this respect, I felt like a chaplain in the army. I was in the SFA camp - but not part of it. I took my instructions from a higher power. The SFA staff were keen to help me, but I had no rank within their organisation. A unique situation for a unique project.

Coming from teaching, it was also disconcerting to find that someone assumed you were competent - and proceeded from there. As a teacher, I was used to people assuming I was responsible for everything from the hole in the ozone layer to the disappearance of dogs’ white jobbies.

Jim Farry’s name normally proves very strong emotions: mostly of a negative nature. He appears generally in sentences including the word ‘Cadete’. If he did knowingly hold up Cadete’s registration, then he did not tell me.

I would sometimes call in, to see him, at the end of the day. Sat at his impressive double-sided desk, we would talk about footballing issues. The room was extremely large and had a big bay window, which looked to the south. It allowed him to walk and talk. High in his stone redoubt, Jim Farry governed Scottish Football in a personal manner. If anything, he was equally sceptical of all clubs and their attempts to influence the way football ran.

Farry tried to be even handed, even though his initial decisions might not have seemed that way. Football people knew that a decision might not play out for decades. This was a fact which was both useful and terrible.

His way of talking, in interviews, was deliberately long-winded and byzantine. This was purely to make everyone think he was a windbag who knew nothing. And do not go for the ‘humble secretary’ gambit, either. He was sharp and on the ball at all times.

The SFA was a strange beast. Its way of working had been laid down in the decade after 1873 - a time when everyone played the game, for the game’s sake. 1893 and Scottish Professionalism smashed that culture into pieces - yet the SFA continued on its increasingly archaic way.

How did the SFA continue? Through the big character of the Secretary, who increasingly ran the game in an authoritarian manner. Understandable. As clubs became professional and latterly, limited companies, they operated to the rules of capitalism. Their shareholders were king. Imagine trying to run a membership organisation, where any decision had to be scrutinised to see if it benefitted [fill in name of evil club down the road, run by scoundrels, who existed only to cheat you out of what was rightfully yours].

Jim Farry had one particular way of working. If an opinionated, free-thinking, club representative; somehow managed to make it onto a committee, he used his trump card. As Secretary, he would schedule meetings at different times, in the knowledge that said member would have to send his apologies, at least once. Then, when said member brought up an issue at the following meeting, the bold Jim could say that it had been debated in detail and, by implication, the annoying rep. was not sufficiently informed to comment.

One time, when we were having an evening chat, he got animated on the subject of the ‘big’ clubs wanting to break away, to form a Premier League. As I walked out the door, he said that he would put Stenhousemuir into the European Cup. Many people did not realise that the entrants were recommended by the national association. Everyone knew that an SPL would harm many clubs - and so it proved.

The strong secretary was a good answer to a bad problem. A problem, which should have been solved, in the 1900s. The situation continued until the Cadete issue gave certain people the chance to remove Jim Farry and replace the all-powerful secretary with a method of governance, which gave clubs the power they craved.

I respected Jim Farry and he, me. We had similar outlooks on football. The Cadete incident is proof that clever people sometimes do inexplicable things, that even they might have struggled to explain.