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Comment & Analysis

All’s not well on Scottish football’s farm…


I’m sure you’ve all read that old secondary school favourite, Animal Farm.

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In George Orwell’s allegorical novel, the farmyard animals overthrow their human masters and set about ushering in an era of working harmony, guided by the Seven Commandments of Animalism. The seventh and most important rule is ‘All animals are equal’.

The pigs on the farm however begin to assume authority. They start changing and amending the rules to benefit themselves, thus showing that all animals are not, in fact, equal. They overcome any opposition to the increasingly unbalanced lifestyle between themselves and the rest of the animals by scaremongering, offering dire warnings that man will reassert control.

Who would have thought Orwell’s work about the flaws of Communism could have so easily been attributed to Scottish football in the 21st century?

When Gretna went into liquidation in 2008 following relegation from the SPL (as a result of debts that were a lot smaller than Rangers’), they had to resign their place in the SFL. There was no vote to allow Gretna Newco back into the SPL. There was no proposal to fast-track them into the First Division. They weren’t even offered a place in the Third Division. Gretna FC 2008 were accepted instead into the East of Scotland Football League First Division.

Okay, let’s not kid ourselves; Rangers — or to give them their official title, Sevco 5088 Ltd — are a more lucrative asset to the Scottish game than Gretna. But does that mean the authorities can now change the rules, as Orwell’s pigs did, for a bigger, ‘more important’ club? The rules, it would appear, apply to all clubs — unless you’re Sevco, in which case we’ll change them.

Sevco, as the rules dictate for a newly-formed club, are facing a vote to allow them into the SFL’s Third Division. However a letter sent to participating clubs has effectively said that while they get to vote on Sevco’s future, if the SFL, SFA and SPL boards disagree with the outcome of the vote, “…the [SFL] board shall be authorised to provide that Rangers FC shall play in the First Division of the Scottish Football League during season 2012/13”. Yes, have your vote, but vote the way we tell you. If you don’t, your decision is null and void. What a complete charade. Democracy clearly doesn’t exist in Scottish football.

The biggest scaremongers in the piece have been SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and his SPL counterpart Neil Doncaster, with their near apocalyptic warnings should Sevco not get back to the SPL at the earliest possible opportunity. It’s for the good of the game, don’t you know.

So it’s for the good of the game that the rules governing the game, that everyone signs up to, apply to some clubs and not others? That democratic votes are overruled? Were Rangers acting for the good of the game when they evaded taxes? Was it for the good of the game that the EBT scheme gave them an unfair advantage in the transfer market over other clubs? Is it for the good of the game that Rangers’ imminent liquidation will leave creditors, including other Scottish football clubs and companies that provide services to the game, out of pocket?

Doncaster claims that to punish Rangers by adhering to the rules and admitting them into the Third Division would punish Scotland’s 41 other league clubs for the Ibrox side’s misdeeds. So to ‘punish’ the guilty party, Doncaster proposes the harsh penalty of an effectively double-promoting newly-formed club Sevco to the First Division.

Regan meanwhile, claimed there would be social unrest in Scotland if Rangers went out of existence completely — a shocking insinuation about the fans of the Govan club, who were quite rightly up in arms. Unlike Regan, who is perhaps also worried about the threat to his alleged £180,000-a-year salary should Sevco not be admitted to the First Division, the majority of Sevco’s fans have expressed their desire to uphold the game’s rules, maintain sporting integrity and hold their heads high by re-entering the league at the Third Division.

Regan predicts a “slow, lingering death” if Sevco are consigned to the Third Division, but surely this reflects badly on him and Doncaster and their seriously flawed business model of relying too heavily on two clubs. If was poor foresight on their parts as SFA and SPL chiefs not to have seen this coming, or at least not to have had contingency plans should either Rangers or Celtic end up in a situation like that which the Ibrox club now finds itself in. Much like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, they are now scrabbling around offering SFL clubs carrots of one-off payments, lucrative deals and league mergers, in between beating them with the stick of revenue loss and extinction.

Strangely, there was no urgency to overhaul the game and help out the so-called ‘smaller clubs’ before Rangers’ administration and imminent liquation. In fact, while the SPL, SFA and SFL have now announced hasty plans for top-flight expansion as an inducement for SFL clubs to vote Sevco into the First Division, 18 months ago when everything appeared rosy in Doncaster’s SPL garden, he made the smug claim: “I think those who want 16 teams in the top flight are deluding themselves.” Could it be Doncaster and Regan are more concerned about how the demise of Scottish football under their watch would look on their CVs  than about the future of the game itself?

While armageddon and apocalypse may be an exaggeration should Sevco not get a place in the First Division, Regan claims TV deals will be affected, leading to a financial meltdown in the game. “It’s not pretty,” claimed Regan in relation to future TV income after meeting the game’s commercial partners. Yet this contradicts Sky’s own answers to concerned fans on Twitter that they have no plans to pull out of covering the Scottish Premier League. “Walking away has never been on our agenda,” a Sky spokesman said.

Regan also predicts a loss of £16million to the game — and in turn a threat to the existence of some clubs — as a result of reduced TV revenue if Sevco aren’t admitted to the top of the Scottish Football League. Funny, I don’t recall any clubs going to the wall as a result of Setanta going into administration three years ago, which cost the Scottish game the slightly more significant sum of around £60million. Could it be Regan is more worried about the future of Sevco than that of the 41 ‘innocent’ clubs?

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but the club Regan wants to fast-track into the First Division — for the financial stability of the game — came into existence because their previous incarnation faces inevitable liquidation, effectively washing their hands of £134million of debt? The same club that evaded paying tax and that reneged on transfer fees as a result of liquidation? It was, wasn’t it? So financially and morally, it’s a good move to let this reborn club enter the football structure at the highest possible point?

If the SFL, SFA and SPL boards are changing the rules now for Sevco, is this now the precedent for all clubs to expect? I mean, you’d have to assume so, that would be only fair. So the message is clear, SPL sides: if you evade taxes, live beyond your means and suck money out of the game, just go into liquidation! You get to write off your debt, both financial and moral, and the governing bodies will bend over backwards to get you back into the top flight ASAP. For the good of the game, obviously.

Despite the scaremongering, Regan and co. do have a point. Sevco are important to Scottish football — but at what price? Integrity and sincerity seems to be the cost. If they bow to Sevco now by changing the rules on SFL admission, they are effectively saying Sevco will always have the Scottish game over a barrel. They are being given licence to get into financial difficulty again knowing the authorities will do everything to preserve the club’s place in the league set-up.

The decision on Sevco’s future should rest with the SFL clubs, but whether that transpires remains to be seen. Hardly likely to sway them is our old friend Craig Burley, who claims the clubs are only acting out of spite if they vote Sevco into the Third Division. Yet if we are to believe that harbinger of doom Regan’s scaremongering, doesn’t that suggest these clubs are putting their very existence in jeopardy out of spite? That’s hardly likely. Burley calls the club’s who hold Sevco’s future in their hands “nonentities”, “muppets”, “afterthoughts” and “knuckle-draggers” but perhaps Craig, just perhaps, they do actually possess that quality that Rangers Oldco lacked — sporting integrity. Indeed, the reason these “nonentities” are even voting on Sevco’s future is because they are entities — they exist, in other words, because they have lived within their means, managed their finances properly and respected the laws of the game. It is Rangers who are quite literally about to become the “nonentity”.

Unfortunately I fear the vote will be taken out of the SFL clubs’ hands — for the good of the game you understand. In which case, to paraphrase Orwell’s pigs’ revised Commandments of Animalism: “All clubs are equal — but some clubs are more equal than others.”


Gerard Donaghy

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