An Open Letter to the Scottish Football League
To all officials, boards and directors of the Scottish Football League and its member clubs,
I wish to make known the strength of my opposition to any arrangement which would see a reformed Rangers parachuted into the second tier of Scottish football. Not only would this be wrong in its own terms, but any hasty reorganisation of the league structure that might be pushed through to allow a solution to a short-term problem would be a grave error.
I understand that I am anticipating events that may not even arise. Still, there is certain to be a good deal of horse-trading going on behind the scenes at present, so – as a season-ticket holder at Raith Rovers and a regular attendee at many other SFL matches – I wish to make my feelings known.
When it first became apparent that Rangers would be liquidated, I thought it likely that – under pressure from Sky TV – the SPL would allow them to remain in the top league. That now seems unlikely – the principal reason for the change in momentum being the action of other SPL supporters in making their feelings known to their own clubs.
I support their actions unreservedly. Lip-service has often been paid to the truism that the supporters are the most important people in the game. Matchday income in Scotland provides a much higher proportion of revenue than TV income, yet there has too often been a tendency to to pay more attention to broadcasters’ desires. The events of the past fortnight have made it clear to clubs that their priorities must be their own fans. I applaud those clubs who have already responded to the wishes of their supporters, and hope others will follow them.
Good intentions do not balance books, and I understand that the absence of Rangers from the top division will cause other SPL clubs some financial difficulties. While Sky TV have not made any public statement, I have seen it suggested that if Rangers are absent from the SPL for anything longer than a single season they will significantly reduce the amounts they will pay for the current TV deal. As a result it now appears that SPL clubs are seeking a solution that would prevent Rangers from dropping further than a single division.
Of course the SPL have no direct control over any such arrangement. This is – let’s remember – a situation of the SPL’s own making. It was their own decision, back in 1998, to go it alone as a separate league, at a time when they believed it was financially advantageous for them. That doesn’t mean the SFL should simply act out of spite, and refuse to agree to any proposals made by SPL clubs. However, you are in a position of being able to act independently, and to take the decisions you believe to be best for the future health of the Scottish game, which is ultimately what is best for your members. Clubs in the SPL who have recognised the need for integrity and listening to their supporters must understand that the same applies to clubs in the SFL.
It seems there may be a proposal on the table for a merged structure which would allow some increased income to SFL clubs in return for the acceptance of Rangers into the second flight. While I welcome discussions to reform the structure of the game, this must not be rushed. Talk has been ongoing for years, with the lack of resolution showing the difficulty of finding solutions which will work and command wide support.
It might be that I could support the details of the current proposal, but we all deserve the chance to consider proposals carefully and engage in a full discussion across the game. To push anything through this summer just does not give sufficient time for such consideration.
Indeed to push a reorganisation through as a response to a specific circumstance would be astonishingly short-sighted. For one thing, the perceived and actual loss of integrity caused for by the SFL allowing itself to be bought off in such circumstances would be very damaging to the game. I believe there would be a significant backlash from supporters.
Even if SFL clubs think they can squeeze a better deal out of the SPL in the current circumstances, this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. The object must be to provide a sustainable structure that will serve Scottish football for generations. If concessions are only available under duress then it’s impossible to imagine that any deal reached now will stand the test of time. In time, when the immediate pressures have gone, the top clubs will wonder how they got tied to such an arrangement, the discussions will begin again and we’ll be back to square one.
As for the substance – nobody I have spoken to believes that a single division demotion is a sufficient sanction for a newly-reformed Rangers. This is not an issue of retribution, but a need to be fair to other clubs throughout the Scottish game, and to send a clear message about how football clubs must operate. There may be other clubs in the top division and lower down who would think that a single year’s sojourn in a lower division would be a small price to pay for being able to write off crippling long-term debts. And none of these other clubs have run up debts on anything like same scale as Rangers, nor have any of them shown such scant regard for the rest of the Scottish game or the need to act with integrity – as is becoming steadily clearer as more revelations emerge about Rangers’ behaviour.
There should be clear lessons here for any SFL club dazzled by promises of increased revenue and considering voting for a quick fix. The history of the SPL shows that jam today is not an answer to anything. Revenues are a secondary benefit of getting the product right – when they become a short-term target in themselves you end up damaging the product and the long-term revenue will drop. Sure, the SPL secured better TV deals in their early days. But the main effect was simply to fuel wage inflation – exacerbating rather than easing financial problems. Indeed five of the last seven administrations in Scotland over the past few years have occurred in the SPL. Furthermore, it quickly became clear that the polarisation of resources within the league resulted in an increasingly sterile competition, which became less interesting for TV subscribers and resulted in the value of subsequent deals dropping sharply. Indeed, this is one of the immediate causes of the current difficulties.
Now we find that, even for one of the two clubs who benefited most by the SPL’s creation, it still wasn’t enough. Instead they pushed the boat further and further and ran their financial affairs with a recklessness for which it is hard to find parallel within the Scottish game. It simply cannot be right that such a club is given a special dispensation, unavailable to other liquidated clubs. Not only does that not serve any interests of justice or fairness to the rest of the game, but it fails to address the underlying issue – the unsustainability of the league structure as a whole.
It should be clear to everyone by now that a league system and a TV deal that is so heavily dependent on two clubs is neither healthy nor sustainable. It should be equally clear that, whatever immediate difficulties may be caused by doing the right thing, protecting or maximising revenue streams is not the be all and end all. Instead of looking for a short-term fix that would, in the long-run, merely perpetuate the current situation, Scottish football now has a one-off opportunity to look for that sustainability.
So, let us be clear:
1. I encourage talks to reorganise the Scottish game, and to merge the leagues back into a single structure, but I do not want these talks to be rushed for ulterior motive.
2. In particular, any such proposals as emerge must not be tied to specific conditions with respect to Rangers (or anyone else) – the talks must get the structure of the league right, and must not be influenced by the offer of extra cash to solve a short-term difficulty.
3. As for Rangers themselves, they must be dealt with fairly, and that means being treated the same way as other clubs would be in the same circumstances – the newly-reformed club, if denied a share to remain in the SPL, must apply for the vacancy that would be created in the third division.
I hope these exhortations are unnecessary and I like to think that most sober heads within the SFL would be thinking along these lines anyway. In particular I am delighted to see that the board of my own club has taken the lead today in expressing its own opposition to any such arrangement that is tied to the Newco issue. My ongoing support for my club is thus assured – indeed, it is strengthened. However, if the league overall takes a decision to allow Rangers into the first division it will definitely affect my relationship with the rest of the Scottish game, the games I go to and who I choose to give my money to. Not just for the season but for the long-term. I believe many others will be similarly disaffected in the event of such a vote going through.
I urge you to remember, in making decisions over the coming weeks, that the SFL and its clubs will be reliant on me, and many other fans like me, long after Rangers have moved on.
Raith Rovers supporter
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