Where Next for Scottish Football?
So the member clubs of the Scottish Football League have flexed their muscles, called a few bluffs, and agreed to accept Rangers as a member of the league – in its third division, where the overwhelming majority of public opinion seemed to believe was the right place for them to start again.
The vote, in the end, was a reasonably comfortable 25-5, but this belies just how touch-and-go the outcome had looked earlier in the week, as several clubs kept silent or released ambivalent or ambiguous statements, and as the SFA and SPL made last ditch attempts to sweeten the deal with promises of larger leagues. Only on Thursday did it become apparently, publically at least, that supporter pressure had won out, and once the No campaign reached critical mass several other clubs fell into line.
As it stands, it represents a humliating defeat for the respective, and much-derided, Chief Executives of the SFA and SPL, Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster, and it remains to be seen how they react to it, whether they will accept it and move on or try some last desparate gamble.
Mark Murphy has already covered the misdoings of the SFA and SPL in his article on this site yesterday, and some of the murky detail behind the scenes. So it is sufficient for me to note that, such is the mistrust of them, that no one is quite taking anything for granted just yet. Both Turnbull Hutton and John Yorkston (representing Raith and Dunfermline, respectively) made guarded comments to that effect yesterday, and Clyde, in the latest of their series of excellent and eloquent statements, made this comment:
We reported this morning prior to the vote of all clubs that “Sevco Scotland Ltd will not be playing in the Third Division in the coming season”. Nothing heard today altered that opinion, in fact, it strengthened it.
For the good of the game we need to see the SFA accept the will of its members, who all voted today, as members of the SFL, in the clear knowledge that the SFA had it in its power to refuse to transfer SFA membership to Sevco Scotland Ltd should the vote support the entry of Sevco Scotland Ltd into SFL 3.
This (presumably) refers to the threats made by Regan to override the SFL and impose the SFA’s own solution should the vote go the “wrong” way. But Regan’s supposed alternative, the oft-mooted “SPL2″ is surely a non-starter. The same Clyde statement gives credit to the first division clubs for making clear they were only interested in any reconstruction that would be a “42 club solution”. David Longmuir, the SFL’s Chief Executive, made similar comments in the press conference yesterday. And, this morning, Annan have released a marvellous statement which makes the same point in colourful fashion:
We were delighted to hear the unanimous response from all ten 1st Division clubs who stated that they are only interested in a 42 club resolution (for any CEO’s or others who are unsure what that means, bluntly it is stick SPL2 where the sun don’t shine)
This being the case, who would accept an invite to join such a league? I noted in my previous article that SPL2 was a cheap bluff, as long as the SFL clubs stood together. They have done, and that should be the end of it.
Accordingly, my brief and non-comprehensive wish list of what happens next in Scottish football starts with this:
1. The various authorities must accept this decision
First the SPL declined to accept Newco Rangers in the top league, and now the SFL have voted clearly that they should start again in the third. There is no doubt that this has overwhelming support from the footballing public, and indeed from most people who follow Rangers themselves.
There may yet be developments here, but I’m optimistic that there won’t be. The SPL have a meeting on Monday, and some are suggesting they may yet perform the mother of all u-turns and let Rangers back in as Club 12 after all. If they want to take on the furious backlash of their supporters then on their heads be it – but I just can’t see it. They’ve been too committal and gone too far down the road for that now.
That leaves the SFA, as overseers of the sport in Scotland, who have the option to countermand the decisions and insist on Rangers being placed elsewhere – or to try andengineer some other solution that would have the same effect.
They must not. Any such attempt would be deeply divisive, would tear the game apart, lose them the support or many, and make us look ridiculous in the eyes of an international media all of whom reported Rangers fate yesterday. It would do all of those things – and in any case it would ultimately fail. The SFA would lose all credibility and bring their own house down if they tried, having already blown much of their moral authority over recent days.
Speaking of which ….
2. Stewart Regan must resign
Again, Mark has already had his say on Regan in yesterday’s article, but for what little it’s worth I feel I must add my voice to it. I almost feel a bit bad about singling out an individual. I abhor some of the daft abuse that gets hurled at such figureheads on chat forums. Regan might be a very nice man and I’m sure he meant well – it’s only a couple of weeks since he spotted the opportunity which I’m sure he thought would earn him plaudits for showing leadership and for forcing through long-demanded reform and reunification of the leagues.
That this was a misjudgement is neither here nor there – others, including Longmuir, seem to have similarly underestimated the strength of opposition there would be to the grand plan. But the manner in which Regan reacted when that misjudgement became clear has lost him the confidence of too many within the Scottish footballing community.
He has been accused of bullying by some within the SFL, his claims about what he said or didn’t say to their previous general meeting have been publically disputed by several of those present, and his comments about “social unrest”, “slow, lingering death”, and his professed desire to perpetuate the game’s obsession with the Old Firm render him unfit for the post. I don’t see that there is any way back for him. If there is to be reconciliation, if there is to be any confidence in a plan to take the game forward from where we are now than it will have to be with somebody else at the helm. His claim yesterday that the SFA had offered “guidance and support” to the SFL made me splutter tea across my keyboard.
I suspect Doncaster will have to go as well, but – while he seems to have done a pretty rotten job which I have no particular desire to defend – I’m less bothered on that front. He may also have tried to bully the SFL, but he was acting for a particular interest group – unlike Regan the interests of the SFL do not fall within his remit. And unless he’s gone totally off-piste (in which case I’d have expected the SPL clubs to say so), he’s been acting with the approval of his member clubs. I suspect they’ve hung him out to dry once or twice as well, by getting him to float ideas from which the clubs themselves dissociated themselves as soon as it became clear they were unpopular (eg the suggestion last week that the SPL’s own vote would be delayed).
For the record, I can see no reason to question the position of Longmuir.
3. There should be a united front from hereon
This covers a few things. Firstly, despite the efforts of Doncaster and Regan to talk down the value of a Rangers-less game in recent weeks, it seems to me there are some opportunities here – it could be an exciting time for the game. The SFA’s job is to support that and make the most of what we have to offer.
But if they’re to be able to do so, it’s important that the clubs aren’t at one another’s throats. So I hope we can draw a line under what’s happened up to now. I know there’s talk of boycotts against those clubs who voted one way rather than the other, but I hope we can look beyond that. I might feel differently if it were my club (and I’m glad I’m spared any such difficult decision), but while I will be more likely to make extra efforts to support some clubs whose actions I have particularly appreciated, I won’t be boycotting anyone. Please, let’s pull together.
While I don’t necessarily accept the worst case scenarios of doom and gloom that we’ve heard in recent weeks, and I believe that doing the right thing will have longer term benefits that are not immediately tangible, there’s no question the game and many clubs will face financial challenges this season. There’s also the matters of league reconstruction which most believe to be the right thing, regardless of current events. That may have to be put on the back-burner while we sort immediate problems, but it can be done, and we will have to do it together.
4. It’s time for the fans to rally round their clubs
From the statement of Lachlan Cameron, Ayr United Chairman, confirming their intention to vote No yesterday morning
Finally, and this is important. If our wishes come true and Rangers do enter the SFL in the 3rd division, we will be under immediate financial pressure as we will automatically lose over 60k immediately. That 60k is already spent in this years playing budget.
Ayr United will not make it through the season if we don’t find a way to make up that loss. So, we have decided to vote based on what is right, but meanwhile are aware that it has the possibility of collapsing us as a club. That is where all of you who have written, called and emailed the club can help by purchasing season tickets, encouraging people to attend matches and sponsoring your club in all the various ways possible.
Laying aside the implication that he is taking the loss of the SFL’s settlement payment as fait accompli, which many do not, this is indeed important. Those of us who have lobbied our clubs to do the right thing have to show them our support – in a very concrete sense – now that they have done so. At my own club (Raith) we have already set up a fundraising initiative linked explicitly to our support for the club’s stance in recent weeks, and the response has been positive. Not nearly enough in itself, against the sort of potential losses being talked about, but a gesture that shows the way we mean to go on.
We need not only be talking about charity, though. This summer has brought football fans together across the country in ways I haven’t seen before, and there’s going to be a whole new feeling around once the season gets underway. Me, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s an exciting time. Get along, go to the games. Support your club. They deserve it.
As in my previous article earlier in the week, the fate of Rangers themselves becomes almost an afterthought to be added in at the end. Again, this week’s events have ceased to be about them as such. They’ve found themselves in the unaccustomed position of being a pawn in a power struggle between others.
I might be in a minority on this one, but for me – assuming there is no twist yet to come and Rangers do indeed start in the third – it’s time to draw a line under it. I’m not among those who believe that, because Sevco is a new company, being in the bottom division is not a punishment at all. Indeed, I’ve slightly struggled to understand those fans who insist that Sevco be dealt with entirely as a new club, while similtaneously demanding they be punished for the misdeeds of the previous one. As noted in my earlier article, I believe a football club to be defined by so much more than its legal entity, and in that wider sense the club that is Rangers has just been relegated, effectively, three divisions in a swoop. For me that’s enough to supercede other footballing sanctions that the SFA could yet insist on before granting membership. I see little further to be gained by also imposing a transfer embargo, or a points deduction, or by insisting that they play next season wearing manacles. This process has never been about trying to grind Rangers into the dust for the sake of it.
In the same spirit of reconciliation, and the same desire to look ahead to the future as I was dreaming of above, it’s time to let Rangers get on with being a football club. I like to imagine that they’ll be a club who will show a little more appreciation of their place within, and their dependence on, a wider Scottish game than they have sometimes done in the past, but time will tell on that one.
I’ll leave the last word not to Rangers but to Clyde. I’ve covered Clyde’s travails on twohundredpercent before, but in short, they made huge cutbacks to their playing budget back in 2009, in order to avoid defaulting on debt. This is long-term, and they’ve accepted the effect it is going to have on their on-pitch fortunes for some years yet. This may go some way to explain their relatively hardline stance on other clubs in debt, and it gives them some moral high ground from which to do so. And from that perspective, here’s what they had to say about Rangers:
As a club owned by its supporters and recovering from having been on the brink of extinction, the Board of Clyde Football Club recognise the damage done to the credibility of Rangers Football Club by its successive owners, and the subsequent impact on staff and supporters.
It is not for us to tell any club what they should want for themselves, but to enter anywhere other than the Third Division risks Rangers Football Club being burdened with the legacy of commencing its rebuilding in a manner that they later look back on with regret. Rangers Football Club does not need to be handed a competitive advantage, they are more than capable of returning to the SPL via the Third Division on their own merit. Rebuilding from the bottom can restore the dignity stripped from the club by its former owners.
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