Donald Findlay’s Casebook, And How Supporters Direct Scotland Got It Right
I know. I shouldn’t look at the BBC Football website… Moments after I’d done reading about “PR” Peter Ridsdale, I was shouting “WTF” at the national broadcaster’s pages once more. All but one of the Scottish football headlines yesterday referred to the Scottish FA’s readiness to act over league reform. And whilst the concept of “SFA readiness to act” was novel enough to catch my attention, I was fractionally more intrigued still by the headline “Findlay blasts ‘bleating’ chairmen.” Donald Findlay, for it was he, is chairman of Scottish Football League Division One strugglers Cowdenbeath. And the “bleating” chairmen were those of the Scottish Premier League clubs, whose labyrinthine proposals for Scottish League reform were defeated this week, in a manner which has led some to suspect a hidden agenda at play.
After the vote, Supporters Direct Scotland chief Paul Goodwin neatly summarised what Scottish league football needs by way of re-vitality, hoping that “the appetite still exists” for “one league body, a better voting structure, better financial distribution throughout all the leagues, more play-offs and a pyramid structure.” But the proposals were a demonstrable compromise on this modest wish-list – a dictionary definition of “mish-mash,” with two divisions of twelve clubs, one of eighteen and the middle 24 clubs mutating into three mini-leagues of eight, in an attempt to reduce the number of meaningless end-of-season fixtures. They needed the backing of 11 of the SPL’s 12 clubs – a voting structure itself up for reform – before it could even be presented to SFL clubs. But for the chairmen of St Mirren and Ross County, they still weren’t enough of a compromise. And their votes against scuppered the whole process.
In the wake of this, there were calls for the resignation of SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster. But calls for his resignation have been more frequent than Big Ben chimes this week, so many of those would probably have been made anyway. Of more import was the reaction of Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne who launched a very speedy verbal tirade in the direction of his Saints counterpart Stewart Gilmour, suggesting that there was “a need to ask” the Saints “exactly what their agenda is.” That agenda, it has been assumed by many, was to vote down the SPL’s restructuring proposals and thereby force the idea of an “SPL 2” onto the agenda for next season, adding the SFL’s finest to the current SPL, plus the Scottish Third Division champions…so long as those champions went by the name ‘Rangers.’ Indeed, it was noted darkly that Rangers were quick to back the Saints and their stance (Ross County’s vote against has received far less attention – critical or otherwise). Meanwhile, Hamilton Academicals have called a meeting of the ten Scottish First Division clubs for next Monday, with SPL 2 “understood”, by the Beeb amongst others, to be on the agenda.
Into this maelstrom of accusation and counter-accusation strode Findlay, prepared to tell it to us straight. “All this bleating” was “quite comical” and a “fit of pique,” he said, and while he was ostensibly addressing league reconstruction issues, it didn’t take him long to get to the point he really wanted to make. “What I find ironic,” he… well… bleated, “is the hysterical reaction of certain Premier League chairmen who kicked Rangers out of the SPL for whatever reason… they have realised they have made a big mistake and now want them back in…the problem with the Premier League is that the people who should make themselves out to be the scapegoats are the ones who kicked Rangers out. This was a nonsense, which was surprising from a man of undoubted intellect – as a Queen’s Counsel since 1988 – and considerable football experience, dating back to last century – as a former vice-chairman and lifelong supporter of… ah… Rangers.
It is depressing to still have to counter the technically, legally and… well… factually incorrect suggestion that Rangers were “kicked out” of the SPL last July, especially from a QC such as Findlay’s, who not only ought to know much better but probably does know better. The words which leapt from my screen were “for whatever reason,” as if Rangers’ SPL exit was still a mystery… as if the fact that the company holding Rangers’ SPL share WENT BUST was a mere accountancy technicality… as if Rangers not being in the SPL was a punishment for this mere accountancy technicality rather than a consequence of it. And in further quotes, which appeared in the local Courier newspaper he set himself up for an unintended irony prize with: “Clubs only go out of business because they are not being run properly. It’s as simple as that. If you run your club in the right way and live within your means, your club will not be going out of business…we (Cowdenbeath) do not have a single penny of debt.”
This would be unarguable if he hadn’t just advocated Rangers staying in the SPL after “going out of business.” And while Findlay says Cowdenbeath are “not interested” in joining SPL 2, his attitude to any suggestion that Rangers should join it will be needs watching.
Rangers’ former chief executive Charles Green was an outspoken critic of the SPL’s proposals – the ‘outspoken’ bit being no surprise, of course. But he still told STV last month that “you don’t need to be a brain surgeon” to realise that Rangers would have to be “cherry-picked” to join the 12 SPL and 10 SFL 1 clubs in the two new leagues of 12. Of course, if there were such a thing as a European Union ‘salt mountain,’ then Green’s comments would have to be taken with it. And this idea required more salt than most. But it is the same idea as Rangers being “invited” to join an “SPL 2.” Rangers have impinged on the reconstruction debate because they have a far, far bigger travelling support in Scotland than anybody but Celtic and have been a one-team redistribution of finances this season, one of the very aims of reconstruction. But Findlay openly suggested that SPL chairmen simply “want (Rangers) back in (the same league body) as quickly as possible but haven’t got their way,” as if “one league body” for Scotland wasn’t the right thing to do regardless of Rangers.
The SPL broke away from the SFL in 1998 in an attempt to replicate the perceived success of their English namesakes. But this was doomed from the start given the Scottish game’s lack of the English game’s telephone-number finances. The clubs sought to rectify that mistake with these reconstruction proposals, rather than any “mistake” they supposedly made with Rangers. But that didn’t stop Findlay concluding: “Hell mend you, you shouldn’t have kicked them out in the first place” – phraseology as fascinating as his point was irrelevant and incorrect. The detailed debate over Scottish club football is not one on which I feel well-enough informed to justify writing an article on it. There are more capable people elsewhere in the blogosphere – elsewhere on this site – for that task. But I believe Supporters Direct’s Paul Goodwin properly identified the issues that matter. Rangers’ future isn’t among them. Rangers’ past isn’t among them, and any attempts to change that should be exposed and resisted.
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