Anybody that has ever worked in an office will be able to tell you that the humble fax machine is hardly one of the most reliable means of communication. I have spent many hours forlornly prodding at the keyboard on my office’s fax machine, wondering why something that some promises me has been sent hasn’t yet shown up. I’ve seen solicitors attempt defences based on “transmission reports” claiming that faxes haven’t been sent (note for any watching solicitors – it’s isn’t a very good defence, and I’ve never seen it work). I have spent many, many hours on the phone to people that sent me faxes that have been sent, but never arrived. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. The bare bones of fax technology hasn’t changed that much since the middle of the 1970s. However, some people put faith in such an old technology that is almost touching.
The fax machine’s role in football is an absolutely pivotal one. Back in the day, if a player was signed on transfer deadline day, the paperwork would have to be sent by courier to the relevant authorities to ensure that the registration would be correct. Over the last couple of decades or so, however, the fax machine has become central to the last day of the transfer window, with various fax machines across the country coming close to meltdown as clubs seek to ensure that their shiny new signings are fit and ready at the first available opportunity. The problems noted with fax machines above, however, do occasionally raise their heads for football, and the cost can be expensive, as BSP club Mansfield Town have discovered this week. Mansfield signed striker Aaron O’Connor from Grays Athletic in August and faithfully sent off a fax to the BSP confirming his registration. The BSP, however, failed to receive his fax and the club have now been docked the four points that they picked up from their first two matches of the season.
Now, McLean didn’t score in either of these matches – indeed, we’re into October now and McLean still hasn’t scored for Mansfield Town in the league. The fact of the matter is (and the likes of AFC Wimbledon, Altrincham and Bury will attest to this) that the game’s authorities are ruthless in their sanctioning of the rules on player registrations. The four point deduction may not seem like the end of the world, but it could prove to be crucial in a league which looks like be far more open this season that it has been in recent years. The deduction drops them from seventh place in the table to fifteenth place – from two points off a play-off place to one point above the relegation zone. As in previous cases of this sort, no-one is suggesting that Mansfield have deliberately sought to break the rules. None of this, however, makes any difference to the BSP, who are curiously impervious to any sort of reasoning on this subject.
What is troubling about it is the uneasy feeling that there is one rule for the wealthy and another for everyone else. When West Ham United deliberately sought to mask the true ownership of Carlos Tevez two years ago (and with much higher stakes), they didn’t have any points deducted. The exact details of Tevez’s ownership are still unclear, although the Premier League is satisfied enough with them to allow him to play for Manchester United. It is difficult, however, if not impossible, to imagine that the Premier League would allow such a draconian punishment meted out upon one of its own. Just as Manchester United seem unlikely to face any sanction over what looks on the surface like a clear case of them destabilising a player in order to secure his services, as appears to be the case regarding Dimitar Berbatov, it seems that the biggest clubs are allowed to carry on doing exactly whatever they like, while smaller clubs are being heavily punished for administrative mistakes.
Mansfield Town have learnt a harsh lesson about the dangers of using out of date technology. Even a “transmission sent” report wasn’t enough to stop them being docked four points. Perhaps in future they should send an email with a “read by recipient” attachment stuck to it. Then, maybe, they will have the peace of mind that their players are correctly registered. Alternatively, perhaps the game’s authorities should start living in the real world – a world in which sometimes technology fails. Everybody is supportive of the BSP’s attempts to ensure that its league is correctly run, but the time is long overdue for a change of rules, and that change should include a degree of clemency.