Scotland’s football authorities have taken as much of a booting over their mishandling of the “Rangers situation” as its mainstream media. However, the SFA have recently demonstrated considerable versatility in the art. The latest examples came from the fraught, occasionally violent, Scottish Cup quarter-final tie between Celtic and Dundee United; particularly the first match at United’s Tannadice ground on March 8th; and particularly the unseemly stramash ten minutes in. And the SFA then extended their mishandling of the affair by their ultra-sensitive, immature reaction to criticism of that mishandling by Dundee United supporter Stewart Milne on the Scotzine website.

On March 12th, Scotzine posted a Milne piece entitled Fall out from another farcical day at the SFA, which suggested the SFA were either “clueless, Magoo types who don’t understand the rules” or had thrown their rule book “out of the window…to diffuse a potentially heated and angry Cup Final” (the two teams’ Scottish League Cup final on March 15th). For those resistant to the charms of Scottish club football, Milne was referring to the SFA’s reaction to the dismissals of two players, and the non-dismissals of at least two others at Tannadice. Celtic’s Scott Brown started it (not a first, that) with a forceful challenge on United’s Nadir Ciftci. Both players were joined in a crumpled heap by United’s Calum Butcher after his forceful challenge on Celtic’s Virgil Van Dijk. As they uncrumpled, Van Dijk studded Butcher’s thigh and Ciftci studded Brown’s head before other fools rushed in, including United’s Paul Paton and referee’s assistant Graham Chambers. Referee Craig Thomson consulted Chambers and they jointly decided to limit sanction to dismissing Van Dijk and… Paton.

On Sky, Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill methodically made a case for four red cards while Celtic’s Kris Commons nervously hedged his bets, perhaps mindful of Brown’s likely presence at future Celtic training sessions. Van Dijk and Ciftci were clear dismissals, Paton clearly mistaken identity. However, a subsequent SFA judicial panel produced a somewhat revisionist history of events.  Paton’s sending-off was rescinded. But so was Van Dijk’s. The charge against Ciftci, that he “committed an act of violent conduct and deliberately kicked an opponent…upon the head,” was “not proven.” And Paton’s dismissal could not be switched retrospectively, despite the SFA being reportedly “keen to punish” Butcher.
Celtic, meanwhile, called Butcher’s reprieve “completely illogical and fundamentally unfair” although they fell off the moral high ground when they whinged that Butcher “would be available to play in the League Cup final and the Scottish Cup replay” while Van Dijk “may potentially miss both matches.”

Milne’s criticisms were not confined to the SFA and readers could debate some of his conclusions. But it was a well-reasoned piece. He was originally raging that Van Dijk’s dismissal was rescinded and reported that the Van Dijk announcement “made anyone who was not a Celtic fan throw their arms up in dismay and declare the Scottish FA corrupt.” The “even more ludicrously” Ciftci escaped sanction too. He extended criticisms to Celtic players and management and “fans of both sides…and I include myself in that” before concluding that whichever way one viewed the whole affair “the way the SFA have dealt with this is farcical.”
Naturally, the SFA disagreed. But their reaction was firmly in “sledgehammer-to-crack-nut” territory, banning Scotzine from Scotland womens’ and under-21 internationals because, according to the site’s Andy Muirhead, SFA Head of Communications Darryl Broadfoot found the article’s opinions “mostly offensive and potentially actionable.”

Scotzine is not a controversy-free zone. Muirhead gets the standard, tedious dogs’ abuse thrown at all Rangers critics. And Scotzine’s latest ban is so curiously specific because it was already banned from “Scottish Cup and Scotland games” amid claims that Muirhead broke journalistic convention by publishing embargoed post-match quotes after an SPL game in April 2011. However, the SFA Head of Communications displayed a startling initial reluctance to… communicate. News of the ban came seven days after Milne’s article. Muirhead wrote on Scotzine that “despite asking Broadfoot to point out the potentially actionable and mostly offensive parts of the article, some 12 hours on I am still waiting (for a) reply to my specific questions on the matter.” That sounded a touch impatient. But Broadfoot’s reply compounded matters. “Suffice to say,” he tweeted that evening, “don’t believe everything you read on Scotzine.” This, of course, was not remotely “suffice to say” as Broadfoot failed to elaborate and Muirhead was quick to note that “I have the emails to prove everything I have written.”

Others asked Broadfoot why he didn’t reply to Muirhead’s “specific questions.” And after a smartarse, and inaccurate, “I see that I did, two days ago,” Broadfoot eventually revealed that “I find the word corrupt contemptible. Understand club/fans not liking decisions but Judicial Panel is independent…we are not always happy with outcomes, hence…established right of appeal from this season.” Why this temperate response took three days to elicit is as curious as the original ban. Milne, remember, merely reported that “anyone who was not a Celtic fan” declared the SFA “corrupt” while Muirhead noted in his 19th March article that the SFA had been accused of being “corrupt” in the recent past by, among others, Raith Rovers chairman Turnbull Hutton, without sanction.

Whatever decision the SFA makes about the fitness and propriety of Dave King to be a Rangers director, this accusation will surely fly again. And as long as the SFA makes superficially weird decisions, it will fly again…and again. They have recently made plenty of oddball calls on disciplinary matters, as Milne also noted with respect to both Paton and Ciftci. And one wonders what evidence they presented to lead the judicial panel to free Van Dijk and Ciftci from sanction after the Tannadice incident.
As another fan tweeted last week: “I’ll buy cock up or incompetence instead of corrupt if rational explanation supplied.” Indeed most fans would. However, Broadfoot’s reaction to Milne’s article, by turns uncommunicative and childish, fails every rationality test. It is little wonder that their honesty is so questioned, and so often.

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