Same Rules Apply?

imagesImagine you’re a footballer who goes down in the box under a 50/50 challenge. The referee takes one look at the incident and decides you took a dive.

You get booked, and that’s the end of the story. There’s no appeal here. The decision of the ref is final.

Okay, so rewind and look at the same incident again. Only this time, the ref thinks it was a penalty and he gives it.

Whether someone scores or not is irrelevant, because it’s what happens next that gets your hackles raised.

Someone in the media sees the incident a different way from the referee. They raise a little Hell and all of a sudden you are invited to a disciplinary panel to defend yourself against allegations of diving.

The panel reviews the incident again, but like the pundit they disagree with the referees decision. They decide you were simulating – diving to use the parlance of our time. You wind up with a ban despite your protestations.

Now, there’s no evidence against you except a piece of television footage that is inconclusive. The referee, who was on the scene during the game, gave a penalty because he thought you were tackled unfairly.

Tough though, because a pundit started squealing, a review panel was convened and now you are branded a cheat and missing games.

I, personally, think the system reeks. It relies not simply on subjective evaluations of incidents (and we all know how good the SFA is at those, right?) but in some cases it appears to depend on an ability to read minds. How can you really know what a player intended? Do they strap him to a lie detector? Do they bring out the sodium pentothal?

I thought the Boerrigter case was scandalous. Tonight, as Kris Boyd is found “not proven” for violent conduct, I marvel at the double standards we still see in our game.

It’s another case of one rule for an Ibrox player and another for everyone else. TV footage has now been cast into doubt, or rendered useless unless, by some miracle, you can prove intent by it.

Whilst that creates a fairer, and more balanced system in our game (at least in my view), this would only be so if I thought for one minute we’d see more cases end in players being cleared.

Not only will we not see that, but the actual open nature of the verdict here is what really stinks. We all saw the footage of what Boyd did here. There was no way they could bring in a “no case to answer” verdict in this case.

Instead they went with the next best thing, a verdict that shouldn’t apply in football at all. In doing so, they’ve resurrected nasty past precedents and are storing up trouble for a case that’s about to be heard.

I am shocked that no-one at the SFA realises this.

These people are incompetent beyond belief.

This decision was clearly taken to benefit McCoist and his team at a time when they are struggling – although I don’t know why they’ve bothered, as Boyd has been only slightly better than useless- and it is tempting to look at the wider context, and how many of these bizarre decisions go against Celtic or for the benefit of whichever entity is playing out of Ibrox, but actually it’s worse because it goes beyond that into the general contempt for the rules that I’ve spoken about before.

There can’t be another football association anywhere which allows so many grey areas in its regulations. A not proven verdict for violent conduct? Are you serious? Where the Hell did that come from? Why even bother to bring him before the committee at all?

Boyd was issued with a “Note of Complaint” and offered a ban. Someone, somewhere, watched the video footage and decided there was a case to answer. I watched it myself. Boyd clearly pushes his head into the other player’s face. Where’s the “reasonable doubt?”

Here’s the rub. We know the SFA makes these decisions on a subjective basis. They always have, and like I said, I think the system of doing so stinks to high heaven. In that regard, I think the Boyd decision would have been perfectly valid if it had ended in a straight “no case to answer.”

Oh that verdict would have caused the phone lines to meltdown and the Twittersphere to convulse with rage, but it would have been a change that was not entirely unwelcome.

The idea of the disciplinary board basing its decisions strictly on what it can prove, rather than on what its officials “infer” from their interpretation of events, is not wholly a bad idea.

But not proven … oh boy, does that store up some serious issues for the future.

By the way, it’s not the first time this verdict has been used in a case involving Sevco Rangers. Charles Green was found “not proven” when he questioned the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry before it had even sat. I mean, we at least waited until after it had delivered its shocking verdict before doing the same. Craig Whyte was also given a “not proven” on one of the cases he had in front of the beaks.

Why is such an open-ended verdict on the statue books at all? Is it there for wiggle room? it’s simply embarrassing.

Precisely how does the SFA ever hope to win a disciplinary case again now that they’ve made it clear that TV evidence isn’t to be wholly relied on? Was the Boerrigter case anything other than a witch-hunt, in light of this? How did they “prove” intent in that case?

If every case now has to be judged on the “facts” – and those “facts” are nearly always in dispute – how the Hell are they ever going to get another result? This is an unbelievable reversal for them, especially as not one single new fact was introduced in this case to mitigate what we all saw on TV.

If this is the end of the “mind reading” I’ll applaud it, but I can’t shake the suspicion that this won’t be the case. Whatever inspired today’s committee to look at the TV pictures of Boyd pushing his head into another man’s face and decide it was not convincing enough to merit a guilty verdict, it’s hard to believe we’ll see this kind of “logic” applied often.

This is why people don’t trust the association. This lack of consistency.

But there’s something else that troubles me more.

Alexander Tonev is due to go in front of the SFA panel shortly, and I have thought since I first read the details in his case that is almost inconceivable that he will be subject to a disciplinary action. What they have in that case is hearsay and nothing more. There’s not even TV evidence to reinterpret, only one witness who says he heard something and a bunch of others who he told he heard something.

This isn’t violent conduct or going down for a penalty. This is much more serious than that. To label a man a racist on the basis of what’s been presented in this case would be deadly ground for the association to tread.

The decision today was wrong for any number of reasons, and it is baffling, because we’ve come to expect the SFA to act as judge, jury executioner and interpret facts as it sees fit, deciding on guilt or innocence on the basis of what they have to hand.

But this was neither of those things. Not proven is a bastard verdict, as it is in law, used here for no reason I can fathom except to create a world of trouble for the future.

See, I’ve mentioned the Tonev case very specifically here, because the not proven verdict is, and always has been, a double edged sword. It does not carry the punishment of a guilty finding, which is all that matters if you’re trying to do is avoid a ban … but neither does it clear you, which matters very much if you are being called a bigot and accused of something as reprehensible as racially abusing another player.

That’s the kind of “reasonable doubt” that follows you around forever, and it will create enormous problems if we put, on Scottish football’s statue book, a case where such a doubt can stop you getting banned but still destroy your reputation.

This isn’t a James Forrest flight of fancy either. This has happened before.

Back in 2006, a Spartans player alleged racial abuse from a player at Whitehill Welfare. The case went before the SFA, who delivered exactly the verdict they have in this case. Both clubs, and both players, were furious.

Piara Powar of Kick of It Out was clearly worried by the verdict. “The SFA has not dealt with this in the right way. I don’t see why the SFA would not give this a fair hearing and adjudicate one way or the other.”

The player who made the allegation, Dan Gerrard, was scathing when he spoke to the press about the decision, a decision on which there was no appeal.

“It is laughable, incomprehensible, that it could fail in such an open-and-shut case,” he said of the disciplinary board. “I shudder to think of how it would deal with a more contentious one.”

We may well be about to find out, and eight years on from that verdict it is simply ludicrous that the SFA has not eliminated the possibility for such a perverse outcome from their rules and regulations.

I hope Tonev is cleared, as he should be with no evidence to support a disciplinary. But I fear that instead of that he’ll be put in this horrendous, grey area and that will follow him around for the rest of his football career.

The governors of our game never look that far ahead. In their rush to do a turn for “Coisty” and keep the Ibrox “recovery” on the rails, they have resurrected a clause with the potential to do serious damage to other players and clubs.

Shame on them for their lack of foresight, and the trouble it might yet cause. Shame on them for not removing this ridiculous rule from the statute books. Tonight they’ve once again made a mockery of all sense of justice in our national sport.

We expect nothing less from these clowns.

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

9 thoughts on “Same Rules Apply?

  • 9 October, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    James they would not even recognise theconcept of shame same as the died team and its tribute act they should be pitied

  • 10 October, 2014 at 12:10 am

    james that lot are only interested in 1 team always have always will that is why it’s jobs for boys from the ludge it should be cludge as it stinks from top to bottom

  • 10 October, 2014 at 12:10 am

    I always thought the Boeriggter ban was ridiculous and never understood why it wasn’t challenged. He was pushed, maybe not violently, but there was contact – who decides the force required for you to fall?
    The boyd decision is one of the worst the SFA have ever delivered – the compliance officer viewed video evidence of the incident and decided that boyd was guilty – the SFA offered boyd a 2 match ban on the basis of this evidence – what new evidence was produced to overturn that decision?

  • 10 October, 2014 at 8:33 am

    James, I listened to the normally Sevco leaning SSB and even they were dumbfounded (apart from Dalziel who is just a Coisty loving muppet) by the verdict. Had it been someone in the dead clubs ranks who was scoring freely phone ins would have gone into meltdown, the fact that it was fatty and he hasn’t registered yet just washed over people sadly.

    Great post mate, out of interest I’m trying to find the link to subscribe to your magazine, can’t see it?


  • 10 October, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Great post, but as regards the SFA(or whatever they are called now) and their treatment of the other lot ( whatever they are called this week)are you surprised?
    Plus ca change plus c’ est la meme chose

  • 10 October, 2014 at 10:38 am

    The decision yesterday reminded me of the so called Shame game when Rangers* ear whisperer McCoist, Diouf & Bougherra cause all the trouble… McCoist appeal upheld & small fines for the other Two thugs. Neil Lennon who caused no trouble….. Banned?

    The SFA are an organisation who according to leading QC at the time the late Paul McBride stated:

    “The Laughing Stock of World Football”
    “Inept Incredulous & Neanderthal”
    “Dysfunctional Dishonest & Biased”

    Turnbull Hutton described them as “Corrupt”

    They will do anything to shoe horn a Rangers* entity in to playing in the SPFL and whoever gets in their way is going to suffer, they don’t even try and hide their bias anymore they just shit on the rest of Scottish Football from height.
    Nothing has changed and it never will until they are cleared out from top to bottom starting with Brother EBT Ogilvie.

  • 10 October, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Not surprised at this verdict, as long as Ogilvie et Al are in charge it will always be. Disgraceful.

  • 10 October, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Well James that Was a rant.
    A celtic fan for 60 years here is my take.
    Yes you are correct there should be no Not Proven verdict in football it reeks of indecision.
    On the Boyd incident (and remember I’m a Celt)
    at best it was HANDBAGS, at worst a yellow card
    There was no headbutt as such more a gentle joining of foreheads,and remember sevco have the right to appeal the auto 2 game ban.
    I understand your despise of all things sevco but you really need to take a more levek headec approach and keep your ammunition fir the real battles.
    PS I also think Tonev will be found NP which is again indecision that leaves him in limbo.
    However something tells me that the young Dons player (Logan) is being honest when he makes the allegation I just hope he misheard Tonevs remark!

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