No sooner had On Fields of Green run our last piece, on the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry and the way in which it had been undermined and then misled, but the Sunday papers were running with a major story on the SPFL and their efforts to trump the SFA on a number of issues.
I was in the process of posting the Nimmo Smith piece when someone sent me a copy of the back page of the following days Mail. It was several more hours before I could actually scrutinise the full text, and so I didn’t offer any amendment to the piece I was about to publish, but even reading the bullet points I knew that this was good news.
It looks as if the SFA have already caved on some of the more important issues, but more vitally these resolutions have answered a number of questions about exactly how we got to this stage in the first place. Campbell Ogilvie’s re-election now makes more sense for a start, as it appears there were very specific criteria required before someone was “eligible” to stand. Those requirements are now being changed, and that’s overdue. Frankly, they reeked.
Ogilvie was elected because SFA regulations made it nearly impossible to stand someone against him. The entire system has been rigged like this for years, which is precisely how we’ve had people like Peat rising to become heads in the game, although they had no discernible skills, and that, in turn, leads to appointments such as Gordon Smith.
Ogilvie, however, is the worst, as compromised as he is by what happened at Ibrox on his watch, and by the way he has behaved during the last couple of years. The organisation that let Sevco Rangers investigate itself is so unfit for purpose you wonder how it has lasted this long.
I had to set aside the Sunday Mail story when I read it, because it was full of the usual speculative trash. It was, in fact, a demolition job, spun to read as if this was a coup so the SPFL could get its hands on the SFA pot of gold. My contempt for our sports media is nearly limitless at this point, because even a cursory read of these proposals made it clear they were not a money grab but an effort to bring accountability – real accountability – to the organisation.
Yet Gordon Waddell and the Mail were leading the charge in the other direction, branding the SPFL as obsessed only with their own power and greed. This was, without a doubt, the spin whoever leaked these papers wanted to read, and in Waddell they had a useful idiot to write it just so. He did not apply one bit of real scrutiny to the plans. He did not make the slightest effort to see them in a different light. He painted them as a disaster, and his paper termed them a shabby effort at money grubbing, missing the real intent completely.
They continue to amaze me with how out of step they are with what supporters really want. Their cack-handed efforts to influence events in recent years have shown how powerless they really are. Fans no longer believe them. Clubs no longer care what they write.
Today’s announcement that two of the proposals have been taken on board – the changes to how election for the President and Vice President positions are run, as well as the addition of two club members to the Professional Game Board – is a huge step towards what we’ve been asking for, and I don’t think I’m alone in welcoming them.
We will never again have the embarrassing spectacle of someone like Ogilvie being elected unopposed. I suspect he’ll decide to step down at the end of this term, because he has no chance of being re-elected once this goes through. The clubs are taking control, and when you look at how they all fought for the integrity of the sport two years ago, I welcome it wholeheartedly. The more say men like Turnbull Hutton have in the running of the sport the better.
This isn’t to say Ogilvie should be allowed to simply slink off into the sunset with a fat pension pot. This man owes Scottish football an apology for what’s happened here, and it will be abhorrent to every football fan if he is allowed to retire with his reputation intact. History will judge him far more harshly than his blazer wearing pals, or those he still has in the media offices up and down the land, but I’d rather we didn’t have to wait 10 years for the narrative to reflect the scale of what this man was involved in, and what he allowed to take place.
It’s on that note that I come to the final piece of breaking news, that there’s a proposal on the table for a new series of regulations on licensing and club membership. To say this is a welcome development is an understatement. It comes in the same week as Sevco Rangers are due to publish the already derided 120 day review, which many in the media and in their support have hailed as if will be some kind of watershed moment. It won’t be. There will be nothing in that review we don’t already know, and as awful a picture as it will paint, there is no way it will be spun as such.
A decision has been taken inside Ibrox that they will gamely soldier on, and get through this season. The objective is to bag enough cash from season ticket sales that they can stagger through the early part of the next before they reach another crisis point. At that juncture, they will initiate a new share issue or find a way of raising some short term cash to stumble on to the next fork in the road. I see no evidence that it’ll end well, or go well. The crash will come.
Speaking as someone with a sadists satisfaction at the current flailing around of the Ibrox club, I could not be more happy with that proposition. The club entering administration once this season ends is the best Celtic fans like me could ever have hoped for.
It ensures that the carnage comes when it will be most harmful, in a league where the club is facing a significant test already, and not a collection of part time footballers who, with respect to them, don’t have the ability or the fitness levels to properly compete with professionals. Some of them have given McCoist’s team a real fright this year too, which speaks volumes about how chronically unprepared for Championship football the Ibrox club, and its manager, are.
I’ve said in other pieces I can’t understand why, with all the drama swirling around Ibrox, they don’t just enter administration right now and have done with it. The 25 points they’d be deducted would not materially influence their position. They would still get promoted, and they would have a summer to restructure and rebuild. As they’re facing a point of crisis next season anyway the chances are good that they’ll be spending an extended period in the lower leagues … this way the pain would be limited and the trauma ultimately lessened.
As a Celtic fan, I would rather it came at the most inconvenient time for the club. I want them to get through the season without taking the hit. Yet, I have another reason for not wanting to see it happen before this one ends, and it’s a more over-riding one than that I’ll get greater satisfaction if it comes somewhere farther down the line.
The spectacle of a club winning a title and then entering administration, taking a massive points deduction and it not affecting their promotion … that would be a scandal at a time when Scottish football is starting to get itself together. It would, in many ways, be a fitting bookend to the current administrative joke, but it would make our game a laughing stock. Sevco Rangers would have spent its way to the edge but enough that it was beyond the consequences of doing so.
The proposed changes on licensing and membership would have prevented the shameful saga I recounted in A Window On A Scandal, and which I explored in part in my last piece. Yet there are still shocking loopholes in our regulations, including those on “fit and proper person” status and those on club financing. Dave King’s ridiculous statements about how he wants to “invest” £50 million in Sevco Rangers, to give them a short-term steroid hit, are a demonstration of what football is up against. It doesn’t matter that these plans are unrealisable nonsense; they are dangerous to the sport, and they are blatantly unfair to those teams willing to live within their means.
For years, English football has been the perfect model for how not to do things. Prices are rising to ridiculous levels. Wages are shockingly, incomprehensibly high. Transfer fees long since passed the point of sanity. Yet, a steady realisation has been dawning as to the damage this is doing to clubs and to the game itself. Changes have been brought in.
Every league below the EPL has adopted its own version of UEFA’s “financial fair play” regulations. Limits have been put on what clubs can spend, depending on their income in years past. This is the future of football if football is to have a future. Over the next decade I think we might see something we’ve not seen before … player salaries starting to come down. A normalisation of transfer fees. A realisation about how out of control it’s all become.
Scottish football must look at financial fair play for our own leagues. The SPFL should require it as part of the new licensing requirements. Clubs can’t be allowed to spend more than they earn. Teams should be required to break even over a three, four or five year period. There should be strict – and severe – punishments for clubs who fail to meet the criteria.
Well run clubs have no reason to fear such a system. It would empower those teams which are currently living within their means and doing their business in a professional, and sustainable, fashion. Clubs would no longer be able to behave recklessly. They would no longer be able to endanger the integrity of the sport and we would avoid the shameful scrambling in the dirt of recent years. Our national sport would be healthier overnight.
The SPFL has to be commended for putting forward these changes. They represent the first effort at tackling the SFA’s old boys network in years, and it’s to be hoped they are merely the outriders of even bigger changes to come. This is what the supporters have been waiting for since the calamitous and destructive events of two years ago.
The clubs are taking control of the agenda, and as the fans are making their own voices heard within the clubs it means we’re now pushing things too.
Democracy is coming to a football ground near you. Blazers, be warned.
Change is on its way.
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