Tonight the Scottish Football Association has traded it all in for what Justin Currie once called “the last cheap shot at the dream.” Their dream. Not ours.
For the last three years they’ve wanted someone to come in and relieve the misery of having to be the governing body that got everything wrong.
At the start of that long, dark period they faced one of the gravest crises the game here has ever seen, when Rangers Football Club circled the drain and then swirled down the plughole.
At a time like that, you really want someone to step up and show leadership. You want the people responsible for running things to act with gravity, with decisiveness and with the best interests of the sport at the heart of everything they do.
It didn’t have to be this way.
They could have defended the integrity of our game, by holding up the dead club as an example to warn others off the path of financial madness.
See, Rangers was the cautionary tale.
It was the object lesson in how not to run a club.
They were the poster boy for living beyond your means, and paying the price.
Everyone knew their stunning demise would have an impact on the game, with knock-on consequences affecting every single club in the land. We knew those effects could last for years and damage football here as a commercial attraction for advertisers.
All of this was a secondary consideration to most of us, including the impact on our own clubs, Celtic fans most of all.
The reason for this is simple, and it has nothing to do with the numerous motives – hate, jealousy, bigotry – which were ascribed to us.
We are not wrestling fans, after all, knowingly watching a rigged game for the value of the spectacle itself. We are football fans.
Football is a sport.
We value it as an endeavour based on merit.
At the time, all the governing body had to do was acknowledge this, and to make it clear that the wounds from which Rangers finally perished were self-inflicted. They were accumulated over years of spending above what they could afford, and had this been any other club in the country that is exactly what the SFA would have done.
Instead they made it clear that the club was not to pay the price for its failure to get its own house in order. Instead, the integrity of Scottish football itself would be thrown on the alter table and sacrificed in its place.
Had that decision been allowed to stand our sport would have ground to a halt. It would be an epochal disaster from which the game here would never have recovered. It was Jock Stein who said “football without the fans is nothing”, and for a brief time in 2012 there was a very good chance that here in Scotland we might have proved the proposition.
The SFA and the SPL tried everything to convince us that this was the right move.
They would have turned this game on its head and emptied out of its pockets everything that made it worth fighting for.
They would have destroyed it to save one club.
The lack of leadership was scandalous.
In the end, it took one brave man – Turnbull Hutton – to take a stand, on the steps of Hampden itself, and in front of the cameras, to tell it like it was, to give the fans someone they could rally behind.
The supporters, and Turnbull, saved the game from its own leaders.
We never ought to forget that; the guardians of our sport would have nuked it, but we didn’t let them.
In the three years that followed, they allowed a guy like Charles Green to make slanderous accusations about corruption and bigotry being behind the decision we forced our clubs to take. He was clearly not “fit and proper” either, and when he made a racist comment about a member of his own board he knew he had to step down … but without the SFA telling him to.
Stories of men wanted by Interpol meeting with his board passed without comment. A rash of police investigations didn’t prompt a response. Scandal piled up on scandal. Crisis swirled around the club like flies around a corpse. The SFA said not one word.
In the meantime, they worked behind the scenes to give the NewCo as soft a landing as they could. They imposed a transfer ban that was easily circumvented, almost as if they and the club had sat down together and came up with a scheme that looked kosher but was as bent as the one they’d offered when they were going to put them straight into the SPL.
The Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry was a fraud from the start, omitting the details of one case in which the club was unequivocally guilty of tax evasion and concealment of documents. A guarantee had already been given to them – behind the scenes – that the inquiry would not end with the stripping of titles, and then to make sure of it the SFA’s registrations officer gave one of the most palpably dishonest statements in the history of professional sport when he said that the rules prevented the SFA from taking action because they hadn’t known about breaches of them at the time.
The more one looks at it all, the more you can see that we didn’t really win anything in 2012 except for time.
The SFA has been playing the Long Game since then, but badly, knowing that Sevco is not a stable ship and worrying all along that it might crash against the rocks and sink without a trace.
That would expose the charade, and force them to admit that their behaviour three years ago inflicted long-term damage on the sport here in Scotland.
Tonight, they have cleared David Cunningham King as a “fit and proper person” despite 40 odd criminal convictions in South Africa for numerous violations of their tax laws. He had also been charged with over 200 other crimes, including racketeering, bribery and forgery.
Those charges were dropped in accordance with his “plea bargain” in this case.
Scottish football’s regulations are quite clear as to what King’s status is.
Anyone in a similar position, who not only had recent convictions but had served on the board of a club that had crashed, would have been disqualified at once, but the over-hyped King has one distinct advantage that none of those guys had; he has tailored himself, and been promoted by the press, as the one guy who can save Sevco from going the same way as Rangers did.
Whether he can accomplish it or not is irrelevant.
I personally have my doubts, because he faces an almost impossible task, but it doesn’t really matter.
King’s being cleared was necessary for an association that, above all else, wants a return to what they and others still think of as the natural state of our game – the Glasgow duopoly beyond which their imaginations can’t quite make the leap.
He is their last throw of the dice, the final chance the club has of gaining credibility, as if that was possible with a guy at the helm with a string of broken promises, evasions and criminality behind him.
The AIM stock market weren’t convinced.
The City of London is so far not on board, and even a virtually unregulated market like ISDX won’t touch them.
It is also probably worth pointing out that King has utilised the full weaponry of the “glib and shameless liar” in his efforts to get approved; he withheld documents until the media crescendo was in full tilt, he appointed a PR firm to spin on his behalf and he used some of his useful idiots in the press to spread wholly inaccurate stories about his being “unable” to invest in the club until the SFA had cleared his appointment.
None of these are the hallmarks of an honest or honourable man, one who will act with probity and in good faith in his dealings with the authorities and with other clubs. It is actually questionable whether he’s been wholly honest with the club’s own fans.
All of these people have been warned; this guy is already walking all over them.
What’s worse though is the way the SFA are walking all over the rest of us.
Our opinions don’t matter a damn to these people.
Our concerns are simply ignored.
The things we care about are unimportant to those who “know better”, who would have destroyed the village in order to save it and who even today can’t understand why we stopped them.
King is a crook.
He and the club he now effectively runs are a match for each other, easily the most perfect marriage of institution and owner that I can conceive of.
But our governing bodies are another matter entirely.
If they are not weak and spineless then they are simply corrupt. Turnbull Hutton certainly thought so.
Tonight, the sport we love has been tarnished again by those who are supposed to be running it in its best interests.
They believe those are served by shredding the rulebook to allow a convicted tax cheat to save a club whose predecessor was liquidated for unpaid tax.
The message it sends out to HMRC and other watching agencies is equally appalling.
In their eyes tonight, Scottish football’s bosses have made it plain that they have no respect for the rules and regulations, and no regard for laws, either constitutional or natural. I cannot think of anything more potentially ruinous for our clubs and the games reputation.
Days like this are wearying, but this one feels oddly liberating at the same time.
Because tonight it’s clear that supporting the game and supporting those who administer it are two wholly separate things.
If it’s going to take fans boycotting Hampden then so be it.
If it’s going to take another campaign to force our own clubs to accept and embrace change, or suffer the consequences, then that, too, is what will happen.
But we owe these people nothing.
No loyalty. No allegiance. No respect. No support.
It doesn’t matter what your club team is, this casual disregard for the rulebook is scandalous and it is damaging and tonight it has corrupted all of football in this land.
Looking at it all this evening, one thing angers me above everything else; the length of time it took them to arrive at tonight’s outrage.
Because the rules were, and are, clear on these issues; King ought to have failed at the first hurdle and been rejected on the first day.
The SFA’s statement suggests that they’ve taken their time to make sure the regulations were being followed.
It is clear to anyone who looks at this properly that this is the precise opposite of what has occurred; in fact, this decision was delayed until King and others could provide them with a cover behind which they could decide not to follow these guidelines.
In short, they’ve spent the last few months looking for a reason to break their own rules.
And this time we were not able to prevent this act of recklessness.
This was not about integrity, whatever people will say over the next few days.
It was about the charade of integrity, about putting on a show, about looking to have been acting when the decision was probably made months ago.
No-one is fooled. No-one is convinced.
This decision shames them, and indirectly all the rest of us.
Scottish football is a lunatic asylum where the inmates are now running amuck; lawless, ruled only by whichever one of the nutjobs has forgotten to take his pills and has the loudest voice on any given day.
I cannot conceive of this matter not haunting them, but whatever happens tomorrow the damage that has been done today will take years to erase.
This is an act of self-sabotage from which we won’t soon recover, if we ever do.
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