The Coming Decision

stewart-regan_2277088bScottish football is approaching yet another crossroads.

You can already tell that’s it going to be even more contentious than the last one.

You cannot have watched Sevco recently and not realise they are floundering on the pitch as much as they are off it. How bad are things in both theatres?

One word. Alloa. The performance was shambolic, but more shambolic by far is the unseemly scrambling that’s gone on in the aftermath.

The fact McCoist has not already paid for that debacle with his job is revealing, for it’s hard to believe any other manager in this country would have survived being nine points behind in the league as well as a reversal like that.

So a complete mess, on all fronts, as you’re all doubtless aware.

The board is at war with the fans. They want rid of the manager, but have no money to sack him. He knows he’s not wanted by either the supporters or his bosses, and he knows he’s in over his head.

He also knows the longer he stays the more his reputation swirls down the drain. But he’s arrogant and selfish, and he likes the money and knows there’ll be nothing like it again.

They’re all stuck with each other, and as the ship heads towards the rocks we’re going to see all aboard begin to gouge one another’s eyes out.

None of that is the story. Oh I’ll cover every blood stained detail of it, but it won’t be the really important thing. The really important part will be the campaign to save them, in which the media will play its role, and in which the governing bodies will do their bit.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because the campaign is already getting geared up. You can see it in the growing number of articles which remind us “how much our game needs them”. You can hear it in Hugh Keevins’ voice when he utters nonsense like “Scottish football cannot afford for them not to be in the SPL.”

Mark my words, the last time we were facing this issue, well it was cake compared to how tough this one will be. When this happened before, Rangers was already dead. Sevco had been born, and was already pretending to be the same club.

When the vote had to be taken, it was about where the club would play. If the roof collapses completely this time, the actual existence of a club calling itself Rangers may depend on how it goes … or so they’ll tell us anyway.

If they do, it will be a lie. But I still expect them to chance their arm.

The vote, of course, will be on what we can do to help save Sevco and, as they will not tire of telling us, how in doing it we can save ourselves.

It could come down to league reconstruction. It might be a vote to let the next NewCo stay put in the Championship, instead of starting from the bottom. It might be amnesty. It might letting them go straight to the SPL by right. Anything is possible in the game here.

What I know – what we all know – is that it’s coming.

The first moves have already been made.

For starters, did you know that it’s the SPFL board who will decide whether a second NewCo starts at the bottom or not? Do you realise that? That they got so spooked last time that they actually changed the rules, and took this decision out of the hands of the clubs? There’s no way in Hell they are putting their trust in the members this time.

If we’re not watching, and putting the pressure on, this matter will be decided in a stinking backroom deal that will reek the house out.

We better have our arguments lined up in advance, because they’ve already got theirs in play. The first is the Victim Myth, the notion that the club itself did nothing wrong, that it has been used and abused by Bad People, that all its wealth has been looted.

Let’s try, for a wee second, to imagine the world these people live in where they think you can separate the club from the people who run it.

It’s a little like trying to separate the club from the business that runs it, but let’s not forget that they think they have actually done that successfully.

It makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?

It confuses you no less than when you consider that this is precisely the system the SFA allows. They make the clubs responsible for proper disclosure, with the understanding that if they are caught lying or bucking the system that they’ll get punished.

The punishments are pitiful. They didn’t even accept a motion that clubs who go into administration face automatic relegation. The one measure that would actually have done some good, have made some impact, have given clubs an incentive to get their act together … and it was voted down. And what excuse did they offer?

It would be too complicated to enforce it. No joke, that’s what they said.

What happens, they asked, when a club has already been promoted? Does it get relegated instead? What happens when a club has already been relegated? Do we relegate them twice?

These are the two allegedly complex questions which buried automatic relegation, the only effective punishment on the table.

Am I the only one who thinks they both speak for themselves? A club that enters administration after winning promotion doesn’t win promotion. A club that’s already been relegated and then goes into administration … well, that club has serious problems and they’re probably not going to get out of them any time soon. A transfer embargo and a points deduction for the following season will do just fine.

There you go. Easy. But apparently too difficult for the governing bodies.

This rule change was voted down at a point where only one club looked in imminent danger of running into the brick wall. We know who that club is. They are still the only club rolling towards that particular disaster.

I absolutely believe the people who took this decision had one eye on Sevco’s dire financial situation, and so we’ve already seen one major decision on imposing financial sanity on our game fumbled because of how it will affect that club.

Be under no illusions; if they believe a deal can be stitched up they’ll try it, and they won’t care what the fans think because they won’t give us a chance to put our views out there.

They would turn Scottish football into a rigged game, and we know that because they would have done it the last time. They have no shame about it.

What’s worse is they still believe that was the right decision, and to top it off they are perfectly willing to point to their own commercial failures, their own rank incompetence – like being unable to find sponsors for our major tournaments – as proof that they were correct.

Amazing, isn’t it? Barry Hearn’s feet hadn’t even crossed the Hampden threshold to the outside world the other day but the spin had started. The product was impossible to sell without Sevco in the top flight. That was the excuse.

None of our hacks thought to ask if the product became impossible to sell the second they, and the governing bodies, got together in an orgy of self-destructive briefing two years ago, to tell the whole world that our game was worthless without the Ibrox monstrosity in it.

They are the ones who spent an entire summer telling the world – with a megaphone – that Scottish football is no more than a two team game, without which it’s a backwater.

Heads should have rolled. Barry Hearn was right on that one. None did, and so the very same people who lacked the imagination, and the balls, to act appropriately then are still in office today, and they see the vindication of their own idiocy in their continuing failures since.

Only Scottish football would tolerate this. We aren’t a backwater, but by God do we act like it sometimes because somewhere a whole region of villages are missing their idiots, and we have the media and the football associations to prove it.

So we have the commercial damage that has already been wrought on the SPFL as a business. We have the Ibrox fans and the Victim Myth. Tied to this we have this notion of trying to separate what the board does from the club it governs.

We have no actual rule on relegation after administration, so no worries there, and we have left it up to the SPFL board to decide what to do with a NewCo. Add to this the complication (one the SFA most assuredly brought on themselves) regarding Ashley and we have one almighty mess.

Let me give you the outlines of what a god-forsaken shambles this is, and why the stakes are so high for the people at Ibrox.

Imagine the Good Ship Sevco goes down. Imagine for a moment Ashley says “no more funding this mess in its current form. Let it crash.”

Now, Ashley can’t take over the club. He’s out. Because if he does he first has to get rid of a club that plays in the EPL and makes him tens of millions, and gives him the global audience he won’t get at Ibrox if he runs the club for 100 years.

If he wanted to take over – a big if, he’s not an idiot – the SFA would simply have to turn him down because of dual ownership rules.

Or they could acquiese. Hell, why not? Why not start work on creating the next big confrontation, the next big crisis, right from the start?

Because, of course, the “change in the corporate structure” would assure that, as far as UEFA was concerned, Rangers Version III would be banned from Europe for a further three years anyway … so no problems with Newcastle there, but at the same time, there goes the business plan.

Dave King would be unable to come in, not that he’s shown any real willingness to anyway. The SFA regulations are clear, and he’s in violation of at least two of them. He can’t be a director after one incarnation of the club has already detonated on his watch, and he can’t be a director because he has a criminal conviction – for fraud nonetheless – on his record in the last ten years.

The same clause will bar all the current directors. And everyone who served on the old Rangers board. So none of them will be involved with the new company either.

Apart from the fact that there should be mass resignations at the SFA and the SPFL, after letting two clubs out of the same stadium go down in three years despite a mountain of publicly available information that could have prevented it (as could the application of the goddamned rules as they are written down), there would be no way around making sure that whoever bought the assets for the next adventure had a rock solid business plan based on spending matching earnings.

So bang goes Walter and any of the other “Rangers men” who think the answer is to come in and spend money (other people’s money) chasing dreams. They should be told to go away, lie down in a cold, dark room and come back when they are making sense.

So once you’ve removed from the list of prospective owners all those who had a hand in this disaster and everyone who wants to run it based on the Walter Smith Big Book of Football Business, once your governing bodies have decided, at the third time of asking (hey! Maybe a little late, but welcome to the party) to do actual due diligence instead of leaving it up to crooks to reveal what they are to your oversight board, what’s left?

Well, sadly, for the supporters of the club that would have just died, for the SFA governors and especially for the media, that leaves only business people. Real business people. The kind who see the club as an enterprise from which they can make money, if it’s run right.

Provided these people can be found – and don’t count on it – what does that mean?

That means a low cost base. That means putting trophies and success on the pitch aside for a while, until the balance sheet can justify an increase in the football budget. During the first three years there will be no European football, whether the club is in the SPL or not, so you can forget any kind of proper funds being available for the manager to spend.

Forget banks doing business with them. Pretending to be a continuation of a continuation makes them the dodgiest bet of all dodgy bets for people who lend money. HMRC would be perfectly entitled to worry too, and they’d be justified in asking them for advances on taxes, as they often do with phoenix companies.

As for going to the City for investment later on; forget it. That well is poisoned now and forevermore for football clubs hailing from this fair land, so whoever was running this ship of fools would need to be clear that only direct income would be available for living the dream.

Unless Sevco can find cash in the mattress, or Mike Ashley decides, for the first time in his life, to throw good money after bad, then the chances of all this coming to pass are about 75-25, which is a higher probability that I would have assigned to Craig Whyte’s actions leading to the liquidation last time.

This is not a club heading for administration, a short-sharp-shock and then the out the other side. This is a company that’s going to the wall. It has no leadership, no business plan, expenses through the roof and no visible means of raising money.

Administration itself would come with a 25 point penalty (how’s that for “this is the same club” lads and lassies?), which condemns the club to at least another year in the second tier, and would surely see their squad stripped to the point where a challenge next season is improbable at best.

In short; they are almost certainly screwed.

Once you accept that – and you pretty much have to – you need to start thinking about what comes next and what the governing bodies might do to prevent it.

The clock is ticking, and the other side already has its arguments lined up in a row.

In my view, it’s time we started to do the same.

The lobbying of clubs has to start at once. Celtic is already on the record as being opposed to the restructuring of the leagues, and that is a welcome announcement, but as this article shows is not the only issue here.

NewCo II or Rangers III or whatever else it’s being called must not be allowed to take the place of Sevco in the league.

The relegation regulation was not voted through … but in the end we’re not talking about a relegation anyway. We’re talking, again, about a brand new club, and that’s too big a decision to be left to the SPFL board, with commercial interests coming first.

None of us wants to spend another summer on this. We didn’t want it last time. Yet, the grotesque mismanagement of our game, and the reckless, uncontrolled behaviour of the Ibrox club, has brought us here once more.

Despite the Armageddon prophesies, and the catastrophic talking down of our sport, with all the commercial consequences that came with it, the game here has survived and some of our clubs are thriving as never before.

Financial Fair Play regulations are said to be on their way.

Sanity is being restored, slowly but surely.

The wrong decision here will not only undo everything good, but it will obliterate trust between fans, their clubs, the governing bodies … the whole bit.

Scottish football would not survive that, and I simply do not trust these people to do it right.

The future of our sport is, once again, in the hands of the fans.

Get ready for this. It’s coming.

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20 comments on “The Coming Decision
  1. I forecast true armageddon if this goes through. I, and I’m sure I’m not alone, will never set foot back at Celtic Park or any other stadium should this happen.
    The baw will most certainly be burst to a lot of people and who will blame them?
    Integrity seems to be a bad word amongst the huns and their friends in the media and SFA, well it’s the ONLY important thing in this feckin shambles, lose it and the game in Scotland is finished.
    The huns can have their SPHell cos I won’t give a monkeys anout the game anymore.
    The worst part about all of this? Lawwell recently said Celtic were against league reconstruction, it seems, if the above does come to pass, they won’t be too bothered about this rule breaking to keep the huns afloat. THAT IS A FECKIN SCANDAL!

  2. Sterling penmanship once again James.

    On the restructuring point.
    Wasn’t there a 5 year moritorium voted for and accepted after the last league reconstruction exercise last year?

    Secondly.
    Livingston could be a saving grace for Sevco. IF they take a 25 point hit as well, they will be below Sevco in the current league set up and favourites to go down? This may help ease Sevco worries re relegation.
    No?

  3. heard the Sevco fan on SSB.last night(I know I know)about how bad Celtic fans are,nearly lost the plot………..if it’s fixed to bring them back,Scottish football is finished…………

  4. I think it’s unlikely Sevco will get relegated even with a 25 point hit.

    However, there’s no chance of them coming up in such an eventuality and this is likely to keep them in the lower leagues for the forseeable future.

    By that time their support will have walked away and they’ll be left with a rump of nutters loonies and dafties, limping along in impotent ignominy forever.

    To paraphrase TS Eliot……

    This is the way the huns end

    Not with a bang but a whimper.

  5. Whats clear to me is the the media and the governing bodys are adamant that they want to return to peddling the poisoned product.

    My worries are that they go out there way to hurt us on the financial fair play rules but all the time making it look like there blaming the mismanagement if Rangers.

    Also a Rangers 3 being allowed into Scottish fooball at any seniour level would stop me fallowing our game. I love Celtic but our whole game would be in disrepute.

  6. after the tribute act was pumped by the jambos…doncaster came out with,we must look at expanding the league to attract a sponsor…code for this mob might not make the play offs,cos they`re shite,so we need to make it a bigger league to try & guarantee them a place in it.

  7. An excellent bit of writing again James but I have one question or stick to throw onto the fire:

    re the Craig Whyte, David Whitehouse, Paul Clark. David Grier and Gary Withey case that will no doubt come up in a few months; if they are found guilty of a fraudulent scheme, how does/will that affect the current owners?

    I mean they had a fraudulently obtained club & sold it on etc, so wouldn’t that mean that Sevco as it stands now would be null and void aka a non-entity?

    Who would be liable?
    Who would get the money back if any existed?

    If it was me right now and in Mr Ashley’s shoes (and am no businessman like him) but I would be looking into this, stopping my funding meantime and even trying to get out as fast as possible.

    If I was one of the Sevco shareholders this case could make my stock virtually worthless and I would be (as a lay-man) keechin’ my pants and trying to off-load my shares now rather than later.

    Does that make sense? – that this could set of a chain reaction of a meltdown Sevco and a garage sale of Ibrox (et-all) of unprecedented proportions and speed?

    – or am I being optimistic?
    HH

  8. IF the second tribute act are in any way manufactured into a false position there will be Armageddon in our game,fans from ALL clubs not just Celtic will be lost to the game,if the clubs seriously think this situation will come about without recrimination from the fan base they’ve read us wrong

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