Benjamin Franklin lamented the difficulty in hiding things when he said “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
They both knew, as so many others do, that nothing stays hidden forever; people talk, things get discovered or those previously put aside come into view again as new information shines light on dark corners left and forgotten.
Today there was a bizarre little moment in the court battle between Mike Ashley and the SFA, over Dave King, where the association’s lawyer asked a completely unrelated question about whether Celtic fans could sue them “if King is a success”. During the case itself, Ashley and his people backed away from holding the SFA to account, but that question reveals something interesting about the thinking at Hampden at the present time.
Call it a Freudian slip.
These people are positively petrified by what football fans might uncover should they decide to push for their own judicial reviews into SFA procedures.
And you know what? They should be.
Resolution 12 looms large in the thinking here, but so does the debate over title stripping in the event that the Supreme Court rules in favour of HMRC over the Big Tax Case. These are hot-button issues for our fans, and the anger runs so deep on both that there’s little prospect of the SFA wishing these matters away. Even Celtic itself has no recourse to stop individual shareholders in certain actions if they chose to try.
Let me clarify something for you.
In terms of Resolution 12, what fans want more than anything else is to see justice done through the football structures. This is why the objective was always to have this matter analysed properly at UEFA. The SFA is never going to come around to admitting mistakes or culpability; this was always about getting an independent football body to look at the evidence and examine it in full, without us worrying that it would lead to a biased conclusion.
Going through the SFA and the proper procedures was vital, and still is, for getting a footballing solution. Celtic are the ones who need to raise this matter at UEFA, or with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. There’s no way for the fans to raise this independently through those bodies.
There are also certain legal actions which would have to go through the club.
But shareholders have rights, and they’ve always been able to pursue those rights through the legal system, even if the club itself is not fully on-board. One of the vehicles for doing this is a judicial review, but it’s not the only one.
Celtic shareholders never pursued this option, because the football route was the preferred one for getting to the bottom of this morass.
But should that route prove fruitless, whether because the SFA or Celtic or whoever put up a roadblock to it, those other paths can be taken instead.
It must be said that this does not harm Celtic in any way.
UEFA and FIFA regulations are very specific about how the clubs must do things in relation to the law. They must go through the governing bodies themselves, with CAS as a last resort. They cannot pursue legal channels out-with that, because UEFA and FIFA do not allow legal interference in the running of the game. Draconian punishments can handed down for doing so, including banning teams from Europe and stopping the national team from taking part in competition football.
These regulations do not cover individual actions by shareholders.
This matters in football because the SFA is not, as Regan and others appear to believe, an organisation which does what it likes and is accountable to no-one.
The Scottish Football Association is not a private members club; it’s a public authority, as has been demonstrated time and time again in the law. It gets part of its funding from the tax payer. It is responsible for licensing. It is answerable to government agencies in relation to some of its activities. It has to comply with Freedom of Information requests.
Regan simply cannot pull down the shutters here, much as he’d like to.
Now, a judicial review won’t accomplish all our goals. What it does is forces a public body to declare the means by which it arrived at a decision. There are misconceptions about that, and I want to set them straight. A judicial review would compel the SFA to lay out the evidence that it followed the rules and that it did everything it was obliged to do.
Frankly, they’ll have a job there because as I pointed out in last night’s piece on Resolution 12, over on the CelticBlog, they’ve either ignored evidence, hidden evidence or were very selective on the questions they asked, knowing the kind of answers they’d get.
Procedures were followed up to a point. Beyond that, they either knew enough not to want to know more or they simply ignored what was in front of them and granted the license anyway.
The process would be laid out there.
We’d know what information they asked for, and received.
We’d know what they didn’t bother with or ignored completely.
Based on what was put in the public domain, I have no doubt UEFA would find itself involved.
The SFA has been at it so long they are terrified of outside scrutiny.
Look at how they handled the allegations that Charles Green was involved with Craig Whyte. If the Rangers First guys want to do something that rocks the boat a wee bit they should ask for their own judicial review into that particular matter; no-one will convince me the SFA did due diligence on that, it’s frankly incredible anyone could be expected to believe it.
Pinsent Mason’s report came back to say “no evidence” had been found in that case; sterling work, with a company hiring a firm to investigate itself. I’ve never heard of anything like it. Yet there was enough of a link for the Crown Prosecution Service, who’ve levelled criminal charges on the back of it.
How was Sevco allowed to stay in the hands of a guy like Green long enough to have caused the chaos we know he did? A lot of their fans were asking that very question, but they were asking the wrong people.
A lot of the Celtic bloggers said it right from the start; ask the SFA.
They had a legal responsibility to that club’s shareholders, and to the rest of the game, to get to the bottom of issues like that, and they never bothered their arses.
Celtic shareholders have been similarly disenfranchised, over stuff such as Resolution 12 and title stripping. Their own legal protections have been nullified by the SFA’s lack of oversight and their criminal contempt for shareholders rights, espoused beautifully in today’s question to the judge, in Regan’s “I’d do nothing” reply when asked if he would act if irrefutable evidence was presented to him proving the Resolution 12 case in full, and most clearly in the letter some of the Resolution 12 requisitioners received recently in which he stated his view that the governing body is neither answerable to Celtic shareholders or those of any other club.
Such contempt has earned its day in court, as far as I’m concerned, and it makes Ashley’s decision not to proceed both baffling and infuriating. Is he what King says he is? A bully, a braggart but ultimately a gutless coward?
Where the billionaire feared to go, Scottish football fans make yet tread and Celtic aren’t the only club with lots of shareholders or the only club whose fans feel positively screwed over by the arrogant idiots at Hampden.
Anyone who doubts fans will put their money where their mouths are need to think again. Scottish football fans must be amongst the best in the world when it comes to holding people to account, and doing so with their hard earned cash.
Celtic fans have already paid for a full page newspaper ad tackling the Survival Myth. Websites like this one couldn’t survive without donations. James Doleman’s court expenses were covered by Scottish football supporters who wanted to get to the truth. There’s an appetite out there for a crowdfunded legal challenge, and I think a lot of lawyers who would love to take on our case for a very reasonable fee. The mood for one is growing, and at long last the supporters realise that it might well be the only way we get some answers.
Shareholders hold all the cards here.
There are enough of them, from various clubs, including the Ibrox ones, who feel the SFA’s lax regulations and contempt for their own rules has had adverse consequences, including for share prices and dividends, and that’s the key factor.
All a judge requires to consider a judicial review is evidence that procedural failings at a public body may have resulted in a loss to shareholders. That’s clear enough and easy to demonstrate in cases where you’re talking about huge sums of money or falling share prices.
When the SFA’s lawyer contemptuously raised the spectre of fans taking legal action against the association for failing in its basic requirements as a public body, he was expressing a very real, very reasonable, fear which exists in that organisation.
They know there are bodies buried out there, and they know a lot of people are very busy with their shovels. It’s a matter of time before these things are uncovered, and the only questions that remain are about how that’ll be achieved and what comes afterwards.
The novelist Margaret Attwood once said “The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one.”
That approach might have worked once at the SFA but they no longer feel they to need to pretend with us. They’re very open about their propensity for hiding and covering things up, otherwise they wouldn’t expend such energy in telling us such things were none of our business, and that we have no right to know about them.
It was James Joyce who called secrets “tyrants waiting to be dethroned.”
The SFA knows it can’t keep the lid on this forever, but it continues to try.
When the dethroning comes here, they’re only going to have themselves to blame.
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