For The Good of Our Game

I was asked by Scottish Fans for Change, as someone who has written previously on matters of the loss of trust in SFA governance, to contribute to their cause with a blog around which a force for change might gather momentum. There are other forums with this aim, notably Scottish Football Monitor, which succeeded the Rangers Tax Case blog, but what is interesting about the arrival of Scottish Fans for Change on the scene is a growing awareness amongst supporters of all clubs that Scottish football has suffered from the now discredited two club business model and the commercial thinking driving it, that never foresaw the inevitable outcome when football forgets it is first a sport then a business.

Hopefully, as RIFC lurch from one crisis to another, this perception of being asked to support a failed model will occur to their supporters too, because as losers in the two club commercial race, they have suffered the consequences of failure as much as, if not more than, most.

In sport, particularly football, you can lose but continue to participate because sport depends on having competition and supporters stay faithful, win lose or draw. In business if you fail another business takes your customers away and the business closes.

Those in charge of our game and those reporting on it, who advocate the two club commercial model have replaced the natural state of sporting affairs, where you lose but carry on taking the sporting consequences, with a commercial conundrum in which football is whatever those in charge wish it to be to suit their particular purpose.

The problem with this attitude is that sport, whilst interdependent by nature, is totally rules dependent i.e. narrow rules govern how a game is played and are there to see that a game is played fairly, ideally without fear or favour, not to fit the wider circumstances of the time.

However the Scottish Football Association as governors of Scottish Football have played fast and loose with own their rules to an almost bizarre degree and have failed miserably in a number of areas not just since it was announced that Rangers were entering administration in February 2012, but in allowing that once proud club to deteriorate ever since it embarked on seeking to use financial advantage to provide sporting advantage. They did so with the help of a friendly national bank and a dubious tax efficiency policy that began in 1999 at Campbell Ogilvie’s hand with the irregular Discount Option Scheme ebts that produced the Wee Tax Case bill and morphed into the yet to be decided in regularity and amount terms, Big Tax Case ebts that has still to leave the stage on which Rangers history is being performed.

Examples of playing fast and loose with the rules for commercial purposes can be found in the 5 way agreement where the concept of the transfer of a clubs SFA share was used rather than the normal process of a new club joining the SFL applying for and being granted an Associate Membership of the SFA.

Why the contortion? Why use a rule intended to prohibit the transfer of a share (Article 14.1 of SFA Handbook 2001/12) rather than the rules actually designed to allow membership at that time?

Then there is the bizarre “Bryson ruling” from the SFA in evidence to Lord Nimmo Smith on player eligibility, where a player is still eligible to play where a club has failed to disclose all financial details at registration. Quite how the SFA and SPFL meet the challenge of changing or even removing the very rules designed to stop clubs making under the counter payments without upsetting FIFA will be interesting to observe (if they do anything of course).

These are just two of the reasons why the SFA no longer enjoys the trust, such as it ever was, of the Scottish footballing public. There are more if further evidence is required, but there is enough to justify asking what can be done to restore trust in those charged with governing Scottish football.

In Feb 2012 the issue of lost trust was addressed in this article at http://celticunderground.net/in-whom-do-we-trust/ ironically just 9 days before Rangers entered administration.

There are a number of trust restoring measures advocated there that two years later are perhaps worth having another look at given the passage of time.

Measure One is the first and most important. It is reproduced here as a key step that needs to be undertaken as a matter of some urgency and something that Scottish Fans for Change might want to consider pursuing as their prime goal.

Measure One: A thorough independent enquiry into how under the SFA’s governance one club managed to severely damage themselves and our game in the pursuit of European “glory” and the tempting financial rewards participation attracts. Over and above the “skew” effect of the latter, where winner takes all, the following three areas need urgent investigation.

• Club Licensing
• Fit and proper ownership.
• The referee service

Ideas for tackling these three areas have been proposed previously at

http://celticunderground.net/sfa-reform-one-down-three-to-go/

They are not the only solutions but these areas and the problems caused to Scottish football by the distribution of UEFA CL money need to be explored in a Lessons Learned Enquiry.
The terms of reference need to contain input from supporters’ representatives (Trusts and or Associations) in order to direct it and further input to determine what will work and what will not. The required changes would be implemented by the SFA Professional Game board who would be responsible for dealing with the findings/recommendations.

Measure Two. The SFA have insisted (rightly) that the UEFA license in 2011 was correctly granted at 31st March 2011, but following Resolution 12 being tabled at Celtic’s 2013 AGM, have been more evasive on their monitoring responsibilities thereafter, stating on BBC Sportsound that monitoring was UEFA’s responsibility. This evasiveness represents a lost opportunity to restore trust, but one the SFA might wish to remedy as shareholders continue to seek answers.

Measure Three. What follows is almost as true now as it was two years ago although social media has given supporters a voice but not an official platform from which to speak. Accordingly it is repeated here with minor changes:

“In all the talk about what is good for Scottish football the debate is being led by the media who have a commercial interest in perpetuating the status quo, as do the SP(F)L and SFA. Nowhere is the voice of the paying customer, the football supporters who hands over good money to watch football being fairly played, being heard.”

Hopefully, as Rangers future becomes clearer the voice of supporters of all clubs will be heard via their trusts/associations on what is and is not acceptable in the governance of our game.

In that sense Recommendation 13 of the Henry McLeish Review of Scottish Football (Part Two Page 71) that states:

National organisations representing fans and supporters require greater respect and acknowledgement from within the game and this should be reflected in the work of football organisations including the SFA Council.

Opens the way for supporter groups to become more involved as stakeholders in the future of our game. The chosen vehicle for involvement appears to be Supporters Direct . This is a welcome start, but stakeholder involvement has to be done in a way that is not just paying lip service to the McLeish recommendation, but engages meaningfully with all supporter trusts/associations on matters that really matter.

Movements like Scottish Fans for Change and Scottish Football Monitor exist because for them restoring trust in Scottish football matters above all else.

Consequently an SFA statement recognizing that trust has been lost and providing an update on progress on establishing the necessary mechanisms to enable this particular McLeish recommendation to be implemented in a way that meets THE major concern of trust facing our game
would form part of trust and integrity restoring measure for all supporters.

Finally: Whenever a supporter of any club voices their concerns about the game’s integrity and how poor governance undermines it, because the catalyst for those concerns was Rangers failing, they are met with the charge of vindictiveness and this charge is used by those who would rather not see any change to prevent such change.

Some supporters may very well hold that view, but the majority who form Scottish Fans for Change simply want fair play, a concept that rampant commercialism still pays lip service to.

One response to this charge of vindictiveness is if you were bitten by a neighbor’s dog that was a danger to all, and chose to have him muzzled and so controlled rather than put down, would you be acting vindictively or showing generosity to your neighbor whilst protecting yourself and him from possible future harm?

It is in this spirit of keeping the game alive and well that this is written.