A MOMENT of truth has struck in Scottish fantasy football – yet another one. As if the warning from Heart of Midlothian that it may not survive beyond the end of the month was not alarm bell enough that Rangers was not alone in its crisis, comes a report from business recovery specialists Begbies Traynor.
This sets out the ugly truth that no less than six clubs in Scotland’s three top divisions were showing signs of distress at the end of October.
This is no mere cyclical bad patch or temporary cash flow problem. What makes this assessment gruesome is that the appraisal was struck when most clubs should be at their strongest after the majority of their season ticket, sponsorship and television payments had been received.
Football has long had a central place in the life of Scotland. The game is in our DNA. Few are unmoved by its passions. Its appeal goes far beyond the terraces. This is a game where mediocrity can be raised to absurd levels of passion and loyalty but which can also, as Celtic so vividly demonstrated this week, be capable of truly inspiring feats of skill and professionalism. We can be good at it – very good. One glorious encounter can lift our spirits and place Scotland high on the international map.
So how is it, with such inexhaustible support and strength of feeling, that our clubs are in such dire financial straits?
This is a crisis that has been long in the making. And there are many causes. One is undoubtedly player wages, seemingly impervious to the ups and downs of business. Clubs have shunned reality and hoped that, by a miracle, some divine intervention of angels with cascading horns of gold, a financial crunch could be avoided.
But rich would-be owners have thinned as economies almost everywhere have buckled. Indulgent bank managers have crashed and burned. Lucrative television income fell sharply as club fortunes waned. And on the terraces, the loyal regulars of thousands of fans have also thinned as unemployment and falling real household incomes took their toll.
Unfortunately for the fantasy football club managers, when the Inland Revenue knocks, it seldom waits to knock twice.
Rangers was brought to its knees by huge outstanding tax bills. Hearts has made a desperate call for cash from supporters following a wind-up order triggered by a tax bill of almost £450,000.
The language of the Begbies Traynor report could not be more stark. Little wonder, when its research found that almost one in five of the 32 Scottish football clubs surveyed showed symptoms of distress, compared with an average of just 2 per cent for other UK businesses.
Clubs must now act quickly, responsibly and firmly if their clubs are to live on. Scottish football will survive – but it needs urgent, tough, painful and thorough action to do so.
Crass stunt puts due process at risk
HOW quickly the mood has turned from rightful public concern over sexual abuse of children into an ugly manifestation of a Salem witch-hunt. Indeed, a “witch-hunt” was the word used by Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday in a morning TV show in which he was unexpectedly handed a list of names of people, who the show’s presenter, Phillip Schofield, said were being mentioned online as paedophiles.
The background to this concerned lurid allegations of a paedophile ring linked to No 10. There have also been claims by a victim that an unnamed, prominent Conservative politician from the Thatcher era was involved in abuse in north Wales.
During the live interview, the presenter handed the PM a card with names on it, saying that they were people Mr Cameron knew and asking whether he would be talking to them.
The presenter was none-too-careful in his dramatic gesture, as he later apologised if the names on the card could be seen by viewers because of a “misjudged camera angle”.
This was more than a misjudged angle. It was a crass and juvenile stunt that risks turning coverage of this story into a macabre circus of cheap headline-grabbing assassination by innuendo. Evidence and impartiality risk being thrown to the winds in a scramble to secure some YouTube moment of fame – or what many would regard as infamy. Paedophilia is a heinous crime and should be punished based on convictions and evidence – not trial by television.
Several high-level inquiries are now under way in the wake of serious allegations against Jimmy Savile. These should surely be
allowed to take their course.