HIBERNIAN chairman Rod Petrie has accused Rangers of damaging the “sporting integrity” of the SPL, whilst participating in the television programme Scottish Football – The Debate, hosted by the BBC at their Pacific Quay studios.
Petrie, whose club have prided themselves on good financial husbandry, pointedly did not give a direct answer when asked if the game in this country needed a “strong” version of the administration-stricken Ibrox club.
“Scottish football needs successful clubs who are well-managed,” Petrie responded. “There are a lot of clubs in the SPL who have taken their own share of pain and have budgets and who have adhered to their budgets. The thing that needs to be maintained right throughout is sporting integrity. We need to ensure that the competition is fair.
“Each club has its own budgets and its own resources. If you have a plan and can finance it then fine. The important thing is sporting integrity and we have to make sure that the competition is balanced and fair. We are going to see Rangers continue to play with a depleted squad against clubs who they played against earlier in the season when they had a stronger squad. We need to make sure the fixtures are fulfilled and it is a fair and balanced competition.”
The discussions initially concentrated on the monetary maelstrom that is currently engulfing Rangers. Both SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster and SFA chief executive Stewart Regan denied that their organisations, each holding investigations into allegations of payments to players not set out in the contracts submitted to them by the Ibrox club for more than a decade, failed in their duties of governance.
“It was important from our point of view that we didn’t prejudice the large tax case [which cold land Rangers with a £50m bill from HMRC],” Doncaster said. “Now that all the evidence has been given in that case we are in a position for the SPL board to set out our own inquiry. As it is underway, it is difficult to make comment about that but that inquiry will take place as quickly as possible and we will soon be in a position to announce the outcome.
“It has been alleged there has been non-disclosure of things that should have been apparent to the football authorities. If it is discovered there has been a breach of rules we will take sanctions that are appropriate.”
His SFA counterpart Regan defended his organisation when it was it was put to him “how was it allowed to happen” in reference to what has taken place during Craig Whyte’s ten-month ownership of Rangers and what it has been alleged took place in the 22-year stewardship of Sir David Murray.
“Hindsight is wonderful thing and it is easy to look back and say ‘what if’,” the SFA chief executive said. “It is important to establish the facts and the independent inquiry is looking into what happened. If it’s found there has been breaches of our articles then we will take the appropriate sanctions. After the process there will be learnings and we will be reviewing articles to see what we might do differently in the future. If there is non-disclosure of information then it is difficult to look back and say how could we have found that out sooner without taking huge investigation into every change of director across Scottish football.”
All the well-worn themes were covered in the 50-minute debate. Size of the top league, the national team’s failure to qualify for a major finals since 1998, youth development, club finances, ticket prices and the existence of three governing bodies.
National coach Craig Levein said he was “certain” that the game had “hit the bottom and was on the way up” with “better quality players coming into the group.”
The most impassioned speaker of the night was Falkirk manager Steven Pressley, who had a lively exchange with Levein when he said there was only one way to rear players and that was to teach them the passing game.
Pressley also railed against fans being ignored when 85 percent of them polled, favoured a 16-club league. That would cost, came Doncaster’s reply, £20m because the number of games played would be cut from 38 to 30, which in turn would bring a huge reduction in the number of matches broadcasts would pay to screen.