THE MOMENT the SFA's own counsel, Paul Cullen, threw down his pen in frustration at Jim Farry's "very poor" performance under cross-examination, the writing was on the wall for the man who had ruled Scottish football with a rod of iron. But the embattled chief executive, a punctilious power-broker of fearsome repute, probably wouldn't have recognised it. In a supreme irony, it was the Great Administrator's misadministration that proved to be his downfall.
His misinterpretation of what was written in the game's statutes forced him to face Celtic's lawyers in an arbitration case and ultimately forced him out of office in what will be remembered as Scottish football's greatest courtroom drama.
Ten years ago this week the Royal Automobile Club in Glasgow provided the setting for the endgame in an extraordinary saga. Its starting point had come three years earlier when the SFA fatally delayed registering the new Celtic signing, Jorge Cadete. Farry's stubborn refusal to lodge the paperwork in time for the Portuguese striker to appear in the 1996 Scottish Cup semi-final, and Celtic owner Fergus McCann's equally stubborn refusal to let the matter rest, have given rise to various theories on the motives of two abrasive men. Previously unreleased legal papers shown to Scotland on Sunday do not lend any credence to the fanciful interpretations which have taken root in the decade since. Nothing supports the notion that Farry acted deliberately to hold up Cadete's registration out of "anti-Celtic" bias. Or that his adversary, McCann, was responsible for a "witch-hunt". Yet so sensitive does the episode remain that McCann declined to discuss it this week. Neither was Farry available for comment.
Farry left the arbitration hearing at the RAC on February 24, 1996 with no future in a game he had served across three decades because his own testimony destroyed his reputation. Even the SFA's own lawyers, Burness Solicitors, picked Farry apart.
The case revolved around the wording of an International Transfer Certificate for Cadete, who joined Celtic from Sporting CP (Lisbon). Celtic forwarded the ITC to the SFA on March 7, 1996 with all other relevant paperwork having arrived two weeks earlier. Initially, the club believed the player was a free agent. He wasn't, but that should have had no bearing on Farry registering Cadete. Celtic could not convince him of this because of a "conditionality clause" within the ITC. Under law, this was an irrelevance, which a fax from FIFA explained. Yet, it was not until Celtic lodged a third application to register Cadete at the end of March that Farry was eventually persuaded of that fact. Under the SFA's 14-day clearance rule, that was too late for the striker to play in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers on April 6 – a match Celtic lost 2-1.
On March 29, Farry agreed to apply it retrospectively, only to change his mind the following day.
The Burness report exposed the extent of Farry's bungling. At the arbitration hearing he "substantially damaged his credibility and the integrity of the Association's case" by failing to produce correspondence from FIFA between 1994 and 1996 on the conditionality of ITCs. He "drew a warning" for "consistently" evading questions; was "unable to give a convincing explanation" why conditions in the second application "were unacceptable to him"; "indicated significant aspects...of registration fell to subordinates" "as he had been abroad"; "he gave evidence ... not regarded as credible ...."; "he gave contradictory evidence on the powers of the Executive Committee"; "was unable to explain why retrospectivity of the ITC was not applied in this case" and "deflected responsibility to Mr (Sandy] Bryson (head of registrations] .... (on] certain executive decisions".
Moreover, it had emerged that the day before his self-destructive evidence he had to be ordered to appear at the hearing by SFA vice-president John McBeth. Farry had intended to travel to Geneva for a conference.
The errors by Scotland's supposed supreme football law enforcer resulted in Burness advising the SFA to settle. They did so immediately for fear of the further damage that could follow from allowing the arbitration to proceed to a conclusion. In doing so, they paid Celtic's legal costs and gave them a 10,000 compensation payment – somewhat short of the 600,000 McCann demanded for the semi-final loss. Farry was suspended on full pay and removed from his post permanently two weeks later. He departed with a 200,000 pay-off that still rankles with McCann.
The downfall of the infuriatingly bumptious SFA secretary/chief executive of nine years is one that has to be understood in the context of the infamous workings of the Association. "Increasingly, he was running the Association as if it were his personal fiefdom," one former colleague reveals. "He had a way that made it very difficult for other voices to be heard and meant there was no way of suggesting to him he could have made a mistake. He prided himself on his knowledge of the rule book, and had an impressive grasp of it."
Clearly, he did not have as solid a grasp as he imagined. Hubris was a by-product. Every single piece of mail sent to the SFA would be delivered to his desk at 9am. He would read all correspondence then forward it to relevant departments. Replies to letters had to be written as if composed by him and at 4pm every day he would sign them off.
McCann was also a steely, single-minded operator but his martinet ways did not extend to this level of control in his day-to-day business. And neither did his determination to correct the wrong over Cadete's registration amount to a personal vendetta.
"At Celtic the Cadete case was not a 'get Farry' exercise," says a former club official. "Achieving justice on the matter certainly became a crusade for Fergus, but then he could go on a crusade over a bag of crisps. No one at Celtic, especially him, thought Jim was working to any agenda. We just thought he had made a huge mistake and wanted that recognised. Yes, there was an element of rubbing the SFA's noses in it, and therefore Jimmy's nose in it because he was the personification of the SFA. But plenty people at Celtic had a lot of time for him, could appreciate that he had strong points and worked hard. It was never the ultimate aim that he lose his job, and that was a surprise."
But his departure became inevitable, when the SFA announced on March 1 that the arbitration had been settled in Celtic's favour. McCann declared Farry's position untenable. The settlement including a letter of apology to the club that didn't best please Farry.
His fate was sealed when Burness delivered their report to the SFA on March 4. In damning fashion, it set out his "obstructive actions", the impact of which was, "to impede the preparation of the Association's case, to increase the expense of the process and to cause material frustration to Counsel who indicated his dismay at the counter-productive stance adopted in this complex case".
The following day, at a meeting of the SFA Emergency Committee, the office bearers unanimously agreed that "the Chief Executive be dismissed from his executive position and his office as Secretary of the Association on the grounds of gross misconduct". In Park Gardens, meanwhile, as they had since the end of the Cadete affair, employees continued to sport broad smiles, walk the corridors with a free air and even sign their own letters.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
From East Kilbride he came, to East Kilbride he has returned. Initially worked as a landscape gardner then went into football administration when he joined the Scottish Football League in the late 1970s, before moving to the SFA. Little was heard of him in the years immediately after his sacking for his "acts and omissions during the Cadete affair". In 2007, however, he was appointed business development manager for construction and refurbishment firm AKP Scotland Limited. Now 64.
The removal of Jim Farry, with whom he had several battles – most notably over the 53m spent on the redevelopment of 'white elephant' Hampden – was the last of many disputes he saw through successfully. His five-year plan complete, in April 1999 the Scots-Canadian sold his majority shareholding in Celtic for a 29m profit and returned across the Atlantic to set up a luxury bus service operating between Boston, where he is now based, and New York.
The striker's season-and-a-bit at Celtic proved to be where he last enjoyed the scoring form that made him such sensation in his early 20s at Sporting. Following 33 goals in 43 games in the 1996/97 season, he claimed mental health problems prevented him returning the following season, and eventually he moved to Celta Vigo for 3.5m. Later played for Benfica, Bradford and Partick Thistle. In between times, he appeared in Portuguese Big Brother. Now makes the odd TV appearance.