Alan Pattullo: Micky Mellon and Tranmere Rovers’ relegation by computer
Sometimes changing jobs requires a shift in perspective as well as location. It remains to be seen whether this will apply to Micky Mellon.
The new Dundee United manager is due to be unveiled later today and can expect to be asked for his thoughts on the issue currently paralysing Scottish football. His answers will be interesting to hear, just as Robbie Neilson’s were earlier this week at a video conference at his own unveiling back at Hearts.
The returning manager deftly answered questions on the thorny subject of Hearts seeking to overrule their relegation at the expense of…Dundee United. This, of course, was just a few weeks after Neilson was photographed draining a bottle of beer to toast United’s promotion after a vote of all SPFL clubs condemned Hearts, and others, to demotion.
Mellon will need to do some twisting the other way if he chooses to back United’s case to be in the top flight at Hearts’ expense. After all, his new club are currently “embroiled” – to use their own word – in a costly fight to defend themselves against a joint legal action brought by Hearts and Partick Thistle. In a statement published on Monday, United accused both clubs of compromising the sporting integrity of the SPFL by seeking to ensure a team confirmed as having won the league following a decision made by over 80 per cent of the clubs cannot actually go up.
Mellon’s own views on clubs voting to end seasons prematurely have been well-aired. As the then manager of Tranmere Rovers, it is not surprising that Mellon was left so disgusted by a ballot of English League One clubs that condemned three clubs to relegation last month. At the time the season was suspended due to the coronavirus, Tranmere were just three points from safety, had ten games left – including one in hand over AFC Wimbledon just above them – and were on a run of three successive wins. “We were put out of the division by a calculator,” Mellon complained, understandably. Tranmere fans will always refuse to accept Mellon, who was the first man in the club’s history to lead the side to successive promotions, will also have a relegation on his CV from his time on Merseyside. “Let it never be said that Rovers were relegated on Mellon’s watch,” writes Tranmere fan Ryan Ferguson in his blog, Planet Prentonia. “They were voted out of the league by their selfish peers.
“Won on the sacred fields of Prenton Park and Wembley stadium, our third division status has been revoked by computer,” Ferguson continues. “After years of relentless hard work and improvement, growth and resurrection, our fate was sealed by a single Zoom call, without a blade of grass in sight.”
Mellon seems a far too honest character to change his tune now. He is not the kind to adopt that classic Groucho Marx line that anticipates having to make a reverse ferret manoeuvre: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, well, I have others”. Nor is he likely to use the Father Jack tactic for getting out of difficult conversations – “Now that would be an ecumenical matter” – if asked for his updated view on clubs being relegated following a vote.
He will surely support United’s case for being rewarded for such a strong season while also extending sympathy to Hearts and their plight; after all, apart from the strong form shown by the English team in the weeks prior to shutdown, the Tranmere and Hearts situations are very similar.
Mellon will acknowledge every club’s right to do what they feel is best for them. Indeed, he already has. His chief complaint concerned the process.
“I can’t say that I blame any other team,” Mellon said. “What was decided, was decided. (But) I don’t think there is a football person who would say that what has happened to Tranmere is fair. It is absolutely not fair.”
Neilson has sought to straddle the two different viewpoints. Even before his sudden switch to Tynecastle, he was quoted as saying that while he believed United very much deserved to go up, he also hoped he would be given the chance to take his side to Tynecastle. Reconstruction was his preferred solution.
That isn’t on the table any longer. In order for Hearts to be in the top tier, as Neilson now wants, the independent arbitration panel will need to rule that relegating them and Thistle was not sound practice. United – and Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers – will reap the whirlwind of that decision.
This scenario would be a particularly painful pill to swallow for Mellon, whose thought process when deciding to swap Tranmere, where he is adored, for Dundee United must surely have been influenced by the Tannadice club being able to offer him top-flight football. It is something he has not managed to sample in his career to date.
That good men like Mellon and Neilson have been deposited in such awkward positions is another consequence of this summer of shame for Scottish football.
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