WHEN it comes to agenda-peddling, the G20 summit in Mexico last week couldn’t hold a candle to Scottish football. Our game appears full of selfless souls attempting to “save” it right now.
Scottish Premier League chairman are seeking to save the spirit of fairness by denying top flight entry to a Rangers newco. Meanwhile, a backroom deal between the Scottish Football League, Scottish Football Association and the SPL to parachute the Ibrox new club into the First Division, and so save the Sky television deal and “rescue” our national pastime from financial oblivion, is gathering pace. That was confirmed last night with an SFA statement on behalf of all three bodies that essentially was the dressing up of a carve-up. A carve-up that, if it just so happens to serve the self-interest of most of the 42 senior clubs, will merely be a happy accident, of course.
Dundee: Likely to be promoted to top flight to replace Rangers
Scottish Football League: More say in running of game and can use leverage to introduce play-offs into SPL
Glasgow Cup: Old trophy could be revived as an excuse to stage two Old Firm games Non-Old Firm fans: Used their power to force change
Henry McLeish: Author of report to improve Scottish football will see adoption of his recommendations
SFA: Stewart Regan takes charge of previously disjointed league set-up
Rangers: the club: Relegated to the second tier, denied European football for three years and also facing possible suspension from Scottish Cup
Rangers: the players: Stuck in limbo in the prime of their careers
Sky TV: Losing out on four SPL Old Firm games, the crown jewels of their Scottish portfolio
SPL: TV money to be reduced along with attendances
Celtic: Change to voting structure could see Old Firm lose their power of SPL veto Dunfermline Athletic: Relegated and chances of winning promotion reduced by Rangers’ likely presence in second tier
The statement told of a “positive meeting” on Friday night “out of which the two league bodies will engage in a wider consultation with their member clubs on the key principles of reconstruction outlined in the Henry McLeish review of Scottish football”. And so seek to create a “happy ever after” for the country’s football with one league body in the senior game, a promotion/relegation play-off between the SPL and SFL First Division, a single financial distribution model and a pyramid system “with the potential for relegation and promotion to the fourth tier”. All principles that have been simmering away for years but which, wouldn’t you know, are suddenly being blow-torched to the boil as the old Rangers evaporates.
Against this backdrop, it is surely no coincidence that SPL sides seem emboldened over saying “no to newco” when they cast their vote on the issue on 4 July, the reconstituted Rangers needing seven of 11 clubs to approve their admission. Or that Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov has spoken of it being right the Ibrox newco starts in a “lower league”, as opposed to saying “the bottom division”, while his Dundee United counterpart Stephen Thompson has stated Rangers require “punishment” rather than stating they should follow the path of start-up clubs. No SPL member, including Celtic, really wants to cast aside the cash cow that is a team playing out of Govan. These clubs have been bounced into taking the debarment by the threat of mass supporter desertion. Now, while gerrymandering is likely to allow these clubs only to lose the revived Rangers for a season, and not, in the process, the backing of Sky, they can sell their stand as them having stood up for sporting integrity. Publicly, the SFL will be required to do their dirty work in co-opting a new member, a new club – as Charles Green’s Sevco consortium-cum-company that currently can’t even register a football name or football players should eventually become – and placing them in the highest, instead of lowest, tier in their set-up.
However, one SFL source insists his organisation is not being naively used. “Who is using who?” he said this week. On that question he pointed to the concessions the SFL is seeking to extract for “ripping up their rule book”. These would be play-offs between the First Division and SPL in time for next season, and a greater distribution of centralised revenues all the way down the leagues – starting with a generous slice of the revenue retained from Sky through showing Rangers’ games in the First Division. The notion that the SFL are making some Faustian pact on behalf of the Ibrox club is not one the SFL source recognises. “We are not placing commercial considerations before the sport. In terms of the play-offs and redistribution we are actually looking for greater fairness across the entirety of Scottish football,” he stated. “And if Sky pulled out, as we have heard they will if Rangers are in the Third Division, how does that serve anyone’s interests? We are taking account of the greater good.”
The First Division compromises over a new Rangers would suit the ends of most clubs. We seem to be moving away from the principle at stake being that Green’s Rangers should be treated as would any smaller top-flight club that reformed post-liquidation, such lessers guaranteed to be sent to the Third Division to start again. If SPL members skirt around that then they can put the newco Rangers in the dock over the oldco’s malfeasance. Both in terms of the non-disclosure of payments to players charge that could see trophies won by Rangers between 2001 and 2011 rescinded and the SFA’s 12-month signing embargo. That was successfully appealed to the civil courts but could yet bring them a suspension from the game, or expulsion from next season’s Scottish Cup, now it has been bounced back to the SFA’s judicial panel. SPL clubs want retribution over the reputational damage Rangers have inflicted on the Scottish game in UEFA and FIFA circles by not respecting football law. More significantly, with no Ibrox team the other 11 SPL sides would be able to vote down Celtic and so change the 11-1 voting structure on the split of centralised revenues. They could also pursue they creation of their own television channel as a platform for screening SPL football, a growing hobby horse of Hearts and Hibernian, among others.
In terms of most SFL clubs, especially those in the First Division, the new Rangers starting at the second tier is a win-win. As such, the deal is therefore being presented as a fait accompli. Yet, the SFL are understood to require that the Rangers-inspired changes be approved at an emergency general meeting by 75 per cent of their members, which would equate to 23 of their 30 clubs. That may not be as straightforward as has been imagined. Essentially, the battleground over an Ibrox newco could be about to move on to the SFL, with supporters of Partick Thistle already having voiced a boycott threat if the latest Rangers rescue plan is activated. Ultimately, however, such views may not gain the same traction as they did among the followers of top-flight clubs. That there could be a general willingness to “judge the plan in the round” is suggested by the fact Livingston’s chief executive Ged Nixon expresses such an opinion. For, if any club is entitled to feel a sense of outrage at the SFL pulling out the stops to see a club assembled from its post-liquidation assets “relegated” only one division, it is the West Lothian side.
Three years ago this summer, they exited administration through a CVA [Company Voluntary Arrangement] which required HMRC’s approval. They jumped through hoops to do so because they were then told by the SFL that would allow them to remain in the First Division. Instead, the SFL sent them down to the bottom tier, stating, Nixon recalls, “our heinous crimes were so severe”. The Livingston chief says his club will not “prejudge” what could happen with the new Rangers but will keep a watching brief on whether they are treated differently by the SFL, and whether the SFA fall into line with that treatment, as they did in refusing the West Lothian club’s appeal over their two division demotion. However, Nixon, whose club have worked their way back up to the First Division at great cost, also maintains Livingston will consider the Rangers plan in terms of “what is best for Scottish football”.
“Our board are sincere in that view,” he says. “I thought Charles Green’s statement about judging the situation on the basis on what is financially the right thing to do rather than any sporting considerations or passions contained hollow words. At the same time, though, I don’t know how Scottish football would benefit if Rangers were put in the Third Division and there was a risk of losing the club’s massive support. We will need to see what is being offered to SFL clubs in return for changing the rulebook, but we must be careful not to sell our souls for an extra £50,000, or whatever.
“If the transfer embargo remains in place and there is the mass exodus of players from Ibrox, and they face a possible points penalty there would be no guarantee Rangers would win the First Division. What then?” If Green’s Rangers finished third and did not win a play-off, we could probably expect the SPL to be enlarged to 14 teams. If they were fifth and didn’t even make a play-off, the way this saga is being played out then all of a sudden a 16-team top flight would be championed as “the way ahead” for the Scottish game.