14 Mar 2012

A level playing field?

Last week I asked for the views of non-Rangers fans about what is happening to Ibrox and what it tells us about the state of scottish football.  I shall now invite the views of Rangers fans, but firstly here is part three of  my initial trilogy:

OK – yes, I’d expected a deluge of emails when I asked for non-Rangers’ fans to respond to the current interesting period chez Ibrox .. but I hadn’t bargained on Christian Aid getting in touch.

So – just for a line or two – Scottish fans bear with me for a digression into NGOs and Ibrox. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you.

It turns out that Christian Aid recently decided to look into football governance across these islands and the findings came up with some intriguing material. I received the following email from Christian Aid:

“Back in season 2009/10, Christian Aid released the report Blowing the Whistle, which includes a league table of financial secrecy in UK and Irish football. Rangers were the only Scottish club to make the top 20, coming in at number 6. We also included a box on the South African tax issues facing Rangers director Dave King, which have subsequently come to a head.”

Coming with this an attachment setting out why financial openness matters in sport generally and in football in particular. The argument ran that a football club is more than a plc in reality, if not in company law:

“Football clubs are social entities, not corporate assets. As the football fans’ organisations Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation said when they backed Christian Aid’s call for transparency in 2010: “the story of these clubs is the story of those communities, and the stories of the generations of families who have supported them through thick and thin: as someone once said, ‘No one ever had their ashes scattered at Tesco’s’.”

“The social value of clubs makes it possible – sometimes! – for club owners to make millions from fans but it also imposes a great responsibility on owners. When they put clubs in the hands of highly complex companies… they make it much harder for fans to be confident that owners are meeting that responsibility. That is one reason why financial secrecy must be opposed. The case of Rangers highlights once again the emotional cost for fans.”

And what of those fans. One thing is for sure – when Alex Salmond said recently that in his opinion Glasgow Rangers are important to the future of Scottish football – he was sure to enrage as many fans as he would please.

Fan after fan after non-Rangers supporters said they believed passionately that this is a huge opportunity. The potential down-sizing of RFC, fans say, is the golden opportunity at last to create the kind of competitive league which fans have craved for many a long, lean, silverware-free year..

Gus emailed saying:

“A competitive league would make up a significant amount of the money lost from Sky/ESPN if Rangers were to become weaker, through increased crowds.   My team, for years has cuts its cloth according but Rangers continue to win things with money they did not even have, thats surely not sporting fair play?”

No Gus, it does not seem terribly fair and there’s little doubt that Rangers were living on tick – that’s not in dispute, Very big fat tick at that. The argument runs that the loss of possible TV revenue is basically compensated for, and more, by a revival of  interest across the rest of the SPL and beyond. The concept is, people actually both to turn up through the turnstiles if they sense that at long last the ‘diddy teams’ in the Old Firm parlance, might actually become undiddy and start winning things.

Many, like Ryan, directed their ire on the governing bodies of the game whom so many accuse of being overly cosy with – and dependent upon — Rangers and Celtic:

“When are the SPL and SFA going to listen to the fans, the fans want a bigger league with an even distribution of sponsor/tv to all clubs so they can develop and have a realistic chance of competing for honours but with the current system the Old Firm dictate what is going on they pushed through a undemocratic voting system so they could control the game in Scotland and let’s be honest they don’t care where they finish in the league as long as it is ahead of their rivals and they are prepared to go to any lengths to achieve this.”

Many pointed to the English Premier League – often criticised by English fans  as uncompetitive in too many season of late (writes a loser Newcastle United fan whose team last won silverware when he was 8), but which is in fact a nirvana of competitive mystery every season compared with the increasingly hopeless fare served up by the SPL:

Here’s Keith:

“Whilst that works in countries like England, where there is so much money that even the likes of Wigan get a slice, it doesn’t work in countries like Scotland, where there are 2 massive clubs who have all the power and several middle-sized/lower-sized clubs with no power, feeding off the proverbial scraps. With that in mind, our league is uncompetitive and dull, and the lack of competition affects everything from the quality of our youth players to our representatives’ performance in Europe.”

And so to that opportunity:

“This is a chance for Scottish Football to start recovering; for our traditionally strong clubs such as my own team, Aberdeen, Hibs, Hearts, Dundee and Dundee United to actually have a future as a level playing field would be realistic. The game is currently on a life support machine in this country and a massive factor in that is how much sway the Old Firm have over the rest; financially, media exposure, voting rights etc.”
“What non SPL Teams want is a fair league, like any other small European country, where it is a competitive sport, not just something that makes two clubs very rich and guarantees them victory all the time. It’s sad, but not surprising, that a lot of English-based media look at the SPL as a Celtic-Rangers fetish, because it is quite interesting, but for Scottish fans its ultimately very frustrating and not how virtually every other country in the world views the game.” 

So wrote Stuart – helpfully adding that in Austria 6 points separate 6 teams, and in Poland at the top 6 points separate 5 teams. not your SPL by any stretch, we can all agree.

And so, concluded Stuart:

“Now doesn’t THAT sound exciting? Its time for a league based on fair competition, not keeping the rich rich and the poor poor.”

Equally there were lots of ideas out there to stir things up and change the way things happen – if the authorities want to do it. Though with the current SPL 11 -1 voting system in place it is easy to stymie any initiative that basically reduces the income and grip of Celtic and Ranger upon things. Another Keith suggested this:

“The governing bodies in Scotland could simply find ways of making the league fairer. They could be innovative and use an American Sports model, for example, where all the income is gathered by the league and split amongst the member clubs. That is just one of many ideas which would allow for a fairer game in Scotland.”

Keith – if you’re out there holding your breath – please don’t. It is Scottish football that’s on life-support – not you please.

Finally a word about the Old Firm and use of. About five zillion Celtic fans have pointed out how offensive they find it to be bracketed with Rangers. The answer my Celtic friends, lies in the words of these last three blogs and the verdict of your fellow fans is upon you. Like it or not there’s a firm, it’s old and it’s Celtic-Rangers and until the power balance is shifted by whatever means, that won’t change much.

Remember Burns and the gift of seeing yourselves as others see you.

Expect further blogs and depending upon the digging, some TV coming up, as the Rangers Ibrox saga unfolds.

Read Alex Thomson’s previous blogs:

The dangers of Rangers’ tax shambles

Punish Rangers if they’re guilty, say fans

Follow Alex Thomson on Twitter


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