29 Jun 2012

Scottish football’s last chance saloon

Let us start with something we can all agree on. The latest plan for Ibrox as a football venue shows just how late the hour really is in Scottish football’s last chance saloon. There is near-panic in the area. Immediate, urgent desperation measures and to hell with the rule-books.

Take Scottish Football League chief executive David Longmuir, not because he’s any worse or better or more or less compromised by crisis than any other of the blazers, but because his u-turning sums up the panic.

17 June: “There would be no provision for any newco (new company) Rangers to go into the First Division rather than the Third Division.”

28 June: “The SFL is trying to address the question of whether we can accommodate a solution to the Rangers FC scenario.”

Light regulation

Let us remember where all this began. Not with football but with big capitalism out of control.  Remember David Cameron on the banks when he said what was needed for our banking system was:

“…light regulation and low regulation…”

And look what happened from RBS and The Shred to this week’s Bollingergate fiasco at Barclays and probably now quite a few other banks. Because were given too free a rein, were too under-regulated, too under-governed and too under-supervised, they decided to ignore the rules.

What a surprise.

So too in big sport. It just happens to be a club called Rangers – or at least it was – the final new name appears as yet uncertain. Just like the banks they thought they could ignore the rules. Just like the banks they sowed legacy-mines and time-bombs all over the park and now, one by one, they detonate.

High noon

So the once mighty Rangers over the next week perhaps, face high noon at Hampden with no certainty where the club will play although it will not be in the Scottish Premier League.

And the response from authorities charged with imposing regulation on a sport where regulation appears to have been flouted?

Incinerate the rule-book.

The Scottish Football League (SFL), Scottish Football Association and Scottish Premier League perceive Rangers as a cash cow and given their mighty support they’re right. They now consider their only option to force Rangers back into the highest point possible in their system – Division 1 – now the SPL clubs have surprised them by calling their bluff and voting no to having them back in the top flight and expelling them from the SPL as they are now pledged to do next week (seven clubs having already said no).

Let’s look at the document sent to the SFL clubs designed to force them to vote Rangers into Division 1. This is about three things when you pare it down:

1. money (business)

2. sporting integrity (morality)

3. fans (customers)

There are 16 references in the SFL document to money and business. There are four references to sporting integrity and morality in any sense. There are just two references to fans. I think ‘redemption’ gets a message. ‘Punishment’ – unless I’ve missed it – does not.

Resistance to change

Of course the authorities should consider business – but it should consider profoundly the fact that ignoring everything in the pursuit of ‘business’ is precisely what destroyed Rangers FC and created the current crisis.

This should tell us something about where the SFL is coming from and the really critical phrase is contained in the section where they are selling the Division 1 option to the SFL clubs. They call this:

“…a least-worse case financial scenario…”

Which is what the ‘deal’ or ‘threat’ is all about. Coupled with the added enticer that many Division 1 clubs in Scotland have long wanted the two-tier SPL now being punted to accommodate the Rangers newco.

But hang on a minute. Go back to the top of the document and there’s a shrill plea for change, boldness, a chance to escape the fear of change which, it is implied, has done so much to damage Scottish football. “Why does resistance to change in football exist?” it says. Then it concludes:

1. “Fear of the unknown”- yet what follows is all about fear of the unknown. The document then proceeds to play on fears of the unknown if Rangers is not placed as high as possible in the leagues ie in Division 1. It is dripping with financial fears.

2. “Lack of involvement” – yet there’s been zero meaningful involvement of the clubs, beyond being summoned to high noon at Hampden and absolutely no meaningful involvement of the customers – the fans – who let’s face it played such a large part in calling the bluff on the plan to shoehorn Rangers straight back into the SPL by pressuring chairmen into actually considering things like morality and integrity

3. “Lack of information” – yet what kind of information have fans of clubs had on all this? Where are the scary figures plucked from to justify placing Rangers in Division 1? Where are the models? Where are the costings? Details? They get one paltry line-graph and some scary sloganeering.

4. “Threat to power, or status” – yet if that is considered an obstacle to change – why produce a manifesto to enshrine the power and status of a wholly toxic football brand to the highest degree possible within the league structure?

5. “No perceived benefits” – yet the Division 3 option for Rangers is perceived in wholly negative terms. Most fans see real benefits of this, not least Rangers fans themselves, whilst accepting inevitable financial pain for all. So how come football authorities either don’t perceive these benefits or have ignored them?

6 “Unless behaviour changes, nothing changes” – somewhat ironic given this is a manifesto to manage utter catastrophe by means of the most minimal change possible. Inaction, negligence and continuing cronyism are part of what has brought Scottish football to its knees. The behaviour proposed here is to do as little as possible to rock a boat that was plainly sinking.

Bizarre document

So there it is. A bizarre document the tone of which is near-panic, which sets out to destroy all the supposed ambition set out at its top. Extraordinary prose for extraordinary times.

The fans – the customers – of course lie forgotten. Everyone says most fans want Rangers in Division 3 and most Rangers fans (for various reasons) seem to want that too. They are not listened to. They are not heard.

Like a desperate child the football authorities survey the car-crash they’ve presided over and wring their hands. Shocked by the SPL clubs calling their bluff they try desperately to get the nearest thing possible to the SPL with their SPL- lite.

The fans aren’t daft and they’ll not buy this, nor should the clubs – even those who’ve long hankered for the two-tier SPL.

It should all be about real change, real opportunities for clubs who are not toxic and for Rangers to have the chance – genuinely, credibly, cleanly – to put this behind them, do their time and come good as they surely will, with any deserved bragging rights earned the hard way in coming years.

Don’t take my word – pop up the A9 to the new hotbed of European football in Scotland – Perth.

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