20 Mar 2012

Do SFA need new rule book after Rangers saga?

First off, some good news. Unlike many in Scottish Football the Scottish FA are prepared at least to be up for it and open when it comes to taking hard questions. And all that from their new boss Stewart Regan who has come into the game from that other quiet non-controversial sporting backwater – Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Yesterday at his Hampden Park office we sat down, he asked for question areas in advance which is reasonable – many do. But nothing was ever off limits. He also put me in touch with his counterpart at the SPL who is currently on holiday.

So when they talk about transparency they clearly want to act upon it at least to this extent. I say only this because a few years ago getting into Hampden Park to do this with the old-school blazers and suits would – by the open admission of many senior people in the Scottish game – have been completely impossible.

So we have come some way.

Equally, as Henry McLeish told Channel 4 News last night – there is still a long way to go and not least when it come to the financial governance of football in Scotland. And here many say the new-look SFA under Stewart Regan, is still found wanting.

A burning issue for the SFA is why nobody acted or questioned when a man called Craig Whyte came on the scene to buy Rangers for the princely sum of a quid and take up the debt left by Sir David Murray who had seen the club expand, think big, live big on other people’s money, then fall spectacularly into debt.

Had anybody spent a very short time looking into Mr Whyte they would have seen him for what an SFA investigation now declares him to be – an unfit and improper person to run a football club.

So why didn’t the SFA do anything. Mr Regan quotes back the rule book at me:

“We can’t stop people getting involved in a business. A plc. We ask for a declaration from a club.” A declaration that that person is fit and proper.

Incredibly, this is what happened at the biggest club in Scottish football, a world brand, brought to its knees and going to a new buyer about whom the authorities simply didn’t ask any meaningful questions, by their own admission.

AT; “Did the SFA conduct any due diligence on this individual?”

SR: “No. We asked for a declaration from the directors and the individual.”

AT: “That’s incredible. This was the biggest club in Scotland on its knees. A new man suddenly comes in and the SFA does no due diligence whatsoever?

Time for a new rule book?

Mr Regan suggested they had all followed the rules to the letter, I suggest this was running away from governance rather than showing governance and leadership. Again the rule book was quoted back at me. We had a debate about whether or not the SFA and SPL need a new rule book at this point.

It squarely suggests that the cosy old world of SFA SPL and the big two Glasgow clubs may have changed to some extent – but as Henry McLeish says, still has a long, long way to go and is badly in need of a new rule book.

The SFA say there is no need for them to apologise to the Rangers fans for allowing someone unsuitable to run the country’s biggest club, to buy it for a pound, then decline to pay the taxman to the tune of several million pounds. This is as far as Mr Regan will go:

“We didn’t fail. We complied with the process. That said, there are a number of leanings. Football around the world needs to look at doing things differently.”

No doubt, but I suspect the legions of Glasgow Rangers fans around the world want and deserve a little more of the game’s leadership than some “leanings” and an attempt to shift responsibilities into some presumed but vague global malaise afflicting footy’s world family.

Many will say this is dangerous complacency of the kind which has brought the Scottish game into the state of financial disrepute that now swirls around the Ibrox stadium.

“I don’t think we need to apologise to Rangers fans. We followed the regulations. It’s easy to find a scapegoat. The previous regime at Rangers Football Club needs to have a look at themselves over all this. The SFA process has worked very well up to now.”

Well, that’s highly debatable. Many see the SPL and SFA down the years as little more than cosy clubs with revolving doors between Rangers and their boards, and not a few directors sitting on governing bodies and the Ibrox board?

But at the least a man who was not even in Scotland during the period of in question is prepared to answer for the bizarre days before his tenure and there is action too, the SFA today writing to all Scottish clubs demanding all details of any payments to players beyond their contracts.

But hang on – the SFA rules state very clearly that all clubs have to send all payments to the SFA and SPL anyway. So why send a letter appealing to clubs not to cheat please?

Curiouser and curiouser.

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