Wednesday, July 4, 2012
The shame of Scottish football
North of the Border reviews a week in which Scottish football's sporting integrity is in question.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
What have we learned from four months of chaos at Rangers that has now infected the entirety of Scottish football? The primary lesson is from the school of Mulder and Scully: trust no-one. What we were told was set in stone turns out to be made of sand. What is dead in the water one day, the next is riding the surf to the theme of Hawaii Five-O.
At the start of the week, we thought we knew the company that acquired the assets of Rangers had no future in the SPL. Ahead of a formal vote, enough clubs made public their intention to block the transfer of the old club's league shares to ensure the new season would start without them. The fixture list was published featuring 'Club 12' and now, we were sure, that club would be Dundee, the second-placed team in the First Division last season, or Dunfermline Athletic, the team relegated from the SPL.
Instead, a story broke in Scotland on Tuesday morning of a revived bid to let the new club begin life in the top division.
Sevco, the consortium led by Charles Green which owns Rangers, have reportedly been courting the league's member clubs. They say they will accept a points deduction. They say they will accept the 12-month embargo on the registration of players over 18 imposed by the SFA and successfully challenged in the law courts by Sevco. They say they will pay their football debts in full.
Still, it's hard to buy. Access to the SPL would now require a turnaround by chairmen who have stated their intention to vote 'no', a vote that is aligned with the wishes of the majority of their supporters.
One story suggested the revival of this scenario originated through pressure from TV deals, with one broadcaster allegedly determined to protect its primary asset within the SPL rights package: the Old Firm derby.
However, the financial risk posed by a 'no' vote was not unknown to the chairmen of Hibernian and Hearts, of Aberdeen, St Johnstone and Dundee United. Already this week, St Mirren said further new signings were unlikely due to the financial aftermath of Rangers' collapse, while Dundee United have iced contract talks with their manager, Peter Houston, and any player recruitment until the picture becomes more clear.
These clubs made a strong call on this issue once, but their resolve may be about to be tested a second time.
The ground, meanwhile, is still being prepared for the new Rangers to avoid starting life in the bottom tier of Scottish football, the Third Division. On Tuesday there was a meeting of Scottish Football League clubs at Hampden, the aim to take the temperature of chairmen on plans to parachute a new club into the second tier.
This seems the weirdest outcome of all, yet, at the time of writing, also the most likely. The problem here is that it lacks any semblance of logic and none has been provided. The proposition is not that Rangers be relegated one division as a consequence of their financial collapse and numerous alleged rules breaches. That would make sense.
Instead, what is on the table is that an entirely new club should begin life in the second tier. Until that argument can be framed in a way that makes sense, this course is as harmful to the notion of sporting integrity as the transfer of the old company's SPL shares to a new one.
In this scenario, the payback is different. According to a leaked document, the SPL would pay the SFL £1 million for television rights for Rangers' matches in the First Division. There would be play-offs for an additional promotion place to the SPL involving the second-bottom team in the SPL and the second, third and fourth-placed teams in the First Division. There would also be a more equal distribution of finances and a merger next year of the SPL and SFL.
The bill, then, is paid not by Rangers, but by the SPL. It is they who pony up the £1m for the rights. It is their clubs who will fill the play-off spot in future seasons, a proposal that couldn't get off the ground when, time after time before this crisis, it was raised. What kind of murky double-dealing is afoot here?
Rangers' immediate entry to the top division would be poison to many supporters, but should they enter the First Division and fail to win it, they would have a second chance via play-offs. Fail again and there is a possibility that league reconstruction would suck them up to the top division.
In either scenario, it is not just the start of Rangers first season that is under scrutiny, but what happens next. If a special case is made of them now, either in the SPL or the First Division, it may be repeated to ensure their rehabilitation can continue in the top division the following season.
Should that transpire, the concept of sporting integrity will be sunk forever by a weight of irony unimaginable to even the most jaded observer of Scottish football.