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SPFL Season declaration challenged legally (ongoing discussion)


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Forbes .. you would think they employ impartial and good reporters. But then you come to this and if you think you heard it all before, think again. The first paragraph gives some hint about what follows ...

 

(NB ... just in case you don't want to read this business' mag's article, this is Mike ...

Mike Meehall Wood @MikeMeehallWood Write stuff for @Forbes and more. Rugby League // Celtic // Cricket // Boxing
Amsterdam, The Netherlands Since April 2010 on Twitter)
 
Quote

 

Rangers’ Dossier On Scottish Football Corruption Proves Damp Squib As SPFL’s Latest Big Vote Looms

Mike Meehall WoodContributor

 

SportsMoney

I write about sports, politics, money and the points where they meet.

 

 

In a column for the Glasgow Herald back in the 1970s, journalist Ian Archer described Rangers as a “permanent embarrassment and occasional disgrace” to Scottish football. At the time, he was writing about their racist employment policies and a tendency towards violent hooliganism that had seen the club excluded from European football for a year after an incident at the 1972 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final. 

That might be in the deep and dusty past, but the quote resurfaced last week in light of the dossier that the Ibrox club released, a missive designed to blow the doors off Scottish football and expose the rot at the top of the game. It didn’t, and by this stage, it seems like Rangers are intent on embarrassing themselves rather than bringing shame on the rest of the sport.

I’m going to warn you right here that this is a long article, but given that Rangers’ dossier was nearly twice the length of Animal Farm (insert your own joke), I can assure you that this is actually the short version. 

 

The document was released on Thursday and marked with a strict “for your eyes only” notice, which is why everyone on the internet had an opinion on it within 20 minutes or so. The dossier that was meant to substantiate why they had made allegations of corruption and bullying against the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) regarding the manner in which a vote on how to end the 2019/20 season was made, and why they had called for the suspension of SPFL CEO Neil Doncaster and legal adviser Rod McKenzie. Suffice to say, it didn’t really do that. 

After 200 or so pages, it’s still quite difficult to see what Rangers actually want. They want Neil Doncaster gone, for sure, but then what? And why? They want an independent investigation into the SPFL, but on what grounds? The dossier was meant to lay that bit out, to substantiate their bullying and corruption allegations but, if anything, it made it more confusing. 

 

For those who haven’t been entertaining themselves with this for the last six weeks or so, here’s how you get up to speed. A month or so ago, the SPFL had a vote about how to end the Scottish lower leagues because of COVID-19, and how they might plan to end the Premiership season should it not be able to fulfil all the fixtures. The 42 SPFL clubs voted by an 81% majority to end the season, allowing for prize money to be paid and for planning to begin for next season. This was, inarguably, vital for the survival of many clubs, who needed to end contracts that ran until the end of the season, and to release prize money to keep cash flow going. 

The problem was the voting process, in which one club (Dundee) voted, but kind of didn’t, thus throwing up huge doubts about the fairness of the whole vote. It was a major failure and amid all the blether about this whole affair, pretty much everyone can agree that it was handled horrendously by the SPFL. Fundamentally, however, there is a significant difference between incompetence and corruption, which is what Rangers are alleging. At the time, Rangers came up with their own scheme to end the season, which was even less viable than the SPFL’s, so wasn’t even fit to go to a vote. As of the time of writing, nobody has put forward any other alternative plan for what to do in this situation.

Right, dossier time. First, there are the accusations of bullying centred around the conduct of Neil Doncaster in the lead-up to the vote in April, when it is alleged that he attempted to coerce clubs into backing the SPFL board’s resolution and that member clubs attempted to sway other members’ votes. The two allegations here are pretty weak. Firstly, Doncaster is the CEO of the league, and part of the board putting forward the resolution, so it is expected of him to back the vote forthrightly and to convince others to back it too. CEOs don’t propose resolutions to their stakeholders that they don’t think are a good idea. It’s hard to see what the complaint here is, other than that the CEO is doing his job correctly.

Secondly, if member clubs are coercing others, then there hasn’t been any complaint made about it. Inverness Caledonian Thistle have today suggested that they have evidence of such an event, but as of yet haven’t produced any. The SPFL procedures on this are very clear: if one club accuses another of acting inappropriately, then it is a matter to be raised with the SPFL Chairman, Murdoch McLennan, an impartial figure who sits above Neil Doncaster. No complaint was made, so what Neil Doncaster is meant to do about it is quite unclear. Clubs are meant to discuss these things with each other, robustly at times, which is why there is a procedure in place for if things get too robust. 

The accusations of poor governance centred around the claim that Doncaster failed to inform SPFL clubs of a potential liability to clubs should the season be cancelled ahead of time. In this regard, Rangers are correct, at least in the sense that Doncaster didn’t directly mention the estimated £10m ($12.3m) liability. However, it was patently clear from all discussions that there would be some liability to broadcast partners if games couldn’t be fulfilled: any claim that it was incumbent on the SPFL board to explain this to their members treats those other members as idiots who couldn’t work this out for themselves. Everyone knew that Sky and BT Sport, the TV companies that broadcast Scottish football, would have the possibility to ask for their money back. The exact size of that liability was always going to be large, but the costs of voiding the season would have been even larger and, as of writing, the league still intends to play these games if possible. 

There is a further allegation that the SPFL told UEFA what their members would vote for ahead of the actual vote. While this is undoubtedly a bad look for the SPFL, it was less that they had prejudged the vote, more that they provided a steer to Europe’s governing body that a majority of their members backed ending the season. Part of a CEO’s job in this situation is to gauge the mood of members and be in constant contact with them on important issues, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that Doncaster knew that a majority of member clubs wanted the season to end and provided UEFA with this information. 81% later backed the motion, and realistically, anyone could have sat down with a piece of paper and guesstimated that at least 22 of 42 clubs would have backed the board well ahead of time. For what it’s worth, I did exactly this and wrote as much here in Forbes before the vote. The actual wording of the letter, as included in Rangers’ dossier, is that the SPFL said “We are writing as discussed to explain why the vast majority of SPFL clubs are calling for curtailment of the 2019-20 season in Scotland”, which sounds a lot like the SPFL were giving a temperature check rather than saying anything definitive. 

At the centre of this whole affair is Stewart Robertson, Rangers MD and a member of the SPFL board. The evidence in the dossier is purported to come from a whistleblower, and it seems impossible that that whistleblower is anyone but Robertson himself. It seems quaint that a whistleblower would go to such lengths to reveal information this vague. Robertson went on the radio on the day of the dossier’s release to defend his club’s actions, but only served to confuse things further by stating that Rangers hadn’t made any allegations of corruption or bullying, even though the club had tweeted “Rangers will not be bullied” and a link to a statement about bullying and corruption within the SPFL that same afternoon. 

Rangers interim chairman Douglas Park has also come in for serious criticism, especially regarding the allegations made against SPFL legal counsel Rod McKenzie. The dossier claimed that McKenzie sent four cease-and-desist letters to Rangers on the evening of the April vote, which the SPFL says is a result of Park’s words in a conversation between the SPFL and Rangers that evening.  What they were is yet to come out, but Neil Doncaster described them as “very serious and defamatory”, further stating that it was “the only occasion in my 25 years involved in the game, (in which) a line was crossed such that I needed to seek an undertaking not to repeat what was such a defamatory allegation.”

Furthermore, the SPFL CEO added that Rangers themselves confirmed his version of events in their own dossier: “If you actually turn to page 13 in the Rangers dossier it backs up exactly what I am saying. It says that at 7.46 pm Neil Doncaster called Douglas Park back, Douglas Park made allegations about information which he had received from a whistleblower.” Park responded by calling the claims that he threatened the SPFL as “offensive, crass and downright wrong”. 

Rangers’ motives have been heavily scrutinized, with the general consensus being that this is a big exercise in mobilizing their base. That isn’t particularly surprising, given that—and one only needs to publish an article about Rangers to find this out first hand—there is apparently some huge plot involving the Scottish government, the Vatican and the IRA to keep the Rangers down. Putting aside that literally nobody wants the season to end without the games being played, but that all the medical advice suggests that such a thing will not be possible, the Rangers base have bought fully into the narrative put forward by their club. This isn’t surprising for a second: the club has coalesced around the idea of “no one likes us, we don’t care” for a long time now. They have been bogged down in a series of legal battles since reformation after going bust the first time around in 2012 and this has fostered a mentality among their supporters that Rangers, a club that was once the bastion of the Scottish establishment, are now put-upon outcasts hated by every other club in Scotland. Using a strategy that emphasizes this is pushing at an open door and there are little to no dissenting voices on their fan forums or social media: their own supporters think that the club has played a blinder. 

Their PR strategy is run by James Traynor, a former tabloid journalist famed for so-called “succulent lamb” coverage of Rangers that was soft bordering on embarrassing, and David Graham, who jumped ship to Rangers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, a group who, as anyone who has followed politics in the province can attest, are experts in firing up their own hardcore and demonizing their opposition. 

In the middle of this psychodrama, Rangers have launched a membership scheme and begun season ticket sales for next season, with a £25 ($30) discount to cover the games missed this year. One analogy that has been used throughout this has been that, while the Titanic is sinking, Rangers are complaining about the band’s song choice and calling for the conductor to be sacked. Running with this metaphor, their attempt to curry favor with their own supporters via this discount is akin to the White Star Line going around the lifeboats handing out 25 quid vouchers off the next sailing. £25 would barely cover a ticket for one game, let alone the four that have been cancelled, but responses online from Rangers fans have broadly been supportive. 

A second motivation might be one of scorched earth, in which the Ibrox club’s looming financial issues can be mitigated by other clubs also going through the same trouble. It is no secret that Rangers are not in the best of financial health: their own accounts, released last autumn, showed that they needed £10m ($12.4m USD) in new cash before the end of the season, and that was before COVID-19 and before their major shareholder withdrew his backing. The club was due to release interim accounts in the spring, but these are yet to see the light of day. 

Now, in the new reality of post-coronavirus Scottish football, it is unlikely that they will be the only club who faces serious financial difficulty. Indeed, the reason so many clubs backed the SPFL’s proposal in the first place was because they needed prize money that came from ending the season to be awarded quickly to stave off cash flow issues. It might yet be that the whole Scottish game needs an injection of cash from the central government, similar to that which was doled out to rugby league in recent weeks, to survive the pandemic. If Rangers were just one of several who go into administration, it looks better than if it is just them—not to mention that the mandatory points penalty for going into administration may be relaxed if half the league find themselves starting next season on -12. 

The extraordinary general meeting that Rangers requested will take place tomorrow, and a vote on whether an independent investigation will be opened will be taken by the 42 SPFL clubs. Some clubs may back the proposal, and in general, the idea of investigating the SPFL’s governance of Scottish football is not a bad one. One only needs to see how well they handled the vote to get a flavor of their general levels of competence. Some clubs may even see an investigation, which Rangers have claimed that they will pay for, as a chance to exonerate Neil Doncaster. Whatever happens, Rangers’ conduct in the whole affair has likely done more to hinder their campaign than to help it.

Follow me on Twitter. 

Mike Meehall Wood

I have been a sports journalist since I was 15 and a sports fanatic since long before that. My first paid job was writing Rugby League match reports and I got paid with a

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https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemeehallwood/2020/05/11/rangers-dossier-on-scottish-football-corruption-proves-damp-squib-as-spfls-latest-big-vote-looms/#15ffcc46cc30
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19 minutes ago, the gunslinger said:

Only someone with something to hide would vote against this inquiry. 

 

If nothing was done wrong then there is no reason not to have it

In that case then Celtic should vote for the II.
They could even, in a magnanimous gesture to show their passion and concern for Scottish football, offer to share the cost of the II with Rangers.
(It's great what an active imagination during lockdown can create.)😇

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14 minutes ago, barca72 said:

In that case then Celtic should vote for the II.
They could even, in a magnanimous gesture to show their passion and concern for Scottish football, offer to share the cost of the II with Rangers.
(It's great what an active imagination during lockdown can create.)😇

Well for as long as I can remember, as a club Celtic, their (ex) players and their fan base have been constantly telling us that there is conspiracy against them. Now here's there chance to prove it once and for all. Why would they vote against this?

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  • Frankie changed the title to SPFL Season declaration challenged legally (ongoing discussion)

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