Wake up – and smell the lights going out!

17 Dec

Good Afternoon.

It is some time since I have used these pages to write anything at all about Scottish Football or indeed to do anything other than tell the odd story based on fact or fiction.

However, the time has come to set down some purely personal views on both the cultural and business outlook for football as we currently know it in Scotland.

On the one hand, more and more clubs are living within their means, are operating without the need for overdrafts or debt and on the face of it the clubs themselves seem to have improved their efficiency and general trading over the last 5 years or so.

On the other hand, Scottish Football is still gripped, crippled and hindered by the “Rangers debacle” and has to face up to the fact that the game in Scotland, as it does in many other countries, continues to get poorer and poorer when compared to the money flowing into the four big European leagues of Spain, Italy, Germany and England.

In terms of the National team we are rated as the 52nd best Footballing country in the world whereas in 2007 we were rated at number 14 with our worst ever rating being 78th or 88th in 2005 depending which body dishes out the information.

Scotland is now one of the “poor relations” in terms of European Football and when it comes to media, sponsorship rights and revenues far from being anywhere near the top table at the feast we are permanently given a seat at the beggars banquet!

While the world watches on dumbfounded, but not surprised, by the collapse of the self interested and self preserving menagerie that is FIFA, and waits to see whether the man at the head of UEFA can escape being embroiled and burnt in the wake of the FIFA debacle, The Scottish Football Fan is left wondering in amazement how the local game in Scotland came to be ran by the intellectual business equivalent of the Teletubbies (Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa- Laa and Po) and reported on by the ever less well read journalistic equivalent of the three wise (joke) monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”.

Many of those who run football in this country wear rose coloured specs and can only see the world through a rose tinted hue which blocks out all sight and sense of the ordinary people who are the backbone of football throughout the world – namely football fans.

Those same glasses also block out what some judges in the Court of Session recently referred to as “Common Sense” – a commodity which I have always been told was not so common despite it’s name.

Is it really asking too much of those who run football to see that a game which is financially dependent, in certain quarters, on daily PR and spin fed to newspapers is in deep financial, business and sporting trouble?

Is it honestly the case, that so called professional boards filled with professional administrators who are meant to oversee the running of the game and the application of sporting, business and compliance rules, can be said to have properly done their job and met professionally acceptable standards when thousands of fans who have invested hard earned money in football clubs regulated by that professional body have seen that money disappear in amidst a quagmire of failed stadia development companies, dodgy tax schemes, incomplete or irregular registration of players and the strangest of coincidences when it comes to a number of former international managers, captains and players during or after their stay at one particular club – though this latter set of circumstances merits no investigation whatsoever.

That lack of investigation really comes as no surprise when one considers that the immediate past President of the SFA was the architect of what has been established and accepted as an attempt to defraud HMRC of tax that was properly due and which all — and  I repeat all — of those involved in the administration of Scottish Football contrived, by design or by breathtaking professional negligence and incompetence, to ensure that his involvement in this entire episode was not only swept under the carpet but never even mentioned at all when the whole matter was allegedly being investigated by Lord Nimmo Smith.

Yet this crass stupidity, this blind idiocy, is not restricted to those who twiddle their thumbs at Hampden while all faith in Scottish Football burns.

As at today’s date there are plans afoot at two of the county’s biggest clubs to attract more fans and provide better facilities.

The shrewd and businesslike Ann Budge recently announced that there will be a revamping of Tynecastle which will provide better match facilities to an increased number of Hearts fans.

Aberdeen boss Stewart Milne predicts that the Dons will kick of the 2017 season before an increased number of fans in a new custom built stadium which will replace Pittodrie.

Clubs like Inverness Caley Thistle, Ross County and St Johnstone will hope to strengthen their community base and will seek to improve on field performance.

Yet none of these, or any other improvements will serve to make Scottish Football richer, more lucrative, or even better as a whole.

Such improvement would have to come from the governing bodies who, last season, could not find sponsors for all their competitions and who have spectacularly failed to address the realities of business over recent years.

In fact, the reality is that the Hampden squatters party have failed to take account of business realities for two decades and have done little, if anything, to improve the lot of football in Scotland during that time frame.

In particular, the maladministration of Scottish Football at the top level has been so chronic that fans of all and every club are on the verge of turning their backs on football as they have no faith in the institutional product that is being provided.

And it is the failure to see and recognise this change in temperature which totally jeopardises the otherwise sound business sense of the Milnes and Budges of this world.

The blunt fact of the matter is that the Professional football in this country is losing its grip among the masses despite the improving balance sheets and decreasing levels of debt.

A poorer product on the park is only part of the reason for this increasing public malaise and ambivalence.

Other sports are on the rise in terms of the public psyche and the pound in the pocket, and are proving to attract better media coverage without the dreaded media gurus spouting what is now accepted as a daily dose of drivel to the blats.

Who would have imagined that an arena across the road from Celtic Park could have sold out within days for a tennis match while Scotland’s only European Cup winners can’t fill a stadium?

In the era of Stein, Waddell, Ferguson or McLean would anyone have predicted record high level crowds for the Ryder cup in Perth whilst the football teams of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee all failed to fill stadia?

No one at Hampden, and no one in the press dare go public and point out that beyond a certain level Scottish Football is nose diving into the abyss.

It suffers from poor administration, poor media coverage and complete and utter lack of any business sense within the governing bodies.

During the Murray era at Ibrox, Rangers PLC lost over £160 Million pounds excluding any unpaid taxes, interest and penalties. Numerous clubs who all banked with the Bank of Scotland either went to the wall or had to be rescued by being sold for a pound, a bag of chips, or taken over by Argentinian lawyers of dubious character who were just out to make a buck – not to mention the chap from the Eastern block with his own submarine and method of balancing the books.

And all the while the football gurus and professional compliance merchants at Hampden sat and gazed at the walls and appear to have asked no questions and grasped no nettles with the result that the football fan was left clueless, in the dark and ultimately stung.

Now we are being fed the mantra that one possible boon for Scottish Football may well be the return of a revised Rangers team ( call them Rangers/Sevco/ Newco/ The Rangers or whatever ) playing out of Ibrox because this will see the return of the blue pound which, we are assured, will be good for Scottish Football.

There is no doubt that any Rangers team will bring a large support into the top league, but at the same time no one mentions that many many former Rangers fans departed the scene for a variety of reasons before the end of the Murray era, and even more have left the park during the magnificent governance provided by Craig Whyte and Charles Green — both of whom were welcomed into the fold by the blazer wearing guardians of the game at Hampden.

Even when these individuals were found to have broken rules or be worthy of sanction, the footballing authorities are widely accepted to have fudged the issues and failed to enforce any penalty which was imposed by what was described as barely short of “match fixing”.

I repeat again that during his tenure David Murray managed to lose £160 Million blue pounds, while his successors have achieved a mixture of administration, liquidation and criminal charges in connection with their running of, and their involvement with, the companies that generate that same blue pound.

The current Ibrox board are a mixture of old and new custodians with their chairman being unique among his predecessors in that he has been convicted of wrongdoing in a court of law while his two immediate predecessors are only accused of criminality at this time.

Yet the SFA seemingly fail to take any action or have any stance which would protect the ordinary football fan from any of these shysters or a Gavin Masterton, a Giovanni De Stefano – described by Wikipedia as simply a convicted fraudster, or a Vladimir Romanov.

And there is the problem – Scottish Football has become a business vehicle and a never ending gravy train for suits of many hues and little talent.

The overseeing of a sporting contest for people in the terracings to enjoy – win or lose – has become of so little importance that many commentators openly debated whether sporting integrity and fair play should win out over so called financial consequence just a few years ago. At that point the journos and PR punters weighed in as they saw that their own circulations and therefore wage was in jeopardy if proper sporting governance won the day.

As a result we were warned of Armageddon and have since been treated to the see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil brand of sports journalism.

With all due respect to Mr Milne of Aberdeen does it really make any business sense to have the plans for a new stadium holding say 25,000 supported by the argument that football at the top level will be enhanced by the participation of an organisation whose ownership of it’s own assets is in question, whose past chairmen face jail time if convicted of fraudulent activities, which does not have the support of any financial institution, and which survives on a mixture of emergency loans by investors and directors who take one another to court on a daily basis?

That is not the description of a stable business partner you can rely on at all.

As one business person put it to me, “The business position and model at Rangers is so unstable, so uncertain, you simply cannot proceed with any business plan or contract which relies on that club being a material or essential part of the bargain because you just do not know what will happen next at all. To do so would be crazy on a business front.”

Mr Milne presides over the only major football club in a large northern city within a county with a population of over 400,000.

If he cannot regularly fill a 25,000 seater stadium from that base then he should look to his business model and market as even inviting Barcelona or Real Madrid to join the league and play there 4 times a year does not address the fundamental problem – namely that senior football in Scotland is maladministered and is dying as a result.

The only hope for Scottish Football is for the governing bodies and those who run the clubs to actually listen to the fans. Not just some fans, not even their own fans, but all fans.

However, that view point is one that finds no favour among the administrators and they actively seek to shut the fans out.

Many will have read of Resolution 12 which was brought by a number of Celtic shareholders before the AGM of Celtic PLC for consideration at the 2013 AGM of that company.

Much ill informed comment has been written about the resolution in the intervening period with a considerable degree of misinformation coming from somewhere for whatever reason.

The most important part of the resolution’s progress to date has not been the attitude of the board of Celtic PLC to the resolution – both the board and those promoting the resolution have stated publicly at subsequent AGMs that the Celtic Board had made enquiries of the SFA regarding the issues concerned – namely the procedures followed by the SFA when it came to the granting of a European Licence to Rangers in 2011.

Further both have stated that the Celtic board have, thus far, supported and assisted the enquiries made by the shareholders.

Note that the questions asked were not questions about the conduct of Rangers Football Club and its officials per se, but about what had happened at Hampden when Rangers had applied for a European licence and what the blazers at Hampden did when reporting to UEFA.

I will not try to cover up the fact that some of that discussion surrounds what was or was not truthfully disclosed by the officials of a Craig Whyte governed Rangers, but of greater importance is what was or was not truthfully done, said and acted upon by the officials at Hampden.

No doubt certain information not widely reported in the press will come to light in some of the forthcoming court appearances surrounding the activities of the time.

However, for the purposes of this essay, the salient facts are that HMRC wrote to Rangers PLC formally in both February and May 2011 alleging that the club had deliberately falsified it’s PAYE returns for more than a decade.

The legal effect of the letter of May 2011 was that this letter counted as a formal demand for payment and as such should have been disclosed to both the SFA and UEFA for licensing purchases.

As part of the Res 12 enquiry line, the SFA were asked informally and formally if their records contained this correspondence and then begged two questions:

  1. If the letters were disclosed, what did the SFA or UEFA do about the position as it would appear that the existence of such letters should have negated the licence ( which was redundant in any event as Rangers had been knocked out of European competition ) or
  2. If the letters had not been disclosed then surely there should be some form of enquiry into how any kind of licence can have been granted and maintained in the first place.

Informally, my understanding of the position is that these letters could not be found within the SFA archives and so it would appear that the SFA and UEFA had been misled at the time.

Surely that would be a simple thing to investigate?

Strange as it may seem there has apparently been no such investigation despite the fact that all of this information was sent on formally to The SFA Corporate Compliance Officer Mr Andrew McKinlay by an International firm of Solicitors acting on behalf of Celtic PLC shareholders and ordinary money paying football fans.

The legal firm concerned have vouched that all of the fans concerned are shareholders in Celtic PLC and it will be obvious that they have paid thousands of pounds over the years to support their club and Scottish Football in general.

The reply to these formal letters from Mr McKinlay is illuminating.

Mr McKinlay was not working at Hampden at the material time, is a qualified lawyer and, as will be his duty, he will have taken his instructions on how to reply from higher up the food chain at Hampden.

Given the information and documentation provided, given that when initially addressing these issues Stewart Regan drafted a reply which he then sent to Ibrox for prior approval before being sent out ( only to be advised not to send the intended reply as it would embarrass both the SFA and the Rangers officials concerned ) and given that the whole issue requires comment on letters written by the past president of the SFA and his failure to disclose certain information over a decade long period, one might have expected a bland ” we need to look into this further” type of reply if you wanted to kick the matter into touch.

Alas no – on offical SFA notepaper the compliance officer stated quite clearly that the SFA were only prepared to discuss and correspond on these and similar matters with their member clubs and their official representatives.

So, there you have it football fans – tartan army fans, Rangers fans, Celtic Fans, Queen of the South fans, Motherwell fans, Aberdeen fans – any old fans — The SFA has nothing to do with you.

They are not answerable to you, they do not regard your enquiries as worthy of reply as you are not to be considered or given any sort of deference when it comes to ensuring proper governance of the game.

It matters not if you invested thousands of pounds in Rangers PLC or any other reincarnation of the Rangers brand and had your money stolen or lost by incompetents – The SFA will not answer your questions and they sure as hell are not there to ensure that those in charge of your club act properly or with propriety in terms of the football or business rules.

It matters not if you are a shareholder who bailed out Hearts or Motherwell or Dunfermline, Celtic or anyone else.

Corporate compliance and how to avoid it, implement it, hide it, breach it, and even talk about it is only for those who actually run football clubs. It is not for the ordinary investor, season ticket holder or occasional fan who pays their money at the gate.

It is only to be discussed with those who will take the name of your football club to the stock market, the bank, the fans or anyone else for the purposes of asking for money which, as we have seen above, is often mispent, stolen, squandered and applied for the benefit of those whose last concern is the long lasting well being of a football club and Scottish Football in general.

Good luck to Ms Budge and Mr Milne in the expansion of their stadia.

Good luck to those who believe that all will be well if Mark Warburton fields a team of Royal Blue in the SPFL.

Good Luck to those who are unduly concerned about the fact that no team from any league other than Spain, England, Germany or Italy has contested the Champion’s league final in a decade, and that there is a greater chance of Nicola Sturgeon winning the Grand National while carrying an elephant on her back than of a Scottish team ever reaching that final in the future

Good luck to those who continue to swallow the PR drivel put out by some of our senior clubs and the governing bodies.

Good luck to those who honestly believe that the SFA and the SPFL are properly run for the benefit of the game of football, are fit for purpose and that those in situ will ensure that the game is played openly and honestly with transparency and open governance that makes for common sense.

However, I believe we live in the land of the Teletubbies – strange little creatures running around in strange suits speaking an odd language with no obvious business or corporate sense – and that they have decided that the guy that pays at the gate can be ignored and doesn’t count but is expected to fund and financially support the member clubs the Teletubbies rely on and govern on behlaf of and in their name.

Yeah, Good Luck with that.

Other sports are better run, have better media coverage, have better customer relations and provide better customer involvement and value for money at a national and local level.

Rugby is on the up and up and other Sports see football fans abandoning the beautiful game in favour of the properly run one.

The fans of every single football club deserves better than this and it is no surprise that football in the lower leagues – amateurs, juniors and the likes are enjoying some success – due to ordinary people recognising better and honest governance free of the stench of self preserving money influences where they can watch a proper sporting contest – win or lose.

Senior football in Scotland is devoid of integrity, backbone and any sort of humility or obligation towards the ordinary fan.

The man or woman at the gate is no more than a credit card carrier with a chip and a pin, but without a voice or an opinion worth listening to.

There is no or little community in football, just profit and loss and lot’s of people who see the main chance.

Ignoring the fan in the terracing stinks.

Ignore him or her too often and they will move on for pastures new and all that will be left will be the smell of the Hampden lights going out for good due to the rotting vegetation within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Responses to “Wake up – and smell the lights going out!”

  1. Paul McCombie December 17, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    I’ve long since given up on paying for football other than by proxy of advertising and tv revenue and even then my contribution would be very small.

    In contrast, I give anywhere between 5 and 20 hours per week to a local swimming club as well as helping with fundraising activities and also paying various sums out in swimming entry fees for my oldest daughter (a two-day gala with 10 swims will cost between £50 and £70)

    I’m not alone in this. It’s not so much anger that has driven me/us away, we’re simply fed up with how the clubs and authorities treat us.

    My youngest daughter, who turns 7 in a few weeks, wants me to take her to a Celtic game. I’ve not been to one in her lifetime and sadly, I don’t expect that will change. Ever.

  2. BampotsUtd.wordpress.com December 18, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.

  3. John Mc Court December 18, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    Well done Sir, more power to you’re nimble fingers on the keyboard

  4. batumi95 December 18, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

    This piece of your work correlates with my decision some weeks ago to stop attending football. As a season ticket holder for 30 odd years I wrote to my club expressing concerns over SFA [lack of ] governance. The reply was astonishingly careless. As you say BRTH, ‘good luck to them’ but I’m out!

  5. Raymond McCrudden December 21, 2015 at 7:19 am #

    I’ve already sent a comment from my phone last night – – – I only managed to read the whole article when I went to bed last night. I envy your knowledge, but also your style of writing. Thoroughly enjoyed the whole article and I would only wish that it would arrive on the desks to whom it really applies {not that it will make one iota of difference – – – unless a hoard of FANS stormed the place} Well done ! There SHOULD be some red faces – – – GUILT !

    >

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