Tony Benn once posed five questions that should be asked of everyone in power; I’ve long wanted to do an article directing these at our own board of directors.
But it seems apt to do them in relation to what’s going to happen later on this week with the arbitration hearing in relation to Hearts and Thistle. Everyone knows how I want that to come out, but it poses questions about the way we hold people to account.
The SPFL is being put under the spotlight by the SFA.
This is problematic, because we all know that there are those on the SPFL board who want to snatch powers away from the SFA and grow the power of their own organisation instead. If the SFA wants to, it can deal the SPFL a serious blow here and at the same time re-assert its own dominance.
The SFA is a joke of an organisation, as they prove time and time again. One doesn’t have to go too far back to see it either. The appointment of Alex McLeish as manager was disgraceful. The ascension of Rod Petrie to the Presidency without an election was a travesty.
What exactly does an SFA President do anyway? Can anyone tell me? The organisation has a CEO, himself an invisible man at the moment and for many months, who takes care of the day-to-day running of the place.
What exactly is Petrie’s job?
Why do we need him and the other vice chairmen?
This is an anachronistic and arrogant organisation which has long been in need of a major restructure. It does now allow scrutiny. It gives too much protection to officials, who Scottish football treats like sacred cows although many of them are plainly useless.
Do you trust the SFA to deal fairly with the SPFL versus Hearts case?
Benn’s five questions, then, starting from the top.
His first question is simple enough; what power have you got?
And the answer to that is that the SFA has all the power it wants, or needs. It can do anything it sees fit to. Including revoking the licenses of clubs, fining them, suspending their officials and players and even declaring individuals persona non grata and banning them from any connection with the game, although when you consider those who didn’t get that sanction – like Dave King – you wonder what good it is. The SFA can do as it likes.
The second question is this; where did you get the power from?
The answer to that is simple enough too; FIFA and UEFA give them the mandate, because theirs is the seat at that table, not the league body. The SFA sets down the regulations not only for the professional game but the amateur and junior games as well, and the binding framework for that is laid down in Zurich and in Nyon. But you know what? The Scottish Professional Football League believes that a lot of the major decisions which the SFA takes can be taken by their own body and should be, because, ultimately, the real power ought to come from the clubs under their aegis … and it does not.
The third question is this; in who’s interests do you exercise that power?
And that’s a tough one for the SFA to answer, because the truth of it is that although the clubs don’t really get a say in much of what the SFA does, they exercise that power on behalf of a select handful of those clubs. This would be bad enough if they did so on behalf of the professional clubs only, but in fact they seem, at times, to exercise it on behalf of just two … and in reality, as we all know too well, only one them. This is part of the problem … and as we know full well that said club would dearly love to see the SPFL humiliated you wonder how this will go.
The fourth question is; to whom are you accountable?
And this is part of the problem, because the SFA is not accountable to anybody. We have seen that over and over again. Celtic have run into that brick wall several times, such as when we wanted an independent inquiry into the events of 2012 and the EBT era, and when the SFA took the decision not to refer the Resolution 12 evidence to CAS recently. What can we do about it? Nothing, because the SFA simply does not answer to anyone, and that’s a problem … and that brings us nicely to Benn’s fifth and final question and the total lack of an answer to it.
The fifth question is; how do we get rid of you?
And nobody can give you a straight answer on that, because the SFA just seems utterly impervious to accountability and they will simply not reform no matter the clamour from the fans. It is not even clear how the clubs can act to change things … the SFA General Assembly is toothless, the AGM is a bigger farce than the stage managed ones at Ibrox and elections are a joke. How can you get rid of people who are not elected by get their positions via an archaic system that should have been in the bin 30 years ago? This is how we got stuck with Petrie.
I agreed with the SFA when they issued the disciplinary summons to Hearts and Thistle last week, but let’s face it, you cannot avoid concluding that this is ridiculous when those same clubs are about to go up for arbitration in front of the same body. They could have delayed their charges until after that was done; they chose not to. It’s absurd.
When this organisation holds the trial for Hearts and Thistle they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Whatever their verdict, it will be attacked. The SFA makes it easy to do. They don’t inspire trust. They don’t inspire confidence.
They will be judging the SPFL. They will be judging the two clubs. But who judges them? Who holds them to account? The media? Don’t make me laugh. The SPFL wants to be able to … and that’s the problem. We’re in the middle of a power struggle here, and the ordinary fans don’t count for a damn. We’re observers right now, and nothing more.
Until that changes, nothing will.
In the meantime, take the below quiz and see how much you know about some of the most shocking events in the game’s recent history.