In 20 years, few people will be able to tell you exactly who Brooks Mileson was or why he should have gone done in history as one of the most consequential figures in the long sweep of the Scottish game. He should have been our cautionary tale.
He should be the warning as to what could go wrong. What he did has been described as a “fairytale.”
It wasn’t. It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare from which Scottish football never woke up. It still won’t.
The reason future generations will not recall who Brooks Mileson was is that his ego trip was eclipsed and the catastrophe that struck his club was overshadowed by what happened at Ibrox four years later.
Those four years were our first window to enact change. Had it been done then there would still be a Rangers. But their liquidation made what happened at Gretna seem small in comparison. The irony is that a lot of folk pretend it never happened.
What happened at Gretna, nobody is in any doubt over. They vanished from existence to be reborn as a NewCo. They were, for a while, a triumph of insanity which the SFA should never have allowed. Their acceptance to the Scottish Football League happened in 2002. By 2007 they were playing in the top flight. By the end of 2008, it was as if they never existed.
In between times, they climbed the Scottish football ladder, winning titles and trophies along the way. They won all three of Scotland’s lower league titles. They reached a Scottish Cup Final. A lot of people in the media gushed over how marvellous their story was; actually, it was rank insanity not only what was going on at the club but all the cheerleading for it.
All of it was funded by one man. When Brooks Mileson took ill and could no longer do it, the club swirled down the tubes fast. Amongst the creditors who were owed around £4 million was HMRC, owed £650,000. They made it clear that they wind the club up unless they were paid. Sound familiar? Just four years later the media flatly denied that HMRC’s policy was to parade the corpse, and the bigger the corpse the greater the warning to others.
The death of Gretna should have been the moment Scottish football passed rules on how clubs were funded and what they were allowed to spend; Financial Fair Play by another name. That rule would have momentous consequences for our game. It might have saved Rangers for a start, although there’s an argument that EBT’s had holed them below the waterline.
I know this; the year they went into administration it had nothing to do with the Big Tax Case. Their double European knockout left them unable to pay their bills. A club forced to live within its means would never have gotten into that state.
So we lost Gretna in 2008. We lost Rangers in 2012. We are basically just sitting around waiting for the next disaster that wipes out a club. I mean let’s not forget that Gretna itself was a spectacular collapse, but there was a lesser appreciated one before that. Gretna got their place in the league because of the financial collapse of Airdrie.
The reason a lot of people don’t recall that is that a club called Airdrie still exists. That’s because a club called Clydebank was sacrificed instead and re-named and re-branded, one of the great scandals and outrages in the history of our sport.
Scottish football never learns from any of it. Who owns Aberdeen right now? What’s that guys link with our game? Who owned Dundee for years? Ibrox changed hands from Murray to Whyte to Charles Green and then to the convicted South African tax cheat. That club has accumulated losses of over £100 million since it was brought into the world.
Who paid the bills? Does anyone care? If the Parks pulled out tomorrow, who would pay the next batch? How is that club funded? There is no way that it’s sustainable.
With Financial Fair Play regulations in place there is no doubt whatsoever that we would have won ten in a row. That was one reason for our board to work towards putting those regulations in place. But it was the never the biggest reason; the protection of our sport was the bigger reason and in case it’s not obvious, that means protecting us too.
When Rangers was liquidated the commercial side of our game was teetering on the brink. If the club over there runs out of money and goes into administration the shock waves of that are going to travel right across the sport. Forget sponsorships. Forget commercial contracts. Scottish football will look like a banana republic because it never learned the lessons of the past.
It is manifestly unsafe for our club to allow other clubs to behave as recklessly as this. They jeopardise the whole sport, and even if they didn’t this is financial doping, this is cheating the rest of the clubs. Watch what happens at Newcastle; I guarantee you that the EPL is, even now, getting ready to tighten its own Financial Fair Play regulations to accommodate the Saudis and make it as difficult as possible for them to fund that club in a way that breaches the rules.
Scotland is a small football country. It is almost beyond belief that we have lost three senior football clubs in the last 20 years and done nothing whatsoever about it. How long does this continue? Until the next disaster? In the same period we almost lost Hearts, Hibs and Motherwell to name but a few. Some clubs have been in and out of administration two or three times.
And the next one might be right on the horizon. We have no real way to know because apart from having never passed FFP regulations, we don’t know how clubs are funded or who’s funding them or what those people want in return.
Scottish football governance is a mess, and Celtic appears to like it that way.