The English Premier League is the most cash-rich league in the world, and we talk constantly about how it sucks everything towards it like a black hole.
All of it is true. Every criticism we’ve offered of that league is both legitimate and accurate, it is everything we’ve accused it of being and a lot more besides.
But English football has gotten a lot right.
For one thing, it is about to get a regulator which the game up here badly needs. That regulator will write into law the rights of supporters and protections for vulnerable clubs.
Most importantly, English football, for all we slate it for being over-bloated and money oriented, has moved to safeguard itself in ways that our game has never even attempted.
This afternoon, Everton were deducted 10 points for violations of England’s domestic FFP regulations. This might be what dooms them to relegation. They are in a world of trouble. Manchester City are facing an even more horrendous judgement and the results of that will be a game-changer whatever outcome they get.
English football is turning more and more to regulatory safeguards and putting up guardrails. We have never bothered to do that here and you have to wonder what stands in the way.
I can name three clubs from Scotland, just off the top of my head, who have been killed by financial mismanagement.
Another was killed by the consequences of one of those disasters.
Airdrie’s death also caused the death of Clydebank, as unscrupulous individuals bought that club over and turned it into Airdrie 2, one of the most shocking acts in the history of our sport.
That should never have been permitted to happen, and it did so in part because a guy called George Peat wanted to keep climbing the SFA ladder.
Nor should what happened at Ibrox have happened, and I don’t mean the death and liquidation of Rangers, which should have been a transformational moment for the game here and the ultimate cautionary tale.
What should never have been permitted was for the fiction to take root that they survived the grave. Not even the scandal of what Ibrox was up to eclipses that.
The reason that was such a damaging moment is that pretending their death hadn’t happened stopped our game from learning the full lessons of what had occurred. Not even the Ibrox fans themselves were forced to confront the consequences of over-spending, and the effects of that are obvious in their club’s latest shocking accounts.
The other dead club is Gretna. See, it’s Gretna where the line should actually have been drawn. If it had been, if real reforms had been put in place, then, the Ibrox club might never have been allowed to get into such a shocking state.
But I suspect – and have always suspected – that Rangers was the very reason we didn’t reform the game after Gretna.
Remember, Gretna were a tiny, tiny club until Brooks Mileson took over there and turbocharged them with one of the most extensive campaigns of financial doping the game here has ever seen, with only what happened at Ibrox coming close.
Hearts had their own issues with the Romanov’s but Gretna’s rise put that in the shade.
Their collapse, following Mileson’s death, mirrored that of Blackburn’s after Jack Walker passed away but it was far worse, of course, because Blackburn had won a Premiership and were always going to find another buyer.
Gretna did not have the infrastructure or standing to make them a viable takeover candidate. Anyone who bought them would have been forced to carry huge debts in the short term, and to see them plummet overall.
When Gretna went out of business not long after they’d reached a Scottish Cup Final that should have been the moment the Scottish game woke up to the risks of ignoring this issue. Instead, we’ve left it to UEFA to regulate and that’s opened us up wide.
Another dead club was inevitable after we did nothing.
I don’t think we’ve seen the last one go because, once again, we didn’t act after Rangers went by the boards.
Whose interests are served here by us not passing financial fair play in Scotland, as they have done in England? The game’s lack of leadership is appalling.
And it’s actually worse than that.
In July this year, Doncaster lamented the length of time it has been since a club outside of Glasgow won the title and his comments were profoundly shocking and should concern everyone who cares about our game.
“It’s now 38 years since Aberdeen won the league in 1985 and that is the extent of the dominance. But it is also true that is not a new phenomenon, in the early 20th century, there was a period of 27 years or when they shared the title,” he said. “Both clubs are large clubs by any standard and have been for most of the 150-year game in Scotland. So I am not sure any change to to the way the league distributes its income will make any meaningful difference.”
That closed the door on one of the proposals that a lot of fans outside Glasgow would support. I must admit to being glad that it did; such an idea is abhorrent. That would not raise other clubs up to our level but would only drag us closer to theirs … not a solution but the creation of a brand-new set of problems.
But the next thing he said is atrocious.
“What is more likely to make a material than anything the SPFL does with its income, is an owner deciding to fund really substantial investment in one of the other clubs. We saw that in the early 2000s with Vladimir Romanov at Hearts. These days, not a figure who will be looked back on with huge fondness by Hearts fans but he did back the team financially … I suspect it will be investment in one of the other teams that will break the duopoly rather than anything the league does that makes a difference.”
Invoking Romanov as some golden period in the game here is disgusting. That era at Hearts almost sent the club to the wall. That’s why Hearts fans don’t look back on it with huge fondness, they had to live with the aftermath.
That’s the SPFL CEO talking up the virtues of a guy who was the subject of an international arrest warrant for money laundering and bank fraud. He’s currently in hiding in Russia as Lithuanian courts have already ordered him to stand trial.
Doncaster should be doing everything he can to keep people like Romanov away from football in Scotland and instead of recoiling in horror he actually thinks we should welcome them with open arms and consequences be damned. What a disgrace.
Is self interest really the thing here? It screams at you when you hear talk about how the SFA is getting ready to loosen restrictions on multi-club ownership, and put our teams on the dinner menu for anyone who fancies it.
We might well have one of the weakest regulatory frameworks anywhere in the game and that Dave King was able to breeze through fit and proper person regulations to take over at Ibrox is farcical and terrifying, especially in the chaos he caused there.
Look at the mayhem Ibrox has unleashed over sponsorship. What would any vulture capital firm or worse, some organised crime syndicate looking for a front operation, conclude from the cowardly way the governing bodies handled that?
That this place is wide open.
That a convicted tax crook walked right in and took over a club is bad enough. They also allowed the Easdale’s in at both Morton and then at Ibrox and one of them had done prison time. So has one of our managers.
The game here is a mess, and it has to be in someone’s interests to keep it this way and it sure as Hell isn’t in ours, although bizarrely we’re publicly on the record as supporting the current way things are done although we’ve got to know that it stinks.
Next week is our AGM and I know that The Trust is planning to bring up UEFA regulations. It is high time someone asked why, if the English Premier League can do it, if even that bloated, cash-rich league is willing to go there, that we don’t have domestic FFP.
The need for it is obvious; it is expressed in four dead clubs who I was able to name off the top of my head, these have happened in living memory and a number of other clubs have come close.
Both clubs from Edinburgh have flirted with death, Hibs because Hearts were willing to take advantage of their plight and swallow them whole. Motherwell, St Mirren, Dundee … all have drifted close to the edge of the abyss.
We didn’t act.
In 2012, the second biggest team in the country fell into the death pit and still nothing was done, except that the whole football media and the governing bodies tries to convince us it never happened at all.
What exactly is it we’re waiting for?
We’re watching as the second Ibrox club spends its way into real trouble, posting losses in every year of its existence so far … and people are willing to swallow those losses for the moment, but that’s been true of every one of these other clubs … until it wasn’t. Maybe a second Ibrox death spiral might motivate people.
Looking south of the border, the fate of Everton, one of the oldest clubs in the land, a club now on the brink of existential peril, should be the ultimate sign that the way things work here isn’t how it has to be.
It turns out that Europe’s most bloated league has something to teach us after all.