The EPL Has Shown Leadership Again Where The SPFL Is Completely Failing To Go.

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Later on this year it is fully expected that the SFA will loosen restrictions on multi-club ownership rules affecting Scotland. It is one of the few restrictions we have in place which have been relaxed elsewhere to momentous consequences. The SFA thinks that there are owners out there who have been put off “investing” in our game by those rules.

Those rules exist to stop corporations or institutions owning football clubs in more than one country. Our game’s so-called leaders think that if we tweak our laws to allow that here when it doesn’t presently exist in Scotland that it will make some huge difference and that our teams will get a major influx of new cash. And in some cases, it may even be true.

But at what cost? Let me tell you a little about what’s happened in England.

In English football, there are very few restrictions on any of this, much to the chagrin of those who want tougher legislations and protections for fans. Foreign ownership in English football is off the scale, and every day seems to bring a new horror story.

This is how it starts; an English club gets the attention of a foreign owner and they swoop in. With no real fit and proper person scrutiny and no regulations at all on multi-club ownership the floodgates are open down there.

Teams are being bought up at a prodigious pace, and the plan is very nearly always the same; invest at the start, move up through the ranks, get to the Championship (or buy a club there if you can afford it) and reach the EPL. Then all the mad money in the world is at your fingertips and you can genuinely start to see a return on your investment.

If. If you can get there, with front-loaded spending.

What happens next is that the club fails to climb. After it’s already in debt, and perhaps even bought up under one of those leveraged deals which transfers the purchase price to the club itself. The owners pay for a time, and then no longer want to bother, after they’ve exploded the wage bill and burned through several years of mortgaged season ticket money. They announce through PR people that the club is up for sale and from now on will be run sustainably.

One of two things happen after that; either the club slides from where it was into some desperate, depressing place where every penny they bring in goes to service interest payments and the squad is cut accordingly, or they fall foul of financial fair play regulations and suffer points deductions … which has the same impact as scenario one only worse. Neither of those options makes them attractive to a buyer and so the future that was promised is replaced with a toxic mess of financial turmoil so bad that it threatens the club’s very existence.

And this affects teams at every level in the English game. Reading, a League One side owned by a Chinese buyer, have been docked 16 points across the last three seasons and suffered multiple fines for breaching financial regulations. Their fans staged a sit-in on the pitch during their last home game, which had to be abandoned. They had pretensions of being a Premier League team not that long ago; now they are only three points from a relegation spot into League 2, with the whole future of the club now very much up in the air.

Even clubs in the top flight are not safe from this.

Everton are in a bad place right now. Notts Forest are learning the hard way that even EPL money doesn’t translate into a workable scenario. Both of those clubs have just been told they are under investigation by the EPL for breaching financial sustainability rules. Forest may win their appeal; they would have complied, they say, but a transfer deal didn’t go through in enough time. Everton have already suffered a 10-point deduction and that’s under appeal right now. If they win it may damage the current case against them. Lose it, and they are in trouble.

Now, English football is not a complete basket-case. Their regulator will change the system by which ownership at clubs works, with the fans being given cast iron guarantees about the means of purchase, side-loading debt, mortgaging assets and on the transfer of them out of the hands of the clubs and into off-shore corporations. Those rules will not come in time to save the clubs which have already been devastated by such people … but they will safeguard the future.

On top of that, of course, they have financial sustainability rules already which prevent the most serious damage, that which would befall clubs if these owners were allowed to spend unlimited sums in the early stages, leaving the teams with even bigger debts to service. Look at Sunderland as an example of what that would look like; when Ellis Short finally pulled the plug they plummeted not one division but two in consecutive years. They are not an isolated case, but theirs was spectacularly laid out in the Sunderland Till I Die first season on Netflix.

Scottish football has few guardrails left, and the SFA wants to remove one. For a while you might see exciting times as clubs attract “investors” but there is no pot of goal here, and it’s difficult to see what those clubs would get that they don’t already have. It is even harder to understand what the upside is for the new owners, and the danger is they quickly become bored of the whole thing and with no financial fair play or anything like it they could do tremendous harm.

The EPL has shown us again today that for all we criticise English football, they are at least prepared to take seriously the issue of clubs spending more than they earn. Their rules don’t just protect the integrity of the sport by leveling the playing field, those rules are an attempt to protect the clubs themselves from the kind of owners who might spend them to oblivion.

That offers their game a roadmap to a better future which the SFA and the SPFL refuse to provide for us.

That leads to trouble, and we will lose another senior club in Scotland if this goes on.

It’s not even that we’ve learned nothing from what happened previous crises but that the lessons the governors of Scottish football took from those disasters were all wrong.

Clubs can no longer “die” if you believe the spin and the Survival and Victim lies, and decisions about what to do about phoenix teams will no longer rest with the clubs themselves who might vote for sporting integrity again. Neil Doncaster seems to want clubs to spend, even if they can’t afford to, and he openly stated that when he predicted that it was the only way another club was going to catch the “Glasgow two” … he almost seemed to long for it.

But we’ve seen that tried before, and it was the road to ruin. Hearts almost died trying it.

Gretna and Rangers actually did, although the latter club only had one to compete against and that was us. English football needs to change its ownership rules to truly prevent clubs spending their way to oblivion but that’s coming in due course … even as we shatter that final defence that we have here against the free-for-all.

What a shambles the leaders of our game preside over, and they are determined to make it worse.

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  • Mick says:

    Both the useless sfa and spfl badly need clearing out, gutted and reformed.
    Replaced by real people, not figureheads, there will be no significant proper changes until that happens.
    The rest is unimportant and that should be the starting point.
    Change can come but it will be an uphill struggle esp. in Un-Fair Caledonia.

    Thanks for the articles today.

  • Martin says:

    The money in Scotland isn’t the same. We’re unlikely to see significant investments here like in England. Best case scenario here is win the league and get maybe 50 million (once) as a return. In England, get to premiership and get minimum 150 million per season you stay there. Scottish football isn’t worth the gamble/investment it would take to break the Glasgow duopoly.

    It’s still a bad idea to change it, but I don’t see the risk you do. It’s not like the TV money will increase anytime… Ever.

  • Poort says:

    Only thing you missed on this was the glaizers buying Man U..with their own money

  • Bob (original) says:

    We all know the drill by now.

    If there is something that could adversely affect the game,

    or could pose a real risk of unintended consequences,

    then our blazered buffoons will dozily sleepwalk right into it:

    with Maxwell ‘leading’ everyone over the cliff… 🙁

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    This is all for ‘investment’ in Sevco for as sure as night follows day, that much is certain…

    They are skint and no one is prepared to touch them with a barge pole in Scotland so why wouldn’t they (The SFA / SPFL) allow cash to flow to their beloved little darlings from ‘outside’ –

    Celtic allow this at your peril…

    But there again Celtic have allowed everything else to go ‘unnoticed’ so you can bet your bottom dollar on everything also going unnoticed going forward !

    • Jim Duffy says:

      You read Scottish football so well Clachnacuddin,every thing you just stated there is true,only in bonnie jockland,such a fair , modern day thinking unbigoted little country,let’s all bend over to be shafted by sevco.

  • John S says:

    Rules restricting dual-ownership exist for a good reason.

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