Celtic Should Not Give Up The Fight To See PSR Regulations Introduced In Scotland.

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On 23 January this year, Jonathon Liew of The Guardian wrote an excoriating article about the EPL’s lack of a moral right to intervene in relation to how much clubs were spending above and beyond what they earned. I read that article with enormous interest at the time, in no small part because I agreed with very nearly every word of it.

Liew was not saying that the EPL should not be trying to fix this problem. He acknowledged the scale of the challenge and the consequences of doing nothing.

He merely questioned whether the body which had enabled this madness was ethically placed to tackle it, and his point was well argued. But the question does arise; if not the EPL then who?

Leaving it to UEFA was one option. But there is, and there always was, one giant loophole to be had there … for some clubs, UEFA rules are a secondary issue.

If your business model is built around being an EPL side, what do you care if you run afoul of UEFA rules in order to stay in that league? UEFA regulations only matter to sides whose ambitions extend to playing continental football. For some clubs in the English top flight, that’s not a consideration.

Leaving it to the FA was an option.

But the English FA was perfectly happy leaving it alone.

They know where their influence starts and stops and that regulations are better handled by the league body. The EPL has its issues, but amongst them is not the belief that they have created a paradise. The people running it know what its problems are, and they know how many of them have been caused by the vast amounts of money it gets from TV.

Liew’s arguments are fundamentally sound; his gripe is, as he says, that, “We’re fighting in 2024 the battles that should have been fought in 2014 and 2004, or even earlier.

Decisions that were botched, shirked, ignored years ago are now coming home to roost.” He continues, “The unregulated free for all that allowed first the oligarchs, and then the venture capitalists, and then the state actors, to claim a piece of our turf.”

For all that I agree with every word, about the crisis of inequality (he should see what it looks like from these seats) and the spiralling costs of signings and out of control wages, I see no sign that there is an end to this in sight.

There might be a fairer financial distribution model to make sure more of the TV money is seen by more clubs (only south of the border, the one that we’re told doesn’t really exist to all intents and purposes) but the money itself will keep on flooding in.

People around me talk endlessly about a “broken” model … but they’ve been saying that for years and the sums of money involved just keeping getting larger.

At some point the inflationary cycle will end, it has to, because there comes a point where there’s no more value for money to be had, because the advertisers won’t continue paying ever inflating fees and the TV companies will see their profit margins steadily shrink. So, somewhere, sometime, the brakes will be hit and things will … what?

Things will reach a state of equilibrium.

That’s what I suspect. Equilibrium. There will be no crash of the TV markets, not unless Sky walks off the stage altogether or the EPL decides to go ahead and build its own streaming service to see what the money there is like; there are numerous historical examples which show how stupid that idea invariably has turned out to be.

That’s why I suspect that Sky will be around for at least the next twenty years and four or five more broadcasting deals, and between partnerships with a handful of top streaming platforms which, likewise, aren’t going anywhere – Disney, Prime and Apple foremost amongst them; watch out for Apple, in particular, elbowing their way onto the playing field – there is no threat to that league, either immediate or distant, anywhere on the horizon.

English football knows what its problems are. It is now grappling with those problems. Before long there will be restrictions on foreign ownership. Their FFP equivalent, known as PSR, Profitability and Sustainability Regulations, are already much stronger even than UEFA’s.

I went back to read Liew’s article again because last month Leicester joined Forest and Everton in facing a points deduction and there are investigations underway into the finances at both Manchester City and Chelsea, even whilst the former defends its crown as the Champions of Europe. Everton were deducted points for the second time this season yesterday.

The EPL is not playing favourites. Nor is it messing about.

Oh, there will be appeals.

Everton has already had their first points deduction reduced. Notts Forest and Leicester have said they’ll take it to court. Chelsea certainly won’t take it lying down. With the stakes so high for City – where the punishments are potentially momentous – you had better believe there will be a major battle over their fate, with attendant risks on all sides.

But through it all, there are a couple of important points; the first is that the EPL could not have introduced these measures without the support of the clubs in the first place. That so many of them have violated the regulations they would have had to vote for is telling about how insanely dysfunctional the Premiership’s spending has become.

Secondly, these rules exist to protect the integrity of the sport. Yes, there are some clubs who have more money than others. This is Football 101. There have always been clubs with more money than others, it’s like a natural law of the game. But you can’t have teams trying to stay in the league or get to Europe or whatever it might be by grossly over-spending.

Lastly, and this is the most important one; this stuff protects clubs from themselves, and this actually protects the league as a whole. The EPL is a premier product. It would be massively consequential if one of their clubs went into administration during the season, or hit the wall altogether. These rules are designed to protect the other clubs and the TV companies from having to deal with that. But more than this … they protect clubs, and that protects fans.

I have heard every argument there is against not passing this stuff in Scotland and none of them can stand scrutiny. It is madness that we don’t have some version of it.

There is actually only one club which benefits from our not doing so, and that is the one at Ibrox. But they aren’t the only club which is financially doping in this league; Hearts have an investor carrying their losses at the moment. You would think they would have learned.

Hell, you would have thought that the fans at Ibrox would have learned.

The SFA certainly should have; instead, you had Neil Doncaster offer the ridiculous observation last year that he could only see a challenge to the “Glasgow sides” coming from an influx of money into another club; in short, a sugar daddy owner or something of that nature. Three major problems with that scenario appear to elude his understanding.

The first is that none of these people do this for fun; all would expect a return and there is no way even to see where that would come from in the context of Scottish football.

The second is that even if such people existed, even if their desire to win things over-rode their desire to see a profit made, UEFA would never permit them to play continental football if their entire model was built on unsustainable spending and third, it would expose the club in question to the most tremendous risks in the long term … existential risks.

Twice in the past 30 years, Scottish clubs have vanished because their sugar-daddy owners were no longer around to keep them afloat; Rangers and Gretna.

With Rangers, it was the bank – not David Murray, but the bank – who were indulging the spending and once that ended, they were always likely to find themselves in real trouble. In Gretna’s case they were funded almost entirely by Brooks Mileson and his money.

The same thing happened in England at Blackburn Rovers when Jack Walker was no longer around; fortunately for Blackburn and unfortunately for Gretna there was buyer in their case whilst the Scottish club went to the wall.

Hearts came close to vanishing. Motherwell, Hibs and a handful of other clubs have skirted the edge of it. It is incredible that the league didn’t take a decision in 2012 which would have protected the sport from further issues like this. The claim that because we’ve not had a similar situation to the one at Ibrox since then doesn’t prove that our rules are robust; it proves that clubs, individually, took the understandable decision not to endanger themselves.

But of course, this doesn’t mean that some future owner won’t decide to live the dream of seeing his team at Hampden by doing it in years to come. That door is wide open. The danger of it remains acute, and in the meantime the SPFL and the SFA are actually loosening the guardrails to make it easier for those who already have a piece of clubs in England to move in up here … dangerous stuff, opening doors which lead to places we haven’t fully explored.

Celtic should have been the club out in front of this issue, although it is not immediately clear that there would have been a majority position for it had we attempted to pass those rules. Because, and this is the crazy part, every club has fans (and probably board members) who dream of the Saudis coming in and turning them into a super-club and nobody wants to close that option off for the future. It is lunacy, but that doesn’t stop people from dreaming.

It may even offer an explanation for why we didn’t immediately take the lead and propose this, openly, and in the public sphere, when doing so would have given us the best shot at it; perhaps we have people in the boardroom (like our biggest shareholder, for example) who think that a takeover from the super-wealth class is a possibility. I only reject the theory because we actually do have a major shareholder from that group … and he’s the guy I’m talking about.

Celtic runs sustainably. Celtic doesn’t want to fall foul of UEFA, we know that, but we’ve traditionally gone above and beyond what UEFA would require. We would pass muster in the EPL easily on account of our business practices; we would not be one of those clubs which ended up in debt and facing fines and other sanctions.

They are getting their act together south of the border. Our governing bodies continue to flirt with disaster, with lax regulations which they are weakening further. It’s unbelievable. Celtic should have been out front with this. What turns me against the theory that we don’t want those rules is that we have been instrumental in getting a version of them passed at UEFA … that puts the sugar-daddy hypothesis in the bin because it wouldn’t benefit us anyway.

Refereeing reform is only part of what has to happen here. The whole of the SFA needs clearing out. The governing bodies have refused to govern for way too long, and I think their failure to do that has endangered our sport.

Celtic have concerns over various issues, not just VAR, and I know they were wholly opposed to the rule change which has allowed a form of dual ownership … some say that was a protectionist thing but I find that allegation a little absurd when you consider how much money would need to be spent by a Hibs or Hearts to make anyone competitive; we were certainly not afraid of a challenger emerging as a result of that rule change.

We’re watching as the people who are supposed to be in charge of the sport endanger it. And yes, whilst the EPL’s embrace of these regulations is as much to do with their wanting to look good before a regulator comes in as it to do with good governance, but at the very least they’ve got it done. That is far more than we have managed here.

I don’t know what we’re doing.

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  • Clara says:

    They do know what they’re doing, they’re ensuring the Club from Ibrox keep going and challenging and no rule will ever be brought in to Scotland that hinders or stops that.
    After 50 years I’m giving up on football, Sunday was again a blatant example of cheating and corruption, not incompetent refs but cheating refs and I’m not going to follow any sport where the outcome is decided by corruption and cheating. The game in this country is a sad joke on all other Clubs and their fans outwith Ibrox and I’m no longer being part of that joke, Celtic have allowed this to happen over many many years and even after Sunday and the Hearts game did nothing but send a request for and explanation, when that Penalty was awarded or the coins and bottle thrown Celtic should have walked off the pitch, yes it would meant conceding the match but it have been major news and would have put Ibrox and the corruption of refs in the spotlight. Everytime Celtic release a statement all it generates is aughter as the explanation request is rolled up aind heads for the bin, football in this country is a bad joke and I’m finished with it.

    • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

      Come up and spend your football cash on Clachnacuddin Clara…

      They’re not very good to be honest (2nd bottom outta eighteen teams) –

      But ya know what – It’s not a farce, it’s a more honest league…

      The Championship in England is a great league as well to travel down to see !

    • Pan says:

      I agree Clara.
      Like you, but after 60 years watching it, I am seriously considering the same option.

  • Alexander Munn says:

    Celtic have to be responsible Belfast Celtic gave up and all it did was let linfield win the league every season we need Celtic

  • Colin says:

    Clara, I agree with so much of what you are saying. Last night I just felt so disheartened by Celtic (doard). They never seem to put up a fight for us (fans)let them & the sfa off with everything they want to do. Be it cheating on or off the field, saying we are the problem for questioning then, (hun, ref’s & sfa or our board)

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