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The SFA Has Created A Dangerous Situation With Its Lax Regulatory Framework.

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Late last season, the SFA chief executive sat down in front of a Holyrood committee and assured them that everything in Scottish football was just tickety-boo. Even as he sat there and told the elected reps of the Scottish Parliament that all was well, half of the clubs in the SPFL were carrying debts. Some of them were having their losses carried by their owners.

The reason he was sitting there that day was that the parliamentarians wanted to get some sense of what the mood at Hampden was like in light of the new football regulator for England and the clamour amongst fan organisations for something similar here. He was pretty clear that in his view the game here is doing just fine without such interference.

If you listened to the words that came out of his mouth it was obvious that most of it was delusional garbage, and he had the cheek to project that dismissive arrogance as he sat there. Because in reality, in the world we live in and recognise all too well, the game here is on the bones of its arse.

The TV deal is insultingly small. We can’t even hold onto a league sponsor without disaster striking, and in that case, they allowed one club to effectively jeopardise the well-being of every other one in the game without taking any robust action to defend them.

We have no financial fair play rules, which makes us one of the few countries in Europe who haven’t introduced them. We do not require our officials to acknowledge their allegiances or potential conflicts, which is so backward it literally puts us in a minority of one amongst football associations.

Fans have no protections. We don’t even have a minimum away allocation guarantee; what kind of association is so lax that it allows something so basic to be subject to gentleman’s agreements and unspoken understandings?

It’s disgusting, and even now, when the away fan experience is under attack from all sides, they can’t bring themselves to do anything about it except encourage clubs to sort it out between them. The self-congratulatory tone of their recent statement on the Celtic-Ibrox ticket standoff is nauseating; we dragged them kicking and screaming towards getting involved in that, and to do it we had to violate the vague and wishy-washy rule that is there.

But the real risk to the fans comes in the kind of people the rules let get involved in football here in Scotland. Fit and proper regulations might as well not be on the books at all. Robust scrutiny is virtually non-existent. Craig Whyte was just one of the people Scottish football has allowed to get his hands on a club when he should have been nowhere near one.

Last week, the Celtic fans survey raised the issue of a membership scheme, and that led to discussions about what one might look like. In Germany, the 50 plus 1 rule – Rule 51 as it’s called in the Bundesliga – gives the fans the kind of protection we don’t have here. One of the things that it would explicitly prevent is clubs being taken over by unscrupulous characters. It protects them for the fans. It allows them a veto over it.

And we need something like that more than ever. Because on that day the SFA CEO was in front of the Scottish Parliament his organisation was actually weakening one of the remaining guardrails in our game by changing the rules on dual ownership, allowing organisations who already have a shares in clubs elsewhere to grab chunks of teams in our league.

The dangers of that are all too obvious. Scottish football has opened its doors wide to all manner of abuses and even potential crimes. It is not for nothing that some prominent people, people who know this stuff inside out, are concerned about it.

The Scottish Tory Party leadership candidate Russell Findlay is a courageous former journalist who broke a lot of big stories about organised crime in Scotland, and was the victim of an acid attack on his own doorstep as a result of that.

He knows a lot about Scottish football as well. He is a long-time friend of campaigns to reform the game here and tidy up the regulations, and he offered this blog a lot of insight into some of the murkier goings on around our game after the firebombing of the home of Peter Lawwell some years ago. Findlay has spoken a lot on this. Not all of his comments have been widely reported in the Scottish sports media, and there’s a good reason for that.

In May 2022, The Sunday World published comments where he had talked about the influx of criminal money and influence into boxing (a subject he wrote extensively on when he was a journalist) and then he explored its reach into football. His next remarks were absolutely extraordinary.

All the more so as our media largely ignored them.

“Way back, I was aware of a boxing promoter in Glasgow, and even more than one, who effectively were, what you would term nowadays, as organised criminals. Football in Scotland also has a serious problem, in my opinion, on two or perhaps three main levels.

“One is the ownership of clubs. There have been a number of clubs over the years identified as having been influenced or part owned by organised criminals. It’s not always immediately obvious (because) it’s usually done with front people but that is something that remains a problem.

“There’s at least one club in Scotland, I believe, that is effectively under the direction of organised crime.”

That was two years ago, and nobody in our media pressed on that and nobody at the SFA uttered a word about it. Our problems remain what they were when he said those words, and the change in the multi-club ownership rules have only made it more, not less, likely that we’ll have problems of this kind far into the future.

Findlay, in the Scottish Parliament, has described organised crime’s inroads into our game as more or less “an open secret.” Nothing concrete has been done to stop it.

Looking south to England, you can see clearly why the regulator is needed and why major changes in the rules governing who can own clubs are essential.

The Manchester City situation and the danger it poses now to the whole of the Premiership brings it home in a way few other things have. It’s not even the case involving their dozens of alleged violations of FFP and other rules, which is serious enough … it’s that they are now suing the league for restricting their rights to raise and spend money as they see fit in a legal challenge which threatens the whole structure of English football.

If they win – and they have a good chance – they will shake the framework that holds that league together in a way that nothing has before, and this risk has been evident since a petro-state was allowed to take over a club, in the face of numerous warnings that a challenge such as this was not only possible but likely at some point.

The dangers were obvious and the chickens are coming home to roost, and what makes it worse for the league is in that the owners at Newcastle feel exactly the same way about the current regulations and the system of rules as those at City.

They are even challenging the league’s voting rules; in an article in The Guardian today, which updates readers on the current state of the legal challenge is this amazing statement.

“The requirement that 14 of 20 clubs must vote in favour of any proposal for it to be adopted has long been hailed as one of the competition’s strengths, but in their legal documents City claim the system preserves “the tyranny of the majority”.”

What they want is just tyranny; them and their allies ruling the rest by fear.

You have people now in charge of two of their biggest clubs who don’t recognise the authority of the league to tell them what they can and can’t do and who have unlimited wealth and both hard and soft power enough to drag the EPL through the courts and the legislatures for decades if that’s what it takes to get their way. That’s a clear and present danger to the game down there and should be all the warning Scottish football needs to get its own house in order.

Instead, we’ve made matters worse. We’ve opened doors that were previously closed and subjected ourselves to a greater level of risk than ever before, and the wreckage of the current policies in England aren’t just to be found in the top flight but at every level of the game.

Numerous clubs have been taken over by owners who have no scruples and are in and out for the money, and that’s why so many fans fear it.

Across at Ibrox, they are in the perilous position where the fans are again agitating for a change in the leadership. They should be careful what they wish for, because their club, much more than Celtic, is a prime candidate for one of those takeovers where a consortium of shell companies acquires enough of the shares to get control and then sells their stadium and the land its on out from under them to some investment house which will charge them exorbitant rent on it and slow-bleed them to the next existential crisis over there.

But the problem is bigger than them. The City case has shown us that even governing bodies who are determined to defend themselves aggressively against this stuff can do only so much once the wolf is already in the door. Our clubs are essentially unprotected, and when you watch the way the one from Ibrox pushed these people around what chance does a club, or its fans, stand if a super-predator sweeps one up in its claws?

Under this lot, none whatsoever. And the time to do something about it is before it happens, not after. We are nowhere near having that kind of security, and that virtually guarantees that something bad is going to happen whilst we’re all standing watching.

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  • Eldraco says:

    Brilliant article mate . Excellent get this sent far n wide. In fact i have advocated for a few years that scottish football be referred to those grand journalists that wrote and exposed the Panama Papers. I truly believe its that bad and they would unearth corruption on a grand scale between the uk ireland and the usa.

  • Tony B says:

    Don’t worry.Maxwell and Mulraney ( Chairman of the mighty Alloa Athletic ) wil sort it all out.

    These organised criminals that run the huns? must be quaking in their boots.

    Mind you they probably all attend the same ludge meetings.

    Hands across the water and all that.

  • SFATHENADIROFCHIFTINESS says:

    Unless it’s already happened.
    During the ‘Stevie G’ reign it was rumoured that Scouse Criminal elements were laundering
    money through to the DebtDome tills in a ‘Quid Pro Quo’ basis, cleaning drug money while for a ‘consideration’ ibrokes was
    artificially inflating match day income to reduce the annual overspends. There was a long procession of ‘Heavies’ appearing in the Director / Hospitality suites.
    Go further back and it was rumoured, heavily, that Loyalist money from drugs made the same journey on a fortnightly basis disguised as Directors Loans.
    All in plain sight and no questions or intervention by the Football and Civil Authorities.

  • Brattbakk says:

    The case down south is very interesting. The EPL have plenty of money but they’re still massively outgunned by City and Newcastle. If the countries get their way it’ll be ludicrous. Even if they don’t, City and Newcastle are unlikely to accept the ruling and will keep pushing until they do win. Once the rules are gone plenty of clubs with unscrupulous owners will follow.

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Scotland – Well, when it comes to the football anyway…

    A bent, corrupt and twisted country to the core facilitated by two well known governing bodies –

    All for one (as of today 11 year and 346 days) club called Sevco !

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