Hopefully the cryptic title of this blog will lead you to a question: what is the connection between a former football club, a possible future football club and a lizard?
The answer is an obscure one: former US Vice President Elbridge Gerry.
Let me explain. Back in 1812 Gerry was Governor of Massachusetts. He signed a bill into law that redrew the map of electoral districts to suit his own party, taking no account of natural boundaries. The shape of the new Essex County was such a strange one that it was likened to a salamander. No one is quite sure who coined the term, but the Boston Gazette was first to publish a story calling it the Gerry-mander.
The term gerrymander is now in common usage for any attempt to rig a system by changing the structures or rules purely to suit yourself or your side.
And that brings us nicely to Scottish football. But first a quick recap.
We know that Craig Whyte’s Rangers FC PLC (in administration) will not be playing football ever again.
We know that Charles Green’s Sevco 5088 Ltd now owns Ibrox and may soon employ some footballers, or at least Lee McCulloch. And perhaps any other employees of the former Rangers who cannot see that their careers would surely be better served elsewhere.
And we know that Sevco would like to become a football team.
So the initial plan was that Sevco would simply inherit the former Rangers’ Scottish Premier League share and place, and hope that no one noticed any difference. But such a share transfer has to be put to a vote, and so new rules were quickly voted through to allow an entirely new team to apply for an SPL place.
Now it looks like this first attempt at gerrymandering will fail.
The new rules state that 8 clubs must vote in favour of Sevco. Already though statements have been released by the boards of Hearts and Dundee United explaining that they will vote against. They believe that preserving the sporting integrity of our game is much more important than Sevco. Celtic and Hibs have also come to the same conclusion while Motherwell, Aberdeen and St Johnstone are also thought likely to vote against.
This leaves Sevco dead in the water. So the SPL would then need to bring in a team from the Scottish Football League to become its Club 12. And the knock on effect would be a vacancy in the bottom division of the SFL, which the new club Sevco could then apply to fill. In competition with any other club that applied of course.
The rules of football simply don’t allow any other conclusion. The separate structures of the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League offer no other solutions to the apparent problem of where the new club could be fitted in. This is only a problem to those who feel it merits some special attention, of course.
So now here comes the second, and much bigger, attempt at gerrymandering. Never mind playing around with the rules. Let’s just restructure the whole of Scottish football so that a higher place can be found for Sevco.
No, this isn’t another scare story. Like RFC into administration, RFC into liquidation and Sevco to lose the SPL vote this really is happening. Once more it is intended that the fix will be in.
Newspaper reports tell us that the leaders of Scottish football’s various governing bodies spent six hours debating a possible more towards a united league structure. In the interim however, this would mean starting next season with two SPL divisions and two SFL divisions. And so a new club would be required to make up the numbers in SPL2.
In other words, the game would be gerrymandered to allow Sevco to join in the second tier rather than the fourth tier of the game.
Now I actually agree that merging the two league bodies into one is the correct way to go. Henry McLeish recommended this in his far reaching report into the future of Scottish football – in December 2010. And we haven’t heard anything of the idea since, so why now?
Reconstruction should be done in a considered and careful manner over a period of time, not rushed through in some half assed attempt to have a halfway house in place as soon as possible – and all purely for the benefit of a team that doesn’t actually exist yet.
I’ve been arguing throughout the saga of Rangers’ long death that there is only one place a new club can be allowed to join the league structures, and that’s at the bottom. Precedent supports this: every other new club has come into the fourth tier. Not one has started its footballing life anywhere else. And basic fairness would indicate that a brand new club should not get any preference over the existing ones in the game.
The next big question therefore is this: if it is wrong for the new club Sevco to join the top division of Scottish football, what is the case for its joining in the second tier?
The other eleven clubs in the top flight of the game are making clear that they will take a stand. They will put sporting integrity, where the only way to advance is by winning football matches, first. They will resist attempts to buy a place or to bully others into conceding one.
So why should clubs lower down the footballing structure take a different view?
The argument, it seems, is a financial one. The game, we are told, needs Sevco and its supposed economic power. If it takes a wholesale restructuring of football to achieve this, we are all just supposed to accept that it is worth it.
It’s the same argument that was intended to compel SPL clubs to let Sevco join. And they saw straight through it – so why should SFL clubs not do exactly the same?
Bear in mind that it is now late June. The 2012/ 13 season is due to kick off in just a few weeks. Is it feasible that a new structure can be created, the relevant votes taken and won, and Sevco admitted so quickly? And that’s before we take into account any legal fallout that may still affect Sevco from the whole Rangers saga. Not to mention the outstanding disciplinary processes that have been paused. There is a great deal still to happen.
It is becoming more and more likely that the possibility of Sevco not having a league to play in come the start of next season is increasing on a daily basis.
Quite where that would leave owner Charles Green and his investors is anyone’s guess.