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Archive for July, 2012

Sevco Scotland – the new club formed from the ashes of Rangers FC PLC (in administration) – played its first ever game this afternoon. And the plucky third division underdogs pulled off an upset by scraping past second division Brechin City after extra time in the first round of the Ramsden’s Cup.

For the record Sevco, known it seems as “The Rangers”, triumphed by 2 – 1. A triallist opened the scoring for the new club before Andrew Jackson levelled the match for the home team. A late winner from Lee McCulloch took the new club through to the second round.

For those unfamiliar with the bottom reaches of Scottish football, the pawnbroker sponsored cup is a wee early season tournament to give all of the lower league teams a chance at glory.

The Sevco side contained a number of former Rangers players, but the new club could only muster up four substitutes. Sevco wore the same blue kit as the former cub and what appeared to be the same badge – although the five stars appeared to be missing.

Still, some things didn’t change. The new club’s fans seem to have picked up an old song book. Ian Black was booked for a terrible challenge. Kirk Broadfoot dived in an attempt to win a penalty. And Lee McCulloch is still an awful footballer.

Now it should not be forgotten that this match was only allowed to take place after a shoddy backroom deal that involved yet another mangling of the rules of Scottish football.

On Friday evening, long after normal office hours and (conveniently) as the world was awaiting the opening of the London Olympics, a press release emerged from Hampden Park. After lengthy negotiations it was revealed that Sevco FC had been awarded “conditional membership” of the SFA.

A quick look at the SFA Handbook, which contains all of the rules that the governing body is supposed to follow, confirmed what I had suspected: there is no mention of “conditional membership” at all. There is quite simply no such thing. It is a contrived and made up status that has come into existence purely for the benefit of Sevco.

And, of course, to spare the blushes of those who have twice been rebuffed in efforts to promote this brand new club, as first the SPL rejected its application and then SFL clubs threw out an unwarranted jump straight into its first division.

So what are the conditions attached to this “conditional membership”?

Well apparently Sevco has agreed to accept the consequences of charges relating to the former Rangers FC PLC (in administration). This includes a fine and a transfer ban. Sevco will also pay all football debts accrued by the soon to be liquidated club.

Now that raises a whole bunch of questions in my mind, including:

  • How can a new club be fined for something that took place before it even existed?
  • How can Charles Green accept a transfer ban when the former club went to court to have that sanction declared illegal?
  • Why on earth would a transfer ban start from after the transfer window closed?
  • If Sevco is paying the football debts of the former club, does it not also become liable for the non-football debts?

The basic problem that creates all of these issues is a simple one: Sevco wants to be Rangers some of the time but not all of the time. It wants to square that circle so that it can be known as Rangers, attract fans of the former Rangers and even claim the trophies previously won by Rangers. But it doesn’t want to pay the £100,000,000+ of debts that will lead to the liquidation of Rangers.

Sevco could not apply to join the SFL as a new club. It simply wouldn’t be eligible – although given the contortions of the rule books that have taken place that might not have been an obstacle. Instead it chose to apply to have the SFA membership of Rangers transferred to it. And that’s why the issue of accepting the issues that come along with that membership arise.

But the biggest difficulty for Green and Sevco in this bizarre arrangement might just be yet to come.

The SPL suspended its inquiry into payments made to dozens of former Rangers players that were not contained in the contracts lodged with the footballing authorities. These are the payments made through Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) that led to the Big Tax Case. And it is important to note that even should the independent tribunal make the unlikely ruling that these payments were legal, they would still have broken the laws of football.

The SPL has agreed that a case exists against the soon to be liquidated Rangers. And should that case be proven it would mean that pretty much every game that the Ibrox team played over at least ten seasons contained ineligible players in their side. The normal consequence of such rule breaking is that the match is forfeited. And that would mean cups and league titles would be removed from the former club.

But what would the penalty for years of rule breaking be? And will any penalty now be applied to Sevco as part of the “conditional membership” deal? If so then the expulsion of the club from football is the only logical outcome.

Sevco FC may yet go down in Scottish football history as the first team to fail to make it to the end of its inaugural season.

Unless of course the rules are changed again … and given the bizarre tale that has unfolded so far, who would bet against it?

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Delay On Marriage Equality

Last September the Scottish Government published a consultation paper on marriage equality, proposing that same sex couple should have the right to marry. Now after ten months and almost 80,000 responses it has delayed a final decision on the matter.

Alex Salmond’s cabinet met yesterday and was expected to announce legislation to enact marriage equality in Scotland – ignoring opposition from the two biggest churches, among others. Instead it was announced that Nicola Sturgeon would lead a sub committee to look at some of the finer points of legislation.

But briefings from the government seem to indicate that it will go ahead with the plans. The delay is apparently around the opt out that will be given to religions who oppose same sex marriage to ensure that they could not be forced to perform ceremonies that they do not agree with. Some religious groups do back the change though, and it is thought that they will be allowed to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples.

Is this a case of the SNP Government backing away from a confrontation? It seems not and we are told to expect an announcement within a month. But it does appear strange that there remain loose ends after the issue has been under discussion for so long. Poor government rather than a policy u-turn seems to be the answer.

The Catholic Church in Scotland has led opposition to the proposals. Cardinal Keith O’Brien has called for a referendum on the matter, but this has been rejected by the government. O’Brien has already announced plans for a £100,000 fighting fund to head off a change in the law.

The Scottish Parliament will debate the issue in due course. But the SNP will give its MSPs a free vote, meaning that they can vote against their own party’s proposal. It is though that at least four ministers will oppose the bill – Fergus Ewing, Roseanna Cunningham, Michael Matheson and Alasdair Allan.

One SNP MSP who supports gay marriage told The Herald newspaper, “I’m confident it’s moving in the right direction. I think the decision has been taken in principle and the sub-committee is now crossing Ts and dotting Is.”

But former SNP leader Gordon Wilson last night urged his party to “ditch this absurd proposal”: He argued that political expedience should take precedence over principle. “For the SNP, independence must come before political correctness. Alienating a large section of the Scottish electorate on the eve of a historic referendum on independence makes little political sense.”

I hope that the cabinet does go ahead with its proposed bill. Following a consultation and a seven month period of analysis it should really have been ready to take a final decision, and it is to be hoped that the establishment of a further group to discuss the matter is not just a delaying tactic.

Equal rights for same sex couples is an important principle – and one that should not be caught up in political calculations about its impact on a future referendum.

 

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In 2010 the private security firm G4S was contracted to provide over 13,000 security staff for the forthcoming London Olympics. But they will fail to do so – and apparently only realised a week or so ago that they were disastrously behind schedule.

The government will now have to bring in troops to carry out these duties in order to ensure that adequate security measures are in place for the start of the Games.

Channel Four News has also reported that the Metropolitan Police has contingency plans for police officers to secure venues in the days leading up to the Games because of G4S’ failure.

Or, to put it another way, privatisation has failed yet again. And the public sector will once more be left to pick up the pieces.

Home Secretary Theresa May said it was discovered just last Wednesday, 16 days before the Games begin, that G4S would not be able to provide enough trained security staff. Was there no form of reporting system in place? Did Ms May take them at their word that things would work out in the end?

And just how difficult can it be to find staff in a time of high unemployment? OK, they need to be trained properly and put through the appropriate security certification processes. But then G4S knew all of this when it signed the contract. That’s what it is being paid £284,000,000 to do. And it should have ensured that the process was properly planned and timetabled – with appropriate contingencies built in.

Yet Nick Buckles, their Chief Executive, told the BBC that his company now accepted it had “underestimated the task of supplying staff to the Olympics”. Incompetence then?

Or had they simply tried to do things on the cheap? Minimise the training time, and leave it until the last minute so that those low paid security staff received as little in wages as possible?

But, let’s face it, G4S does not exactly have a good track record. The company runs private prisons and in 2011 managed to lose a set of keys for Birmingham Prison! This meant that every single lock had to be replaced at an estimated cost of £250,000. Earlier this year it lost a lucrative contract with the European Parliament and it has also lost a UK government contract to deport foreign nationals after receiving a high volume of complaints of abuse.

G4S will now face a penalty of up to £20m for failing to live up to its Olympic promise. It will also be expected to meet some of the cost of the Ministry of Defence drafting in 3,500 additional troops. It could end up losing as much as £50m on the contract.

Mr Buckles was once asked in an interview who his hero was. His answer? “Margaret Thatcher, because in the early years she led the biggest economic turnaround in recent history.” How apt for a man who has just demonstrated the failure of privatisation.

The Olympic Games has been marketed as a means of showing the world what Great Britain can provide. And the sad thing is that with a poorly planned private sector failure it is doing exactly that.

 

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Last week ten out of the twelve current Scottish Premier League clubs rejected Sevco. Only ex-football-club Rangers FC PLC (in administration) supported their application to join the SPL, while Kilmarnock abstained.

This week it is the turn of the thirty Scottish Football League clubs to decide whether Charles Green’s brand new almost-football-club will have somewhere to play in the season that is scheduled to start in just a few weeks’ time.

But, as there seems to have been at every single stage of this saga, there is a twist.

And yet again there is an attempt to ignore rules that don’t suit and make up some new ones that might.

Clubs will meet on Friday 13th July to discuss a number of motions. But according to the meeting papers leaked to the media there will not be straightforward vote on which division to admit Sevco into.

In normal circumstances a new club would make up the numbers by starting in the lowest division. There is simply no precedent for any other action. However the fiction that Sevco is really a reincarnation of Rangers means that a gerrymander has been proposed.

So rather than a simple vote there will be two separate decisions. The first would admit Sevco to membership of the SFL. Presumably the issue of whether Green’s clubs actually meets the membership criteria laid out in the SPL Rules is something that can simply be ignored.

And the second vote would let them play in the third division – but with proviso that the Board of the SFL be given the power to promote them by two divisions if a suitable financial agreement with the SPL can be reached.

In other words, it is proposed that the Board would take the final decision and not the clubs – and also that promotion for Sevco could be bought rather than earned on the field of play.

If this notion is supported then the game of football enters a whole new era. One where results between football teams are not paramount and where money can decide sporting outcomes. One where the integrity of the game can be sold openly.

It is far from certain though that Scotland’s lower league teams will support Sevco

Already many clubs from Raith Rovers to Clyde and Annan to Partick Thistle have decided to stand up against the proposed fix. Their boards have met and statements have been released explaining why they will back sporting integrity.

And any clubs wavering should perhaps read a column in a Sunday rag from one Craig Burley. Proving that he is as inarticulate in print as he is behind a microphone, Burley wrote the following inflammatory piece:

“Has it really come to this? The future of Scottish football placed in the hands of a few nonentities from the lower divisions.

“Muppets in charge of clubs that draw embarrassing crowds of 200 people suddenly standing as judge and jury over a decision that could cost the country millions of pounds in lost revenue.”

Nonentities? Muppets? Well that should persuade them to back your view, Craig!

The question that all thirty clubs now have to ask themselves is whether they trust their Board. As things stand, if they want Sevco in division three as most appear to they will need to take a risk – give Board members the power to promote the brand new club by two divisions if they feel like it.

The only other option they currently have is to reject Sevco’s membership of the SFL entirely. Unless one of them proposes an amendment t the motions on the table, that is.

Any club can do so under Rule 58 of the SFL’s Rule Book. So a single club could call for a simple vote on whether or not to allow Sevco to play in the third division next season. That would take away the proposed fix, the grubby little deal that would allow Sevco to buy a place in a higher division.

And I think that such an amendment would have a damned good chance of achieving the support of a majority of clubs.

SPL clubs could back their leaders and leave them to negotiate a deal. Or they could make their views know and stand up for the principles on which football has always been based.

My preference would be for an open competition among all clubs who wish to join the league. But it seems like that won’t now happen – unless a club was to take some sort of legal action to stop Friday’s meeting.

If the votes go ahead then the best that we can hope for is that Sevco starts its footballing life in the third division. This wouldn’t be some sort of a punishment – by being the only club to be considered for the vacancy it would actually still be benefiting from special treatment. But such an outcome is better than the alternative.

Many SFL clubs it seems are losing patience with the whole saga, with its repeated attempts to bend the rules to suit Sevco. And if SFL CEO David Longmuir really has lost the trust of his clubs he could find himself looking for a new job soon. His SPL counterpart Neil Doncaster could be joining him in the dole queue. And over at the SFA, Stewart Regan’s position isn’t looking too secure either.

SPL clubs have already rejected a move to allow Sevco straight into the Premier League. It is now incumbent on SFL clubs to reject any notion of promotion to the first division for the new club.

 

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This afternoon at Wimbledon, Scotland’s Andy Murray will walk onto the Centre Court to play in his first Wimbledon singles final. But will he become the first British man since Fred Perry to take the title?

This is Murray’s fourth Grand Slam final. In 2008 he lost in the US Open final to Roger Federer. 2010 saw Murray lose in the final of the Australian Open to Federer once more, and the following year he again reached the last two down under but this time was beaten by Novak Djokovic.

Murray’s path through the draw in this year’s Wimbledon tournament has been fairly trouble free.

He started with a straight-sets triumph over former top ten player Nikolay Davydenko, and then beat the big service Czech Ivo Karlovic in four sets. He then beat Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, again for the loss of just one set in a rain affected match. And a straight sets win over Marin Cilic took him into the quarter finals.

The world number Murray was seeded to meet Rafael Nadal at this stage, but the Spaniard’s early exit from the tournament was a boost for Murray. Instead he faced the sixth ranked David Ferrer of Spain and had to dig deep against a dogged opponent. Murray came through in four sets – three of which went to tie breaks.

In the semi-final Murray’s opponent was world number five Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Another tough four set victory was the result. Murray cruised to a two set lead and looked to have the match won. But the Frenchman came back to take the third, before Murray regained his grip on the match. The relief on his face was obvious as a challenge to a ball originally called out gave him the final point he needed to go through to the final.

So Andy Murray is the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since 1938. But can he become the first to win it since Perry back in 1936? It will be very tough given his opponent is, once again in a major final, Roger Federer.

The Swiss superstar is quite simply one of the greatest players ever to pick up a racket. He has more Grand Slam singles titles to his name than any other man. His record in finals is 16 wins and 7 defeats.

This will be Federer’s eighth Wimbledon singles finals, again a record. He has won six of the previous seven and stands only one behind Pete Sampras for the record number of men’s championships.

Quite simply Murray could not have a tougher opponent. But he will have the crowd behind him and that might just spur him on. If he wins it would be the greatest result in his career to date.

But the brilliant Federer is a better player. There is no denying that fact. And if he plays to his best form he will win. Murray though has a decent record against Federer, winning 8 of their 15 previous matches. Very few players can boast a winning record against him. It is perhaps worth noting though that the two have never met on grass.

Can he do it this time? Can Andy Murray join the illustrious list of those who have won the biggest tennis tournament of them all? The odds are very much against him – but one of the great things about sport is that the favourite doesn’t always win!

 

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SPL Rejects Sevco

Scottish Premier League clubs have overwhelmingly rejected plans for Charles Green’s Sevco to take the place of the soon to be defunct Rangers FC PLC (in administration).

We already knew that Rangers would not play in this forthcoming season’s SPL. Now it is also certain that there will be no new club pretending to be Rangers either.

The final vote was 10 – 1 with Kilmarnock abstaining. The only club to vote in favour was Rangers … bizarrely being represented by Charles Green, the owner of Sevco. No, I’m not sure how the hell that rather obvious conflict of interests could be allowed either.

Make no mistake: this is a historic decision. Despite the dire predictions of economic meltdown and bankruptcy and the pro Sevco media campaign, Scotland’s top teams have voted to put sporting integrity first. And many did so largely because their fans demanded that they vote in this manner. The result is a massive victory for the ordinary football fan.

It was widely reported prior to the meeting that SPL Chief executive Neil Doncaster wished to pass the buck to the Scottish Football League by having SPL clubs take no decision. But it seems his views were ignored by the clubs, who were clear in their minds that the proposed share transfer should be refused once and for all.

After months of back and forward, rumour and innuendo, plans and intrigue, Scottish football has finally taken a decision. And it came to the correct conclusion.

Doncaster must surely now consider his position given that his views have been so out of kilter with those of almost all of the members of the organisation he leads. His performance as CEO has been woefully inadequate during the whole saga of the past few months, and I would hope that his resignation will come sooner rather than later.

Today’s outcome leaves another decision for the SPL to take: which club from the lower divisions will be invited to replace Rangers and join as the twelfth club for next season? There are some reports that Dundee, who finished as runners up to already promoted Ross County last season, will become Club 12. But newly relegated Dunfermline will also believe they have a strong claim to the SPL place.

The media has managed to get itself into a spin in its reporting of this decision. Even by their usual low standards they have fared particularly badly in trying to explain what had happened. So let me clarify a few things.

1.  Rangers were not thrown out of the SPL. Technically they have retained their membership, as the transfer of the share away from the soon-to-be-ex football club was refused.

2.  The SPL did not start this process by imposing sanctions on Rangers. The member club itself sold its ground to Sevco and requested the transfer of its share be considered.

3.  Sevco will not now be relegated. They are not now, or have they ever been, a member of any football league.

4.  The SFL will not decide whether Sevco will play in the first or the third division. Sevco is not a member of the SFL and must first prove that it meets the membership criteria before it is eligible to play in any division at all. It might yet play no competitive football next season.

So what does happen next?

Scottish Football League clubs will, we are told, now meet on 12th July to consider the position. Plans seem to be that a vote will be taken on whether Sevco will be invited to join the first division next season. The gerrymander is still on the table.

But there is, quite simply, no process within SFL rules that allows this to happen.

And just as no new brand club has ever been admitted straight to the Scottish Premier League, it is also true than there is only one way that any new club has ever joined the SFL. And that’s after a process involving notifying the vacancy, assessing any potential applicants against the membership criteria and then putting all suitable applicants to a vote of all current SFL clubs.

There will certainly be a fair few non-league sides who would be interested in the vacancy. These are clubs with a football history who meet the criteria and have a legitimate claim to join the league. The likes of Spartans, who have tried before, and several others come immediately to mind.

So if the SFL were to go ahead with a vote exclusively on the proposed membership of just one new club without following its own well established procedures it could find itself the subject of legal action.

Already many SFL clubs have issued strong statements explaining why they would vote against a Sevco application. Clyde, Partick Thistle and others have echoed SPL calls for sporting integrity to prevail and normal procedures to be followed.

But all clubs are likely to find themselves under tremendous pressure over the next week. The campaign to have Sevco admitted to the first division – for the good of Scottish football, of course – is already in full swing. Stuart Regan, the SFA Chief Executive has even talked of possible civil unrest were Sevco not to be included in a league.

Fans of the clubs in the three divisions involved now have the opportunity to make their views known to their clubs in the same way as those of the SPL clubs did. Are they happy to see a new club parachuted in above many of them in the league structure, or will they stand up against it? It has been shown already that clubs will listen to fans, will be influenced by clear calls to vote in a sporting manner.

Sevco has lost the fight to become a new Scottish Premier League club by by-passing all of football’s established rules and procedures. Its Plan B is entry to the first division by a similarly non-sporting route.

12th July will be the day when we find out if SFL clubs will stand up and stop this from happening.

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So the first half of the year is gone and Euro 2012 is almost over. July is with us and the new football season is just weeks away. But the Sevco saga rumbles on.

This week will be a big one for Charles Green and his attempts to create a new football club from the ashes of the former Rangers. Two meetings will take place and both will have crucial bearings on whether his new company Sevco will operate a team in any of Scotland’s football leagues in the 2012/ 13 season.

The clubs of the Scottish Premier League will meet on Wednesday morning. They will vote on a proposal to transfer the SPL share that allows a club to participate in the league from the former Rangers FC to Sevco. Eight votes from twelve would be required for this to happen.

But the majority of Scotland’s top clubs will vote against – if it even gets to the vote. It might be less humiliating for Green if he simply withdrew his proposal. The idea of Sevco in the SPL is dead in the water. Scotland’s leading clubs, urged on in great numbers by their fans, will put sporting integrity first.

On Tuesday, anticipating Wednesday’s result, the other thirty Scottish league clubs will meet under the banner of the Scottish Football League. They will discuss plans to gerrymander Scottish football with the sole purpose of allowing Green’s Sevco to enter the league structures in the second tier rather than the fourth, which is where all other new league sides have begun their footballing life.

But we are told that there will be no vote on this proposal. Apparently the SFL’s lawyers cannot work out what majority would be required to pass such a measure – and that’s because there is quite simply no provision for such a move within the current rules.

Attempts to find a place for Sevco are now descending into farce. And the name of Scottish football is being dragged down as increasingly bizarre attempts to ignore or rewrite the rules follow one after the other.

The leadership of Scottish football is doing the game a great disservice as those involved continue to advocate for Green and Sevco rather than serving the game as a whole. Once this is over there should be a radical restructuring of the game and a new, transparent and fit for purpose set of structures put in place. And that should leave a few highly paid folk looking for new jobs.

But that’s a blog for another time.

Over the past few days SFL clubs have been studying a document sent to them by Scotland’s footballing chiefs. This attempt to make the case for their grand gerrymandering plan. It promises SFL clubs additional television money if they go along – and threatens them with dire consequences if they don’t.

This cynical effort at bullying clubs into finding a place for Sevco looks to have backfired though – as several SFL clubs have already come out against the plan. While many do see the need for some restructuring of the game they would prefer to see it done properly, and not to have a shoddy half baked proposal foisted on them for the benefit of one not-yet-football-club.

Perhaps the best response to this came in a statement from the Board of Clyde FC.

Now Clyde is a club that has had its own financial troubles over the years. But to their immense credit its Directors have made a clear declaration that sporting integrity and the rules of the game must be upheld.

Clyde rejects any attempts to “compromise the integrity of the SFL” by allowing the newco to join in its top division. And their conclusion on what they call a “hastily cobbled together proposal” is very much to the point:

“The papers include a proposal to allow a Newco to enter the First Division. This is contrary to the rules of the SFL and nothing within the papers justifies this proposal.”

I’m sure many football fans reading this document will agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments it expresses so eloquently. And I’m also sure that many other SFL clubs will share these views.

So what happens now?

If the SFL clubs are unwilling to vote through the gerrymandering needed to reconstruct the game then the executives proposing the plans have a clear choice.

They could press the nuclear button and try to force some sort of breakaway SPL2 including Sevco, which would threaten a schism in Scottish football that would tear the game apart and put the future season in jeopardy.

Or they could admit defeat and deal with the situation in accordance with the current rules of football – which is exactly what many of us believe should have happened from the very start.

Sevco is a new club, or at least it might be if it can sort itself out. If there is a vacant place created in the SFL it should apply to be admitted alongside any other clubs that wish to be considered. This scenario has been played out several times in the past – and so there is a clear procedure to be followed. If Sevco meets the SFL membership criteria and wins a vote among clubs then it can join the third division. If not then it simply has no league to play in.

I hope we are finally reaching the end game in this chapter of what has been a lengthy saga with more twists and turns than your average spy novel. The new season is due to start within just a few weeks and clubs need to know the make-up of all four Scottish divisions so that they can plan for the campaign ahead.

Of course there are still many issues resulting from the maladministration and financial policies of the former Rangers FC to be considered. The investigations and in all likelihood civil cases, and maybe even criminal cases, will progress. We may even one day know the whole murky story of the club’s demise and eventual winding up.

But for now Scottish football needs to take a decision on the short term future of Sevco – and then we can get on with the 2012/ 13 season.

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