The Scottish football season has now kicked off, for lower league clubs at least. The SPL and SFL have merged to form a new single governing body under the name of the SPFL – the Scottish Professional Football League. But questions over one club’s attempts to circumvent a ban on registering new players until 1 September 2013 continue to be asked.
To recap, as part of the deal that allowed new club The Rangers (established 2012 as Sevco Scotland) to join the Scottish leagues, a prohibition on registering new players until after the current transfer window ends on 31 August was agreed. Let’s not go back through the rights and wrongs of the whole sorry situation – we are where we are now.
The Rangers cannot register new players until 1 September. And as no transfers can be completed outwith the window, the club will only be able to sign free agents – players without a club or a contract – after that date. Normal transfer conditions will apply as from the January 2014 window.
But – as so often seems to be the case with any football club that has the word Rangers in its title – things are not always as they seem. So will there be new names on the team sheet when The Rangers begins its second season at Livingston’s stadium in the first round of the Ramsdens Cup against Albion Rovers this afternoon?
Eight players have been unveiled over the summer as signings by the Ibrox club. Now while all of these players have accepted contracts of employment with The Rangers, none is eligible to play football until registered with the governing body. And that cannot happen until 1 September.
So that’s where football’s Trailist comes into play.
Much loved by lower league clubs, it is not uncommon to see the name Trailist on team sheets. The logic is simple – a club is considering signing a player, but wants to see how he would perform in a match. So he is played for a game or two as a Trailist and then a decision on whether to offer him a contract or not is made.
Now trailists, like all players, need to have an International Transfer Certificate (ITC) to play in any game. That is held by the football association of the country that the player last played in, and can only be moved to a new country when a player is properly registered with a club in that country. And as the Rangers cannot register any new payers until 1 September, anyone whose ITC is held outside Scotland cannot play until then.
So, from the summer signings down Ibrox way that rules out Bilel Mohsni, Stevie Smith, Richard Foster and Arnold Peralta, all of whom last played outside Scotland.
But what about the rest of the eight: Cammy Bell, Nicky Law, Nicky Clark and Jon Daly? Well, as all previously played for Scottish clubs, their ICTs are held in Scotland, so no impediment there.
The next issue is that individual competitions have different rules on the playing of trialists. For the Ransdens Cup, two trailists can be played in the first round only. For the League Cup, no trailists at all can be played. And in league games, two trailists per match can be played, but no individual trialist can play more than three games.
The Rangers’ manager, Ally McCoist, is confused by the situation. Now it probably doesn’t take much to confuse McCoist. But quite why different competitions have such different rules is actually a reasonable question.
Mind you there is an even better question that McCoist avoids: quite how can players who have already signed contracts ever be considered as trailists?
The point of a trial is so that a club can decide whether or not to sign a player. Kind of moot when he has already put pen to paper, isn’t it? There is no purpose to such a “trail”; no evaluation will take place, no decision will be made. The club is already committed – and therefore the player is not in any sense of the word taking part as a trialist.
But the new SPFL does not seem to have any rules on the matter. And they do not seem to be acknowledging, let alone answering, e-mailed questions on the subject. So I would assume that a lenient attitude will be taken, the issue swept under the carpet and the name Trailist will appear a couple of times on The Rangers’ team sheet this afternoon.
Rather than fretting over exactly which players he can play as trailists, McCoist should actually be thanking the footballing authorities for giving him the latitude to play any of his new signings at all while his club is under a registration ban.