Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SFA Hit Neil Lennon For Six

Dearie me. Just when you thought we'd all recovered our equilibrium along comes another furore, threatening to turn into a Scottish football civil war.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has been hit with a six match ban for losing the rag at Tynecastle after his team were denied what appeared to be a fairly blatant penalty and Joe Ledley was sent off in a 2-0 defeat to Hearts.

Lennon was given an automatic two match ban. He subsequently appealed and it was at yesterday's appeal hearing that the SFA's Disciplinary Committee took the decision to treble that original punishment citing excessive misconduct.

That this news has not received a particularly warm welcome in certain quarters would be an understatement.

Clearly this story is going to run and run. Here are some initial thoughts:

An "unprecedented" punishment? It's not. Derek Adams, then manager of Ross County, had an 18 match ban earlier this season. The circumstances were different but the idea that the SFA have quietly introduced something akin to capital punishment to deal with Lennon and Lennon alone is misleading.

It was a first offence. That makes no difference. I spent longer than anyone would want to yesterday reading the SFA's Disciplinary Procedures for Club Officials’ Misconduct. The number of offences is only relevant to the initial automatic suspension, at the appeals stage each case is treated as a one-off.

For once, and unfortunately for Lennon, the SFA have been as good as their word. After the referee's strike SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said:

"There is a process in place already for dealing with anybody from any club that steps out of line and those individuals are dealt with through the various committees who operate within the SFA and that will continue.

"But obviously we'll take a much tougher stance going forward."

It's Neil Lennon's bad luck - or depending on your viewpoint the SFA's good fortune - that this was the first such case to be considered since then.

My own view is that the punishment was harsh. We don't know the exact nature of what Lennon said to the fourth official although we can tell he was rather miffed.

Nor do we know how the appeals hearing unfolded.

So we are not in possession of the full facts. What we can say for certain is that the SFA have acted within the limits of the rules. They've been severe, I think overly severe, but they've done it by the book.

Excessive misconduct, incidentally, is defined as:

“Excessive Misconduct” shall include, but not be limited to, prolonged incidents of misconduct, the
continued use of offensive, abusive and insulting language, calling a match official a cheat, failure to comply with a referee’s requests, the adoption of threatening and aggressive behaviour towards a
match official.

Celtic's reaction?

Predictably they've decided against rolling over and accepting the punishment:

“Celtic and Neil Lennon confirmed today that they will be appealing today's decision by the SFA Disciplinary Committee to impose a six-match touchline ban.

“The matter is in the hands of the club's lawyers.

“We are very surprised and extremely disappointed at today's decision - we believe the punishment imposed was excessive in the circumstances and to our knowledge unprecedented for a first offence.

“We have maintained for some time that a range of SFA's processes and structures needed to be reviewed and updated. This view was supported recently by Henry McLeish in his review of the SFA.

“Today's events only underline and reinforce our opinion. Without question Celtic will be supporting its manager Neil Lennon in his appeal .

“As well as challenging the severity of the punishment imposed, our appeal will also focus on issues of procedural fairness and the manner in which such hearings are conducted.”

A bit of naughtiness in there. Celtic should be aware of the rules. As I've noted the first offence makes no difference once the appeal process begins.

And a broadening out of the case. The involvement of lawyers, we can imagine this to be Paul McBride QC, and an attack on the whole disciplinary procedure at the SFA.

An attack vindicated by the findings of the McLeish Report. I'm betting that George Peat is happy he didn't get a hard cover put on that report because he's about to be hit about the heid with it.

So where are we now? The SFA will claim that they've acted honourably and delivered on the get tough promises they gave to referees.

Celtic claim, with some justification, that the punishment is overly stringent and that the very method of deciding that punishment is flawed beyond repair.

We've got, in essence, another sorry mess.

There are faults on both sides. We all know the SFA is in need of urgent repair. Most of us could see that Lennon's behaviour towards the fourth official, however justified he felt at the time, could not go unpunished.

We can only wait and see what happens next. I dislike the idea that Celtic taking a sledgehammer to the SFA is the best way to bring about the change we all want.

I've also been of the opinion for some time that, for whatever reason, these are fights Celtic want to have. It seems the SFA and their Disciplinary Committee are now ready to go toe to toe with them.

Once again I fear that Scottish football, its reputation and the campaign for real modernisation are going to be the major casualties.

Aye, its a joy to be a fitba' fan in 2011.

> Celtic statement via STV

> The SFA's rules document. Thrilling read that it is.

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