Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SFA: Another Day of Scottish Football Gloom

Howls of anguish yesterday as Scotland witnessed an outrageous miscarriage of justice.

Of course we didn't.

Rather we saw three men who should have known better treated leniently by the Scottish Football Association.

Rangers players El-Hadji Diouf and Madjid Bougherra were given fines following their red cards in the Scottish Cup replay at Celtic Park. Both players were warned over their future conduct and, in the unlikely event that they are in Scotland next season, will serve their automatic Scottish Cup suspensions.

Ally McCoist, involved in a spat with Neil Lennon, had his automatic two game suspension wiped out.

Bring on the outrage.

Paul McBride QC, who has represented Neil Lennon this season, led the assault on the SFA:

"The SFA are tonight officially the laughing stock of world football and they have been shown to be not merely dysfunctional and not merely dishonest but biased."

Damning stuff. He's wrong about us being the laughing stock of world football. World football doesn't care. That's a problem. But not one that need detain us here.

The three decisions handed down today involved no bending of SFA rules. The disciplinary committee acted within their rights, within the scope of the SFA's needlessly woolly rules.

Nor did the decisions leave Neil Lennon as the fall guy in the whole affair. Faced with the same charge as McCoist, Lennon chose not to appeal. Instead, and here they probably did the Scottish game a favour, McBride and Lennon made the decision to accept the ban and point out a flaw in the SFA's own rules about the serving of suspensions.

But in doing so they accepted a blame that McCoist chose to fight. Had they done the same they might have been in the position of proving by direct comparison that there are different rules for different clubs. They chose not to.

In light of the fall out from that game, in a season where we've had the remarkable experience of our referees refusing to officiate at games, we might have expected the SFA to exercise a firmer hand on the Rangers trio.

That didn't happen.

Why?

McBride, and he's not alone among Celtic supporters or supporters of clubs throughout the land, suggests dishonesty and bias.

There have been incidents of dishonesty this season, that much is undeniable.

Bias - widespread, institutional bias - is more difficult to measure. It is, I suspect, an easier claim to make on the BBC than it is to prove in a court of law.

The problem the SFA have is their own incompetence.

When an organisation is so shambolic, so riddled with errors and misjudgements, so arrogant in their silent refusal to explain decisions, it doesn't take an eminent lawyer to point to inconsistencies and it doesn't take a particularly conspiratorial mind to join the dots and cry "bias."

And the problem with "dysfunctional" amateurs is that the more you point out that they are "dysfunctional" amateurs the more likely they are to make dysfunctionally amateur decisions just to spite you.

Which in turn makes it easier to accuse them of bias.

And thus does the self perpetuating stench of Scottish football engulf us all, the game slowly suffocating in a smog of mismanagement, accusations and bloody mindedness.

I suspect we saw all of that yesterday. The most depressing thing is that none of this is anything new.

What I don't see, what we need to see, is a way to move the game forward.

I don't see it in the smiling arrogance of Diouf and Bougherra as they left Hampden.

I don't see it from Paul McBride as he launches another broadside.

I don't see it from Celtic as they circle the wagons.

I don't see it from the SFA as they batten down the hatches.

I don't see it from fans of either side of the Old Firm as they launch once more into their tiresome cyberwars.

I don't see it from other clubs as they struggle with their own finances and see a civil war developing that they don't want to be involved with.

Not all the answers are simple. But some are.

Standard punishments available to the disciplinary committee. Simple.

A more transparent committee system within the SFA. Simple.

A disciplinary committee that is partly drawn from but entirely independent of the SFA, SPL or SFL. Simple.

The SFA transformed from an arrogantly silent private members club to a professional organisation that serves the game not its blazered apparatchiks. Simple.

Is all this too much to ask for?

It better not be. Because, on and off the pitch, this season has been dire, too often riven with a destructive vitriol that is defeating the cause of constructive change.

And that can't go on.

Or pretty soon we'll find ourselves longing for the day when world football chose to ignore us rather than laugh at us.

At least we have something to ignore at the moment.

Too many more seasons like this, too many more days like yesterday, and we might find that we have nothing left to fight over.

> Standard punishments? Easier for some offences than for others. But it should be simple for offences like raising your arms towards the referee. An automatic ban for any physical contact with an official while debating a decision would persuade players to stop. Given the way the word "manhandle" was stressed yesterday you might think that Bougherra had come over all nightclub bouncer and marched the referee in a headlock to the Celtic Park exit. He didn't. Rather he was the yappity ned in the nightclub remonstrating with the barman over his lack of ID. Nonetheless a no questions asked automatic three game ban would probably have stopped him doing it.

> Spare a thought for Stewart Regan. The SFA's chief executive sees the need for change but is powerless to enact it. When George Peat goes this summer Regan has to begin to assert his authority. Here's hoping.

> As sure as night follows day, there was going to be a refereeing controversy in Celtic's win at St Johnstone last night. And what a corker it was. Iain Brines might have a perfectly valid reason for ignoring Michael Dubery's handball. I'm buggered if I know what that reason might be. It's the sort of howler that goes beyond bias or simple incompetence and has to be classified under moment of madness.