Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rangers: Enemies at the gate

Ally McCoist is annoyed.

Mark Hateley is annoyed.

The Rangers supporters are so annoyed that they've reached a hysteric stage of fandemonium.

Yes, there's been a lot of rage flying around Scottish football this week. Most of it emanating from an enfeebled Ibrox.

An SFA Judicial Panel, basing their decisions on the evidence provided by an independent inquiry, went after Rangers in a big way.

Some of the financial punishments dished out were the maximum allowed in the SFA's own guidance.

The additional punishment of a 12 month transfer embargo stopped short of the maximum sanction - expelling the club from the SFA - but it remained surprisingly punitive.

The sanctions were aimed at both Craig Whyte - banned for life from any involvement in Scottish football - and Rangers, the club he has helped on the road to ruin.

One of the things that so annoyed McCoist was that Rangers were punished alongside Whyte.

In these things the club and the owner - and Whyte is still, to the best of anyone's knowledge, Rangers' biggest shareholder and the man with the keys to both Ibrox and Murray Park - are indistinguishable.

That's a hardship for the club but a reality. It's how these things work.

McCoist is naive and disingenuous to believe otherwise. Apart from anything else Rangers enjoyed an artificial advantage because the club - even if this was at the sole direction of Whyte - were able to sign, retain, pay and play players by completely bumping the tax man.

Not only should the club be punished for that but a transfer embargo actually seems a reasonable enough fit for the crime in question.

You can be sure that if - or when - UEFA come sniffing around this particular mess they won’t make the distinction between fly-by-Whyte and Rangers and they’d not look kindly on the SFA's panel making the distinction.

McCoist, Hateley and many fans have also argued with a certain vehemence that the Judicial Panel issued the punishments with a complete disregard for the future wellbeing of Rangers or the Scottish game.

Which is exactly as it should be.

The remit of this investigation into the gross mismanagement of a football club could not and should not have been:

"Go easy lads, Rangers are in a bit of a fix."

Doesn't work like that.

I can accept that these SFA sanctions don't help Rangers and that it would be easier if both the SFA and the SPL were able to deliver verdicts and punishments simultaneously, rather than this gradual drip-drip of bad news, of Rangers driven to financial insanity by a Chinese water torture of fines and sanctions.

But such is the football environment that Rangers helped create. And, on these particular charges, it wasn't for the panel to make life easier for Rangers or for potential new owners like Bill Miller or Paul Murray's Blue Knights.

The SFA, and any disciplinary procedures it has, should serve the game, not serve Ally McCoist, Rangers' administrators or the Rangers Supporters Trust.

But, say some, whither the SFA when Craig Whyte took the reigns?

An absurd revisionist history is growing up that suggests the SFA could and should have stopped Whyte from taking over.

It's true that the SFA's fit and proper procedures are shambolic, setting an honesty threshold that would shame a bad online dating site.

But the SFA can't stop someone buying shares. Whyte - encouraged by the warm backing of Rangers supporters - wanted to buy the club, Sir David Murray and Lloyds TSB were absolutely desperate to get a financial Titanic off their hands.

Even if they'd raised objections the SFA would have been powerless to stop Whyte paying his pound and installing someone like Gary Withey as chairman and perhaps someone from Duff & Phelps as company secretary.

And, you know, if they'd done that at the time I'm fairly certain that a number of Rangers fans would have lost their heads over unfair interference in the commercial interests of their club.

So Ally McCoist is wrong. And those who have backed his stance are wrong.

The Judicial Panel acted within their remit and handed out a punishment that was certainly remarkably stringent but quite within their power.

As is correct Rangers, who were represented at the hearing, will have a right to appeal.

That is how the SFA's disciplinary procedures work. It was the system voted on unanimously by all clubs - including Rangers - just last summer. A new process that, at the time, appeared to create an unusual but welcome unity and cohesion in the Scottish game.

And it was a system that had the anonymity of panel members at its heart. A mechanism required, we must concede, because of the schism in Glasgow football. An assurance that the game remained governable.

If I'm allowed to jump on the bandwagon of rage, what's left me seething is the way that McCoist, egged on by cheerleaders in the press, has decided that it's a process that's not fit for purpose if it delivers a verdict that Rangers don't agree with.

I'll accept that it was nothing but anger that led McCoist to call for the anonymity of the three panel members to be lifted.

Anger at the predicament his club finds itself in, frustrated rage at the dying of the Ibrox light, at the realisation that this is a club which, even if they had the money, simply cannot buy a break at the moment.

An anger that led him to a moment of gross irresponsibility, an unreasonable demand supported by a sneering and misguided dig at the independence of the panel.

It didn't take too long for his words to have an impact.

The names were posted across the internet, the police raised concerns about the safety of the three men, the SFA issued the following statement:
"The Judicial Panel consists of volunteers from across the spectrum of sport and business in Scotland. They are appointed on the basis of anonymity yet all three panel members have reported intrusion into their personal and work lives, including abusive and threatening communication.

"This has been extended to directors of the Scottish FA, whose private details have been published on internet sites and who have, themselves, been victims of abusive communication.

"This culminated tonight in a visit by Strathclyde Police, who are taking seriously the threats made towards the individuals involved. We are thankful for their advice and support in these matters."
A couple of weeks ago the Daily Record’s Jim Traynor was ruminating on the awfulness of Twitter:
“Too many halfwits with twisted agendas are attracted to these sites but if these very platforms allow people to let off steam and expound their half-baked theories they probably are of some use to the rest of society. They probably cut down on the number of nutters roaming the streets muttering to themselves.”
That was very good of Jim. Because it offers a wonderfully lucid description of the “half baked” rant that passes for Mark Hateley’s column in today’s Record.

Mark even names the three members of the panel. Proving that where Twitter leads the Record’s nutters will follow.

The Telegraph pitched in with an odd Roddy Forsyth article that not only named the men but apparently felt the need to offer up some sort of half hearted attack on their suitability for the job.

I would agree that there should have been more transparency. The reasons for the decision should have been delivered at the same time as the judgements.

But there was no need to name names. No need to essentially destroy a new disciplinary system before it had been properly evaluated.

No need to make it even more difficult for the game to attract knowledge and expertise from across society - the sort of people we need to clear up myriad messes caused by the "football men" that Hateley seems to think should be left in glorious isolation to ruin the game as they see fit.

No need to take Scottish football another step on this destructive path, this hysterical belief that if you don't agree with something you're perfectly within your rights to leave the game all but ungovernable.

All of which could have been avoided if McCoist had slowed down, taken a breath and, if he didn't already know, asked a colleague who was on the panel.

He chose not to, jumping instead on his soapbox for a bit of rabble rousing.

Maybe he thought the fans needed a rallying cry, maybe he thought there was danger of administration fatigue setting in and an injection of passion was required.

Maybe, and this is the worst possible scenario, he thought that such callous treatment of the original panel would ensure that an appeals panel would be fearful enough to treat Rangers leniently.

Maybe he wasn't thinking at all.

Whatever the reason, his misjudgement was huge.

What now?

Rangers will appeal.

I don't think the SFA should agree to hold that appeal before they've properly investigated any disciplinary issues that need to be addressed following McCoist's comments.

I don’t think they should agree to an appeal until after they have properly investigated who leaked the names of the original panel.

Those issues need to be resolved because there are those - inside Ibrox, in the press and in the Rangers support - who have gone out of their way to ensure that an appeal cannot be held without “fear or favour.”

If these things are not addressed then each individual on the SFA’s list of potential panellist must surely consider disengaging from the organisation and refusing to sit in judgement of an appeal hearing.

If that prolongs Rangers' agony then so be it. The SFA need to show a commitment to their own procedures and their own panels before they commit to the future of one club. And Rangers won’t need to look far to apportion blame for any delay in the process.

Would the end of Rangers also kill Scottish football? Possibly. But almost certainly not.

Still Rangers people - supporters and those within the club - seem to think they qualify for special treatment, that they are above normal standards because they “are” Rangers, that they can bully and threaten now because if Scottish football doesn’t do what Rangers want then Rangers will make Scottish football pay at some unspecified date when the club is not a financial basket case.

"The whole world's agin us, but we will rise and smite our enemies."

It’s a position that relies on the brassiest of brass necks and a tenuous grasp of just how deep in the mire Rangers find themselves.

I’ve said before that a little humility would go a long way. This week it was sadly lacking as McCoist flew off the handle, as Hateley launched his rant or as Sandy Jardine promised "sanctions" against those teams who don't respect Rangers the way they should.

They are doing their club no favours.

Faced with this kind of backlash it’s hard not think that the other clubs should just take the risk and give them no special treatment at all.

Maybe, as the Gurkha motto has it, it's better to die than to be a coward.

The sad thing about this week, and the long-term damage it might still do to the governance of the Scottish game, is that it's all something of a storm in a teacup.

Maybe a welcome one for Duff & Phelps, those beleaguered administrators at Ibrox, a deflection from their own travails.

Four days on from the deadline they set we still wait patiently for the announcement of a preferred bidder.

And wait and wait and wait.

Where do we stand?

Who knows? The longer it drags on the more convinced I am that Bill Miller's interest will fizzle out and that Paul Murray's Blue Knights can't gather the cash they need to satisfy the requirements of the administrators.

A sorry mess and one that must now mean liquidation is the by some distance the most likely outcome.

The Judicial Panel's appeal hasn't changed that one way or another. I doubt it will even speed up or slow down a process that is now surely geared to simply getting Rangers to the end of the SPL season.

Given the way a number of people have behaved this week it's likely that any sympathy for that predicament has sharply receded.

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