In which I look at the joint SFA/SFL/SPL/Sevco statement.
Who owns Rangers Football Club right now? Not Sevco Scotland according to the statement.
Plus why Brechin have three chances to defeat Rangers FC, one on the pitch and two off it.
Why it seems to me that the SFA have granted Sevco Scotland Ltd a membership which does not exist and why possibly there are simply no players of Rangers FC registered to play tomorrow.
Last night, as Danny Boyle’s representation of England’s green and pleasant land was revealed to millions here on TV at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the Scottish football authorities released a “joint statement” hailing agreement after the protracted negotiations concerning the application to transfer the SFA membership from Rangers Football Club PLC (RFC PLC) to Sevco Scotland Ltd.
The “dark Satanic mills” of Hampden Park?
The statement is below with my comments in bold beneath the relevant sections.
(In case a bit of my post looks familiar, a short extract of it appeared earlier on Scotzine, and I am obliged to Andy Muirhead for letting me post it there. What follows here is the heavyweight version!)
We are pleased to confirm that agreement has been reached on all outstanding points relating to the transfer of the Scottish FA membership between Rangers FC (In Administration), and Sevco Scotland Ltd, who will be the new owners of The Rangers Football Club.
Don’t Sevco Scotland Own Rangers Already?
The coverage last week suggested that a five-way agreement was needed, involving all the parties mentioned above and RFC PLC. That party is not mentioned as being involved in the statement. Why? They do have a role to play, as will be mentioned further below.
The statement is oddly phrased. It says that Sevco Scotland Ltd WILL BE the new owners of The Rangers Football Club.
That suggests that Sevco Scotland is not the owner of The Rangers Football Club. In which case, who is?
We were led to believe that Duff and Phelps had sold all of the assets of RFC PLC to Sevco Scotland Ltd. Does this line suggest that the SFA has been told that the sale is conditional on membership being transferred?
Is it the SFA’s position that the Rangers Football Club is still owned by RFC PLC until membership is transferred? In that case, it is a football club without players or a ground. By definition that is not a football club, whilst Sevco Scotland Ltd is not the owner or operator of a football club yet either!
A conditional membership will be issued to Sevco Scotland Ltd today, allowing Sunday’s Ramsdens Cup tie against Brechin City to go ahead.
I have been through the SFA Handbook, which contains the SFA’s Memorandum of Association, Articles of Association, Player Registration Rules and Rules of the Scottish Cup. There is no reference to a “conditional membership”.
Article 4.2 states that members shall be of three classes: full members, associate members and registered members.
The definitions of each class as contained in the Articles is particularly helpful.
A full member is defined as “a club or association which is a full member of the SFA”.
An associate member means a club or association which “has been admitted as an associate member”.
A registered member is “a club or association which has been admitted as a registered member”.
But if you need more clarification, here goes.
Under Article 6.2 a club is admitted automatically as a registered member by virtue of being a member of an Affiliated Association or league, and not already a full or associate member. Membership of the SPL automatically confers SFA membership. Membership of the SFL does not.
Under Article 6.3 a club desiring full SFA membership must first become an associate member. A club can only be admitted as an associate member of it complies with, and undertakes to continue to comply with, the Membership Criteria.
Once an associate member has been such for five years, it can apply for full membership.
Now Sevco Scotland Ltd has not applied to become a new member. Instead it applied for transfer of the SFA membership presently in the hands of Duff & Phelps as administrators of Rangers Football Club PLC (RFC PLC).
Article 14 deals with transfer of membership. In these circumstances the request for transfer is reviewed by the SFA Board which has “complete discretion to refuse or grant such application on such terms and conditions as the Board shall think fit.”
Sevco Scotland Ltd has applied for a transfer. The SFA Board can grant that or refuse it. I do not see that power as extending to “granting” the transfer temporarily until the remaining points in the negotiations can be completed. Indeed that is not what the SFA claims to have done.
I also do not see where the Board has the power to grant “conditional membership” or to invent such a status.
The SFA Board does not have the power to invent matters relating to the constitution of the company. At the very least a vote of members would be required.
The statement is quite clear. This is not a “temporary transfer” of membership, nor a “conditional transfer” which could, it can be argued, be issued. Instead the clear implication of what the statement says is that (a) RFC PLC still possesses membership of the SFA, as it has not been transferred and (b) Sevco Scotland Ltd has a separate “conditional” membership.
What the SFA seems to have done, as licensing authority, is to grant a non-existent licence to Sevco Scotland Ltd.
How might this affect Rangers FC?
The first thing to say is that, if no one else raises the issue, the SFA, SPL, SFL and Sevco Scotland are not going to do so. The agreement seems to suit all the parties.
However I wish to offer a scenario for consideration. It may seem far-fetched, but this whole mess has been far-fetched.
Let’s imagine that Brechin City has a full house tomorrow at Glebe Park. As well as the turnstiles clicking busily, they get a decent payment from BBC Alba, and sell loads of pies (that one’s for you mick).
The fact that they are facing up to a team stuffed with players many of whom will be paid more in a year than Brechin City’s entire annual turnover – 2009 – £404,000 – makes it likely that they will lose the game, either in normal time or extra time. There are no replays in the Ramsdens Cup.
I think Brechin City would, should they lose on the pitch, have a good case for arguing that they have been beaten by a team which was ineligible to play them.
This would be on the basis that the “conditional membership” as applied and described by the SFA did not actually exist, and therefore, as the SFA membership had not been transferred over to Sevco Scotland Ltd, Rangers FC could not be in position to play in accordance with the rules.
In this scenario, a defeated Brechin City writes to the SFL raising the issue of Rangers FC’s ineligibility on Monday. A critic might say that Brechin ought to have thought of the issue before kick-off. However, the release of the statement on a Friday evening means that the club cannot reasonably have been expected to have taken legal advice before the game.
Form many years the Brechin City Chairman, and Vice-President of FIFA, was David Will. Mr Will, who died in 2009 after a lengthy career in football administration, was a solicitor in private practice. But as he is no longer there, Brechin cannot be faulted for not having considered the issue before the match.
A complaint is sent to the SFL. It then has to investigate the matter. The SFL then has a quandary. It was party to the “conditional membership” being grated. However, it has a duty to consider the matter. It can either do so itself, or pass it to the SFA, whose independent Judicial Panel would be convened to look at the issue.
In addition, as a dispute between clubs, there would, if my reading is correct, be an implied agreement to have the matter referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if either side was unhappy with the outcome.
There is another issue related to the matter of Rangers FC’s membership which could cause them problems. I have seen no public mention of this and it may be that the pitfall has been spotted.
However it may not.
The Registration Game
The Scottish Football League Challenge Cup Competition, or to give it its familiar title, the Ramsdens Cup, has a comparatively short rulebook. It can be read here.
The relevant sections of Rule 8 read as follows:-
8. ELIGIBILITY OF PLAYERS
Players taking part in the Competition must be registered in terms of Scottish Football League Rules as appropriate.
8.2 It shall be the responsibility of each Club participating in the Competition to ensure that its players are eligible to play in any Challenge Cup match. If a player participates in a Challenge Cup match, such player being ineligible to play in the Cup match … the Club for which the player participates in the Challenge Cup match shall be liable to such penalty as the Board may decide.
8.3 Any Club infringing this Rule may be disqualified from the Competition and the tie awarded to its opponent.
Therefore players playing in the Ramsdens Cup mist be registered under the SFL Rules.
Each club has to ensure its players are eligible. If an ineligible player is fielded, then there is such liability as the SFL Board may decide.
Infringement of the rule can lead to disqualification, and the tie being awarded to the other team.
After looking at that, we need to analyse the SFL Rules too. The relevant sections are below.
115. REGISTRATION AND TRANSFERS – BONA FIDE PLAYERS
A bona fide player (amateur or professional) of a club is one who has signed the necessary Registration Documents (any signature to be witnessed by one person) and has been registered and approved by the League before playing.
115.1 It shall be the responsibility of each member club playing in any match under the auspices of the League to ensure that its players are eligible to play in any such match.
115.2 A club shall be permitted to register, at any one time, up to a maximum of 22 players, who have reached the age of 21 years on 1st January of the appropriate year. The maximum number of 22 players includes players registered by means of a temporary transfer. Additional players may be registered by a club, however such players must be under 21 years of age on 1st January of the appropriate year.
115.3 Any club playing an ineligible player in a League Championship match may have points deducted from its points total in the League Championship and/or be liable to such other penalties as the Board may decide.
115.6 Clubs must submit Registration Documents, Contracts of Service and amendments to Contracts of Service to the League within fourteen days of their being made.
115.6.1 All Registration Documents which require to be signed on behalf of a club must be signed by an Official whose specimen signature has been submitted to and acknowledged by the League.
115.6.2 Any such Registration document which does not bear an authorised signature will not be accepted.
115.6.3 Except those players listed in accordance with the terms of Rule 124.1.4, in respect of players registered at age group levels 13 and 14, any player who is on the Club List of Players does not require a re-registration each season. All Registration Documents and Contracts of Service to be obtained from the Chief Executive.
139.6 If an SPL club ceases to be a member of the SPL and immediately thereafter becomes a member of the League (whether as a result of relegation from the SPL in accordance with the SPL Rules or otherwise), the registrations of all its SPL Players with the SPL shall be terminated automatically and all such players shall automatically be registered as players for such a club with the League.
Why is this important? Let’s take it step by step.
A bona fide player must have signed a Registration Document and had this registered and approved by the SFL before playing.
It is the responsibility of the Club to ensure that its players are eligible. Therefore, if the SFL, for example, gave a club incorrect information about a player’s eligibility, this would not be a defence to a charge of fielding an ineligible player, but would probably be mitigation.
An SFL club can only have 22 players aged 21 and over (as defined) registered at any one time.
If an ineligible player is played by an SFL team in an SFL match, then the club can be liable to lose points and such other penalty as the SFL determines.
Clubs must submit Registration Documents and Contracts of Service within 14 days, and in any event need to do so before a player can play.
I have quoted Rule 115.6.3 to show that, in certain circumstances, if players are registered with the SFL already, they do not need to be re-registered each year. I quote that rule to show that it does NOT apply to Rangers FC.
The key, after all this, is one word in Rule 139.6. This rule deals with clubs joining the SFL from the SPL. To save flurries of paperwork, there is no need to register the players of the former SPL club with the SFL, as long as the club ceases to be a member of the SPL and IMMEDIATELY thereafter becomes a member of the SFL.
The point which arises here relates to whether or not Sevco Scotland Ltd became a member of the SFL IMMEDIATELY upon losing membership of the SPL. If it did not, meaning there had been a gap in time between losing SPL membership and gaining SFL membership, then the players would not be automatically registered and therefore the provisions of Rule 115 apply.
Sevco Scotland Ltd were never members of the SPL, so arguably the exemption could never have applied to them. Even at best, there was a time lapse between the failure of Sevco Scotland Ltd to have the SPL share transferred to it, and the SFL admitting the company.
One wonders if Rangers FC has had all of its players sign registration documents, and if all of these items, together with contracts of service, have been sent through to the SFL and approved.
If not, then Rangers FC could find themselves in the position of having no registered players at all for tomorrow’s game!
Have Rangers FC provided the SFL with a specimen signature of the club official who is to sign behalf of the club?
If no specimen signature has been provided, then even apparently valid contracts will not satisfy the requirements as far as proper registration is concerned.
The Brechin Ultimatum
Looking at the situation therefore it seems Brechin have three chances.
Firstly they might beat Rangers FC on the park.
Secondly they can protest the match on the basis that Rangers FC are playing under a non-existent membership.
Thirdly even if the membership is valid, are any of the Rangers FC players registered with the SFL?
I mentioned on Twitter that this could be a huge can of worms for the football authorities.
The question is whether Brechin will raise the points.
Still to come – the rest of the joint statement analysed, and some comment on the remarks from Ibrox.
Posted by Robert Ludlum McConville