In which I suggest that SFL admission is not certain; that the upheaval to all three divisions might be too much in terms of the time involved; and that Sevco Rangers might have left it too late to apply to the SFL. And that, even if they do get in, SFL Rules may require them to get rid of many players.
Following the news that Hearts and Dundee United will vote against Sevco Rangers playing in the SPL in the coming season, and Motherwell’s decision to ballot its members, the prospects of Premier League football at Ibrox next season are receding.
If it can be assumed that the Motherwell fans will not back Sevco Rangers parachuting into the SPL, and that Celtic too would oppose a rescue for the ghost of its long-time rivals, then only one more team needs to vote against the proposition, and despite its PR campaign, Sevco Rangers will not be in the SPL.
The assumption is that they will drop into the SFL, either into SFL Division 1, or to the bottom in Division 3.
If there is a vacancy in the SPL, the assumption is that this will be offered to Dundee. Fairness might suggest that Dunfermline should get the place, as they are the most affected victim of oldco Rangers breaking the rules. If Rangers had paid its taxes last season, it would have run out of money long before the end of the season. In those circumstances, if it had failed to complete the season, Dunfermline would not have been relegated. Because Rangers lingered on to the season’s end however Dunfermline went down.
Either way, a rebuff to Sevco Rangers will leave a gap in the SFL Division 1.
The SFL Rules seems flexible, empowering the Board of the SFL to deal with situations as it thinks appropriate. It seems though that, in this scenario, the team which finished second bottom on the First and Second Divisions, if relegated in the playoffs, would be reprieved and if they had survived the playoffs, then the bottom team would be saved. Thus Ayr United would remain in Division 1 and Stirling Albion in Division 2. Alternatively the SFL could promote the losing playoff finalists,
Dumbarton Airdrie United (not Airdrieonians) and Stranraer. However, either would leave a gap in Division 3.
The SFL will then have a problem. The SFL League season starts on 11th August, thus giving some weeks for a replacement. But the SFL season itself kicks off on 28th July with the first round of the Ramsdens Challenge Cup, followed by the first round of the League Cup on 4th August.
When Gretna failed, to be replaced by Annan Athletic, the SFL was able to carry out its process of assessing the various applicants, reaching a decision on 3rd July. As the SPL vote regarding Rangers only takes place on 4th July, and as the admission of a new member requires a General Meeting of the members of the SFL, with at least 14 days notice required, then the earliest that the SFL could meet to decide on a new applicant would be 19th July. In reality that would be optimistic in the extreme.
As David Longmuir, Chief Executive of the SFL described in the Daily Record in April, the process for replacing Gretna still took some time.
“If Rangers or anyone else applied for entry into the SFL they would have to go through the same process as Annan, Spartans FC, Preston Athletic and Cove Rangers did four years ago. They would have to put a proposal to us on why they should be allowed in and then hope they were voted in by the SFL clubs.
“… anything that brought excitement and freshness to the SFL would be something I’m interested in.
“It would be the same process, given any set of circumstances. When Annan were welcomed in the process took a couple of months during the close season. In the past we’ve had to assess the likes of Annan, Cove and Preston on the basis of ground criteria, facilities and financial stability. So checks have to be done, which would obviously be a bit different if Rangers were involved.
“Currently, the SFL don’t have a vacancy. The issue Rangers are facing is an SPL matter because they’re a top-flight club. If things change we would follow a tried and tested process, which we’ve always done. If a vacancy arose in the SFL, for whatever reason, we would open up an application process for clubs. We did the same when Gretna went into liquidation.
“A vacancy was opened up in the Third Division and we went through an application process, which allowed a new club to join. The 29 member clubs of the SFL would be asked to vote on who they wished to bring in to the Third Division.
“It’s based on a lot of criteria and the last time it was Annan Athletic who were successful. So of course it is possible for Rangers to play in the Third Division. They only need to look at recent history to see how the process works.”
I suspect that Mr Longmuir did not expect, when saying the above to the Record in April, to face having to find a new member in the height of summer, when many will be away on holiday, and with a maximum of 23 days to carry out the full process!
Cove Rangers and Spartans will have the advantage of being able to blow the dust off the plans from four years ago, and update it. Sevco Rangers need to write one from scratch, and to deal with enquiries regarding “financial stability”. If it went to a vote, I think it highly unlikely that the SFL clubs would reject Rangers. After all, the third division teams would get to entertain them twice in the first season, and probably the other two divisions would have the same as RFC worked its way back to the SPL.
As the SFL Mission Statement explicitly includes commercial interests, it would make sense for that to be an important part of the decision process:-
“The Objects of the League shall be to promote and extend the game of Association Football and, without prejudice to the foregoing generality:-
to be a governing body for its Member Clubs;
to promote, guard and further the interests of its Member Clubs;
to provide League Championship and League Cup Competitions for its Member Clubs and
to conclude commercial contracts relative to sponsorship and exploitation of the League’s fixture copyrights and intellectual property rights including transmission or recording by television, radio, electronic data transmission, or other means, of fixtures provided by the League.”
Rule 6 says:-
“Football clubs or associations undertaking to provide Association Football according to the Laws of the Game as settled by the International Football Association Board and these Rules may be admitted as members of the League in accordance with the provisions of these Rules.”
Is Sevco Rangers yet a football club undertaking to provide Association Football?
Rule 9 states that “The League in general meeting may upon such terms and conditions as it may think fit admit any club”.
Rule 14 requires a member of the SFL to become a member of the SFA. This is unlike the SPL, where membership automatically confers membership of the SFA. “A Member or Associate Member who is not already a full or associate member of the Scottish Football Association must make application to become a full or associate member of the Scottish Football Association (as the case may be) within fourteen (14) days of being admitted to membership of the League failing which its membership of the League will lapse.”
Even if Sevco Rangers get into the SFL, they still have to satisfy the SFA as to their credentials. If this is in the midst of a marketing campaign by Mr Green to emphasise to RFC fans that it is still the same old club, it will be difficult for him to distance Sevco Rangers from the alleged wrongdoings of Messrs Whyte and Murray. This would especially be so if the SPL Appellate Tribunal under Lord Carloway reconvenes before then. Indeed the SFL would be entitled to hold off from any decision till the regulatory future of “Rangers” became clearer.
I think that the short notice for replacing the missing team means that the SFL might not be able to complete the process of filling the gap for the start of the Ramsdens Challenge Cup. The upheaval to all the fixture lists would be serious.
In 2009, when an SFL Disciplinary Panel relegated Livingston from Division 1 to Division 3, it did so the week prior to the season starting. This caused chaos and leads me to believe that the SFL could elect to play a season with only 9 teams in the SFL Division 3. They will not want to repeat the mayhem caused by the changes. Can they possibly manage a full and fair process, particularly when there could be risks of legal challenges, and of further disciplinary action against Rangers FC?
And even if Sevco Rangers is voted in as a member of the SFL, there is still a big problem lurking.
Rule 115.2 states:-
“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.”
My reading of that is clear. If you are a team in the SFL, you can only have 22 players of 21 or over registered to you. Old Rangers had a lot more than that and Mr Green thinks that all the players have now joined Sevco Rangers, although the failure to abide by statutory consultation procedures relating to TUPE might render that less clear than he thinks.
If all of the players have joined Sevco Rangers, then what will they do with them, as they would need to reduce numbers very quickly?
Rangers would have four choices.
1 Ask the SFL for a waiver. But the rule is there for a reason, to level the playing field, and to save the SFL clubs forcing themselves into becoming financially stretched to keep up with competitors by signing more and more players. A waiver would be an admission that Sevco Rangers was a “special case”.
2 Send a lot of players out on loan. This could work as it would cut the numbers of players, and reduce the wage bill. However, sending highly paid players out on loan would damage the product on the field, and sending young, over 21, players out would only affect the number rather than the wage bill.
3 Sell off a lot of players. This would create income for Sevco, as long as the position regarding the players’ employment had been clarified. However this would be akin to a forced sale, and buyers would have the upper hand. This might however provide Sevco with essential working capital, although if the top players were being sold, could damage the attendances and season ticket sales.
4 Pay players off. Terminate contracts and make players redundant. That will cost them money, and paying off a player’s contract when they have been on the Sevco books for only a couple of weeks would be profligate in the extreme.
As far as the players are concerned, wise agents would be advising them to await at least the July 4 vote before confirming their positions. Normally objections to TUPE transfers happen at or before transfer, but here, where it seems that none of the statutory procedures have taken place, I think the players would have some leeway, if they wanted it.
Will Rangers be admitted to the SFL? On balance it is more likely than not. However, there are many issues which make that uncertain, that of the players being one of them.
As Mr Longmuir has already confirmed that the same process as before will be followed, an unsuccessful applicant could have legal redress in the courts if Sevco Rangers is “fast tracked” into the SFL Division 3.
(As an aside, how are the might fallen when I am talking about being fast tracked into Division 3! Last season saw Rangers playing in the Champions’ League in July and August. This might, at best, see them kicking off in the Ramsdens Challenge Cup.)
Will the SFL members feel that the attention which will be on them if Rangers enter Division 3 is worth the upheaval of fixture list changes? For economic reasons, at least for the bottom division teams, the answer is yes.
It is not certain however, and with all the issues Sevco have to put a team on the field, there is, with every day that passes, ever more possibility that Sevco Rangers will not compete in Scottish football next season.
In that case, and even if a gap is left in Division 3, how can a football team survive for a year with no income, unless it decided to become a footballing Harlem Globetrotters, playing exhibition games? That too could be a problem, as the ongoing SFA and SPL disciplinary processes might result in Sevco Rangers being banned for the year they would be out of the league, and if banned, they cannot play friendly fixtures either!
The saga continues!
Posted by Paul McConville