In which I look at what Sevco Scotland still have to do to get their team actually out onto a playing field. The main issue now is the SFA membership transfer.
However, there are various issues which suggest that this might not be a formality, and indeed that it ought not to be.
I look at what the status of the existing membership, held by Rangers Football Club PLC (In administration) is, and whether, with the new “fit and proper person” rules, it can actually be transferred to Sevco at all!
Can it be transferred whilst the various disciplinary matters are still to be determined? Should it be?
Why has there been such a delay by the SFA in dealing with this and the re-establishment of the Appellate Tribunal?
And finally, what has this picture got to do with the leadership shown by the SFA and SPL?
Yesterday’s vote, at least according to the motion published as going to the SFL Clubs to decide, sees Sevco Scotland Ltd admitted as an Associate Member of the SFL, and Rangers FC invited to play in SFL3 for season 2012-2013.
Despite the murmurings, coming from various different sources, that an effort will be made by Mr Doncaster either to resurrect the recently dead SPL2 idea, or even to engineer an invitation to Sevco Scotland Ltd for its team to play in the existing SPL, I will work on the basis that Rangers FC will be visiting Peterhead and not Parkhead in the coming year.
There are still a few “technicalities” to be dealt with prior to them kicking a ball in the SFL however.
I wanted to run through them here.
First of all though, I should explain what an “Associate Member” of the SPL is.
7. ASSOCIATE MEMBERSHIP A club or association must initially join the League as an Associate Member.
17. TRANSFER FROM ASSOCIATE TO FULL MEMBERSHIP On completing four successive years as an Associate Member, a club may be admitted to membership of the League by resolution of the Members and without payment of any further application fee.
19. STATUS OF ASSOCIATE MEMBERSHIP An Associate Member shall have no financial interest in the assets of the League and shall not be accorded any voting rights. An Associate Member will be entitled to notice of general meetings of the League and to attend and speak at such meetings, and shall otherwise be bound by such membership by these Rules and all other Rules and Bye-Laws made by the League and for the time being in force.
Therefore, for the next four years, Sevco Scotland Ltd will not have a vote in Scottish Football League decisions, which, for what is claimed to be the continuation of the most powerful club in the land, will be demeaning and a fine example of the huge change in status.
As we know, Sevco Scotland Ltd has already applied to the SFA for membership. The SFL Rule regarding this is as follows:-
16. REGISTRATION WITH SFA A CONDITION OF MEMBERSHIP 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, and in the event that the application is unsuccessful, its membership will lapse upon that decision being intimated to the League.
The first hurdle of actually making the application has been overcome. However the SFA still has to approve the application for transfer of membership. Membership is a separate issue from the licence, and as the excellent Auldheid has pointed out for some time seems to be an issue which causes the SFA some difficulties. I will come back to that.
As we know, the application made is for the transfer of membership in the SFA from Rangers Football Club PLC to Sevco Scotland Ltd.
Under Article 14 of the SFA Articles, the SFA Board has the discretion to grant or refuse such an application on such terms and conditions as it thinks fit.
There are therefore a couple of questions which arise about the membership to be transferred.
(1) What was the status of that membership?
(2) Is it appropriate for it to be transferred to Sevco Scotland Ltd?
What was the status of that membership?
There are a number of factors relevant to this.
There has still been no final decision by the SFA Appellate Tribunal regarding the penalty, if any, to be imposed on “Rangers” in place of the registration embargo placed on them originally by Lord Carloway’s hearing, but overturned by Lord Glennie at the Court of Session.
The case was remitted back to the Appellate Tribunal by Lord Glennie in the interests of a speedy decision. That was at the end of May. Here we are, in mid July and nothing further has yet been done.
The particular issue here also arises in connection with the SPL investigation into illegal or unregistered payments to players. As the SPL stated on 18th June:-
“The SPL Board heard a report from its solicitors following the investigation into payments to, or for the benefit of, players allegedly made by Rangers FC outside of contract.
The delay in concluding the investigation was caused by an initial lack of co-operation from Rangers FC.
The investigation has now been completed and, in the view of the SPL, there is a prima facie case to answer in respect of its Rules.
Disciplinary charges WILL be brought when the future status of Rangers FC is clarified and prior to the start of season 2012/13.” (Emphasis added)
The SPL promised disciplinary charges, and before the start of the season, once the status of Rangers FC was clarified.
The actions of Mr Green in seeking a transfer of the SPL share and a transfer of SFA Membership rather than an issue of a new membership would lead one to believe that, notwithstanding the change in legal entity operating the football club, the club itself remained. If so, then the relevant disciplinary processes should continue. The basis of the Scottish football regulatory system is the club, rather than the owner. As I have pointed out before, the Rules of the SFA and of the SPL include literally hundreds of references to “clubs” and between them less than ten references to owners.
Whilst creditors of Rangers Football Club PLC cannot pursue Sevco Scotland Ltd for debts due, the footballing authorities do not have such issues, especially where the purchaser of the assets of the former club makes such a big thing about it being the old club continuing.
If Sevco Scotland had sought a new membership of the SFA, ignoring for a moment licence issues, and simply happened to be a team called “Rangers” but NOT the one formed in 1872, then there could be no question of football penalties being imposed.
However, for marketing and support reasons, Mr Green cannot say that his “newco” is a “new club”. Therefore he seeks for the club to “retain” the history, and as such the club, as it is seen in football as a separate entity from the corporate bodies owning it, can still be punished for wrongdoing under the old regime or regimes.
Whenever a football club has been found guilty of wrongdoing, and penalties such as points deductions or relegation are to be imposed, but only after the miscreant owners have sold up, there is an outcry that the new owners and the fans should not be punished for the sins of the old owner. That however is the effect of two things; the legal doctrine of corporate identity being separate from that of the owner, and the continuation in football terms of the club. It also protects the integrity of the sport.
It would be very easy for an unscrupulous owner of a football club, guilty of the most heinous footballing crimes, to arrange to sell his team to another corporate entity, or even sell the assets and business to another entity to avoid punishment and then, once the dust had settled, to buy the team back.
In the context of Rangers and the Appellate Tribunal, the club was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute, on the basis, firstly, that the “controlling mind” and the club are inextricably linked, bit also because there were others at Ibrox who were culpable, mainly by omission rather than commission.
In addition, though I have not seen much mention of it elsewhere, Mr Whyte’s decision to stop paying tax, allegedly as a “bargaining counter” in his dispute with HMRC, was to the benefit of Rangers FC. Mr Whyte is not alleged to have left Ibrox loaded down with sacks full of ten-pound notes. The many millions due to the taxpayer which he failed to remit were spent by Rangers FC in keeping the lights on and the players paid till administration finally hit.
There was around £3 million in the Rangers FC bank account when the administrators came in, and in fact most of that was comprised of the first instalment of the transfer fee for Mr Jelavic. Therefore Rangers FC spent around £10 million – £12 million of the withheld tax on itself.
Rangers FC still was awarded prize money for being second in the SPL. ”Rangers” sought to benefit form selling players who might well have left Ibrox much earlier if the money had run out in November, rather than February.
The position is simple – new club = no penalties for previous wrongdoings; old club = possible penalties.
As Lord Carloway’s Tribunal has been told that a major part of its punishment was ultra vires, the registration embargo, it has to decide (a) to impose no additional penalty, notwithstanding its acceptance of the earlier decision that even the maximum fine was insufficient, or (b) to impose an alternative penalty.
The alternative penalties are suspension of membership of the SFA, removal of such membership or ejection from the Scottish Cup.
I will write separately about the Scottish Cup later.
The SFA therefore is considering whether to transfer a membership, on behalf of Rangers FC, whilst this matter remains outstanding. What would the reaction be if, for example, the SFA decided that it would impose no further penalty for this matter on the basis that Sevco Scotland agreed that what it owned was a new club? It seems to me that, if it were seen as a continuation, it would in fact be a breach of the SFA’s own rules to simply “call it quits” and not to remit the matter back to Lord Carloway.
Similar considerations apply to the SPL investigation. However this can continue despite the new club/old club issue. If Sevco’s team is taken as being old club, then it too cab be penalised. If it is a new club, then it cannot be punished, but there could be sanctions whereby old titles are affected.
The SFA asked, in seeking information from Sevco Scotland Ltd in connection with the application for transfer, if it was willing to accept the penalties imposed or to be imposed on oldco.
If it agreed then the matter is simple – the disciplinary processes should continue and newco should pat the penalty.
Of course, if the SPL deem there to be no connection, then who would represent the interests of old club Rangers? Perhaps Mr Jardine and the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund could be applied towards that contest?
Is it possible that the existing membership is in jeopardy as a result of action, or inaction, by Duff and Phelps?
Under Article 10 of the SFA, each member must submit an Official Return by 1st June each year. The Return must list all officials and office bearers of the club and each of them must state that they are “a fit and proper person to hold such a position in Association Football”.
Under the Rule any changes to the Official Return must be notified to the Secretary of the SFA “without delay”.
Article 10.3 requires clubs to submit details of “proposed changes” to the Official Return within ten working days of the effective date of such alteration so that the SFA can grant permission.
Under Article 10.4 failure to submit an Official Return, or to notify changes can result in the Judicial Panel considering the matter as a football offence and penalties such as a fine, or suspension, or other such penalty as the Panel thinks fit, can be imposed.
Did Duff and Phelps lodge an Official Return by 1st June 2012?
If so, has it been revised by notification by Sevco Scotland Ltd?
Ought there to be a disciplinary process ion the validity of the membership prior to it passing to Sevco?
Is it appropriate for Membership to be transferred to Sevco Scotland Ltd?
The list of documents and information required by the SFA is lengthy and can be read here RFC Sevco Membership Doc.
The first question which arises in relation to Sevco concerns satisfaction of the “fit and proper” person test. As regards Craig Whyte, Mr Regan referred to it as a myth.
As a result, the Articles of the SFA were changed. The precise terms of the new Article is not in front of me, but it was described thus in the SFA statement:-
“The Scottish FA members have today agreed to implement a number of resolutions, including a new Article of Association addressing the change of control at football clubs.
The new article, which was unanimously approved at today’s Annual General Meeting at Hampden Park, formalises the obligations on member clubs regarding change of ownership.
From now, any outgoing board of directors will be required to submit documentation confirming that due diligence has been undertaken with regard to the prospective purchaser.
In effect, a change of control certificate will require to be lodged to the Scottish FA by the outgoing regime before any sale is finalised.
Scottish FA chief executive, Stewart Regan, said: “It is important that club owners take more responsibility to ensure that they sell their club to an individual or individuals who act responsibly and within the rules of football.
“… it is important that the onus is on those involved in the sale of the club.”
If we are to view the sale of the business and assets of Rangers by D&P as the sale of a club (and it must be that) then did the administrators, or Rangers Football Club PLC (In Administration) provide such details regarding Sevco Scotland Ltd? As the sale was “finalised” on 14th June, had the “change of control certificate” been produced.
What, if any, due diligence had been done by D&P into Mr Green and his backers?
In the absence of such a certificate, does this mean that Mr Green and his colleagues are not yet deemed to be “fit and proper” to be involved in Association Football? If the seller has failed to provide the relevant certificate, could that invalidate the sale?
(I suspect Mr Green might wake up this morning looking through every page of documentation he has regarding the sale to see if he can get out of it!)
There remains mystery too regarding the “Blue Pitch Holdings” backer of the deal. One of the contributors here has done sterling work on looking at this and I intend, with his approval, to collate it together as a guest post.
Maybe these details have been given to the SFA, though the absence of leaks suggest not.
Clyde FC, whose statements regarding this matter have been up there along with those of Turnbull Hutton of Raith Rovers in facing down the bullying and blackmail, have issued another following on from yesterday’s meeting.
Most relevant for the purposes of this post are the following extracts:-
“ … all had been placed in intolerable positions of having to decide without the basic information that would reflect good governance and having to speculate about unresolved matters around sanctions and membership of the SFA that other bodies had so far failed to deal with.
For the good of the game we need to see the SFA accept the will of its members, who all voted today, as members of the SFL, in the clear knowledge that the SFA had it in its power to refuse to transfer SFA membership to Sevco Scotland Ltd should the vote support the entry of Sevco Scotland Ltd into SFL3.
… Mr Green left the SFL member clubs in no doubt about what he had been told by the SFA.
If the SFA now act to support any process to undermine the clear views of the SFL members, who are also members of the SFA, then this club will join others in questioning those in leadership.”
Clyde FC has been given the clear impression, and from what they said, Mr Green has too, that the SFA will take some action regarding membership to thwart the democratic view of the SFL clubs. It seems not to be coincidence therefore that the decision on sanctions, and on the SPL Disciplinary processes have not yet concluded. Indeed Sevco Scotland Ltd had a deadline of 20th June to submit its application for transfer of membership.
Standing that the SPL season starts on 4th August, and indeed the Ramsdens Cup for SFL teams on 28th July, one might have thought that Mr Regan would have been anxious to convene an SFA Board meeting to consider the issue of transfer of membership?
The SFA has the duty of regulating Scottish football, and seeing that the rules are upheld. Justice delayed is justice denied, and the comments by Clyde, coupled with the lack of comment from Hampden, makes one concerned about the reasons for the delay. Lord Glennie sent the sanctions case back to the Appellate Tribunal at the end of May.
As Lord Glennie said on 29th May:-
“First, it is obviously a matter of some urgency that this matter be resolved. By reducing the decision of the Appellate Tribunal and simply sending it back to them I am enabling them to reconsider rather than requiring the whole matter to be started afresh.”
Twenty-one days had to pass being the time for “reclaiming” (appealing). However, the SFA could (a) have reconvened the Appellate Tribunal to sit after the expiry of the reclaiming days on 19th June on the basis that, if an appeal was marked, it would be cancelled, or at worst the decision to set one up could have been taken once 19th June had passed. The emphasis in the SFA Disciplinary processes now is to “fast-track” matters.
There has been no explanation that I have seen as to this delay, and as Clyde state, in the absence of that information they, and all other SFL clubs were left in a very difficult position.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Phil Mac Giolla Bhain yesterday, as he poked his head out from the word mines where his book on the Rangers saga is nearing completion. His opinion is that there is no great master plan or conspiracy here.
Instead, and I hope he excuses me if I misrepresent his position, he sees the SFA and SPL, in particular, running about like headless chickens from one disaster to the next. There is no coherent plan, or whenever there is, it is destroyed immediately by developments.
Is Mr Regan sitting in Hampden with a large cigar clamped between his teeth, stating that he loves it when a plan comes together? No.
Is he instead sitting hoping that something will turn up?
Call it fire-fighting or plate spinning if you will, but perhaps the reason for the delay in the decision of the SFA, as was also the case with the delayed SPL vote, and indeed the rumours that it would be further delayed, is simply that no one wants to be seen as being responsible for the demise of Rangers. If one of the bodies involved has the chance to pass the ticking time bomb to someone else, then they would do so.
That is not providing the leadership for which Mr Doncaster and Mr Regan were employed, and for which they are amply paid.
The SPL meets on Monday. They now hold the ticking box. Can they pass it back to the SFA without it going off?
This story has still a long way to go.
Posted by Paul McConville