In which I have a look at the masterplan disclosed in Mr Regan’s email on 23rd June, and wonder if the SPL teams were happy to refuse to vote Rangers FC into the SPL, because they were fully aware of the plan and had been assured by Messrs Regan, Doncaster and Longmuir that an SFL1 solution was in the bag.
Maybe a reporter could ask the SPL chairmen arriving at Hampden today for the AGM what they knew, and when, about the Regan plan?
Rod Petrie of Hibs definitely knew, as he was part of it. Did his Board know and when?
What about Mr Gilmour of St Mirren? Had he received the nod that SFL1 was all but delivered, thus explaining his anxiety, and similarly that of Inverness CT, when the SFL vote went in favour of SFL3?
Alex Thomson of Channel 4 has been the main UK journalist to have taken an interest in, and reported on, the farrago at Ibrox. As the weeks and months have passed, the story has grown from involving merely Rangers to include concerns about the governance of Scottish football in general. As a result there has been considerable focus on the actions of Neil Doncaster of the SPL and Stewart Regan of the SFA.
Mr Thomson and Channel 4 have obtained an e-mails sent by Mr Regan on 23rd June. I have copied it below with my comments in bold. I would recommend following this link to read Mr Thomson’s piece in full too, as well as reading my thoughts below, of course!
According to Mr Thomson, the email was sent to:-
Scottish Premier League chief exec Neil Doncaster;
Scottish Football League boss David Longmuir;
SFL President Jim Ballantyne;
SFA vice-president Alan McRae;
Hibernian FC chief exec Rod Petrie and
SPL chairman Ralph Topping.
To set the scene, on the 23rd June, Mr Green of Sevco had been in charge for nine days. The first players were about to object to their TUPE transfer to the newco. People were frantically trying to work out how the SPL clubs were going to vote on 4th July, when the application for transfer of the SPL share from Rangers Football Club PLC to Sevco Scotland Ltd was to be considered.
There were rumours of behind the scenes discussions involving the SFA, SPL and SFL against the backcloth of a perceived wish of the SFA that Rangers should play in the second tier in season 2012-2013.
Mr Regan wrote as follows:-
Many thanks for your contribution and support over the last two weeks in trying to deliver a programme of change that will move Scottish football forward whilst addressing the need to deal with the Rangers matter with integrity and in line with our own values as an organisation.
Bearing in mind the joint press statement saying that all three bodies had been working on the league restructuring plans for two years, there seems to be some mistake. Either, as all three bodies said, this issue has been the focus of attention for that time, or else Mr Regan was mistaken in putting his name to that, as in fact the discussions had only been going on for two weeks, prompted only by the “Rangers matter”.
I was hugely encouraged with where we got to last night on a long and tiring phone call and I thank all of you for your efforts to move this issue forward.
I thought it would be helpful if I summarised where I think we are:
Bearing in mind who received this email, what follows is not Mr Regan’s view of what should happen, but what he understood the representatives of all three governing bodies in Scottish football had agreed. How many of the three bodies had run these matters past their respective Boards? I suspect the answer is zero. We know that, at least officially, these matters had not been debated with the members.
1. The Rangers Football Club will be relegated to the 1st Division of the SFL with immediate effect and will be replaced in the SPL by Dundee FC.
One of the main questions in this saga has been regarding the continuity, or otherwise, of Rangers’ existence. This has a huge bearing on how fans, both for and against, see the club, and on the issue of sporting sanctions. If it is the same Rangers, then there would be no case for dropping ongoing disciplinary procedures, all of which should be seen through to their end.
If Rangers FC was to be relegated, then this meant that it was a continuation of the existing club and thus liable for the sanctions and penalties to be imposed.
As far as Dundee being promoted is concerned, there is a case for this, as indeed there is for Dunfermline returning to the SPL. However, three weeks later, the SPL has still not announced who, if anyone, is to take up the slot of “Club 12” in the SPL. This delay has provoked fears that there will be an attempt at the SPL AGM today to invite Rangers FC into the SPL, or to create from thin air an SPL2.
2. The television rights for Rangers FC matches in the SFL will be purchased by the SPL for the sum of £1m as a one-off fee for the season 2012/2013.
A convenient round figure! Had the SPL, SFL or SFA had any discussions with TV companies regarding this? Was it a fair price, or was this simply intended to be, in a legitimate form, a “sweetener” to persuade the SFL to go along with the plan?
I am not a television executive, but I could well imagine that the right to show the matches in which Rangers played its way back through the SFL1 would be an enticing product, with an interest to be found outwith the supporters of that club.
In fact, it would not have surprised me (and still will not surprise me for SFL3) if an enterprising broadcaster seeks the rights to show all of the matches played by the Ibrox team this coming season. Not all might be live, but recorded highlights of games not shown live would fit into a documentary, on a fly on the wall basis.
Let’s say that 20 Rangers games were to be covered by the TV deal if SFL1 had been chosen.
Purchase of the rights would benefit the SFL teams by an average of £33,000 each. Such a deal would value the rights to each game as worth £50,000. Far from doing the SFL teams a favour, this would in fact be, on the face of it, taking commercial advantage. And, if the tone of the email is to be believed, Mr Longmuir of the SFL and Mr Ballantyne, had signed up to this!
3. The two leagues will merge into a single league body – The Scottish Professional Football League – effective season 2013/14 – with a working party set up immediately involving representatives from the SPL, SFL and (if required) the Scottish FA to plan the integration of the two bodies – people, rules, rebranding, commercial considerations and so on.
The implication is that, without approval of the respective boards and certainly not of the members, the CEO’s of the SFL and SPL had agreed to merge their organisations into a SPFL.
Restructuring could not be achieved in this close season, but would be the target for 2013-2014. On wonders where this acceptance that planning etc was needed with a view to starting in 2013-2014 fitted in with the suggestion that, two weeks prior to kick-off, an SPL2 would be formed.
4. A new Board of Directors will be appointed to govern the single league. The make up of this Board will consist of an Independent Chairman, CEO, 3 representatives from the Premier League, 2 representatives from the Championship/Leagues 1 & 2 and 2 Independent Non-Executive Directors.
There would be nine people on this new Board. There were seven parties to this email. One wonders if all seven might have viewed themselves as entitled to a place on a newly created SPFL Board.
5. Play-offs will be introduced immediately with the first matches taking place at the end of the coming season 2012/2013.
SFL teams have playoffs between the SFL divisions, but until now, in its present arrangement, the SPL had rejected playoffs.
I am sure it is entirely coincidental that playoffs were to be in place for the end of the coming season, thus increasing the chances of all SFL1 teams to be promoted, including one team which had joined SFL1 by an unusual route.
6. Enhanced parachute payments will be implemented from the end of the season 2012/2013 to soften the landing for club(s) relegated from the Premier League.
So more money from the SPL pot being paid out, yet the implications of Rangers not being in the SPL, prior to the SPL vote, were stated to be horrendous with loss of TV revenues etc.
7. A revised all-through distribution model will be put in place to provide: a) An all-through distribution model for clubs 1-22 and a minimum guarantee for 20 clubs in Leagues 1 & 2, equivalent to what they would earn under the current settlement agreement.
So, even more money from the SPL – the bottom twenty teams to receive no less than at present and presumably the top 22 to receive more. Where, in the context of drastically reduced revenues, was this extra money coming from?
8. A Pyramid System will be put in place which open up the bottom of League 2 effective from the end of season 2013/2014 with the first opportunity for promoted clubs to enter the league being 2014/15 thus allowing for licensing to take place.
Had the SFL CEO checked if his members in SFL3 were agreeable to this? There is a halfway house just now whereby, if a team finishes bottom of SFL3 twice in a row, the SFL can consider reducing its membership to Associate status and ultimately replacing it in the League. The perennial occupiers of the lowest division would be unlikely, I think, to consent to a system whereby one of their number was doomed to relegation from the league every year!
9. Consolidation below the Third Division to take place to create a Lowland & Highland League structure effective 2014/15 with appropriate play-offs and promotion/relegation to be put in place. Clubs to be briefed that the previous season 2013/2014 will involve the opportunity to enter play-offs for the first time.
As with point 8, who was to benefit from this? The Highland League teams, and South of Scotland League, are not members of the SPL or SFL. Why create sweeteners and incentives for them?
As part of a wider reconstruction of Scottish football, then these measures are worthy of debate and consideration. However, the fact that they were being linked to, and dependent on, Rangers FC playing in SFL1 and this being railroaded through notwithstanding the view of the SFL clubs, makes one think it was all window dressing, designed to cover up that this whole exercise was being carried out for the benefit of just one team, at that stage not a member of either League!
In terms of actions/timings I think the following needs to happen in this coming week:
A) A joint statement today from all 3 bodies confirming that productive discussions have taken place on a new blueprint for Scottish football. Consultation will continue over the next two weeks with a view to clubs getting together week commencing 2nd July to try and agree the way forward. (D Broadfoot to provide this and circulate to DL/ND for approval)
One wonders what caused the delay as this statement only came out prior top the SFL meeting. Despite the accord shown in this email, was it the case that Mr Longmuir stood up for his members? Perhaps someone might tell us.
B) Rod P / Jim B to finalise the all-through financial model by Wednesday this week latest.
The Chairman of Hibs, and the Chairman of Airdrie United were to work out and finalise the financial model, within four days. This, at least as per the statement that was issued by the three bodies, was a process of discussion ongoing for two years!
C) Neil / David to finalise the detail on Governance, Commercials and Play-Offs (ideally Monday/Tuesday) and incorporate these, plus the financials in B) above into a legally binding Heads of Terms ‘draft’ for presentation to each league body w/c 2nd July.
As with B) above, a lot of haste to meet the deadlines. Except the deadlines were being laid down by the bodies involved in the matter, and only for the benefit of one organisation.
D) DL to organise SFL Board Meeting w/c 25th June to gain buy-in to the plan and also arrange an all club meeting w/c 2nd July
So here we have the proof that Mr Longmuir was on a frolic of his own. He was agreeing to get his Board and then his members onto line. From a first glance the deal does not seem fantastic from the point of view of the SFL clubs, and I suspect that Mr Longmuir would have been shocked at the independence of spirit and the solidarity shown by the member clubs.
E) ND to gain support from SPL Clubs 28th June
Mr Doncaster however is not scheduled to get SPL Board support. Did he already have it, or was it decided that this would be passed over with a direct approach to the clubs?
In addition, this proposal was based on the assumption that the SPL clubs would agree with the starting point – namely that Rangers FC would be placed on SFL1. At that stage it was not certain that would happen.
This therefore suggests the possibility that the SPL clubs showed their combined determination not to transfer the share to Sevco Scotland Ltd, having signed up to this deal. That would explain the shocked reaction from St Mirren and Inverness Caley to the SFL vote. If it was all agreed, as stated by the SFL, SPL and SFA, that this plan was agreed, then no wonder some SPL teams were surprised when the vote decided on SFL3!
Maybe an enterprising journalist could ask the 11 remaining SPL clubs when, if at all, this master plan was put before them.
Hibs issued a statement which was reported in the Daily Mail on 24th June.
‘Following a meeting of its board of directors, Hibernian FC confirmed that the club will vote against the transfer of the Rangers share in the SPL to a newco at the general meeting of SPL clubs on 4 July 2012. This re-affirms the view of the board that the sporting integrity of the SPL is of paramount importance.
‘The board is also acutely aware that in making this decision, Hibernian – like other clubs in the SPL – will suffer collateral financial damage at a time of severe economic hardship and uncertainty. The board believes it is time for all fair-minded supporters to get behind their clubs and to contribute in whatever way they can to the viability of the professional game in Scotland.’
No mention of the Plan B which was in place, and which Mr Petrie, the Hibs supremo, was actively involved in. The Hibs statement does not contradict the master plan, nor does it, per se, indicate that Mr Petrie or Hibs were compromised. It might be classed as being the truth, nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth.
F) SFL Clubs Meeting to be planned for 3rd July
G) SPL Club Meeting to be planned for 4th July
H) Scottish FA Board to sign off on the final plan post 4th July. Subject to approval all bodies (including Newco) to sign legal documentation.
In the words of Del Amitri, was the SFA Board to be “the last to know”?
I) Agree joint communication strategy
J) In parallel to A-D above, could Rod Petrie please brief Charles Green confidentially on the discussions from a Scottish FA perspective so that there are ‘no surprises’ and there is a general acceptance of the plan plus all of the other conditions discussed e.g. transfer embargo, fines, repayment of football debt, waiving rights to legal challenge, acceptance of relegation and so on.
This is where matters become even murkier. At this point, Sevco Scotland Ltd and Mr Green were:-
(a) applying for the transfer of the SPL share to allow Rangers FC to play in the SPL;
(b) preparing an application for admission to the SFL in the event that SPL admission was refused;
(c) applying for transfer of the SFA membership;
(d) awaiting a decision from the SPL about the disciplinary investigation regarding breach of the rules re contracts and payments; and
(e) awaiting the re-convening of the SFA appellate Tribunal regarding the disrepute sanctions.
Here we have all three bodies required to convene and decide on these matters having “confidential” discussions with Mr Green about what was happening, even before the SFL and SFA Boards, as implied above, were aware of the matter. Bearing in mind that, on 24th June, the Daily Record reported much, but by no means all, of what transpires to have been in this email, the “confidentiality” did not really work, did it!
Whilst the SPL and SFL decisions regarding admission of Sevco Scotland Ltd were not ones that could be classed as “quasi-judicial” there are still fundamental requirements of fairness. This is especially so where the outcome of the respective votes would have direct effects upon members of the particular organisations.
Were the SPL clubs or the SFL clubs aware that these behind the scenes discussions were taking place between Mr Petrie and Mr Green?
Was the Hibs Board aware of them?
Did Mr Green indicate that “there is a general acceptance of the plan plus all of the other conditions discussed e.g. transfer embargo, fines, repayment of football debt, waiving rights to legal challenge, acceptance of relegation and so on”?
K) Andrew to ensure our check list of disclosures relating to Newco and Fit & Proper Person criteria are delivered by 2nd July. The Board will need these plus the Heads of Terms above in order to complete this plan.
“Andrew” is, as I understand it, Andrew Sleigh, Corporate Partner in Levy & McRae, Solicitors. He is vastly experienced in Insolvency, Corporate matters and Sports Law, making him the perfect man to deal with this issue for the SFA.
The Scottish FA Board have agreed to provide a one-off restructuring budget of £1m on condition the above plan is delivered.
Ah! This suggests that the SFA Board too had already signed off on this plan. After all, for an organisation in charge of a sport facing a “slow, lingering death” © Stewart Regan, it would be an important decision to spend £1 million on implementing the plan.
It is also a convenient round figure, suggesting that a detailed costing and budget might not have been prepared!
I hope this covers everything.
Speak soon….now off to the airport!
And so Mr Regan headed off for a break, leaving behind what has turned into chaos.
What Does This Email Tell Us?
One would be naïve to think that an issue as fraught as this would not lead to secret discussions and contingency planning. It would be a dereliction of duty in fact if that was not the case. However this email suggests to me that the ruling bodies in Scottish football were still being carried on by the Rangers tidal wave which was creating havoc as it swept on.
The discussions which prompted this email seem to have been an effort by the football bodies to try to wrestle some control of the matter, by setting down a structure to which they felt all the participants could adhere, and which would allow them, to mix the metaphor, to gradually slow the runaway train.
However, it is clear that this failed to account properly for the view of the SFL teams, whose agreement was either pledged by Mr Longmuir or was simply taken for granted.
When a decision requires to be approved by a vote of members, an officer of the body does not have the authority to commit to a particular decision – the votes still need to be cast!
Maybe the SFA and SPL, and by extension, Mr Green, relied on Mr Longmuir sating that the SFL would fall in line. If he misjudged his members so much, then it does not create any liability on him legally, but should raise questions about his position.
As well as Mr Longmuir, both Mr Regan and Mr Doncaster need to consider their situations also.
How much of this master plan was disclosed to the SPL and SFL members?
Dealing with the SPL first, it makes perfect sense that there would be such an overwhelming vote against the Sevco share transfer, if the clubs had been told that the extreme financial consequences of there being no Rangers in the SPL were to be mitigated by admission to SFL1 and a quick return. I am sure that all of the teams who declared why their vote went the way it did have acted with nothing but integrity. After all, it was not within the power of the SPL to vote a team into the SFL. It would make the chairman of a hard pressed SPL club a little easier about voting in favour of “sporting integrity”, and doing so 100% genuinely, where the expectation was that the SFL brethren would fall into line too.
As I mentioned above, the SFL vote, against that background, would explain the anguished cries from some clubs, and the rumours of some last minute SPL resurrection for “Rangers” today.
The failure still to decide who should fill the role of Club 12, when it seems to have been agreed on 23rd June that it should be Dundee, if Sevco did not win the votes, is another indictment of Mr Doncaster. How can Dundee, or Dunfermline, prepare properly for a season when they still do not know if they will be in the SFL1 or the SPL. Even Rangers FC know where they are playing, but the two teams mentioned, through no fault of their own, are stranded in limbo.
When combined with Mr Doncaster’s threat to deprive the SFL of the £2 million due to it under the Settlement Agreement, this all should make his position all but untenable.
Mr Regan and the SFA?
His recent comments have been so blatant in driving matters to his preferred conclusion that its failure should be treated as the vote of confidence which was proposed and seconded on Friday. His master plan has been rejected, and the sight of the head of Scottish football’s ruling body running around to engineer one specific outcome is unedifying.
It seems Mr Regan has convinced himself of what is the right course and is doing everything, despite the views of his members to bring it into effect.
Bearing in mind that it is Mr Regan’s SFA which decides on reconvening the Appellate Tribunal, and on further disciplinary matters, is he not fatally compromised?
I asked what this tells us about Scottish football. Some would say that this shows it is corrupt. I do not think that is the case.
I think it is far more likely that what we have is a situation few could ever have imagined, which has developed on a daily basis over the months now, and which the various bodies have proved unable to control. It has been a runaway train, and there comes a time when rather than trying to stop it, you need to jump off and let it hit the buffers. I think too that the men involved are doing what they genuinely believe to be the best they can. The only problem is that their best has not been good enough.
We now face an SPL AGM where even an unsuccessful attempt to “bring back” Rangers to the top division would result in huge damage to the Scottish game from fans scunnered with the whole mess.
If Rangers FC is left in SFL3, then there are likely to be consequences for many teams, although, as the Annan Athletic chairman was saying on the radio yesterday, it is a matter of cutting one’s cloth.
It would be ironic if the frantic efforts of Messrs Regan, Doncaster and Longmuir have resulted in the very situation they were desperate to avoid.
Posted by Paul McConville