Rangers FC still has no licence to play football. Their season is due to start in six days. There have been long discussions this week with the SFA about the terms for transferring the membership in the SFA from Rangers Football Club PLC to Sevco Scotland Ltd.
All looked well on Friday when the SFA produced the statement copied below. However this was immediately contradicted by Mr Murray of Rangers.
Some thoughts arise which are addressed at greater length below.
Had an agreement been reached between Sevco Scotland Ltd and the SFA?
Does Mr Murray face disciplinary action for stating that Rangers FC is being forced “under duress” to accede to the SFA’s demands?
Did Sevco Scotland Ltd and the SFA reach an agreement, express or implied, that Mr Murray could be publicly critical of the “agreement” reached as an effort (a) to gauge his customers’ response or (b) to put pressure on the SPL to step back from having the “dual contract” disciplinary process move forward?
Was Mr Murray making his statement to show that the new owners of Rangers FC had done everything possible to fight their corner, but that the twin bogeymen of the SFA and SPL had them over a barrel as a result of the actions of Messrs David Murray and Whyte?
Was the speed with which Rangers FC responded an indication that, in fact, it knew what was coming?
We shall see.
On Friday night the SFA announced as follows, with emphases added:-
“The Scottish FA can tonight clarify the position surrounding the outstanding Appellate Tribunal related to Rangers FC Oldco.
It has been agreed with Sevco Scotland Ltd that the registration embargo will be accepted as a primary condition of a transfer of membership.
It is necessary to complete the judicial process following the determination by Lord Glennie in the Court of Session that required the Independent Appellate Body to revisit available sanctions relating to Oldco, having been found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute.
The Scottish FA indicated to Sevco Scotland Ltd that they had to accept responsibility for any sanctions arising out of this case as a condition of transfer of membership.
Rather than convening the Appellate Tribunal to determine from the sanctions available to it, the company directors of Sevco Scotland Ltd have chosen to accept the 12-month registration embargo. This embargo will begin on 1st September 2012 and end on 31st August 2013.
Sevco Scotland Ltd have also undertaken to accept all other outstanding conditions relating to Oldco’s charges of bringing the game into disrepute. The conditional offer of transfer will now be submitted to the Appellate Tribunal for its consideration. This will form part of the approval process for the transfer of membership which, once approved, will enable Rangers FC to take a considerable step towards participating in Irn Bru Division Three.
In addition to the above, the Scottish FA has also received the necessary financial information requested and this is being considered as part of the application process.
Subject to the completion of all legal documentation, we anticipate transfer of membership next week.
The imposition of conditions relating to transfer of membership was made on the basis that the Scottish FA, as the governing body, has an obligation to protect the integrity of the national game and to ensure that all member clubs operate within the Articles of Association.”
So what does this tell us? It was interesting that the SFA spent a while on Twitter “clarifying” the statement.
The process as described by the SFA seems to run as follows.
1 Sevco Scotland Ltd accepts certain conditions on the transfer of the SFA membership from Rangers Football Club PLC. This includes accepting the registration embargo. This has been accepted by Sevco Scotland Ltd.
2 Sevco Scotland Ltd supplies all necessary financial information.
3 The application for transfer of membership will be passed to the Appellate Tribunal, which will require to be newly constituted.
4 The Appellate Tribunal, if satisfied that the conditions are accepted, and that this imposes appropriate sanctions, concludes proceedings by imposing no further penalty, and the matter is remitted back to the SFA Board.
5 The SFA Board approves the transfer of membership.
6 Rangers FC, owned by Sevco Scotland Ltd, embarks on its new life in SFL3, the League Cup and Ramsdens Cup.
The registration embargo will not have immediate effect however. Instead it applies, if accepted, from 1st September 2012 to 31st August 2013. Therefore Rangers FC can sign whoever it can in this transfer window, without restriction. The embargo applies to the mid-winter transfer break, and next summer’s transfer window.
This would seem to be a recognition that Rangers FC is in difficulties with players at present, and that some clemency should be shown to them. If Sevco Scotland Ltd is accepting the disrepute and associated convictions of oldco, then frankly it seems odd to start the embargo in January, rather than now! If the concern is that the numerous players on Rangers FC’s books are not good enough for SFL3 competition, then that is a consequence of Rangers FC’s actings and choices.
The SFA statement suggests that all required financial information has been handed over. This ought to include details regarding the beneficial ownership of the shares in Sevco Scotland Ltd, including the mysterious Blue Pitch Holdings and the elusive, at least to Indonesian authorities, Rafat Ali Rizvi. Presumably this also includes the clearance certificate issued by Duff & Phelps vouching that Sevco Scotland Ltd is made up of “fit and proper” persons.
So, if everything is together, and the Appellate Tribunal is prepared to accept this as a solution to the problem, then the regulatory hurdles have been cleared, and we can think about actually playing football again…
I may have jumped the gun though!
All was not what it seemed, as Mr Murray, Chairman of Sevco Scotland made clear on the official club website shortly after the SFA statement came out:-
“Board members, the Manager and senior executives from the Club have been meeting with the SFA this week with the sole purpose of ensuring the long term future of Rangers.
“For clarity, we have not signed any agreement yet and therefore believe the SFA’s statement to be premature.
“We have had days of discussions with the SFA and it is important for everyone, but most importantly our fans, to understand that the SFA said it would only transfer the membership to play football if we accepted some form of additional sanctions for the sins of previous regimes.
“The choice is stark – take sanctions or risk not playing football at all. We do not wish to gamble with the Club’s future so, under duress, we have taken the difficult decision to accept some sanctions in order to move forward.
“A delayed transfer ban would be a bitter pill to swallow and will only be agreed to if the alternative is no football.
“We would have a window in which to sign players enabling the manager to strengthen the squad which is critical for the Club to start the process of rebuilding.
“We also regret that any agreement with the SFA appears not to have the support of the SPL and, as such, it (the SPL) still wishes to impose further sanctions on the Club for the actions of previous regimes despite already voting us out of its league. This is truly astounding to everyone at the Club who is now in charge of rebuilding Rangers from Division 3, particularly as the SPL are still trying to benefit from our media rights.
“Whilst we are deeply frustrated that the Club and the new owners will have to accept some punishments for the sins of previous regimes, we are at the point where we have to move forward and get back playing football.
“We will all continue to work hard over the coming days in order to begin the season and play our first match next Sunday.
“Rangers fans around the world have been tremendous in their support for the Club over the last six months – through what has been an horrendous period in our history.
“Supporters have been badly bruised by recent events and they more than anyone deserve to see their team playing football again. To move forward we must all now rally behind the Manager and Club through this rebuilding process.
“We have a long road ahead but every one of us involved in taking the Club forward is committed to restoring Rangers to greatness again and we will not falter in our commitment.”
I might be accused of reading too much into things, but I think that the words used are very important. Note that Mr Murray does not say that there is no agreement. Instead he says that no agreement has been signed.
That implies that there is in fact an agreement, but that it has not yet been finalised yet.
He also says that the SFA statement was “premature” rather than simply denying that it is the case.
He went on to say that, under duress, certain sanctions had been accepted. These seem to include the delayed transfer ban, but only on the basis that the alternative is no football being played at all.
So as far as the SFA is concerned, Mr Murray’s statement suggests that, at the point of a metaphorical gun, Sevco Scotland Ltd is accepting the SFA conditions because the refusal to accept them leads to no football at Ibrox in the coming season.
It could be argues that such strident criticism of the ruling body is equivalent to criticising a referee and thus brings the game into disrepute.
The view of many Rangers FC fans is that there have been enough penalties inflicted on their team in the form of “relegation”, banishment from European competition, loss of many players etc. There is a mood that acceptance of further sanctions would be a surrender, and this from an organisation not known for doing so.
From the point of view of not alienating even more of the clientele, Sevco Scotland needs at least to put up a fight on the sanctions before conceding at the last minute to preserve the right to play football next season.
Picking a fight with the SFA, but then backing down as the alternative was not to play football at all seemed actually quite a wise PR strategy.
There was one paragraph which clanged dissonantly with that overall message. That was as follows:-
“We also regret that any agreement with the SFA appears not to have the support of the SPL and, as such, it (the SPL) still wishes to impose further sanctions on the Club for the actions of previous regimes despite already voting us out of its league. This is truly astounding to everyone at the Club who is now in charge of rebuilding Rangers from Division 3, particularly as the SPL are still trying to benefit from our media rights.”
What could it be that the SPL wanted to do to Rangers FC, apart from buying the media rights to Rangers FC games off the SFL, as originally proposed?
The only ongoing matter regarding the SPL is the so-called “dual contract” investigation. Here the SPL has found there is a prima facie case to answer. The intention was to proceed with a disciplinary case before the start of the season.
Is the SPL demanding sanctions, or is it asking to be allowed to carry out due process, and then for penalties to be imposed in the event that guilt was established? If it is the former, and the formality of a trial has been skipped, then Mr Murray is right to be astounded. On the other hand, if it is simply that the SPL want to conduct the case through the correct procedures, and impose any penalties in the event of a guilty verdict, then what is the complaint Mr Murray has?
It should also be noted by Mr Murray that Rangers FC was not “voted out of the SPL”. Sevco Scotland was not admitted to the SPL. Same outcome – very different import.
The SPL want to benefit from media rights? If the SPL buys these at a fair price from the SFL, then what complaint can Mr Murray have, except to paint the SPL too as a bogeyman?
The statement by Mr Murray therefore seemed to have hit the spot – telling the SFA that they would play ball, but making it clear to the Rangers FC fans that, in a Churchillian sense, they were fighting the SFA and SPL on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the air and on the sea…
This left matters in the position where, notwithstanding the SFA’s “premature” statement, they could say that a membership transfer would be competed in the coming week. Either the SFA knew that Mr Murray was blustering, or the SFA had agreed with Mr Murray that a warlike declaration could be made from which Sevco Scotland would, under heavy fire and facing inevitable defeat, back down. The speed with which the Murray statement appeared suggest that the latter is a possibility, and possibly was evidence of a combined SFA/Sevco strategy to force the SPL to back down.
And so it seemed that the script had been written. Mr Murray and Mr Green would have had no chance at all of keeping Rangers FC sanction free this coming season, but would be able to replenish the stocks of players to take them up through SFL3 and SFL2. The PR pressure might also be enough to force the SPL to let football rather than football governance take centre stage.
Am I suggesting some great SFA/Sevco Scotland Ltd conspiracy? No. I am not. However over the tea and biscuits, as the meetings progressed, there surely would have been some discussion, however informal, about how the “agreement” should be presented.
In the ways familiar to viewers of “Yes, Minister” and “The Thick of It” if a government wants to close two hospitals, it will announce plans to shut six, and after a public campaign be seen to be “listening” by reducing the “hit list “ back to the two initially intended. The campaigners feel there has been some success and compromise, and if spun correctly the government enhances its reputation for paying attention to the people whom it is in place to serve.
As I discuss in my next post however, the next step by Rangers FC, namely the intervention of Mr McCoist, was either a very risky escalation of the plan, or an attempt by Mr McCoist to put a warning shot across the bows of his own Board.
To follow therefore – Panto Season II – “He’s behind you!”
Posted by Aladdin McConville