In yesterday’s papers up popped “the two most successful recent managers of Scottish clubs” to offer their views on the future of Scottish football for this season and beyond.
Walter Smith and Gordon Strachan spoke out through a desire to lead Scottish football on a path to recovery by talking of the positives in the game…no, hang on, they spoke as part of a promotion for Ladbrokes, whilst Mr Smith spouted doom and gloom.
Mr Strachan spoke sense and delivered what could be the epitaph for Rangers and its financial disaster, even if that was not what he intended to do.
Mr Smith, with respect to him, talked nonsense.
They were reported in many papers, but I have taken the quotes below from the Scotsman. Both of the linked articles are worth a read in full.
First up we have Walter Smith. The extracts from the article are in bold.
Martin Hannan, who wrote both pieces, describes Mr Smith as “the Ibrox legend who led a syndicate that almost bought Rangers”. The re-writing of history proceeds apace.
Mr Smith’s consortium appeared on the day that the CVA was formally rejected and the assets and business of Rangers sold to Sevco Scotland Ltd (as it then was). His consortium’s kind offer to take the newly purchased assets of Mr Green’s hands was refused immediately. The Smith consortium disappeared into the shadows straight away. If that means that he “almost” bought Rangers, then I was not far behind, having suggested via Twitter a couple of months ago that if Duff and Phelps paid me £5 million, I would take over Rangers!
In response to being asked if Scottish football was heading for League of Ireland status, Mr Smith said: “We are heading there. It’s a slow process, but we have to face that. It is not going to be helped by the withdrawal of funds and no matter what anyone says, Celtic and Rangers kept the interest in terms of Sky TV and people like that.
“If we don’t have it for three years it might be a further slow death to what we are getting. Everyone says it will bring on our younger players, but they are leaving as well. We can’t compete.”
Mr Smith’s position is that the demise of Rangers condemns Scottish football to “League of Ireland” status. One wonders why that is chosen as the benchmark, but moving on…
He says that “younger players are leaving”. If he attributes this to the end of Rangers as existed last season, then I think he is wrong. I am not aware of an exodus of young Scottish players over the close season, discouraged by the drop in football income in Scotland. If the view is that young Scottish players are leaving because they were discouraged by rarely having a chance to play for the top two teams, then perhaps Mr Smith could explain why he seemed to prefer to use foreign journeymen, despite having a £14 million, state of the art, training facility at his disposal.
“It is a nightmare for Rangers but it is a nightmare scenario equally for Scottish football as well,” said Smith, “but it is a reality so everyone has to face that now.
“It has not been a good thing for Scottish football. The people on the boards and the SFA have already admitted that, and the only thing I could say is that if it is not a good thing for Scottish football then why did they do it in the first place? We could have had a situation where they penalised Rangers financially to the benefit of the other teams in the SPL and then put on whatever other sanctions they wanted, but keep them in the SPL for the simple reason that it keeps Scottish football strong.
“As it is, if we are listening to the warnings that are being given out by (SFA chief executive) Stewart Regan and (SPL chief executive) Neil Doncaster, then we may be in for a very, very difficult period. In my opinion a lot of it could have been avoided. It’s all right to come up with comments like sporting integrity, but the main thing is for Scottish football to gain a level of respectability and I think we are in danger of losing that.”
Mr Smith’s view seems quite clear – financial interests are more important than the rules. It is interesting that he refers to “respectability”. How much of that would Scottish football have had, both here and outside Scotland, if Rangers had been permitted to move on with little or no consequences?
We have seen the devastating effects on the financial health of the UK as a result of the antics of banks which have been deemed “too big to fail”. That allowed and indeed seems to have encouraged profligacy and ridiculous risk taking, without fear of the consequences.
Mr Smith appears to envisage the same situation as being right for Rangers (which it might have been) and for Scottish football, which it would definitely have not.
The article mentions Mr Smith suggesting that Rangers could have stayed in the SPL and shared their gate money with the away teams. He might have had more credibility on that suggestion if it had been raised prior to decisions having been made. It does raise the question though about how Rangers would have survived in the SPL whilst being forced to reduce its income substantially. It could not manage financially in its last season without the withholding and spending of over £10 million due to HMRC, and previously it was the largesse of the Bank of Scotland which kept it afloat.
“This will just exacerbate what has already been happening in Scottish football,” said Smith. “In terms of finance we are already having a big enough struggle without Rangers having to go to the lower divisions for three years.”
Businesses have to cut their cloth to suit their income. How can a football team increase its income? It can win more matches, win more trophies, play for longer in Europe, sell players and encourage more fans to pay to see it. As part of a wider league structure it can benefit from TV income and sponsorship monies.
People talk about the drop in attendances in the SPL caused by Rangers FC being in SFL3. However Ibrox gate receipts did not go to anyone other than Rangers. In recent seasons Rangers were not regularly signing, for large transfer fees, lots of young Scottish players, and thus circulating their income around Scottish football. There was very little “trickle down”.
Most of Rangers income went on paying players and that money, whilst it went into the wider economy, was lost to football.
First day attendance figures in the SPL seem to have been positive, but it will need most if not all of a season for this to be judged clearly.
Does the absence of a Rangers from the SPL mean that the clubs will generate less income – almost certainly yes. Does that condemn all, or indeed any of them to bankruptcy? Almost certainly no.
Mr Smith then commented on the effects on the Scotland team – “Rangers might not have many Scottish players that Craig Levein might pick, but if they had players he could pick, the standard they are playing in would be a factor.”
This is stretching a point too far – Rangers might not have had many players the manager would pick for Scotland, but if they had then the level they play at would affect the Scotland team. This from the man who, until a year ago, was responsible for the team which “did not have many Scottish players that Craig Levein might pick”.
Speaking of Mr McCoist, Mr Smith said “It has taken its toll on him and you can tell that with some of the statements that he made which were born out of frustration.”
Mr Smith, as defence counsel for Mr McCoist, seems not to offer a denial of guilt, but instead mitigation. I wonder if Mr McCoist accepts he has made statements “born out of frustration”?
“Rangers have to face the problem of trying to get three promotions in three years to get themselves back into the Premier Division.
“This close season is a big one because they are going to have sign players that effectively will have to last them for a couple of seasons, so there’s a lot of work to be done from a Rangers perspective to get them into shape for the start of what is going to be a three-year campaign.”
Mr Smith seems very confident that a three-year campaign will be enough. Has he considered the possibility that they might not win promotion every year?
In addition, as we are seeing with Rangers FC signing players just now, if they continue at the same rate they could buy a entire new team in the transfer window in January 2014. All the talk of needing a squad o win SFL1 whilst in SFL3 is PR, designed to have the standard of play drop by as little as possible, rather than simply ensuring that they do win promotion each year.
Of course, if Mr Smith’s syndicate is still lurking (and it is a pity no one seems to have asked him) it will suit him for Mr Green’s plan to fail. If it collapses, then one suspects that the assets could be picked up from the wreckage for less than the offer rejected in June.
And another point which does not seem to have been asked of Mr Smith – as a loyal Rangers fan, bringing with him a loyal group of wealthy potential backers, why have they rejected the chance to become investors in Mr Green’s Rangers FC? Surely the chance to play a part in the organisation, and indeed as shareholders exercise some influence on the direction it follows, would have been an attraction?
I suspect that we will see Mr Smith and his syndicate appearing over the horizon again, as soon as Rangers FC have money issues, or attendances start to fall.
“All I hear about is talk of stripping Rangers of titles. But any alleged wrongdoing involving EBTs and contracts has yet to be proven. I belong to that section of the Rangers support who wonder when the game will consider that the club has received enough penalties and punishments for what’s gone on.”
He was also asked about the players who left Rangers rather than transfer over to Sevco Scotland Ltd. He said: “I understand why each took the career decision they did. I just wish they’d hung around long enough for Rangers to get a transfer fee for them after negotiating cut-price deals with the club in the wake of administration.
“But I also know they had been placed in an awkward position after giving their all for the club. You have to look at the business managers of the club when you are apportioning blame.”
Dealing with the EBT/contract investigation, it maybe escaped Mr Smith’s attention that the SPL has appointed an independent commission to decide if the rules were indeed broken. If so, the penalties for the offences will be determined by the same Independent Commission. Rangers FC will be represented at the hearing and will vigorously defend its position. Indeed evidence from Mr Smith could be relevant to such a case!
As far as “penalties and punishment” then the answer to his question about when the game considers “enough is enough” is “not yet”!
Regarding the players leaving, Mr Smith falls into the same error as Mr Green in ignoring the pay cuts, rather than wage deferrals, the players agreed.
And his reference to the “business managers”…could that be a criticism of Duff and Phelps who negotiated the deals? Sadly the article does not make that clear.
Unlike Mr Smith, Mr Strachan has never claimed to have been a life long fan of the team he managed. Many Celtic fans did not appreciate his tenure at Parkhead, although his successor’s time in charge emphasised what a good job he had done.
Mr Strachan could almost be seen as a “neutral” observer, notwithstanding his time working for Celtic. What did he have to say? Again the comments extracted from the article are in bold.
“One Sunday I was bored out of my skull and I counted up the Scottish Third Division attendances,” said Strachan. “All the crowds put together came to 2,300.
“I think the strongest people, the people who get crowds to turn up, should get more of a vote, that’s for sure.
“Why are we listening to people who only get 200 at their games? They can’t be bothered turning out to see their local side so why do we listen to them? You can listen to the fans that turn up – fine.
This is an interesting and novel suggestion. Allocate votes to the football clubs as members of the SFA, SFL and SPL in proportion to their attendances. A cynic might say that that would cement the former Old Firm in complete control of Scottish football.
If Mr Strachan feels that Rangers were hard done by in terms of the votes to which they were party, then it was not SFL members with crowds of 200 which decided that Rangers FC should not play in the SPL. Should his crowd numbers = influence idea apply there?
As for the SFL vote, Sevco Scotland Ltd (as it then was) was seeking admission to the SFL Club. Of course the members needed to have a say and the structure is – one club = one vote.
I do not recall him looking to change the voting structures of Scottish football whilst in a position of influence at Parkhead!
“But this is the chance for the phone-in fans, the keyboard cowboys, to get out there and actually go and support their teams. Looking from a distance, there are a lot of fans talking about what should happen here and what should happen there, so come on fans, go and support your club now.”
“Keyboard cowboys”? Better than “Internet bampots”!
Asked what he thought the effect on Scottish football of Rangers having to go down to the Third Division would be, Strachan replied: “I really don’t know. We are all guessing now. It’s a situation that has never arisen before with a club like this so we’re really just waiting to see what happens.”
Mr Strachan said the Celtic fans will turn out to watch a “good product” even if the games are not always competitive: “It’s not going to be a walkover because the coaches and players of other clubs will say they can win things and come second and qualify for Europe.”
He agreed that players will still want to come to Celtic. “Having a better chance to play in the Champions League will bring them. A lot of players think that playing in the Champions league will give them a better chance of getting megabucks in the bigger leagues.”
For his part, Strachan is only grateful that he and chief executive Peter Lawwell and main shareholder Dermot Desmond stuck to Celtic’s business plan. “It is easy to say you must spend, you must spend and it’s easy to fall to that kind of pressure. It’s hard to stand up and be stubborn. You must stick to your principles.”
That paragraph could stand as the epitaph for the former Rangers. One wonders if he said it in earshot of Walter Smith!
Posted by Paul McConville