12 November 2012

Time for Change

by Andy McKellar | CRO Deputy Editor

“The SPL and its clubs have adapted remarkably well to what people really couldn’t ever see happening. All of our major partners and sponsors, they’ve stuck with the SPL and that’s enabled the clubs to go forward with huge confidence." 

-Neil Doncaster, 10 October 2012

The Scottish Premier League has been an unmitigated disaster since its inception in season 1998/99. On the league’s website it is claimed that it “heralded a new dawn in the history of Scottish football with the top clubs taking control of their own destiny to drive the game forward on and off the park and deliver a brighter future”. 

Well, fifteen years on, perhaps now is as good a time as any to evaluate its performance.

Rangers’ 9-in-a-row success and the subsequent prevention of a longer run by Wim Jansen’s Celtic promised a healthy, competitive and attractive top-tier that Scottish football could be proud of. During its early years the SPL witnessed some tremendous talents entering our national game and as a Rangers fan I can look back fondly on the quality of players that that were signed at Ibrox. There was however a cost to be paid.

Somewhere down the line the SPL began to falter and suffer from the increasing financial power of the English Premier League. Rather than change and adapt to such unavoidable circumstances, the directors and members of the league chose to remain static. The full consequences of such actions are now beginning to become all too apparent, despite Mr Doncaster’s ridiculous claim to the contrary.

While every club in the league of course plays its part, it would be foolish to ignore the dominance of Rangers and Celtic in both entertainment value and the financial attraction for investors, sponsors and corporate partners. Despite these two clubs battling it out for the honour of being champion each season, the top-tier continued to dwindle and clubs fought hard to balance their books.

Rangers of course failed to do this adequately and the financial mismanagement of David Murray and Craig Whyte brought our great institution to its knees. Charles Green and his consortium took full advantage of the situation and bought the Club and assets of the previous operating company for £5.5M. That did however bring its own problem: Rangers had to reapply for entry to the SPL.

Now, in a league which is almost completely funded and financed by two football clubs, it would have seemed to be suicidal to banish one of them to the lower divisions of our national game. That is, quite incredibly, exactly what happened and I’ll leave it to you to decided exactly what motivated such a bizarre and unfathomable decision. Oh but please don’t mention sporting integrity.

The summer saw intense negotiations between Charles Green, the SFA, SPL, SFL and Duff & Phelps as they attempted to thrash out their ‘5-way-agreement’. Part of said agreement was of course to waive the prize money for the Club’s second place finish in season 2011/12, a sum which was still due to be paid to the Oldco as per SPL rules. Of course, with the SPL appearing to be insolvent, integrity seemed to be energetically volleyed out of the window. Liquidators BDO may yet have something to say about that.  

Stealing money wasn’t quite enough for Neil Doncaster’s SPL though. Without Rangers’ presence in the top-tier Sky and fellow broadcaster ESPN had to reconsider their contracts with the league and the impact the absence of its most successful club would have. There was however a solution to be found as the ‘Premier’ League came cap in hand and begged the SFL for the rights to show Rangers matches as part of their much-needed television deal. Luckily for them, David Longmuir did what he thought “was the right thing to do for the good of all”. Such principles are rare in business never mind the world of football.

Longmuir maintains that “Scottish football would have collapsed if we (the SFL) hadn’t assisted in the completion of that broadcast deal”. The SPL’s failure to pay its member clubs on time would certainly add credence to that claim and the financial problems that we are witnessing at Tynecastle and elsewhere certainly do little to contradict such a possibility either. Things however may be set to change.

Mr Longmuir this weekend revealed that the Scottish Football League looks set to launch its own television coverage which will bring one live game per week and a highlights package to accompany it. He cited that “Rangers have brought the three divisions outwith the SPL a level of exposure that they haven’t enjoyed for years”. The recent television viewing figures would certainly support that. I doubt it will have escaped the attention of Sky and ESPN.

Charles Green has been reported to have claimed that he will refuse to sign the future SPL broadcasting deal and it is easy to see the reasoning behind that. It is shameful that the top division is still relying on Rangers to fund it when it was made abundantly clear that we were not wanted or needed. Everything is just fine, remember?

There is no doubt in my mind that it is time to acknowledge the failure of the SPL, rip it up and start all over again. I’m sure the league’s directors would much prefer that option rather than the embarrassment of the league itself going bust, perhaps followed by more than one of its member clubs. League reconstruction is of immense importance and we must ensure that we have the right men at the helm to steer Scottish football back in the right direction.

That would most certainly exclude Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster, the gruesome twosome who have been such a blight on our national game. Their incompetence, negligence and frankly appalling leadership has led to the current state of affairs and I hate to think of the consequences of allowing these men to have any say in our future.

In my opinion, the correct man for the job has already been mentioned above. He has acted with integrity, dignity and has put the good of Scottish football above self-interest. I’m sure you’ll agree that such qualities are admirable. The man I refer to is course David Longmuir of the SFL.

I’m not sure how league reconstruction will develop or just who will be spearheading the required changes in our game. I do however know that we could certainly do a lot worse than allow Longmuir and his fellow SFL directors to play a significant role. Scottish football cannot afford another failure and certainly some of its clubs could not survive it.

The world of business is most certainly a battle of the fittest but sadly Scottish football sits slobbed on the couch, overweight and badly lacking in motivation. Time for somebody to whip our national game into shape. 

I just hope that common sense is allowed to prevail for once.

Andy is the Deputy Editor of the CRO. He can be found on Twitter at @AMCKEL and via email: amckel@thecoplandroad.org