One Year On

14 Feb

The fact is that the Rangers journey is only partial travelled. The destination of Stability in the Top League, Winning the Top League and European Football returning to Ibrox is as most Rangers fans agree four years away. The five year plan of Charles Green is not even 20% complete. He is right the club has moved on, but it has still to arrive. As for continued financial issues such is the focus on Rangers accounts that if the Ibrox Window Cleaner calls with the weekly bill and no one can process immediate payment then it is plastered over the media as a proof of a new crisis at the Club. Many Journalists and Media Organisations are scrabbling about attempting to find any new stories however nondescript to continue a campaign of destabilising Rangers. A whole lot of journalists since Charles Green and co took over at Ibrox, have been found out to be lazy and inept. The effort Journalists have to exert in the hunt for leads and stories must be taking its toll on the Ranks. Gone are the days of regurgitating a now closed down discredited blog. Strangely there appears to be few leaks coming from Government Organisations too, possible due to Met Police Officers being arrested for leaking information to the press for money or just that there is nothing salacious to spin into good copy to please the Editor sitting in his ivory tower. So one year on and questions still hang over Rangers. The HMRC appeal for example. Yes the sky over Govan is not all blue skies, along with the well documented fall of a holding company, the usual football questions are there to be asked. The managers’ selections, rumblings from fans all sit in the inbox. Questions any of the clubs fans want answered. Despite Charles Greens tour of supporters associations on the whole Rangers fans want the Press to ask the questions. A press that has increasingly lost the trust of the Rangers Support. There are many reasons for this but the main one comes down to Overzealousness. It’s too simple to attach any of the old tired arguments as a reason for an article. Nevertheless an ounce of this zeal would possibly illuminate us all on the bigger questions. Scottish football and specifically the flagship division of club Football is in trouble. The most recent worrying issues concerning Heart of Midlothian FC, a Lithuanian Bank and Vladimir Romanov exposes this. There appears to be a stay of execution hanging over the SPL both as individual clubs and the sum of the parts the Private Members Club under the Stewardship of Neil Doncaster. I would say EIGHT of the clubs are walking a tight rope. I concede that this is to varying degrees but nonetheless EIGHT top flight clubs are facing the very real possibility of the Administrators being called. I exclude four clubs for the following reasons – two clubs newly promoted are still effectively running on SFL1 budgets with added bonus of this year’s Media income, one club I know for a fact is running on similar lines even though it has been in SPL for a few years and one club has had an injection of European Money. The other SPL clubs are faced with reduced income, reduced fan support, higher fan expectations, rising debts and a future of more cuts in income. The redistribution of Rangers Prize money from last season has papered over the cracks this season. Otherwise the dominoes of the SPL would have toppled. Without this bonus income the SPL 12-13 league table would have lots of asterisks with point’s deductions.

The desperation to reconstruct the league for next year demonstrates this. League reconstruction with every day that passes seems less likely for season 13-14. This confusion leads to no media or sponsorship deals being able to be signed or even negotiated because no one knows what they are signing up to. More importantly the people selling the product (spl) are actively saying the product is rubbish. Is it any wonder the TV companies are sitting in the wings laughing. These sharp businessmen know that the cheapest way to get a SPL TV deal next season is watch it devalue itself then make a low offer that Neil Doncaster can’t refuse.

Such will be the desperation to get anything in terms of media exposure that the SPL will sell itself for a bag of balls! Which is exactly how you could describe the management of the SPL Ltd over the last year. Ten board members who run apparently successful businesses (either within Football or/and outwith) who excluded willingly thousands of passing customers saying their core loyal customers told them to. Really? Given the amount of empty seats at SPL games this year where are these loyal customers? One club who shall remain nameless recently had the ideal opportunity to rally its fans. It ran campaigns, got air time, had a new managerial team in place making their home debut, they even had a perfect agenda of dislike bordering on mindless hatred from with its own Supporters. Did it sell out its stadia? No!
That’s the calibre of loyal customer fan base the SPL counted on to support them in times of financial hardship. In football fan terms a bunch of loud mouthed plastic part time fans. Happy to support the winning band wagon but hiding in bushes when the club asks for anything in return. Empty seats are not just empty gate receipts. They are empty tills at catering kiosks, empty tills at club shops and empty promises from so called fans who shouted themselves hoarse last summer.

Neil Doncaster and co are selling the equivalent of December’s Value Burgers, yes flogging a dead horse! Frantically trying to dream up new formulae while trying to sell last year’s broken model. More Del Trotter than Richard Branson.

The real possibility of up to eight clubs folding is the cloud on the horizon that no matter how much the Lazy Journalists try to ignore will soon blow over Scottish football. Do the Legends of their own expense accounts investigate this? No because it’s too hard to go against their self styled agenda. An agenda I won’t call bigoted as that in my opinion is an easy out, matching the laziness of the Football press in kind. No the agenda of getting away with it. Doing as little as possible to keep their jobs, not going against the flow keeping in the torrential mainstream of Journalism in Scotland. Even incursions from across the border has exposed certain London based Journalists as easily coloured by people sitting in foreign lands. The Puppet masters attaching themselves to hopeless causes who if they were to be suited to sports writing then they should concentrate on GAA not Scottish Football teams. Notheless the list of pawns from London who have been tainted by extremists grows and grows. Sadly without a voice from the other side.

Where are the firebrands of hot metal who see the bigger questions? Oh Rangers bashing is fun but taking your eye off the very thing that keeps you employed is surely deluding yourself. A year on from Rangers descent to SFL3 where is the investigation into the decline of Scottish Football. What will it take for someone to think “hang on other clubs are drowning here” because they are. Clubs that simply don’t have the media presence or fan base are going to travel the same painful road as Rangers. Individually not a big deal to world events but ripping the heart out of Gorgie, Motherwell, Kilmarnock, Perth and Inverness. Will spectacular Gretna style demise of current SPL clubs rouse the Brigade of the Journalists?

What is the tipping point?

No TV deal?

No sponsorship deal?

Will the expected fire sale of players from SPL this summer create suspicion?

Will next year’s published accounts from clubs awaken the sleeping hacks?

A SPL Club going Part time?

Will it take one SPL club going into administration?

Two?

More?

The simple truth facing these EIGHT is when they fail will administration lead to liquidation? If it does will a Charles Green type consortium save them? Will they get automatic entry into the lowest tier of the League like Rangers? I would doubt it. The hurried shambles that placed Rangers in SFL3 May of created a first but you can bet the SFL won’t stand for it occurring on a regular basis. It will only be a matter of time before some Junior team throws a spanner in the works by applying for membership at same time. The real danger for SPL clubs is that the real threat of falling not out of the SPL but falling out of League football is constant. Like Gretna admitted to league going up the pyramid and falling back into non league took five years. A team called Heart of Midlothian playing in the East of Scotland leagues, Kilmarnock taking on Cumnock in League matches, Motherwell battling with strong Lanarkshire juniors away at mining villages, Dundee United hosting Tayport in the Scottish Junior Cup, Aberdeen playing in the Highland League, given history with Gretna is that really a fanciful thought. That is Armageddon that is the worst case scenarios for these clubs. So perilous is the SPL Eights position that this is not the only option for destination at terminal velocity, the Third Lanark and Clydebank experiences. Simple dropping out of everything to at best have the Name pheonixed in an attempt to keep football in the local area.

The realignment of strength in Scottish football will create “Giant Killing” in cup competitions but as nice as these Cinderella stories will be will it shake a sleeping Journalist awake?
I doubt it but prove me wrong. I grew up with colossal pillars of the Scottish Football Pressmen writing incisive investigative articles. Filling the back page with intelligent impartial works regards domestic club football but passionate when reporting on the National Team and The State of the National Game. Writers who checked facts and if need be attacked the system. No one was ever too big to be knocked off their perch. Ask Jim Farry! Real men of integrity who didn’t care about your reputation if the facts stood up then you got written about. Goliaths who could write eloquently about a football match conveying the passion, the tactics, the player ratings and then in the blink of an eye eulogise about death at a football ground. Men who weren’t afraid given a story that stood up to buck the trends to stand out and stand up and be counted. From the Tigers of Macillvanney, Cameron, Sanderson and even Gerry McNee in one generation the Scottish Sport Media and associates can now be called a different less flattering name for a feline.

In the last year being in the SPL has been rather quickly poisoned. Failure at a high level to deal with complex issues quickly has turned Scotland’s Top Division into a very public Pantomime. Various Characters have gained entry to Hampden and like the Wicked Witch proffered many strange apples. All with a bitter after taste. A league management team that can’t do right for doing wrong, that rather than protect and promote the brand have almost systematically destroyed and demeaned the whole shooting match. The expulsion of Rangers then bullying of SFL to admit Rangers into SFL1 under the guise of doing what’s best for Scottish Football just one Brand hurting error. On that subject why was Rangers refused admission? Yeah I know lots of Sporting Integrity reasons. I know fewer business reasons. The true motivations may never come out. The effects are there for all to see six months from beginning a new season the SPL has no sponsor and no TV deal. Fifty percent of Neil Doncaster’s job to generate bankable regular income for the collective of Private Members seems to be going unnoticed. In austere times no one seems to want to attach their business name to the ailing League. Look at the SPL shirt sponsors hardly littered with multinational Names, few national names in fact many local companies have exposure way out of their catchment areas. One club is sponsored by its own chairman’s company. The days of JVC on shirts are just pipe dreams. Last summer the SPL systematically made themselves uninvestible to the vast majority of potential sponsors. All this while David Longmuir relaxes comfortable with a league sponsorship with Barrs. The only issue he has is next year’s in demand media rights proposals.

SPL Clubs have a spiralling debt, high wages, lower media income and a fickle unreliable fan base. As a SPL chairman your only option is to struggle to stay afloat. Selling assets at reduced prices to English lower division teams. Solely to service interest costs charged by lenders. The possibility of a Top Club having to resort to Part Time Status is very much on the horizon. Replacing your high earning players with lower standard youths to cut annual running costs. Hoping this new blood will develop into assets you can sell in years to come so you can ensure your clubs survival. Investing it all in your academy’s produce and in lower league players from countries we all find difficult to pronounce or find on a map! This is a template that was successful for a season or two for Billy Reid’s Hamilton a few years ago. Then Hamilton had to sell their two Golden Geese and got relegated. The gamble of staying up in the SPL with untried products of your youth system and low grade imports failed in Hamilton. To place the survival of your business on the inconsistent conveyer belt of your Academy’s Player development. Supplemented by unknown imports (imported via a cash starved scouting network) Hoping via blind faith that untried youth players or/and untested imports will become desired by rich clubs is not so much cutting your cloth more cutting your throat.

Golden Generations of Quality Street Kids with legends in the making come but once a generation. Signing unknown foreign players from underfunded scouts or worse player’s agents is a mine field that has caught out many clubs in the past. Especially given the well documented lack of quality young players that the same hapless hacks have used to bemoan Scotland’s national teams failure to qualify for major finals in last fifteen years.

As proven recently desperate siren calls to your phantom customers won’t save you from embarrassment let alone administration. If it doesn’t happen while your squad is full of the quality fans are used to. Then it won’t happen when you have sold the family silver and replaced it with paper plates and plastic forks. So why would anyone think as playing standards fall under a axe that you could trust your fans to bail you out of financial Armageddon. Already one SPL club this season arranged its two major shareholders to half the debt the club was in. It was sold to fans as generous gestures writing off a chunk of unserviceable debt, honestly I suspect that was not a gift as it was sold but something important as yet unmentioned was sold off. I can believe the Chairman (uncharacteristically) would half his debt simply as a Publicity exercise but a Major Financial Institution? These companies have shareholders too and not all of them stand on terraces supporting football. There simply has to of been a quid pro quo in order for the Financial Management Company to justify the expense to shareholders and the Tax Man. That’s the just a taste of the panic going round Board rooms all through the SPL. Of course fans of this club are blissfully unaware that any future implications of this “write off” may occur. Too busy thinking like fans because that’s what they would do should their Lottery Numbers come up. Not thinking that Businessmen always want a pound of flesh for their buck. Has any sceptical questions been asked by media. No. The club in question has tied up in a web of back scratching the main local papers and radio station. Official paper/radio station status aids sales of the media but dulls their scepticism. Shrewd move by club and media but the loser is the fan. The national media don’t really give two shakes of a lamb’s tail about this provincial club with rabid fans. They are just one of the clowns that make up the SPL circus.

As a whole the SPL has many fans as individual clubs do any of them barring one have enough to mount any rescue when a club is in danger. Given that in last year that the SPL has shown is made up of fans who would enjoy watching other clubs go under while ignoring the impact any event has on their own. Similar to a gang of people standing next to a volcano laughing as rocks exploding from the creator hit fellow bystanders. Never once thinking that the rocks are almost hitting them.

As some SFL clubs will attest there are only so many raffles, race nights and days packing shopping at supermarkets you can do.

So will the media start questioning the Hampden Top Brass? Rip them away from Company Cars, Expense accounts, Pensions, junkets to foreign lands and comfortable desks. Maybe ask some simple questions to begin just to confirm that Neil Doncaster is not actually some kind of ventriloquists dummy. Is it presumptuous to assume somewhere behind a computer screen a member of the NUJ would see that as everyone is focused on one area in Glasgow’s Southside maybe a wee trip on the First bus 34 from Govan to Mount Florida to check out a bigger story or new angle. Sorry that would mean not sharing a taxi with the rest of the Lazy Gang. You would lose your group rate.

In conclusion. It certainly seems the SPL in conjunction with a lackadaisical media are so enamoured with the job well done on Rangers that they are ignoring the real dangers Scottish Football is in. As thousands of Rangers fans will tell you pretending your club could never come close to death is a fool’s game. If you look in the corner of a Pub in Glasgow’s Southside you may see a sad forlorn figure of aThird Lanark fan. His club simply didn’t have the numbers of fans to save it from oblivion. He never saw it coming too.

ADDITIONAL

The news that Ross County has broke rank and dismissed the 12 – 12 – 18 league plan has only conformed why I excluded them from the clubs in danger. County alone with Dundee deserve sympathy from all. These clubs spent years working to achieve their ambitions to reach the Top League. Both clubs had their own challenges Ross County club fought its way up the divisions to reach the pinnacle of league football in this country. Dundee battled administration twice, massive punishments in points deductions and then while preparing for another year in SFL1 get a late surprise springboard into The SPL.
Both have unique view on the state of Scottish football. Both have the best chance to not just to survive in the current climate but to flourish. These two teams running proper business plans for the climate without debt do not have the baggage that other SPL teams have. They don’t need to implement harsh austerity plans, their fans don’t have any false expectations or history of big names to compare.

The dose of common sense from Victoria Park Dingwall should at least shake some media into action to look up train times to Ross County. You never know it may even jolt some SPL chairmen into voting with Business integrity. That’s if they can remember what integrity is in for some SPL board rooms Integrity is a possible signing target from Patagonia! We’ll done Ross County though.

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One Response to “One Year On”

  1. Douglas Crawford February 15, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Ronny your blog is spot on,we do not do walking away.

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