Hunting Witches at the SPFL

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Well, that’s another season officially gone. It’s never easy to admit it and the number of what-might-have-been’s certainly feels higher this year - which I guess can be considered a positive sign. On the pitch we never quite saw that required step up in consistency of quality over the summer that we needed. We punched happy and heavy in Europe and kept neck and neck in the league until New Year, but even with bringing reinforcements in during the January window, the squad limitations over the campaign eventually it caught up with us. We were capable but brittle. These are the issues for us to sort on the pitch.

Perhaps alarm bells have been ringing louder at how the season has been “wrapped up” by the SPFL. This is how I saw events unfold:

  • 12th March – Rangers take on Leverkusen with Corona lockdown looming
  • 13th March – Scottish Football is suspended
  • 14th March – Neil Lennon is on SkySports, and other platforms, as Celtic start a clear campaign to see themselves awarded the title

The appearance of their captain and media lapdogs over the following weeks tells a story i.e. people at Celtic were very concerned that the season might be called off and cancelled.

Now whilst most people were trying to find balance and normality, or even just figure out how to survive amidst the chaos, some people in football were obviously working very hard. The fruits of this labour appeared as a rushed resolution at the SPFL.

  • 10th of April – SPFL resolution - vote to call season.

This vote is now stuff of legend. There’s been plenty fallout, but this shouldn’t be allowed to bury the true story; namely, why was this resolution pushed through? At its essence a resolution was created, to the exclusion of other options, to the exclusion of input and discussion from member clubs. It was then rushed, harried, greased and pushed over the line. The way the whole thing was conducted stank. Let’s cut to the chase here: there are few reasons for people at the SPFL to behave like this and only Doncaster, MacLennan and MacKenzie can explain why so many 'mistakes' were made.

The thing is the SPFL could’ve waited and avoided any hassle and suspicion. Football would’ve resumed or titles would’ve been declared by UEFA or by other bigger governing bodies. Celtic would probably have been declared champions and no-one would’ve (or could’ve) complained. But they decided they couldn’t take the chance of a null and void. Why and at who's beheast? Does Peter Lawwell really make all the decisions on behalf of Celtic?

My personal opinion here is that they panicked. Celtic had to win; call it greed, ego, insecurity, whatever. Therefore, they forced the issue at a time when people weren’t comfortable with it. Their alleged prime movers in Hampden were obviously desperate for it to succeed and would do anything. The rush meant that mistakes were made and corners had to be cut, for once the malfeasance broke the surface and people had started to notice. Especially those that got trampled over in Celtics trophy heist –Hearts, Partick Thistles, Stranraers and others were merely acceptable collateral damage to the Celtic-minded.

Some strong objections were raised and it came close, closer than Doncaster and friends would’ve wanted or imagined. But ultimately the scheming and deceit won. It’s been refreshing to see Rangers, and other clubs, stand up and challenge what is blatantly wrong. To see the other side put on the rack and start to buckle under pressure. If nothing else we should take some good lessons from this.

Positions on the SPFL staff, like broader politics just now, seem to mirror the medieval dunking of witches; in that, only those that aren’t actually witches have the decency to die i.e. step aside when their incompetence/corruption/conflicts become too much. The others keep their seats and just laugh at the weakness of the system. They are not there for the good of the game, they are there for agenda and self-preservation, so why would they walk away? Would Neil Doncaster really earn the thick end of half a million pounds a year elsewhere?

And through the drama of the past month or so, perched on the other end of the broomstick, has been the black cat of the Scottish mainstream media. It cannot be under-estimated how much of an invaluable ally this has been for the coven. Sections of it set out to deflect, dissuade and attack any dissenters. Sworn to protect the interests of its masters. The bulk of tabloid chum has been directed by one hand and the compliant press carried out its duty even when the content was absurd, and frequently obscene.

Have Rangers done everything that they had too? Possibly. They certainly made many right moves and went on the front foot – a very welcome contrast to the shrinking silence that has failed us so consistently for years. Most importantly we backed the right cause. We know this because other clubs and even some in the media were couldn’t ignore it any longer and joined in calling out any alleged corruption. Were some simply hedging their bets in case in case it went another way? Possibly. But then that shows how close it got. This was bigger than just Rangers.

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Unfortunately, the hurdle at which this ultimately fell has only crystallised the challenges that Rangers face. Politically, we are easily isolated in Scottish football. The media at large ensures this is remains so, we are the bad guy - it’s an easy play, especially on the back of an eight-year-long PR vacuum.

And when it came down to it many other clubs simply chose Celtic - the status quo. They were given the opportunity to investigate alleged corruption and suspicious, embarrassing (and possibly illegal) behaviour surrounding important issues in the game, at no cost to themselves, and they said no!? A chance to perhaps clip Celtic's wings, to level the playing field, to ask questions regarding governance and perhaps dig back some of the money that the SPFL goons have chased from the game over the years. Nope, still no! Apparently whatever they are being fed elsewhere is more appealing than that.

Celtic conspicuously kept their distance from the SPFL furore throughout and then to remove any doubt popped up to speak up and shut down the independent investigation. Why would you want wrong-doing kept hidden at a separate organisation? Their statement the following day was more sand in the face of those asking fair questions.

It’s all disappointing because I believe this would’ve provided further evidence of unhealthy Celtic influence within institutions around Scottish football – and just as important, this saga would have provided it with the oxygen and coverage that it deserves.

Which leads to the next logical question of where else is has this been happening? What else has been agenda-led and partial? Take the SFA, why would that be any different from the SPFL? It’s much of the same characters at different desks. My observations are that the refereeing in Scotland isn’t a level playing field and it’s costing Rangers on the pitch. I believe the stats back this up. I believe the club has a case to take this further and it is something that has to be corrected to give us a fair shake at the title. I believe as things stand that there’s enough questions and evidence to have the Compliance Officer thrown out in disgrace. Earlier this year, we had a FARE representative, with a very keen interest in Rangers, shown to be culturally unsuitable to be casting judgement on our club.

The recent stance from Tom English on the SPFL is welcome as it is surprising, but I can’t help thinking that similar forces have been running rampant in his own department for years. For four long years BBC Scotland has chosen not to cover Rangers (the world-renowned sporting institution less than a mile down the road). For the belligerent rival fans at Pacific Quay it is the perfect crime. You treat Rangers to some lashings of partisan editorial bias and then you boycott them when they have the temerity to complain. It’s lose-lose for Rangers.

And it’s all hassle and work for Rangers. It’s akin to a team taking turns having kicks against an opposition player. Too many are acting as proxies for our rivals and it’s being allowed to happen. Rangers and our support need to learn from this.

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss it all as rivalry, or fair-game, or good-natured oneupmanship. In other countries, and other sports, where corruption has become too comfortable and is having too big an effect on the game itself, then the police and governments have got involved to resolve the problems. In Scotland, we know the SNP are no friend of Rangers - or football fans in general. Other political parties seem to be standing joke.

This is where we are. And whilst it’s pretty bleak it is not completely without hope. Cracks are appearing. Risks have been taken. Mistakes are being made. The fight against the SPFL so far might not have been the success we'd hoped for, but every punch has damaged them and strengthened us. Keep fighting and we will get there. Keep believing.

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