Scottish Football's Civil War

Discussion in 'Scotland' started by David Bolt, Jun 10, 2020.

  1. David Bolt

    David Bolt Member

    May 30, 2008
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:

    Coronavirus has left us all facing an uncertain future. The economic state that we are in is likely to be bad for some time. Many people have already lost their jobs, and unfortunately, many more will likely lose theirs as recessions hit around the world.

    This means that individuals and businesses all over the world will face some hard, and often unpalatable choices just to survive.

    Football clubs aren’t immune from this. For every club that has the luxury of multi-million pound turnovers and guaranteed riches from TV deals, there are many more who have a hand-to-mouth existence and are hurting badly from not having the match-day revenue they rely on.

    That’s the case in Scotland. There are 42 clubs in the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), and they are arranged in 4 divisions, with 12 teams in the Scottish Premier League (SPL), 10 in the Championship and 10 in each of Leagues One and Two.

    Scottish clubs get about £25m to share between them, and those clubs vary in size from the likes of Celtic who average 55,000 fans every game to semi-pro clubs who get 3-400 fans per game.

    In April, as it became clear the season wasn’t starting any time soon, the SPFL came up with a proposal that would end the season in the Scottish Championship, League One and League Two.

    It would allow them to pay out the end of season prize money, releasing some much-needed funds to clubs to ease their immediate cash-flow problems. Teams would still be crowned champions, and crucially, teams would be promoted and relegated, but the playoffs would be scrapped.

    So teams had a straightforward choice between ending the season immediately, which would allow for clubs to get some money and start to think ahead to next season, or reject the proposal in the hopes that the current season could be finished at a later date.

    In early April, the SPFL asked clubs to vote quickly on the measure and they announced the result two days later.

    And then all hell broke loose.

    Firstly, it was clear that not every club had voted. But the SPFL had announced the result anyway.

    For the proposal to pass, it needed to get 75% approval from every league, so that meant at least 9 clubs from the Scottish Premier League had to say yes, which they did; at least 16 had to from Scottish Leagues One and Two, which they did, and at least 8 from the Scottish Championship.

    That left the Scottish Championship. Of its 10 clubs, 7 had voted for it, 2 voted against. That meant that the whole proposal hinged on the final team to vote. Dundee.

    At first it was just assumed that Dundee were taking their time. While the SPFL had asked clubs to decide quickly, league rules give clubs 28 days to decide, so Dundee were perfectly within their rights to think things over and come to the right decision for them.

    With that in mind, there was also a degree of sympathy for Dundee. The SPFL making the results of the vote public before all teams had voted put Dundee in a tough spot as everyone knew they were the swing vote.

    Then, it emerged that Dundee had sent in a vote rejecting the proposal, which was signed by Managing Director John Nelms and a leaked WhatsApp message from Dundee club secretary Eric Drysdale confirms a no vote was cast, only for Dundee to then retract that vote and send a message to the SPFL asking them to consider Dundee as not having voted. The SPFL claimed that Dundee’s vote had gone into their spam folder and they didn’t see it until after they had the message asking to retract the vote.

    This came as a shock to all clubs, but especially to Glasgow side Partick Thistle, who had agreed with Dundee and fellow Championship side Inverness Caledonian Thistle that they were all going to vote as a bloc to reject the proposal. Partick had the most to lose because, as the bottom-placed side in the Scottish Championship, albeit by only 2 points and with a game in hand on second-bottom Queen of the South, they would be relegated if the proposal passed.

    Evidently, Dundee realised that their position gave them a lot of leverage. After a few days of negotiating with other clubs, Dundee came out and voted for the proposal. As if by magic, it was announced that a committee had been set up to look at reconstructing the leagues, a move which could have seen Dundee promoted back into the SPL.

    A later vote was then held on what to do with the SPL. The season was ended there too, a move which meant that Celtic are champions for the ninth time in a row and Edinburgh side Hearts are relegated.

    At the time the original vote was going on, Rangers had put forward a counterproposal calling for a compromise where the season would be suspended but the prize money to be paid out to help clubs out. That proposal was rejected without ever being put to a vote, for reasons that have never been fully made clear. Rangers claimed that the SPFL had presented their proposal as being the only one available, when there were other options that were not explored.

    Rangers then put out a strongly worded statement criticising the lack of transparency behind the SPFL’s proposal and called the whole process “misleading and deeply flawed” and have called for the suspension of SPFL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster and SPFL legal advisor Rod McKenzie and also called for an independent investigation.

    The SPFL did commission an investigation, which found no wrongdoing, but Rangers claimed that it was far too narrow in scope and again pushed for an independent investigation. To support this, Rangers released a dossier to clubs alleging wrongdoing by the SPFL. The allegations included one of misleading clubs over the amount of money they would get, as the broadcasters would need to be repaid, and also an allegation of bullying clubs into voting for the proposal.

    The SPFL rejected the call for an independent investigation by saying it would cost too much money. Rangers replied to that by saying they would pay for it. When put to the vote, it was rejected, because a lot of clubs felt one club bankrolling it would mean it wouldn’t be independent and they were also worried that Rangers would use it to dredge up grievances relating to their relegation to the bottom division years ago.

    That being said, about a third of the League did vote in favour of an independent investigation, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the process and the way that Scottish football is being governed.

    Scrapping the playoffs also means that there will not be the usual playoff between the winners of the Highland and Lowland leagues, which are below League Two. The winner of that game would then playoff against the bottom-placed club from League Two to see who gets the League Two spot for the following season.


    The decision to scrap this has aroused suspicion because the club that directly benefits from this, Brechin City, have a chairman, Ken Ferguson who is on the SPFL board. In their dossier, Rangers alleged that Ferguson had falsely called League Two clubs to tell them that the proposal already had enough votes to pass so there was no point in voting against it. This is strongly denied by Ferguson, and other clubs have backed him up saying that he acted properly at all times.

    The decision to scrap relegation from League Two has also left Highland League champions Brora Rangers and Lowland League champions Kelty Hearts dismayed. Both clubs are highly ambitious and have spent a lot of money in chasing promotion. Originally, they were somewhat placated by the heavy hints being dropped that they were to be included in any restructuring plans, but when they ended, the clubs were left out in the cold. Kelty look likely to take legal action and Brora may follow.

    The current situation in Scottish football is a total mess.

    What was supposed to be a solution to a problem has ended up creating huge divisions in Scottish football. Clubs are at each other’s throats and there is an atmosphere of suspicion and confusion.

    Nobody knows what to do. There has been a succession of proposals about restructuring the league. Most of these have been proposals to restructure the leagues on a temporary basis, but these have been criticised as being little more than vehicles to avoid Hearts being relegated and have just made matters more confusing.

    Every proposed solution seems to make matters worse.

    As I’m writing this there’s a proposal to restructure the league and allow Rangers and Celtic to field a B team in the SPFL, which also looks doomed to failure.

    It looks likely that clubs will head to the courts, especially after courts in France and Belgium have blocked thew relegation of some teams following legal challenges.

    There has however been some good news for Scottish football after philanthropist James Anderson donated £3.1m (about $4m) to be shared between clubs.
    BalanceUT, Justin O, Toguchi and 9 others repped this.
  2. SccrDon

    SccrDon Member+

    Dec 4, 2001
    Colorado Springs
    Colorado Rapids
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
  3. David Bolt

    David Bolt Member

    May 30, 2008
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:

    There was yet another proposal to restructure. It was defeated. As a consequence, Hearts have been relegated to the Championship, Partick Thistle to League One and Stranraer to League Two.

    Hearts and Partick have sued the SPFL and have filed for an injunction to prevent Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers from being promoted. The preliminary hearing is next week.

    It's all a bit weird as Hearts have been relegated into a league that won't start till October, and will play a shortened season. Partick have been relegated into one that doesn't know when it can start as it probably couldn't without fans in the stadium.

    It's unknown what the other affected clubs will do. Stranraer presumably don't have the funds to join Hearts and Partick's legal fight (Partick were given a donation to be able to cover their legal fees) or are seeing what happens before making a move.

    What Highland Premier champions Brora Rangers and Lowland League champions Kelty Hearts will do is a mystery at present.

    Besides that, the SPFL have put forward a proposal to take future decisions like this out of the hands of the clubs and will give them the only say. It's unlikely to go down well.

    So in short, a total mess.
  4. Toguchi

    Toguchi Member

    Atlético Mineiro
    Dec 1, 2019
    Belo Horizonte
    @David Bolt,

    Is there still a discussion about some Scottish clubs going to England? Have these recent events increased speculation on this issue?
  5. David Bolt

    David Bolt Member

    May 30, 2008
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Good question.

    There's always talk about Scottish clubs playing in England, especially Rangers and Celtic. I can't see it happening though.

    There's a massive difference in standard between English and Scottish football. Recently the SPL was ranked below the Cyprus first division. Most SPL teams are more like English League One/Two standard than Premier League. Below that, most Scottish teams would be non-league in England. Even Celtic and Rangers probably aren't good enough for the Premier League.

    So, I can't see Celtic, Rangers or any other team giving up the prestige of being in the top division in their own country, with trophies and European football on offer, to swap that for sitting in the English lower leagues, despite the extra money they would get.

    Maybe if the idea of a Atlantic Super League of teams from Netherlands, Scotland Belgium, Denmark and a few other countries ever comes to fruition, there may be a seat for Celtic or Rangers in that, but otherwise I think they're in Scottish football for a while at least
    Justin O and Toguchi repped this.
  6. Charlie_USA

    Charlie_USA Member

    Republic of Ireland
    May 14, 2018
    Nat'l Team:
    Ireland Republic
    Celtic not good enough for English Premier League? Catch yerself on David.
    A Welshman, who supports an English team, talking about Scottish football.
  7. Daniel from Montréal

    Aug 4, 2000
    Montreal Impact
    Nat'l Team:
    So what happened with this finally?
  8. Super Bobo

    Super Bobo New Member

    Chicago Fire
    United States
    Jul 6, 2021
    I'd love to read about the details and how this finally shook out for the noted clubs.

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