Club Statement: SFL Meeting

The club sent two directors to attend the meeting of the SFL clubs yesterday and they have reported back to the Board. The meeting and conversations covered the best part of 5 hours but there were only a few overarching themes.

The clear message portrayed is that Scottish Football is in a very dark place indeed and there is simply no good solution to what is now a structural problem that has gone beyond a one dimensional issue of where Rangers should play next season. No matter what happens now there is going to be enormous fallout across the Scottish game. Whether some good can be extracted from the impending mess will depend entirely on the SPL clubs, guided by the currently absent leadership of the SFA.

Neil Doncaster wanted only one thing from the meeting, to get a steer from the SFL clubs whether they would allow Rangers into SFL1. He talked the clubs through a detailed explanation of where the SPL clubs would lose £16m next season if Rangers were not entered to the top division of the SFL. This was delivered as a matter of fact, it was a “reality”. It seems that most, if not all, major sponsors of the SPL have exit clauses if either of the ‘Old Firm’ are not within the SPL. The total figure was not new, but the detail behind the number and its impact on individual clubs in the SPL was set out clearly. There were challenges made regarding the flip side of saving the central income from sponsors and media, the obvious impact of loss of supporters to the game who have strongly voiced their intent. Supporter reaction has not been factored in, again there are realities, the SPL clubs are waiting on their Sky cheques in August and clearly that was more important. Nowhere in the presentation was account taken on the impact to the finances of clubs, and more importantly the relevance of the game, should supporters stay at home.

The consequential impact on the SFL from the presentation was that the SFL would lose its entitlement to circa £2m per annum from the Settlement Agreement put together to compensate the SFL for the SPL breakaway, this was made very clear by Neil Doncaster. He told the clubs that if the SPL didn’t have the money then they could not pay the SFL. The reality however, which was clear from the detailed figures, is that the SPL, whilst losing an enormous amount of funding, would have the cash to make payment; it is just that the SPL would not meet the legal obligation to the SFL as the cash would be used to finance the SPL teams.

The undeniable statement made on behalf of the SPL is commercially understandable. The SPL would not allow £16m to flow out of their coffers, the impact would be too catastrophic for the SPL clubs to contemplate and as such the only options are that Rangers enter SFL1 or, as a less attractive backstop, a breakaway SPL2 will be formed. There is no prospect, from an SPL point of view, that SFL3 can be allowed to happen.

Neil Doncaster was delivering a very unpalatable proposition and he did it clearly and effectively, hence the representatives of Clyde Football Club understood that the only thing that mattered was the impact on SPL clubs from the loss of money from media and sponsors.

It was to the credit of every SFL club, and probably to the surprise of Neil Doncaster, that nobody asked him to improve on the £1m offer.

The SFL clubs were given a steer for themselves by Neil Doncaster, if the SFL could not tell him how they might vote, then he would expect the SPL clubs not to vote at their meeting either.

There were a few new things learned in the meeting, not least that the rules of the SFL would allow any club accepted into the SFL, by a simple majority, to be placed in any division. The rules do not state, nor imply, that they must join at the bottom tier, only custom and practice around good governance and integrity has seen teams join in the bottom tier. In addition, the attendees at the meeting were left in absolutely no doubt whatsoever by Stewart Regan that if the SPL clubs voted to allow a Newco into the SPL then it would be blocked by the SFA refusing to transfer the SFA membership. It was however caveated well enough to make it less than an absolute statement. The meeting was full of implied actions and outcomes, the use of clever language when delivering the speeches allows anyone to defend with ‘that is not what I said’. However, nobody will have left the meeting with anything other than the very clear messages being put across. Denials of the substance of the message being delivered do not assist anyone in this absolutely dreadful situation.

There will be no winners. Any level of integrity for the sport will be lost by one outcome and financial collapse, we are told, will fall upon the SPL with the other. Sadly, the SFA and SPL have decided that whilst they say they are looking for a collaborative solution, they have very clearly made sure that by their own inaction that the blame will sit with the SFL – no matter what the outcome. The Board of the SFL are being put under intolerable pressure by the other bodies looking to avoid the implications of properly applying their own governance procedures.

In summary, the SFA implication is that there will be no entry to the SPL. The SPL implication is that it therefore has to be SFL1 with a bit of restructure, or an SPL2 with the rest of the SFL cut adrift. There were no other options. Whilst Stewart Regan said that the SFA did not favour an SPL2, there was no equivalent abhorrence of that proposal as was attached to the proposal for a Newco in the SPL, leaving the implication that the door remains wide open for the SPL to secure their £16m with or without the SFL.

The Board of the club will consider the feedback from its representatives and also the outcomes of the next few days and will keep its supporters fully appraised, but in the meantime see no reason to amend any previous comment.