Date: 16th April 2021
5 Things to Ponder as Freedom Breaks Out Across Scotland
1 Scottish Football’s Very Unusual Pyramid Scheme
2 Standing to Attention for the Gunners?
3 Maxie Thanks Us (The SFSA) and Announces New Sponsor For the Scottish Cup
4 The Cost of Coaching
5 Two Jambo Fingers to the Self-Interested?
Still No Fans at Games
In a week where our First Minister has started a rush to the hills as lockdown eases there are still no fans allowed in the open air at games.
“That is a nonsense Jason and Nicola”.
This strange ‘Year of the Covid’ has exposed and magnified the stark fact that there is little trust and even less faith between our politicians and those who run our game.
Because of that the game itself and we the fans have suffered.
The SFSA on your behalf have asked in vain, several times over, for some Paul Cave* thinking from the usual suspects. That term of endearment includes Neil, his board and employees, Ian his boards, committees and employees and their secretive JRG love child. (If you’ve never heard of it the JRG is a three lettered, cobbled-together, camel of a Pandemic Management Board that doesn’t feel the need to be accountable or transparent in any way to the baseline stakeholders, the fans).
The outcome remains stark.
No fans at games.
Neil and Maxie that is a disgrace.
Self Interest Vs The Power of the Pyramid Heading Our Way
We can all see it coming like a slow motion train crash.
It happened last year and at the time was dropped into the very long grass below the 6th Floor at Hampden.
There should have been a contracted, 4 stage series of sign-ups/agreements. That didn’t happen. Instead therewas a simpler “Take it or leave it” from the SPFL on behalf of its members to the SFA.
The SFA to its lasting discredit and shame did nothing about it. That lack of action let members down.
If you didn’t know, (and why would you or should you), Monday is now deadline day for this year.
This has not been reported in the usual press releases from The Big Partnership, the SPFL’s PR gurus.
Ask yourself why?
Anyway Monday is the day when the SPFL meet to come to their predetermined conclusion that the Highland League declared champions, Brora, and the Lowland League champions Kelty Hearts will not play off this year.
That means the SPFL want no club to get the right to play Brechin City, bottom last year and overwhelming favourite to be bottom again this year for a place in SPFL2.
Neil and his team are well advised in all this by SPFL consigliere, ex Scottish Solicitor of the year on two occasions, Rod McKenzie.
Rod and his current boss, ex solicitor Neil will not however just tell Maxie and his two clubs to ’getae’ like happened year.
The plan for 2021 as we come out of restrictions is a lot smarter than that and goes something like this.
The Thinking Behind No Pyramid Play-Off
Neither of the two feeder leagues actually played a full season this year.
And in both cases the champions were declared in slightly different circumstances.
(By coincidence it is the same two clubs who won last year and before being consigned to the ‘getae’ pile).
Brora were declared title winners after just three games.
The decision was made by a vote by the Highland League Management Board.
Kelty were declared champions after 13 games from a planned 32 game season. A slight confusion and bone of contention for the bottom Lowland League clubs was that there had been a previous agreement that the league could be called after 50% of fixtures had been completed.
13 games played in the Lowland League accordingly falls 3 short.
It was however a democratic decision though as all clubs in the league voted on the closing the league options that crowned Kelty.
The SFA reacted accordingly to both declarations.
Respecting the bona fide decisions of their two feeder leagues it announced that the play-off dates would be Brora Vs Kelty on April 28th and Kelty Vs Brora on May 1st.
The pyramid ‘Champion’ club would then be in a position for a 2 game final, probably with Brechin.
The SPFL however don’t want a play-off to go ahead.
They won’t say that outright and haven’t said why they feel that way but it is a fact just as it was a year ago.
Take a minute and consider the implications of the SPFL implementing this decision made from the very top.
If you were Neil and Rod you’d try to avoid not just bad press but also potential legal action from the SFA on behalf its members.
I’ve been assured though that ‘the fix is in place’ and a wee hint came in the SPFL statement released, coincidentally, as Brechin Chairman, Ken Ferguson stepped down as League One and Two representative on the SPFL board.
“Our approach has always been to apply the rules that have been agreed by all member clubs as well as the Pyramid Play-Off Rules agreed between the SPFL, the Scottish FA, the Lowland League and the Highland League, and we will do that again this season”.
What does that mean I hear you ask?
The reality is this year the SPFL plan to repel the new and as yet unknown, Pyramid Champion challenge by going legal.
(They also have a backstop that has been simmering for around a month that we will discuss below but for now the plan is to find the right small print and void this year’s pyramid).
How do they plan to achieve this legal fix?
There has been no press release or discussions about this action but it has been underway in the last two weeks to provide advice ahead of Monday’s meeting.
It’s not been cheap either.
The SPFL have briefed and worked with a specialist QC to go through the minutiae of the contract details of how both Brora and Kelty were declared champions.
They are essentially looking for a technical get-out to save Brechin.
If that doesn’t work then they will revert to Plan B.
Conflation is the Mother of Invention
If the legal spend, sorry investment, doesn’t come up with the solution then change will come.
Think of why the two Colts teams have been discussed in the media as the silver bullet for elite kids becoming international footballers.
The much vaunted plans for a 16-team bottom league would allow entry for both Brora and Kelty and the two Glasgow Colts sides.
A move that the vast majority of fans don’t want to happen but why would the SPFL allow fans to get in the way.
Our research shows that:
Football in Scotland needs reorganised.
Leagues should be bigger.
Full time clubs need to have more protection.
Regionality makes sense.
But this all needs thought through, properly and holistically, not on a whim to save a member of a closed community from falling out.
East Stirling and Berwick did not receive this kind of protection and Edinburgh City and Cove have demonstrated how vibrant new blood in our leagues can be.
One chairman pal this morning said to me “The SPFL is the only pyramid scam I’ve ever come across that doesn’t focus on recruitment”.
And to quote an old team mate “The fix is already in from the very top”.
Saluting the Gunners?
I was delighted to see Arsenal despatch Slavia Prague.
Uefa’s 10 game ban for Ondrej Kudela will also keep him out of the Euros.
A polarising episode with no winners.
It is fair to first say the Czechs are not happy.
The photo shows how Slavia refused to ‘take the knee’ before the game Vs the Gunners.
Then Vratislav Mynar, from their country’s president’s office came out fighting and said ”You condemn a decent person without a single piece of evidence. The fight against racism has become the fight of the unsuccessful against the successful, the pinnacle of hypocrisy”.
Ladislav Vizek, ex Czech international said “Allegations of racism were an attempt by Rangers to divert attention from their two red cards. It’s racist against us”.
Meanwhile back in Blighty, ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ said of Uefa’s 10 match ban “This is not a zero tolerance decision, it should have been a year”.
Messy Times ahead as this story grows legs everywhere.
You may not know Marvin Bartley the Livingston skipper also works with our SFA’s Equality and Diversity Board.
He said in the press today that players all over were ready to disrupt by leaving the pitch ‘with or without permission’.
This is just the start of a long and untidy slide till Uefa come up with a robust policy.
And that is not easy because there are so many questions.
Proof is not easy in many occasions.
When a player hides his mouth how can you ever certify what has said been said.
Racism can come from the terraces too?
I remember the embarrassing racism all round when Mark Walters played at Rangers.
I also have never liked or seen a place for the anti Irish racism that remains a reality in our game.
Maybe a year away will lead to its eradication.
Nothing surer than the gradual process that was underway pre-Covid will no longer be fast enough and Scottish football will have to deal with it soon enough.
Troubled times ahead but the desired outcome is the right thing for the game.
Introducing The GamTalk Scottish Cup
Following last week’s Sting in the Tale Ian Maxwell called me on Saturday morning and said he liked our idea of giving what is left of this year’s Scottish Cup media equity to a worthy charity.
He also said that he regretted having already given Paul Pettigrew of Gamtalk no access to SFA funds to work together both in clubs and in schools for their joint benefit.
So we are seeing now a victory for common sense and working together for the common good.
“OK That was all bollocks”.
He didn’t get in touch.
The cup is still unsponsored.
All the potential media value is still being lost carelessly and needlessly.
It remains the (Naked) Scottish Cup even if one of Murdoch’s Times journalists still thought it remains sponsored by William Hill in his column this week.
No Fans At the May 22 Final is Not Acceptable
There are reasons for holding it at Hampden.
We’ve all heard that ‘Uefa reasons’ are why fans are not allowed.
(But that makes no sense. Surely they would welcome a dummy run).
It’s not too late to change guys.
Ally McCoist this week said there should be a rethink about fans being there and if that means playing it away from Hampden then that is what should happen.
Everyone I’ve spoken to agrees.
And when did Ally last get 100% support!
Three years ago Fir Park was said to be the best surface to play on in a three-way vote by PFA/SFA/Sports Labs.
In another survey Tynecastle was ranked as 8th best atmospheric ground in the UK and with Celtic Park ranked number 1 and best in the same survey.
I’d settle for any of these three grounds.
I’d settle for anywhere instead of an empty Hampden.
The SFA should work with Jason Leitch and his team to agree how to get fans into the final and if it can’t be at Hampden then there are alternatives.
We all saw the difference some fans make at the recent Israel Vs Scotland match in Tel Aviv.
There really is no excuse for no fans at GamTalk’s first Scottish FA Cup Final.
You Have to Pay For the Best Coaching
In Lord Tyre’s court this week listening to the David Grier compensation claim against Police Scotland and the Crown Prosecution Service it was my namesake, Andrew Smith’s turn to question D.C.I. Robertson.
Reporting is patchy to say the least and I wish there was more coverage in the mainstream media including Aunty Beeb.
One of my pals is following it all through a well-informed, subscription-based, interweb site that should have a greater audience.
One allegation was that D.C.I. Robertson, who in a couple of days of being questioned among other things denied the claim he had sung the Rangers variant of the USA Civil War ballad ‘Marching Through Georgia’.
The same site also reported that D.C.I. Robertson had also been pre-coached by Ledingham Chalmers ahead of his turn in the hot seat about what and what not to say.
I’ve been a witness in court and just said what happened.
Just think how much I saved.
This story keeps getting bigger and bigger.
I Know What I’d Do if I Was Ann Budge
First well done Ann and Hearts for a fast return to the top league.
You, Thistle and Stranraer should never have been ejected.
“Not your finest day Neil and SPFL Board and members”.
Anyway some months on thanks to my Jambo pals this week for flagging up some discussions in the various maroon tents about the forthcoming trophy presentation.
There have been suggestions made that Hearts players should accept their medals because in good faith they have competed and won.
But the club might and should leave the trophy on its pedestal.
A trophy they never wanted, don’t value, and one that should be asterisked as ‘unclaimed lost property’.
I’ve been talking about this for a few days with fans of many clubs.
The majority of fans would like to see Hearts make the point.
Just like Colin Smith (Tom Courtney) at the end of the 5 mile cross country race in Allan Sillitoe’s brutal ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” film.
Go on Ms. Budge.
Make the point.
Be Colin Smith for us all.
As always feel free to drop me a line about anything football related.
The SFSA do not claim to own any of the included images and will be removed on request of the owner.
*Paul Cave is the Australian man who when told the 100 plus reasons why tourists would never be able to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge addressed each and every issue and created the biggest tourist attraction down under. Google him.