Date: 30th April 2021
With just 45 Sleeps till Hampden will be bouncing when we take on the Czechs in front of fans today’s Sting looks at:
1) Wise Words From a Jambo
2) The Cost of SPFL’s Shenanigans?
3) Final Failings?
4) In League with (the son of) Setanta
5) Double Standards, Elephants and Social Media!
6) Women’s World Cup Draw and a 24 Million Euro Pot
1. Heading For the Same Conclusion as Meatloaf?
Less than a year ago in the confusion following Neil Doncaster’s Good Friday Disagreement we had a culmination of self-interest when fellow clubs chose not to consider long overdue and much needed league reorganisation and instead consigned Hearts, Partick and Stranraer to relegation.
It wasn’t our game’s finest moment.
It didn’t need to happen.
It spoke volumes about the governance of football in Scotland and how clubs exist in and only plan for the very short term.
One season on and Hearts and Thistle have already bounced back as champions.
Stranraer have a chance, just, of making their play offs with a tough away game Vs Stirling and then an equally tough home game Vs Edinburgh City.
A couple of weeks ago we spoke about how some Hearts fans wanted the club to pick up the medals but leave the Championship Cup on its presentation pedestal as unwanted, unvalued tinware.
That simple act of defiance reminded me of Colin Smith played by Tom Courtenay as a borstal boy in Alan Sillitoe’s “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”.
Having won the big race Colin chose to stand back just short of the finishing line in full view of his governor making a personal protest and letting the other runners pass him.
I could see the poetry in Hearts making a similar point and said as much.
However here is a line from an email I received the next day that really got me thinking and changed my position.
“Andy, I understand the reasons why Jambos are angry. I am too. But for the good of all we need to be prepared to consign past wrongs to where they exist – in the past. We have to stop ourselves being bitter at the past or the next generation will spend their lives fighting the same battles over and over again”.
Custard pie accepted. Hearts duly accepted their trophy and Thistle celebrated in style.
And for now, ‘2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad’ so good luck to the Stair Park Blues over the next few days.
2. SPFL Pyramid Scam Collapses
Around the same time as Hearts, Thistle and Stranraer were dumped the SPFL board decided unilaterally to cancel the contracted pyramid play offs which meant that Brora didn’t get to play Kelty for the right to play Brechin.
There should have been a four way agreement process for taking this kind of decision.
It wasn’t followed.
In response the SFA should have had a Violet Elizabeth Bott, ‘Hissy Fit’.
Both aspirant champions were shafted by people they should have been able to trust.
By sheer coincidence all three clubs from that 2020 threesome found themselves in the same circumstances one year on.
Brora were declared Highland champions after just 3 games.
Kelty played 13 and were well clear when voted champions too.
Brechin remain anchored on the bottom and are guaranteed bottom place. As I write they have won only 3 from 20 fixtures.
The SFA some weeks back accepted the declarations and scheduled the play-off dates but these were somehow stopped by the SPFL.
Behind the scenes and not on any public record or Big Partnership press release, the SPFL engaged a crack QC to nit pick the ‘legality’ of the respective champions and the play off itself in a year truncated by the pandemic.
Three weeks and hundreds of hours later their QC found nothing to stop the process.
Simultaneously the SFA had also engaged legal opinion on behalf of their lower members and it supported the integrity of the champion declarations and the play offs.
It was a potential stand off.
The SPFL didn’t want to lose this one.
As a final gambit they agreed a ‘special’ arbitration process to be held with what we have been told is a senior judge, although we were not told his or her name.
It was all in house with the unnamed judge listening to both sides and coming to the conclusion and decision that both Brora and Kelty had both been correctly defined as champions.
As my Highland League chairman pal said
“None of this was necessary or needed Andy, and who picks up the bloody tab? And Brora are not match fit and this is not their fault.”
So as of today the play offs are set for Tuesday and Saturday.
(These two games would be great live TV if only we had commercial people who could have foreseen that. Maybe next year.)
If I were an SPFL member I’d have questions to ask.
Things like how much the specialist QC ‘s and judge’s fees have cost our association and why?
If I were an SFA member I’d want to know why the pyramid was illegally dumped a year ago and why nothing was done about it. Specifically what the cost of the current legal advice and the arbitration charade adds up to and who is going to pay for it all.
After the decision there was a short delay then it was statement o’clock.
The PR agencies done good.
Maxie is deemed to have said, “The principle of the pyramid is of huge importance to the integrity of open competition”.
Neil was given a wee quote too in an attempt to turn this unwanted reverse into a positive, saying, “We were keen to ensure that any decisions were both fair and in accordance with the rules and agreements of all four organisations”.
Quite why it got dumped a year ago was not quote-worthy at this point in time and neither organisation wants to go there.
Also it is about time that clubs and those running our game saw that the pyramid is about ins and outs.
Soon there will be a bunch of ex SPFL clubs like Berwick and East Stirling wanting back in.
There has to be ‘integrity and open competition’, to quote Maxie.
The 10th club in the SPFL should be relegated automatically.
The 9th club should be in the play off.
That is what Stewart Regan had planned, sold to his members and delivered until the very last minute when he got shafted too.
Self-interest and fear killed it.
Neil, Ian – clean it up and sort it out.
It is for the good of the game.
3. Nae Fans at Hampden
All it would have taken to have thousands of fans at Hampden on May 22nd would have been common sense and collaboration.
We told the SFA last week how to do it.
There will be no fans at our unsponsored 2021 Scottish Cup Final.
“This is just plain wrong, unnecessary and disgraceful” and you can quote me on that.
4. New Sponsor for the Scottish League Cup
We were told this week that the Betfred Cup is no more.
So it is an unreserved ‘Hurrah’ from me welcoming ‘The Premier Sports Cup’.
I say that because it is very good news that this cup and our game is no longer normalising a damaging hi-tec industry using football shamelessly and cynically to recruit our youngsters.
But I don’t think this is a sponsorship in the classic sense when money changes hands and our game benefits somewhere.
In the subdued press release I first noticed the lack of financial numbers quoted.
That is strange, as normally I’d have expected them to be trumpeted.
Not having Premier Sports on my cable package I didn’t know much about them so googled.
They are a Dublin based company formed in 2009 by Michael O’Rourke, a well-known Irish businessman who you might remember being part owner of Setanta.
It is fair to say that is a name with history in our game.
Premier’s Director of Operations, Richard Webb said “We look forward to bringing fans the biggest games from the Premier Sports Cup for the next 6 years”.
Our own Neil said “It is a very welcome endorsement of our game at such a challenging time that Premier Sports has decided to extend the term of their broadcast contract”.
5. The Wrong Kind of Hat Trick
You might indeed think what this has to do with elephants in various rooms, social media and double standards right through our game.
Firstly if the social media giants do not clean up their act then they will hasten their own demise and the current ease of anonymity and lack of responsibility is something they will have to address.
The sports boycott of social media channels this weekend won’t change the world overnight but is a good first step and even we the SFSA are taking part.
(I bet that alone scares Mark Zuckerberg and his British lackey Nick Clegg!)
It won’t be enough on its own though and will need to be repeated before change occurs.
Livingston’s Marvin Bartley, also an equality adviser to the SFA, talked well in the media today.
He speaks from experience and fears a footballer will take his own life before governments and social media companies will take the growing torrent of online abuse seriously.
“Abuse can be racial, about someone’s sexuality or religion. We just hope social media companies will come out against this but their silence is deafening”.
Marvin himself has recently been targeted racially on Instagram.
He believes like we do that ‘verification’ of all posters should be mandated on all social media accounts but deep down knows the lack of action is because Social Media companies fear losing advertising revenue.
He also feels politicians should be doing more.
This morning the story also broke about David Cox of Albion Rovers.
David took the incredible decision to ‘retire’ from the game at half time yesterday when playing as a sub for Albion Rovers Vs Stenhousemuir.
He claimed he had been verbally abused about his mental health struggles by an opposition player and is said to have left the stadium at half time having been taunted about his previous attempts to take his own life.
“One of the boys in the Stenny team, we were having a bit of to and fro with, told me I should have done it right first time”.
In a post match statement Stenhousemuir said “Both players, (David Cox, Albion Rovers, on the bench and Jonathon Tiffoney of Stenny, playing) are making claims of serious and wholly inappropriate comments being made during the game that have implications for player wellbeing and mental health”.
Albion Rovers subsequently tweeted.
“The unforgiveable incident that occurred during tonight’s match must not be downplayed. David you have all at Albion Rovers and Scottish Football’s unconditional support”.
This latest development comes just 5 days after a smashing cup quarter-final with an unexpected result gave us a ‘recording’ to debate and a discussion that is raging on line but strangely not yet in the mainstream media.
(It may all be a hoax and nothing in this game ever surprises me but it may very well be real and highlight an area that needs attention. It is easy enough to check).
It happened when the St Johnstone goalie Zander Clark had come up for the very last corner at the very end of stoppage time at the very end of injury time.
Against all odds he was not picked up by any Rangers player and with a free header created the equaliser tap in/ deflection.
As he ran jubilantly towards the centre line the sound recording picked up the following vignette and I give you the two versions of the translation that I have subsequently read on different sites.
….. “are you having a f****** orgasm you Fenian c***”?
Some people think the rather vocal complainant didn’t say that.
They maintain he said ….“how are we not f****** organising ourselves, picking people up”?
I’ve listened several times and would say it is the first option I offered you.
It is an interesting twist but it was inevitable because we have to change and this kind of thing is not part of our future.
Just a few weeks ago Scottish football united behind Glen Kamara and his club after he reported Ondrej Kudela of Slavia Prague for a cupped-hand racist slur.
That was the right thing to do.
Uefa backed his assertions without firm evidence.
That was the right thing to do too.
The SFA are now aware of this quarterfinal incident but I haven’t seen any response as yet and don’t know what they will do.
The recording will be available.
It is important to say that this is bigger than just dolling out punishment to a few individuals.
It is about leadership.
Scottish football has no simple guidelines on racism, sexuality or racist abuse for fans and players.
This means things that were maybe ‘tolerated/allowed’ 20 years ago are totally taboo today.
Blind eyes and deaf ears have to be consigned to the past.
The last few weeks have given us examples of unacceptable player-to-player abuse and we are all too aware of fans chants and songs that have no place in our game and are simply not wanted any more.
If the SFA, SPFL and the Scottish Government don’t step up then chaos is guaranteed.
Aberdeen Univ 2nds will soon not be the only team to walk off as a protest.
Nothing is more inevitable.
We urgently need a code of conduct and it has to be policed.
We need vision.
6. Women’s World Cup Draw and Euros Coming Our Way
Scottish Women have been placed into the 5 team Group B with Spain, Ukraine, Hungary and Faroe Islands.
Games are to be played between September ‘21 and September ’22.
Fifa World rankings are Spain 13, Scotland 23, Ukraine 31, Hungary 44 and Faroe Islands 93.
We were in the second pot and it could have been a lot worse.
Big Changes At the Revamped Women’s Champions League
Uefa proudly says the competition will redistribute 24 Million Euros, more than 4 times the current prize fund.
1.4M euros to the winners.
In addition for the first time it will make solidarity payments to all top division clubs of Uefa national associations that enter teams.
These payments must in turn be invested in development and the total solidarity fund is said to be circa 5.6M euros.
Sounds a lot but with circa 51 member countries in the Women’s world cup and that would give c100,000 euros per league and less than c10,000 euros per side.
Welcome but not game changing.
Talking about the tournament Uefa said, “The centrepiece is a new 16 team group stage which will involve 4 groups of 4 playing home and away between October and December”.
Then a March onwards knock out for the top 2 in each group.
The tournament itself is like the male Champions League and is geared and biased towards the biggest and most successful countries.
France, Germany and Spains top teams get straight into the group stage.
The rest is an over-complex mix of preliminary rounds (if needed), one-venue mini-tournaments and two legged seeded knock out.
It’s all on their web site.
I didn’t quite understand it.
As always thanks for the feedback, and feel free to drop me a line about anything football related.
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