ANOTHER day, another twist in the end of season row, another statement. Yep, this is the new norm in Scottish Football!
Yesterday, the SFA decided to serve a notice of complaint to Hearts and Partick Thistle for breaching Rule 78 where no club can take a matter to court without going through their Arbitration process first. Hearts and Partick retaliated in typically bullish fashion with a statement saying they were “incredulous” at learning of the charge.
With the arbitration process in place to review the clubs appeal on the SPFL’s decision to end the 2019/20 season, which saw both sides and Stranraer relegated, it’s yet another twist to a saga that has been ongoing since the start of April, and could drag on well into the start of the new season.
The first thing that springs regarding the charge is why now? We have known since 15 June that Hearts were taking the matter to court after the last reconstruction vote went against them, with Partick joining them the following day. That’s a full month wasted, and eleven days since the courts effectively reminded the two clubs to follow the SFA protocol. What have the SFA been doing in this time? To serve this notice just six days before the deadline for the two clubs to get their evidence to them is just baffling! This should’ve been done within a week of Hearts lodging court action, or even within a day or two of the judge’s results. Once again, the reputation of the SFA is under the spotlight.
What should be clear though is that the charge is CORRECT. Hearts and Partick should’ve taken their grievance with them before going through the courts. Quite simply, they abused the process, and the judge reminded them of this. They might well have reason to have no faith in the SFA overturning the SPFL decision, but that was no reason to go above them. The fact the courts made this point says it all. As for the statement, why are they acting surprised to get this charge? Yes the timing is questionable, but using fancy words in a statement does not hide away from the fact that they broke the rules in this instance. Whilst they have good reason to be angry at how their 2019/20 fate was decided, it does not excuse them trying to bypass the SFA.
In addition, they are questioning why Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers are asking their fellow clubs for assistance in funding a legal battle. Well, this is where hypocrisy and inconsistency comes into play! They started off by saying their legal action was against the SPFL, which is the 42 clubs, but then made it perfectly clear that they thought that those respective clubs promotions should be scrapped in favour of their survival. Now they are upset that the clubs are asking fellow members to fund the legal fight, claiming that the issue was against the league. Make your mind up! Even if the dispute is against the league, clubs are going to be funding that anyway because the SPFL is made up of the 42 clubs, which Hearts and Partick are a part of. If their issue is against the league and not individual clubs, why bring them into the argument?
What should be pointed out though is that all of this could’ve been avoided had Neil Doncaster, on the same day he announced plans to end the season, should’ve had a contingency plan that rewarded the sides in promotion positions and not penalise the sides at the bottom of the table. They also should’ve given clubs 28 days to submit their vote, which legally was the case, instead of the 48 hour deadline which kicked off this farce. Instead of showing leadership by making a proposal of 14-10-10-10, which only came in at the eleventh hour, he passed ownership of reconstruction to Ann Budge, who made it clear from the outset that she was only interested in a temporary solution.
This whole episode has been by far the biggest embarrassment on Scottish Football, which is saying something given the 1980 Scottish Cup Final riots, the Boozegate affair of 2009 and the National Teams performance at the 1978 World Cup. Owners, Chairmen and Chairwomen, Chief Executive’s and Directors with a wealth of experience, business acumen and education, have behaved like petty school kids with their childish statements. Very few clubs have conducted themselves with any dignity whatsoever by getting involved in public slanging matches. From the SPFL board right through to League Two, they have shamed our game at a time where togetherness is more paramount as our clubs strive to get through the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. And they want a sponsor to pour millions of pounds into our game?
Who knows what the SFA arbitration will conclude after their investigation and what Hearts and Partick choose to do next. One thing for certain is that this debate is far from over, and the timing of the charge could not have been more badly timed.