The Honeymoon is Over and it's Time for the Divorce
- 19 September 2012
In his insightful article entitled, ‘Regan's SFA honeymoon is over’, Chris Graham said:
“There has been something rather arrogant about Regan’s SFA. They seem to feel that criticism is there to be dismissed rather than addressed and for some reason nobody seems to want to ask any probing questions of the organisation or the man in charge. Despite claims of transparency, any attempt to question Regan by either fan groups or individuals has led to petulant displays of offence.”
Who can forget Regan’s walk-out during his meeting with the Rangers Fans Working Group at Hampden in March, or his consistent refusal to respond to the many reasonable and pertinent questions put to him by email, letter and Twitter by concerned fans?
Chris was right when he observed that Stewart Regan, ‘was unprepared for the challenge ahead’ and subsequent events have unquestionably proven him right. Perhaps, had Stewart Regan read Alasdair Reid’s article in The Telegraph, just a few short months after his appointment in July 2010, he may have had second thoughts about accepting his new post.
“The culture of football in Scotland is rancid” said Reid. “The real farce for Scotland is that the agenda has been dominated by the failure of a few football officials to come to the sort of adult agreement that cause other sports no grief whatsoever.”
How prescient would those words turn out to be as Stewart Regan launched into controversy after controversy, turning relatively uncomplicated problems into major crises and taking the line of least resistance, particularly when that line was advocated by Peter Lawwell.
No sooner had Stewart Regan got his feet under his Hampden Park desk than the Dougie McDonald scandal exploded in a welter of sanctimonious TV and newspaper hysteria. McDonald’s decision to award Celtic a penalty kick at Tannadice and then immediately rescind it, quite literally, let loose the dogs of war. The fact that Celtic were not disadvantaged was, of course, irrelevant and it certainly didn’t dissuade them from launching a series of scathing attacks on the SFA, claiming that Celtic were the victims of historical prejudice.
Regan’s reluctance to confront the very public (and vitriolic) attacks on the SPL referees continued with Neil Lennon’s unwarranted criticism of referee Craig Thomson, and his abuse of Thompson’s fourth official, following a sound drubbing by Hearts at Tynecastle. Then on 24th October, following defeat by Rangers in the first Old Firm derby of the season, Willie Collum was subjected to strident criticism for his handling of the game having had the temerity to award Rangers a penalty kick.
As incident piled upon incident, by late November 33 Category 1 match officials had downed tools, and Stewart Regan was presiding over a referees’ strike that could (and would) have been avoided had he come to their defence against relentless attacks from John Reid, Peter Lawwell and Neil Lennon.
Another botched job by Stewart Regan; another question mark over his honesty, and a crucial constituency – the Scottish referees - needlessly antagonised by Celtic FC and Stewart Regan.
But as if that were not enough, Regan was soon to be embroiled in the unsavoury events that culminated in the dismissal of Hugh Dallas-the highly respected head of referee development at the SFA. Dallas, who inadvisably forwarded an email to colleagues containing a satirical cartoon referring to the recent visit of the Pope, was later sacked by the SFA following demands for his summary dismissal by Peter Kearney, the Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office.
Yet again, a matter that could have been resolved without recourse to the ultimate sanction was exacerbated by Stewart Regan’s inability (or unwillingness) to confront the extremists and those at Parkhead whose intolerance would permit no other outcome than the sacking and public humiliation of Hugh Dallas.
And while the dust was barely settling on the Hugh Dallas affair, the former First Minister, Henry McLeish concluded his Review of Scottish Football and submitted his report to a bemused and shell -shocked Stewart Regan in December 2010.
McLeish’s report was, of course, never intended to be a definitive statement or a fait accompli but the foundation upon which the restructuring of Scottish football could begin. Yet it was roundly criticised by an entrenched and blinkered football fraternity for ‘lacking in any unique ideas’ even though that same football fraternity had offered nothing constructive or innovative for countless years.
On page 5 of his 106 page report, in the most forthright and hard hitting language, McLeish says:
“The Governance of the game may have been appropriate and effective in another era but is totally inappropriate for the modern era. The representative and participative structure of the SFA, the traditions, procedures and decision-making and the inherently defensive and insular approach of the organisation all present a serious obstacle to the modernisation of football in Scotland.”
In his detailed – no holds barred – report, Henry McLeish laid bare the deficiencies of the Scottish game, and was heavily critical of the SFA saying that the organisation, “lacks coherence, focus and a sense of overall purpose, is ill-equipped to deal with current problems and has failed to plan effectively for the future," yet Regan immediately embraced the one recommendation that would enable him to invite his friend, the Celtic Chief Executive, Peter Lawwell, to join the SFA’s new Professional Game Board in July 2011.
It is an unassailable fact that the relationship between Celtic and the SFA was at an all time low early in 2011 and the shock and surprise of Lawwell's appointment was, therefore, all the more palpable against the very public backcloth of the acrimonious disputes that had erupted between Celtic and the SFA the season before, during which a disgruntled Celtic Board had unleashed its legal attack dogs and threatened to take the SFA to court after numerous bitter clashes.
But even Celtic could not hide their surprise and delight at Lawwell’s appointment when they said:
"It is well known that following events last year, Celtic called for a fundamental review of the processes and procedures within the SFA. Peter Lawwell, on behalf of Celtic Football Club, will be pleased to accept this invitation to join the professional game board.”
You bet he was pleased to accept his invitation, and take his place at the SFA top table where he could better manipulate Stewart Regan and direct his programme for the sole benefit of Peter Lawwell and Celtic Football Club.
That is the context for the events that were subsequently to infuriate Rangers fans the world over, and raise the eyebrow of many a football pundit, when the Rangers insolvency crisis eventually engulfed Scottish football.
When we entered administration in February 2012 we were immediately docked 10 points and subjected to a premeditated and pernicious campaign to denigrate and marginalise our club. This was quickly followed by UEFA confirmation of a 3 year ban from European football with the inevitable loss of invaluable revenue. Thereafter, the sanctions followed thick and fast, with a £160,000 fine preceding the imposition of an illegal transfer embargo, the seizure of prize money and the withholding of substantial monies properly due to the club from transfers.
Our successful challenge to the SFA’s unlawful transfer embargo in the Edinburgh Court of Session unleashed the predictable tirade from a hostile press and a brass-necked Stewart Regan; although, at that point, we had become almost inured to the excesses of the print and broadcast media, and their assault on our democratic right to challenge such a gross injustice in the courts was but another example of the intolerance we had been subjected to for many months.
But we were soon to experience the most overt displays of deceit and dishonesty ever witnessed in Scottish football as Regan and Doncaster orchestrated the rejection of Rangers’ application for entry to the SPL and then worked hand in hand to bully and intimidate the SFL into placing Rangers in Division 1. They then embarked upon the most divisive and disreputable action of all - the blackmail of Rangers and the SFL, to concede the TV rights to Rangers’ games in Division 3 in exchange for an SFA licence to play football.
The criticism of Regan and Doncaster was scathing and, for a short time at least, it looked as though we might be rid of them. Even a normally acquiescent press were baying for their blood and predicting swift resignations although, as always, the matter was quickly forgotten, as were the many claims of blackmail and double dealing made by numerous high-profile SFL representatives.
Yet, in the very midst of these unsavoury events, former First Minister Henry McLeish expressed his faith that the Rangers insolvency crisis would force the agenda for the reconstruction of Scottish football; although not, I suspect, by trying to force Rangers into Division 1, with the inducement of a 16-team top flight within three years, and the threat to withhold £2 million in contractual payments - what you might call ‘a take it or leave it deal – with menaces!’
The Morton Chairman, Douglas Rae lambasted the performance of both Regan and Doncaster at the July meeting of the SFL clubs, branding Neil Doncaster a 'mammoth failure' in his handling of the crisis and of having 'lost his way' during the long-running saga. Mr. Rae also repeated the claim that many of his colleagues had made, that Regan had told the SFL clubs that the SFA would prevent Rangers from joining the SPL even if the clubs voted them in. Regan, of course, issued an immediate denial but it is clear that it was received with a mixture of disbelief and utter contempt, and the inescapable fact is that Stewart Regan is now perceived by many as a liar and a cheat.
Liars, cheats and incompetents – that is how the SFL clubs perceive Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster, and there is little doubt in my mind that is how they are perceived by the overwhelming majority of Scottish football fans. No one believes anything the SFA, the SPL or their discredited Chief Executives have to say, and Stewart Regan’s predictions of ‘doomsday’, ‘meltdown’ and ‘social unrest’ have raised serious questions about his credibility.
But although the SFL clubs gave the Regan/Doncaster blackmail proposal short shrift, league reconstruction is still firmly on the agenda for next season, with the prime objective of fast-tracking Rangers back to the top flight. But this time the cat is well and truly out of the bag.
The SFA is in crisis, and Stewart Regan is under pressure like never before. The SPL is insolvent and failing, while its constituent clubs, and morally bankrupt Chairmen, are now reliant on a revitalised Rangers returning to their ranks ASAP in order to ‘save the day’.
In a recent Scotzine.com poll, the question posed was, “Are Regan and Doncaster fit for purpose?”, and of a total of 1,537 voters, a staggering 92% declared that Regan and Doncaster are ‘not fit for purpose’ and should go immediately.
The inescapable fact is that Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster cannot be trusted with the stewardship of Scottish football – if, indeed they could ever lay claim to it - and it is clear they have lost the trust and confidence of the constituents they were appointed to represent. Sophistry and the perpetual moving of the goal posts is fast becoming the ‘piece de resistance’ of Regan’s tenure as Chief Executive of the SFA, while Neil Doncaster may soon be inducted into the Magic Circle for his ability to conjure up steering committees out of thin air in order to accommodate Peter Lawwell’s demand to control the SPL negotiations with Sky.
The dishonesty, bullying and intimidation described above has caused serious damage and engendered an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion in Scottish football. Where once relationships were honest and honourable, they are now characterised by dishonesty and suspicion; the trust and confidence so vital to the maintenance of these relationships has been destroyed by the machinations of Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster.
In a speech at Clinton, Illinois on 8th September 8, 1854, Abraham Lincoln gave the world this now famous truism,
“If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.”
But that is precisely what Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster seek to do; to fool us all of the time. To fool us into believing that the decisions of the SFA and the SPL are always fair and reasonable; arrived at by means of consultation and debate predicated on the principles of fairness, equity and justice. That, of course, is demonstrable nonsense, and it certainly wasn’t the view taken by Hugh Dallas, the Category 1 referees, Lord Glennie in the Edinburgh Court of Session, or the 30 SFL clubs who were subjected to the bullying and harassment of Messrs. Regan and Doncaster in July.
Trust and confidence are the principles on which all of our relationships are founded; so much so that the law enshrines them in the contracts that underpin the relationship between employer and employee; and the relationship between the SFA and its constituents, players and fans is no different. Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster have shattered that trust and confidence, and I believe that it can never be meaningfully re-established under their leadership. So when we talk of reconstruction we should stop and consider whether reconstructing our leagues is the right place to start, particularly when our Chief Executive’s have lost all credibility and the governing body of Scottish football is discredited in the eyes of the football public.
Before we start tampering with league formats let’s get the honesty, probity and transparency back into our game. Let’s dispense with the anonymous tribunals and the investigations ‘in camera’, and win back the trust and confidence of constituent members, players and fans alike.
Of the current SFA regime, Henry McLeish said, “It lacks coherence, focus and a sense of overall purpose, is ill-equipped to deal with current problems and has failed to plan effectively for the future." That’s undoubtedly true, but it doesn’t even come close to describing the shambolic, discredited and dishonourable organisation that the SFA has become under Stewart Regan and, let’s face it, the SPL is in no better shape as it rapidly slides toward insolvency and bankruptcy under the stewardship of Neil Doncaster.
If reconstruction means tinkering with the format of the league system while leaving in place the regime – and the very people - that have brought it to its knees that will be entirely wrong – indeed suicidal. The inescapable fact is that honest and meaningful reconstruction cannot be delivered under the direction Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster.
By simply tampering with the league structure and failing to bite the bullet on the vexed question of executive leadership we achieve nothing but confusion, inefficiency and demoralization. The existing SFA executive structures have got to be rationalised; that is a prerequisite to restoring the trust and confidence so vitally necessary for the future well-being of Scottish football. To refuse to confront that reality is to bury one’s head in the sand while Scottish football is destroyed from within.
Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster have got to go. The honeymoon is over and it’s time for a speedy divorce!
Calvin Spence (aka JCS) a frequent contributor to Rangers Media as a Site Writer and occasionally contributor to Gersnet. He has supported Rangers since 1974 and his career has focused on industrial relations, employment law and contracts of employment. He lives just outside Belfast.