"What kind of game are we running here?"
- 15 October 2012
- In Current affairs
“What kind of game are we running here? It is corrupt.”
Not my words although I wholeheartedly agree with them. On the 3rd July this year, Turnbull Hutton, the Raith Rovers chairman, stood on the steps of Hampden and declared the Scottish game “corrupt”. He didn’t get any argument from Rangers fans who have watched our club battered by the various mechanisms of the footballing authorities in Scotland. First it was the turn of the SFA with their illegal registration embargo and still to come we have the sham SPL tribunal into the use of EBTs and so called “dual contracts”.
Hutton may have been correct, but being right has never been a defence to the disciplinary machinations of the SFA. Vincent Lunny sits behind his Hampden desk monitoring the press for anyone stepping out of line – well, certainly if you are attached to Rangers. If you happen to be a chairman of a small first division side like Raith Rovers then it appears that the same rules don’t apply.
Hutton was lauded at the time as a hero. His comments were deliberately misinterpreted by Celtic’s online charmers as being a dig at Rangers. It was Rangers who were responsible for this “corruption”, was their predictably inaccurate response. Of course what he actually meant was that the SFA and SPL, who so desperately need Rangers in the top division as TV viewing figures and attendances have shown, were bullying the SFL into allowing Rangers into Division 1 – something which by this time our club and fans had already publicly stated they did not want.
So what did Hutton say and why exactly did he not appear before an SFA disciplinary tribunal? Well here are a couple of quotes.
“[We are being] bullied, railroaded and lied to. We are being lied to by the Scottish FA and the SPL. We are being threatened and bullied. It is not football as I know it.
“It was a ridiculous document which came out last week whereby the threat was there that if you don’t vote for an acceptance into the First Division, a breakaway SPL2 will come along and those who didn’t vote wouldn’t be invited.
“What kind of game are we running here? It is corrupt.”
It is quite clear from this that Hutton is talking about the football authorities. He mentions the SFA and SPL by name. There is no ambiguity. He is accusing them of lying, bullying and declaring that they are corrupt – that the very game itself is corrupt.
Now let me state at this point that I agree with Hutton and have no wish to see him get into trouble for these entirely accurate comments. However, there is the usual issue here of double standards in the approach taken by the SFA to disciplinary matters. The charges they are so fond of levelling are based on any contravention of Rule 66 or Rule 71 of their disastrously vague disciplinary rules.
The SFA have twice used these rules to haul Charles Green up before their disciplinary panel – once to explain his “bigotry” comments and again to explain his statement on the SPL kangaroo court. These were the charges for the SPL statement:
"(1) Disciplinary Rule 66 (Bringing the game into disrepute by calling into question the integrity of the Commission, chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith and appointed by the Scottish Premier League Limited (“SPL”) to examine alleged breaches of the SPL’s Rules regarding the use by Rangers PLC and Rangers FC of Employee Benefit Trusts to pay players, by suggesting in a media interview that the outcome and sanction of said Commission had been pre-determined by the SPL.)
(2) Disciplinary Rule 71 (Not acting in the best interests of football by calling into question the integrity of the Commission, chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith and appointed by the Scottish Premier League Limited (“SPL”) to examine alleged breaches of the SPL’s Rules regarding the use by Rangers PLC and Rangers FC of Employee Benefit Trusts to pay players, by suggesting in a media interview that the outcome and sanction of said Commission had been pre-determined by the SPL.)"
Both times the SFA imposed no sanction on Green, as their attempts to censure him were clearly absurd. Look at the charges though – is someone really telling me that Hutton’s comments don’t come within the scope of these rules? What could possibly bring “the game” into more “disrepute” than calling it “corrupt” whilst standing on the steps of Hampden in front of the entire British press pack?
Now, regarding their application of Rule 71, I would argue that it is acting in the best interests of football in Scotland to expose the corruption and self-interest that blights both the SFA and SPL, but I doubt they agree. How then could Hutton not be asked to explain himself based on Rule 71? If the SFA refute his claims then surely it is not in the “best interests of football” to lie about them being corrupt? Does the fact that they did not charge him mean that they accept that their organisation and the SPL are corrupt?
There is a clear double standard here and it was pointed out to several journalists who undertook to pursue the question with the SFA. Myself and others spent weeks politely asking them for a response and were consistently told that they had not yet heard from the SFA. The usually reliable STV sport guys were reduced to coming up with their own take on why Hutton was not charged. With all due respect to them, I’m afraid their opinion of it was neither convincing nor what anyone was asking for. We wanted to hear from Vincent Lunny about why such a clear and high profile breach of the SFA’s on-going attempt to curb freedom of speech was not dealt with.
I have to credit Jane Lewis at the BBC for at least pursuing it to the point where she got a response – albeit that it took over four months to receive one. However this is where we enter into the next part of this bizarre saga. The response was “off the record”. So they have explained it to Jane but she can’t tell anyone – not much use for someone whose job it is to report information. In response to being asked on Twitter “Were u satisfied with the explanation? 2 similar outbursts yet only 1 charged? Strange don’t u think?” her answer was, “Yes I was satisfied. I can tell u it was looked in2.”
So there we have it. The SFA have satisfied Jane Lewis that it was “looked into” but she is not allowed to tell anyone the reasoning behind no action being taken. The rest of us are left to guess at the brain wave which led Vincent Lunny to the conclusion that Turnbull Hutton not only was not guilty of anything but did not even have a case to answer. No need to explain why he felt the SFA and SPL and the game itself were “corrupt”.
I have my own theory as to why Hutton was not charged. Well a couple actually. Firstly, it is quite an expensive task trying to fetter freedom of speech. Rangers have twice successfully employed the services of Richard Keen QC to run a coach and horses through the absurd charges dreamt up by Lunny and Regan. How long can the SFA keep pursuing absurd cases against a backdrop of falling revenues right across the game? I suspect they did not see Hutton as a soft target, despite being from a small club. I have every reason to expect that, had they brought charges, Hutton would have defended himself vigorously and the last thing that Regan needs is for people to be repeating what he said in meetings with the SFL. So the rules go out the window and in come self-interest to replace them.
This decision was about protecting Stewart Regan’s job, which of course Lunny was happy to do since Regan provided him with his. Of course it won’t work – Regan’s problem is not just with the farcical disciplinary process he put in place but also the national team’s performance and his shambolic handling of the Rangers saga. Regan will be lucky to survive the season and he should take Lunny with him to facilitate his next disaster.
Also, and this was hinted at by Jane Lewis, it would appear the SFA just can’t keep up with the number of potential cases. Now this explanation might been understandable had it not been such a high profile incident but I don’t think we can argue that poor, overworked Vincent didn’t notice what Hutton said. If he felt that it was not important enough to require an explanation then I suggest he re-examine his priorities. In any case, workload is a poor excuse for picking and choosing which cases to prosecute - especially when Mr Lunny never seems to let anything Rangers related slip through his net.
We are therefore left to assume that Hutton’s comments are acceptable – which is excellent news for Charles Green because I suspect that in the very near future the topic of SPL and SFA corruption will be rearing its head again and, when it does, Charles can speak freely and without risk of censure. Can’t he?