Scottish Football and the case for a Bismarck!

Good Evening.

When considering any type of protracted negotiation or discussion that seems to be going on too long, there is a story that is always worth remembering– whether it is actually a true story or not as the case may be.

It is said, that heads of state all met at a congress in what is now modern Germany sometime after the Franco Prussian war of 1870-1871.The entire congress was being run almost singlehandedly by the then Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismark and he was keen to get all the necessary signatures on paper to seal some deal or other.

However, others at the congress were not too keen to sign up to certain elements of the proposed deal and so they hithered and dithered and in the eyes of Bismark they simply waisted time by concentrating on the minutiae- the little matters, with a view to ensuring their own interests were best served in these small areas– and did not focus on the big issue.

Having tried to talk these others round and educate them in his own beliefs and point of view on the bigger picture without any success, Bismark grew weary of the continuing delay and the posturing of his colleagues. All attempts at reason and diplomacy had failed in his eyes and so he decided to take a different tack.

Accordingly, it is said that whilst others were still inside debating endlessly on this matter or that, Bismark left the building and began simply shooting the windows in with the aid of a riffle which he just happened to have handy.

Those inside were naturally alarmed at this turn of events. They soon forgot about the minutiae under debate, they abandoned the previously expressed self interest and simply signed up so that they could get away from the mad chancellor and his house.

Job done so to speak.

Whilst I do not in anyway condone the behaviour of Otto von Bismark in this instance, and have no doubt that he was an autocrat, what I will say is that he believed that there was too much time being spent on the unimportant stuff and not enough time recognising what really needed doing– from his point of view of course.

Today– and it seems every day for months— we have endless debate about the future of Scottish Football. League reconstruction and the redistribution of footballing wealth has become a marathon– even before it has started.

Yet I believe that at the moment all parties concerned are not focusing on the radical reform that is fundamentally needed which is the creation of one, strong, properly structured and constituted body which is capable of the proper and ethical governance of Scottish Football and the business that surrounds football.

No matter what system you try, or distribution you agree, without proper sensible strong governance you are wasting your time.

Further, whatever body is set up, and whoever is chosen to be its CEO (or whatever the head honcho is going to be called), they must tackle the issue of corporate and fiscal compliance and the proper administration of any body corporate which actively takes part in Scottish Football– and that includes any such body or person who is involved in the running of a member club.

In addition, in so dealing with any corporate malfeasance or chicanery or whatever, the rules have to be applied with a rod of iron by an iron body.

As we can now clearly see, Football clubs and football in general is not, and never will be, immune from the effects of bad corporate governance and on occasion downright manipulation of facts, figures and contracts.

Whilst great play has been made of the fact that Gavin Masterton has handed over his shares in Dunfermline FC ( or its holding company ) the fact of the matter is that this in no way solves the problem faced by the football club. Whoever gains control of that club will still have to rent the ground from Mr Masterton’s company– and it is a rent that the club may just not be able to afford.

Ever!

It is only my opinion of course, but I am of the view that Mr Masterton has sealed a loan deal with his bankers which is of a type and duration which could not normally be achieved by other borrowers. The Loan has a lengthy period during which no repayments are necessary and interest can continue to accrue.

All very good you may say, but the level of debt concerned is not one that appears to be sustainable by Dunfermline FC and so whoever buys the club as a going concern ( if anyone buys it at all ) will have to pay an agreed rental to Gavin Masterton– and if the rental is not sufficient to repay Mr Masterton’s lenders, then I suspect that the end game here will be a search to find a buyer for the ground at some point over the next twenty years or so, with the hope that as part of the deal a space will be found somewhere for a new ground like New St Mirren park– the difference being that in that instance St Mirren were in charge of their future whereas Dunfermline are not.

The Governance of that club and the financial arrangements behind the club should have been looked at and examined by the SFA long before now– and the Dunfermline fans warned about the dangers of any such arrangements. Effectively those finance arrangements, should they continue, will probably mean that the club will have no option but to move from its established home!

All to suit one man!

Thankfully Dundee were spared a full takeover by Giovanni Di Stefano, however is it not a bit worrying that this man who has been jailed for over 14 years for various fraudulent acts, was allowed to roam around Scottish Football for a prolonged period?

Not so long ago Di Stefano did play a part at Dens, was in line to buy almost 30% of the shareholding, and was oft quoted in the papers and so on. The thing is that there were those who were prepared to give him a place at the Dundee table and in so doing invited him into Scottish Football.

Surely the SFA, had they been inclined to, could quite easily have pointed out that many of the claims of Mr Di Stefano were at least dubious if not completely incorrect? Yet nothing was being said at the time and silence prevailed.

Whilst not in the same calibre as Di Dtefano, Vladimir Romanov has now been at Hearts for a prolonged period. While I have no quibbles about the legality of Romanov’s takeover of Hearts, any money of a sizeable size which is transferred into Scotland from a foreign country will be subject to scrutiny by the Crown office to ensure that it is clean. Lithuania in particular is said to have a banking system which is governed loosely and sometimes does not meet the compliance standards expected in this country.

With his bank having gone bust, Romanov still retains the majority shareholding at Tynecastle, but there are questions still to be answered about what has happened at Hearts but life will be very different for the Edinburgh club going forward.

Again– could the SFA have done more to monitor the situation and could they have demanded clarity and detail from the Hearts owner as to his business dealings and the detailed arrangements with his bank?

At Ibrox, well things just go from the weird and inexplicable to downright astonishing– and all through a tremendous amount of smoke and mirrors.

It is clear that the SFA have no idea what to believe from Charles Green or for that matter Craig Whyte. On the face of it, there are clear links between Whyte and Green with the former paying over a six figure sum in return for absolutely nothing it would appear– with similar transactions going between Whyte’s colleague, Aiden Early, and Charles Green.

What is clear is that Green gave a clear undertaking to the SFA that he had nothing whatsoever to do with Whyte and would have nothing to do with Whyte going forward. Now, at the very least he is admitting that he met Whyte on several occasions, and whilst he may have made representations to Craig Whyte— these were all lies designed only to get Whyte to where Green wanted him.

This is hardly the act of someone who has been bona fides in his business dealings either with Whyte or with the SFA as the licensing body.

It is against this background that the Scottish Football Agencies need to wake up before they find the fans of the game ( at least those who want to stay interested in the game ) doing a Bismarck and panning in the windows of this whole house of cards.

Football Clubs, football fans, and indeed football itself needs protected from the financial and corporate shenanigans, and the governing body must be much more active and permanently vigilant in watching out for and if necessary anticipating the people and the transactions which have and will jeopardise clubs and the game in general going forward.

It is clearly no longer acceptable to rely on self regulation or mere declarations and undertakings from the clubs themselves. The Administrators must be much more active and employ far greater professional expertise in carrying out an almost constant analytical and reporting function in relation to club finance and corporate regulation.

All and any changes in funding, boardroom changes, investor changes and anything else major should be the subject of immediate and proper scrutiny by the SFA and there should be fair, immediate and stiff sanctions for non compliance, and any type of dilatory behaviour on the part of club officials who would seek to conceal the truth or who fail to properly disclose vital matters which should be out in the open.

Further, the funding detail– such as the never ending loan re Dunfermline should be a matter of public record in all its detail so that fans and investors can make information based value judgements when dealing with any club.

Such stiffer regulation should not develop into anything like a corporate witch hunt or any kind of draconian big brother syndrome, however the need for change given all of the current troubles is obvious to one and all.

Further, the attempted fudge surrounding Rangers league status last summer and the ongoing disquiet surrounding the position of Campbell Ogilvie does nothing to boost faith in and the reputation of Football Administration in Scotland.

Things are far from clear and there appears to be continual dithering and fudging. No one has any idea where the Nimmo Smith Report has gone nor what import it is to have— if any. Why is that?

Dithering and bumbling over detail is no longer an option. Strong clear governance is required to protect the game from being hijacked by those who have their own corporate and financial agendas.

Such people cannot be allowed to determine the way Scottish Football runs  or to conduct themselves in a fashion that leaves football and everyone involved in limbo.

It is time for Scottish Football to find its own Iron Chancellor!  There is a need for someone who will, if necessary, come along and shoot the lights out of any club or Company Director who wishes to play fast and loose with the game of football.

Advertisements