Regan's SFA honeymoon is over

Stewart Regan has not had his problems to seek since becoming the Chief Executive of the SFA. Perhaps he was unprepared for the challenge ahead but he’s been the beneficiary of the longest honeymoon period in football, as calamity after calamity have seen him come under relatively little scrutiny. 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.

When Regan first took over at the SFA in 2010 he gave an interview in which he stated "I'm not really interested in what's happened previously or whatever the issues were with the SFA or with the game. I'm interested in my tenure here." Following a litany of disasters he stated last week that “I don’t think anyone can criticise the work we’ve done”. Well, sorry Stewart but we can.

Within four months of his appointment, Regan’s SFA were involved in their first disaster. Scottish referees decided to strike over consistent, public criticism of their integrity and decisions making, mainly by Celtic. This was swiftly followed by the sacking of referee chief Hugh Dallas and 3 other SFA employees over the forwarding of a tasteless joke about the papal visit to Scotland via email. The 3 other employees were later reinstated but Dallas, the most high profile and target of the most vitriol, was not.

Much has been written about the referee strike and it gave us our first glimpse of the SFA coming up against a member club and backing down. Celtic were the main instigators of the strike, there is no question of that. They were not however taken to task, despite outspoken comment from then Chairman, John Reid, and manager Neil Lennon. No charges were brought for “bringing the game into disrepute”.

There followed another public humiliation at the hands of Celtic when the SFA took what could accurately be described as a monumental roasting over Neil Lennon’s touchline ban. It’s interesting to note a few quotes from around that time which give context to Regan’s questionable approach this year.

Firstly, Regan stated “We must accept that if our rules cannot be enforced in a court of law then they cannot be imposed and it is foolish to waste money defending such a point.”

A clearly jubilant Celtic also made some interesting comments, which were not refuted by Regan or anyone else at the SFA to my knowledge. “It should not have been necessary for Celtic Football Club to involve our lawyers in this simple matter, and we would have much preferred not to have had to do so. It is vital that the SFA properly applies the rules that it imposes whatever those happen to be. The SFA cannot operate above the law or its own rules.”

The SFA retreated from Celtic’s onslaught but emerged from their bunker before the start of this season to announce the new disciplinary structure which would allow them to oversee Scottish football, free from the type of legal scrutiny which the late Paul McBride QC had threatened on Celtic’s behalf. That those new rules have been a disaster would be putting things mildly. It seemed odd to many that the season started with the SFA seeming to reward Celtic’s outspoken criticism by finding a place on their influential Professional Game Board for Celtic Chief Executive Peter Lawwell. Things have gone downhill since.

The contrast between the timid SFA of last season and the frankly aggressive one of this season has been stark. Regan was quoted as recently as last Wednesday saying “there would be and could be no deal” with Rangers regarding the unlawfully imposed transfer ban. This is in obvious contrast to the deal done with Celtic last season. I’m sure Regan would not categorise it as a deal but I’m not sure how else you could describe the public back down and acceptance of Celtic’s view of the “concurrent ban” handed down to Neil Lennon.

There was also a suggestion this season that, in handing down what amounted to a half-match ban to Neil Lennon, the SFA had not only broken their own rules (by again deviating from the penalties available to them) but had indeed made another deal. This accusation came from Matt McGlone, a man closely connected to Celtic, who stated that the Celtic lawyer and Vincent Lunny, the SFA Compliance Officer, had come to an arrangement on the punishment outside the tribunal. This allegation was made before the result of the tribunal was public and it seems McGlone had accurate inside information since he knew the exact outcome and length of ban. Perhaps all this involved was a rare application of common sense, but this type of flexibility does not seem to be available to all.

If Regan was emboldened by his hastily drafted new rules then that confidence was misplaced. After much fanfare, Regan and Vincent Lunny have introduced rules which have singularly failed to address the main issue which they stated existed with the previous ones. Do we remember Regan’s words last year? “We must accept that if our rules cannot be enforced in a court of law then they cannot be imposed”. Well it’s clear the rules cannot be enforced in a court of law so where does this leave Regan and Lunny?

When commenting last week, prior to Rangers’ appeal being reheard by the SFA’s appellate tribunal, this type of pragmatism was again replaced with defiance. “Let me say one thing: when we set out to put out an independent process in place, that is what we’ve done. We have some of the strongest legal brains in the country. And that’s what gives me the confidence that we can put our hand on our heart and say this is an independent process.”

Well an “independent process” can still be a shambles if you don’t properly regulate the framework in which the independent tribunal operates. His statement also ignores the fact that the legal brains who are involved are not applying the law of the land, but the SFA’s hastily scribbled version of the law – one that has been shown to be deficient at the first time of asking. It is not the panel members who have let down Rangers and Scottish football, it is the architects of this system, Stewart Regan and Vincent Lunny. Not only are the new rules unlawful and unenforceable, but Rangers were forced to appeal to the Court of Session because the rules did not allow them to take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Regan, in a quite bizarre interview (which you can view here) refused to accept that the system was in any way flawed. Phrases like “the judicial panel has proved to be robust and strong” are entirely at odds with the outcome of the Court of Session review. His attempt to compare a Supreme Court judge applying the law of the land with one applying his inconsistent and unenforceable rules, smacks of a man desperately trying to gloss over the failure of a system which he was entirely responsible for implementing.

It isn’t just Regan’s attitude to Rangers that has caused a problem but also his penchant for engaging in media dark arts. There were some obviously planted, media gems in the written decision regarding Rangers, the main one being that only “match fixing” could be comparable to what Rangers were found guilty of. It was a scandalous statement, and one which arrived long enough after the decision was made to at least raise the possibility that it had been planted to deflect attention from the deficient reasoning in the document.

There then followed some slightly odd and unsubstantiated media reports about threats to members of the committee who took the decision to impose the transfer embargo. The SFA version of events regarding police advice and threats to the panel appeared to be at odds with what the panel members themselves said. To my knowledge the police have not taken any action against anyone regarding the matter.

Regan was at it again the other day when he said, "Of course I get frustrated when I get the police giving me advice on how to behave in Scotland, given the culture we operate in, and when people send me inappropriate emails and messages but I've learned to live with that and put it down to experience. I know some of you get the same abuse I do so that kind of makes it a bit easier.” Well, you would be hard pressed to find a single person on social media who has not been subjected to “inappropriate” comment. Should we all be contacting the police for advice?

The SFA’s problems have not been limited to their shambolic approach to Rangers since Regan took over. The national team is in turmoil both on and off the pitch. Our manager continues to feud with arguably our most competent striker and we were recently demolished 5-1 by a US team who, a few days later, were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw against the football powerhouse that is Canada.

Scotland has remained static at around 41st place in the FIFA rankings since Regan was appointed. We’ve yet again failed to qualify for a major championship and it’s hard to see where any progress has been made. Perhaps Regan will point to the recent, increased revenue given by the SFA to Scottish clubs but the amounts of money are so small that I’m not sure that, even commercially, there is much defence of his tenure. What has Regan achieved in his time here? I can’t point to a single thing other than vague statements of improvement at grass roots level which appear to be entirely subjective. All there has been is confusion, conflict and commotion.

It is difficult to see a way forward for the repair of the relationship between the SFA and Rangers whilst Regan remains in place. He might find that a full strength Rangers, post administration, is a different proposition to the one he’s kicked about for the past year. SFA Chief Executives who have achieved a lot more, have been sacked for a lot less. The honeymoon is over and I suspect the marriage will soon follow.

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