Key unanswered questions over SPFL vote

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April 13, 2020
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    Dens Park

    Dundee hold the key to unlocking an early finish to the Scottish football season… or do they?

    Just a matter of days on from a vote that was to bring the blinding light of clarity, Scottish football is even further enshrouded in the dark, murky clouds of uncertainty.

    Friday’s incomplete SPFL proposal ballot has raised more questions than it ever could have delivered answers, plunging football fans deeper into the dark as to what now for the national game and its clubs.

    With no end yet in sight, BBC Scotland looks at the key unanswered conundrums that the Scottish football fan should be asking…

    What are Dundee doing?

    A valid question that will have been on the lips of chairmen and chief executives throughout the land since 17:00 BST on Friday.

    It emerged late that night that Dundee had not submitted their ballot for the SPFL vote, with it then coming to light the following day they had told other Championship clubs they had in fact voted. In the midst of all of this, Dens Park managing director John Nelms apparently told club secretary Eric Drysdale to “hold off resubmitting their vote”. Following so far?

    One of the biggest questions remains – why? Why hold off? Why not resubmit the vote that fellow Championship clubs were told had been submitted? Why has Nelms, or anyone at the club, not publicly clarified their position, and what now for the validity of the vote? And, crucially, if they have changed their mind from a no vote, what has made them?

    Dundee's voting slip, signed by managing director John Nelms, though the SPFL say they only received it after being told to ignore any Dundee submission

    Dundee’s voting slip, signed by managing director John Nelms, though the SPFL say they only received it after being told to ignore any Dundee submission

    Why did the SPFL announce an incomplete ballot return?

    A topic very much for the conspiracy theorists and cynics, one would suggest.

    On Friday, the SPFL released a statement declaring three unnamed clubs still had not voted, including one from each section. Crucially, one in the Championship – which we now know to be Dundee – with the entire house of cards balanced finely on the end of the Dens Park fax machine.

    Whether Dundee are in an extremely vulnerable position or an incredibly powerful one depends on personal preference. On one hand, clubs across the country desperate for money now know who to target for the hold up in the season being called and cash being allowed to flow from the £9m SPFL TV honey pot. On the other, do Dundee, who are third in the table, now have the ability to hold the SPFL to ransom to force through league reconstruction that could elevate them into the Premiership?

    Either way, the public statement has thrust the Dens Park club into the spotlight, with another 41 pairs of eyes fixing their gaze upon them.

    Talking of league reconstruction, can it work?

    There is no short answer to this, although Hearts owner Ann Budge is keen to convince the SPFL board and its members that it is entirely possible.

    If the current resolution is passed, of course, Hearts would most likely be relegated, therefore it is understandable the Tynecastle club are heavily pushing a pyramid shake up to save their bacon. It’s not that easy, though. Is rewarding teams for success with promotions and titles but not punishing the worst performers fair? Who knows, but the financial implications that come with it are even more problematic than any issue of sporting merit.

    Media playback is not supported on this device

    Hearts owner Ann Budge speaking in March about the prospect of the season finishing early

    A huge selling point of Scottish football’s commercial rights is that you are pretty much guaranteed four Old Firm matches. Broaden the top flight, and either that number gets diluted or teams will be playing more games than now but with less time to do so.

    Will broadcasters Sky Sports still be willing to pay the £160m, or at least a fifth of the five-year deal, if there are fewer Celtic v Rangers games on the box? Has the question been posed to not just them but other broadcasters to see if a Premiership rejig would be sufferable, even for one season, to get a resolution done?

    And, would clubs in the top flight be content with a drop in revenue from potentially fewer home games against the big two? Another key point when you consider sides similar to St Johnstone, who recently decided to give three out of four McDiarmid Park stands to travelling Old Firm fans to boost their coffers.

    Why can’t clubs be given their money?

    A key cornerstone of Rangers’ whole resolution that was deemed not competent by the SPFL. Rangers were calling for funds to be made available to clubs without calling the league now. The league insisted this could not be done until final placings were decided. The SPFL have not offered an explanation as to why that rule could not be changed.

    The Rangers resolution asked for loans to be given as an advance, not as a final payment, to get cash-strapped clubs through the coming days, weeks and months. Can that be pushed through? Edinburgh City are the latest club to back a similar premise.

    No questions have been answered on this, but as time goes on and bank balances start to dwindle further, clubs around the country will be begging the question.

    Is there any point trying to resume the league?

    From a sporting perspective, of course there is. Titles and cups have still to be won, relegations and play-offs to be desperately avoided at all costs.

    But in practical terms, when do the clubs who voted against an immediate end to the season actually believe the games can be played? With the coronavirus peak still to hit the UK, there is no immediate end in sight for the outbreak.

    Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Zach Binney, a PhD in epidemiology, says no sporting events will take place without a Covid-19 vaccine, with Binney also throwing practical doubts on the ability to hold games behind closed doors.

    However, with vaccines not expected until the second half of 2021, we could be waiting some time to see our teams again.

    Even if that prediction is a touch on the pessimistic side, is it really feasible to shoehorn games in either over or after the summer to get the campaign done, whether in front of a crowd or not?

    Should we rip up the whole process and start again?

    No, bear with me here, it’s a valid question to ask.

    Not even a week ago, this vote was being billed as the cut-off point that would offer clarity and finality. Now, we have undeclared votes, claims by Rangers – on information from other clubs – of bullying and coercion, and calls for chief executive Neil Doncaster to be suspended. We have Rangers and Hearts submitting their own proposals, the Inverness Caledonian Thistle chairman revealing private Whatsapp group details, and we now have the fate of a fair chunk of this in Dundee’s hands.

    Documents seen by BBC Scotland also show that a yes vote for the proposal was binding, but a no vote via an abstention, was not. We also may be waiting until May for the Dens Park fax machine to cough and splutter itself back into action again to finally send that vote.

    On Saturday, Rangers were asked to provide proof to back up claims that a whistleblower had raised “serious concerns” about the voting process. Has that been done?

    And, equally, did the SPFL offer Rangers assistance last week for their own resolution as they stated they did, or were the Ibrox club right to say several requests for assistance from the SPFL executive fell on deaf ears on Thursday?

    Would it be easier to void the whole procedure, listen to alternative proposals and go again, this time with a definitive deadline and maybe several options – potentially including a null and void – to vote on at once? Or do we all wait on Dundee and hope all this can be forgotten about?

    It’s unclear how many of these questions will be answered in the coming days. What we can be sure of, though, is that for the sake of Scottish football’s reputation, its clubs and their bank balances, the time for action has to come quickly.

    Source

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    April 13, 2020
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