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Catch-22 forces Gang of Ten to target Rangers

IT may not just be Ally McCoist who does not do walking away.

John Yorkston states the case for SPL democracy
John Yorkston states the case for SPL democracy

The heated claims of the Gang of Ten deserting the Old Firm and forming an alternative league may dissipate on contact with reality. John Yorkston, the Dunfermline Athletic chairman, has raised the prospect of the 10 clubs leaving the Old Firm behind in the continuing row over voting rights in the Scottish Premier League. Yesterday, though, he admitted: "We have not discussed that yet. It could be an option, but nothing has been agreed on anything like that."

The more imminent development is the move to seek a meeting with the administrators of Rangers, Duff & Phelps, who have indicated they are intent on backing the 10-2 system which effectively gives the Old Firm a veto and protects their larger share of revenues.

Yorkston believes Duff & Phelps can be persuaded of the rights of the case for reform. It is difficult to see how this could be achieved. The administrators would surely want to protect Rangers' claims to a larger slice of the revenue so as not to deter any potential suitors for the club.

The Gang of Ten held a meeting without their Old Firm counterparts present last week and at it they agreed to pursue change at a special general meeting of the SPL at Hampden on April 12.

"This was described as disrespectful by Celtic," said Yorkston. "But Celtic and Rangers have chats all the time about matters concerning the SPL." This is undoubtedly true and there has been agreement on matters between the Old Firm.

The Gang of Ten are handicapped by several imposing hurdles in their bid to change the consensus that effectively protects the Old Firm. First, it is difficult to change a 10-2 system to a 9-3 system, simply because it will be ruled upon by the 10-2 system. Yorkston has admitted this 'Catch-22' is a formidable barrier, stating that is why other clubs will seek a change of heart from Rangers or, more specifically, the administrators. It seems a move, however, that is doomed to failure.

Second, there seems no unified agenda for the Gang of Ten beyond a mood for voting change. "Some of the clubs do not want gate money shared," said Yorkston. "I do not favour a 10-man league, but some other clubs might." He was thus touching on two matters that would split, not unite, the dissidents to the Rangers-Celtic power base.

Yorkston, though, is comfortable with that lack of unity. "I am in favour of more democracy," he said. "I am aware that I could be over-ruled on certain matters. I would be dead against some things, but I would have to accept them if they were voted through."

He added: "We simply need change. The status quo is not an option. The only way we can effect change is by calling a meeting. We have done that and we hope to persuade others of the value of our case."

But what if 'Catch-22' prevails? Yorkston warned that the clubs would consider sanctions if they were again thwarted, but it is difficult to see what they could do beyond a threat to walk away. "They need us," he said of the Old Firm.

This, though, is an argument that may not survive rigorous testing. The Old Firm could construct a league with 10 other teams from the Scottish Football League. Dundee, Falkirk, Hamilton Academical and Livingston have all played in the SPL and would be presumably be keen to do so again.

There could also be a delay in walking away. In the SPL rules it states under termination of membership: "No club shall terminate its membership of the league unless it shall have given two full seasons notice in writing to the secretary to the effect that it shall terminate its membership. Once given, a written notice of termination of membership may not be revoked or withdrawn by the club except with the approval of the company in general meeting."

Of course, the 10 could just rip up the rule book and leave, but it would further raise the question of what league would be the valid premier division and thus carry the vital European places.

This, would come under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association and it would be fascinating to see which way the body jumped. The SFA has a list of priorities it would want any league to fulfil and these include a commitment to a pyramid system, to promotion and relegation play-offs and to the distribution of money. It would be difficult to wager with any certainty about how the SFA will fall on this one.

Any such schism in Scottish football is therefore still a distant prospect. The verbals in the SPL have continued almost unabated since the weighted voting system was passed by all of the inaugural members when the league was formed in 1998. The row has intensified now because there is pressure on Rangers financially and the club may be looking for friends in the event of becoming a newco and seeking re-election to the top league.

This, in theory, would make the club more receptive, even vulnerable to the advances of the Gang of Ten. However, the administrators have stood firm on 10-2.

The likelihood in the SPL is that there won't be walking away, but a continued, fractious co-existence, at least in the short term.

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