FALKIRK manager Eamonn Bannon last night was sacked for failing to know the rules of the Scottish League, and costing his club a #25,000 fine as well as three points.

In a move unprecedented in Scottish football, the Brockville board decided that Bannon, manager since May, should be dismissed as a result of a mistake that resulted in his signing of John Clark before the game against St Mirren last month.

This was despite the fact that Clark, who had been a Falkirk player, was not away from the club longer than the year allowed, under Rule 47.

As is the way in this most brutal of businesses, Alex Totten, who has lived for some time in the area, is already hot favourite to assume control at Brockville, just a few weeks after his dismissal from Kilmarnock.

Bannon, who openly confessed to his error, was hit by the double whammy when Clark scored the winning goal in the game against Saints and thus brought the whole affair into the headlines.

As a consequence, the League management committee decided on Thursday that Falkirk should be ordered to replay the game. They also were fined #25,000.

The club chairman, George Fulston, a prominent member of the management committee, who knew the rule but had gone on a short holiday before the player was signed, found it hard to accept the justification of the size of the fine, saying: ``It will be hard to find the money to meet the fine. I thought the loss of three points would have been harsh enough.''

Bannon, after a playing career with Hearts, Dundee United, Chelsea, and Hibs, not to mention Scotland, was sacked along with Tommy McLean at Tynecastle and spent 10 months out of the game.

He told me recently: ``That taught me a lesson. I see people like Billy Kirkwood and I can count myself lucky.''

He didn't get long to bask in that comfort and, even with the three points deducted from his team's total, he could argue that they are certainly well in the running for a place in the play-off at least.

Bannon will become one of the few managers to be able to claim that he is out of a job after having taken his team up the league table.

The irony is that the man who now seems likely to take over, Alex Totten, has suffered injustice of a similar fashion with both St Johnstone and Kilmarnock, but even he could not match a sacking based on an administrative blunder.

For many people, the decision to get rid of Bannon will be seen as opportunism by the Brockville board, which may have already eyed Totten as an ideal leader for their club, rather than a genuine punishment for error.

However, after the League's decision on Thursday, Fulston's fellow director, Neil Binnie, was scathing in his assessment of Bannon's handling of the Clark affair.

In fact, Binne was quoted as saying that he had been made to look like a fool and added that ``someone will have to carry the can.''

The someone, Bannon, has been asked to carry the can in double-quick time, and it can be assumed that the board were led in their decision by Fulston, who would only say in advance of yesterday's meeting that ``I am not a happy man.''

Binnie claims that, although he did speak to Bannon at around 1.0pm on the day of the game, he was not told of the Clark signing.

He further claimed that, had he known about the new player, he would have faxed Fulston at his holiday base in America to check that it was acceptable to field Clark.

Whatever the ins and outs of an extraordinary business, it seems an excessive reaction from a club, presuming they have been satisfied with the way the manager has been doing his job in general, to send him out the exit door for a breach of rules that were designed to outlaw short-term loans rather than the return of a player to a former club in normal transfer situations.

Falkirk may have considered this blunder as a manifestation of other matters connected with Bannon's way of doing things, but to the outside observer their instant dismissal reeks of grasping an unexpected escape route to a different set-up.

q CLUBS are receiving a Christmas present of #5000 each from the Scottish League. But the money will be accompanied by a warning that the midweek lottery will make things even tougher for Scottish football.

Scottish League secretary Peter Donald said yesterday: ``This is the second handout this season of this amount

to all the clubs. The cash comes from the money

we get through our agreement with the pools' promoters.

``As everyone knows, that has been cut because of the effects of the lottery. And, with the news that there will be a midweek lottery, we have no doubt that our income from this source will be further affected.''