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OPEN LETTER TO RALPH TOPPING FROM ANOTHER NON-ARBROATH LAWYER

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It remains the case that Celtic FC are the only football club to have made any public utterance on the outcome of the big tax case or the impact of the sworn evidence which came out during the course of the Craig Whyte trial.

In this morning’s Scotsman, the outgoing chap and the SPFL, Ralph Topping, reportedly makes a very defensive statement about the SPFL honchos sitting down with a very fine solicitor and taking advice about any proposed review of the LNS decision with the report stating that the SPFL will “stand firm” on LNS.

The entire article reads as a very defensive piece, with Topping at pains to stress that people will always complain, that fans will always fund a counter point of view and will always discuss the position and if necessary disagree with the findings of the footballing authorities.

The message is clear from an administrative point of view.

1. The intention at the outset is to defend the SPFL and its actions and
2. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

In the body of the article, Mr Topping says that the SPFL solicitor has been challenged on the position and adds that either the SPFL or the solicitor or both wanted to be ready to withstand any challenge that may come or was expected to come.

With respect to Mr Topping, if the article is accurate, then Mr Toppin, the SPFL and indeed the solicitor are missing a number of points.

1. This is not about agreeing with or defending the SPFL and/or the LNS decision. It is about reviewing what happened between 1999 and 2013 in terms of the business conduct and footballing submissions made by Rangers FC during that period and how that conduct and those submissions fit within the rules of football and how the SPFL and the SFA dealt with both.

2. It is not so much about the legal decision reached by LNS and his panel based upon the evidence which was adduced at that hearing, it is about whether or not LNS was properly convened, was asked to determine the right question or even all the questions, was referred to the correct dates, and whether or not subsequent events show that he was either lied to, had evidence withheld from him or erred in fact or law.

3. The purpose of such a review is not so much to put the SFA/SPFL in the dock and throw blame around etc as to determine where, how, when and why the Scottish Football administration football system failed because fail it did and spectacularly so.

For anyone involved in football to say otherwise is ludicrous.

Immediately after the LNS decision, one football club did write to the SPFL and asked whether or not those at the SPFL seriously thought it was appropriate to have a situation where one club effectively cheated the tax system for the sole purpose of saving many millions of pounds so that they could buy better players only to be fined £250,000 as a consequence.

Given that the wrongdoing has now been declared to be far more extensive and of a completely different legal nature than LNS was willing to consider, it is equally daft, unprofessional, arrogant and just plain poor to suggest that this should not be looked at again to see what lessons can be learned and what can be done to prevent any such repetition in the future.

This last aspect is hugely important because nowhere in the article does Mr Topping address the fact that unless football fans are reassured that it is absolutely impossible for such cheating to happen again in future then tens of thousands of football fans will walk away from football altogether.

Many will call for past titles to be stripped and based on the evidence that is wholly understandable. However, a proper, open and honest review is not only about reviewing what happened in the past. It is also about securing a future for football because if this is just left there is certainly no point in attending any football match organised under the auspices of the SPFL or the SFA because they have simply failed to reassure the customer or fan that what they are watching is not the product of a rigged system or one that is simply wholly uninterested in any kind of sporting integrity.

I am glad Mr Topping has come out and said what he has said.

He is to be congratulated on making it as plain as plain can be that the SPFL attitude is to defend the colossal mistakes they have already made and that there is little appetite for anyone to have the balls to stand up and say “Maybe we got this wrong and that we should look at it again!”

He is also to be congratulated in making it plain that this is a matter where people will just disagree and move on in the same way that an offside decision can and will be discussed down the pub after the game and soon forgotten about thereafter.

That is the footballing authority view.

I am yet to hear anyone in Scottish Football actually contrast and compare their point of view to the clear arguments and decisions which came out of the FC Giannini case.

For everyone’s benefit, I produce the whole decision here.

https://jurisprudence.tas-cas.org/Shared%20Documents/3233.pdf

Please read it — and then read it again.

Recognise the argument put forward by UEFA and how the argument about “conditionality” is dealt with at least in part. I know it is couched in legal terms, is a bit dry and wouldn’t make a good novel.

But its implication is clear.

If a football club does not submit a full, frank and honest application with full facts and figures with regard to its operation, wages, playing staff contracts or whatever then it simply should not be allowed to enter the competition.

Be annoyed. Be very annoyed because if this position is allowed to stand then the next time you turn up to a football match at Celtic Park or anywhere else in Scotland you will be completely wasting your time.

And that point should be made very clear to Mr Topping and anyone else who has any say in Scottish Football.

Oh and by the way — anyone who thinks that the proper way to conduct a business can be answered by simply saying ” we consulted a solicitor” is a total idiot.

Lawyers don’t have the answers to everything and are trained to think a certain way. They are often wrong and our adversarial legal system means that in any court case one of them at least has to be wrong.

A “review” is an investigation and an examination – it is not a disciplinary hearing with a position that has to be prosecuted or defended and it should be conducted with an open mind and not only by legal minds.

The SPFL and the SFA oversee a licensed entertainment that involves sporting competition which is regulated by a series of sporting rules and regulations.

If they are already of a mindset to “defend” an existing position then any such review should be conducted by people (a) who have experience of adminisitering a similar licensing system in another sport (b) should be from outwith Scotland and come to this completely of new (c) should be wholly independent of any football club in Scotland and any footballing organisation currently in operation in Scotland (d) should not be made up solely of lawyers.

Failing to grasp this nettle will see a huge downward spiral for football in Scotland and that is a simple fact.

Written by BRTH

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