BBC Highlight Youth DecisionSunday, 27th Jul 2008
SFL Heads of Youth football will meet with Gordon Smith on Monday.
Earlier this month Dunfermline Athletic and Ross County were both thrown out of the elite level of the body's Youth Football Initiative after failing to fill in a form relating to child protection and so failed to meet an SFA ruling that staff disclosure forms be renewed every three years. Persons working with young people are required to have a disclosure check.
As a result, they will now be demoted to the lower, 'initiative' level of the system and stand to lose around £30,000 in grants. Dundee have also been expelled from the top flight for a separate misdemeanour and on Saturday BBC Sportsound gave the club's plight a sympathetic airing.
Jim Spence pointed out that the clubs had met all the necessary laws of the land but now found their youth teams without a league to play in. He pointed out the irony of the situation where one of the Ross County coaches had been abroad with SFA teams without disclosure requirements and the seriousness of public money channelled through the SFA not being properly distributed.
The BBC sports commentator also explained that the SFA decision had been ratified by a committee comprising representatives from the SPL, SFL and SFA.
"The people involved in effectively ratifying the initial Professional Football Committee were George Peat, Lex Gold, Gordon Smith and Brown McMaster. I had a fairly strong conversation with George Peat because we have heard that he used his casting vote on all three occasions to throw the clubs out. He told BBC Sport that wasn't the case, two of the votes were unanimous - he would't say which ones - but he used his casting vote on one of them to throw them out. Of course some would say that the SFA is charged with promoting the good of football, what good does it do to throw clubs out of the initiative?"
The commentary team said that they felt the clubs should have been given time to rectify the problem before they heard from County director of football George Adams. He said in interview:
"There is major inconsistency in the application of criteria at performance level. I am only talking about Ross County but it will be the same for the other clubs as well, it is the soul of Ross County. Our club is based on youth development; we have over 1300 kids in a youth programme over the summer - 40 Residential programmes. We are here to enhance football in Scotland
"As far as I'm concerned we are 100% compliant in what we have done in terms of the law. Every single person at Ross County Football Club has been disclosured. The unfortunate thing is that one of our coaches who also works for the SFA has been abroad four times - this is the same boy as we have been kicked out for - with the National team since 1st October last year and has never been disclosured by the SFA.
"I think that you have to look at that and say that there is a fair bit of unfairness here. All that we are looking for is an unprejudiced view, complete fairness and the SFA must be totally transparent and act with integrity. I don't think that in our case, Dunfermline's case and Dundee's case that that has been the case. We are all aware that there are clubs out there in the SPL who don't meet the criteria."
Richard Gordon asked about the audit:- "Is this audit carried out at different times by different clubs?"
GA: "My understanding from David McKinnon (Dundee) who spoke to a senior official of the admin yesterday that all clubs were not audited in May. There was 100% audit for all clubs in November, everyone passed and yet in May when all clubs were not audited - there was only some audited, so there is a fair bit of unfairness there I think you would agree - some of us for whatever reason they are looking for, have been chosen to be removed from the system. When in actual fact it is using a sledgehammer to kill a fly here."
Richard Gordon suggested that if there were fewer clubs involved then this would free up money to go to the SPL clubs and their youth initiatives.
GA: "I think that would be the case because some of the funding that we would have received, we wouldn't get so the funding would have to go the Performance clubs. If all the clubs in the Performance League are meeting the criteria and I have sent e mails across to the SFA and asked for replies on them but I am still waiting and some of these are from a fortnight ago.
"All I want, if they want to be transparent is to prove to us that we have got it wrong. I am quite happy, I don't have a problem with that - let's be open about it. Let's state the facts, let's see if we are making statements that are not right. Then they need to react to that saying I'm sorry you are wrong but we know that we are not wrong."
RG: "So what you are looking for essentially is for all the clubs to be treated in exactly the same way. You feel that you have been unfairly treated and let's just clarify the situation, as far as the coach in question - its Gary Watt, the goalkeeping coach - in terms of the laws of the land, he has done everything that is required to allow him to work with young footballers. It is simply what, an internal form within the game in terms of administration that you have to supply the SFA with?"
GA: "What it is Richard, is that the SFA are saying, in their wisdom, that every three years people need disclosured. Now every single person has been disclosured. Gary Watt had an up to date disclosure in terms of the law of the land with Ross County. Unfortunately as far as the SFA is concerned they did not have a disclosure for this same guy that they are trying to bump us out for."
No one was disputing the need for Disclosure checks but George continued:-
"I think it is important to do that but if we are talking about a technicality, either by the SFA or by other clubs let's get reality here. We are here to work at development for kids and we are working as hard, and Dundee and Dunfermline are working as hard, surely, surely there has to be a right of appeal somewhere. In any other walk of life if you are doing an audit you are given time to repair an audit. That has not happened.
"Jim Leishman will be quite open with you and Jim Leishman will tell you that he was told by a senior administrator at the SFA that he had time to tidy things up., He tidied things up, the same as we did in a couple of days. Bear in mind these people have all been disclosured - there is no one done anything illegal - no one, please believe me. The unfortunate thing is I cannot say the same about the SFA."
RG: "So you were told, Jim Leishman was told, that you have got a certain period of time to rectify this. You did so within that certain period of time and then they turned around and said 'no you didn't have that period of grace, we are simply going to enforce our law'. You were given no right to appeal?
GA: "At the second meeting that we had I had e mailed relevant information and asked it to be passed to the committee. During the course of the meeting I asked a senior official of the SFA whether this had been passed and he admitted that it had not been passed so what we are dealing with here is. What is the point of me giving them information to pass on if it is not done. I have e mails to prove it. Everything there is watertight.
"So all I am asking for, I'm not looking to try to say who's right and who's wrong here. Let's sit down, this is the development of kids In the past year we have transferred three boys, two to Liverpool and one to Hearts. Four boys played with Scotland at Under 19 level - we must be doing something not bad."
RG: "What does this mean to you, to be denied, and what does this cost Ross County as a club?"
GA: "Financially it hits us severely, it means that we do not get a performance level grant. We will lose at least £30,000 but in terms of development we employ two full time coaches at Under 19 level. Outwith the Premier League there aren't any other clubs that do that. That shows you our commitment to youth development and that was before this audit took place."
RG: "Anyone with any sort of involvement in the game, the one thing they do know about Ross County is the work that you guys have put in in recent years to get the whole youth set up organised. Jim Traynor, given what you have said in the past about the need to develop the youth, is that your blood I hear boiling in the studio?
Jim Traynor responded:-
"It is. When you look at clubs like Ross County and George has listed the number who have recently come through the ranks and are doing well - you do not punish who are working and doing it properly. You cannot punish them that is the last thing the SFA should be doing. What the SFA should do is to encourage these clubs instead of saying you are no longer in that programme they should have been giving them more money and more help if that's possible.
"I must admit it is typical of the SFA. I think some of this money, a lot of it is public money they get from the Executive but they have no right to behave in this manner and there is hypocrisy here. It is not good enough for the SFA not to speak out on this and explain the situation because it is clearly wrong.
"Now we may be missing something, George may be missing something although I don't think so but should there be something fundamental that is being missed here, someone at the SFA has to say so. The very fact that they are not tells you that they know exactly that this is wrong. Perhaps they are shame faced about it but then again probably not because if you look at the history of the SFA they have got umpteen things wrong, they have made ridiculous decisions and Lex |Gold was party to some last season as well and he is on this committee who have decided who would stay on this programme and who wouldn't.
"I just think the whole thing is ludicrous, it is not their money - they have to administer it - but you cannot punish teams for making genuine and good well thought out efforts to promote football among kids. You cannot punish them, you have to encourage them and this is completely the opposite from the SFA whose duty it is to look after the wellbeing of Scottish football. This is anything but."
GA: "I am quite happy to sit down in front of anyone along with Jim Leishman, along with David McKinnon and talk about it. Let's forget about committees and written procedures. Chief Executives sort out companies no matter where they are. Lets sit down, let's sort things and let young kids in Scotland be allowed to play at the levels that they should be playing at."
RG: "As things stand right now, there is no right of appeal, you would have to wait another twelve months before attempting to get back into the programme, is that right?"
GA: "That is exactly the way it is."
Jim Spence: "My understanding, privately, is that Gordon Smith was aghast by the decision, he thought it was a bad decision and it is appearing more and more that the man who is driving this is George Peat, President of SFA. I had a long and very angry conversation with him a few weeks ago while legal action and all sorts was threatened over this story but he appears to be the man who is driving it. There appears one law for one in this and one for others.
JT: "George and the others really need to press their local politicians in this. I have absolutely no time for politicians - I rate them as highly as I do administrators in football and that's not highly at all - but the SFA are getting public money. The local politicians should not allow this to lie. If there is no right of appeal in footballs laws then fine go above football's laws and do it properly."
JS: "It appears to have friends in high places help as well now. There is only one club outside the SPL who is allowed to play at elite level and that is Stenhousemuir and of course George Peat used to be on the board there and Brown McMaster is now on the Stenhousemuir board. There are a lot of things that need to come out in the wash."
GA: The Chairman is 100% supportive and he has written to Alex Salmond, First Minister because we intend to take it further. We intend to fight to the very end here, Dundee, Dunfermline and ourselves - we feel that we have been wronged by the SFA."
Dundee chief executive David MacKinnon, like Adams, vowed to take the fight to the Scottish Government.
"What we have done is enlisted the help of Joe Fitzpatrick, our local MSP, and, indeed, Stuart Maxwell, the Sports Minister," he told his club website.
"It's quite clear that the decision to demote us was the wrong one and we've evidence to that effect," said MacKinnon.
"We did, indeed, have two licence holders in place. It's now escalated to a ministerial matter. We'll allow the politicians to sort it out. Because, while the clubs can't challenge the SFA, the Government, who provide the funding, certainly can. We've got the backing of the Government, so we're not going to allow it to go away."
"What we've done is to take the opportunity to look at our youth development position and not only to keep it going but to enhance it," he said.
Former Dundee United and Dunfermline defender John Holt has been appointed head of youth and community development, Paul Ritchie has been appointed under-19 coach, while Gordon Wallace will add support as well as helping the first team.
The Pars Director of Football, Jim Leishman, is on record as saying how disappointed the club is with a totally wrong decision. The youth set-up was audited by the SFA in the last two weeks of May and that the discrepancy over renewing disclosure forms was corrected within two working days once it was pointed out to the club.
Leish hopes to make representations on Monday when SFL Heads of Youth football will meet with Gordon Smith, meantime he stressed:-
"We would like to emphasise that there were no coaches working without disclosure, it was the renewal issue,"
The club's under-13s, 15s, 17s and 19s sides play under the system and Leishman continued, "At this moment in time, Dunfermline's youth policy is as strong as it has ever been and we want to continue at the highest level we can.
"We feel the decision is totally unfair, no matter what the SFA say, and we want it rectified as quickly as possible. I must stress it's not about the money (the £30,000 grant). It's about our kids playing at the highest level and that's what we're disappointed about, all because of a clerical error which was sorted as quickly as we found out about it.
"But we are going to do the best we possibly can with these kids."
A spokesman for the SFA insisted their decision was not draconian.
"Clubs in the elite level are subject to regular monitoring and auditing throughout the course of the season," he said.
"It was felt by the people who audited, the committee who investigated and, subsequently the SFA professional football committee, that the breaches were serious enough to warrant demotion.
"I would also point out that we have regular dialogue with the clubs throughout the season and that we don't come to an end point straightaway."