What kind of game are we running here?
Scottish football lost one of its characters with the passing of Raith Rovers Honorary President, Turnbull Hutton. He is rightly credited with leading a boardroom which brought financial stability to the Kircaldy club in challenging financial times. He also took great delight in seeing the club lift the Ramsdens Cup against all expectations when Rovers beat Rangers at Easter Road in the final. Hutton was a big man physically as well as being a big personality and few challenges daunted him.
He is best remembered by Celtic fans for standing up to the machinations of the football authorities who wanted to fast track the new Rangers club into the first division. For him it was a simple matter of integrity; a new club should begin life in the bottom tier of the leagues and not receive any special treatment from the SPL, SFL or SFA. The offer of financial incentives failed to move him and he became an unwitting figure head for the majority in Scottish football who saw the injustice of a club leaving millions unpaid to creditors and then looking to jump the leagues as if nothing happened. Tabloid scare stories about 6 clubs being dead within four months if Rangers weren’t fast tracked were treated with the contempt they deserved. He had the courage to speak to the media about the concerns he had regarding the attempted fast tracking of the new club up the leagues and this made him a target for the more unhinged of the Ibrox club’s followers. He said at the time…
“This is the same Rangers whose supporters threatened to torch our stadium and whose manager demanded one of our directors was named over his involvement with an SFA judicial panel. That resulted in TV cameras camping outside his door and threats being made by various outlandish factions. We also had Sandy Jardine publicly calling for repercussions for those clubs who have not supported Rangers. Given that, how could I be expected to roll over and have my tummy tickled by some inducement to allow Rangers to come into the First Division. I gave my opinion to the board on Monday night and the board had a position which was not in any way different from my own. That does not mean a vote will go the way we want it to go. I imagine some clubs will see some short-term advantage. But if long-term you cheese off your season ticket-holders and supporters and backers is it worth it? Do you sell your position for 30 pieces of silver for some short-term advantage or take the moral high ground?”
It took considerable courage to expose himself to the ire of the more Neanderthal among the Ibrox support but he remained true to his principles and reflected the wishes of his own club’s support who told him clearly that allowing the newco to begin life in the First Division would be grossly unfair and unsporting. Many refused to renew their season books until it became clear that the club was not going to be bought or bullied into accepting that Rangers were a special case deserving of special treatment. They were in fact responsible for the biggest scandal in Scottish football history and left creditors large and small out of pocket to the tune of millions. Most clubs in Scotland were taking a similar view to Raith Rovers and the tawdry actions of those in positions of authority in Scottish Football still rankles with many. We were warned laughably of ‘Civil unrest’ and clubs going bankrupt within months without Rangers in the top Division or at least Division 1.
A meeting at Hampden in that febrile summer of 2012 saw the football authorities outline the pros and cons of each possible scenario involving the new Rangers. There was again talk of ‘Complete financial meltdown’ and the loss of over £16m from the game if the new club wasn’t accommodated in Division 1.’ It was then suggested that the SPL might start an ‘SPL 2’ and not invite clubs voting against fast tracking Rangers to join. Following a meeting with the SPL and SFA, a furious Turnbull Hutton stood on the steps of Hampden and let the footballing authorities have both barrels…
‘We are being bullied, railroaded and lied to. We are being lied to by the Scottish FA and the SPL. We are being threatened and bullied. It is not football as I know it. It was a ridiculous document which came out last week whereby the threat was there that if you don’t vote for an acceptance into the First Division, a breakaway SPL2 will come along and those who didn’t vote wouldn’t be invited. What kind of game are we running here? It is corrupt.’
He was then asked if he agreed with the assertion that Scottish football faced financial meltdown without Rangers and replied simply, ‘I don’t believe that.’ In the wake of this the 30 SFL clubs voted not to allow Rangers into the First Division and the new club began life in the lowest tier of Scottish football. Turnbull Hutton spoke for many from Annan to Aberdeen in those troubled days and much of his assertions have been proven correct. There was no financial implosion in Scottish football when the new club was refused special treatment. No clubs went bankrupt. Indeed many are now in a healthier financial position than they were before the Rangers collapse.
Scottish football owes a debt to Mr Hutton. He spoke up when others were silent. It rankles with many Celtic supporters that our own club was conspicuous by its silence in those tumultuous day but perhaps the Celtic board have at least some mitigating circumstances given the club’s historic rivalry with Rangers. If Peter Lawwell had been speaking in the open, honest manner Turnbull Hutton did then it may have poisoned relations between Celtic and the new club for a generation. I’m sure some at Celtic Park agreed with every word Mr Hutton said but politics deemed it necessary to keep their council.
Any who believes in sporting integrity in our national game will recognise the debt owed to Mr Hutton. We send his family and all Raith Rovers fans our condolences.
He spoke up when others wouldn’t and that took courage.