Desmond Kane

Paul McBride QC does not owe SFA an apology

Desmond Kane

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In the death throes of the 1990s, the loquacious thespian Leslie Nielsen, he of The Naked Gun fame, embarked upon a portrayal of the American lawyer Clarence Darrow, a one-man show most famously covered by Henry Fonda in the seventies. It was a highly watchable depiction of the fabled Darrow, a figure who continues to be recalled as one of America's greatest defence lawyers almost a century on. 

It must be said that the cameo appearance of Paul McBride QC in front of BBC television cameras over the past few days has been every bit as engrossing as any representation of the cut-and-thrust of the courtroom. Like most worthy lawyers, there is a touch of the theatre about this fellow McBride and his self-assured sense of timing.

McBride went public on Tuesday to lament the conduct of the Scottish Football Association after the governing body decided not to impose further bans upon the Rangers duo Madjid Bougherra and El Hadji Diouf for their much-discussed shenanigans during last month's Scottish Cup quarter-final replay with Celtic, a match won 1-0 by the home side at Celtic Park amid some images of bedlam.  

McBride was equally perturbed about the SFA's decision to overturn the two-match ban of the Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist after his very public meet-and-greet with the Celtic manager Neil Lennon at the conclusion of the same match.

As a figure who has represented Celtic and Lennon in recent times, this is perhaps not surprising, but the choice vocabulary employed by McBride has left nobody in any doubt about the general bewilderment his clients feel about such happenings. McBride said that "he suspected Celtic would be privately bemused and seething" about the outcome.

McBride set about his task with as much relish as a marlin slashing waves, embarking upon his beliefs with as much thought as he confronts a criminal case. McBride's comments about the SFA's flawed decision-making will continue to make waves long after this most rancid of Scottish football seasons has drawn its final breath.

Darrow apparently said that "the world forgives almost anything, but stupidity".

The SFA's decision to hand down paltry fines and no extended bans to Bougherra and Diouf was a dereliction of their duties as a governing body. These types of errors only invite the type of public derision that McBride was willing to offer.

This was a very public failure by the SFA to support their referees and the people who try to ensure public order at such combustible affairs, including police and stewards. Unwittingly or not, the broader message the SFA sent out is that it is acceptable to behave badly at Old Firm games, and escape without punishment.

The SFA have set a precedent that says it is acceptable for players to go around manhandling referees without fear of a lengthy ban. If a Celtic or a Rangers player subscribes to similar behaviour in their final match of a seven-game seasonal series on Easter Sunday, they can do so knowing that Bougherra was absolved from his sins. Bougherra was fined £2,500 for trying to stop a referee from twice raising a yellow card during the match before a red card signalled his sending off.

Diouf (pictured, above) received a £5,000 fine for approaching the home technical area during the match. He threw his jersey into the visiting support, despite being sent off and asked by local bobbies to leave the pitch, but there was no disrepute charge.

The SFA have threatened to sue McBride's over his comments about them being "not merely dysfunctional and merely dishonest, but biased". While their sensibilities are admirable, it is a shame the SFA could not have acted with such swiftness in dealing with the after effects of this tedious case. This was a match that was played out on March 2. The case was not dealt with until April 12.

Several media reports suggest that McBride is willing to meet with the SFA chief executive Stewart Regan to discuss the matter, but there is no reason why McBride should offer an apology unless he is receiving one. Rather than threaten to sue McBride, Regan should be privately thanking this man for shedding further light on the changes that have to be made in the way the SFA conduct their business.

The notion that there is institutional bias within the SFA against Celtic is given credence on such days. Regan released a statement on March 3 that suggested the SFA would come down hard on the offending parties.

"The unedifying sight of two of the country's most recognisable and respected coaches engaged in an angry confrontation was not only unsavoury, but exacerbated an already incendiary atmosphere inside the stadium and throughout the West of Scotland," said Regan.

Yet on April 12, the SFA decided that McCoist "does not have a case to answer". If the SFA suspected McCoist was only asking Lennon for the time, why was he given a two-match ban? McCoist should have been cleared of any wrongdoing within days of the match concluding.

McCoist should not have been forced to attend any meeting unless Lennon was turning up alongside him. They should have been punished together, or admonished. Without evidence of what was said between the pair, a warning about future conduct would have sufficed.

Television evidence was ignored by the disciplinary committee this week, but was used to ban the Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor last October for apparently swiping a late boot at Aberdeen's Chris Maguire. As the Rangers manager Walter Smith has pointed out, there is no consistency in such a thought process.

"It is a flawed process," said Smith several months ago. "Ourselves and Celtic are on TV every week, but it's flawed because it means for the other clubs it's down to whoever edits the stuff that appears on the telly."

It is difficult to disagree with McBride's observation that the SFA are "dysfunctional". He already has evidence of this having represented Lennon, and overturned a decision to impose a ban of eight matches upon the Northern Irishman. That was reduced to five matches when the SFA's procedures did not stand up to closer scrutiny.

Regan's statement a day after the match does not meet with the punishment doled out to Bougherra and Diouf a month later. "Only a matter of months after our referees withdrew their labour, we had to witness the match official, Calum Murray, being manhandled, while another player who had been dismissed brazenly walked to his own supporters in defiance. It is a tribute to his professionalism that Calum and his team kept calm," said Regan.

Lennon is unhappy that he has been left looking like the only figure singled out in all of this mess. "If you look at what Stewart Regan said after the game, then it totally undermined what he said, the results of the disciplinary committee. I still find it interesting that I was the only one to suffer a ban out of the four people who were up for disciplinary reasons."

It has been suggested the disciplinary committee were renderered impotent in their bid to inflict proper punishment by referee Murray, who more or less appealed for leniency on Bougherra's behalf. Whatever has come out of this week, there is a need for change.

"As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever," said Clarence Darrow.

Despite the acidity of his language, Paul McBride QC cannot be faulted. Not while the SFA appears to make policy on the hoof.  

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