Shotts Bon Accord of the Scottish Juniors are the latest club to be embroiled in legal intrigue. Graham McColl takes up their case
On paper, Scottish Junior club Shotts Bon Accord should be one of the contenders for this season’s Junior Cup. But that’s where their chances of winning the Juniors’ premier tournament will remain – on paper. A plot that looks as though John Le Carré and the Monty Python team have put their heads together has led to the club being taken out of service for the 1995-96 season.
The trouble started before a tie in the Central League MBM Cup on New Year’s Eve 1994. Shotts, the holders and a Premier League club, were due to play host to Thorniewood of the Second Division. However, several Shotts players had been ill with flu through the week, certification was produced, and the game was postponed on medical grounds.
There appears to have been little reason for Shotts to have been frightened of this match, or to have had sinister reasons for getting it postponed, but Central Region investigations established that some of the players reported as being ill hadn’t been examined by a doctor. They fined Shotts £500 and awarded Thorniewood the tie.
It was a drastic punishment. The fine is roughly equivalent to Shotts’ takings for a home game – a bit like the FA imposing a fine of around £500,000 on Liverpool.
Shotts then did something even more drastic and went to court. A real one, not one of football’s court martial-like hearings. The court in Edinburgh stated that the Central Region hadn’t followed the course of natural justice and Shotts got an injunction preventing the continuation of the MBM Cup.
As a result the fine on Shotts was lifted by the Central Region authorities but, with a sting in the tail that would have made UEFA proud of them, they then banned Shotts ‘indefinitely’ for not exhausting football procedures. Shotts went to the SFA Appeals Committee. In their usual Pythonesque manner, the SFA asked the Central Region to define ‘indefinitely’. They re-interpreted the dictionary and stated that ‘indefinitely’ meant one year: June 1995 to June 1996. However, a senior Central Region official stated in January 1996 that he could not see any way of Shotts being allowed back into the Central League while certain of the club’s officials remained in place.
Even those masters of the arcane ruling, the Scottish FA, appear to be bamboozled by the affair. They have been trying for several months to establish Shotts’ exact status. It was reported that the SFA Executive Council met on 23rd January 1996, to finally get an official declaration on the club’s status from the Scottish Junior FA. None was forthcoming.
In a bitter twist to the case, some Shotts players alleged after they had been interviewed individually by the Central Region that they had been threatened with court action. That would be a nice irony, although the Central Region denies any such allegations.
On 26th January, SJFA secretary Joe Black stated in Glasgow’s Evening Times: “There is no room in Junior Football for cheats. Everybody in football would like to see Shotts back but the people involved in deceit must go.”
Shotts officials are keen to get round a table. Financially, the affair has been a disaster for the Lanarkshire club, which is the social hub of its mining community. Sponsorship has been lost and gate money from cup ties that could attract crowds of 2,000 has been badly missed. OAPs in the town have been deprived of their one source of live entertainment. A thriving supporters’ club has been badly hit. Should the club still find itself ostracized next season it would be ready to shut down the ground, which is used by a number of local teams, to avoid paying rates.
Shotts see themselves as piggies in the middle, used as a test case to deter bigger clubs from going to court against not just the Central Region but the SFA and, by extension, UEFA and FIFA. Scotland’s most senior clubs have been taking a close interest in the case.
However, if Shotts do not receive satisfaction from the football authorities they could, as a last resort, go to court again. If the law finds in their favour, that could in turn mean the Central Region deciding to disband and reform as, say, ‘The Central League 1996’ and selecting members by invitation only. It’s unlikely that a gold-plated RSVP would be winging its way to Shotts.
Brian Martin, of Motherwell and recent Scotland squads, John ‘Yogi Bear’ Hughes, of Celtic’s great 1960s sides, and Craig Tomlinson, signed by Clydebank last season, are some of the players who got their chance to see the bright lights through playing for Shotts. The club’s manager, Lisbon Lion John Clark, however, has become disillusioned by the recent affair.
Perhaps Shotts were a bit hasty in going to court but the authorities’ actions seem like using an iron fist in an iron glove. There appears to be little likelihood of a peace Accord in the near future.
From WSC 109 March 1996. What was happening this month