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Doing right by James Keatings will just cause the SFA more problems


hislopsoffsideagain

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In case you haven't heard, the Caley Thistle One has been freed.

To recap: a couple of weeks back, ICT forward James Keatings was shown a second yellow card in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Rangers Colts after referee Greg Aitken felt he had dived. It was a terrible decision; even without the benefit of multiple forensic camera angles, it was clear as day that he had been bumped and knocked over. The resultant suspension would rule him out of the Challenge Cup Final which, for the sake of the narrative, has been temporarily elevated in the minds of Scottish football fans from 'a pointless tournament now that foreign clubs and Colt teams are in it' to 'somewhere between the World Cup and the European Championships' in terms of importance.

Aitken has form, as Livingston's Steven Lawless, Ayr's Mark Kerr and St Johnstone's Tommy Wright will attest to. This is an official who once booked Alfredo Morelos for diving, deciding there was no contact even though the opposing goalkeeper required treatment for a bleeding face. What can I say? In other civilized countries, people like that aren't allowed to run with scissors. In Scotland, we make them referees.


No matter though, because the SFA has an appeal system set up to fix these mistakes. Which is fine, until the three person panel inexplicably decides not to do so. I say 'inexplicably' firstly because it actually seemed impossible that it wouldn't be overturned and secondly because the process is about as transparent as a bar of lead. We don't get to find out any of the reasoning at all.

Until now.

Kind of.

Because on Saturday afternoon - which was absolutely definitely positively not an attempt to bury the news by making a statement at a time when fans are usually at football matches - the SFA announced there would be a new appeal.

The reason? One of the panel members "did not undertake their obligations with respect to consideration of all the available evidence".

Well, that raises more questions than answers. For a start, given the evidence consists of multiple video clips showing it clearly wasn't a dive, what evidence did said panel member actually examine? Given there was surely nothing to actually support the referee's decision, did the panel member - who does this all by videolink - even look at it at all?

And the obvious extrapolation from that is to ask: how do we actually know whether in any situation like this the panel members actually do their job?

Actually I suspect the statement, which came straight from Chief Executive Ian Maxwell, is likely to be somewhat economical with the truth. After all, Keatingsgate (which should be a swanky borough in London populated by Russian oligarchs) had gone viral, aided by a club statement denouncing the SFA which, unusually for Scottish football, managed to get the mix of eloquence, passion and downright evisceration pretty much spot on.


Once Gary Lineker had retweeted the footage to his 7.5 million Twitter followers, it was clear that the traditional SFA tactic for dealing with bad publicity - hiding in Hampden Park with their fingers stuck in their ears whilst shouting "LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING" at the top of their voice until everyone has given up and gone away - wasn't going to work.

This was a proper omnishambles. Maxwell therefore needed to go full Malcolm Tucker and find a positive fix. This invented technicality did the job nicely. Now justice is done; Keatings gets to play in the Challenge Cup Final, we get an answer to the philosophical question of how many wrongs make a right and the footballing gods can get on with ensuring the player picks up an injury in the next few weeks so that he ironically misses the match anyway.

And Maxwell will be hoping that all's well that ends well.

The trouble is that whatever the truth of the Keatings saga it has once more laid bare the appalling lack of governance within the Scottish Football Association. In terms of the actual disciplinary system, seeds of doubt have been irrevocably planted in the process from hereon in.

Maxwell's worst nightmare is that in the coming weeks someone rather more high profile is involved in a decision that requires a disciplinary panel hearing (I'm trying - and failing - to avoid using 'an Alfredo Morelos dive' as the example) and the outcome is that the player is punished.

There's no way in hell the 'victim's' club won't be all over this like a rash, questioning the behaviour and integrity of the panel members and demanding proof they have done their jobs. It's certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that legal opinions would be sought. The mild headache caused by Keatings would become a full-blown migraine, but Maxwell wouldn't be able to hide in a dark bedroom for two days to sleep it off.

And so the SPFL will surely see this as an opportunity. It would be nice to believe that the public support of Motherwell and Hibernian and the private support of others was out of generosity but it is very much in their own interests to take on the SFA. At the very least it can force reform of a disciplinary system which is not fit for purpose. With the organization already under pressure because of the poor performances of the national team - including Maxwell's failure to support Steve Clarke in getting domestic matches moved ahead of the pivotal Euro 2020 playoffs - the old boys network that has led to Rod Petrie becoming the organization's president, and Henry McLeish's criticism of how his review a decade ago has been largely discarded, this could be seen as a chance to discredit the SFA and take more control - even take control - of the direction of the governing body's direction.

After all, it's not even especially clear what the SFA stands for (apart from Sweet F*** All, hur hur hur). That apparent lack of modus operandi is exactly why Scottish football feels directionless. Because it is.

I don't think making it work for the benefit of the clubs is good for the game going forward, but it certainly can't be any worse than a status quo which appears to consist of milking the Tartan Army to pay for shiny blazers, big dinners and jaunts abroad.

Doing the right thing by James Keatings might, ultimately, prove to have been a very wrong move. For closing his case has just opened a great big can of worms.


Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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