I’m not a lawyer, but in the last few months I’ve learned a few things about defamation.  Paul McBride IS a lawyer, and a good one at that, but he should ask for a copy of my lecture notes before he opens his mouth again and further libels the SFA.

“Dysfunctional”, “dishonest”, and “biased” were three of the words he used in his rant after the SFA allowed Ally McCoist’s appeal against his two-match ban.  Dysfunctional is fair comment (a valid defamation defence) but dishonest and biased?  That’s blatantly defamatory, and the SFA should take him to task for this assault on its reputation.

Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which the UK has ratified – states that “No one shall be subjected to … to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation” and that “Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”  Surely Mr McBride knows this, so what drove the eminent QC to ignore the law of the land?

Well, he’s upset because Neil Lennon was given a ban after the Old Firm “shame game” and Ally McCoist wasn’t.  And also that two of the Rangers players sent off – Majid Bougherra and El-Hadji Diouf – didn’t get extra sentences on top of the ones they received for their red cards.

Let’s analyse.

Neil Lennon received a ban for physically assaulting the coach of a visiting team.  Guilty as charged, m’lud – I saw it on the telly.  But thanks to the lawyerly cunning of Mr McBride, he doesn’t have to serve that suspension.  Due to a legal loophole in the SFA’s rulebook, he served it concurrently with another ban – one received for abusing match officials earlier in the season.  So Lennon, in effect, got off scot-free.

Ally McCoist was originally given a two-game ban for whispering sweet somethings into the ear of Neil Lennon.  And this is a punishable offence because…?  Maybe the old men of the SFA finally remembered their playground days: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”  If McCoist ‘phoned Lennon and said the same thing during the call, would the SFA object then?  No, I don’t think so – and a quiet wee whisper between friends is no different.

Majid Bougherra and El-Hadji Diouf were sent off (Diouf twice) and thus received mandatory suspensions – they will miss the start of next season’s Scottish Cup.  McBride is upset they didn’t get extra punishment.  For a start, they did – they were each fined thousands of pounds – and secondly, why should they get extra suspensions?  The referee saw what they did on the night, and punished them for it by sending them off.

The irony of the situation is the people that are going to suffer the most are Celtic themselves.  When Lennon, Lawwell, & co stopped with the “siege mentality” bullshit – sometime around Thanksgiving – Celtic started putting together the run of form that sent the Hoops to the top of the league and into the final stages of two cups.

Now they’re back at it again, and at a crucial time in the league run-in – just over a week before the final Old Firm game of the season.  As if there won’t be enough of a frenzy in the buildup to it already – I’m sure at least one extra wife in Strathclyde will be getting a battering that night as a consequence of the extra hype this nonsense has generated.

Look, we all know the SFA disciplinary process is broken – dysfunctional, even.  The SFA admitted as much in the aftermath of the Tannadicegate/Dallasgate fiasco, and Henry McLeish noted it in the second part of his report on Scottish football.  It will, eventually, get fixed.  But accusations of bias and dishonesty against committee members – some of whom are chairmen of SPL clubs – are not the way to set about reforming the game.

Johann Mjallby, Neil Lennon’s assistant, put it best: “Maybe we all said words that shouldn’t have been said.”

He said this in January.  He was talking about his manager’s original ban, but he should repeat these words tomorrow, because they couldn’t be more true.


El Hadji v Neil Lennon v Ally McCoist