Pragmatic solutions need to be solutions
Posted by John Beech on August 18, 2009
I’m generally a fan of pragmatic solutions. Probably this is a result of being an academic – university regulations tend to be riddled with the magic words ‘normally’ and ‘in exceptional circumstances’, er, normally. This allows for some flexibility to produce the ‘right’ solution in unusual circumstances.
The point though is that such applications, which keep to the spirit of the body which sets the regulations, need to have an underlying but implicit rationale. Case law is developed into what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘exceptional’. However, it is essential that the implicit rationale applied is fair and consistent. And, unlike football, the system is subject ultimately to independent external scrutiny.
Lately we have seen some strange applications of regulations from football’s governing bodies.
In the case of Newcastle Blue Star, no pragmatic solution was found, resulting in the club folding (1).
In the case of Chester City, the understanding we have of FA and Conference regulations has been thrown into disarray. Twohundredpercent offers a thorough review of how their regulations have been ‘applied’ (2). Perversely, one outcome has been the FA ruling that Conference regulations need to be reviewed urgently. The outcome of the pragmatic application (although some might argue that the regulations have been ignored rather than applied) is that Chester City continues as a club (which is broadly good news) but still under the control of Stephen Vaughan (which is rather less so).
How can we make sense of what has happened?
To me, it seems as if the principle of ensuring that a club survives has over-ruled the principle of whether a particular company should be allowed to survive. The distinction between ‘club’ – a social rather than legal construct since 1885 in the case of the vast majority of clubs, albeit a damned important construct – and ‘company’ – the legal entity which owns and operates the ‘club’ – is a vital one. See for example my previous posting Subbing the club or the owner?
I am suspicious that ensuring the continuity of the company and, implicitly, the interests of owners become a higher priority the higher up the pyramid the club is. Owners of lower level clubs can expect less sympathy with regard to the prolonged existence of the company. As well as Newcastle Blue Star, examples where there has been a reluctance to facilitate a pragmatic solution include the recent cases of Merthyr Tydfil and, in some respects, Halesowen Town.
Higher up the pyramid, the application of regulations seems to be more ‘hands off’ than pragmatic. Would, for example, the complete mess that Portsmouth find themselves in have been ignored if they were further down the pyramid?
Governing bodies’ responsibility should be for the survival of clubs, at whatever level, but not if it means the survival of a company with serious financial sustainability issues. Nobody wants another Aldershot (and let’s hope that includes Chertsey Town  where Spencer Day has been ‘outed’ as Spencer Trethewy), but there are, in my opinion, occasions when re-formation, two levels down, is the right way forward – occasions when a fresh start is exactly what is called for.