Club Licensing: What’s The Point?


The point is that whilst everyone has their eyes on the SPL fiasco surrounding a transfer of an SPL membership share from Rangers to Newco and with it a place in the SPL, (a decision delayed on 7th May at the request a Rangers Administrators), no one sees that a transfer of a club license for a club playing football in the SPL is not within the SPL’s authority to grant and impossible for the SFA, who administer club licensing, to grant under their own authority according to their own rules.


Licenses and membership are not the same, but for main stream media to state that this is so and make the distinction would be the equivalent of panning back for the watching Parkinson TV audience to let you see what you are missing.

At this point a look at the purpose of club licensing is worth examining. It serves a number of purposes in terms of setting standards that professional football clubs should aim for, but one key purpose is to protect fellow clubs and society from the kind of financial skullduggery Rangers were able to indulge in under the previous club licensing regime (such as it was).

This applied until Dec 2011 when the UEFA FFP 2010 licensing process became the licensing standard that SPL clubs wishing to get a club license have to meet. The fact that UEFA prevent clubs that qualify to play in UEFA competition from participating in their competitions if they fail to meet UEFA’s improved licensing standards, applied by National Associations  (like the SFA) on UEFA’s behalf, tells you how seriously UEFA take protecting the integrity of their  competition from skullduggery and its consequences. Or does it?

A visit to the appropriate page of the SFA web site contains all the documentation for any visitor to read is enlightening. The introduction on the web page itself says

Club Licensing

The Club Licensing system encompasses a National and European regulatory system. Licensing sets out standards and procedures by which clubs will be assessed as a basis for continuous improvement of many aspects of football. It is a modern form of regulation.

National Club Licensing applies to Scottish FA member clubs and UEFA Club Licensing applies to Scottish Premier League clubs.

That UEFA FFP standards apply to SPL clubs is further confirmed in

Part 1 – Club Licensing

Section 1 – Introduction & Scope

1.1 Club Licensing

The Club Licensing system encompasses a National and European regulatory system.

Licensing sets out standards and procedures by which clubs will be assessed as a basis for continuous improvement of many aspects of football. It is a modern form of regulation.

National Club Licensing (Part 2) applies to SFA Member clubs and UEFA Club Licensing (Parts 3 and 4) applies to Scottish Premier League (SPL) clubs.

This Manual defines the terms of both the National and UEFA Club Licensing system and is set out as follows –

1.2 Scope   Scottish Premier League Clubs – both the National and UEFA Club Licensing systems are applicable.

Scottish Football League Clubs – the National Club Licensing system is applicable. +

It is clear from this that SPL clubs are covered by the UEFA FFP 2010 licensing rules.

The intriguing part of those rules is that it says in Part 3

Part 3 – UEFA Club Licensing

Section 3 – The Club as Licence Applicant and the UEFA Licence

3.3 UEFA Licence

3.3.1 UEFA Licence Awards for Scottish Premier League Clubs (SPL)

A Licence cannot be transferred from one legal entity to another.

It follows from this that a Newco granted membership to the SPL by the SPL has to be awarded a club license by the SFA on its merits after being subject to the licensing process that looks to see if Newco meet UEFA FFP Criteria. The license is not transferred/conferred by the SPL with SPL membership. The licensing process itself is described in detail at

Part 3 – UEFA Club Licensing

Section 4 – The UEFA Club Licensing Process

The UEFA Licensing Process illustrates the process steps and activities of the Scottish FA in its management of the UEFA Club Licensing system. Anyone accessing this link will see this is no rubber stamp job. In fact it is the kind of process that if completed with rigour would significantly reduce the chances of the kind of charlatans that indulge in skulduggery getting a foothold in our game. For that reason alone Scottish football fans in general and Rangers supporters in particular should want to be satisfied that the UEFA criteria for granting a club license are met for a Newco.

It should also be noted that there is only one club licensing process for SPL clubs, they do not have to apply for a license to play in Europe if they qualify by finishing high enough in the SPL and another for taking part in the SPL. The process covers both the SPL and UEFA competition (Champions League and Europa League)

If the same timeframe for licensing is being used this year as last, the process to get a UEFA license should finish by the end of May (sound familiar?)  The SFA should therefore be currently looking at the granting of a club license to Rangers FC. They will be unable to grant one as Rangers fail on the basis of unaudited accounts, social tax overdue with no payment arrangement with HMRC in place and unpaid debt to football clubs.

However there is unlikely to be a Rangers playing in the SPL next season so what of a Newco parachuted in by the SPL? Well they will fail the criteria too on the basis of not being able to provide 3 years historical accounts to give the SFA licensing authority the confidence that they are indeed a no risk operation of some repute  earned in football. The unaudited accounts of Rangers (Oldco) would prove the opposite. (As an aside this same hurdle exists for Newco under National Club Licensing applied to SFL clubs should Newco apply to join the SFL, but unlike UEFA FFP the SFA appear not to have to go to UEFA and would have more discretion to make an exception.)

However we are talking Newco in the SPL here and UEFA rules require a case for an exception to be made by the SFA to UEFA.

The relevant rules can be found in UEFA FFP 2010 Annex 1 where a case to be exempted from the 3 year rule can be made by the SFA.

ANNEX I: Exceptions policy

A. Principle

1. d) Non-applicability of the three-year rule defined in Article 12(2) in case of change of legal form or company structure of the licence applicant on a case by-case basis;

It is difficult to see how an exception could be justified except on the grounds of the commercial and financial consequences for the SPL if a license is refused, but this is where the commercial rubber hits the integrity road. To allow an exception would run a coach and horses through UEFA’s FFP policy and their championing of sporting merit by Platini last Christmas and cast doubt on UEFA’s resolve to see their own integrity protection regulations implemented.

If that were to happen, if the SFA were to make a case and if UEFA were to approve it what is the point of having FFP regulations? More than that what is the point of having the SFA or indeed UEFA?

If both have a point, a purpose, then surely that is to govern and protect football from simply becoming another entertainment form where integrity and sporting merit takes second place to money and commercialism? It is the trust that sporting merit is a key component that makes football an attractive money making business, destroy that trust, that differentiating factor,  and the relationship with supporters is destroyed and so too the business and money that comes from the trust.

The SFA and UEFA are there to govern football, they act or should act as the check and balance on rampant commercialism. If the SFA do not follow their process and involve UEFA or if UEFA leave it all to the SFA, the same “what is the point?” question arises and the last thing UEFA will want is that question being asked, for if an organisation are perceived as having no point they cease to matter and the big clubs, driven solely by commercial considerations will by pass them and go their own way. There is much at stake here in Scotland for the future of UEFA and football governance.

Finally and well done for sticking this far, does the absence of a club license prevent a club playing football in the SPL or is it just a kite mark? Well it certainly means prevention as far as playing in a UEFA competition is concerned and by inference, given there is only one  licensing process, the same consequence should, one would imagine, apply to the SPL. This is something the SFA should clarify with UEFA, be guided by them and inform the SPL. Strong leadership from UEFA would tell the SFA to tell the SPL that their clubs cannot play without a SFA club license granted under UEFA FFP standards. Such leadership from the SFA or UEFA would have prevented the SPL and Rangers Administrators indulging in this ruinous fiasco and would have put Rangers on the right road to recovery a lot sooner.

But what if a weak UEFA and SFA abandon their responsibility for governing and say it is up to the SPL to take the risks the process is intended to protect them from? Would the SPL ignore the fact Newco had no club license if they are free to do so and allow Newco to compete?

If yes all tickets sold should have “Caveat Emptor” (Let the Buyer Beware) in their watermark and supporters will be left wondering of an ungovernable industry that wants to be free of Government influence and to govern itself, but refuses to do so, “What is the point?”


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