Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Rangers* and the Aye But Defence

With the SFA compliance officer looking at *three* separate incidents involving Alfredo Morelos in the recent match v Celtic, it brings into sharp focus the chaotic governance of football in Scotland when it comes to teams playing out of Ibrox.

On too many occasions in the past apparently open and shut cases involving Ibrox clubs have been found to have previously unheard of complexities resulting in a Rangers branded club escaping punishment. I call this the, “Sed, etiam,” defence, or in the vernacular, “Aye, but…” Whenever Rangers* are found to be in contravention of the rules, there’s always a “but,” that exonerates them from any punishment.

Maybe the best known example is the case of Rangers players in receipt of EBT payments being incorrectly registered from 1998-2011. For over a decade, an increasing number of players at Ibrox were incorrectly registered due to their contracts not containing details of all payments being made to them as renumeration for their services.  

While previously clubs who had fielded even one incorrectly registered player forfeited the match, even if it was a simple administrative error such as not dating the form properly, or a signature missing or in the wrong place, the SFA in the form of Sandy Bryson pulled a rabbit out the hat for Rangers, declaring that, “Aye, the players were incorrectly registered, but they were eligible.”

This sleight of hand involved the dreaming up of a previously unheard of formula, that the players were “imperfectly registered, but eligible,” on the grounds that because no one noticed at the time (and how could they? The details of their full renumeration packages were deliberately concealed by Rangers), they were therefore eligible to play until such times as the mistake was noticed.

The SFA has allowed a similar situation to develop in Scotland this season over the new wording of the latest revision to the laws of the game for season 2018/19, specifically Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct.

Earlier this season, Alfredo Morelos was red carded in a match v Aberdeen at Pittodrie for kicking an Aberdeen player. It seemed fairly straightforward at the time – if you strike an opponent with hand, head or foot while not challenging for the ball, that’s a straight red card. 

Except in this case it wasn’t. Rangers appealed the card and incredibly the appeal was upheld on the grounds that…”the video footage clearly showed that the force of the kick by the player towards an opponent was not excessive and did not use brutality.

The wording comes straight from Law 12, which defines “violent conduct,” as, “…when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball, or against a team-mate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made.”

The implication of the ruling on the Morelos red card appeal is that, in Scotland at least, punching, slapping, headbutting or kicking an opponent is not a red card offence in and of itself. A degree of judgement has to be exercised by the referee as to whether or not it has been done with sufficient “force” or “brutality” to merit a red card.

When the Compliance Officer reviews the Morelos incidents then, she will not be looking to determine whether Morelos kicked Scott Brown or not, but whether he kicked him with sufficient force or brutality. Here’s what the Appeals Tribunal said about Morelos’ kick on the Aberdeen player back in August:

Though there was contact, it was limited confirming a more petulant reaction than violent conduct... The tribunal was also mindful of the recent guidance provided that sought to differentiate between petulance and violent conduct. The tribunal was of the view that in the circumstances this was the former rather than the latter.

Bearing all this in mind, when the Compliance Officer reviews the Morelos incidents, there is no certainty he will be offered a ban for any of them. If we are looking at the standard of evidence required nowadays for an SPFL player to be cited for violent conduct by the Compliance Officer, look no further than the case of Allan McGregor and his kick out at Kristoffer Ajer at Celtic Park.

In this instance, it proved impossible for the three former referees reviewing the incident to reach a unanimous decision. It was not in doubt that McGregor lashed out at Ajer, but those weasel words, “excessive force or brutality” saved him from a ban.

On that basis, and going out on a limb here, if I was a betting man (I’m not), my money would be on Morelos escaping any ban arising from his antics against Celtic.

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt over the new rules in England. I have not been able to find a lot of incidents online but I’m sure there are more and maybe someone will even be able to show an instance where a player in the Premier League has similarly been able to successfully appeal a red card over the interpretation of “excessive force or brutality.” But here’s a red card for Marcus Rashford for a headbutt on Phil Bardsley from earlier this season.

Rashford and Bardsley clash on the byline. There’s a coming together and Rashford puts his head in Bardsley’s face, who then reacts as though he has been headbutted. 

Is this a red card? All day long. No doubt about it whatsoever. But did Rashford use “excessive force or brutality?” All depends on how you define it I’d say. Is there an acceptable amount of force or brutality a player can employ in headbutting, kicking or punching an opponent? Or is the fact of doing it at all the use of excessive force or brutality?

Why is it only in Scotland this seems to be an issue at all? When the Compliance Officer's decision is made public, bear in mind the "Aye, but..." defence.


  1. No breath will be held. Aye but.... right enough.

    1. I suspect if Morelos held an opposition players breath until he passed out,the compliance officer would say he didn't suffocate his opponent with excessive force or malice.

  2. This approach is not serving anyone ..its encouraging young players in the game to follow suit

  3. He broke his leg with that tackle …… Aye but he has another leg … move on ….