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Oct 19, 2011

Have a Heart

The last of the old guard leave Ibrox, Sion seek a comprimise, while further furore at Hearts feature in this week's North of the Border.

Same time, same channel

This has been a week when old stories come back with a new twist. Let's start at Rangers, where the team continue to take care of business far more impressively than the people running the show behind the scenes.

Despite a draw at home to St Mirren - both Old Firm teams failed to win in the SPL last weekend, a most refreshing change - Rangers maintain a seven-point lead over Motherwell, who continued their outstanding start to the season with a 1-0 win at Hibernian.

However, this week the Gers lost two directors, as the last of the old guard left Ibrox. John Greig, a former player and manager who worked for Rangers for all but seven of the years since his debut in 1961, resigned, as did John McClelland, the former chairman. These were the final representatives of the era of David Murray, the former owner who was replaced by Craig Whyte earlier in the year. The resignations were unexpected and came with a joint statement expressing concern over the direction of the club.

Also this week, Donald McIntyre, one of the former directors to leave the club in the wake of the takeover, had £300,000 ring-fenced in Rangers' accounts pending legal action against them over the nature of his departure from Ibrox. This is an identical move to that made by the former chief executive, Martin Bain, right down to the presiding judge, Lord Hodge, who upheld Bain's case by expressing his belief that there was a "real and substantial risk of insolvency" at Rangers.

There were more echoes of the recent past when Rangers withdrew co-operation with the BBC for the second time this season. The first instance followed some rather cynical editing of an interview given by their manager, Ally McCoist, and that dispute was swiftly resolved. Not so this time.

Rangers have taken offence at what they see as inaccurate reporting of their ongoing financial problems and, in their statement on the matter, described a BBC documentary on Whyte, the club's new owner, to be broadcast on Thursday as a "prejudiced muckraking exercise".

The BBC publicity department clocked off early that day, their work done by those elsewhere.

Sion it all before

Sion, you may recall, are the Swiss team who knocked Celtic out of the Europa League qualifiers, only to be eliminated themselves as UEFA upheld a complaint by the Scottish club that a FIFA transfer embargo had been breached on multiple occasions by the Swiss, resulting in their fielding several ineligible players across the two ties against Celtic.

After an appeals procedure that had more shadowy avenues than the east end of Glasgow where Celtic reside, Sion are starting to see some light.

A Swiss judge upheld their case and ruled they should be reinstated into the competition. UEFA refused, but is lobbying Sion to return to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with plans for a compromise already being drawn up. They include a play-off into the last 32 of the Europa League for the Swiss or a restart of Group I, with all results to date wiped out.

As ever when football regulation collides with the laws governing life and work in the real world, it's a terrible mess that could have lasting implications within the ivory towers of UEFA.

Hearts miss a beat

Some Hearts players complained this week that their wages were not paid on time. While others received their monthly salary on Monday as scheduled, a number were asked to wait until the end of the week. No reason was given for the delay, although it is not inconceivable that this could be a form of performance-related payment, or lack thereof, dreamed up by their entertainingly idiosyncratic owner, Vladimir Romanov.

Hearts have had similar problems before, in June of this year and in 2008. The nature of their ownership - Romanov owns the club's parent company, a Lithuanian investment group, as well as the bank in the same country that holds Hearts' debt, reported to stand at over £20 million even after two 'debt for equity' schemes converted a similar amount into shares - makes their finances less transparent than most in the SPL, but they have, for the duration of his time in charge, been ahead of all their rivals in the Old Firm in terms of their financial muscle.

Hearts also this week revealed they are considering a move from their Tynecastle stadium to a new venue, in partnership with City of Edinburgh Council.

Tynecastle is a fantastic, old-school stadium, located in the middle of the city and with supporters leaning over the pitch. Its importance to the supporters is such that the last time the ownership of Hearts changed, the key issue was plans put forward by the previous regime to sell Tynecastle and move to Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby, while other options were considered.

These proposals were abhorrent to most Hearts fans, who welcomed a new owner who strode in behind promises that the club would remain at its spiritual home. His name? Vladimir Romanov.

That was this week in Scottish football. A strange sense that we'd seen it all before...

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