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UEFA’s treatment of Derry City – a cause for celebration for Rangers fans?

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derrycityThe discussion surrounding the ‘Rangers FC – new or same club’ question has always included, bubbling below the surface of superficial taunts and assertions, a reasoned debate with arguments presented by both sides. The position – or alleged position – of UEFA is never far from mention, usually as a weapon in the armoury of “new club” advocates. However, evidence relating to a direct precedent of Rangers’ financial meltdown , Derry City FC, calls into question how UEFA officially treat instances of liquidation of football clubs.

Background – UEFA rules and the Derry City precedent

UEFA’s definition of a football club “a legal entity fully responsible for the football team”, contained within their Club Licencing & Financial Fair Play Regulations, is used to argue that – as far as UEFA are concerned – newco Rangers FC (being a new legal entity) are a new/ different/ separate “football club” to now-in-liquidation-oldco Rangers FC. That means founded 2012, no major trophies, old club is ‘dead’ etc.

The story of Derry City FC’s financial meltdown bears an extremely close resemblance to that of Rangers. The legal entity behind Derry City FC – Wellvan Enterprises Ltd – was liquidated in November 2010, with a new company picking up the pieces, the business and assets, attempting to continue Derry City FC – albeit having to start again at the second tier of the FAI league system – again echoing Rangers situation closely.

UEFA’s rules essentially prohibit a new legal entity from entering into European competitions for at least three years – which meant that, despite a 3rd place finish in the 2011 League of Ireland, the club were not allowed to compete in the 2012-13 Europa League as a result of this rule. However having returned to the top flight and winning the Cup in 2012, the 2013-14 Europa League will finally see Derry City FC return to European competition.

New club? Evidently not…

The most interesting aspect of this return from the wider context is that the “new Derry” club is being treated by UEFA as a continuation of the pre-liquidation “old Derry” club ie. as the same football club, despite being entirely separate legal entities.

Evidence of continuity of Derry City FC from oldco to newco is clear from a glance at the club’s UEFA team page, results from 2013 sitting alongside results from 1965! However, one could plausibly side-step that by putting it down to a slack web-page editor who has, inadvertently, incorrectly represented UEFA’s official position.

The really convincing evidence lies in the calculation of co-efficient points that determines a club’s ranking and thereby its seeding for the competition draw. It’s a key factor in determining the stage at which a club enters a competition and the pedigree of potential opponents. As such, it impacts upon a club’s chances of success and – crucially for clubs at this level – prize money, so is certainly no candidate for casual, throwaway errors.

“Old Derry” enjoyed a relatively successful Europa League campaign in 2009-10, earning themselves a (relatively) healthy haul of 1.275 co-efficient points. These points from 2009-10, won by “old Derry” pre-liquidation, are being included in – and to the benefit of – the ranking of “new Derry”. (Derry City can be found at number 347 on this list of club rankings: http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/uefarankings/club/index.html

There can be doubt, UEFA are demonstrably not treating “new Derry” as a new/different/separate club at all, otherwise there’s no way this would have happened. A default, baseline co-efficient value is standardly used to plug the gaps in the 5-season record where a club (a “new” club for instance) has not previously competed in Europe, but this option has been rejected in favour or recognition of points accrued in the 09-10 campaign.

Wider implications regarding Rangers FC

So, clear evidence where a liquidated company, returning “re-formed” as a new legal entity, yet being treated in practice by UEFA (despite that much-heralded sentence in the regulations) as the same football club. The precedent that has been set is, of course, cause for delight for Rangers supporters, whose emotional attachment to their club’s remarkable trophy-laden history is invaluable to them.

For those taking the opposite view, the fact that a club being a “new legal entity” is evidently no obstacle – at least in UEFA’s eyes – to the team’s football history being retained will not be welcomed. After all, this debate has never been about establishing legal/corporate status, but football status – trophies, achievements, world records…

Now, the treatment by the Scottish football authorities of Rangers FC as having survived the Summer of 2012 has lead to vociferous criticism from some quarters; strong allegations of ignoring the rules, breaking the rules, “pretending” a club has survived liquidation, sacrificing integrity for the ‘blue pound’ or even outright bias – all withering criticism of the SFA.

In stark contrast, UEFA have generally been the darling of the “new club” advocates. However, with this example of UEFA similarly treating a formerly-liquidated club as a surviving entity, it will be interesting to see if the same claims of treachery and bias are now directed at the European governing body – can we expect images conjured of a cabal of Derry City supporters plotting in the higher echelons of UEFA? Perhaps of a ruse to manipulate Derry City to smooth the way for recognition of Rangers’ history? Personally, I’ll withhold judgement and happily let the conspiracy theorists do what they do best.

Written by AD Bryce

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