How long, oh Lord? Well, the answer to that particular prayer is ‘far too blinking long and thank heavens it is now all in the past, Reverend’. Richard Brittain, of whom I have written of in the past, remains a Ross County player. After agreeing ﬁrst to join St.Johnstone after half-a-decade’s worth of unquestioned service, the midﬁelder has narrowly avoided being the new Jean-Marc Bosman; an oft-derided ﬁgure, whose name is renowned for his legal achievements far more than his playing.
There is a lot about the whole incident that will probably remain unknown about this story, but in truth, those details really only appeal to those of us more interested in scandal and hearsay than bona-fide opinion. We do not know, nor should we know, why Brittain changed his mind. It is, to put it bluntly, none of our business. We are just fans. Fans with an unparalleled emotional interest, admittedly, but behind the white lines nonetheless. Of course, this is easy to say as a County fan – in the end, we won. A ﬁne player, who has improved season-on-season, has reneged/changed his mind/obliterated his pre-contract agreement to stay in Dingwall.
Were I a St Johnstone fan, of course I would feel differently. It would be hard to see this as anything other than a snub.
Without even attempting to approach the speciﬁcs, one might be excused for saying that, in any other walk of life, the Richard Brittain “incident” would be a Richard Brittain non event. That’s true, but it is also slightly disingenuous. If Brittain worked at Boots the Chemist in Dingwall, and at ﬁrst accepted, and then turned down a job at Waitrose in Perth, nobody would say a thing. Waitrose would just hire someone else and get on with things. In an ideal light, this would be how this sorry saga would be regarded. But to argue for that is to miss the point – we invest ourselves, literally and figuratively, in our football clubs.
If I’m a St.Johnstone fan, I want Richard Brittain to play for us, and Ross County be damned. Frankly, his family be damned as well. I want the best players to play for my team, “personal issues” are of no importance. Now, if I’m a, say, Kilmarnock fan, my empathies may lay elsewhere, but still, the anger from St Johnstone fans is understandable, even if the hyperbole of Twitter often approaches the realm of the prosecutable.
The best we can say is this: the curtain has been called, for whatever reason, on a savagely ugly scene, cut off just shy of an intolerable ending that nobody, not even those masochistic followers of Scottish football, wanted to see. In the end, Brittain will not become the next Bosman, or a St.Johnstone player, and nobody will be happier than that, than the man himself.
So using this as a starting point, what can we say? Certainly the pre-contract agreement, whatever that may be, will need to be re-examined. Within the clouded absurdity of football law, one would have though fees – or recompense – for noncompletion of agreements will be written in as a matter of course. Clubs may already be more wary of using this kind of negotiating standard – why not leave it until the off-season, why not avoid all this unpleasantness? Why can’t we just be friends?
Richard Brittain has narrowly avoided being a watershed name in sports legalese. He remains one of Ross County’s ﬁnest ever servants. In a summer in which both Paul Lawson and Iain Vigurs swapped Victoria Park for Fir Park, and in which the supremely cultured defenders Vaggelis Oikonomou and Andre Hainault also departed, this kind of news was much required. Brittain’s commitment, in a funny way, will be held in even higher regard by the County fans. A ﬁne player has seen the error of his ways and chosen to remain a Staggie. This, of course, may only be partially true. But at least Richard Brittain is still a Ross County player and still Ross County’s ﬁnest ever captain. This is unquestionably a good thing.
It seems bizarre to say it now, but when Brittain ﬁrst announced his intention to leave there were a number of home fans calling for him to be dropped. In the ﬁrst game after announcing his decision, Richard Brittain, still captain, curled a 25-yard free-kick past the despairing reaches of Craig Samson, the St Mirren goalkeeper. He ran to the half-way line, slapping his chest and pointing at the County crest. A simple gesture, which ordinarily means nothing – but not in this case. Richard Brittain’s commitment to the cause was never in doubt.
There is much from that game – and the last half of the season just past worth remembering now. For County fans, our captain is still here, for whatever reason. For St.Johnstone fans, it must be a tough one to take. But in the end, players are human.
Saying “I made a mistake”, “I don’t know” or “I want to change my mind” are not signs of weakness. Brittain’s reception at St.Johnstone will be pretty hostile. But all things must pass, and in the end, without knowing – or even wishing to know – the ﬁner points, it is hard to judge ill of those Perth fans motivated by nothing other than the love of their own club.
Richard Brittain has made his decision and for whatever reason, changed his mind. He is a Ross County player, and by the home fans, treated as such. That is it. The end. That is the moral of the story. For none of us, save for Richard himself, can really say any more.