Dundee United last night reacted angrily to the decision of a Home Office review panel to grant St Johnstone’s application for a work permit for Jason Scotland.
United are incensed that Saints have been given the green light to snap up the player for nothing—just a matter of weeks after another panel turned the Tangerines down when they sought to have Scotland’s paperwork renewed.
The Trinidad and Tobago international striker signed a two-year deal with the Perth club last night after a panel comprising Peter Donald, Ross Mathie, Billy McNeill, Andy Walker, Murdo MacLeod and Tony Higgins agreed he could remain in Scottish football.
Radio pundit MacLeod and SPFA chief Higgins also heard United’s application which was rejected by a 5-1 majority. Last night it was rumoured the decision reached yesterday was unanimous.
Tannadice chairman Eddie Thompson wished Scotland well but branded the decision to allow him to sign for Saints “absurd”.
He said, “Jason Scotland was brought into this country by Dundee United, we gave him a two-year contract, a house in Dundee and helped him settle in the local community.
“We have subsequently spent much time and money in developing his talent and ultimately in an effort to secure a further permit to play for us.
“On June 29 we received written confirmation from the Home Office that we could not be granted a permit and that Jason Scotland was not considered to be ‘of the highest calibre and would not make a significant contribution to the Scottish game’.
“Following this, United received the backing of MSPs, MPs and an 8000-fan petition to take the matter to the UK minister for immigration, Tony McNulty. We also provided further information to the minister on the player’s ability from the current Trinidad manager, his fellow international players and from a vice-president of FIFA.
“On July 21, the Home Office minister wrote ‘there are no compelling grounds to overturn’ the decision not to allow United a permit for Jason Scotland. The minister stated that he upheld the view of the panel that ‘he was not of the highest calibre and able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level’.
“The action taken today to reverse all of this and grant a permit for him to play for a club which up until now has had no connection with the player can only be described, at best, to be absurd and well nigh unbelievable.
“While we have nothing against St Johnstone FC, this decision today clearly questions the integrity of the UK Home Office system.’
“Today’s decision confirms, as we have said all along, that the original decision was categorically wrong. The case put forward by St Johnstone was the same as we gave to the Home Office minister in our dossier of July 15.
“The player’s position has not altered since then as he hasn’t kicked a ball in earnest since the Home Office minister turned us down. If any part of the decision relates to him being a regular or more outstanding contributor in a lower division then this goes totally against everything we have been given by the ministry—that is, they have said that ‘he failed to make a significant contribution at the highest level’. How does dropping down a division achieve this?
“This wholly sorry, absurd situation makes a laughing stock of the system carried out when determining whether or not to grant a player a permit to play for a club in this country.
“One leading pundit described the way this has been handled as ‘a bit of a farce’. Who could disagree with that description?”
Thompson was in discussions with lawyers last night over what recourse against the Home Office might be open to his club but the likelihood is the matter is at an end.
Saints boss Owen Coyle was thrilled to receive the go-ahead to sign the player, who was paraded at half-time of last night’s CIS Cup tie with St Mirren.
Coyle did not want to become involved in the politics of Scotland’s work permit saga, but said he was delighted he and managing director Stewart Duff had persuaded the six-man panel that Scotland would “make a significant contribution to St Johnstone and the Scottish Football League.”
He said, “I’m really excited about the prospect of Jason playing here. He is a top-class, two-footed player and his dribbling skills will light up McDiarmid Park.
“He is different from the other quality strikers we have here and will give me tactical flexibility. Every time he gets the ball fans will feel something is going to happen.”
The first phone call Coyle made after yesterday’s meeting was to Dundee United manager Gordon Chisholm, and the Perth boss said it “speaks volumes for the type of person he is” that Chisholm’s first concern has always been for Scotland as a person.
Chisholm, though, is as angry as his chairman over the outcome.
“I’m delighted for Jason as a boy but I can’t express how angry I am with this decision,” he fumed.
“We have invested two years in Jason Scotland and next weekend he’s going to be running out for St Johnstone. The panel—two of whom sat again yesterday—said he won’t enhance the Premierleague but there’s a good chance he’ll be playing against us in the SPL next season.
“I don’t have a problem with St Johnstone or with Owen Coyle— they have acted properly and who can blame them for trying to get a player of Jason’s ability for nothing? The problem is with the system and frankly I find it pretty disgusting.
“There is absolutely no consistency here whatsoever. The panel made a massive boob the first time—they know he should have been given the permit to play for us.
“Now they’ve tried to balance it up by changing their minds, but they have just showed how big a farce the current system is.
“As I said, I’m happy for Jason because he’s now free to stay in Scotland and I’m sure he’ll go on to do very well for Saints—but the fact remains we’ve been robbed of a player and that sticks in my throat.”
The panel’s decision was warmly welcomed by Scotland’s agent Mike Berry, though he admitted to having sympathy for United.
“I am delighted for Jason,’’ said Berry. “For six or seven weeks he has been put through hell. His career was basically taken away from him, but now he’s been given it back.
“It’s been a very strange affair indeed but I feel this panel have come to a morally just decision.
“While they have not righted the wrong for Dundee United’s point of view, the main thing is Jason can continue to play.
“I feel, though, for Dundee United and their fans. Jason is grateful for all the work they put in and would have preferred to be staying in the SPL.’’
Dundee East MP Stewart Hosie—one of the parliamentarians who petitioned the Home Office to reverse the decision to turn United’s application down—last night expressed disbelief at yesterday’s turn of events.
“This decision shows the absurdity of the decision- making process used to gauge the eligibility of foreign players to work within the UK,’’ said Hosie.
“It makes no sense whatsoever for Jason Scotland, who has played for Dundee United for two years, to be refused a work permit to play for that club yet only a couple of months later to receive a work permit to play for another Scottish club.’’