SPFL Board Bites Back at ‘Baseless, damaging and self-serving attacks’ and ‘gross breaches of confidentiality’

THE SPFL Board have hit back at their rogue, rebellious colleague, Stewart Robertson after yesterday’s release of a 200 page moan, described on social media as the longest suicide note in history. In their response, issued in the form of an open letter that goes on to answer the specific allegations made in the dossier one by one. It makes uncomfortable reading for the likes of Tom English and the rest of the hacks who have been cheerleaders throughout this controversy without ever paying any regard to the facts, or the end-game – that it was just about trying to stop Celtic winning 9-in-a-row.

Here’s the open letter in full which will have been read and considered by all 42 clubs before the EGM on Tuesday 12 May.

After that Stewart Robertson’s untenable position at an SPFL Board is certain to come into focus. And that could just be the start of his troubles as a result of all this.

Here’s the SPFL Board’s response…

Dear Colleagues,

In recent days, Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson has launched a series of attacks on the SPFL Board, its corporate governance and its office-bearers.

As Board members, it is our duty to respond to these allegations on behalf of Scottish football and we are united in firmly rejecting his false characterisation of SPFL governance.

We are all professional people, with many decades of business experience between us and we take our duties as your representatives extremely seriously, including holding the executive to account and acting in the wider interests of the 42 clubs at all times.

These duties are often complex, often demanding, but they are a privilege and we fulfill them with great care and responsibility on your behalf.

It is therefore enormously frustrating to see one of our number launch baseless, damaging and self-serving attacks on the Board.

Every one of us has sat alongside Stewart Robertson and been privy to the information and procedures of the SPFL Board.

If anything had been untoward, we would have addressed it at the time.

It’s in that context that we have examined his dossier carefully and have given responses below to some of his more prominent claims.

In answering them, one key question comes to the fore: Having served on the Board for Season 2017/18 and again since July 2019, if he actually believed these serious, wide-ranging and numerous claims, why has it taken him until now, just five days before Rangers’ resolution comes before the EGM, to make them public?

Surely if things were so bad, so dysfunctional, he had a clear and compelling duty to speak out before now?

That EGM has been called to consider a resolution put forward by Hearts, Rangers and Stranraer, which calls for an open-ended investigation to be carried out by a senior QC into a variety of matters related to the directors written resolution, recently approved by over 80% of clubs.

As everyone now knows, Rangers have made several false allegations about corruption, coercion and bullying on the part of the SPFL. They have also called, without good reason, for the suspension of the SPFL’s Chief Executive and Legal Counsel.

On 7 May we received a document from Rangers, which they claim – and we categorically reject – provides evidence to back up these attacks on the executive and the wider Board.

Given the very tight timescale before the EGM, we have had to provide a brief initial response to their claims.

We trust the answers below will help inform you and your club on these matters, which we consider to be an unwelcome and self-serving distraction from the critical issues at stake –namely the future of Scottish football.

If you should have any questions on any of the issues below, as Board members and your representatives, we are very keen to hear from you.

Several of us have also been asked by a number of clubs what action the SPFL intends to take in relation to the gross breaches of confidentiality that have been committed by the circulation of the Rangers document, including copying and publishing commercially sensitive information from the SPFL’s confidential Board report server.

It is not appropriate, in advance of the EGM, to comment further, but we will return to this important issue in due course.

The vast majority of the SPFL Board members continue to have complete confidence in our Chief Executive and Legal Counsel. Eight of the nine members of your Board of Directors continue to believe the demand for an open-ended, hugely time consuming and expensive investigation to be wholly unnecessary, inappropriate and contrary to the interests of the Company and Scottish football at what is such a critical time for every club’s survival.

We therefore urge you to vote against the resolution at our EGM on Tuesday.

It is vital that we devote our time and attention to working together, tackling the existential problems that Scottish football faces as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Only by doing so can we protect our 42 clubs, the dedicated people they employ and the game we all love.

“Yours sincerely

Murdoch MacLennan, Chairman
Karyn McCluskey, independent non-executive director
Alan Burrows, Motherwell FC
Ewen Cameron, Alloa Athletic FC
Peter Davidson, Montrose FC
Ken Ferguson, Brechin City FC
Les Gray, Hamilton Academical FC
Ross McArthur, Dunfermline Athletic FC

SPFL RESPONSES TO CLAIMS MADE IN RANGERS’ DOSSIER

Claim: £10m of potential liabilities were not disclosed to members

SPFL response: As is well understood, it may not possible to complete Season 2019/20 in the Ladbrokes Premiership by the end of June 2020, due to the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, the suspension of all football by the Scottish FA and the range of legal restrictions on training and the playing of football imposed by the Scottish Government.

By 30 June, a huge number of professional player contracts entered into by SPFL clubs will have expired, rendering it practically impossible for many clubs to field a team after that date, far less the same players who have so far participated in the Season 2019/20 Competition.

It is also well understood by SPFL clubs that curtailment of the Ladbrokes Premiership season 2019/20 could lead to claims being made against the SPFL.

The SPFL Board has received detailed legal advice on the potential for claims – and indeed the likely cost, if any, arising from such claims.

Analysing that advice, together with making recommendations to member clubs and putting into place detailed measures to address such claims, is a fundamental part of the role of the Board.

It would be entirely inappropriate for the Board, and against the interest of every SPFL club, to publicise where such claims may come from; what legal defences the SPFL may have available; and the potential amount, if any of successful claims (which can only ever be conjecture at this stage).

We simply cannot understand why anyone would wish to talk up the possibility of claims – and, in doing so, prejudice the position of every single SPFL member club.

What those behind the ‘Rangers dossier’ have failed to appreciate is that the potential for any claims against the SPFL does not result in any way from a decision by the members to permit the Board to bring an end to the Premiership Competition.

Such a decision would result from a conclusion that the matches in question in the Premiership cannot now be played. Whilst it may be becoming more difficult to foresee the circumstances in which the remaining Premiership Matches can be completed, no decision has yet been taken.

There is no question of the Board failing to advise the Clubs of a potential £10m (or any other size of claim) arising because the Premiership is brought to a premature end because of a decision either of the Members or of the Board.

That was not reported to you because it is simply not the case.

The central complaint of Rangers is simply wrong and is based on a complete misunderstanding of the situation in which the League and its broadcast partners find themselves.

Claim: clubs were erroneously told they could only receive cash by voting for the SPFL resolution

SPFL response: As our Chief Executive explained on the radio last weekend, making fee payments to clubs based on their final league standings was the only realistic and practical way of the SPFL getting substantial monies into the hands of Ladbrokes Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs.

That remains the case, irrespective of the erroneous claims in the Rangers dossier.

Those who continue to suggest that there were other ‘simpler’ means of getting money into clubs’ hands are being either economical with the truth or are once again demonstrating a lamentable lack of understanding of the current reality of Scottish Football.

If the SPFL were to lend substantial sums out of the funds to be paid out as fees, based on final League position, how would struggling clubs repay overpayments where they do poorly in the next few games?

How would we be able to pay the additional sums due to clubs which had done better than during the earlier part of the Season? And how would we deal with any clubs which became insolvent or were not entitled to have been paid anything?

The fundamental problems with making loans to clubs, and the possibility of clubs defaulting on those loans, are well understood by those clubs who lost money as a result of the insolvency of Gretna.

Claim: Aberdeen FC negotiated a concession from Neil Doncaster prior to voting, that Premiership clubs would be consulted prior to the SPFL Board calling the Premiership

SPFL response: This is categorically false. No commitment was made to any club, which was not made to all 42 clubs in the legal briefing note sent out on 8 April.

It is the case that Aberdeen FC were seeking such a commitment. There was a discussion, during the afternoon of 10 April, about the possibility of Neil Doncaster taking a request to the SPFL Board during the afternoon.

However, by the time the SPFL Board met, at 5pm that day, Aberdeen FC had made it clear that they did not wish Neil Doncaster to take such a request forward. As a result, no such request was brought to the SPFL Board.

Claim: Rod McKenzie issued four ‘cease and desist’ requests to the Rangers chairman on 10 & 11 April. This is what Douglas Park was referring to when he said that “Rangers will not be bullied into silence”

SPFL response: In a phone call on the evening of 10 April, Rangers chairman Douglas Park made a very serious allegation and threat to act in a particular way to the SPFL Chief Executive.

This allegation has been entirely unsupported by any evidence, either then or since.

The allegation was so serious and defamatory that the League’s Legal Counsel, Rod McKenzie immediately sought a commitment from the Rangers Company Secretary that it would not be repeated.

This was a wholly appropriate and proportionate legal response to an entirely unfounded and damaging allegation.

That was the only respect in which Rangers was called upon not to repeat what had been alleged and what had been threatened. On no conceivable basis could this be considered as ‘bullying Rangers into silence’.

It is noteworthy that there is not a shred of evidence in the so-called dossier to support the allegation made or to justify the threat.

Claim: Rod McKenzie offered no meaningful assistance in drafting a members’ resolution that would be effective

SPFL response: The SPFL had received very clear legal advice that the resolution submitted by Hearts, Rangers and Inverness Caledonian Thistle was not effective and could not be circulated to members.

Rod McKenzie engaged actively with the Rangers Company Secretary with a view to a resolution being redrafted in a way which would be effective.

However, the essence of the resolution sought by Rangers remained ineffective throughout.

Rangers were advised that this remained Rod’s opinion, but if Rangers considered he was wrong that it could be taken to a QC for his opinion. Rangers declined that offer.

No effective members’ resolution has yet been submitted to the SPFL Board.

Claim: the SPFL and Scottish FA sent a letter to UEFA on 4 April in which it was stated that “the vast majority of SPFL clubs are calling for curtailment of the 2019/20 season in Scotland”

SPFL response: This is correct. The letter sent jointly by the SPFL and Scottish FA was based on feedback from clubs and club representatives on the SPFL Board. It was an honest and open assessment of what the vast majority of SPFL clubs were saying at that time.

Part of the job of the Chief Executive is to gauge the views of Clubs on important issues from the many conversations he has with his SPFL Board colleagues and the directors of individual clubs.

The fact that over 80% of SPFL clubs voted in favour of the directors resolution underlines that the assessment of Neil Doncaster and Ian Maxwell was accurate.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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