IT MIGHT be no great surprise to discover that Kevin Kyle is among the many who see Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston as a roadblock to the Rugby Park club avoiding ruination.
Kyle and Johnston have history. When the striker was at Kilmarnock three years ago, the chairman effectively called him a liar because he said in the press he had been asked to appraise the tactics of then faltering manager Jim Jefferies. However, Kyle’s grim assessment of his former club’s future should Johnston not make way carries weight because it seems clearly coloured not by personal feelings but a stark reading of the situation his old club find themselves in.
“I think they [Kilmarnock] will survive if he goes,” said Kyle of the challenge to Johnston’s autocratic stewardship by the Ayrshire Business Group and the Not A Penny More organisation set up by the Kilmarnock Supporters Trust. “If the fans are really passionate about their club and they want Michael Johnston to go then he will have to go. Because those fans will just not go [to the games] and, in the situation they have with the debt, the club cannot survive, that’s the way they are talking. So somehow, somewhere, somebody is going to have to find a middle man and get this situation resolved.
“At the meeting this week with all the local businesses there was a lot of wealth around the table and they were saying they would not put any money into the club until he [Johnston] goes. All these Kilmarnock fans, all these businessmen, they all can’t be wrong and one guy be right.
“The problem they have got is that he was handed the club and owns 97 per cent of it. He is the only director so how can there be change? It is a stupid situation that could get out of control and Kilmarnock could suffer for it. Or he could do the decent thing and move it on and let Kilmarnock move forward.” Johnston would argue that he has moved the club forward after being handed control of it by the Moffat family in 2005. The debt might currently stand at £9.8 million but that is a reduction of around £3m from the figure he inherited. Johnston is believed to be the highest paid employee at Rugby Park with a salary believed to be around the £100,000 mark. Yet he would argue that he effectively performs two roles – chief executive and finance director – and has sacrificed a more lucrative accountancy business to devote his energies to Kilmarnock. There has also been disquiet about the senior role at the club hotel he has handed his daughter, with a perception created that he runs the club as his own personal fiefdom.
The sacking of manager Kenny Shiels merely strengthened the belief of the faction campaigning for Johnston’s removal that the club was not being placed first in his decision-making, the suggestion being that the outspoken Irishman was bagged for bringing the club into dispute with the authorities just at a time the Kilmarnock chairman has political ambitions to be an office bearer with either the soon-to-be-formed Scottish Professional Football League or the Scottish Football Association. Johnston has become to Kilmarnock what Chris Robinson was at Hearts. Both have a sniffy and unfortunate manner and have few defenders in the media. Yet, it might be worth looking at what happened to the Tynecastle club once the supporters vanquished their sworn enemy. . .
However, the fact that Johnston has brought this civil war upon himself demonstrates to Kyle his flawed judgment.
“If he had just kept Kenny in a job then we would not be talking about this. So he has to look at himself in a mirror and ask himself why did I sack Kenny Shiels in the first place if he was such a popular manager?” said Kyle, now looking for a new club after working his way back to fitness after being freed by Rangers in March, a process which included using the training facilities at last season’s League Cup winners.
“Kenny missed out on the top six by a goal from Gary Harkins of Dundee in injury time. So, when you get into that bottom six, unless you are really toiling against relegation which nobody was because Dundee were more or less down, then the bottom six becomes a novelty where you say: ‘Right, let’s get the kids in.’
“That is exactly what Kenny did and I find it astounding he got sacked. I speak to Dean [Shiels] so when I heard the rumours I texted him and he said ‘aye, its true.’ This is just not how football operates. Kenny was giving 15, 16-year old-kids an opportunity to try to play SPL football to gain experience and ended up getting the sack for it.”
n Kevin Kyle was speaking at the launch of Rangers FC – We Don’t Do Walking Away, by Lisa Gray (Black and White, £7.99).