ERIC Drysdale has a confession to make. The Raith Rovers director is reflecting on the events of two years ago when his character and reputation were trashed after he was ‘outed’ as member of the supposedly anonymous three-strong SFA independent judicial panel responsible for fining Rangers £160,000 and imposing a 12-month registration embargo for bringing the game into disrepute.
There was uproar among the Rangers fans, particularly online, and manager Ally McCoist called for the panel members to be named.
Amid all the rumpus – which included death threats and promises to burn Stark’s Park to the ground – Drysdale found some humour.
“The most amazing thing that happened was a post on a Rangers supporters forum that referenced the wee biography of me on our club site that states I’m a lifelong Raith Rovers fan,” says Drysdale. “This guy came on and said: ‘He’s a liar as well. He’s not a lifelong Raith Rovers fan. I went to primary school in Dundee with him in 1966 and his dad used to take him to see Dundee.’ It’s true! I’m sorry, I only became Raith Rovers fan when I moved to Kirkcaldy at the age of nine! I’ve been caught.”
The 56-year-old was caught up in the most horrendous media storm in April 2012 and his club’s meeting with Rangers in this afternoon’s Ramsdens Cup final at Easter Road gives him no enthusiasm for going over old ground. The threats against his person followed an egregious interview given by McCoist on the club’s TV channel. The judicial panel had found Rangers guilty of bring the game into disrepute following administration but McCoist claimed the sanctions could “kill” the club and demanded to know “who are these people? I want to know who they are?” It later emerged that Ibrox officials knew precisely who “these people” were.
McCoist said this week that he had no issues with anyone at Stark’s Park, and the feeling is mutual. Drysdale won’t say if he ever received an apology from the Rangers manager – “we’ve had a number of private and friendly chats” – but he is now keen “to let bygones be bygones”.
“It was a crazy spell, but what’s gone has gone,” Drysdale says. “It was a temporary set of affairs, and only lasted a couple of days, though there was a shock when a Sky truck appeared outside my house after my name made it into a newspaper.
“As Ally has said in the last couple of days, though, I get on great with him. I always have done, but I’ve got to know him more in the course of this season, when he’s been to two or three games. And [Rangers chief executive] Graham Wallace, too, I hit it off with him and I’m looking forward to seeing him at the final.
“If it had been my club’s existence that was threatened and suffering in the way it was, there is every chance I would have lashed out in some way. Ally lashed out in that unfortunate Rangers TV interview but if it had been me I would probably been thinking and saying the same thing. When you are involved emotionally in a football club, as I am at Raith Rovers, it means a helluva lot to you. And you just don’t want anyone, as you perceive it, to be damaging or doing a disservice to your football club.
“The hardest time I had in relation to that incident two years ago was not from the Rangers hierarchy or the Rangers support – in general – but from my brother-in-law Iain. He’s a big Bluenose based in London and he gave me such a hard time that we totally fell out, though have long made up. It affects families. And it shouldn’t.”
Not when Drysdale sees in his club the game’s ability to foster kinship. He praises “the unsung heroes, the team behind a team” that keep Raith Rovers running on a day-to-day basis. And at today’s final, one of the extended fraternity of volunteers that are also invaluable will demonstrate his courageous commitment to the cause. “Ally Gourlay is one of those people who shows what this club means to so many people,” Drysdale says. “On Tuesday he arranged the media day. But on Monday he was told he has cancer. He is an integral part of our planning for this week, and will deal with the media on Sunday and also be mine host in the hospitality. Then he will go into the hospital for an operation on his cancer the next day.”
Drysdale appears to have no issue with the fact that his years on the Fife club’s board, 16 and counting, will be remembered only for the judgments he made in connection with Rangers two years ago. He doesn’t bemoan the irrational, internet age in which we live. He loves his club and knows he has made a contribution to that, and the wider game, which will matter much more.
Drysdale has 30 years’ banking experience with RBS and when he joined the Stark’s Park board in 1998 the club had a £1.1 million overdraft run-up in the space of 12 months on players’ wages. “We have come a long way since then,” he says. “We have a viable company. We have no bank debt, no trade debt, live within our means and have a decent amount in the bank so things are stable. Last year we posted our first profit this century, and this year, because of cup progression, we will certainly post an even higher profit.”
The fact that all senior Scottish clubs are under the auspice of one league body can part explain why Drysdale is content Rovers are on a secure footing. He, and his club, have turned out to be on the right side of history over the bitter merger between the SPL – the “dead parrot” as Hutton called it two years ago – and the SFL last summer. Drysdale was one of the main movers among the group of officials from First Division clubs that met to force through the move to one body.
“Without those meetings change would never have happened,” he says. “And what a difference league reconstruction has made. On the financial side, we receive three tranches of money during the season, know how much we are getting, and are getting more than before. But the huge benefit of the league reconstruction is having everyone together.
“Part of the problem before, and over the Rangers situation, was the ‘them and us’ attitude. Now we are all under the one roof. People who were strong opponents of the one league body, such as Henry McClelland at Annan, are now in favour. He has realised what we have is Scottish football acting as one.”
Drysdale has always acted in the best interests of Scottish football. One day, even certain web bullies might understand that.