SPFL analysis: Dundee enjoying their status as kingmakers

‘Big-hitters’ are courting the Dens Park club

Dundee managing director John Nelms. Picture: SNS

Dundee found themselves in an unaccustomed position on Friday night – trending top across the United Kingdom on Twitter, above Sir Kenny Dalglish, Inverness and “shambles”.

They remain in an unaccustomed position. At the time of writing, the Dens Park club are the kingmakers of Scottish football. In being left holding the casting vote for the way ahead for Scottish football, more by accident than design it now appears, they have effectively summoned influencers to their door – metaphorically speaking in these lockdown times.

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Judging from WhatsApp messages from Eric Drysdale that came to light on Friday night, these shadowy figures - “big hitters”, to employ the Dundee secretary’s phrase - go by the names of “Peter” and “Neil”.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner confirmed these messages as genuine on Saturday afternoon during a revealing interview on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound programme. Gardiner was one of the members on a group chat among clubs preparing to reject an SPFL proposal to curtail the season with placings determined by points per game in league matches played so far.

“Peter” and “Neil” are, of course, messrs Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, and Doncaster, SPFL chief executive. Only one of them – Doncaster – has a place on the SPFL board, although Rangers have now called for him to be suspended while an independent investigation into the “stewardship” of the vote is conducted.

John Nelms, the Dundee managing director, has clammed up completely in a public sense since releasing a statement on Friday afternoon in which Dundee appeared to present the case for rejecting the SPFL’s resolution.

The Dens Park club seem to be enjoying their new status. Contacted yesterday, a Dundee spokesperson replied they would be making no comment “until things are clearer”.

Whatever happened with the Dundee vote, one thing is already abundantly clear – they have to date reneged on a promise made to their fellow refuseniks, Inverness included, to reject the resolution. If stopping short of providing an actual explanation for what happened on Friday, SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan’s letter yesterday to all 42 clubs at least confirmed the chain of events.

He confirmed Dundee’s vote had arrived – “late that evening”. According to Gardiner on Sportsound, Drysdale confirmed the vote was sent at 16:52pm. The Dundee secretary was charged with dealing with the email rather than Nelms. Two email addresses were provided by the SPFL in the resolution papers – that of Iain Blair, the company secretary and director of operations, and Michelle Shields, the PA to the chairman and chief executive.

What occurred between 16:52pm and 17:51pm, when a statement was released by the SPFL delivering the result of the vote – or at least the result thus far – remains open to conjecture. But for whatever reason, the SPFL chose to broadcast that with three votes still outstanding, the bid to pass this resolution teetering on a knife edge. The Premiership and Leagues 1 and 2 had approved the resolution. “We await the voting slip from the one Championship club that has yet to vote,” the statement said.

Many have questioned the motivation for making public the incomplete result.

“That was ridiculous,” said one club chairman yesterday. “Who puts out an exit poll before the poll is closed? There is no case history of anything like that happening, where you publish the results part the way through. It’s simply to put pressure on whoever was left outstanding and let them know how in the balance it actually was. But they (the SPFL) could have done that one to one – ‘do you guys know your vote has not arrived, so you might want to put it in’. It was for a purpose.”

If it was an attempt to nudge Dundee towards voting in favour, given the pressure now weighing down on them, it backfired.

Nelms, with the kind of opportunism he will hope his side’s strikers adopt, seized on the chance that was presented. He rushed to tell Drysdale not to re-send the vote, as the secretary had planned to do on being informed that Dundee’s had not yet arrived. At 6pm on Friday the SPFL did receive an email missive from Dundee – one informing them that any attempted vote from the club arriving thereafter should not be considered as having been cast.

This vote – with a tick clearly placed in the “Reject” box – duly arrived later that evening, signed by Nelms. The delay is speculated as being due to the PDF of the scanned slip having tripped the SPFL’s firewall. A mortified Drysdale tried to explain the turn of events on WhatsApp to fellow club officials. He stated he “imagines.. Neil (Doncaster) will have been talking to Peter (Lawwell) just after five, and the SPFL not having received our vote has led to further conversations with John (Nelms) of which I currently have no knowledge”.

Drysdale described the change in circumstances as an “unexpected negotiating opportunity”. Indeed, were it planned, they should put Nelms and Drysdale – perhaps Gordon Strachan too, since we should not forget the Dundee technical director’s potential part in any dealings with Lawwell – in the dugout when football resumes. They are clearly tactical geniuses.

“Are they as smart as that, I don’t know,” asked former St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour on Sportsound yesterday when asked to account for Dundee’s actions – or non-actions.

It’s difficult, on the face of it, to see what Dundee can hope to gain. There’s talk of wanting to push through a 14-team top-flight, which would leave Dundee, currently third in the second tier, as clear favourites to win the Championship next season, whenever that can get underway. But it also means losing out on the big away followings of either Dundee United or Hearts.

A club which, ten years ago, found themselves at the mercy of a vote which condemned them to a 25-point penalty following a second administration event, currently hold a sword of Damocles over their fellow SPFL sides.

Hearts’ fate, for one, remains firmly in the balance. Owner Ann Budge was speaking for many of her peers when she said she had “no more insight than anyone else” as to why Dundee had not yet confirmed their vote.

Even when the Dens Park club do deign to inform us all of their intentions, it won’t stop the strife.

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