Interview: John Yorkston, Dunfermline chairman

John Yorkston: Integrity top of his list of priorities. Picture: SNS
John Yorkston: Integrity top of his list of priorities. Picture: SNS
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An SPL without Rangers would be preferable to an SPL without integrity, insists John Yorkston

SAY what you like about John Yorkston and, let’s be honest, a lot of people do, his heart is in the right place. The Dunfermline Athletic chairman has his critics, people who would rather he piped down and played the political game but, if his club are relegated at Easter Road tomorrow, the Scottish Premier League will be the poorer for his absence.

Dunfermline, five points behind Hibernian, will have to beat the Edinburgh side if they are to take their survival bid into the last match of the season, but it is not the only victory Yorkston yearns for tomorrow. Hours before his team take to the pitch, he will be round a table at Hampden, arguing the toss with fellow chairmen in an SPL meeting that could be crucial to the future of Scottish football.

Up for discussion are financial fair-play proposals, including how to deal with liquidated clubs, and more particularly Rangers, if they go down that route.

“Everyone agrees that there should be severe punishment but there are a number of chairmen who will look at the financial thing and say, ‘do we want an SPL without Rangers?’ It will be a question of sporting integrity against financial necessity. That is the choice facing chairmen.”

Yorkston’s view is no secret. He has already declared that a newco Rangers, if it ever comes into being, should be denied a share in the SPL. “That’s what I will be arguing for, but I do understand that others will look at the financial side, and that will have more sway than sporting integrity. I would guess I’ll be almost a lone voice, but it doesn’t stop me from having my say.”

As far as Yorkston is concerned, Bill Miller’s elaborate takeover plan changes nothing, however much the preferred bidder talks about incubators and radiated toxicity. It is, thinks Yorkston, liquidation in disguise. “I employ accountants and lawyers, and they’re scratching their heads, wondering how they [Rangers] go into liquidation, but don’t go into liquidation,” says Yorkston. “No matter how you dress it up, you’re in liquidation. The share has to be transferred to another company and that other company is not the old company so it’s a newco. What we are talking about here is a new company owning Rangers.” And newcos are not to be tolerated in Yorkston’s world. Only relegation will do if Scottish football’s credibility is to remain intact. He says that a points deduction, as has been proposed already, is insufficient to deter others. “If ten or 15 points is the penalty, then other clubs are going to have a look at that in future. Maybe not right away, but if you have a bad run, somebody else comes in, and maybe these people are not prepared to finance the losses, then you might see it happening.”

Yorkston says that it is too easy for clubs to go into liquidation. Technically, they can return only as a new company, but on a human level, they are the same old club, with the same old history.

“I don’t think Airdrie fans my age look back to the 1960s and think it’s a different club now. It’s just Airdrie. When they went down, [they] bought Clydebank, became Airdrie United, moved to Airdrie, wore the same strips, played in the same town. They’ve got the same first name. In a year or two, it will have all blown over for Rangers fans. It will be Rangers they’re supporting, and they’ll still be talking about the good old days. They won’t be talking about Rangers 2012.”

Yorkston is not willing to grant Rangers leniency, despite their argument that Scottish football needs protecting, an angle that he says they conveniently overlook when the prospect of playing in another country arises. “They’ve talked about leaving the league on numerous occasions, to England, the Atlantic League, the North Sea League, everything,” says Yorkston. “There is hardly six months go by when it doesn’t rear its head. To be honest, the rest of us are at the point where we’d quite like it. It would leave us with a competitive league. You’d probably be looking at about six or seven different clubs with a chance of winning the title. It would make for exciting football.”

For the moment, though, Yorkston is stuck with them, which is why he and his colleagues are trying to make the most of what they have, by arguing for a change to the voting rights, and demanding a more even distribution of revenue.

These issues have become mixed up in the ongoing crisis. Many SPL clubs would rather bargain with Rangers than make an example of them, the theory being that they can extract from the Ibrox club, in its hour of need, some of the power that has been concentrated in Old Firm hands for too long. The trouble is that Yorkston is no politician. He says what he thinks, and perhaps more importantly, what the fans think, especially those who are not convinced that the game begins and ends with Celtic and Rangers. Yorkston’s aim is to represent the paying punter, which he claims is seldom done by Scotland’s media.

“They are not [represented] because the majority of the media are west-coast based. If they didn’t have Rangers and Celtic to write about, they wouldn’t have a job. The media have a bias in favour of the Old Firm. That’s the reality. Fans of all non-Old Firm clubs would agree with that. I listen to fans. I don’t agree with everything they say but, when 85 per cent in a neutral survey say that they want a bigger league, when 95 or 96 per cent say that a newco should not be accepted, I listen to that. Half of those say they will not be back at games because the credibility will be lost. That worries me.”

Yorkston is willing to stand up for the fan in the street, but he can understand why others are not. Sandy Jardine, a Rangers ambassador, said that their supporters would take action against clubs that had been unhelpful to the Ibrox cause. “There have been an awful lot of unfortunate comments from people inside and outside Rangers. After the carry on with the three SFA guys, folk are keeping their heads down. You will be lucky if you get another chairman who is prepared to speak out. You can’t win. If I support Rangers, I’m a Hun. If I don’t, I’m a Tim.

“I genuinely hope Rangers can get a CVA, and we wouldn’t need to worry about a newco, but that looks increasingly unlikely.”

Yorkston insists that he doesn’t have it in for Rangers, or indeed Celtic. He is portrayed as their enemy, a hawk among doves, but it is not war he wants, only justice. “It’s a right bloody mess, and the trouble is that we don’t have rules in place to deal with it. If they had been drawn up already, it would all have been automatic, but now that we’re talking about a particular club, people think you’re in favour or against them, which isn’t the case.”

As if to demonstrate as much, he says that he advocates short, sharp punishments rather than those that hamper a club’s recovery. He does not agree with successive points deductions, and it’s safe to assume that he is not enamoured with the SFA transfer embargo either, even if Rangers’ conduct under Craig Whyte was dubious to say the least. “I don’t know how you get away without paying the revenue for nine months. I wish I knew how you could do that.”

Tomorrow is a big day for Yorkston, who will take a deep breath before the meeting, and then another before the visit to Easter Road for a match that has the potential consign his club to the First Division. He is still confident that they can pull off the great escape, although he is willing to admit that they might already have been safe had Jim Jefferies replaced Jim McIntyre earlier in the season. “It’s possible. You just don’t know. The two draws and a win he has given us in our last three games. . . we would have killed for that in January. Everybody, including myself, says that we should have done it sooner, but there’s never a right time, and I still believe Jim McIntyre will be a good manager. When you have ten folk on a board, you don’t all feel the same. I was probably the last to be swayed to make a change.”

If the worst comes to the worst, and Dunfermline don’t make it, their chairman will grin and bear it, as he has done often enough in the past. In the First Division, they would lose out on the £900,000 payment made to the SPL’s bottom club, but compensation would arrive in the shape of a parachute payment, reduced wages and an increase in the average attendance. Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dundee all draw bigger crowds to East End Park than Celtic or Rangers, whose matches tend to be live on television. “People go on and on about the consequences of getting relegated, but it’s not the abyss that some folk make it out to be,” says Yorkston with the same fighting spirit that will come in handy tomorrow.