An open letter to SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan

Surely there was a better way, Murdoch

SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan

Dear Murdoch, it was with great interest that I read your latest open letter on the circumstances surrounding “the SPFL directors’ written resolution, concerning the completion of Season 2019/20” precipitated by the Covid-19 global health emergency. The format, while exhaustive, begged follow-up questions. Alas, as a consequence of your desire only to deliver such information in the form of tablets of stone from on high, it was not possible to obtain answers to the issues raised by your explanations. Perhaps you could provide clarity on the following.

You would appear to consider any questioning of the governance of the SPFL on recent matters to be “distractions, scapegoating and sideshows [that] are our enemy”.

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The dictionary definition of governance is “the action or manner of governing an organisation.” Isn’t it right and proper that the actions and manner of the SPFL should be held up to such scrutiny? Aside from Rangers, those of us troubled by the cack-handedness betrayed by the SPFL over the manner in which the resolution – and the fall-out from it – was managed have not questioned the integrity of those involved, simply their competence. Do you suggest, Murdoch, that we have no right to do so? Perception, it is said, is nine-tenth of reality. Do you believe that the perception surrounding the crafting of the resolution, and the failure of Dundee’s original rejection vote to land initially because it ended up in a quarantine folder, creates a good look for the governing body? Wouldn’t it actually be remiss of us to consider otherwise than all this was dealt with poorly? The inability to recognise this was the case in your latest open letter – in all but the most glib terms – can hardly reflect well on the SPFL board.

You say that you have been “provided with no evidence whatsoever that any club has been bullied or coerced” and that since 81 per cent of clubs “voted in favour of the directors’ written resolution, you [the clubs] have given a clear endorsement of the board’s position”.

Aren’t you entirely, and possibly deliberately, missing the point here, Murdoch? Many of us said on the Wednesday, 10 April, when details of the resolution to end the season for Championship, League One and League Two clubs were announced, as the only means to deliver prize money “to clubs that were literally on their knees” and to prevent “possibly dozens of them going to the wall,” that this, in itself, was tantamount to coercion?

However, much you may petition this was the case, the Hobson’s choice with which you presented clubs was not the only course of action available. You could have run reconstruction proposals in tandem with plans to abridge the season and so avoided a whole heap distractions and sideshows. You say it is “correct” “there was a link between fee payments being made and the League placings being finalised. That is because the basis for fee payments to clubs is set out in the SPFL’s Articles and is entirely based on League placings. To suggest that this was the SPFL Board creating “undue influence” is therefore entirely wide of the mark.

Is it “wide of the mark” to suggest that you could have altered those Articles? It states in the rules that the season requires a number of games to be played for league placings to be determined, but the resolution abrogated that requirement. You can’t pretend that certain rules could not be changed, Murdoch, when others were to serve the situation.

You describe the suggestion that clubs could have voted to receive their prize money as loans as “a red herring”. “It is difficult to see how the making of loans to multiple clubs could have been authorised legitimately by the Board while fulfilling simultaneously their duties as Directors to the Company. In the current, extremely challenging circumstances, with clubs facing huge financial difficulties, lending money to potentially every senior club in the country was never a realistic, or timely, solution. Each club seeking a loan would need to be subject to a due diligence examination of its ability to repay, the viability of whatever security was being offered, and what interest should be sought based on each club’s individual profile.”

You cite the case of Gretna. “[A] a loan had been made to Gretna (in administration), to enable it to complete its SPL fixtures at the end of a season [2007-08]. The club was ultimately liquidated; the loan was never fully repaid; and all of the other clubs lost fee payments as a result. This demonstrates the fundamental problems with loans to clubs.”

Again, either deliberately or otherwise, this obscures certain facts. The clubs who stated that paying prizemoney need not be contingent on terminating the season, petitioned for prizemoney simply to be advanced on the basis of potential league position. It was money they would be due simply being paid two months earlier; it wasn’t monies loaned that would ultimately require repayment. SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, right, stated at the start of the coronavirus crisis that the organisation does not hold a reserve. Loans/advances did not require an SPFL reserve.

On the Gretna case, once more there is the sin of omission. The club were forwarded the £250,000 they would have been due for finishing the season in bottom place in order to complete their fixtures. They were also given the £150,000 parachute payment for the following season. This was not repaid because by then the club had gone out of business. However, there are no parachute payments in the Scottish lower tiers, so this was not an issue.

You make much of the Deloitte independent investigation into what happened on the evening of 10 April. The investigation centred around Dundee’s ‘reject’ ballot that would have caused the resolution to fail not being received when sent at 4.48pm and, by the time it was discovered in the SPFL’s e-mail quarantine system four hours later, the Dens Park club had by then decided not to cast it. Deloitte found “no evidence of any improper behaviour or impropriety”.

The pity is that it was not within Deloitte’s remit to investigate for incompetency because, surely, they would have unearthed that on a breathtaking scale. Why, as is standard in so many organisations, were clubs not provided an immediate acknowledgement of receipt on sending their vote. On the independent investigation itself, how was it that a process designed to demonstrate transparency was shrouded in secrecy with no club or stakeholder aware it was taking place until its findings were released?

You justify going public with the incomplete poll on 10 April shortly after the 5pm “requested” cut-off point for casting votes as follows. “Imagine the furore if we’d refused to give any update on how voting had gone. I know that the League’s PR team received numerous calls from journalists in the minutes after 5pm, desperate for an update on the voting. If we hadn’t published those numbers, we would have been accused of unwarranted secrecy. We were simply being open and transparent.”

This is truly rich from your goodself, Murdoch. How many request for interviews from journalists have you rejected since you took up the position of chairman of the SPFL in July 2017? Does failing to face up to the media – your domain of employment for 40 years – fit with this unbeknownst desire to be “open and transparent”. And, incidentally, I was told by a member of the league’s PR team on Thurday, 9 April, that the outcome of the vote would be released sometime the following midweek.

You say “in the weeks and months to come when all this is over, I’ve no doubt that people will see we did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.” With precious little prospect of any football, even behind closed doors, before September, perhaps history will be a kind judge over the actions of the SPFL board. Placing to one side the dubious motives of Rangers in this entire scenario, though, do you seriously not believe there was a better way, or that what has unfolded in the past month does not call for an overhaul of the SPFL’s internal processes?

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