Rangers v the SPFL: The dossier in detail

Andrew Smith analyses the key points

The Ibrox club issued a 200-page dossier detailing their allegations about the SPFL vote. Picture: Jeff Holmes/PA

An old political maxim speaks to the trouble with the Rangers dossier. It is said that, in order to build and sustain support, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver. The Ibrox side have fallen into the latter trap.

In looking for clubs to back an independent inquiry into the SPFL vote to curtail the season, Rangers maintained that they would produce evidence to support their claims of “bullying and coercion” and “lack of even-handedness and fair play” from the SPFL. This would demonstrate the need for an independent inquiry, and the requirement for SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and the league’s legal adviser Rod McKenzie to be suspended while this was undertaken.

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Instead, Rangers produced a document that is a letdown – even if it provides, in places, grounds for the SPFL to face further investigation. It also brings into focus the lack of contrition from the SPFL over their botching of Dundee’s decisive vote. However, Rangers did not underpin their accusations with irrefutable evidence. Instead, these were set out in the form of questions that certainly warrant answers. Moreover, the concerns articulated mainly relate to what has been long in the public domain.

Here we analyse a number of the most salient passages of Rangers’ account of the lead-up, and aftermath, to the vote on ending the season.

THE CLAIM

“It was alleged that the CEO of Dundee FC and the Chairman of Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC were threatened by RMCA [SPFL board member and Dunfermline chairman Ross McArthur] and MM [Mike Mulraney, Alloa Athletic chairman] that if Dundee and Inverness did not vote for the resolution, the Championship prize money would be split into ten equal payments and Dundee and Inverness would lose money. These threats were reported to ND [Neil Doncaster] by the CEOs of both Dundee and Inverness. ND did not report these threats to the SPFL Board: Why did ND not report the threats to the SPFL Board? Did ND report the threats to the Chairman of the SPFL Board? Did ND investigate the threats and, if so, what was the outcome of his investigation?”

DO THEY HAVE A CASE?

Rangers do have a case on this. In seeking to seize the narrative, the SPFL rushed out a statement yesterday stating the report had not a “shred” of evidence to support the claim of bullying by “SPFL staff”. Yet, this does not address Rangers’ questions as to why Doncaster did not bring forward the complaints raised by Inverness over the conduct of McArthur and Mulraney. And why were the pair telling Championship clubs that the financial distribution model would be altered adversely for them in the event of the resolution failing when this does not seem permissible under the articles and rules and regulations?

THE CLAIM

Much is made of the fact that ending the season created the potential for having to repay £10 million in broadcasting payments to Sky and BT Sport, but that this was not communicated to the clubs before the vote.

“Would Members have voted for the resolution had they known that there was potentially £10m of future income at risk? Why did the SPFL Chief Executive not mention this risk within his briefing paper sent to clubs ahead of the vote? The omission of this significant risk from the briefing paper would seem to breach the Chief Executive’s duty as a Director to exercise care, skill and diligence in the performance of his duties. It is also potentially a breach of his fiduciary duties to the Company. Rangers would note, however, that ND [Neil Doncaster] was assisted in the preparation of this briefing paper by the SPFL’s legal adviser [Rod McKenzie]. There may also have been others involved. Only an independent investigation can ascertain where the fault lies.

DO THEY HAVE A CASE?

Rangers use the word “disingenuous” for certain actions by the SPFL, but the Ibrox club seem disingenuous in hammering this point when they have much sounder grievances elsewhere. Surely clubs would have the common sense to recognise that failing to 
fulfil the television contract could make the league liable for a repayment penalty? Moreover, any attempt to finish the season for the 42 clubs under the current social distancing rules would cost a sum in excess of £10m for the 42 clubs. And, if the season were played to a finish in the summer, which would delay the start of the new season that coincides with an enhanced Sky contract from 1 August, completing the season could threaten the payment of the £12.5m first tranche of this deal. Rangers are making much over a, frankly, moot point. In addition, Neil Doncaster has consistently refused to discuss specifics of the SPFL’s television deals because this would breach “commercial confidentiality”.

THE CLAIM

“The following fundamental information was NOT disclosed within the Member Clubs’ briefing paper:

(a) £10m of potential liabilities from 2019/20 commercial contracts if resolution adopted;

(b) Clubs told they could only receive payments if resolution adopted whilst omitting to

disclose that the SPFL already had the powers to make further funds available to clubs;

(c) Although the briefing paper committed to consult with clubs over a possible league

restructuring, it did not disclose the legal and commercial advice contained in the SPFL Board briefing paper that it was extremely doubtful that reconstruction could be secured without adverse financial impact.”

DO THEY HAVE A CASE?

Rangers have a case that there were other routes to releasing payments to clubs without final placings being determined – whatever they might say over the interminable debate over loans/advance payments. The SPFL appeared to cut corners to force through the vote and result that it considered the best course of action, which was presented as the “only” option.

The SPFL’s unspoken reluctance to seriously consider any proposal for reconstruction that would ensure clubs were not relegated unfairly was surely obvious to all. Only lip service was paid to the possibility when the resolution was presented on 9 April… two days before votes were requested. Rangers are right to take the SPFL to task for such lack of transparency.

THE CLAIM

“The briefing paper[for the resolution vote] omitted material information. It was sent out by ND without Board approval. It is Rangers’ understanding that the briefing paper was prepared by ND and RMCK, but this should be verified through the independent investigation. Aberdeen negotiated a concession from ND prior to voting, that the Premiership clubs would be consulted prior to the SPFL Board calling the Premiership. Why was this not disclosed to the other members voting on the resolution? This means that Aberdeen voted on a different proposition from that voted on by other Member Clubs. Rangers do not criticise Aberdeen in this respect. Aberdeen were quite entitled to raise this point and ask for the concession granted by the SPFL. The problem is this was not communicated by the SPFL to other Member Clubs.”

DO THEY HAVE A CASE?

It seems remarkable that Aberdeen could have been given assurances by Doncaster over the vote that were not communicated to other clubs. Again this strikes to the heart of the covert way in which the SPFL appears to operate.

THE CLAIM

The report interrogates at great length the detail of what happened with Dundee’s failed vote on 10 April. Why, Rangers ask, was there not a system that would have prevented the vote being missed in the SPFL’s email system. Why, too, did Dundee claim only to know that their vote had not been counted when the incomplete ballot was released at 5.45pm when Doncaster was on the phone to Dundee chief executive John Nelms at 5.39pm to tell him the club’s vote had not been received. Nelms subsequently making offers to other clubs the next day is also questioned.

DO THEY HAVE A CASE?

Surely, no-one believes the process surrounding the vote and Dundee’s flip-flopping from rejection to approval that allowed it to pass is the SPFL’s finest hour. However, Nelms has to answer for that more than anyone at the SPFL.

THE CLAIM

“Following the decision of the SPFL Board to approve the SPFL’s written resolution (approved by an 8-1 vote), Rangers decided to lodge a written resolution [which was designed to give clubs the ability to access cash through an alternative route to that being proposed by the SPFL Executive] supported by Hearts and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. There was significant interaction between Rangers and the SPFL prior to the written resolution being discussed by the SPFL Board at a meeting which was scheduled for 9.30am on Friday 10 April… at no point during this process was any assistance provided by the SPFL legal adviser [Rod McKenzie] regarding the wording of the resolution. There was also no indication that he had sought a QC’s opinion on the competency of the resolution. The SPFL’s legal advisor is an employee of the SPFL which is owned by its members. His tasks include assisting the members, but at no point did he provide any assistance to Rangers, Hearts or Inverness. Ten minutes prior to the Board meeting, a QC’s opinion (dated the previous day) was made available to SPFL Directors. There was therefore no chance to review this ahead of the meeting. It was dated 9 April, so one can only guess why RMCK did not instruct the opinion to be made available to Board members the previous day. The RHI written resolution was deemed to be ineffective because of one word: “instruct”. It seems ridiculous that Rangers wasn’t notified of this and, with some productive dialogue, an amended RHI resolution could have been drafted and put to the SPFL Board for approval. This seems even stranger when you consider that two Chairmen of Championship clubs (Dunfermline’s Ross McArthur and Alloa’s Mike Mulraney) had been made aware that the resolution was deemed incompetent before some of the Directors on the SPFL Board.”

DO THEY HAVE A CASE?

It is difficult to see how the actions of McKenzie could not appear, at best, unhelpful and the fact that McArthur and Mulraney were told ahead of the requisitioners their resolution was not competent can only be considered seriously bad practice. It raises more questions for the SPFL to answer, Rangers also pointing to McKenzie issuing four “cease and desist” requests when Ibrox chairman Donald Park contacted the SPFL’s legal adviser to make allegations that came “from a whistleblower”.

We await to see whether SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan will clarify all such matters with another of his meaty open letters...

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