Rangers sent their “dossier of evidence” to their fellow SPFL member clubs yesterday - and are now hoping it convinces them to vote in favour of an independent investigation into the handling of the resolution on the end of the season.
The document contained some damning claims – including that information about how much deciding to curtail the 2019/20 campaign prematurely would cost was withheld, that threats were made to Championship clubs and then ignored when reported, that members weren’t told league reconstruction will need broadcasters’ backing.
Stewart Robertson, the Ibrox managing director, didn’t hold back in a lengthy interview with the daily newspapers, his first since the coronavirus outbreak caused football to be shut down last month, last night either.
Question: Rangers claim clubs weren’t told that £10m may need to be paid to broadcasters if the season is ended prematurely. How significant do you think that information is?
SR: “It goes back to the fundamental point that this was a huge decision facing Scottish football, the biggest decision we’ve faced in a number of years.
“There was a lot of debate within the board as to whether the board should make the decision or if it should be put to the clubs.
“The members of the 42 clubs are the 42 shareholders of the company. If you are asking the members to make that decision then you have to provide them with all the information that is available. Only then can they make a fully informed decision.
“When you are only distributing £25m worth of prize money this year and there’s the potential of a £10m refund to broadcasters and sponsors, that’s a material number.
“When you take that forward, what does that mean for clubs and their budgets? it could mean they lose £500,000 to £600,000. If you have a club with say a turnover of £5m that makes a huge difference, especially in the current environment.
“Because of the pandemic clubs are wondering whether they’re going to have fans, hospitality, etc etc. To then take another chunk out of budgets, in my opinion, is a fairly material fact which we should have been told."
What is the next step for Rangers?
SR: “We will let the clubs digest the information we have shared because obviously there’s a lot in it.
“They need to decide with their respective boards just how they are going to vote when it comes to next week’s general meeting.
“We’ll see how the numbers add up there. After that we can decide what happens next, to be honest there are a lot of different options we could take.
“If the clubs have questions then can come back to us. If they have any need to understand further then they can pick up the phone.”
How does this affect your place on the SPFL board going forward?
SR: “Boards would be dull places if everyone agreed. We are there as club directors, to represent all of the members. You have to be fair to all 42 members. So if I don’t feel something is right, I’m going to keep campaigning about it.
“That’s what has happened throughout this situation. The votes were 8-1, 8-1, 8-1 - I felt we were being railroaded down a particular route.
“The clubs should have been given options, they should have been allowed to debate them as shareholders of the company and then come to a decision as to what was best for them.
“The divisional meetings were on the Wednesday before the vote on the Friday and it just wasn’t enough time for people to digest the information.
“When I asked why we were doing it in such a rush, I was told it was because the clubs needed the money.
“I said ‘let’s separate the money from the decision to call the league, let’s take our time’. As things have transpired, we could have done that and saved ourselves all of this angst. But it was all about heads-down and ‘let’s get this over the line’.
“It was frustrating, but in terms of going forward (on the board), I don’t have a problem with that. This is about doing the best for Scottish football, it’s not about me being on a crusade for Rangers against anyone in particular.
“It’s about looking at the governance of the game. I’ve now had five stints on the SPL or SPFL board between 2003 and now - this is the worst the governance has been by a country mile.”
How significant do you think your “dossier of evidence” is?
SR: “Other people can put their own terminology on it. I think it shows a culture within the organisation, particularly in this situation, where there is a complete disregard for the members.
“This is a company that is owned by the clubs and who employs the executive. It’s not the executive doing a favour for the clubs.
“Those clubs should be shown the respect they are due. It’s because of the clubs that money is generated to pay the executive.
“When you look at the potential liabilities we weren’t told about, it hasn’t been able to make a fully formed decision.
“You’ve potentially got some clubs staring down the barrel of a gun next season in terms of their budgets. It is the material misrepresentation by omission, as the lawyers would call it.
“Look at the (SPFL) statement this morning. That’s a complete deflection away from the report.”
Were you surprised by speed and tone of the SPFL response to your evidence?
SR: “Somebody made a comment to me today about it managing to get through their firewall when they actually weren’t sent it by Rangers. The pace they were able to read a 200-page dossier? Maybe they are just quick readers.
“We never said in our statement there was corruption. We never said there was coercion or bullying by the SPFL team. That was never said anywhere by Rangers. It’s a complete deflection away from the point we should be discussing, which is the failings of the executive in the build-up to this vote.”
Was calling for SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and legal adviser Rod McKenzie to be suspended a mistake in hindsight?
SR: “No I think for any investigation to take place you need to have confidence in the people that are there and running it, that’s the first reason for asking for an independent investigation which we feel is fundamental to getting to the bottom of this.
“Personally and as a club we have lost confidence in the way they are running the organisation, quite frankly. On the basis that this was railroaded through and key information wasn’t provided to member clubs, I think we are quite within our rights to ask for that.”
This whole row has been billed as Rangers v celtic. Is that the case?
SR: “To be absolutely clear this has never been a Rangers-celtic thing. I can get why people are maybe thinking the narrative is ‘we didn’t want celtic to be awarded the league title’. I understand that it’s obviously the case that people would say that.
“But we always wanted to play the games if practically possible given everything that’s going on and the challenges everyone is facing in their lives right now. We would rather play the games.
“As time goes on that’s looking less likely to happen, we’re all pragmatic about that. This is about looking at Scottish football as a whole and looking at the greater good.
“This isn’t about Rangers and celtic, it’s about the governance of our game and having faith that when we come out of this pandemic and this crisis that we have the right leaders to take us forward and people with energy, good ideas, creativity and commercial nous that is going to help us generate revenues we’ll need to replace some of the revenues we’ll need coming out of this.
“People are going to look at the world from a different viewpoint because the world is going to be different after this. The transfer market will be different, the broadcast market, everything. We will need to be as flexible as possible.
“What we can’t be is in a situation where the first answer you get to every question is ‘no you can’t do that, you’re not allowed to do that in the rules’. Well let’s look at changing the rules then. That’s one of my frustrations and this has really brought it to the boil.
“This procedure and process showed absolutely no respect for those members who aren’t on the board. The fact that the briefing paper that was sent to the clubs wasn’t approved by the board, we hadn’t seen it when it went out to the clubs. We didn’t know what was in that. And you realise afterwards that all this information had been omitted. I just don’t think it’s right.”
You say Neil Doncaster didn’t report “threats” made to Championship clubs? Do you think complaints will be dealt with “even-handedly”?
SR: “In terms of it being dealt with even-handedly I can only go on what people have told me and this is part of the reason we need an independent investigation. When you hear that this has been reported to the chief executive, and he’s aware of it, he certainly didn’t report it to the board, certainly not when I was there.
“Did he report it to the chairman? Did he investigate it? As a fellow member of the company and someone who is a board director of the SFPL, if someone is making some kind of threat to others members that should be investigated. Did Murdoch (SPFL chairman MacLennan) know about it? I don’t know. Maybe that’s a question for Murdoch.”
What has the feedback to your dossier been from other clubs? Do you think you have the backing you need?
SR: “There have only been a few clubs in touch because ploughing through it there is a lot of information there. So a lot of the clubs are still getting to grips with it as far as I can tell.
“The few clubs who have phoned me have been really disappointed with what they’re seeing and what they’re reading. They have all said unanimously that they are in favour of an independent investigation.
“I think it is going to take a couple of days for people to really go through it, get together with their boards. It is not just a situation where somebody can read it and say ‘I’m in’. It is going to need people to liaise with their boards and their committees in the lower leagues and decide what they want to do. So at this stage I don’t know. It is early days. We will see how things progress in the next couple of days.”
People say “this isn’t the time to be doing this”. How do you respond to that?
SR: “I will be honest, I don’t think Scottish football can afford not to do this. We need to be coming out of this on the front foot if we can. At the moment, the automatic answer you get to asking them something is ‘no, the rules won’t allow it’.
“We need people we can trust, we need leaders we can have faith and confidence in to take us forward. I think situations like this don’t give you that confidence. I know everything is going on in the country with the pandemic, but from a football perspective maybe this is the best time to be doing it because there is no football going on to distract us. Let’s concentrate on sorting it and fixing it while we’ve got a chance to fix it.”
What do you think is driving the culture in the SPFL you talk of?
SR: “I genuinely don’t know. All I can do is look at my experiences in the last few months. In the first few months it was fairly quiet. We lost our sponsor, Ladbrokes pulled out. Eight months out we still don’t have a sponsor. Nobody has come forward, which is disappointing.
“I genuinely don’t know why you wouldn’t treat all the members fairly. Why wouldn’t you give them the material information they need to make a decision of this nature? What is it that has led them to go down the path they have gone down? I don’t know. And I know I have probed and probed and probed. It was like pulling teeth sometimes to get the information I was after to try and make a proper assessment of why there was a rush to make this decision. It was clearly a huge decision.
“Maybe you have to ask them why they felt the members shouldn’t be given these facts. In fact you probably should ask them that. I just can’t understand it. I have been 20 years working on club boards and if this wasn’t a football environment and I was in this situation I would have grave reservations about why things were being done that way.”
The letter that was sent to UEFA saying most clubs wanted the season to end was written jointly with the SFA? Do you have concerns about them too?
SR: “I haven’t focused on that to be completely honest with you. I have focused on an SPFL perspective and looking at the written resolution. Rod (SFA president Petrie) mentioned at the weekend that the Scottish Cup is going to get played regardless of when. It is a bit misleading sending a letter which said the 2019/20 football season in Scotland was going to be finished.”
How frustrated were you at the way Rangers’ alternative resolution was dealt with?
SR: “At the time I was very frustrated. But it comes back to the basic point of separating cash from what happens at the end of the season. We have seen that since. You look at the advances that have been paid to Motherwell and, I think, Partick in 16/17.
“You look at the misleading information put out in Murdoch’s Q and A on the Gretna situation when he talks about loans being written off.
“We have seen in the last couple of days that if you go back to the accounts there have been no loans written off at all. Again, that’s been advances received. There is every opportunity to pay the advances as the rules stand today. At no point did Rod, Neil or anyone say to us: ‘You can actually do that today. You can do that already’.
“We then get the resolution and have block after block after block put on it as we tried to get it done by the Friday. They were just filibustering to get it to Friday. To be clear, there were a couple of directors on the board who said to Rod: ‘Look, work with Rangers, find a resolution that will capture the spirit of what they’re trying to do’.
“That was whatever form it takes, get the money to the clubs and we can buy some time to catch our breath and actually resolve what we do with the leagues. Let’s see if the games can be played. That was four or five weeks ago and look where we are today? It could have been done in a much calmer environment.”
You suggest some clubs feel unable to speak out. Should they do so now?
SR: “If we are running a members’ organisation where the members are the shareholders there has to be an environment, if we are going to take this forward, where people can feel free to speak their mind.
“I’m sure I’ll be criticised in various quarters for what we have done here, but there is a point where you just say: ‘This isn’t right’. It’s not right, the way people are treated. We are all in this together, we are all Scottish football, we all make up the Scottish football family, so people have to be able to speak up and not feel any worry about that.
“They shouldn’t be worried about being threatened by other clubs or other members or office bearers, they should be free to speak and say what they think as long as they are putting a sensible point of view forward. If that’s a minority then fine, it’s a minority. But you should never be afraid to speak your mind in this situation.”
When will a decision on the Premiership be made?
“My understanding is that decision is the decision of the board. There is no board meeting tomorrow - or certainly none I’ve been invited to - but there is one of the 12 Premiership clubs who met last week.
“Without going into any detail, because we agreed not to go into details publicly about conversations, we were looking at how we get back to playing football. What are some of the challenges we face and how do we get over those to get ourselves back playing football?
“We need to get through this. We need the SPFL to be run as a democracy, not a dictatorship and I think we need the clubs to have the right level of say. To have that, they have to know they have trust in the information they’ve been given. Not being able to trust or have confidence in people that you are getting full information makes it very, very difficult.”