Leaked Whatsapps, missing votes & bullying claims – SPFL’s five days of chaos

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April 13, 2020
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    SPFL

    The chaos started when the SPFL proposed a plan to end the season

    It might only have been five days, but it has felt like five weeks. Can it really only have been last Wednesday that the SPFL proposed its plan to call an early halt to the Scottish season?

    With the game shut down since 10 March – and unlikely to resume until the start of August at best – attention had turned to how to conclude the current campaign. But what followed has been claim and counterclaim, melded with rumour and innuendo.

    Scottish football is never knowingly short of off-field bedlam, so being unencumbered by the inconvenience of actually playing matches was only ever likely to heighten the chaos.

    Here, BBC Scotland tries – tries – to summarise what exactly has gone on in the past few days.

    The proposal & the reaction – Wednesday

    After a morning conference call, the SPFL board releases a statement at around 13:00 BST. And so the fun begins.

    The top line was that all 42 clubs were being asked to vote on whether the Championship, League One and League Two seasons should be ended, with current leaders Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers promoted, and Partick Thistle and Stranraer relegated.

    A decision on the Premiership would be delayed, but approving the plans would allow the league to ‘call’ the top flight if they deemed the outstanding games could not be played. Relatively straightforward, but inevitably controversial.

    For the resolution to pass, nine Premiership clubs, eight Championship, and 15 in Leagues One and Two combined need to vote in favour, with Friday 17:00 BST the deadline. Or so it seemed. But more on that later.

    First, the initial anger. Rangers issued a statement – the first of several – insisting they would oppose “in the strongest possible terms” any attempt to end the season.

    The SPFL should release prize money immediately rather than “railroad” rule changes and demoting clubs by a vote would be “abhorrent”, added the club, whose managing director Stewart Robertson is part of the nine-strong SPFL board that made the recommendation.

    Thistle concurred, insisting they “won’t accept relegation”. Hearts weighed in, saying it was “time for pragmatism, not rules”. Stranraer and Falkirk also had their say. Plenty of noise, and all from clubs with something to lose.

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    Movement in the shadows – Thursday

    A day of relative calm, publicly at least. Livingston, Hibernian, Ayr United and Raith all stated their backing for the proposal and the Scottish Football Association announced that football would remain suspended until at least 10 June.

    However, it later transpired that various machinations were at play in the background.

    Rangers had proposed an alternative plan that would provide clubs with prize money, but avoided a league declaration. The Ibrox club claimed that was initially ignored by the SPFL before being deemed “not competent”.

    Hearts – who supported the proposal – would belatedly make similar suggestions, while the league claimed Rangers rejected their help to draft the resolution.

    Missing ballots & bullying claims – Friday

    Vote day. Remember that 17:00 deadline? Well, not long after that, the SPFL released a statement confirming they had only received replies from 39 of the 42 clubs, but that the threshold for passing the plan had been met in the Premiership and in Leagues One and Two regardless.

    But what about the Championship? Eight clubs were needed to vote ‘yes’ for it to pass. Seven had done so, with one vote yet to be cast. Who was it? And why hadn’t they voted? And, hang on, what happens now?

    It soon emerged the Friday deadline was just a request – clubs actually had 28 days – and that Dundee were the second-tier club who had not submitted their ballot. One of the other absent submissions came from Hearts, who it turned out were voting no, but had to resend due a technical issue.

    All this came after Rangers’ alternative proposal was officially rejected for being legally “ineffective” amid claims from the Ibrox club of “numerous reports” of “attempts to coerce and bully” other teams to back the SPFL plans.

    Leaked Whatsapps pour fuel on fire – Saturday

    Would we get clarity? No chance.

    First, photographs emerged of signed ballot papers showing Championship trio Partick Thistle, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dundee all voting ‘no’ – which would have been enough to defeat the motion. However, Dundee’s was not registered by the SPFL, with the Dens Park club apparently reconsidering their stance.

    Cue bedlam. Had they just changed their mind? Had someone ‘got’ to them? Did they sent it to the wrong place?

    Enter Scot Gardiner, the Inverness chief executive. He joined BBC Scotland’s Sportsound to try to clear up some of the confusion and instead doused the flames with fuel by disclosing the contents of a Whatsapp group containing the Championship clubs.

    Dundee's voting slip, signed by managing director John Nelms, though the SPFL say they only received it after being told to ignore any Dundee submission

    Dundee’s voting slip, signed by managing director John Nelms, though the SPFL say they only received it after being told to ignore any Dundee submission

    Gardiner said Inverness, Thistle and Dundee had agreed to vote the same way and to share their ballot papers in the chat to confirm they had done so. Thistle’s was posted just after 14:52. Dundee’s followed at 16:24. Then Inverness’ around 15 minutes later. At 16:52, Dundee secretary Eric Drysdale reiterated “DFC vote submitted”.

    Then the SPFL statement appeared, highlighting the discrepancy, followed by another message to the group from Dundee saying the vote had not been received but giving their “solemn word” that it had been sent. After a slew of panicked responses, Drysdale then disclosed that he’d been told by chief executive John Nelms “to hold off on resubmitting their vote” before the Dens Park club went silent.

    No sooner had Gardiner relayed this – and excused himself from the broadcast so he could take his dog out to relieve itself – than Rangers issued a statement. And it was a big one.

    This time, they called for the suspension of SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and legal adviser Rod McKenzie, as well as an independent investigation into the ballot, citing evidence from “a whistleblower” of a lack of “fair play”. They added that they would not be “bullied into silence”. Phew.

    SPFL demand proof & Hearts lash out – Sunday

    Easter Sunday started with Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor pleading for unity, but that was soon forgotten as the claim and counter-claim recommenced.

    SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan emerged from the shadows to demand that interim Rangers chairman Douglas Park either prove or withdraw his club’s claims; to insist that league places “must” be determined before prize money could be released; and to confirm that Dundee’s vote only arrived after a written request from the club that “any attempted vote should not be considered as cast”.

    Rangers, of course, responded, insisting their resolution was never about releasing end-of-season payments, but getting loans from the SPFL as advances for those monies.

    Hearts waded back into the fray, too, with chairman Ann Budge accusing the league of trying to “unduly influence” the ballot and vowing to propose league reconstruction. League reconstruction that would save the Tynecastle club from relegation.

    Amid it all, East Fife quietly confirmed that they were one of the three League One and Two clubs to vote ‘no’, alongside Falkirk and Stranraer. But still no further word from Dundee.

    The SPFL board is expected to convene on Tuesday, but what happens next is anyone’s guess.

    Source

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