INTERIM Chairman, Douglas Park, discussed a wide range of issues with the Sunday Newspapers.
Please find the complete Q&A below:
1: Douglas, it’s been a tumultuous few weeks in Scottish football. After everything that’s happened – sitting here now – what are your overriding thoughts and emotions?
I have to say I am currently feeling a range of emotions. Pride. Sadness. Frustration. Pride because I am experiencing something very rare and special and that’s being the Chairman of Rangers Football Club. Sadness because I’m just a football fan, I’ve been around Scottish football as a fan, sponsor, shareholder and investor for over 50 years and it’s really disappointing to see what’s being allowed to happen to the game in Scotland. Lastly, frustration because I unequivocally feel what we are doing is right and important for the health of the game and all the clubs in Scotland. It’s disappointing to have your motivations questioned and that we seem to be debating the extent of the problems rather than acknowledging the clear corporate governance issues that will need addressed at some point for the game to thrive in Scotland.
2: On Friday, you were accused by the SPFL of making a very serious allegation and threat to act in a particular way towards Neil Doncaster, that was defamatory. Do you stand by this allegation and, if so, why was the substance of it not contained in Rangers’ dossier?
I started my own business in 1971, and it’s the first time I can recall having been accused of making a threat. It’s offensive, crass and downright wrong. Anyone who knows me will know it’s a fabrication. I have made no secret of the fact that I tried to raise some serious concerns with Neil Doncaster and was given short shrift. Following that, it’s well documented there were repeated demands for us to withdraw our concerns by Rod McKenzie. I find that odd. Subsequently, both Murdoch McLennan and Neil Doncaster have publicly stated anyone with concerns should raise them with Mr McLennan. Why didn’t Neil Doncaster suggest that when I called him? Why did Neil Doncaster follow a completely different route to the one he has publicly suggested was the appropriate one? Our report prepared for the other clubs provides clarity on a number of issues that should be a concern for all stakeholders.
I also find it extremely odd that Murdoch McLennan wrote to me the next day regarding my statement on the Rangers website and raised the fact I had made allegations in that and then referenced the call to Neil Doncaster. It’s clear from his letter that his response is in relation to Rangers releasing a statement rather than my attempts to raise concerns with Neil Doncaster. He certainly didn’t mention a threat. It’s rather strange and perhaps convenient that it gets thrown in to the mix weeks later. It’s categorically untrue.
I also replied to the SPFL Chairman and referenced the previous complaint the Club had made about comments attributed to him by Private Eye magazine. I asked for clarity on whether he made those comments or not. No assurances were forthcoming, which I find odd given the allegation has dogged him since he arrived at the SPFL. If the comments were made it would certainly give cause for concern about his ability to treat any complaint we took to him. Perhaps this is a question he could answer the next time he sits down with himself for a Q&A.
3: In the club’s initial statement of April 11, Rangers say that Doncaster refused to discuss the issue of evidence with you. How did he do this and did it heighten Rangers suspicions that there could be foul play on behalf of the chief executive and his legal team?
He simply said he couldn’t discuss it. Whilst I’ve been in business for over 50 years, 48 running my own company, I am used to a culture where if you raise serious concerns with a figure in a position of authority they tend to take it seriously, they want to hear you out and they want to get to the bottom of it. It’s as if, throughout all of this, they just wanted it to go away. It’s been reported that when senior officials of other clubs raised concerns about the conduct and behaviour of others including a Director of the SPFL that Neil Doncaster responded by asking if the individuals who made the comments were acting in a club or SPFL capacity at the time. If true, that stuns me. When a director of the SPFL makes comments relating to how funds from SPFL will be shared, his position as a SPFL director is the very reason why these comments become a threat. Surely the Chief Executive of a company where one of its directors is making such threats would want to investigate. Indeed, he’s obliged to investigate appropriately. However, this disinterest does resonate entirely with the lack of interest my complaint seemed to generate. Of course, their main interest was in trying to ensure I didn’t repeat any of these concerns I raised. Again, there was no suggestion of referring the issue to the Chairman which, based on subsequent comment, Mr Doncaster now believes is the appropriate process.
4: The SPFL directors’ letter to member clubs suggested your claim regarding the non- disclosure of potential £10m liabilities is based on a complete misunderstanding on your part, How do you respond?
There is no misunderstanding on our part and we have received the opinion of legal counsel which confirms our understanding is correct. The SPFL directors are being extremely patronising to the 42 member clubs if they think they are incapable of reading and understanding the documents provided by us, in particular Appendix 1 which includes the SPFL board paper and Appendix 3 which includes the briefing note to members.
The central point which the SPFL directors are deliberately avoiding is that the briefing paper to clubs specifically referred to ‘significant commercial risks’ and refund claims from broadcasters in the section relating to ‘ voiding the season’.
However, no mention of these risks and refunds in relation to the SPFL proposal was contained in the briefing paper.
The argument made in the SPFL director’s letter that no decision had yet been taken to bring an end to the competition applies equally to ‘voiding the season’ and calling the season on a ‘points per game basis’
Yet they mentioned the liabilities as arising only in relation to the option they were rejecting and omitted it completely in the option they were proposing. This is serious misrepresentation.
5: The SPFL has said your managing director, Stewart Robertson has failed to meet his duties, in this regard through ‘gross breaches of confidentiality’. How do you respond to this accusation and slight on Stewart’s character?
I find this one really intriguing and insulting. Stewart made his concerns known at the SPFL board level, repeatedly and this will have been minuted. We as a club followed a legitimate process of attempting to open dialogue with the Chief Executive. Stewart has a duty to the shareholders, I.e. the 42 member clubs, which he felt was compromised by the SPFL executives’ failure to deal with his concerns. Indeed, I think Neil Doncaster suggested in an interview we should make our evidence public. We had no intention of making it public as we recognised it was an issue for the member clubs. It took just 90 minutes for the SPFL to jettison that confidentiality and make matters public. Stewart has been first class throughout this. He’s made significant personal sacrifice and taken a lot of flak for doing what he, and many others, believe is simply the right thing to do.
6: Is Stewart’s position on the SPFL board now untenable and if he’s removed would the club’s influence on SPFL decisions be diminished and not in keeping with its standing in Scottish football?
Why would it be? He’s raised genuine concerns about corporate governance. We’ve then shared our concerns with experienced counsel with significant knowledge in this particular area. He’s confirmed many of our views and pointed out other failings which go beyond our initial concerns. We then spent a significant amount of time preparing a detailed document providing the facts of the situation. Throughout all of this, we’ve continued to take legal advice and ensure we do things in a proper manner. Several pieces of legal opinion, both ours and some instructed by others, are referred to in the final report. If you take a view of all the legal advice given to various parties it clearly shows that there is detail that the members should have been made aware of and were not privy to.
7: If Rangers’ call for an independent inquiry doesn’t receive the necessary backing at the EGM on Tuesday, what course of action will the club take – could you take it even further to the SFA, UEFA or even the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)?
That’s a decision we will need to make at the appropriate time.
8: Several clubs have indicated they would consider voting for your proposal but are concerned about the cost of an Independent Investigation. Would you offer to cover the costs of any investigation?
Cost should never be a barrier to proper governance. If our resolution is passed on Tuesday we will be willing to fund the costs of an Independent Investigation covering the scope outlined in our resolution.
9: Have you been encouraged by the number of clubs who have contacted Rangers to offer their support following the submission of your dossier?
There’s an apparent culture of fear as we can see from the number of clubs that privately seem to have an issue with some of the things we have raised and those prepared to speak publicly. I understand that, look at the way we have been treated. I would also highlight the treatment of Ann Budge and Dave Cormack here – individuals who have invested significant sums in to their clubs and Scottish Football as a result. Ann Budge raised the subject of loans and advances and was criticised by Neil Doncaster and the SPFL who claimed she was mistaken. He then made a great deal about the difference between an advance and a loan and how the SPFL lost money when they loaned money to Gretna. Then you read a quote from the Gretna administrator saying that they didn’t receive a loan and got an advance only. The Gretna accounts for administration back this up as do the SPFL accounts, incidentally, so there are number of contradictions. Then you have the SPFL questioning the word of Dave Cormack at Aberdeen. They’ve contradicted a statement he made in print on the Aberdeen website and on Radio Scotland. So in the space of a few weeks you’ve had the SPFL publicly criticise ourselves, Ann and Dave. What have Ann and Dave done? They’ve invested in their teams and put much needed cash in to Scottish football. What kind of message are we sending to potential investors in Scottish football?
10: The SPFL responded selectively to the allegations in it but didn’t address two of them – that Doncaster failed to report allegations of bullying between clubs to the board and that reconstruction was a red herring as it would require renegotiation of the new TV deal with Sky. Have Rangers received responses to those allegations yet?
Every response they’ve given has been selective and patronising whilst attempting to cloud issues with semantics. Their responses typically raise more questions than answers. Neil Doncaster states one thing publicly but acts differently. He certainly didn’t want to help me raise serious concerns. Only he can answer what he did with the reports he received from other clubs on bullying. It’s interesting that when he was asked on Radio Scotland he gave a very narrow answer, distorting the question to allegations of bullying against SPFL staff when that wasn’t the question. It’s fairly clear he answers what he wants to and in a way that confuses the issue. On the subject of reconstruction, you have to ask yourself, why were the Executive happy to allow 15 club representatives to waste considerable amounts of their own time and energy on reconstruction talks that were never going to get off the ground? It was disingenuous not to have that declaration early on. It’s ironic that the SPFL talk about our EGM, properly constituted within the rules, wasting time and money yet at the same time they are happy to send leaders of clubs on a wild goose chase on something the SPFL knew faced significantly more challenges than they acknowledged. They are there to serve the member clubs, a fact that often goes overlooked.
11: Have you harboured any concerns over the role of Rod McKenzie at the heart of the SPFL for many years and, if so, why?
I go in to all these types of situations with an open mind. However, the behaviour in regards to the resolution we proposed was peculiar. If Mr Mc Kenzie applied the same determination to that as he did in trying to get me to be quiet then the member clubs’ money could have been distributed to them in hours. He’s clearly a very sharp individual, I refuse to believe it was beyond him to come up with another mechanism to support the clubs. It’s curious the SPFL seem to have been so hellbent on that single solution.
12: Do you regret calling for the suspension of Doncaster and McKenzie or do you stand by what you said?
I regret believing that the SPFL would behave in the appropriate manner and in line with any other company in regards to serious misconduct. If there was a similar suggestion in any other industry the individuals involved would typically be suspended pending an investigation. Going back to my point on the criticism of Ann Budge and Dave Cormack. Can you imagine the Chief Executive of a large PLC publicly criticising a number of the high profile shareholders of that business?
13: In hindsight, should the club have released the evidence into the public domain sooner, to avoid any hyping up of the dossier?
Let’s be honest, we didn’t hype up our evidence, others did. It was in their interests to hype it up in order to discredit it. It’s telling that people with a legal background and those with experience in governance and regulated industries view the issues raised more seriously than others are prepared to. There are many serious areas to be investigated that we’ve highlighted. We’ve also faced criticism over the time involved to release it. We have spent considerable time to ensure it’s fair and balanced, doesn’t overstep the mark and refers to what has gone wrong from a legal point of view. Again, take a large PLC, if a high profile shareholder raised concerns like we have, do you think it would be ignored? Why are people so keen to avoid a look behind the detail? If we are right, which we clearly believe we are, then the damage that could continue to be done to Scottish football will be profound.
14: Do you believe the club has left itself open to both SPFL sanctions and possible legal action from Doncaster and McKenzie for libel or defamation?
We cannot control what other individuals do. We are confident in our position. We have not defamed or libelled anyone. If they do decide to take action I’m sure, given their concerns for the member clubs’ money they’ll fund the action as individuals.
15: Is it no surprise that league reconstruction talks collapsed on Friday? Do you think clubs were sold a false promise by the SPFL and could it alter their thinking ahead of Tuesday’s EGM vote, in Rangers’ favour?
They were always going to fail. It was a distraction that was used to encourage support but would have failed regardless. Clubs should have been told of the challenges reconstruction faced . We keep hearing the SPFL is the clubs, why the obsession with keeping information from them? Rangers were and remain open to discussions about reconstruction and acknowledge the growing mood for change across Scottish football.
16: Fergus McCann’s pursuit of SFA chief Jim Farry over wrongdoing took three years between 1996 and 1999 before justice was done. Do you see this as a similar type of cause that Rangers have taken up and are you willing to battle for as long as it takes?
I wouldn’t draw parallels between this situation and others. We are doing what we think is right for Scottish football as a whole. We will never stop doing what we think is right and we are profoundly aware of our responsibility to the game as a whole.
17: Some people see this whole process as Rangers not being prepared to concede the title to Celtic to save face with their own fans. What would you say to that?
This is why we’ve always said the money issue should have been separated from the league situation. The money issue was critical for a number of clubs, it made it very emotive. We have no issue with what the member clubs decide. Indeed, that’s what should happen in a members organisation. However, our issue is the SPFL’s failure to inform them fully. Instead they gave information which was misleading and omitted material information. This is only about what’s right and proper in terms of due process, nothing else. It’s about ensuring that Scottish football has proper corporate governance and leadership that acts on behalf of all member clubs.
18: In your view, why do you think the SPFL were in such a rush to end the season prematurely?
I’m still puzzled by that one and that is another reason we feel an Independent Inquiry is necessary.
19: There is no possibility of the season being completed on the pitch as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a genuine fear that games won’t be played again in Scotland until the autumn. How would you propose that the issues pertaining to the Premiership campaign are resolved?
That’s not entirely in the gift of the clubs. We need to work with various stakeholders, including the government, the medical profession and the players and try to come up with working solutions.
20: The fact that the business model in the Scottish game renders the English route of behind-closed-doors games not viable means the club could be without important tranches of income for up to nine months. The last Rangers accounts said an additional £10m would be required to cover the season. How will Rangers meet their financial obligations in this unprecedented situation?
The funding gap referred to has already been filled by existing investors
21: How close were you to fresh investment from Stuart Gibson before the pandemic struck and how confident are you that it will still be in place when we return?
All of the potential new investors remain fully engaged and we will be in a position to announce something in the next couple of months.
22: Finally, how do you think Rangers have come out of this whole episode and will you have any hesitation in the future about taking a similar course of action if you feel it’s required?
This episode is far from finished. Rangers will have no hesitation in the future in shining a light on poor corporate governance. I would like to think the SPFL might recognise its failings and accept that an Independent Investigation is necessary. It is not too late for them to do so consensually and start to build a better future for Scottish football.