Date: 9th May 2020 at 2:18pm
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Two nights ago, Radio Scotland held a debate on the Sevco dossier.

I listened to the podcast of it yesterday and I was both horrified and appalled by what I heard. It may well be the most incompetent, and dishonest, thing I’ve ever heard.

The level of professionalism was nearly non-existent.

I realised when I was about halfway through it exactly what I was listening to; a bunch of small men who had backed the Ibrox club and did not want to admit that they had been made to look like mugs. None of them understood half of what they were reading, but they were determined to find in whatever gold nuggets they could.

I had to laugh at much of it. One of the things that gave me the giggles was their contention that the SPFL got their reply out a little too quickly; it was more than an hour after the clubs had received their copies. Some hacks have said the full document ran to 200 pages.

Well, the one I saw was a lot smaller and easily digestible in an hour.

It amazes me that none of these so-called journalists has ever heard of an “executive summary” before. That document – a precis of the much larger one – was doing the rounds online within a half hour of the full thing being sent out, and it was perfectly understandable and easy to follow. Indeed, Paul Brennan at CQN had his article on it up before much of the media responded. The SPFL board could have gone through the executive summary in minutes.

None of them would have been troubled by what they read.

Steven Thompson, who the BBC had on there to give an impartial view, in the same week he said Celtic would have won the title but can’t be awarded it until all the games are played (note to the numpty; all the games have been played and we’re 13 points clear) was allowed to say that Doncaster and the SPFL legal team would be “relieved” that there was no smoking gun.

Which is a bit like saying anyone falsely accused of a crime would be “relieved” when a search of their premises turned up no evidence whatsoever. Doncaster and his people knew they had done nothing wrong here.

Relief carries connotations of guilt and of justice dodged; it was but one of the many serious issues I took with the whole tone of the show.

This was a tax-payer funded assault on the truth and on logic.

From the minute Sevco announced that it had all this “evidence” of wrongdoing, some sections in the media simply assumed that it was true.

They just took Ibrox’s word for it, as if that board did not routinely release lunatic, foaming, paranoid nonsense, as if it had been run these past few years by men of probity and the highest standards instead of those who enabled a crook and notorious liar.

The Sevco board members who served under King will always, to me, be the equivalent of those in the Republican Party who have stood four-square alongside the worst and most disgraced individual ever to inhabit the Oval Office bar none.

The stains on their hands won’t wash off with all the anti-bacterial cleaner in the world.

They are tainted by their silence, their acquiescence and by their very association with the man.

And they have continued where he left off.

From the moment the podcast started, I was shocked at how McIntyre, English, McLaughlin and Thompson chose to frame the publication of Sevco’s document as one that asked real questions. It did not. Reading through it, I was amazed at how many ifs, buts and maybes were in there and at home many times the words “appeared to” and “seemed to” and “suggests” were used. These are not the words on which any CEO is ever going to be pinned.

Sevco put this together to make it seem like a serious work.

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In the 1951/52 season, SFA chairman George Graham tried to stop Celtic from flying the Irish tricolour flag over Celtic Park, leading to a bitter stand off between him and the club. Which Scottish club backed Graham over his stance?

The full document is 200 pages including appendices. Radio Scotland seems to believe the thickness of the report represents intent and a lot of work; a good legal firm can turn out something twice that in half a morning, in support of a single, frivolous, point of law.

The thickest thing here is the BBC panel itself.

They start with a brief reminder of where we are; that on Saturday 11 April, Sevco claimed to have found out through a whistle-blower – who, shock horror, and as predicted, turned out to be their own CEO – that the SPFL was up to no good. The statement demanded the resignations of Doncaster and the body’s lawyer Rod McKenzie.

McLaughlin was the lead-off hitter, saying there were “a number of key points.” The first is to again slander Neil Doncaster, as Sevco’s dossier does repeatedly.

He simply went through those key points. There was little analysis to be had.

English was up next, and I found his comments fascinating on a number of levels.

First, he denied that the document had produced “the smoking gun”. At that point the conversation should have been over, since that’s exactly what it was supposed to produce, but English went on and I’m going to quote him properly, as his words are important to understanding where we are.

“I wouldn’t call it dynamite, I wouldn’t say ‘smoking gun’, or howitzer, or any of that kind of language, but there are multiple – multiple – alleged sins of omission here. There’s an awful lot of allegations, an awful lot of questions that (Sevco) are putting to the SPFL and to Neil Doncaster. When you add them all up together I think they are very, very interesting and I think there’s a huge amount for the SPFL to answer. I think the SPFL’s statement today is kind of laughable, because they are suggesting that there’s nothing to see here. There’s a lot to see here.”

But is there?

“Alleged sins of omissions.” “Allegations.” “Questions.”

That’s what English said, that’s what he saw. That’s what he read in the document.

There was no evidence presented here, and that’s what the dossier was supposed to be packed full of.

Instead it was full of waffle. It leapt to conclusions. It was selective with the facts. It interpreted events in a way that bore no resemblance to reality.

The SPFL’s statement was actually broadly accurate in its early description of that document.

“It is now a month since (Sevco) accused the SPFL of bullying and corruption relating to the Dundee FC return. At last, (they) have issued their dossier and we will now take time to review it before responding to all 42 clubs. Since (Sevco) publicly demanded the suspension of the SPFL’s chief executive and counsel, everyone has waited patiently for them to present their case. However, an initial examination of their ‘dossier’ has failed to identify a single shred of evidence to support (their) claim of corruption, coercion and bullying by SPFL staff. If (they) had any good reason for Neil Doncaster or Rod McKenzie to be suspended, we have yet to see it.”

Note that the SPFL does not claim to have read the whole document.

Note that they also promised to respond fully once they had.

Last night they did, of course, and their rebuttal was devastating. I’ll cover it a little bit later.

But the “initial examination” – which was clearly a read-through of the executive summary which was already online – had shown nothing at all.

Which the SPFL already knew, since they had made sure of their footing at every stage.

What did English see, or think he saw? What was his issue with the SPFL statement? By his own words we can see clearly that he saw no “smoking gun.” No actual evidence. So what exactly was he getting at? What was his problem with what the SPFL released?

The panel got itself into an early flap over the “potential £10 million liability.” They appeared to me not even to fully understand what was being said. The allegation was that the SPFL knew about that “potential” liability if the season was not completed, but did not tell the clubs. McLaughlin goes on to say that he spoke to a director somewhere who said that number was on the low side of what might have been owed had the season been declared null and void.

Yet these yahoos still managed to convince themselves that this was damning information when in fact, as the SPFL themselves made clear yesterday, it was anything but. Their response makes it clear that liabilities automatically arise from the season not being completed, but point out that this was not something the SPFL had any influence on whatsoever.

The Scottish Government, the chief science officer in Scotland, the PFA and the SFA all had more influence on that decision than the clubs. The global health crisis is what dictated the early finish to the league, nothing else. The issue of potential liabilities arises as a natural consequence of where we are. Failing to hold the vote would not have fended them off. Voiding the season would have made them worse. The SPFL board chose the least bad option.

The words from the SPFL’s official response yesterday bear examination in full.

“What those behind the (Ibrox) ‘dossier’ have failed to appreciate is that the potential for any claims against the SPFL does not result in any way from a decision by the members to permit the board to bring an end to the Premiership competition. Such a decision would result from a conclusion that the matches in question in the Premiership cannot now be played. Whilst it may be becoming more difficult to foresee the circumstances in which the remaining Premiership Matches can be completed, no decision has yet been taken. There is no question of the board failing to advise the clubs of a potential £10m (or any other size of claim) arising because the Premiership is brought to a premature end because of a decision either of the members or of the board.”

Most people are perfectly capable of understanding that position.

But nobody on that panel was able to grasp it, and they ought not to have needed the SPFL statement of yesterday to be able to do so. It was perfectly obvious to Paul Brennan at CQN, who had his article on the dossier up before most of the hacks, and he addressed that very specific point thus;

“It is alleged the SPFL could be on the hook for £10m in refunds to broadcasters and sponsors as a result of the lower leagues being curtailed and the possibility that the Premiership is also cut short. As the latter is yet to take place, this point is not credible. Broadcasts are overwhelmingly of the top flight, which will only be cancelled when all details are correct. It is contended that future SPFL revenues could be restricted if, in future, the SPFL parts with other marketable properties e.g. league sponsorship rights. It is clear that none of this may happen and even if it does, it is not clear what, if any, alternatives would potentially be available, as these events have not happened. Clubs may suffer financial loss if the SPFL is subject to future financial claims, which it subsequently loses, “Why was this not disclosed?” Again, any number of future events may or may not happen. But they have not happened!!”

The way English, McLaughlin, McIntyre, and later Thompson wanted to focus on Sevco’s £10 million claim was ludicrous. A Celtic blogger had already answered their questions.

There followed, as a I said above, a discussion about the speed of the SPFL’s response; that drew the following astonishing statement from Chris McLaughlin.

“It kind of (reeked?) a little bit of an angry response to me as well … to me it looked as though maybe they should have drawn breath a little bit before issuing what they actually issued …” Which, to me, is just incredible when you consider the rabid tone of just about everything Sevco has released to the media since this saga started to unfold.

McLaughlin then goes on to say that the debate between the club and the governing body is “getting nasty … and this did have a nasty tone about it.”

And he’s right. But the larger point is that this whole thing began with Sevco released a deranged statement demanding suspensions and resignations of named individuals and with them flinging allegations they have not substantiated in any way, shape or form, and which the media has amplified with every passing day.

Anyone who can’t understand why the SPFL were a little snappy in their response has simply not been paying proper attention to this matter since it began.

As it’s the job of people like McLaughlin to do just that I am frankly flabbergasted that they’ve missed the obvious fact that this thing has been nasty from the start and that it has all flowed from one direction; out of Ibrox.

McIntyre then brings in Steven Thompson, and asks the most hilarious question of the whole show; “Do you not think the SPFL have been a bit disrespectful to (Sevco), given the work that has gone into the dossier that has been provided today?”

Which is where Thompson goes on to suggest that the governing body would have been “relieved” that there was nothing in the document to shock them. “(They have a case for Neil Doncaster to answer questions,” this dazzling legal mind said. “Has he tried to manipulate a situation to suit what he wanted in the end, and that was a yes vote and to end the season?”

At no point does anyone stop and ask him why Doncaster wanted that particular result; the answer would have been interesting to hear, especially if someone would have been honest enough to tell the truth and admit that it was the best result for the game.

Thompson, not done digging, got the spade out and put his back into it.

“(Sevco) have produced evidence that shows (Doncaster) was withholding information …”

Except they didn’t produce any such evidence at all, as English had already realised and understood.

Thompson, by now coming a little unspooled, then goes on to attack Scottish football’s response to the virus, stating that German football is about to restart and branding our own reaction to the crisis as “an embarrassment, a disgrace …”

Which, I have to be honest, is the first time I’ve ever heard a decision to protect and save lives described in such a shocking fashion.

He either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, that Germany is miles ahead of us on the curve and that despite this, the FA’s decision over there flies in the face of scientific rationale and has been widely condemned from various sections of the political and social strata in that country.

The Bundesliga, and other leagues like it, who are petrified of the TV companies, will be the canaries in the proverbial coalmine for those leagues who are a little less interested in money and more concerned with protecting players, officials, staff and ultimately fans.

Thompson then gets onto one of his favourite subjects; the contempt for Sevco which bubbles away in Scottish society, which he struggles to understand.

“Supporters of other clubs will sit back and mock (Sevco) because they’ve not had this ‘smoking gun’ that people were expecting. They’ll get mocked on social media. Yes, a lot pf people will be disappointed after it wasn’t this huge colossal piece of information and evidence but they do have a case in my opinion against the SPFL and against Neil Doncaster.”

For openers, outside of La La Land itself, nobody really expected anything explosive here.

Most of us were well aware that Sevco was posturing and that the publication of this report would prove that. Those who are disappointed includes Thompson himself and those who sat beside him in the studio desperately looking for a way to spin this garbage.

What followed was a bizarre lapse into the Victim Myth.

“Do you think,” McIntyre asked English, “the fact that it is (Sevco) who are leading the way on this that it’s counted against anything happening, because there’s a lot of dislike, I think, for (Sevco) …. They don’t have that support amongst other clubs?”

Not even English was going to swallow the basic premise behind that. “Look, they’ve either got a case or they don’t,” he said. He did praise the document again. “It’s laid out very well,” he said, as though you got extra points for good formatting and correct spelling.

English raises the allegation that Inverness and Dundee were threatened.

Dundee has already flatly denied this, and he really should know that.

Inverness has its own reasons for raising allegations in an effort to discredit the SPFL vote.

Their CEO was being praised for taking a stand; only McLaughlin suggested that all involved might have their own agendas.

McLaughlin and English go on to agree with Thompson’s bizarre assertion that Doncaster would be relieved that there was nothing here to see.

I could go on and on … at this point in the proceedings we’re still only halfway through the podcast. Believe me when I tell you that it does not improve in its overall tone. This was a sterling effort, funded by the taxpayer, at propping up Sevco’s credibility.

It is worth noting that a former BBC journalist, Jim Spence, has published a piece this morning which calls on the governing body to severely censure Sevco for bringing the game into disrepute.

I have to say, as someone who’s written the same, his article is a must-read and that this is exactly the path the governing body should go down, and to Hell with those who will accuse them of continuing this debate.

Sevco cannot be allowed to get away with this.

On top of that, as CQN has pointed out, and as this site suggested last night, Stewart Robertson’s own breaches of his fiduciary duty as an SPFL board member cannot go unanswered; he should be removed from that post as of Tuesday, by vote of the clubs, unless he relinquishes the position voluntarily before then.

There is no way that he can continue in that role.

So the podcast was right to conclude that this matter is not yet at an end; it won’t be until some heads have rolled in the dirt and Sevco is informed that further breaches will be punished harshly. That club only understands the language of strength. Nine of ten of the SPFL’s board members signed their official response yesterday; it is probably the most devastating communique a governing body has ever released, targeted against a member club.

The BBC took the side of the club.

They took the side of the organisation which even now is still issuing threats and promising anarchy.

This is our national broadcaster, people.

This is what we pay our license fee for.

But maybe not for much longer.

As Scottish football goes through the current crisis it is important to keep up with developments and the key issues. We are determined to do so, and to keep you informed as well. Please subscribe to the blog.