SPFL: Accounts 'shed light' on payments to clubs

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan
SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan said the issue of loans was "a red herring"

Another day and more questions to answer for the SPFL as the league body face further controversy about their actions and words.

The vexed business of loans and advances has blown up again. A few weeks back the SPFL said they could not issue loans to cash-strapped clubs without final league placings being confirmed by way of a yes vote in the SPFL's resolution to call the leagues.

A few days later, Ann Budge, chair of Hearts, contradicted the SPFL's view on that. "I've sat on the SPFL board and I've approved a loan for another club," she told BBC Scotland on 18 April.

"[It was] in my early days as a director. I genuinely can't remember the club involved, but a club required an advance. We discussed it [as a board], it wasn't contentious, everybody agreed and we moved on. It sticks in my mind. Can you give a loan to a club? Yes you can. And I know that for a fact."

Last week, SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan contradicted the contradiction in the mammoth Q&A with himself, stating no loan had been issued by the SPFL for more than seven years. SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster reiterated that point later in the day in his round of media interviews.

"The suggestion of issuing loans is a red herring," said MacLennan. "Loans have been made by the league to individual members in the past, but not for many years - and only where the board was able to satisfy itself that making a loan was in the best interests of the league as a whole. The last loan made by the SPL was more than seven years ago, in unique circumstances to a single member, secured against a personal guarantee given by a wealthy supporter."

Hearts owner Ann Budge
Ann Budge: "I've sat on the SPFL board and I've approved a loan for another club"

Now there is further information. When you trawl through the SPFL's accounts dated 31 May, 2017 you will eventually come to section 14 which details advances [some might call them loans] to two clubs during the year. "Two advances on club payments were made to SPFL clubs totalling £300,000," the annual report says.

"An amount of £6,613 remained outstanding as of year end, which has since been repaid."

These were the financial transactions that Budge was referring to when she pointed out that the SPFL was wrong to say that loans to cash-strapped clubs could not be made. Budge was on the SPFL board at the time the £300,000 was paid out.

MacLennan, soon-to-be SPFL chairman, was one of the people who names appears on the accounts. Neil Doncaster was the chief executive. Other directors whose names appear on those accounts detailing the release of £300,000 to struggling clubs were Ken Ferguson, Karyn McCluskey and Les Gray and Stewart Robertson.

The list of other directors and advisors on the accounts include Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell and Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster. All three retired from the board in July 2017.

SPFL deny figures amount to loans

The SPFL denied on Friday evening that these figures were loans, but when is a loan not a loan? If, according to the accounts, a sum of £6,613 "remained outstanding" then does that not indicate it's a loan, the very thing that MacLennan said midweek hadn't happened in more than seven years?

All of this goes back to disquiet among certain clubs about the haste in which the SPFL's resolution was held. Some feel that they were railroaded into voting to end the leagues because they were told that was the only way they could have end-of-season payments released.

A number of clubs say they will tell their stories, should Rangers' call for an independent inquiry prove successful. The odds are hugely against it. Rangers will release whatever information they have to clubs sometime next week. Their so-called dossier will need to be explosive, or else the only detonation going on in the Scottish game, will be one that goes off in the face of the Rangers board.

Privately, in the days leading up to the SPFL's resolution to end the leagues, some SPFL figures confirmed that the only way money could be released to clubs was for them to vote for the league's resolution.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has received criticism for the board's recent actions

In his Q&A, MacLennan asked himself a question about alternatives to loans being issued to troubled clubs. He never mentioned advances; he just said that no money could be forthcoming to clubs without a yes vote.

"What other options did the board look at? What other ways were explored to get cash in the pockets of clubs now?" he asked. The answer was emphatic. "There were simply no other viable options. We've already talked about loans. It is clear, that in the absence of any suggested alternative ways of providing money to clubs, no other practical and realistic way exists."

So, the possibility of loans or advances - call it what you will - didn't exist, according to the chairman. However, the accounts of 2017 suggest that the board did, indeed, have that latitude.

The SPFL have now sought to explain all of this. "During season 2016-17, earlier than usual fee payments were made to two clubs, totalling £300,000," said a spokesman. "These were made following the promotion of Rangers FC to the Ladbroke Premiership. These fee payments followed complaints by three clubs that they had been disadvantaged in the fixturing for that season by not getting three visits from Celtic FC/Rangers FC.

"As a result of the negative impacts on their cash flow resulting from this fixturing anomaly, two of those three clubs requested earlier than normal fee payments totalling £300,000. These fee payments were not loans and were wholly within the amounts budgeted to be earned by those clubs, whatever final league placing was achieved by those clubs that season."

Article 14
The SPFL accounts detail the payments to the two clubs

In other words, they were advances against prize money that was due to the clubs. The SPFL spokesman even used the words "advance fee payments" in his statement on Friday.

Even if you accept that they were, indeed, advances and not loans, how does that tally with MacLennan's view that "there were simply no other options"? A repeat of what they did for the two clubs back in 2016-17 wasn't an option?

There also remains the mention of the repayment of an "outstanding amount" of £6,613. The SPFL spokesman came back: "At no point was there any loan to any Premiership club, indeed not to any SPFL club."

A loan? An advance? The other day, the SPFL told us that none of these things were options. Their own accounts shed extra light on that.

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