Having spent the past 18 months winning the confidence and trust of Hearts supporters, I would like to reassure those supporters that despite the somewhat sensationalist headlines and reporting of the last two days, I remain committed to open and honest communication. That being the case, I would like to explain my statement more fully and accurately and correct some of the misinformation that has been reported, following interviews given by me on Tuesday, at the annual SFA Convention, the SPFL’s subsequent written statement and SPFL Board Directors' comments.
At the mid-day break during the SFA convention, I was asked by the media to give feedback on the morning sessions. I was happy to do so and was very pleased to give entirely positive feedback. I stated that the two keynote speakers were excellent and that the convention (only in its second year) was a first-class forum to encourage the exchange of ideas and the sharing of best practice, while providing the opportunity to better understand the issues facing football in the wider European context.
I was then asked what I thought of the new League Cup format. I responded that I really could not comment as, at that time, I knew no more than the media did regarding the detail, no final meeting of member clubs having taken place to discuss the proposals. I had seen an advance copy of the press release, which had been issued to clubs the previous afternoon, and which I had read on email the previous evening. I had, therefore, had no opportunity to discuss the implications with co-directors or executives at the club, or indeed with other member clubs.
I expressed my surprise and disappointment that once again the SPFL and the SPFL Board had, in my opinion, failed to communicate/consult adequately with its members on decisions which will have a material impact on club operations. At no time did I state anything negative about the proposals.
The SPFL clearly took exception to comments regarding the communication/consultation process and issued a Press Statement, most of which I have no issue with.
I am very happy to confirm that the club was in attendance at all the SPFL meetings as outlined. I consider it our duty to ensure the club is represented and indeed our responsibility to show support to the SPFL through our attendance.
I am also very happy to confirm that I did indeed approve the BT broadcasting deal, which committed us to a new format for the League Cup, including a July group stage. No further detail regarding the League Cup was known/agreed at that time.
Similarly, I am happy to confirm full awareness of the existence of the Competitions Working Group.
I would stress, however, that contrary to what has been reported, Hearts did not have a representative on the Working Group.
In terms of detail in the press statement, I would take issue with comments, such as:-
“… all 42 clubs were again fully consulted on the considerations and recommendations of the working group...”
“… all clubs were given a detailed update on intentions for the Scottish League Cup…”
I have full notes from all of the meetings attended and do not consider the above remarks to accurately reflect the level of discussion/briefing.
While my interview has been fairly accurately reported, in my opinion much of the press coverage on this issue has been sensationalist and ill-informed. When challenged, a number of journalists have openly admitted that they have not contacted ourselves or other clubs to verify statements made in the last 36 hours. We would have been happy to take questions. So, do not, as they say, believe everything you read in the papers!
The key factors underlying this difference of opinion, centre around two questions. Firstly, what is the purpose of setting up Working Groups if their findings and recommendations are not to be shared with all member clubs? Secondly, to what extent is it the responsibility of League representatives on the SPFL Board to keep the member clubs they represent fully briefed on key discussions/decisions; and indeed, to what extent should they consult the member clubs before casting a vote, ostensibly on their behalf?
I would emphasise that I am not alone in expressing surprise and disappointment that no final discussion/briefing on this matter took place with those member clubs, who were not involved in the Working Group and do not have seats on the SPFL Board.
There was widespread expectation that such a meeting would take place before any public announcement.
We have been contacted by a number of other clubs, over the past 48 hours, who have expressed the view that they share our dissatisfaction with the process. They absolutely expected a meeting to enable full understanding of the implications of the proposed format, prior to any announcement being made. Those who have contacted us include individuals who were themselves on the Working Group!
Whatever the rights or wrongs of why this disagreement has come about, I would stand by my conviction that clubs must speak out if they are unhappy with how decisions are being made and communicated.
For the last 18 months, we have worked tirelessly to make a positive contribution to Scottish football; and will continue to do so. I answered an honest question with an honest answer.
I also believe that the SPFL must address the fact that, whether real or perceived, there is a widely-held view that communication between the SPFL and its members, is poor. Poor communication was one of the main findings of the Deloitte strategy review discussed at the SPFL Board meeting in August 2014; notes of which were then circulated to member clubs. The Board agreed at that time to establish seven Working Groups to address the key recommendations in the Deloitte Report. One of those working groups was the Competition Working Group involved here; another was to address Communications. Hearts is represented on the Communications Working Group. As of today, more than a year later, there have been no meetings of the Communication Working Group.