Dundee FC’s Harry MacLean speaks to A Different League

Following Monday’s blog on Dundee FC’s deduction of 25 points and the wider issues involved, we were delighted to discover that none other than current Dark Blues Chief Executive Harry MacLean was amongst those who had contacted us and even more so when he agreed to a Q+A session. The punishment handed out to Dundee by the SFL has of course sparked heated debate and strong feeling on all sides, and we are of course thankful to Mr MacLean for his time in what must have been an immensely stressful week.

Afternoon Harry – regarding the immediate future, what is the plan for Dundee for the rest of the season?
The immediate plan is to get through to Xmas and hopefully be out of administration by that point with the help of the supporters, the business community or other investors. If that can happen and we can keep the squad together we will be able to compete with the other teams in our league.

In the event the 25 point penalty sticks, is relegation something that is seen as a formality?
Well initially we thought that was the case, and that is clearly the intention of the SFL Board despite their public utterances to the contrary. It will be up to our management team and players to see if we can do something about that. It is an incredible ask but I can say that the players are defiant in the face of this ludicrous punishment and will do all they can to prevent relegation.

Do you feel that some of the club chairmen who voted for the penalty of 25 points did so out of their own interest and not that of Scottish football?
It is hard to tell who voted for what and why as we are not given this information. It does seem a strange system where our 1st Division rep, Jim Leishman (MBE and former manager of Dunfermline and Livingston) of Dunfermline Athletic, is stood down due to a perceived conflict of interest and yet the 2nd Division rep is still allowed a say despite a clear interest in having Dundee FC competing in that league. The verdict itself is not in any interest of Scottish football as it is clearly designed to relegate Dundee FC this season and there has been numerous top people within the game, including Walter Smith, arguing that this is lunacy. I think the SFL have made a grave error in judgement here which could accelerate a split in the game.

How would you assess the approach of DFC towards matters of finance in the last 12 months?
Well there’s a number of issues in that question that we could be here all day discussing. In short we had a single benefactor who in effect picked up the tab for monthly shortfalls. That situation changed, and changed dramatically, where we ended up unable to service the bills for the month of September and had no choice but to enter administration.

If we had not taken that decision HMRC would have moved for liquidation where the end result would be the cessation of the club and an inability to complete our fixtures in the SFL, thereby undermining the integrity of the league. Administration was the only option available to us to prevent that and to complete our fixtures, in effect maintaining the integrity of the league. There are a number of clubs in Scotland who have such benefactor and the difference between ours and theirs is ongoing continuing support.

Is it perhaps a good thing that the club were not promoted last season?
No definitely not. That was the gamble that the previous Board took which ultimately failed because we could not hold on and win the league despite spending a fortune on players and maintaining a large squad.

Do you understand the view of (most though not all) fans from other SD1 clubs who are, to say the least, short on sympathy towards Dundee and their supporters?
I completely understand where they are coming from. Some will be having a fair old chuckle at our expense and we have to take that on the chin. I have to say however we are getting numerous messages of support from the very same clubs fans’ so I’d say it’s a mixed reaction, I tend to find the most vocal use the internet and there’s a silent majority out there who are a little more sympathetic. We’ve played two away games since admin and both clubs (Falkirk and Stirling) have been very good to us.

What would be your response to some of the schadenfreude coming the way of the club?
It is what it is. We’ve a job to do and we’ll do it without distraction in getting involved in that.

Do you think the way the Scottish League is structured almost encourages this kind of approach? Look at St Johnstone, who spent years trying to get into the SPL while remaining prudent with finance. One year of course they missed out on the last day of the season to Gretna whose own demise was well-documented.
What type of approach? If you mean trying to accelerate promotion then I’m pretty sure many of the SFL Div 1 teams would have loved a white knight with investment. The thing with such investment would be to use it prudently and be fiscally responsible. The mistake at Dundee was not to get the money in advance and use it for the long term benefit of the club and its structure.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing though and that didn’t happen. St Johnstone are one of the few exceptions. Nearly the entire 1st Division runs at a deficit and some of the debt out there is incredible. The accounts of some of the clubs are mind boggling, and I’ve found recently that those clubs have been most vocal in having us punished!!!

From what you’re saying, it seems likely that there could be other cases of clubs going into administration or worse within Scotland?
Well according to David Longmuir (Chief Executive of the Scottish Football League) he has now been involved in 3 administrations since taking office in 2007. That doesn’t show me that the SFL have been actively looking for solutions to avoid the problem, preferring instead to ignore the clear financial issues within the league structure. How difficult would it be to have some sort of quarterly club report sent in detailing each clubs financial position in a meaningful way. Surely that is a better early warning system than getting HMRC to in effect “red light” clubs when it is too late to help? So in answer I suppose it’s simply a case of who and when from the next club to enter administration.

Would fewer, larger divisions in Scotland encourage more planning, longer-term thinking and be better for the game as a whole?
What is certainly required is some sort of restructure of the game. There are perhaps 16 to 18 genuinely full time professional teams who want to compete at the highest level they can, but unfortunately at any one time 6 to 8 of those will be stuck in the SFL with one chance a year of getting out. The product is declining and attendances suffering as a result. They are governed by a Board whose agenda in life may be entirely different to their own. It’s probably time for a single governing body that understands the needs of all the clubs in the system and can adapt. We have the SFA, SPL and SFL in a country this size, it’s incredible to any outsider and can’t be justified in any sensible way.

And would it make another story like this one less likely?
Perhaps but a sensible, concise and well thought out set of rules would help more.

What do you think the lesson of the story is for Scottish football as a whole?
I think that over the course of this whole story, which has nowhere near reached a conclusion, there will be lessons for all. Certainly how we run this football club will change, it will change immediately. I think one of the things that should happen, and we don’t expect any inclusion in this, is that there is date picked and some sort of fiscal amnesty period where those deep in trouble can bring out their problems in a way which is treated sympathetically and without prejudice. An admission of the real situation out there and help in finding s

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