A key reason cited by the Scottish Professional Football League for bringing an immediate end to this season is not backed up in detail in its accounts.
SPFL executives have said the organisation cannot risk loaning money to clubs struggling amid the coronavirus shutdown because a loan made to Gretna in 2008 was never fully repaid when the club went bust.
The SPFL favoured ending the season now so it could distribute prize money across the four divisions according to league position and try to ensure no clubs go out of business. The bottom three tiers have already received money with their campaigns closed.
Some clubs, including Rangers, have argued strongly against this and there have been calls for the SPFL to loan clubs money to assist in the short term before an assessment is made of whether the campaign can resume.
The SPFL’s chief executive, Neil Doncaster, and chairman, Murdoch MacLennan, have said the experience with Gretna illustrates the “fundamental problem” with loans. But the governing body’s accounts show no record of a loan and the money was described at the time by Gretna’s administrators as an advance.
Although Gretna’s chairman, Ron MacGregor, said on 12 March 2008 that the governing body, then called the SPL, was making available “a loan against money that would have been due to us at the end of April anyway”, there is no record that a loan was then made.
The SPL did not appear on Gretna’s list of creditors and paperwork lodged at Companies House by Wilson Field, Gretna’s administrators, in August 2008 said the SPL “has advanced sufficient monies to allow footballing fixtures to be completed and to pay the costs of administration during this period”. The administrators’ trading account shows “funds advanced from SPL” as £572,532.
An individual who worked on Gretna’s insolvency, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “I have no idea what the SPL called it or how they recorded it in their accounts but the reality is that it was monies advanced from the SPL to allow Gretna to finish the season.”
SPFL executives have in recent days outlined their opposition to loans. MacLennan said: “Previously, a loan had been made to Gretna to enable it to complete its SPL fixtures at the end of a season. The club was ultimately liquidated, the loan was never fully repaid and all of the other clubs lost fee payments as a result. This demonstrates the fundamental problems with loans to clubs.”
On Saturday Doncaster told BBC Radio Scotland: “That’s the fundamental problem with loans. In the case of Gretna, they did complete the season but they went bust and were not able to repay the amount. So all the other clubs in the league carried the can and were liable for the loss due to Gretna defaulting on the loan repayments.”
The Guardian asked the SPFL where the loan Gretna loan was visible in its accounts and what the total was, why the SPL did not appear as a creditor and how it explained being mentioned solely in context of having advanced funds.
A spokesman said: “The additional funding made available to the administrator of Gretna FC was not separately identified in the SPL accounts. The total funding, in excess of fees due to Gretna FC for 2007-08, was £398,000, which was the amount of reduced income for all other SPL clubs the following season.”
The SPL’s accounts for 2008-09 make no mention of reduced income being available to clubs because of Gretna, nor of a £398,000 hit to clubs.
Its accounts for 2007-08 reference the pretty standard release of two loans to clubs, totalling £200,000. “All amounts due were repaid in full before the year end,” the league states.
Doncaster was hired as the SPL’s chief executive in July 2009 and has continued in the role at the rebranded SPFL. Member clubs are due to receive a dossier this week from Rangers which the club claims includes evidence that an independent investigation should be held into circumstances surrounding a vote to end the campaign. The SPFL has denied any wrongdoing.