Time For Dundee To Prove That Lessons Have Been Learned
Many congratulations to everyone connected with the new regime at Dundee, who came out of administration earlier this month. Any misgivings about the CVA came to naught, HMRC declined to lodge any objections, and administrator Bryan Jackson has now passed on control to the new regime. The club has been saved from extinction by the hard work of – and money raised by – the Supporters Society and the local business consortium, and members from these two strands of the buy out now make up the club’s new board.
For all the criticisms of the club over the past year – and I’ve made some myself and stand by them – this has been a terrific effort for which everyone involved is due much credit. Hopefully their talk of sustainability and transparency will be genuine this time, and there will be no danger of any such trouble looming for a third occasion.
On the field at least, they do have grounds for optimism. The team responded to administration during the season by going on a 23 game unbeaten run, and although some of that team will be leaving, a number of the key players have already re-signed for next season (now that the transfer embargo has been lifted). Perhaps more importantly, manager Barry Smith has signed a new, longer term contract.
Smith, remember, was appointed post-administration following the redundancies of the previous management team, and was thus in charge through that unbeaten run. It’s true that, even with a reduced squad, the team he inherited was much better than the early season performances under Gordon Chisholm would suggest. It’s also true that the off-field troubles clearly had a galvanising effect on everyone at the club, including the players. Next season, Smith will face new challenges in new circumstances and we’ll have to see how he gets on. But none of that detracts from the excellent job he’s done this season, as a rookie manager, and it’s good news for the club that he’s staying on.
I’m also going to be interested to see how the fans respond, over the longer term, or more importantly how long the honeymoon period lasts. They have got behind the team splendidly this season – I was up at Dens a few weeks ago, and even when the team were 1-0 down and passes were going astray I didn’t hear a peep from the usual whingers, just wall-to-wall encouragement to which the players clearly responded. (It made me all the more mystified about our culture of booing our own teams.)
From my perspective, there is however a bit of a downside to this, insofar as this spirit was fostered on a siege mentality which to some extent blamed others for the crisis rather than acknowledge the full level of the club’s own failings. It’s difficult to know, in this regard, how representative were the Supporters Society statements or the general soundings from Dundee fans on internet messageboards – but it’s clear that there was and is considerable anger at the Scottish Football League for the level of their points deduction (25 points) and the way the case was dealt with.
Much of the rest of Scottish football, in contrast, believes that they ended up getting off with it rather lightly – less than a year on they’ve emerged relatively unscathed and ready for a fresh start. It may be that the SFL will need to revisit their rules on insolvency to seek consistency or common ground on this score. I’ve defended their flexibility on it up to now, and I think I still prefer it to the fixed penalties of other leagues, but the discrepancy between Livingston’s double relegation of two years ago and Dundee’s survival in the first division this season does raise questions – even though I can see how it happened and see the reasons for it.
At the time of Dundee’s punishment I thought it was about right, so I’m not going to change my mind in hindsight. But the SFL will also need to look at whether this was, in the event, sufficient to cancel out the competitive advantage gained by their overspending, and to look at how Dundee were able to keep such a good and comparatively well-paid squad together even while defaulting on so much debt. (And when I say comparatively, I’m thinking specifically of the two part-time clubs who ended up being relegated from that division while Dundee survived.)
Even the article on Dundee’s website announcing their exit from administration contained a final barb aimed at the rest of the football community, Chief Executive Harry MacLean (who has been there throughout and survives into the new era) commenting that “we cannot simply copy what has gone on at other clubs but that we need to write a new way of doing things”.
While the second part of that is to be welcomed, the first part of it is an attitude that, to my mind, needs to be banished if Dundee are really to show they have learned the lessons of their two insolvencies. It’s true that there are other badly-run clubs in Scottish football (though there are also plenty of well-run ones). And yes, there are plenty other clubs with debts, some much bigger than Dundee’s. But the level of debt alone is not where the problem arose – it’s who it was owed to and the inability to service it. Dundee cannot blame “copying others” for their sins: they were comfortably outspending the rest of their division while not paying their tax bill. This is not a case of “there but for the grace …”: both their collapses, in 2003 and last year, were the result of particularly reckless overspending, and outside of maybe Gretna I’m struggling to think of parallels.
So, to repeat, my misgivings remain – both about the descent into administration and the way it was handled thereafter. There is much that needs to be learnt from it, both at Dundee and elsewhere, and much to be done to demonstrate that learning. But despite all this, my affection for the club and my best wishes for the future are genuine. I’ve had some happy days at Dens and hope to have many more.
This will, I hope, be the last of my series of articles on the recent situation at the club. For my own reference as much as anything else, here’s how my coverage of it has unfolded here on twohundredpercent over the last year:
1. Dundee Count The Cost Of Failure (2nd June 2010)
2. Dundee Count The Cost Of Failure (part 2) (28th September 2010)
3. Dundee On The Brink (6th October 2010)
4. Dundee In Administration: The Fall-Out Begins (16th October 2010)
5. Dundee Given 25 Point Penalty (2nd November 2010)
6. (Mostly) Good News For Dundee (22nd December 2010)
7. Doha, Dundee and David Goodwillie: Some Updates (17th January 2011)
8. Dundee’s CVA Passes (For Now) (13th Febuary 2011)
Good luck to them for the future.
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