On Saturday morning Viking Supporters Co-operative Chair Gareth Thomas was granted an audience with John Ryan, and duly put a number of questions to the Rovers Chairman regarding the recent monumental shift in approach from the club. On Sunday a transcript of this meeting was made available by Gareth on the VSC’s message-board. The manner in which Dean Saunders was appointed was not covered in their discussion, but below you’ll find the transcript of what was and our own feedback on the points raised, and those skirted round.
Gareth Thomas: Is it true that the club is seeking to reduce its wage bill to £4m as reported in the Daily Mail?
John Ryan: Yes it’s true, but it’s a long-term objective, not an immediate cost cutting exercise. We cannot continue to subsidise the costs of DRFC, we are losing £4m this year and it can’t go on, but we won’t sacrifice ourselves just like that, we want to stay in the Championship, so we have to plan this carefully.
Just how true is it that Willie McKay has exclusive rights over all transfers in and out for the next two years?
It’s not true. Dean and I will look at targets and see who we can bring in. Willie has a fantastic contact list, so obviously we will use his assets as we can, but there is no ‘exclusive rights’ that’s just poor reporting by journalists.
If this is true how do the existing players feel about that?
They are not kept in the dark. We were in a tough position, we still are. They know we need to change things. They like Dean, they respond to him and they know the score. They are in good spirits, and are focussing on the job in hand.
If this is true what are the benefits to DRFC of such an exclusive arrangement?
The benefit is Willie and his great connections, coupled with Dean’s connections too. It’s not exclusive, but I think their contacts can really solve our problems.
How will this scheme work in practice? i.e. will the manager identify needs either in terms of specific players or positions that he would like filled or will he be presented with a range of players that he is expected to take irrespective of who that player may replace in the team?
It’s down to Dean to pick the team; simple as that. He’s been offered a few players, he’s looked at them, it’s not mandatory he goes with them. He’s said ‘no’ to four already. It’s a learning curve for all of us, let’s see how it goes.
Can you confirm that the manager is completely free to choose his own team?
Yes he is. That’s why he’s here. He knows his own mind, he wants to sort out our team and keep us in the Championship.
Will the arrangements with players’ parent clubs include guarantees that they will play irrespective of any other considerations?
There are no guarantees really. If they are good enough, and fit into our plans, they will play.
How many of the short-term signings/loan players are you prepared to see in the team at any one time?
I can’t really answer that. There are regulations, but it’s about getting the right players in.
Have the existing players been fully briefed on this plan? And if so, do they support it?
Yes they are fully briefed, they understand, and they are fighting for their places!
What safeguards are in place that would allow the club to break the contract before the two years is up if things are obviously not working?
Well, if it’s not working I think Willie will walk away anyway. Right now it’s about being positive and making things work. And if it got that bad, which it won’t, I believe Willie’s £100 per week is not a big obstacle. He is not even invoicing us for it. He says he wants this model to work, show the formula is a winning one, and we believe it will work.
How do you react to comments attributed to Willie McKay in the Daily Mail where he is alleged to say the club has no value and no fans?
Again it’s a poor representation of what Willie said. He said we had a poor fan base, we were losing money and we needed a solution to these problems. Let’s face it we have trouble filling the stadium, the fans don’t turn up every week to fill the stadium and we are losing money. So, the bare facts are disturbing, and we needed a new financial model to help us survive even prosper with this new approach.
What are you planning on doing with the stadium, and the Viking Supporters Co-operative, and, can we have a ‘golden share’ as a sign of good faith?
We won’t be looking to purchase the stadium. We are looking for a long-term lease, and to really take control of the stadium affairs as we think we can do a much better job than the SMC (Stadium Management Committee). Just look at the losses the SMC has had and continues to have, and it’s easy to see we can do a far better job without their poor management.
How do you feel about Willie McKay bringing this arrangement into the public arena, in regards to a. effect on the reputation of the club, and b. likelihood of securing players in the future on “traditional” deals if they think they will be pushed out by some foreign big name on loan, etc.?
Willie is a character, we all can say that, and he likes to publicise his activities. The press want to vilify what he does, but he is an agent and a damn good one. He can help us. He can make this work. He has great contacts, and now, little ol’ Donny has an agreement with St Etienne, a Champions League club. It’s not a bad start is it? Folk will moan and groan, says it’s not right, but neither are the actions of some clubs going into liquidation owing thousands to local suppliers or even to the taxman.
We are playing it straight, trying to survive and then build, and Willie can make it happen. We have not had such an ambition or such a contact opportunity like this, so we will try our damnedest to make it work. Let’s face it we could not and would not go on in the current vein, so it’s a test for all of us. I just hope and pray the fans will get behind us, and not quickly react to damn us for trying to survive, trying to rebuild the club, and trying to move us forward. It won’t just be about short-term deals either we will continue to look to bring players in through the ‘traditional’ route.
Do you think the club could have done more to get the fans on-side? i.e. better media management etc.
I think we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t. I’ve put millions into the club, I’m a fan first then a businessman, otherwise I would have walked away tears ago. I brought Terry [Bramall] and Dick [Watson] into the club to help us move on, but now that Terry has pulled the plug on any more investment, we had to do something, the losses were not sustainable. Yet I was, and I am desperate, no it’s better to say passionate, to keep us in the Championship and move us on. It was a roller-coaster situation and really hard to control, but let’s just see how it goes. I’ve gone on Radio and in the press to tell folk how it is. Just don’t believe all you see in the Daily Mail. I’ve done a press release for the Mirror which will hopefully answer a lot. The Mail would not even grant me a right to reply, which says a lot about their reports eh?
Have the board got any kind of long-term strategy beyond staying in this division for the next two years?
Yes, but let’s get this season sorted first. We can talk about this later. I’m always willing to talk to the Viking Supporters Co-operative, but time is short today.
We need to sort out the ticket prices sooner so we can engage Donny fans. At the moment it’s too complicated, too pricey. How can we help, get input much earlier, be your critical friend?
I believe your input is invaluable, you are right about this and I want to involve you re next seasons pricing. In fact, why not get it started so Dick and I can see your model, your pricing ideas, let’s give it a go. Just remember when we did some low-price ticketing incentives we really lost money. The fans didn’t fill the stadium, so it’s not just a simple solution of ‘cut the price’ and it’s solved. We made some big losses there. Let’s talk later on.
Can we address the situation with whoever is leaking confidential information from within the club to the press? Maybe the Chief Executive should issue a memo to all staff that what they are doing constitutes gross misconduct. Then again would he even think of this? Probably not. Remember, the VSC keep things confidential, why can`t the club employees do the same?
I’m going to look into this. Let’s see.
How do you react to all the fans criticism of Dave Morris as really not Chief Executive material? A liability, rather than an asset?
I can comment on this. Maybe it’s got personal. The VSC have an open invite to contact me, so let’s use this channel as much as is necessary. You have my phone numbers, you can call me anytime.
So there you have it, a lot of feedback and response, but not a lot in the form of explanatory information. What does this Q&A session actually tell us? John Ryan is passionate about Doncaster Rovers. But this we knew and appreciated, and questions about Rovers new approach are not questions of Ryan’s support for the club, a distinction that needs to be appreciated more widely. We like you John. We appreciate all you have done for this club over the last ten years. But we are supporters too. And we are concerned. Is Championship survival really worth selling our soul for?
What is being presented to us is a straight forward option; it was McKay’s way or the highway. The picture painted is that the previous approach was sending us spiralling to League One under the weight of an unsupportable wage-bill, whereas the current model will keep us in the Championship and lessen the club’s outgoings. It’s surely not that clear-cut, is it? Ryan insists the move to try to reduce the wage bill is “a long term objective, not an immediate cost-cutting exercise”, so why was the change in approach so swift? And if we couldn’t continue down the previous path financially, was it really wise to risk another one that would necessitate a sizable compensation payment to a departing manager?
“Folk will moan and groan, says it’s not right, but neither are the actions of some clubs going into liquidation owing thousands to local suppliers or even to the taxman,” says Ryan. Of course the latter option is not right, so why cite it? Is Ryan suggesting that Rovers would have been facing that possibility? If not then why offer it is as a comparison point? It’s as empty a statement as saying “folk will say burglary isn’t right, but neither is grievous bodily harm”.
And on the subject of question avoidance, “I think we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t” is hardly an apt response to a question as to whether the club could have done more to get the fans onside through the way they handled the media. Unfortunately Ryan takes such questions personally, which in a way I suppose reflects positively the pride he shows in the club, but it means we don’t get the frank answers we really deserve. The answer John is yes, yes the club could. The club, not you. The club’s media should not be dependent on you making personal appearances on Radio Sheffield to quash rumours; succinct and informative press releases from the start would have ensured you didn’t have to seek right of reply to the Mail.
Similarly dismissing the statements made by Willie McKay as “poor reporting by journalists” doesn’t really cover the issue when McKay went on BBC Radio 5Live a day after the Daily Mail report to reiterate the same points. If he is “a character” and “likes to publicise his activities” why wasn’t he pulled into line after the article was printed in the Mail, rather than being allowed to go on 606 the next night and boast about his arrangement even further and also seemingly take the credit for Wigan reaching the Carling Cup final? He may be “an agent and a damn good one” in the view of Ryan, but a PR expert he is not.
On the subject of the McKay deal Ryan responds to the question of safeguards over the arrangement by stating; “Well, if it’s not working I think Willie will walk away anyway.” But what if it is not working for Rovers? Its working for Willie already, he’s got contracts for two of his previously unemployed clients and allegedly an arrangement with West Ham over commission from any future sale of Herita Ilunga. But what if it’s not working for us, what then? McKay’s £100 per week may not be “a big obstacle”, but what about the reported £2,000 per week of Chimbonda, Diouf et al. If McKay buggers off at Christmas, he’s lost nothing but Rovers have paid out much more in wages than they would have done without McKay’s involvement.
What we have learnt is actually very minimal. The club is no longer looking to purchase the Keepmoat Stadium outright as had been stated by Ryan at the VSC meeting in August, but instead secure a long-term (i.e. up to 100 years) lease. Ultimately there is little difference between those two approaches, and it’s likely the switch will be down to the Council having second thoughts about looking to sell the Stadium. Although there is a chance it could be down to revelation number two, that director Terry Bramall is unwilling to put in any more of his own money.
As we continue to state Rovers are in effect chucking all our chips on the square marked Championship in the hope that when the roulette wheel stops that’s where the ball will have landed. John Ryan is desperate, no passionate, to remain in the Championship, as indeed are the club, but is that really worth selling your sole for? I lamented the purchase of El Hadji Diouf earlier today as a further dent to the credibility of the club, a further chunk of the reputation we had established over the last ten years hacked away. The response my lament earned was “Our club’s credibility was costing JR £3million a year”. They are a terrible burden on the pocket are ethics.
And so to the purchase of El Hadji Diouf earlier today, a story seemingly constructed in a manner so as to back up Ryan’s rubbishing of the extent of McKay’s agreement with the club. “Saunders lands Diouf” was the headline. “Dean Saunders pulled off a coup today with the signing of Senegalese star El Hadji Diouf” began the article and went on to add; “Despite being pursued by several other clubs, including Premier League outfits, Diouf decided to join Rovers after having talks with Rovers boss Dean Saunders.” How stupid do Doncaster Rovers think we are? Or was it really the persuasive cajoling of Willie McKay client Dean Saunders that persuaded Willie McKay client El Hadji Diouf to sign for Rovers? Not only are we being told very little, other than the passion of the Chairman of course, but we are now having our intelligence insulted as well.