Portadown’s Board of Directors made contact this week with Johnston Press senior sports reporter Patrick Van Dort to answer fans’ concerns raised by the Irish Football Association Appeals Board ruling.
The verdict released last week confirmed a 12-point deduction for the Danske Bank Premiership and a decision to award Coleraine a 3-0 win - punishments in relation to issues over the contract status of player Peter McMahon and non-payment of fines.
Calls came from the supporters demanding resignations and chants were directed at club officials last weekend at Shamrock Park.
That match, a 1-0 defeat to Coleraine, was played with Vinny Arkins promoted from assistant manager the previous night to interim boss following Pat McGibbon’s shock resignation.
In a bid to clarify the officials’ viewpoint, Trevor Marshall - with the full support of the Board of Directors - spoke to the Portadown Times in a special question-and-answer session:
Q1: Can you understand why so many fans have directed such strong feelings towards the Board of Directors?
A: We accept that mistakes were made and we profusely apologise to all Portadown fans for the situation.
Q2: What is your response against accusations in the IFA report that Portadown “deliberately sought to deceive the IFA”?
A: We submitted the annual Salary Protocol return for 2014/15 and this included payments to Peter McMahon for the period of January 1, 2015-April 30, 2015 plus payments to Gary Twigg for 52 weeks.
The club, inclusive of these £167,000 (approx) payments, remained within the agreed salary limit of £186,000 (approx).
It was following this submission that the IFA produced the contracts they held for Twigg and McMahon - at this point it came to light that Twigg’s contract held by the IFA specified 38 weeks and McMahon’s contract submitted to IFA had been altered.
Q3: Why did you describe the IFA verdict as having “shafted” the club?
A: We accepted that club officials responsible for player contracts had erred but, in both cases, considered the punishment imposed as excessive.
All payments had been made correctly by the club and all taxes accounted for so, we felt, the issues were administrative errors.
We feel it is important to note, despite language used by others, the IFA did not punish the club for illegally hidden payments but payments “not disclosed in the player’s contract”.
We consider it an important distinction in that, although mistakes have been made, there was never an attempt to benefit via undocumented payments but it instead came down to two contrasting contracts.
Q4: Why did you feel so positive after the Appeals Board hearing?
A: The issues revolved around player contracts. The directors had no direct input into the handling of player contracts but, ultimately, accept we are responsible for the actions of all employees of the club.
However, we went into every step of the process with confidence in our evidence and explanations for each appeal.
That is why we feel so frustrated - because we believe the same level of discretion granted clubs in previous disciplinary circumstances was not granted to our situation.
Q5, Why do you feel the double appeal was unsuccessful?
A: We were astounded by the determination of the Appeals Board.
It was made clear that the verdict would prove final and we had a 24-hour period in which only to “check spellings of names” but not to dispute or counter any information.
The fact that one key date printed as July 2 should, as backed up by our evidence (a bank statement seen by the ‘Times’), say August 2 is one example of an error and why we considered the verdict so surprising.
At various times across the process we presented a list of inaccuracies from previous appeals but felt those were often ignored or dismissed.
The verdict paints a negative picture of our club but we maintain the feeling the punishment is extremely excessive and even the language used adds weight to that perception of Portadown FC.
We feel a deep frustration at the final verdict and also the impact on the image of the club when, at all times, we acted with the good of Portadown at heart in an attempt to clarify mistakes we maintain were administrative errors.
Q6: How do you respond to the sense the directors proved ill-prepared or unconvincing across the process?
A: We were frustrated that information or versions of events would often end up leaked and they added to the negativity.
We had delays for various reasons, including both parties in need of time to produce additional requested evidence.
We went into each appeal having accepted the guilty verdict could not be changed so our preparations centred on the severity of the punishment.
At times we felt the appeal became similar to going over the trial again and, as a result of preparing to discuss only the punishment, both parties suffered from a lack of specific evidence.
Q7: Your defence of the McMahon appeal was that directors did not have any “direct input” into players’ contracts but the second appeal relates to fines, which must be considered the directors’ responsibility?
A: With no income over the close season and costs continuing to run, it is always a difficult time to manage cashflow.
A payment was due from the Northern Ireland Football League for £4,200 which we agreed would go towards the £5,000 Twigg fine.
This NIFL payment was late and left us without the funds to cover the fine.
A “payment on account” of £3,000 was made to the IFA on the strength of the NIFL payment but when this was delayed a “stop” was placed on the cheque and the £3,000 paid personally by a director.
Q8: Can the directors assure fans that mistakes will never be repeated?
A: Our records show the club is on a sound financial footing. We have been planning additions to the Board of Directors from the summer, with that first phase now implemented this week.
We have taken on board lessons from this whole process and the restructuring will help the club move forward. We remain united and dedicated to getting the club back on track together.
The full IFA Appeals Board verdict is available online.