THREE shareholders in Caley Thistle believe the future of the club is under threat because of the terms of their current stadium deal.
Two former chairmen, Doug McGilvray and Orion Group chairman Alan Savage, along with Mr McGilvray’s son Iain, have sent letters to club shareholders taking issue with chairman Graham Rae’s annual report, in particular the detail which stated the Tulloch Group is handing the stands back to the club but will maintain the lease of the ground.
The letter claims private interests have "taken precedence over the good of the club" and that the demise of Caley Thistle "in these circumstances is real". An attachment entitled The Golden (Property) Goal goes on to raise further questions about the lease arrangement.
Caley Thistle’s board indicated yesterday there were similar issues it was seeking clarification on too, and would provide an update at the club’s AGM next month.
The McGilvrays and Mr Savage expanded their Caley Jags holdings in August when they purchased 19 per cent of the club’s shares from the Highland Hospice, which were believed to have been a gift from former director Sandy Catto. At the time of buying the shares, Mr Savage rubbished any talk of a power struggle behind the scenes and said they simply wanted a transparent vision for Caley Thistle to move forward.
However, with the club’s AGM scheduled for December 18 and new directors to be proposed by the McGilvrays and Savage, this is a strong public move.
The letter reads: "As major shareholders we find ourselves having to ask questions as Dougie McGilvray did in 2001/02. Many of the questions that were asked in 2001 were never answered and it now looks like we are about to find ourselves without a lease, car parks or a stadium – just as predicted.
"We are about to have an AGM and at this time we do not know the financial position of the club or what assets it now owns. What kind of legacy is it that has been handed down by previous boards that we can’t be certain about something as fundamental as the assets the club owns?
"We have been reading in the press, and hearing some information, that there is going to be a transfer deal relating to the stadium ownership. What kind of deal is it that leaves the club without fixed assets that supporters can rely on in deciding whether to invest in the club?
"For the club to be viable, we require to get back to the 1994 agreement between the Highland Council and ICTFC whereby the council leased the land to the club on the basis that all infrastructure requirements be put in place so as to allow for the further development of the Longman and harbour areas. The club agreed to this and provided for an access road, coastal protection and other works to be undertaken for the benefit of the city.
"There needs to be proper professional governance, full transparency and fair dealing within ICTFC. This must happen if we want our club not just to survive but thrive.
"This great club seems to have lost its way, with private interests taking precedence over the good of the club. This is shameful and totally at odds with the spirit of partnership between the council, the Harbour Trust, HIE [Highlands and Islands Enterprise] and the original Highland League clubs that characterised the birth of Caley Thistle.
"The possibility of the demise of Caley Thistle in these circumstances is real. That should not and need not be allowed to happen."
In his pre-AGM report on Thursday, which revealed a loss of £422,000 for the year ending May 2017, Mr Rae stated there would be talks with Tulloch – as leaseholders – and landowner Highland Council regarding the car parks around the ground, should planning consent be received to develop the land.
Negotiations regarding the gifting of the stands back to the club, as publicised in December 2016, remain ongoing.
In the early days of 2000, Caley Thistle’s financial problems became apparent and as part of the agreement which saw Tulloch spirit away around £2 million of debt, they set up the Inverness Caledonian Thistle Charitable Trust, which assumed ownership of the lease and the fabric of the ground. However, over several years this has migrated from the trust back to Tulloch, in steps that have not been made public.
The Caley Thistle board of directors released a statement on Monday after receiving the open letter, indicating it too was seeking answers into past transactions that may have an impact on the club.
It stated: "The current board of directors of ICTFC is committed to full transparency, better governance and robust communication with all stakeholders. The ICTFC board is in receipt of an open letter and attachment entitled The Golden (Property) Goal.
"The letter raises a number of historical questions dating back to the inception of the club in 1994.
"The current ICTFC board has been seeking clarification on a number of these and other related matters that are pertinent to the ongoing successful operations of the club.
"Many of the issues raised cannot be answered by ICTFC directly, however we fully recognise the impact that past transactions and decisions have had, and may have, on the future of the club. To the extent possible, the board of directors will review those matters over which we have control, and will make a further statement at the forthcoming ICTFC AGM."
Doug McGilvray was chairman between 1995 and 2000, prior to Tulloch Homes chief David Sutherland taking over. He is CEO of crane hire company Weldex and his son Iain is managing director. Mr Savage was at the helm between 2006 and 2008, prior to Tulloch chief executive George Fraser taking the role.
Tulloch Homes was asked for a comment but did not respond prior to the Courier going to press.