Frequently debated and often misunderstood, the three point deduction that Middlesbrough FC suffered in 1997 is a bone of contention for many a Boro fan. Instead of offering my own views, I present to you the transcript of Steve Gibson’s letter to Peter Lever of the Premier League.
Having read and digested it, I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. Feel free to use the comment section at the foot of the page to vent your spleen if you so wish.
I am in receipt of your letter dated 27th May 1997. As you may except I am deeply disappointed with it’s content.
I believe that you have dismissed our request for an independent review on the technical legal strength of you case which is strongly enhanced by the Ouster clause an no consideration has been given to what is just and equitable.
Given the legal strength of your case I have no alternative other than to accept the penalties imposed upon my Club which constitutes a £50,000.00 fine and the deduction of 3 points.
This resulted in the playing performance of the Club being artificially place in 19th position against the true merit position of 14th in the premier league. The consequences have been a loss in the ladder system payment of £528,575 and relegation to the First Division with a forecast revenue loss of £7,500,000.
I have carried out a full investigation of my Clubs involvement in this incident and I have taken all action which I consider appropriate. I am still left with a grave sense of injustice as I am unable to reach any other conclusion than that this incident was most certainly avoidable and that it was not avoided is, I believe, due largely to the action of the officials of the Premier League both on the day and subsequent to it.
The duty of the care and responsibility which the officials of the Premier League owe to the member clubs was not afforded to my Club and I believe that the facts show your officials to be both incompetent and negligent.
The basis for this conclusion was presented to you at our meeting on Friday 16th May 1997 and then again in my letter to you dated 21st May 1997 and you have been unable, or unwilling to answer any of the questions I have posed. As a member of the Premier League clearly dissatisfied with the performance of its officials I must demand that you now respond.
Presently the only injured party is my Football Club is outlined below and I ask you immediately commission an independent enquiry into the actions of your officials and respond in full to the questions which follow our evidence.
FRIDAY 20TH DECEMBER 1996
1030 hours: Club Manager Mr. Robson advises Club Chief Executive Mr. Lamb that in addition to a serious injury crisis the situation has been exacerbated by a virus which has disabled 8 members of our playing staff, leaving available only 17 players from a squad of 40. The 17 fit players consist of 3 goal keepers and 5 young players who have never featured in the first team squad.
1045 hours: Club Doctor Dunn advises Mr. Robson and Mr. Lamb “I am uncertain how many of the 17 fit players will be fit tomorrow due to the virus”
1100 hours: Mr. Lamb rings the Premier League and asks to speak to Mr. Parry. Mr. Lamb is told that Mr. Parry is away from the office. Mr. Lamb asks to speak to Mr. Foster but is told that Mr. Foster is on holiday. Mr. Lamb eventually speaks to Mr. Cooke and asks for guidance on whether a game can be postponed.
He is told.
1. No power for the Premier League Board to postpone a game exists in rules of the Premier League.
2. The game could be postponed on the grounds of “just cause” but this had to be a decision made by Middlesbrough Football Club.
3. That Mr. Lamb should list the injured and ill players and confirm this by fax to the Premier League before the postponement is announced.
1130 hours: Mr. Lamb contacts Mr. Cooke further and invites the Premier League to conduct an independent medical assessment of the playing staff. MR. Cooke declines this offer and asks Mr. Lamb to send medical evidence by post.
1200 hours: Mr. Lamb drafts the letter containing the detail requested by Mr. Cooke and calls him to confirm that the wording and content is sufficient for the Premier League requirements.
1250 hours: Mr. Lamb sends the fax requested by Mr. Cooke having carefully considered that the circumstances constitute”just cause”. Mr. Lamb rings Mr. Cooke to inform him of the Clubs decision to postpone the game. Mr. Cooke volunteers to inform Blackburn Rovers and agrees that Mr. Lamb should inform the press at 1300 hours. Mr. Cooke informs Mr. Lamb of the potential breach of Rule B.19.1 after Mr. Cooke had spoken to Mr. Parry. Mr. Lamb tells Mr. Cooke that he is confident that the situation will amount to “just cause”.
1300 hours: At the weekly pre-match press conference Mr. Lamb and Mr. Robson announce the postponement of the game by Middlesbrough Football Club.
1430 hours: Mr. Lamb returns to his office, a message awaits that Mr. Foster had rung at approx. 1300 hours. Furthermore Mr. Finn of Blackburn Rovers had rung to express his surprise that he had heard of the postponement through the media. Mr. Foster speaks to Mr. Lamb and advises Mr. Lamb that the Club must accept the consequence of the postponement.
1. Why did Mr Cooke advise that no rule exists for the Board to postpone a game when power exists under rule B2(2)?
2. Why was Mr Lamb advised the Mr Parry was away from the office when we now know that he was on the premises?
3. Why did Mr Cooke not advise that there were no cases that could give guidance on what constituted “just cause” especially given the findings of the FA Board of Appeal in 1987 which instructed Mr Graham Kelly to change the “just cause” rule because it is unfair to ask Clubs to decide for themselves what amounts to “just cause” and then punish them if they get it wrong (Doncaster v Chester 16/12/87)?
4. Why did Mr Cooke not tell Mr Lamb that he had to play the game especially given the Doncaster v Chester 1987 FA Board of Appeal ruling which says that Clubs should always be told to play the game if they enough fit players.
5. Why did Mr Cooke ask Mr Lamb to send a fax and send medical evidence if he knew that the Club had more than 11 fit players and that the game should be played (Doncaster v Chester 16/12/97)
6. Why did Mr Cooke not ring Blackburn Rovers and inform them of the postponement as he volunteered?
7. At what time did Mr Cooke advise Mr Parry of my Clubs problems and what information did Mr Cooke pass to Mr Parry?
8. Did Mr Parry seek to constitute a Board meeting with Sir John Quentin and if not why not?
9. Why did neither Mr Parry, Mr Cooke nor Mr Foster at any time either verbally of in writing inform Mr Lamb that the game could not be postponed on the grounds of “just cause” for the reasons given orally and in writing by Mr Lamb to Mr Cooke?