The Club was disappointed with some of the decisions of the Disciplinary Commission and respectfully disagrees with both the finding that it was in breach of the P&S rules for the 2017/18 season and the sanction of a 12-point deduction to be applied in the 2020/21 season.
It is important to highlight that the Commission did not find that the sale of the stadium was itself prohibited by the P&S rules, nor that the Club acted anything other than in the utmost good faith with respect to that transaction. The Club had been assured by the EFL that the stadium sale could be included in its 2017/18 P&S returns and relied on those assurances. Having discussed the transaction with the EFL, the EFL having approved it and the Club’s auditors having signed off on it, the Club believed, and continues to believe, it was acting properly and in accordance with the rules. It is disappointing, in those circumstances, that the Commission went on to find the Club was nevertheless in breach of Charge 1.
The Club is pleased that Charge 2, which alleged that the Club had deliberately concealed certain matters from the EFL, was dismissed and that it was accepted that the Club acted openly and honestly in its dealings with the EFL. The Club further notes the Disciplinary Commission’s findings that this was a serious allegation that is not to be made lightly and an opportunity should have been afforded to the individuals involved to explain their position before the charge was brought. The Club welcomes the Disciplinary Commission’s suggestion that the EFL should have exercised its power to investigate under Regulations 82.2/3/4 as being a fairer approach rather than to bring the allegations without further investigation.
Despite the EFL’s “sanctioning guidelines” (which it is not accepted apply in this case) providing for any points deduction sanction to take effect in the year following the breach (which in the Club’s case would have been the 2018/19 season when it finished 24 points clear of the relegation zone) and other mitigating factors, the Commission imposed the maximum 12-point deduction for next season. The EFL sought to have the sanction imposed in the 2019/20 season that has just concluded, which would have seen the Club relegated, in stark contrast to the position it adopted in the Derby County disciplinary proceedings where it was content for any sanction to be imposed next season because Derby would not be relegated. The Club is pleased the Commission rejected such an inconsistent approach to sanctioning by the EFL.
Given the findings in respect of Charge 1 and the sanction imposed, the Club shall be appealing the Decision to an EFL League Arbitration Panel, both against the finding with respect to Charge 1 and the sanction. The Club believes its grounds of appeal to be strong. The Club will continue to take all appropriate steps to protect its interests, for the benefit of the Club and its supporters, and looks forward to the appeal being heard by the League Arbitration Panel at the earliest opportunity. While the Club does not set the timetable for the hearing of the appeal it considers it likely that it will take place in autumn 2020.
The Club will make no further comment until the outcome of the appeal is known.