PARTICK THISTLE supporters have launched a scathing attack on the club’s hierarchy as tensions surrounding the Glasgow team’s move to fan ownership have reached boiling point.

The Jags board got the ball rolling on Saturday afternoon when statements were released announcing that the club would no longer consider transferring the shares owned by Three Black Cats (3BC) – the company owned by the late Colin Weir that owns the principal shareholding in the club – to The Jags Foundation (TJF). One statement came from the Firhill boardroom and the other came from 3BC.

TJF is a supporters’ group made up of volunteers who have devoted over two years of their life to delivering a fan ownership model that works for the club. Rumours of tensions behind the scenes between board members of TJF and the club have subsisted for some time and multiple TJF directors have resigned in recent weeks after becoming frustrated with the Thistle board’s supposed inflexibility.

Much of the rancour rests around the decision from the club to deny TJF the opportunity to perform due diligence. The Thistle board have always insisted that the process has been open and transparent but multiple sources from TJF have told Herald and Times Sport that this is not the case.

The issue gained traction on Saturday when the club claimed that TJF’s board members were not ‘fit and proper’ and as such, Weir’s shares would not be transferred to them. That caused the TJF directors to resign en masse and a grassroots movement to find candidates for fresh elections has already sprung up.

The outgoing directors are stepping aside because of the club’s unwillingness to work with them and it is hoped that the new TJF board members will enjoy a better working relationship with the club. However, disgruntled fans published an open letter on Thursday evening – one that included the signature of Mhairi Black MP – demanding clarity from Firhill chiefs.

The statement said it was “outrageous” that TJF board members were deemed to be not fit and proper by the board, pointing out their collective experience in business and previous fundraising experience for the club. The supporters demanded to know what conditions the Thistle board are placing on the share transfer and calls to allow due diligence to be performed were repeated. “We need educated expectations, not guesses,” the letter explained.

The statement concluded: “Colin Weir was a willing and generous donor, and TJF is a willing ‘buyer’; we now just need a willing ‘seller’ to achieve his laudable aims. If you share our concerns, and would to know more, we are all longstanding fans, and you can contact any of us individually to discuss.

“It's always been our club - time to make it official.”

Since the open letter, signed by 23 supporters, was published, dozens more fans have come forward to add their names and lend their support to their cause.

Stuart Callison is a former board member of TJF who felt he had no choice but to resign due to the approach taken by the club towards the move to fan ownership. Saturday’s explosive statements from the club and 3BC didn’t exactly catch him off-guard and he believes it raises more questions than answers.

“Even though I didn’t see eye to eye with them on tactics, the TJF board members are serious people who had really bent over backwards to try and please the current chair [Jacqui Low],” Callison, who was a cosignatory on Thursday’s open letter, explained.

“The suggestion that they are not ‘fit and proper’ people is an absolutely outrageous claim. These are folk that run successful businesses, one of them [Caroline Mackie] helped raise tens of thousands of pounds through Help The Jags. I thought that was a disgraceful statement actually and I feel very sorry for the people involved.

“What definition of ‘fit and proper’ is Jacqui Low reading from? What criteria are the people in The Jags Foundation who are doing their very best failing?

“You can’t throw around accusations without telling us what ‘fit and proper’ people are. The board said they haven’t followed the objectives but there are no objectives and these poor people have been left going ‘what can we actually do?’.”

The issue of due diligence has proven to be a particularly thorny one for the Thistle board and 3BC. The club argue that as the fans’ group is being gifted the shares, they are not legally obliged to open up the books for a forensic examination.

It might not be a requirement in the eyes of the law but the feeling from TJF – and concerned supporters – is that not only is it standard practice, but allowing due diligence to be carried out would be a gesture of goodwill from the club board.

“It’s about knowing what you’re dealing with,” Callison says. “If someone gave you a house and told you that you had to live in it and be responsible for all the upkeep thereafter, you wouldn’t just say thank you and move in tomorrow. That’s basically what we’re talking about here.”

Sandy Fyfe, who is a partner in an accountancy firm and performs due diligence as part of his working life, walked away from TJF over the apparent unwillingness to share financial information. Andrew Holloway, another supporter who is a director of an accountancy firm and who co-signed Thursday’s open letter, was also left baffled by the club’s alleged lack of transparency.

“Due diligence is conventional in any situation where there is a transfer of shares,” Holloway said. “The fact that on the consideration line we’re slotting in zero is completely irrelevant.

“A lot has been made of the fact that it is not a legal requirement but it is customary. In the context of this size of business it should not be a significant exercise. It’s just what happens. It’s sensible and for the purposes of Partick Thistle it should be non-intrusive and easy to do.”

There have been suggestions that the Jags board have been reluctant to divulge the requested information due to its commercially sensitive nature. Given that all TJF directors signed non-disclosure agreements, though, it is not an argument that carries much substance.

Further accusations have been levied at the current club board and there is a common theme to them all – that TJF directors feel strung along by Thistle chiefs. Serious proposals as to how fan ownership would work in practice were dismissed “out of hand”, according to a TJF statement released on Saturday, while communication between the two bodies is claimed to have been practically non-existent at times.

There are three members of the club board who were appointed as fan representatives – Andrew Byron, Alan Caldwell and John Penman – and the trio have been accused of having little or no contact with TJF’s board. Even when a liaison officer was appointed to improve communication between the fans’ group and the club, the same old problems apparently persisted.

Callison recalled: “There was a director on the board of the football club and we were told that information would be shared and that we were going to learn about the running of the business, including the financial side. But it didn’t happen. No meaningful information was ever shared.”

There are accusations, too, that the club were unwilling to consider a 30-page proposal based on a Motherwell-style fan ownership model.

“These protocols that were presented to the club are the same ones in place at every other successful fan-owned club in the country,” Callison pointed out. “Exeter, Wimbeldon, Hearts, Motherwell – it’s the same stuff and yet they were blanked, stonewalled. We can’t accept that we will get some lesser form of fan ownership than these clubs.

“You can’t just take it on blind faith that everything is fine. You can’t have a form of fan ownership which is totally different to every other club in the UK. And we’re not going to accept some sort of Astroturf fans’ group where all the so-called representatives are hand-picked. We won’t accept a scenario where we won’t have any control or any say.”

Low was contacted by Herald and Times Sport for an interview but turned down the opportunity, saying that the issues raised would only be discussed at the end of the season. Partick Thistle were given the chance to respond to the claims made in this article and Herald and Times Sport were simply directed towards Saturday’s statements from 3BC and the club.

“Whilst many good people have given their time and efforts, TJF appears to have gotten sidetracked from making the case to 3BC as to their suitability for accepting the shares,” Saturday’s statement from 3BC read. “Nothing we have seen to date persuades us they have made progress towards passing the ‘fit and proper’ test to receive the shares. Nor have they have shared their vision for their involvement in the future of the club.

“We believe that to hand over the shares to TJF could be to the detriment of the club, its stability and potentially jeopardise its future. That was not Colin’s intention in making this gift.

“So, after more than two years, it’s time to get on and deliver on his aspirations. We have started the process of returning the land to the club and have set up a meeting with the club board to share our thoughts around options for the shareholding.

“In line with the club’s request for the focus to be on the football for what remains of the season, 3BC will use that time to assess how the transfer of shares can be made sooner rather than later, with a view to reporting back once the season ends.”

A statement from the Firhill board said: “The club notes today’s announcement by 3BC regarding TJF. It is disappointing and regrettable that TJF will not be the vehicle used for the transfer of the majority shareholding to Thistle supporters. But our recent experience of working with TJF has raised concerns amongst directors that, despite our best efforts to move things on, we were not making any substantive progress.

“Much has been made of due diligence, which has no legal requirement for a gift. What TJF wanted was for the club to complete a form giving a snapshot of the club’s position on a single day. Instead, we offered to put a director on our board to give a full, unhindered view of the current financials and operations on an ongoing basis. Nothing was hidden, access was unfettered and yet TJF continued to allow due diligence to be a constant distraction.

“Trust went completely after TJF failed to share important information with fans as we asked them to after we chose to make it available to them for that sole purpose. We, not TJF, called the meeting on 17th March where we answered all the questions put to us, from due diligence to finances to the state of the pitch to stadium maintenance. They created an impression that we had only agreed to answer questions for a Q & A when, in reality, we had already answered the questions fans had asked.”