THERE has been discontent behind the scenes at Partick Thistle for some time now, and the fan ownership dispute at the Maryhill club now threatens to spill over into all-out civil war.

Tensions between The Jags Foundation (TJF), the fans’ group formed with a view to receiving the majority shareholding in the club, and Three Black Cats (3BC), the company formerly owned by the late Euromillions winner Colin Weir that holds the shares, have been racheting up and on Monday evening, they reached boiling point.

After over two and a half years of negotiations between TJF and 3BC, the former released a statement on Monday informing its members that the deal was off. They were no longer the club’s preferred recipient of the shares – it was only in October of last year that Thistle announced its intention to gift the shareholding to the TJF by June 2022 – as 3BC revealed its plans to TJF to go in a new direction, having previously disclosed interest from a mysterious third party in receiving the shares back in May.

A public statement from 3BC followed on Monday night. “Three Black Cats is pleased to announce that it has identified the preferred recipient to accept the majority shareholding in Partick Thistle that Colin Weir wished gifted to the club’s fans,” it read. “We are now in final discussions with them to conclude certain legal aspects before they begin planned communications with fans before the next home game [Friday 19 August], to coincide with 3BC announcing who they are.”

The anonymous nature of the soon-to-be recipients doesn’t exactly chime with Thistle’s explicit criteria for any group receiving the shares. Details on the requirements for the fan-owned entity, presumably outlined in Weir’s will, have been scarce – and, in part, caused the entire TJF board to resign en masse in April. The club released a statement saying the breakdown in talks was “disappointing and regrettable” but negotiations restarted once a newly-elected TJF board was installed.

We know of at least two conditions that must be met. The 3BC-endorsed Working Group, formed to facilitate the move to fan ownership, had two stated aims: “to produce a model of fan ownership that will be implemented following the gifting of shares, after receiving approval from 3BC”; and “to engage with and involve fans of Partick Thistle Football Club in the process of creating the aforementioned model”. Precisely how a group of as-yet-unnamed stakeholders can be said to have engaged with a fanbase who don’t even know their identity is still to be explained.

Matters were complicated on Tuesday morning as TJF released a lengthy document providing a scathing account of the negotiations with 3BC, where Thistle chairman Jacqui Low is one of two directors, over the past few months from their perspective. Spread over 22 pages, its contents tell of a series of talks characterised by “profound insincerity” that ultimately collapsed on Monday evening.

It is not the first time that such allegations have been levelled at 3BC. Multiple former board members of TJF that were part of the group that stood down in April have admitted to Herald and Times Sport that they often felt strung along during years-long negotiations with 3BC, while accusations of obfuscation and intransigence have not been uncommon.

Tuesday's statement from TJF repeated those claims as it gave a detailed breakdown of the fans' group's initial stance on a range of issues, how they had then adapted them following discussions with 3BC and the response they received.

TJF told 3BC they wanted three seats on the club board; 3BC said no. The fans’ group then suggested two; they received “no substantive follow-up”. TJF wanted the handover to be a Share Transfer Agreement; 3BC insisted on a stock transfer form, as the shareholding is a gift (both parties claim to have received legal advice endorsing their position). TJF believed the fact that they could raise £70,000 a year from members strengthened their ownership credentials; 3BC, it’s claimed, argued the group’s fundraising capability was irrelevant – an “utterly absurd” position, according to TJF, who say 3BC has changed its tune. 

“We suspect, though we would put it no more strongly at this point, that 3BC’s apparent change of position on fan-fundraising since December 2019 is about control and influence,” the document speculated. “If the majority shareholder is expected to make major contributions to the club’s finances, it might then more reasonably expect some degree of oversight and say about how that extra money is spent.”

The issue of due diligence was raised once again. There is no legal requirement for the club’s accounts to be forensically examined but it has proven to be a particularly troublesome sticking point in talks. TJF argue it is common and sensible business practice to have a full understanding of the club’s financial situation before inheriting the shares and when 3BC repeatedly refused to open up the books, two TJF directors – Sandy Fyfe and Andrew Holloway, chartered accountants by trade – felt concerned their professional integrity was at risk of being compromised as the fans’ group ultimately relented.

The doomed discussions reached their denouement on Monday when the two parties met. TJF claim they had been pestering 3BC for an agenda before eventually receiving one that morning that was ambiguous, to say the least. “Update from TJF; Update from 3BC; The way forward,” it read. The agenda made no mention of 3BC’s decision to end talks with TJF and transfer the shares to a third party. “3BC claimed that, at that point of issuing the agenda, they had not yet made a decision about whether to dismiss us from the process,” TJF observed. “You can make your own mind-up about how credible a claim that is.”

As has so often been the case throughout the protracted move to fan ownership at Firhill, the latest developments raise more questions than answers. Allegations about 3BC’s conduct and criticism over its approach have been consistent yet they continue to fall on deaf ears. Barring the occasional explosive (and typically brief) statement issued every few months, 3BC has never provided a satisfactory response to TJF’s grievances and multiple interview requests from Herald and Times Sport have been turned down.

Until 3BC deign to shed a little light on the situation and provide an alternative version of events, it is supporters – the very people at the heart of the whole issue – who are being left in the dark.

Three Black Cats has been approached by Herald and Times Sport for a response to Tuesday's statement from The Jags Foundation but has not issued a reply at the time of publication.