So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye...
by Russell Gordon
Dave MacKinnon (Photo- The Scottish Sun)
So, after twenty eventful months, Dave MacKinnon's tenure as Chief Executive of Morton is now coming to an end, somewhat acrimoniously some might say.
After Warren Hawke's spell in office ended with the JJ/Charlie Telfer soap opera being played out in front of the national media on the day Falkirk were emptied into League One (stop laughing at the back, there), Crawford Rae looked towards his old friend; former Rangers and Arsenal defender, and ex-Dundee CEO MacKinnon to take the reins at Cappielow, to work with new first team manager David Hopkin.
MacKinnon immediately went on a charm offensive- meeting and greeting fans at Galabank on the night of a 5-0 League Cup group stage win against Annan in what, looking back, would appear to have been an attempt to get the support onside.
However, the cracks soon started to appear. Alarm bells started ringing when a group of fans were called in for a personal meeting with Hopkin regarding social media posts the day before Morton beat hapless Partick Thistle at Cappielow in August. This was followed up by a 0-5 rout in the Highlands and a 0-6 doing at champions-elect Dundee United, as Morton's deplorable away record became a major talking point. We eventually picked up our first away points nine games in in a Nicky Cadden-inspired win at Recreation Park just before Christmas.
Social media was something he never got to grips with- after the meeting with disgruntled fans the club appeared to announce the signing of Kilmarnock defender, and former Scotland international Kirk Broadfoot on Twitter, before deleting the tweet, doubling down and announcing the loan signing of Jack Baird from St. Mirren, who instead re-signed their former defender.
Off the pitch, things weren't great either, as news of employees breaking gambling rules arose. It turned out to be long-serving kitman Andy Bryan who was in the dock, along with physio Alyson Fielding. The case left a sour taste in a lot of mouths as many weren't convinced about the club's motives in outing their employees. Only those involved could of course give us a conclusive answer to that one, but what would be fair to say is that, after 45 years' service, Andy at least deserved to be told he was being relieved of his duties face to face, rather than by recorded delivery letter.
Andy Bryan (Photo- gmfc.net)
As 2019 ended and 2020 began, Morton's on the field form suddenly improved, but the calamity behind the scenes continued. Hopkin's team selection for the game at Arbroath in January raised a few eyebrows, and gained some less than complimentary assessments from some via Twitter. His team selection was vindicated as Morton ground out a scrappy 2-1 win, but the drama unfolded the following evening as the club announced they'd be blocking accounts "which we deem to not be in the best interest of the club, and in the spirit of constructive challenge and support".
Fair enough if they're getting abused by all and sundry, but when those who were blocked identified themselves, there was very little evidence of any abuse, and it came across as MacKinnon throwing the baby out with the bathwater. MacKinnon then spent an awful lot of time meeting with fans trying to build bridges, as he should've done, but one wonders how much time and effort could've been saved by not entering into such mud-slinging with the support in the first place. This of course resulted in fans of many Scottish clubs declaring open season on Morton as the club became the Scottish game's laughing stock for a few weeks.
(Photo- @RussellJAGordon, Twitter)
Free tickets for away games became the norm for many as MacKinnon went on his latest charm offensive, but by advertising that, the many who didn't get on his wrong side were missing out instead of the few who did, which rankled with those who were previously unaware of the arrangement before MacKinnon made his philanthropy public.
Form continued to improve along with fan relations as weekly updates started to appear on the club's socials, and MacKinnon brought in local Celtic fans Gerry McDade and Callum McFadden on a casual basis to engage with the support. All was going well- the team had pulled clear of the relegation zone with a string of impressive results, which peaked with a fine 4-0 mauling of Queen of the South at Palmerston.
That was followed up by an unfortunate defeat in Inverness and a very fortunate draw at home to Arbroath before the season was curtailed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Morton were sat comfortably in 7th place in the table, with no realistic chance of the season continuing, so most fans eyes looked elsewhere in Scottish football as MacKinnon quite sensibly kept his counsel on the solution going forward, whilst many of his peers were losing their heads around him.
The government furlough scheme proved a godsend for the club, with all but our erstwhile CEO put on the scheme as he ran a one man show for a few months. Other clubs however, decided to use the time productively by starting fundraising schemes amongst their fans and communities. Morton however, asked Callum McFadden, and his CFB Football platform (@FootballCFB on Twitter), to run the club's communications for free whilst the Media Assistant Ewan Boyle was furloughed. This move raised a few eyebrows as it was seen as an opportunistic move by Callum to manoeuvre himself into someone else's position. It created yet another divide between sections of the support and the club, and whilst Callum didn't eventually take on the role on a permanent basis, it was no surprise to see that Ewan was made redundant.
Throughout lockdown, MacKinnon did to be fair have some positive moments, notably putting his odious Inverness Caledonian Thistle counterpart, Scott Gardiner, firmly in his box after his club jumped into bed with big brothers Rangers and Hearts when attempts to get a resolution for completing the season were being made. Gardiner appeared to want the leagues declared null and void, whilst also claiming the prize money for a second placed finish, which quite rightly irked MacKinnon.
So, with the new season approaching, and an agreement reached to go with a shortened season starting in October, Morton went about assembling a squad for the new season and made arrangements for the unprecedented circumstances that awaited them. Gerry McDade took on the role of Public Relations Officer, which also entailed commentary duties for the now essential streaming service, along with club legend, all round good guy and patter merchant Andy Ritchie. Squad assembly wasn't without its problems, with defender Wallace Duffy, signed on loan from St. Johnstone, departing for Inverness on a permanent deal without kicking a ball. Rumours circulated that Duffy took a look at the place and immediately wanted out, but it turned out to be far more innocent than that, with Inverness offering him a contract which suited St. Johnstone and Morton playing ball. A large, 22 man squad was assembled, but was to prove extremely unbalanced, with a ridiculous number of mediocre attacking options and a solitary goalkeeper. We're an injury or a COVID case away from a disaster unless this is addressed.
Anyway- off the pitch, how did the streaming go? The club were well warned that its website had form for crashing as soon as a statement was released, so would be unlikely to cope with the traffic that a match stream would attract. The first game against Queen of the South in the League Cup proved to be a disaster. Charged at a tenner a skull, it never got off the ground and was eventually transferred to YouTube and made free-to-air. This proved a costly oversight as the club was forced to refund everyone who had stumped up for their stream. The club did learn their lesson however, and there have been very few problems since, with the streams improving game by game, and the Gerry and Andy double act proving extremely popular not only with Morton fans, but fans of other clubs.
On the park, things were much more pleasing on paper than they were on the eye, with Morton occupying a mid-table position despite playing some eye-bleeding football, but as ever, there was a bombshell around the corner. Hopkin resigned in early December after an insipid defeat by title favourites Hearts and a disagreement with the board over his squad heading into the transfer window. It was difficult to have any sympathy for the manager given that he hadn't even signed a reserve goalkeeper as part of his relatively large squad, but as the dirty washing was being aired in public, MacKinnon was nowhere to be seen.
What appeared to be the final nail in MacKinnon's coffin was when a story appeared in the Telegraph this month about a document threatening to discredit Chairman Crawford Rae and the incoming MCT fans group. Many believed MacKinnon to be responsible for this and from there on, his departure was inevitable. He, of course refused to comment given the nature of the allegations and the police involvement. The police soon established no criminality before his departure was announced this morning.
The news was met with approval from most, with the notable exception of @Cappiefan1 on Twitter, who has increasingly come across as an account ran by MacKinnon himself.
After Gillian Donaldson and Warren Hawke, MacKinnon proved to be the latest disappointing CEO to pass through Cappielow's gates, and after early indications of transparency, it was telling that he disappeared under his rock as soon as the proverbial hit the fan. It's important to remember that he was hamstrung by the Chairman's tightening of the purse strings, but he handled the pandemic dreadfully, acting as a Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none over the summer, creating unnecessary issues with an already disillusioned and untrusting support that didn't need to be made, wasting time pandering to Hearts fans who blamed Morton for not looking out for their interests and guiding the club from one embarrassing episode to another.
In an eventful 20 months at a club that is no stranger to controversy, chaos and infighting, MacKinnon's time at the club saw him manage to ramp it up and take Morton to a new level on that front. Sadly, that's the only new level he managed to take us to. He won't be missed.