Do Not Go Gentle; On John Ryan Stepping Down

John Ryan resigns at Barnsley

I was on commentary duty at Oakwell on Saturday afternoon. Roughly three minutes before kick-off, as I was running through the usual preamble, I looked to my left to see Chris jabbing at his laptop screen, pointing out a tweet from the local press stating that John Ryan had resigned as chairman. My reactionary feeling, right then and there, which I had to reign in as I tried to fathom a way to convey this news whilst talking on an official club channel, was anger.

Not anger that John Ryan had chosen to step down as Chairman of Doncaster Rovers after so long, and not anger at any of his fellow directors, and not anger at anyone else connected with the club or the supporters groups. No. It was anger at John Ryan, for the timing of his announcement. Just before kick-off in a particularly vital league game. Timed when everyone else’s focus was directed at the pitch. Timed when he knew he was the only director present. Timed to disrupt.

Two hours later, as I hung in the press room to put off venturing out into the rain, John Ryan himself came through the door of the Benny Hill Media Suite. Ryan squeezed through the crowd in the compact room, plonked himself at the desk at the front, and said “Well someone ask me a question.” No one did, but Ryan spoke anyway and as he did he went through a visible range of emotions, sadness, nostalgia, poignancy and anger.

Ryan’s voice cracked as he began by confirming his resignation and you can understand why; he was after all relinquishing control of the team he had been chairman of for fifteen years, and supported for over fifty. Ryan was part of a group of investors who stepped in to save Doncaster Rovers in 1998, when most of us had resigned ourselves to having seen the club play football for the last time.

At that time Ryan was initially treated with suspicion by many – as indeed anyone coming into the club at that point would have been – primarily because as a Director of the club once before in the early 90s he had sold his shares to the notorious Ken Richardson. Some fans I know still hold that against Ryan, but I would never do so. It was a decision he was encouraged to make by others at the club, and none of us could have predicted the attempted slapstick come soap opera asset-stripping which Richardson subsequently orchestrated until Ryan’s return in 1998.

No, credit to Ryan for ensuring he was involved in the group that rescued the Rovers, and of course for sticking with the club through those difficult first few seasons before the rewards began to come. Ryan not only helped resurrect the club, but also, with the support of his board, made moves that stabilised it, such as the investment in training facilities at Cantley Park over chucking all his cash at the playing side. I reviewed his autobiography-come-cosmetic surgery advertorial in 2009, and remember thinking then, he gets it, he actually gets what it’s all about for us, and for that allowed him his occasional past ego-stroke like his turn at centre-forward and his infamous ‘blood on the streets’ outburst.

Although I am both grateful and thankful for all that Ryan has delivered, that does not mean that I will blindly follow and support everything he has done. After all, I am truly thankful to both my parents, but they still read the Daily Mail semi-regularly. No-one is infallible, not even John Ryan, and whilst I have been more than happy to have him as chairman, I have still cringed at his ‘Destination Championship’ proclamations, at his rants and riles against match officials, and as probably goes without saying, every facet of ‘the McKay Experiment’.

The events of 2011-12 made me view Ryan in a very different way. I disagreed with his reasons, his methods and his actions, and as such became labelled as ‘ungrateful’. People involved within the Supporters Trust at the time did all they could to discredit my opinions – that is all they were, opinions of a supporter concerned about the direction his club had chosen to take. For daring to have an opinion that did not tally with John Ryan’s I was subsequently ‘othered’ as some sort of enemy of the state and, I am told, Ryan even had his legal team look over the content of my Viva Rovers site at the time. To what end I have never understood.

Here’s the thing though, because I was grateful and thankful for all John Ryan had done for Doncaster Rovers, and all the enjoyment his tenure had brought me, I was happy to return to the Keepmoat when McKay had moved on. Put the daftness of the previous year behind us and go again. Because of the stance I took during ‘The McKay Experiment’ I am often labelled as being ‘anti John Ryan’. I’ve actually heard it said of me and of popular STAND. It is a ludicrous statement. How could I (or we) be against a man who had delivered our club so much?

If I was given the opportunity to meet with John Ryan the first thing I would do is shake him by the hand, give gushing mumbling thanks and offer to buy him a drink. But that doesn’t mean I agree implicitly with everything he will do. Again, the man is not infallible. And he has made mistakes in the past which we have all seen. He has earned my respect and my thanks, but his errors of judgement – and general suspicion of me and people who think along similar lines as me – means that he has not fully earned my trust.

If John Ryan thought that when the Sequentia Capital offer of a £20million push for the Premier League was rumoured and tabled earlier this season it would be universally and unquestioningly accepted by supporters then I feel he was more than a little naïve. As supporters of a club like ours – given the nadir of Richardson – it should be understood that for many the gut reaction to new investors is one more of suspicion, rather than open arms. Many supporters gave Ryan the benefit of the doubt when ‘the McKay Experiment’ took effect, the out-and-out failure of that scheme means they have not done so this time, and have edged back across the line to wary. That Ryan could have thought otherwise surprised me greatly.

Yet, he continued to get increasingly frustrated when the board, like many supporters, took the sensible approach, and rather than snapping Sequentia’s hands off, pressed for further information. The other directors were unconvinced by the responses they received, as too were the Supporters Trust, and when fans did try and discuss Sequentia’s standing and aims on the Viking Supporters’ Co-operative Trust messageboard, rather than have their concerns allied they received a threat of legal action. Sue first, answer questions later is hardly a policy likely to warm people to your involvement.

With Ryan so in favour of Sequentia’s involvement and the other two directors unconvinced the chairman’s frustrations grew and grew. Rather than keep his grievances in the board room, Ryan has increasingly aired them in public, leading to the statement on Friday, put out via the DRFC Exiles unofficial supporters group –with whom he has close ties – which sadly and calculatedly sought to degenerate the debate over whether Sequentia’s involvement was right for Doncaster Rovers into a popularity contest between John Ryan and the man he felt was stalling the most; Terry Brammall.

I questioned via twitter why the Exiles had chosen to make such a statement, one which would inevitably divide supporters, and make it public on the eve of such an important fixture. Their response was “…because we don’t believe that John Ryan, Dick Watson and Terry Brammall can now co-exist so something has to give.” But the more that Ryan continued to make derisory comments to the local press and others about the movements of the board, whilst the other two parties kept themselves to themselves, it seemed even on Friday that if anyone was to give way then unfortunately it had to be Ryan.

The problem we have as Rovers fans is that John Ryan’s achievements and successes will always blur discussion and reasoned debate over the overall direction of the club. It happened during ‘the McKay Experiment’ as mentioned above, and it was happening again with the Sequentia deal. Never mind our thoughts on the deal on the table and our concerns over the people and the hedge fund at its heart, we were being increasingly encouraged to bring a very grey debate to a black and white contest of John Ryan or Terry Brammall. Perhaps, because in such a simplified debate Ryan knew he would have the support of the majority, as he did when implementing ‘the McKay Experiment’. “How can you disagree with John Ryan after all he’s done?” “#InJRWeTrust” and all that. Some of us feel that the future of our club deserves more considered debate than the hammering out of a hashtag. It’s a shame Ryan had ultimately connected himself with too many sycophants in our support to recognise that.

Though the debates rage on, there are ultimately three questions to be asked in the wake of Ryan’s resignation. Firstly, should we be disappointed that he has chosen to step down? The answer is of course yes. Though I don’t agree with all his ideas or his methods, many of which have been highlighted in recent weeks, whilst he is here we have a local man and a fan at the heart of the club. Most clubs cannot lay claim to having one of those aspects let along both on their board, and it is something that has always reassured me. And of course, the good times have always outweighed the bad in the last fourteen years.

Secondly, was this the right time for him to go? Quite possibly yes. Ryan was never going to be around forever, and there have been times of stress in the last couple of years when he has looked far from his sprightly positive self. The increasing rants against those disagreeing with him, or seen to be holding up his perceived way forwards suggest that if the club’s achievements and successes are to have the positive associations with Ryan he rightly deserves he would need to step down sooner rather than later. If Ryan’s dream is of Premier League football, the increasingly murky, desperate and unfounded ways in which clubs pursue such a future suggest he would be best disassociating himself with such endeavours, and instead preserve the very positive legacy he already has.

Lastly, was this the way for him to go? No, not at all. It was a crass, petty and somewhat self-centred way in which to make his announcement, and one which will only disrupt everything at the club in the coming weeks. Doing all he can to discredit his fellow directors and paint Terry Brammall as the villain of the piece as he steps out the door is not going to help Doncaster Rovers immediate future in any way. It has divided fans in what was already going to be a tough season, and suits no-one other than Ryan himself.

As Ryan was fielding questions and laying down the gauntlet to Brammall in the confines of Barnsley’s snug press-room on Saturday evening the man standing next to me glanced around the room, put down his coffee on the side and began scrolling through the day’s other Championship results on a spare computer. That man was Paul Dickov. Doncaster Rovers and John Ryan may have become synonymous with one another, but football moves on and the club will move on too.

Glen Wilson

17 thoughts on “Do Not Go Gentle; On John Ryan Stepping Down

  1. Bit rude about everyone who doesn’t hold your view really. The only difference between you and SC is they can afford the lawyers.No respect for other peoples opinions.

    1. What are you on about Norfolk? No respect for other views!!!! It is a balanced article with no sign of disrespect.

      The fact is YOU have just made your views known and I have only seen my criticism and that has been respectful made.

  2. Couldn’t agree more – all any of us can do now is take anything any one involved says with a massive pinch of salt and until proven facts are presented avoid conjecture.

  3. Great article Glen. What is the ‘blood on the streets’ thing you mentioned though? I must have missed that and a quick google search brought nothing up. Also how did the Rsonists get on against Barnsley?

  4. I gave JR the benefit of the doubt over ‘the experiment’ and disagreed with you Glen. You were right then and you are spot on now. His manipulating the blindly loyal at Barnsley to chant his name (and against TB) was beneath the man I thought he was, and beneath the man I want to remember for all he has done for our club. TB and DW now need to step forward with a positive response rather than displaying their usual reticence where publicity is concerned.

  5. Seems some people accuse others of having no respect for others opinions whenever the opinion is different from their own. Well measured article. Another accusation that comes up is that if you are wary of what a particular investment entails, you are against investment. I would love to see Rovers in the Premiership, but not at any price. In Rovers we Trust, the new culture on how the club treats the fans, all these gains make me proud to be a Rovers fan and I want to be sure that any new investor would honour those and carry them forward.

  6. An excellent summary of what’s turned out to be a sad, sad situation. The saddest part of it all is that it is so transparent to anyone who has the wherewithal to look beyond what’s been trotted out by the DFP, John Ryan and others who should know better. Here’s something I posted on the VSC Forum yesterday….

    Here’s a thought…. and I want to preface all of this with the fact that I wear rose tinted specs too where JR is concerned and have given him the benefit of my doubts on many an occasion. He has been instrumental in the rise of the club over the past 10 years. No-one can deny the man that, and for that, we are all (to a man or woman I should hope) eternally thankful. He’s been pretty much spot on with his managerial appointments. He’s delivered second tier football as he said. He loves Rovers. I mean, what other chairman would be selling new shirts in the bar before the Play Off final at Stoke?

    His heart is in the right place but I think is sometimes naive (which has been both a good thing and bad thing – John’s always optimistic when it comes to Rovers, and I love that about the man) but also somewhat narcissistic. I guess in the cosmetic surgery business, a business that thrives on making things not what they seem, a degree of showmanship is a requirement. I don’t know.

    However, he’s made some ill thought out decisions at times and I personally do not think he has been given the best advice from certain people at times. And his behaviour leads me to simply not trust the man at times. I cannot put my finger on why, probably because stories change, figures change and certain chapters in the last 15 years or so have been rewritten to suit John’s version of things. I am not going into details. There are a number of people on this forum who were there and who know the facts. Anyway, I’d probably be threatened with legal action.

    So I am tremendously saddened by the way John has handled this whole situation. Equally sad is the fact that a lot of folks have blindly believed everything that they have been fed by John Ryan/Sequentia Capital and their various cronies/those doing their dirty work?

    Terrible to say this but has John not been exposed as a bare faced liar on at least one occasion, specifically the fact that he mentioned O’Brien at the VSC AGM, then when O’Brien distanced himself from any involvement with the SC deal, John said that him mentioning it was down to being led into doing so by leading questions, when, according to eye witnesses, he threw that information out willingly?

    What’s that saying… “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” Abe Lincoln I believe.

    The problem is… JR initially surrounded himself with yes men who wouldn’t offer him constructive criticism if their lives depended on it. For example, the previous Chief Exec, who was way out of his depth at conference level. Now that most of those people have gone, I think JR’s weaknesses been exposed to a degree.

    I believe that it’s completely naive for John Ryan to expect his fellow owners and the supporters of Doncaster Rovers Football Club to accept the takeover (and let’s be right, it is a takeover) by Sequentia Capital, an Irish Consortium/Belize Hedge Fund/London Hedge Fund (delete depending on what day it is and who you are listening to), a deal apparently OK because someone has shown somebody else a fax of a bank statement.

    There remains a long list of questions unanswered by John Ryan and SC. At no point has anyone laid out a plan of action or attempted to win ‘hearts and minds’ by showing the people that DO matter – we supporters – anything about the proposed timeline and exactly what the takeover would mean for the club, other than some cash up front (8m is the latest number) and varying numbers (tens of millions, 20m, 40m, 10m…) invested in the club over time. Five years I believe. In my view, only one of those numbers, 40m, would be anywhere near enough to compete towards the top end of the Championship, and we’d still be relatively poor compared to other clubs in the division.

    And talk of the premier league? That’s a huge carrot for us supporters. Of course, it would be amazing to see Rovers playing at that level, but it would require owners with VERY deep pockets, and not a bloody hedge fund FFS. Too many unknowns. I know it’s tempting to say let’s throw the dice and go for broke but only a handful of clubs that have been regulars at our level in the past 25 have succeeded in playing in the top tier. There are plenty of clubs during that same period that have shot for the moon and ended up in the shit. And most of those clubs that have played in the PL (even the Dingles) have a significantly larger fan base than Rovers.

    Personally, we almost lost Rovers once, I’d hate to see that put at risk again by getting into bed with hedge funds, venture capitalists or anyone not in it for the long haul. Sure, we may get promotion and if we got relegated we’d get a nice fat parachute payment (a system that I am not a fan of BTW) and that would be a basis for future growth, presuming that the hedge fund did not recoup its money than. But really… Would it not be infinitely preferable to build solid foundations from the ground up over time, than simply go for a quick fix that is ultimately, unsustainable, especially when the detail around this fix are sketchy at best, and the company offering fix has no interest in the football club. As with OBV, Westferry/SC are only interested in getting their hands on the land.

    Maybe I am giving too much credit to Phelan here, but maybe, just maybe, the SC deal was intentionally presented in such a way as to make it totally unacceptable to TB and DW, who can then be portrayed as the villains of the piece, blocking ptogress etc/ and campaign started (with the dirty work being done by others) to oust the KM2?? And they’d be hounded out as they are not interested in football, apparently.

    I think it’s fairly well known that JR cannot fund the club as it needed, which is why he invited the KM2 in, in the first place. As I understand things, John needs an influx of cash. It would appear SC can offer him that and he gets to keep the prestige of remaining chairman, rather than selling his shares and cashing out. That ego thin again. In return, SC get their hands on the rights to develop the land round the ‘Moat. Everyone is happy? What if the KM2 do not need the money? They do not need to sell to a hedge fund only interested in one thing (and it’s not the Rovers playing staff).

    All three owners have presumably been offered the same amount of money for their equal shares, with JR being given the option to buy back in and remain as chairman? And TB and DW are presumably supposed to walk away, having been vilified publicly by JR and those “supporters” who have mounted the TB Out campaign?

    Or maybe I am giving Phelan and Co. too much credit as I said, and in actuality the SC deal is as shite for the club and as badly put together as the shambles it would appear to be. Perhaps TB/DW actually do not want or need to sell, especially to a set of people that have hardly been open or made any attempt to engage the supporters or present any real agenda or plan….

    Maybe, in fact, TB and DW want to develop a sustainable club built on solid foundations for future generations to cherish as we all do? Is that such a bad thing? It would be great to see Rovers as a healthy championship club. We may initially go backwards to go forwards, but not the end of the world is it?

    Sad to see John Ryan go at the end of the day, but nobody is bigger than the club (despite what they may think), and we should not do any business with Sequentia or any other VC/Hedge Fund IMO. If there’s a viable development opportunity around the Keepmost, surely the best people to develop it are the two men who own two thirds of Rovers and built and sold a hugely successful company. Surely it can be developed and the ownership be kept locally, rather than money being funneled off to offshore accounts owned by faceless companies in tax havens.

    … and a further post from today:

    Funny how Look Leeds and the like rarely if ever feature Rovers but now the vultures are circling and JR is going to feed them. JR said he announced the move when he did to not affect the team. What utter drivel.

    All I have seen in the press is all about him stepping down and this overshadowing anything to do with what actually happened on the pitch.

    Have to take my hat off to him. It’s a PR master stroke. Announce it right before a local derby, then play the poor me victim card in front of the national media to paint TB as the devil incarnate, in tandem with a abhorrent Bramall Out campaign getting others to do the dirty work for you….

    TB will then, I think the plan is, call it a day, figure it’s not worth the hassle, take the 8m and walk away, leaving the road clear for JR to ride through the town centre on a white horse as the saviour of the club with Sequentia in tow, some money in his pocket, and the club in the hands of an organization who we know nothing positive about, and who can pull the plug at any time once they’ve got what they wanted and the club has served its purpose.

    What then? I only see one outcome, and it is not pretty.

  7. Interesting stuff Glen and some interesting points from Mark B.

    The only certainty for me in all of this is that hedge funds and football clubs don’t mix and I’m dumfounded to find that any of the directors were, or are, prepared to think about a deal.

    In recent days I’ve spoken to football loving fund directors, offshore solicitors and someone who acts as an expert witness in the offshore fund world. Their comments tell you all you need to know…

    ‘Thank God it’s not us’

    ‘You poor b*******s’

    ‘This could be brutal’

    ‘Sorry to hear that’

    None of these comments related to SC specifically (none of them had ever heard of them), but reflect their feelings about the marriage of hedge funds/private equity funds and football.

    I’ve often reflected on how the Coventry and Palace fans must have danced in the streets when Sisu and Agilo came a calling and how they must have felt when the cold reality of it all finally hit them. And now some of our own fans are looking at their road maps to see how they’re going to get to Anfield and Old Trafford. I despair. I almost lost my club once and I still can’t believe anyone would want to put all the money on black and risk it again.

  8. I am sure this article will upset some supporters but if they read it in full hopefully they will see it as a fair and well balanced summary of JR’s tenure at DRFC. Personally I am very sorry to see JR leave as he has done a fantastic job for DRFC however it cannot be denied that even the manner and timing of his resignation is typical of JR’s love of being in the spotlight and media attention

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