Neil Doncaster – No Friend of Celtic, Enemy of the Rangers, is left with Few Friends

The SPFL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster will have been a relieved man after Tuesday’s EGM. The 27-13 result, with a further two abstentions appears a landslide victory and the smile would be hard to remove after a couple of weeks of intense strain.

For the time being Scottish football, you would hope can now settle down and encourage healthy debate when it is most needed. You would like to think we’ll now go down the route of ensuring Scottish football across all four divisions, at least breaks even when football resumes. When it does a country that is 43% reliant on gate receipts is going to have to box clever when it comes to solutions. More social distancing solutions and less pistols drawn would help. More streaming season tickets and less greeting faces on Zoom will need to be the order of the day.

Yet while Doncaster has managed to use his get out of jail free card on this occasion, it should not get around the fact his stewardship as CEO has been an underwhelming one.

Aberdeen CEO Dave Cormack

There are of course the obvious mitigating circumstances of uncharted territories in this particular debacle. It is however interesting that someone like Dave Cormack decided to mark his card. That Aberdeen backed the inquiry was not to support the proposers – there is little love lost between ‘the’ Rangers and the Dons – but more likely due to the ineptitude of the SPFL board and the dreadful governance exhibited.

Cormack and Ron Gordon at Hibs have brought in significant investment to two large Scottish football clubs. While Gordon is leaving Dempster to take the lead for now, Cormack it appears sees opportunity in this.

He will recognise poor governance just by looking at how the initial vote was carried. Despite no smoking gun there were enough questions in the EGM proposal to ensure confidence in administering the game being called into question.

Even prior to the Covid 19 outbreak there was no sponsor in place for the new season, with Ladbrokes pulling out. The League Cup is sponsored by Betfred, yet another gambling company. While other markets are moving away from gambling partners, in Scotland all our major trophies have been sponsored by them. This despite a series of players and club officials breaking the rules on gambling, it certainly doesn’t seem progressive, just necessary.

Then with two big TV companies vying for the new contract, Doncaster went for the highest bidder. Now that’s fine. Yet while promoting the Sky deal Doncaster decided that belittling the ongoing joint contract holder BT Sport was a good idea. That’s not something that smacks of good stewardship. When there are only two possible partners to alienate one who had both the support of the fans and the better of the two products didn’t look smart, nor was it professional. Even the value of the Sky deal at £1m more than the Setanta TV deal of 2008, looks questionable. 12 years’ worth of inflation yet our broadcast deal appears to stand still. Hardly convincing.

At least it was done before the coronavirus kicked in because broadcasters are unlikely to be so generous in just about all future rights issue deals.

Coverage by media partnerships encourages strong sponsorship elsewhere. They are important and a symbol. They of course generate finance but they are also about how we are seen. The right television partner broadcasting a product well projects onto the support, customers and players. It sells the product beyond our shores. It says we believe in our game that we and our partners are willing to invest in it. I don’t see much nurturing or promotion from Sky. We did appear to get it from BT Sport. Let’s hope we haven’t burned our bridges for future contracts.

BT Sport’s main Celtic pundit is Chris Sutton while Sky Sports opt for Kris Commons. There is the difference right there.

For recent performance this looks bad enough and a quick look at the history books makes for uncomfortable reading too.

Rather than instigate modernisation and change following the liquidation of the old Rangers, Doncaster joined up with Stewart Regan at the SFA to convince Scottish football that the best business model was to resort to the ‘Old Firm’ approach. There were attempts to engineer a top flight spot for the basket of assets and when that failed they simply waited until a form of the Ibrox club returned. Once again it’s not exactly thinking outside the box. This doesn’t convince as a modern progressive thinking CEO.

Both Doncaster and Regan were heavily criticised in 2012 following Rangers’ financial collapse, with critics claiming they talked down our game while it was seeking a new TV deal. They spoke of a “financial armageddon” that faced Scottish football. Not exactly salesmen with a silver tongue.

If you owned a club and Doncaster was the CEO of the governing body you may have a look at his track record and see if there was room to edge him out.

Aberdeen’s Cormack is a successful businessman. He saw an opportunity to fire a warning shot of his disgruntlement, all the while knowing the vote would lose. If others are realising the poor leadership on offer you’d assume Doncaster may not last much past this crisis. Cormack has certainly warned him to pull his socks up.

There are constraints of course. As we witnessed a voting structure agreed by the member clubs is far from democratic and any grand ideas tend to get washed away on a sea of self-interest. Yet it’s the basics that are slipping. If you can’t trust someone enough to carry out the ordinary tasks like a virtual show of hands, without comebacks like EGM’s, are you really likely to entrust the more intricate plans? Yet it should also be in his defence that it appeared, until recently, to suit the SPFL clubs to allow Doncaster to take the heat on their behalf. Perhaps that is why he still has such support despite his obvious limitations.

This is possibly not the time to oust of course. An out of touch Rangers didn’t understand that for other clubs there was a madness in their timing. The way they howled for suspensions and sat on evidence did them no favours. Though their own agenda was all encompassing for a club slipping into trouble financial waters.

But in his spare time Neil Doncaster would do well to be keeping an eye on ‘situations vacant’. Under scrutiny from guys like Cormack he’s coming up short when viewed by business eyes used to better. His tenure won’t be plain sailing should he remain and his track record warrants little sympathy.

He has of course an ally in Peter Lawwell and he’ll be well aware the Celtic CEO has his back, for now at least.

At present Doncaster is useful to the Celtic CEO yet that may not last. It is unlikely that Lawwell will hang around at Celtic Park much longer after 10-in-a-row is achieved. If it isn’t, he’ll also be wise enough to move on. The protective cloak around Doncaster may not last much past the conclusion of the virus and its repercussions.

Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond at Hampden

There appears to be much goodwill to the SPFL’s CEO from Celtic at present. He has given ‘the’ Rangers a hiding, yet he left himself open to an attack that threatened a fairly won title heading to Celtic Park. Chances are Lawwell is also keeping a close eye on his progress.

The SPFL CEO was also complicit in creating the same monster from the basket of assets that returned to bite the hand that fed it. Doncaster is no friend of the Celtic support, he has been slippery as an eel when it comes to dealing with Celtic. The Celtic support had a rightful distrust prior to this vote. That shouldn’t change now. As the saying goes ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’

There’s not a lot in Neil Doncaster’s back catalogue to suggest he learns at all.

Regan moved on when he had had enough of the Scottish game and Doncaster’s own departure might be something that he himself is contemplating after what has been a very bruising few months for him personally.

Niall J


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As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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