SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster on bullying, Rangers' offer to fund inquiry and the Ibrox dossier
By Matthew Lindsay@MattLindsayHT5 mins ago
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster. Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has experienced the most tumultuous period of his 11 year tenure in recent weeks and faced calls by Rangers to be suspended from his position pending an independent investigation.
A dossier released by the Ibrox club last week ahead of an EGM tomorrow stated Doncaster had failed to deal with reports of bullying in the build-up to the controversial vote on the resolution on the end of the 2019/20 season last month.
He made himself available to the media once again yesterday to answer that claim and other allegations which have been made against him and his colleagues. Here is the first part of his interview.
The Rangers dossier accused you of ignoring reports of threats being made to Championship clubs? Did you?
ND: “I had a number of conversations with a number of clubs on that Friday including with John (Dundee managing director Nelms) and with Scot (Inverness chief executive Gardiner) and others.
“There was unhappiness expressed with a number of directors in the Championship about the behaviour of people on both sides of the debate. No formal complaint was made, however, about anyone by anyone and therefore I didn’t think it was appropriate to do anything further with it.
“If a formal complaint had been made, had been lodged, then it would have been dealt with entirely properly. No one has sought any further action to be taken, no one has made a formal complaint and if they do make a formal complaint then it will be actioned in the proper way and put before the chairman. But that just hasn’t happened. I don’t believe the word bullying was used either.”
Does it come down what some people deem bullying and coercion others may describe as a warning?
ND: “Ultimately, when someone does want to make what is a very serious allegation they should do so properly and formally and that hasn’t happened.”
Rangers have said they will pay for an independent investigation. What’s your response to that?
ND: “There are always dangers when the plaintiff, if you like, is offering to pay for what is meant to be an independent report. It does rather undermine the suggestions it’s going to be an independent report.
“I think for any report to be truly independent, as the Deloitte one was as an example, it shouldn’t be funded by any one individual or any one club.
“But cost is only one part of the issue. It is an open ended investigation that is being suggested. They are not closed, defined terms. If you look at the request it is any other area that the QC deems relevant.
“It would take months and it would absolutely dominate my time, the time of Rod McKenzie, Iain Blair, Murdoch MacLennan. We wouldn’t be able to focus on what I imagine the clubs want us to focus on which is trying to get the game back up and running as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“We simply wouldn’t be able to do that half as effectively if we had all our time used on this investigation, particularly when there has been an investigation. It has been carried out in relation to the Dundee return and it found absolutely no evidence of any improper conduct by any member of the SPFL staff whatsoever.”
If Rangers lose Tuesday’s vote is it important they accept the outcome?
ND: “I think it’s important that everyone accepts the result of vote which will be taken on Tuesday and that includes us. The 42 clubs will have a say and if the resolution is passed we will absolutely adhere to the will of the clubs. I would hope that everyone else would do the same.”
When do you expect the Premiership to be called?
ND: “The chairman has indicated there would be consultation with the Premiership clubs. There was a Premiership club call on that on Friday so we are awaiting detailed feedback from that call. The SPFL board will want to take account of what the clubs have been saying.”
Partick Thistle chairman Jacqui Low wrote to the SPFL chairman saying the tone of his communications with clubs was jeopardising the prospect of league reconstruction. Did she have a point?
ND: “No I don’t think so. The tone of the conversations generally have been extremely robust. You will have seen all the allegations made – bullying and coercion being chief amongst them.
"The language used by others has been extremely robust and of necessity it has been required that the league should respond in a robust way.
“It’s not of the league’s making. We understand that passions run high and that clubs are going to be concerned about the new season and when footballmight recommence.
“But the communications from the league have always tried to be as factual as possible and unfortunately they have had to be robust as well.”
Stewart Robertson says Rangers have never accused anyone at SPFL of bullying?
ND: “I have certainly seen various statements on the Ranger website that refer to bullying and coercion.”
If the SPFL board were to pursue Stewart Robertson over breaching confidential details what could happen as a consequence?
ND: “I don’t want to speculate about that. That’s an issue for another day. And I think ahead of the EGM I don’t think that would be particularly helpful. That really isn’t something I feel I can go into on this call.’
What did you actually make of the Rangers dossier?
ND: “Given the extremely strong allegations made I was probably as surprised as everyone else when it seemed be largely around procedure.
"To me, having been so strong in their criticism of the league and making allegations that were extremely robust and calling for the suspension of me and Rod McKenzie, you assume that there is going to be evidence in the dossier that is very damning – justifying calls for very senior employees to be suspended. And it simply wasn’t there.”
Partick described the fact they were informed of league reconstruction collapsing through the media as a “disgrace”. Should that courtesy have been extended to them?
ND: “Bear in mind that wasn’t a meeting of the SPFL on Friday. It was a meeting of the Premiership clubs and we were not part of that. I was hearing second hand what apparently had been discussed on that call just as everyone else was.
“It was not within the SPFL’s power to make an announcement because we didn’t know. It appears info from that meeting has been leaked. But that is not something within the gift of the SPFL.”
There have been a few clubs clearly unhappy with the tone of SPFL communications, saying they’ve been disdainful and offensive. What’s your reaction to that?
ND: “I think you can always improve on communications. Those of you who have worked with me and Iain Blair over the years know just how helpful we try to be to our member clubs. That is our modus operandi.
“We are here to serve the clubs so it is clearly regrettable if people feel they haven’t had the respect they are entitled to as members.
“But I can only speak for myself and members of my team trying to serve clubs as well as they can.
“We have a small team but we try to respond as quickly and courteously as we can to all requests and all enquiries we have from all 42 clubs.
“Of course you can look at things you might have done better. But I believe we try to extend appropriate courtesy to every one of our members and everyone else as well.”
Should clubs have been told about the potential for a £10m liability by ending the season?
ND: “This whole suggestion is a bit of a red herring. Any liability that any league may face from season 2019/20 arises from not being able to play games. It’s got nothing to do with the resolution. The way in which you draw a line under the season - which is what the resolution was aimed to do - is entirely irrelevant to any claims that you may face from anyone in respect of not being able to play games. That’s caused by Covid-19 the government order.”
Some clubs argue they should have been given all of the information to make a more informed decision.
ND: “Playing games is not an option. It’s about how you respond to that. If you can’t play games that’s what creates any liability. So it is a red herring. Some people may find it a fine distinction but it’s just not.”
Did you suggest that Sky be given the Premiership naming rights?
ND: “I’m not going to be drawn on that and reveal the detail of commercial conversations we had with our broadcasters and sponsors.
“That isn’t something we can put into the public domain - and it’s disappointing that there has been an attempt to try to put private discussions, and commercially sensitive discussions, into the public domain.
“That can’t do anything to help the league, and therefore help the 42 member clubs.”
Did you look at what the liability would be for declaring the season null and void?
ND: “That’s dealt with quite considerably in the paperwork that’s extensively available. It’s commonly recognised that having a null and void season would leave us and the clubs open to a wide range of liabilities.
“So I don’t think null and void was ever a realistic possibility, therefore the Board needed to suggest a way forward which dealt with the situation whereby we couldn’t play the games but equally we couldn’t declare the season null and void.
“There are various ways in which that could be done which were talked about in the briefing paper. You could have drawn a line under the season where it was, and live with the fact teams had played a different number of games. You could have points per game, as we did.
“Or you could have tried to extrapolate results from the rest of the season by declaring everything a 1-1 draw.
“You could have used some computer modelling to try and identify what the most likely set of results would be.
“All of those are options which could have been considered. But the Board felt the fairest way was points per game. It’s interesting that he French - a top league - has done just that.”
Does this need to be resolved by May 25?
ND: “That’s exactly the date that UEFA have asked for leagues to let them know if they are going to try and play their remaining games of season 2019-20 or whether they cannot. They need to plan for their own competitions as their prime interest, and they need to know which clubs are going to be in the European places.”
Rangers highlighted a letter sent to UEFA from yourself and Ian Maxwell before the vote. I suppose you’ll say you were only picking up on the mood at the time.
ND: “I don’t think it was so much the mood we were picking up on - it’s what we were being told by clubs.
“Clubs were telling us they needed clarity and they needed certainty. They needed to take action if the line was going to be drawn under the season. They needed to cauterise the wound, to turn off the tap and stop unnecessary outgoings. They were telling us in large numbers they wanted a line drawn under the season.
“All the letter to UEFA was, from myself and Ian Maxwell, was a reflection of what clubs were telling us.
“We didn’t say all clubs, we said the large majority of clubs, and I stand by that view which I held at the time. I think it was the right view and it was reflected in over 80 percent of clubs in the league agreeing with the resolution.”
How many clubs do you believe hold the opinion that the set-up of the SPFL needs to be looked at?
ND: “It is indicative to look at the SPFL board. Of the SPFL board, you have got six or seven, six directors and one alternate director, who are appointed by the clubs themselves, not by anyone else. You have got three independents, which is me, Karyn (McCluskey) and Murdoch, and six club representatives and then a further alternate.
“It’s only one of those who seem to have concerns, all the other club representatives that signed that letter are very clear about the professionalism and sifting through hours and hours of detailed opinion and evidence and making a recommendation to clubs that they believe to be in the best interests of all 42 clubs overall.
“I find questions about the integrity and professionalism of really serious people, who are committed to their clubs and have very serious professional backgrounds in all sorts of disciplines – financial services, law – these are people elected by their peers on to the SPFL board precisely because they are the sort of professional people who are needed to do the job to hold the executive to account and to ensure that the policies of the league are in the interests of all 42 clubs.”
Is there a conflation of clubs being unhappy with the league and clubs simply being unhappy about relegation or not winning a title etc?
ND: “When you are running a sporting competition when there are winners and losers people are unhappy. Recommendations and resolutions that are passed for the good of the game as a whole may not always suit individual clubs and that’s an unfortunate reality of a member’s association. What is in the best interests of clubs and the league overall? That’s what we’ve always sought to do.
“You won’t get everyone agreeing all the time, that’s inevitable. If you look at any league in the world there will always be people who disagree with individual decisions which are made. But the decisions are always made in the best interest of the 42 clubs as a whole.”
Do you have any response to the ICT statement?
ND: “I don’t think there is anything I can say about that which would be helpful.”