Tom English: St Mirren’s Gilmour jabs at SPL chief

SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster. Picture: SNS
SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster. Picture: SNS
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IT was, perhaps, typical of the confusion that reigns in Scottish football that when Stewart Gilmour spoke of Neil Doncaster yesterday morning it sounded as if the St Mirren chairman was suggesting that the SPL’s chief executive should be considering his position given all that has gone on in the game in ­recent days.

“The chief executive is in place at the moment,” said ­Gilmour, “and he should have a wee look at himself.”

A hare was sent running. What was Gilmour saying? Had he asked for a vote of no confidence in Doncaster in a meeting earlier in the year? “No, not in a meeting,” replied Gilmour. “I didn’t ask for a vote of no confidence.” The hare slowed. The hare didn’t know what was going on, quite frankly. As if we didn’t have enough to contend with in trying to figure out the supposed agendas and smokescreens and red herrings that were mentioned after Monday’s meeting ended in such disquiet, we were now perplexed by the chat about Doncaster.

We asked for the definitive version. “I have sympathy as well for Neil,” said Gilmour. “He can’t vote at these meetings so would I want the job of chief executive? No is the answer. He’s in a very difficult position. Do you want to work for an ­organisation where you are the chief ­executive but you have no power? He’s got no power. I wouldn’t be happy working there, would you? Am I going to have a real go at the guy? No, ­because he doesn’t get to vote.”

But would Gilmour want Doncaster as chief executive if this torturous saga ever resulted in one league body being established? “I think we should put the applications out and see what comes back. A proper recruitment process. What you have to say is that the three guys [Doncaster, David Longmuir and Stewart Regan] went through hell last summer and they tried to find solutions and the solutions were impossible. The three of them have been tarnished by that, tarnished by supporters, by the press and probably by clubs, but they were in an impossible position. If I were Neil would I work as a chief exec when I actually can’t be a chief exec because the 12 clubs make the decisions for me? No.”

Doncaster will take these words and apply a straight bat to them. Nothing seems to faze the SPL’s head man, which is not something that you can say about Gilmour. His mood when leaving Hampden on Monday was bordering on the thunderous with good reason given some of the things that had been said about him in the meeting and that would be said again once the cameras started rolling. The emotive language used by Stewart Milne of Aberdeen was hurtful to the point of disgraceful.

Yesterday was another day of statements, another day accepting that the status quo is here to stay barring a miracle from on high from the patron saint of blazerdom. Gilmour spoke at length about the world as he sees it, some of his comments directly contradicted not long after he stopped speaking when the proclamation from Pittodrie landed in front of us. For the second successive day we had political tennis with one side briefing one thing and the other side briefing something entirely different. Face-to-face or over the phone the decision-makers get ever more entrenched. All you can do is stand back and watch and wonder how the hell it ever came to this.

To Gilmour’s credit, he sat and took questions. It would have been easy for him to let his statement of Tuesday do his talking for him, but he put himself up and had things to say. This is the accusation levelled against him by some of the ten on the other side of the fence on Monday. They claim that Gilmour has moved the goalposts. They say that he never mentioned that reform of the 11-1 voting structure was a “big ticket item” for him in any of the meetings then recast it as a huge stumbling block. They say that he didn’t articulate fully his objection to 12-12-18 until the veritable death, that he allowed everybody to carry on in the belief that any objections he did have could be taken care of. He never sent out the signals. He says he did.

“There was an arrogance and a bullying throughout the meeting which for me was unacceptable and you probably saw that when you had some of your interviews later on. There was a reconciliation atmosphere from other clubs. A number of clubs wanted to compromise, wanted to revisit [the plans] but unfortunately the majority wanted to vote for what was on the table.” Namely, the all or nothing package; 12-12-18 or nothing at all.

“It got rather personal, especially when the offer was made to change the voting structure. If the offer had been made to change the whole of the 11-1 vote to 9-3 on everything that would have put us in a bit of a position, but that wasn’t the offer.” The proposals sank as a result.

Gilmour and, to a much lesser extent, his ally Roy MacGregor, had thereby killed Scottish football it was said. “I would like somebody to sit down and explain to me exactly what we have ruined, what was so fantastic because I don’t see it, I don’t think Roy MacGregor sees it and a hell of a lot of other folk don’t see it. As regards Stewart Milne’s personal outburst, I put it down to the fact that it was a very emotional time. I hope that in the cold light of day he realises that he was a wee bit over the top. Maybe in the next couple of months he’ll shake my hand and say we disagreed, but that’s life. I’m sure he will.

“Neil Doncaster said that television companies were interested in 12-12-18. Could he quantify it? No. Have I personally got my doubts on that? Yes. They might have been interested in one or two games at the very nitty grity end of a middle eight but why would they go to the bottom eight? I don’t understand the desperation to get this proposal through, the same as I don’t understand people telling me we have ruined Scottish football’s great new dawn.

“I saw Scot Gardiner [Dundee chief executive] on Sky the other night and he said he would receive £50,000 from the football authorities next season and how could he run a football club on £50,000. He was being economical with the facts. Why is he not saying that he’s got £250,000 coming as a parachute payment from the SPL? Around this boardroom table we wouldn’t forget about £250,000.”

There is no shifting either party in all of this. The suspicion cuts both ways and it is edgy right now. The most vociferous among the ten believe that Gilmour never raised sufficient objection about the proposals until recently. They talk of some ulterior motive but nobody can come up with one, bar the nonsensical conspiracy theory that says Charles Green was yanking his chain behind the scenes, a thought that seems to be based purely on Green attending a St Mirren versus Celtic game at the end of last month while sporting a St Mirren tie given to him by the club shop because he’s turned up without a tie.

When you consider that St Mirren were one of the clubs that refused to allow Rangers into the SPL post-liquidation then it’s a conspiracy theory too far. “I met Charles Green last summer and I told him that his position [in the SPL] was untenable after what had happened.”

There is bitterness in the ranks of the SPL, though. Maybe it’s got to a level where no compromise may be found, mediator or no mediator.

“We do need a mediator but Henry McLeish is not the man,” he says. “To ride in on his white horse on the last day [before the vote] and make the comments in the press that he did and virtually telling myself and Roy to never mind what we think just change our mind…

“He never came to speak to St Mirren. I’d love to know how many clubs he did go to speak to. How many community clubs. I know he went to speak to all the big clubs.

“I thought ‘Don’t try and tell me now what to do. Come and speak to me, listen to what we’ve got to say, take it away and think about it and if you disagree then you disagree’. I have no problem with people disagreeing with us. But listen to us, particularly when you’re coming in from the outside.

“We do feel sympathy for the First Division clubs because we’ve been there, so were Ross County for a long while. We know what it’s like, but the solution put down as a take it or leave it was only going out of the frying pan and into the fire. A few clubs wanted to discuss compromise, but the majority did not and it was quite aggressively said that way.

“But then when the vote was going down they wanted to make a tinkering change to get it through. It was nothing, a scrap from the table.”

Therein lies the impasse. Gilmour’s scrap is Peter Lawwell’s feast, Gilmour’s token gesture is Milne’s major concession. The SFA is searching a mandate to sort this out but, in effect, what it is looking for is a miracle.