NEW Scottish Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster has dismissed the prospects of a European place being restored for the League Cup winners under the reunified 42-club organisation.
Doncaster yesterday carried out his first formal duty in the role, since beating former Scottish Football League chief executive David Longmuir to land it, when he oversaw the League Cup first round draw at Hampden.
Former St Mirren captain and manager Tony Fitzpatrick, who pulled the balls out of the pots along with former Dundee United manager Peter Houston, believes it is time European football was an incentive once more in the tournament.
The Paisley club, of course, lifted the trophy last season but will not be one of Scotland’s continental representatives.
“They should bring the European place back for it,” insisted Fitzpatrick. “St Mirren were the only club other than Celtic to win a major honour in Scotland last season, but they are not in Europe this year.
“Hibs lost in a cup final, but they are in Europe. The winners of the League Cup deserve a place. It would add to the prestige of the tournament, for supporters as well as players.”
Scotland scrapped the European place for League Cup winners in 1995, but other countries who run a League Cup tournament, including England and France, retain it. Doncaster, however, says it is a decision for the SFA and does not anticipate any change.
“That is down to the Scottish FA and Uefa,” said Doncaster. “But I think it is difficult to do that. It will certainly hit the co-efficient potentially, which is all important in terms of the long-term success of the game in this country.”
Doncaster is more concerned with attracting a new sponsor for the tournament, which had been backed by the government under the guise of the Scottish Communities League Cup in the past two seasons. He is also engaged in a new title sponsor for the SPFL, following the expiry of contracts the SPL and SFL had with Clydesdale Bank and Irn-Bru respectively.
“We’ve got two properties which need sponsoring, in terms of the SPFL and the League Cup,” added Doncaster. “The Scottish government made it clear very early on last season that it would be their last one sponsoring the cup. So we’ve now inherited the League Cup and will do our best to put it out there.
“I think it offers excitement, it clearly offers some shocks with St Mirren and Kilmarnock winning it in recent years. We are confident it will be attractive to potential partners. The League Cup has come within the SPFL for the first time just 10 or so days ago. So we have only been able to start now engaging with potential sponsors and partners. Discussions are ongoing with people who are potentially interested in the league title sponsorship.
“So there are a whole lot of things we need to be doing. Clearly the sponsorships are a big part of that, but so are broadcasting rights as well.
“In terms of the overall finances, they are pretty robust going into the new season, even in the absence of any SPFL title or League Cup sponsorship. So what we have been able to do with the other sponsorships and with all the broadcasting rights should hopefully see the game in good order next season.”
Partick Thistle, the only top flight club in the first round draw, landed a home tie against Ayr United. Rangers will travel to Station Park to face Forfar Athletic.
Doncaster, meanwhile, responded to criticism from Celtic supporters of the decision to move their first league game of the season at home to Ross County to a 5.15pm Saturday kick-off for live TV coverage on Sky Sports. Along with Friday nights, it is likely to be a regular slot for Scottish games in the new season.
“Television companies and broadcasters make a very important contribution to the health of the game, particularly in this country,” said Doncaster.
“Of the total amount of money that comes into the game, the proportion that comes from television is relatively high, compared with other leagues. So it is an important element.
“It is also important we work with supporters and try to minimise disruption where we can. I suspect Friday nights and perhaps Saturday evenings will be more popular than early Sunday lunchtime kick-offs for many.
“The feedback we have had is that Ross County are likely to prefer a kick-off on a Saturday afternoon, albeit a couple of hours later than normal, than an early kick-off on a Sunday.
“So you are never going to please everyone when you move away from a 3pm Saturday kick-off. But we do have to balance the needs of supporters with the needs of television companies as well.
Falkirk v Clyde
East Fife v Morton
Arbroath v Montrose
Berwick v Cowdenbeath
Forfar Athletic v Rangers
Stranraer v Brechin City
Partick Thistle v Ayr United
Stirling Albion v Hamilton
Dumbarton v Albion Rovers
East Stirling v Dunfermline
Queen of the South v Annan
Peterhead v Alloa Athletic
Raith Rovers v Queen’s Park
Elgin City v Livingston
Airdrie v Stenhousemuir
Ties due to be played on 3 August