SPL chief denies ‘aggressive takeover’ claim

Neil Doncaster disagreed with Jim Ballantyne, who said the SPL 'took over' the SFL. Picture: SNS
Neil Doncaster disagreed with Jim Ballantyne, who said the SPL 'took over' the SFL. Picture: SNS
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NEIL Doncaster has refuted claims that the formation of a new Scottish Professional Football League has come in the form of an aggressive takeover rather than a harmonious merger.

Scottish Premier League chief executive Doncaster, who refused to reveal whether he is interested in holding the same role at the new SPFL, was responding to Scottish Football League president Jim Ballantyne’s claim in the wake of Wednesday’s historic decision to dissolve the 123-year-old SFL.

Ballantyne has questioned the status of the new 42-club league body which will be formally constituted on 27 June, insisting the original intention for a merger was altered and that the 30 SFL clubs were now simply being “swallowed up” by the SPL who will retain corporate control of the SPFL.

But Doncaster is adamant the conditions of returning to a single league body for the first time since the SPL breakaway back in 1998 were made clear to the SFL from the start of the process.

“The terms of the merger were agreed with the SFL in January,” said Doncaster. “They involved the same distribution principles that were agreed yesterday, the same governance principles approved yesterday, the same set of play-offs, the same merged league.

“That was the merger that was agreed back in January and that was the merger that was approved yesterday. That’s absolutely how I see it. I do see it as a merger. You will have representation from all 42 clubs, each club having one vote within the set-up. You will have representation for all those professional clubs. So absolutely, it is a merger, a single league representing all professional clubs.”

One of the first tasks for the new SPFL will be the appointment of a nine-man board of directors. It will be composed of a chief executive, a chairman, one independent non-executive director, three representatives from the 12 top flight clubs, two representatives from what is currently the First Division and just one representative for the 20 clubs in the Second and Third Divisions.

The future of the existing staff members at both the SPL and SFL must also be determined and Doncaster was at pains to avoid making any commitment of ­desire for the position of SPFL chief executive.

“It’s very easy to make this about individuals and it mustn’t be,” he said. “This must be about what is in the best interests of the 42 clubs. Ultimately, decisions on such matters will be left to the board and that will be decided on 27 June.”

Pressed further on whether he would welcome being offered the position, Doncaster replied: “You are in danger of taking me down that particular path. No, no, no, no, this must not be about individuals – and anyone who tries to take it down that line should know that it should absolutely be about the board, on the day, making their decision.

“I understand the interest. I understand that you’ve got two sets of staff at the moment. But that is why it is absolutely essential that we don’t try to pre-empt anything – and that those decisions are made by the new board, as and when they are ­appointed.

“The new board will be appointed on 27 June and various things will be done on that day. There is work, especially on due diligence, to be done between now and then.”

Fixtures for the new season will be published next Wednesday and Doncaster is hopeful this week’s vote will assist the search for a new title sponsor for the league before it kicks off on 3 August. Sponsors would also have a say on how the four divisions of the SPFL are branded – Premiership, Championship, League One and League Two have previously been mooted.

Clydesdale Bank and Irn-Bru, who backed the SPL and SFL respectively, both concluded their contracts at the end of the season. It is believed Irn-Bru, whose own potential merger with Britvic is now uncertain, is interested in maintaining an involvement with the new league body.

“You wouldn’t expect me to comment on any individual sponsor,” said Doncaster. “It’s important that we work with anyone who’s interested in working with the professional game for the benefit of all clubs.

“Conversations will continue but yesterday’s decision can only be positive in terms of being able to speak with one voice to sponsors and broadcasters about the single league.

“Let’s wait and see where we end up. There’s a lot of talking still to be done and a lot of work to be done with potential sponsors and broadcasters over the coming weeks and months. The Scottish FA have put together a very good piece of work in terms of the due diligence they carried out which gave clubs the comfort to go forward yesterday and it’s important that we build upon that, we create more clarity and we bring as much money in as possible for all 42 clubs.

“Wednesday was a momentous day. It has been long recognised by most people, certainly by supporters, but also recognised by sponsors, that what Henry McLeish recommended – one league body – should be put in place.

“He wanted one voice representing all 42 clubs and I’m delighted that a clear majority of SFL clubs agreed with the 12 SPL clubs, so we now have an agreement on a merged league. It’s been recommended as the right way forward, the best way forward, for so long and ultimately these things do take a long time.

“But we got there with the SPL clubs unanimously agreeing that this was the right way forward and I was confident yesterday that going into the meeting people recognised it was the right thing and that’s why they voted in favour of it.

“I believe that it’s the right way forward for the game, I believe it’s the view of supporters that a single league body is the right way in a country of this size. It certainly helps to talk to sponsors, broadcasters and the government with one voice. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be successful for the game in this country.”