Alan Pattullo: Balls to women – Doncaster’s ‘gift’ is little more than a crass insult

M egan Rapinoe has become one of the most recognisable faces on the planet following the women’s World Cup.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster donated 100 Mitre Delta Max Plus footballs to women's chief executive Fiona McIntyre. Picture: Ross Brownlee/SNS

Feisty, uncompromising and, as she proved from the penalty spot last Sunday when helping the United States retain their title as world champions, unerringly accurate, you can imagine what she might like to do with every one of the 100 footballs gifted to the Scottish Women’s Premier League by the SPFL.

Boot each one of them back into the most sensitive part of chief executive Neil Doncaster’s anatomy, that’s what. I’m sure there are a few Scottish players who’d happily test their shooting ability in this manner too.

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There he was earlier this week, in one of the most ill-conceived football PR moves of recent times, grinning like a Cheshire cat at what he clearly considered was a genius wheeze on the back of all-time high television audiences for the women’s World Cup.

“I know, we’ll ride this wave of excitement about women’s football,” you can imagine some lackey thinking – let’s not give Mr Doncaster credit for even conceiving the idea of acknowledging the women’s game, since we’re not always confident he’s aware of the existence of three leagues below the top flight in the men’s game.

Once it was decided a gesture of some sort was appropriate, they had the opportunity to show some ambition. Help with marketing matches? Perhaps make moves to bring the women’s game under the auspices of the SPFL? Nope.

Instead they have created the impression of having rooted about the back of a cupboard on Hampden’s sixth floor and come across some footballs left over from a recent four-year sponsorship deal struck with Mitre.

Never mind that Doncaster was in one newspaper only last weekend crowing about the financial health of Scottish football while justifying his £200,000 salary. He claimed SPFL revenues have risen from £21.5million to £31.5m since the league merger of 2013. Attendances have grown from 3.8m six years ago to 4.5m last season.

All wonderful news, of course. But set against this, the much trumpeted – by the SPFL at least – gift of 100 balls looks even more crass and patronising. With 16 teams in SWPL 1 and 2, it works out at around six and a quarter balls per club. Not even a ball per player. To paraphrase an old advert, with these Mitre Deltas you are truly spoiling us, Ambassador Doncaster.

The attendant press release sought to underline how clever the SPFL is, since this “boost” comes just “in time for the second half of the Scottish Building Society SWPL season”. It’s their sense of timing that actually beggars belief. When everyone is saying women’s football in Scotland needs major investment to build on the momentum generated by the interest created by Shelley Kerr’s side at the World Cup, we get this: literally, a bag of balls.

In England, meanwhile, the conversation has at least moved on to landmark ways in which to recognise what has occurred over the last few weeks in terms of the status of the women’s game. There is talk of selected women’s Super League matches being ‘double-headers’ with Premier League fixtures next season, staged in the same stadium before or after the men’s clash.

As for the SPFL, this much derided misstep seems a particularly lunatic own goal given that the Women’s Under-19 European Championships, which Scotland is hosting for the first time, kicks off on Tuesday.

Scotland start against France in Paisley. Perhaps the SPFL will be good enough to fling some training bibs their way.