Alan Pattullo: Clock ticking for Celtic supremo - and SPFL chief Neil Doncaster must be on borrowed time too

Change is surely afoot in Scottish football. The blame for Celtic’s recent troubles will likely end up at the door of Peter Lawwell, the club’s chief executive, and rightly so. He will expect nothing else.
Old pals Neil Doncaster (left) and Peter Lawwell both under pressureOld pals Neil Doncaster (left) and Peter Lawwell both under pressure
Old pals Neil Doncaster (left) and Peter Lawwell both under pressure

Such responsibility comes with the position – and the pay packet. There is already talk of the way being prepared for a manner of departure that offers Lawwell the respect to which he is entitled after a long and mostly successful career at the helm, perhaps as soon as the end of this season.

At the same time, one wonders about the long-term job prospects of Lawwell’s pal Neil Doncaster, with whom the Celtic chief executive once took a trip to London to salvage a TV deal during the Rangers financial crisis. This is one of Doncaster’s conspicuous successes after more than a decade in Scottish football. It was in 2012.

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He wasn’t even SPFL chief executive then; that body hadn’t even been formed. Now charged with the welfare of all 42 senior clubs, one could be forgiven for thinking he still only acts for top-flight sides – and often not all of them, given Hibs’ recent ire at the rescheduling of their game with Celtic because the hosts were heading to the sun for warm-weather training.

Like Lawwell, Doncaster has the impressive title and is well-remunerated and yet, unlike the Celtic chief executive, he rarely seems to have to take responsibility. We know – because it’s repeated ad infinitum – he is only “a servant of the clubs”. If that's all being chief executive of an organisation running the professional game in Scotland entails, then the job specification should be redrawn.

The incumbent needs to know he or she will suffer the price for failing to avert a crisis. Last summer’s to-curtail-or-not saga was certainly one of them. Doncaster will take his seat today at Hampden for Hibs v St Johnstone, the first of two semi-finals in his organisation’s soon-to-be sponsorless flagship cup competition.

What, if any, are the plans for a return to football for the tiers below the top two leagues? Little has been heard. As it stands, the game is suspended below the Championship until next weekend. Doncaster is on the Joint Response Group board by virtue of his role as SPFL chief executive. Even the SPFL board, along with clubs, are awaiting answers.

The Betfred deal is set to expire after next month’s final. It will leave Scottish football with another gaping hole in the finances. Lest we forget, the entire league is without a title sponsor, something which many feel should have been Doncaster’s ‘Dubai’ – the beginning of the end to a tenure lately defined by appalling acrimony, the nadir coming last summer following the scandal of the Dundee ‘double’ vote.

As we fast approach a year since Scottish football’s first shutdown last March, we remain no nearer a resolution to determine what happens if the same hardly impossible scenario unfolds this season. Doncaster absolved himself and his board of much of the blame for the ensuing chaos that occurred on his watch because it was “unprecedented”.

Well, now it’s very much 'precedented' and still the game is a hostage to fortune, the latest in a long list of unacceptable predicaments that Doncaster has now presided over.

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