Scottish game ‘will be damaged if UCL path is made harder’

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster speaks to the media outside Hampden Park after yesterday's annual general meeting. Picture: SNS
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster speaks to the media outside Hampden Park after yesterday's annual general meeting. Picture: SNS
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The Scottish football future that Neil Doncaster sought to present yesterday was so bright the SPFL chief executive really should have donned shades. No doubt repeating to the press the spiel he had told the governing body’s agm 
earlier, Doncaster related how revenues for the 42 senior clubs had risen 20 per cent in the past three years.

Moreover, with a Rangers presence in the top flight again ensuring four box office Glasgow derbies against Celtic, the Englishman guaranteed that the television contracts that will come onstream when the current deals expire in 2020 will be more lucrative.

Doncaster was, though, willing to acknowledge what could not so much be a blot on the landscape but blot the entire landscape of a Scottish game he says is being talked about once more for all the right reasons beyond these borders.

In an unusual move for a man ordinarily the model of decorum, Doncaster went public earlier this year with fears over moves to restrict Scottish clubs’ access to the Champions League. Essentially, the bigger leagues are seeking bigger representation in the competition. A move that would inevitably lead to the smaller nations with modest coefficients scrabbling over a much-reduced number of qualifying slots – and perhaps having to overcome the fifth-placed sides from the elite domestic set-ups to earn them.

In recent years, Celtic haven’t even been able to negotiate a route to the blue riband competition’s group stages with a format that spares them from facing any side from the top-ranked 13 nations. Doncaster cannot countenance a more arduous path for the Scottish champions to snare a place among the European game’s glitterati.

“[This issue is] certainly very high up on our agenda because they are fundamental to the game in this country,” he said.

“Part of the attraction of 
winning the domestic trophy is that it gives you access to that European competition. That’s important in terms of prestige and money and you’re standing in the game.

“If that route is closed off or becomes much more difficult then it damages the very fabric of the game in this country and in other leagues around Europe.”

Doncaster has been seeking support from other leagues in a bid to ward off this clear and present danger to make Uefa buckle to the demands of its heavyweight members. The Champions League is midway through the three-year cycle that is the standard timescale for adhering to a competitive structure. The SPFL chief executive therefore believes that by the end of the year the proposal for the next cycle will be agreed upon. Months of lobbying on this front lie ahead.

However, he rejected the notion that the appointment of Celtic’s chief executive Peter Lawwell yesterday to the SPFL board – which has resulted in him stepping down from the SFA professional game board – was related to the need to have a strong voice making Scotland’s case in continental circles.

Lawwell currently is an executive board member of the European Club Association, which is an organisation entirely distinct from Uefa.

“Conversations are 
ongoing. We’ve had a lot of 
dialogue below the radar,” Doncaster said. “The ECA and the EPFL have had extensive dialogue with those who will be making the decision and it’s important that we do what we can to avoid that damage occurring to the game.

“I can’t say much more than that but I can certainly assure you that it remains a priority.” 
The chief executive offered a “let’s wait and see” when asked if the risks of “change” had receded when he raised the alarm.

“It’s important that we continue to fight the fight and ensure we do all we can to 
minimise the risks and they would be significant risks if that were to occur,” he added.

Doncaster, meanwhile, sees no risks of the SPFL being forced to provide compensation demanded by Partick Thistle and Motherwell over the fact both clubs only have two home games pre-split that involve either Celtic or 
Rangers – the league’s two most sizeable away supports.

“The issue you have is that with a split league – and 33 games before the split – you have inherent imbalances,” Doncaster said.

“You can have a new system if you wish but you will have different imbalances. Whilst you have the split, that is what you have.

“We have a mirroring of the fixture list year in year out. So those clubs who have been sent twice each before the split up the road to Inverness and Dingwall last season, will go once before the split this 
season. So there is fairness over two seasons.”