Rangers accusations ‘unacceptable’ says SPFL chief Neil Doncaster

League boss says ‘not a shred of evidence’ of bullying or coercion

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has admitted to feeling “very uncomfortable” in the face of what he describes as “unacceptable” allegations made against him by Rangers.

Speaking out for the first time since the Ibrox club called for his resignation along with that of SPFL legal counsel Rod McKenzie in the wake of the controversial ballot passing the governing body’s resolution to end the 2019-20 season, Doncaster issued a robust and passionate defence of his conduct.

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He has refuted Rangers’ claims of “bullying and coercion” during the process of the SPFL board’s written resolution which was eventually passed when Dundee changed their ‘No’ vote to a decisive ‘Yes’.

SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan released a lengthy open letter on Wednesday in which he again urged clubs to reject Rangers’ call for an external independent investigation into the handling of the ballot which will go in front of an EGM of all 42 members on 12 May.

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Doncaster, who feels his position has already been vindicated by the internally-commissioned investigation by Deloitte into the specifics of Dundee’s vote, believes the onus is firmly on Rangers to bring substance to their claims they have a “dossier of evidence” against the SPFL.

“Anyone who tells you that it’s a comfortable position to be in when you are being accused, and your suspension called for, without a shred of evidence, is probably not telling the truth,” Doncaster told The Scotsman.

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“It’s been very uncomfortable for myself, Rod McKenzie and the staff of the SPFL. I have total trust in the integrity of my small team.

“That’s why I wasn’t surprised when the independent and forensic investigation by Deloitte found absolutely no evidence of any inappropriate behaviour by any SPFL staff whatsoever.

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Not a shred of evidence being produced

“You can always look back and see if you could have done anything better or differently. Just like any organisation who has had a difficult time throughout the Covid-19 crisis – the same goes for politicians – we can look back and see if we could have done anything better.

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“There are areas where we could have done things better and they are referred to in Murdoch’s letter.

“But that’s a whole different ball game from suggestions there has been inappropriate behaviour and calling for people to be suspended. For that to happen without a shred of evidence being produced, I find unacceptable.

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“No-one has suggested to me or any member of my staff that I bullied anyone. I would hope that anyone who knows the way I’ve operated over the 10 years I’ve been in Scotland would know that I deal with all member clubs with respect at all times.

“I may not agree or share their views but I would hope that in every instance, I have been respectful towards every chief executive or chairman.

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“So if people feel that me, Rod McKenzie or any member of the SPFL staff has bullied anyone, then they have a duty to come forward and report it to the SPFL chairman and board.

“It’s incumbent on them to bring forward what it is they are alleging - who did what, where, when and let those claims be examined by the appropriate people on the SPFL board.”

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Nothing untoward in Dundee dealings

Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson has been the dissenting voice on the SPFL board in recent weeks, while the six other club representatives issued a letter on Tuesday claiming the cost to Scottish football of an independent investigation would be ‘incalculable’.

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Asked about his working relationship with Robertson going forward, Doncaster replied: “Seven of the board members are elected by the 42 clubs. The three independent members of the board - myself, Murdoch and Karyn McCluskey - are there to work together with the members elected by the clubs.

“So it’s not for me to raise any question marks about anyone, least of all those who are elected by the member clubs to represent them.

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“I’d like to think that all of us will be professional with each other, whether we agree or disagree about the way forward.”

On his own contact with Dundee managing director John Nelms on Good Friday, the initial voting deadline for the resolution when the Dens Park club’s ‘No’ ballot found its way into the SPFL’s email spam folder, Doncaster insisted there was nothing untoward.

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“The initial call to John after 5pm on the Friday evening was to check whether he was intending to put a return in or not,” he said.

“Based on conversations other clubs had been having, we were all expecting that Dundee would be making a return and rejecting the resolution.

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“John made it clear he wanted the weekend to consider their position and subsequently decided he would submit a return accepting the resolution.

“Dundee are entirely entitled to have that change of heart and ultimately their view chimed with 80 percent of SPFL members that the resolution provided for the right way forward for the league as a whole.”

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When it was put to him that the series of events lent themselves to a public perception of suspicious circumstances, Doncaster replied: “I understand that entirely and that’s why Murdoch and Karyn put in place the Deloitte investigation into the Dundee return.

“That entailed a thorough examination of phone and email records, text exchanges and interviews with SPFL staff. It found no evidence of wrongdoing by any member of staff whatsoever.”

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Time to end the in-fighting

Rangers have criticised the narrow scope of the Deloitte inquiry and insist a wider-ranging investigation is necessary. Asked for his view on that, Doncaster said: “It’s irrelevant what I think. It’s ultimately down to the 42 SPFL members to decide what they think is appropriate at the EGM. Eight of the nine board members feel it is entirely unnecessary.

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“We have a huge global problem and we have a real crisis in Scottish football. We need to be working together to tackle that crisis. Further in-fighting and division simply take our time, effort and money away from being able to do exactly that.”

Doncaster says there is no timescale on the SPFL board making a decision on the 2019-20 Premiership season, which the resolution gives them the authority to end and award final league placings on a points-per-game basis.

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Further clarity may be provided after talks with Scottish government sports minister Joe FitzPatrick.

“We are looking forward to having a discussion with Joe Fitzpatrick next Tuesday,” said Doncaster.

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“Clearly, the Westminster government has made real progress with the sporting bodies in England about the safe resumption of games.

“We are looking forward to having a positive dialogue with the Scottish government and working on a route that takes us back to games being played in Scotland. It’s vital that as soon as games can safely be played that they are played.”

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Doncaster is also optimistic that the SPFL’s new £32 million-a-year TV deal with Sky Sports, due to begin at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, can be safely preserved amid the Covid-19 crisis.

“It helps that we have an exclusive deal with one partner from next season,” he said. “Sky have been good partners for the game and I’m confident we will be able to work with them to get the season up and running as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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