2007 - 2021

What is Neil Doncaster For?


Who could disagree with Barry Hearn yesterday describing Scottish football chiefs as ‘lazy, full of self-pity & with a defeatist attitude’?

Very few.

In November 2011 it was announced that the Clydesdale Bank were ending their sponsorship of Scottish football, something they’d been committed to since 2007. At the time Doncaster announced: “Work now begins on seeking a new title sponsor for the foremost sporting competition in Scotland.”

Three years on and that work has no result. Scotland’s national game has no commercial deal. This isn’t some side-issue. It’s not some peripheral part of his job, this is his job.

Two years ago Doncaster received a pay rise from a whopping £172,000 to a massive £200,000. That rise came despite a six per cent FALL in income from £22.7million to £21.4m in a year when total payments to SPL clubs also decreased by £1.6m – a reduction of almost nine per cent. The filed accounts were for the year up to May 31 2012 and did not take into account Rangers’ drop out of the top league.

Who the hell gets a a £28,000 pay rise in a period of stark austerity when the industry your supposedly at the helm of is in total crisis?

If there’s a poster boy for ineptitude, lack of vision, failure of transparency and accountability in Scottish sport, Doncaster is it.

Hearn, speaking at the SFA put it simply in a crystal-clear voice that only an outsider could deliver:

“The fact the league doesn’t have a sponsor says everything you need to know”.

But Hearn’s broadside wasn’t confined to the sponsorship failure, adding:

“You’ve got to grow. You’ve got to be positive. You have been in the shadow of the English Premier League and you have almost given up. Your image is not good because it is a defeatist image, completely alien to what Gordon Strachan is preaching on the pitch. The blazers are not doing the job properly. It is very well looking at a beautiful petal but if the roots are damaged you don’t see a beautiful petal for much longer. You can’t sell your product if you talk your product down. Attendances are falling across Scottish football. You are not doing your job properly.”

It’s pretty simple stuff.

The SFA isn’t much better, but they have at least managed a bundle of sponsors and partners, though the inclusion of Macdonalds and Mars might embarrass a more forward-looking body, and might give us a clue to the early departure of Mark Wotte. How will we ever overcome the ‘Burgers and Buckfast’ culture when our national body think its appropriate for our youth sponsor to be Macdonalds?

Wotte you’ll recall was appointed by the parent body in 2011 to implement its “Performance Strategy”, which resulted from Henry McLeish’s much lauded Review of Scottish Football. But the SFA announced that the man hailed by chief executive Stewart Regan as “the key appointment that could turn around Scottish football” has now decided to “move on”.

Scottish football faces a series of critical questions:

Who is replacing Wotte and if his role and work plan was so pivotal, what is happening to it now?

Health and fitness is the bedrock of any sporting culture, setting a benchmark for young people to aspire to. Wotte’s departure and the abandonment of any clearly articulated strategy to replace his key work is the SFA’s equivalent failure to Doncaster’s inability to attract backing for the game. It’s about an abject lack of ambition or aspiration for the game by people who are underperforming and overpaid.

In a country brimming over with artistic talent, a booming games industry, food and drink entrepreneurs and new media technologies is it really beyond the ken of the SPFL to attract a sponsor?

What exactly is the deal struck with the BBC that seems to amount to endless one dimensional radio coverage, temporary available and badly shot video footage online and cheap and (uncheerful) tv highlights?

Where is the innovation that would reflect the new media culture? If old broadcast media can’t and won’t provide a decent service – the SPFL should be reaching out to new commercial media players like Virgin or BT or resurrecting the old SPL tv deal scuppered by the Old Firm all those years ago.

What is the strategy for attracting new audiences to football – besides – the recent brainwave to allow people to have a drink? This is no bad thing – but its hardly a feat of staggering imagination.

What is the strategy to assist clubs to keep the current fan base coming along to the game?

It’s clear that clubs can do their own thing, but surely a national body does more than run a website and Player of the Month awards?

Doncaster himself has said:

“Sponsorship itself only makes up around 20% of the income of the league historically, so it’s not quite as big a deal as some might say. Broadcasting makes up the vast majority of the rest, so to have the stable, long-term broadcasting partnerships in place, that underpins the bulk of our revenue.”

Neither is good enough and three years on there is a pathetic lack of urgency.

Good coverage, good media and strong sponsorship aren’t just important symbolically, and in terms of delivering some desperately needed finance, they’re about how we project the game to fans, parents, children, players and the world. Do we believe in our game? Are we investing in it? Do we value it? Do we have a plan to nurture and promote it? The answer to each of these questions seems to be: no, no, no and no.

From the cringeworthy creation of ‘the Championship’ to the utter utter farce of the “TV cash back deal” – in which Doncaster ‘negotiated’ to PAY £750,000 in cashback for costs in screening Rangers games in the lower divisions and to make up for shortfalls in viewer figures – to the singular failure to attract a penny in sponsorship for the ‘the foremost sporting competition in Scotland’, Doncaster has failed.

We deserve better leadership than this. He must go now.

Comments (32)

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  1. Barontorc says:

    Given this mid-term report, it’s a heavy criticism and should be ringing in someone’s ear to either shape up or move out.

    In trying to work out the advantages of virtually paying TV people to cover Rangers’ progress in the lower divisions, it’s a bit of a high hurdle to get over, apart from giving Gers fans coverage of their team and much exposure for the minnows in the Scottish game.

    It’s hard to see any benefits at all – so who proposed it and who signed it off?

    Does it sit in the same filing cabinet as the files showing the way the football authorities ‘helped’ Rangers to not deal with the dirty dealing that eventually did for them?

    The ‘Rules’ were subverted, the ‘too big to fail’ measure was applied and the con-men rushed in to feast on the carcass, yet it all could have been stopped in its tracks when the illicit ‘bonus/loan’ scheme was first uncovered, but no action meant the cancer spread deeper and now recovery looks very unlikely without major surgery and even that might not work.

    So given this kind of background – awarding a salary increase of over 16% when profits have slumped by over 20% sort of measures up; like who’s actually in charge of that nut-house?

  2. ChrisDWhyte says:

    My question, three years ago, has never been answered:

    “What has Neil Doncaster ever succeeded at?”

    To this date, I can’t come up with a single thing. Other than jobs for the boys in the upper reaches of the SPFL, there isn’t a single mitigating reason to keep Doncaster on… Never mind paying him MORE. Every item he’s put his hand into has ended up failing, and the victims are the most important people in football.

    The supporters.

    Barry Hearn is absolutely right. What’s worse, is that too many people believe they’re stuck with the system because the “big two” will forever keep forcing the issue in their favour and there’s no chance for change. Luckily, we just had a bit of a political thing go on in Scotland where the people learned just what’s been going on and were showed that change CAN happen if enough people push for it.

    First on the list: radical reconstruction of our league system that benefits everyone, not just the Infirm.
    Second: bringing in fans who want a good day out, whether they’re returning or brand new.

    There are plenty of ideas out there, sadly none of them in the offices that matter. Perhaps it’s time for a groundswell of support to begin… 🙂

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Chris. Yes the sponsorship debacle does feel like a body stuck in the past and longing for it to return. It’s a body fit for managing the spoils for two clubs not a hole 42 club league and a national game. The sad thing is there are lots of positives in the game right now, from Strachan’s management of the national team to the emergence of new clubs in the top flight and the commitment to young players born out of necessity.

    2. cirsium says:

      ChrisDWhyte – in answer to your question “What has Neil Doncaster ever succeeded at?”, he has been very successful in increasing his salary. That is his key skill.

  3. Darien says:

    Might have been a better idea to hire someone who knew something about Scottish football, its traditions, culture etc. Hell, maybe even a Scotsman/Scotswoman!

  4. Peter says:

    Really enjoyed that. I really do think there must be thousands of us in Scotland who have just about gave up with the people who run our game. The people in top positions in football in this country picking up huge salaries really don’t understand that the average fan simply do not trust them anymore, we don’t believe them when they speak and when they do we immediately wonder if there is another agenda to what they’re saying. Or am I just getting too cynical as I get older ??

  5. It’s a question I haven’t asked recently because, to be honest, I’d forgotten he existed. I listen to radio coverage, because that’s all there is. However, I can’t get rid of my old radio because Scottish football is so often on medium wave, and isn’t on any of the digital stations, unlike English football on Radio 5.

    BTW, why can’t I share these articles on Facebook any more? It opens up, but doesn’t give the “share” button at the bottom.

  6. Joe Gibson says:

    I have been watching football for 64 years now yes even when I was five six or seven, years old with my Dad I just don’t see why we are not playing the old 14 14 14 team system, this league set up is all wrong. three leagues of fourteen is the best way with more varied matches to watch.

    I don’t suppose anyone will agree but that’s M view.

    PS I am and always have been a HEARTS supporter,

    1. Darien says:

      “the old 14 14 14 team system”

      Even better when it was 16 (or 18?) teams in two divisions. Much more ‘variety’ for fans (and players), home and away!

      1. Joe Gibson says:

        I agree but there are not enough teams in Scotland now unless you back the reserve situation.

  7. Clydebuilt says:

    The following is not a zenophobic rant, although it might see that way.

    Currently we have:

    Neil Doncaster Scottish Professional Football
    Stuart Regan Scottish Football Association
    Mark Dodson Scottish Rugby Union

    All with one thing in common, they hail from England. Reminds me of Alasdair Gray questioning the appointments to positions of power in Scotlands Arts.

    Both sport and the Arts have an influence on the well being of a nation.

  8. Clydebuilt says:

    For years football talk shows have mulled over the poor TV deal. Quoting examples of similar European leagues with much better TV deals. It’s attrocious that the National Football Team’s games aren’t on cooncil telly. So if you are too young to go to a pub and live in a house without sky sports you unlikely too see the team. Whereas in England the national teams games are broadcast on cooncil telly.

    Then there’s Scotlands trad music. It’s hidden away on specialist music shows on Radio Scotland. The only reason I’ve heard of the Corries is I’m old enough to have seen them on the TV. Runrig: I’ve heard them on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, but almost never on BBC Radio Scotland. and never on any BBC TV station.
    So if your young the state broadcaster denies you the chance to see your National Football team and see / hear your culture.

    That’s a pretty good way of ensuring any thoughts of Nationhood never occur!

  9. Lochside says:

    Long overdue commentary on the sad decaying institution that is Scottish Football. An institution that unlike the other institutions hanging on: the Churches; the msm; the law; the unionist parties; the Orange Lodge etc. it is worth saving and being encouraged to flourish.

    The parallels between the political corruption endemic in this country for generations and the decayed and neglected state of ‘fitba ‘is striking.

    Both are over-arching institutions run by English and Unionist minded Scots, supported by self-interested power bases i.e. clubs, who in turn are manipulated by the two most powerful mutually supporting monolithic clubs of Rangers and Celtic. Additionally, the manner in which the msm in this country protected Rangers at all costs, even to the point of financial and business suicide matches the support that SLAB continue to receive today.

    Today I heard Chic Young defending Ally McCoist’s tenure at Ibrox on BBC radio, on the basis of what he insinuated that McCoist ( and by definition Young) knows about the ‘real’ inside story at Ibrox and therefore implying damage limitation to Rangers reputation is more important than McCoist’s competency as a manager. A classic illustration of how journalists in this country will protect the corrupt institutions that they perceive feed them, rather than the people who actually do pay their wages.

    Doncaster embodies the modern phenomenon of incompetency reaching its own level. How many institutions are ‘led’ by similar wastes of space, who set targets and mission statements which are total guff and are never reached? In Scotland, England’s last colony, Doncaster is typical of individuals parachuted in from south of the border, with no knowledge and no allegiance to our game and its history. For non-football readers, remember Scotland truly invented this world wide game and excelled as the leader for the first half century of its institutionalised history. So this is not a trivial matter or something best left to the ‘lower classes’ to squabble over.

    The parallels with Scottish politics can be extended into the sphere of football coverage. Where is the ‘pooling and sharing’ of coverage in our continuing UK? Why are the English pundits covering the wall to wall Premiership and Football league campaign paid more than the entire budget for all of Scottish football?
    Why is SKY not being pressurised to contribute a proportionate 8.9% of its football budget to support Scottish football, particularly when around 11% of its audience is Scottish based? Is it beyond the ability of Scottish clubs to work collectively to threaten a boycott of Sky, unless they get a better deal? Think about it, the Old Firm alone must be able to call on half a million subscribers to back them.

    The lack of vision is demoralising, the absence of energy and dynamism is startling. In the land of the blind, the one -eyed man is king (not Gordon Brown!). Clunking fists abound, reactionary flatulent attitudes predominate. While our game slowly suffocates from lack of support and innovation, the ‘blazers’, like dinosaurs blunder on into oblivion. It’s time the supporters united and demanded Scottish football be saved from these incompetent rulers. A YES style alliance is required to mobilise and drive out these careerists.

    1. Ian Vallance says:

      I know many who subscribe to Sky specifically to watch the EPL and generally have little or no interest in the Scottish game which they view as inferior, with the outcome of competitions being all to predictable.
      (I should add as someone who thinks sports should be played rather than watched I feel all Sky Sport subscriptions are a total waste of cash. For me the government should be encouraging and ensuring sport participation is must for all our citizens particularly our youth no argue the toss about watching it.)

      However having said this I can suggest one idea that might change attitudes among the viewing public, bring more cash to the game, attract larger sponsors, and give clubs more leverage with TV companies.
      That is properly exploring the idea of a North Sea league where qualifying Scottish clubs would play the truly challenging outfits like Ajax, Anderlecht, Bromby, Gotheburg etc on a weekly basis rather than fight out dour encounters in the tiny fish pond of Scottish football.
      Like it or not today’s game is about money and to get that it needs profile, something that cannot be achieved if you play your regular football at the likes Rugby park, Pittodrie, Ibrox or even Celtic Park. Further the much discussed and sought after European success the holy grail of the Scottish game cannot realistically be achieved in the modern game from a platform as narrow and skill deficient as the SPL.
      To develop the skills, sharpness and financial clout to even try and compete with the cream of Europe requires these skills to regularly tested against genuinely challenging opposition and attract weekly TV audiences of many millions not hundreds of thousands at best. Without the willingness to admit the parochial inadequacy of the Scottish game no progress will even be made. And the inevitable re-entry of the second part of the Old firm to the SPL with its even more predictable outcomes will only lead to further decline.

  10. Frank M says:

    Hearn’s comment for the hierarchy was

    “You’ve got to grow. You’ve got to be positive. You have been in the shadow of the English Premier League and you have almost given up. Your image is not good because it is a defeatist image, completely alien to what Gordon Strachan is preaching on the pitch. The blazers are not doing the job properly. It is very well looking at a beautiful petal but if the roots are damaged you don’t see a beautiful petal for much longer. You can’t sell your product if you talk your product down. Attendances are falling across Scottish football. You are not doing your job properly.”

    This mirrors exactly what the Unionist parties in Scotland have done to our country. It is exactly the same scenario.
    Unionist parties – lazy, incompetent, full of self-pity, negative and defeatist with no genuine ideas and policies for future development. Serf-serving individuals with no faith or interest in what is best for the Scottish people, only for their own advancement.
    SFA and SFPL – lazy, incompetent, full of self-pity, negative and defeatist with no genuine ideas and policies for future development. Self-serving individuals with no faith or interest in what is best for Scottish football, only for their own advancement.

    In both cases, we need a clear out.

    We need Labour, Conservatives and Lib-Dems and UKIP out of Scotland at the very earliest, so that parties such as the SNP, Greens etc can help Scotland to flourish, replacing the negativity and spin, with positivity.

    We need Doncaster, Regan and Ogilvie out as soon as possible, so that Scottish football can flourish without the negativity and spin that we have so far lived with.

    There are good people with plenty of experience, credibility, honesty and dignity who could replace them, such as Turnbull Hutton of Raith Rovers, amongst others.

    We need also to repair the media, which is very badly damaged. They have helped to disengage the population with fairy stories and deflection tactics, so that many can no longer think for themselves.

    It can all be done, but it takes hope NOT fear.

  11. Bothy Basher says:

    All my life I’ve dismissed football as bread and circuses, with governments happy to see fans indulging in religious bigotry and political division which they do with passion. There is no passion remaining for real issues.

    This article confirms my view that it’s a mug’s game and supported by mugs.

  12. MacSuibhne says:

    Have to agree that Doncaster has been a disaster in his role with little in the way of credibility or charisma.

    Coupled with an inept Reagan and conflicted president it is shambolic leadership across the piece.

    A complete clear out required and a transparent approach so that everyone from the fans, clubs and boards ensure the focus on supporting the sustainable development of our national game.

  13. Iain McRobbie says:

    I’d actually hoped that by employing someone with no real experience of the Scottish game, we perhaps had a chance of breaking the mould, after all let’s face it, when it comes to Scottish Football there are few in the game who haven’t been tarnished by the Old Firm. The powers at be exist only to protect Celtic and Ranger the rest are just there to make up the numbers.

    What I’d like to know is why do we need an SFA and the SPFL, we are a small country, we now have one police force and one fire brigade, why not one Football Authority, and I’d give the CEO position to someone who has had years of experience of running one of our less fashionable clubs, say Brechin or Forfar etc.

  14. witness99 says:

    There was no option re 750 000 cash back to screen Rangers games, the only reason sky remained on the scene was the deal to show Gers games as without them sky would either have bolted or offered a pittance. Doncaster is a lame duck for a number of reasons. ..the product he has to work with is rotten, the game is skint also because the top league is devoid of competition as a consequence of Rangers now in the lower leagues. Was never a wise business move to dump one of your main assets in the bottom league thereby splitting the biggest selling brand in the game-the old firm. Corporate suicide, no wonder they can’t get sponsor. Doncaster without question is inept, but it wasn’t his fault we had a baying mob who for a multitude of reasons from envy to bigotry to in some cases probably a naive sense of justice decided to hold the game to ransom by demanding a club go to the bottom, a club who in the main were cleared in a tax tribunal twice (and ironically offered a settlement to tax authorities more than what it was subsequently decided they owed-an offer rejected) this same club also paid a bigger percentage of its debt than Hearts or Dunfermline(2 clubs who weren’t demoted for their insolvency events) a club who as far as the Police are concerned were victims of a crime. We’ve probably got the game -and ‘leadership’ we deserve.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Delusional – and almost incredible sense of entitlement

    2. Jim says:

      Witness it was never a good idea to allow a cheating club to re-enter any league without three years accounts. Something that clubs waiting to join the league had but Sevco didn’t. When a club has cheated for ten years and as a result of that cheating forced other clubs into debt trying to compete, it’s disgraceful that they were allowed to join any league at all.
      Ranger cheated were found out and died. Then Green bought the assets and the GFA the media perpetuated the myth that they were the same team. This is the reason people refused to attend games as it’s obvious the bias toward Sevco knew no bounds. From Officials to the highest post the game is worked for the benefit of two clubs, both from Glasgow and every fan of the rest knows it.

      1. jd says:

        SFA being Celtic centric. Yeh! The Referee filled Lodges are just brimming with Celtic fans. Duh! Dallas, Farry, Ogilvie etc. All good Tims. Chuckling til my sides are sore. You minnows don’t deserve us and hopefully we’ll soon find our natural sparring football partners in a Euro League and leave you small fry well behind. You could always twin up with the Irish League and I can also enjoy watching you getting trounced there. Hopefully goodbye soon.HailHail you ingrats.

  15. Hearts and Dunfermlines “Insolvency events” did not involve them being liquidated. They are still the same clubs. Rangers were not forced to go to the bottom, a new club was started, they started where you would expect a new club to start. They subsequently changed their name from Sevco to The Rangers Football Club.

  16. William Davidson says:

    Expected a lot of anti-Rangers comments : quelle surprise on this site!
    I don’t detect any “sense of incredible entitlement” in Witness 99 ‘s comments, just statements of the blindingly obvious to any unbiased observer.

  17. Bothy Basher says:

    ”Expected a lot of anti-Rangers comments : quelle surprise on this site!” Why?

    Meantime, real events are going on.

  18. Jim says:

    The answer is simple. Doncaster is waiting for the Newco to get promotion to the top flight, and then get a sponsor. He will then broadcast to all that the SPFL needed the Newco in the top flight to attract a sponsor and that they should be helped in every way to stay in the top flight. Even if this goes against every other member club. It’s time the owners and chairmen of the rest should stand up now and demand change. The blazers should be voted in every three years and only paid by performance. There should also be no need for a serving owner or chairman to be on any board or panel.

  19. hedgemsb says:

    There must be jobs going in Westminster for an incompetent charlatan like Neil who receives pay rises for delivering he-haw in times of austerity. It’s about time the tartan army started being more vocal and demand that he should be sacked.

  20. Tony Paterson says:

    I hate Doncaster. But he is only in situ at the behest of the clubs, and carries out orders on their behalf. Who or what is responsible for his continuing in the post? And why?

    1. Grace Keeling-Doncaster says:

      You hate him? You haven’t even met him.

      1. Tony Paterson says:

        Your timing in replying here is impeccable…

  21. Grace Keeling-Doncaster says:

    I don’t think all you people know how much hard work my dad puts into his job. It really upsets me seeing all these mean comments about him. I wish all of you could try out his job for one day and see how challenging it is…

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