So Scotland’s favourite paper (if you like the truth stretched, like elastic, until it snaps) has done a full interview with Scottish football’s favourite administrator, in which he says that league reconstruction is back on the agenda again.
The headline makes that quite clear.
The accompanying story (separate from the interview itself) makes it quite clear.
The issue is being debated by the clubs, so says this piece, in a manner that strongly suggests that Doncaster himself said so.
Except he didn’t.
Brace yourselves for what you’re about to read. I am going to do something I’ve never done before in the history of On Fields of Green.
I am going to write an article defending Neil Doncaster.
Before I do, let me say that I read the headline with a weary shake of the head, because, as we’re all well aware, the scenario The Daily Record appears to be laying out – that some form of league reconstruction which, deliberately or not, rescues Sevco from itself – well, it’s not impossible to imagine.
Indeed, many of our bloggers suspected they’d try and pull it off.
It seems to me that each and every time Sevco’s predicament has been precarious over the last few years, Neil Doncaster has been touting league reconstruction, in an effort to steady their investors, put steel in their share price and give a timely boost to their fans.
So when I saw their online headlines this morning my first thought was simply this; “Again? How many more times do these people want to turn our national sport upside down for the sake of one goddamned club?”
But you know what? Then I read the piece by Jackson that accompanies the interview.
It offers no contradiction at all to the headline in question; indeed, it repeats the assertion that league reconstruction is being discussed by the clubs. “Shocking,” I thought.
Then I read the interview itself.
And I’m damned if I didn’t come away from it thinking “Neil my old son, you’ve been done up like a kipper here …”
See, the way I read it there’s only person pushing this league reconstruction idea during the interview, and that’s our good friend Keith Jackson. And some of it reads very much like a “but is it possible you could please, please, please, please FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE, do it in time for next season so a certain club comes up without any more trauma?”
I’m serious. That’s the general tone.
Doncaster says more than once during the course of it that the 12 team league is the preferred option of the clubs. He makes it clear that there’s a “lock in” period that binds that setup together in its current form until the end of next season.
He says that a 16 team league is virtually a non-starter, and we know the reasons because he’s already given them a hundred times in a hundred interviews; clubs want to play Celtic more than twice.
The prospect is “unlikely” he says. Simple as that.
But Jackson’s own article says something completely different to this.
“The chief executive then admitted another massive shake-up is on the cards as clubs consider ditching the current 12 team top flight for a 10 or 16 team division – and introducing summer football with a revamped League Cup,” he says.
And of course, none of that is even remotely true.
You have to distort Doncaster’s actual statements to the point where they look like Ian Ferguson to get that from what he said.
For a start, is this actually under consideration?
Of course not.
The clubs won’t discuss it until the current setup is near to running down the clock. It has a full season still to go and so there’s no urgent need to debate the issue at the moment.
What about the revamped League Cup?
On the cards, as Jackson said?
“Not specifically,” Doncaster says, before going on to say that people can debate things but that they don’t actually change until someone tables a proposal and clubs vote on it.
In other words, newspaper journalists wishing for it doesn’t make it so.
Moving the tournament to the summer? Anything on that?
“We should look at it and work with the clubs to see what they want.” Doncaster says. No more than that. It should be looked at it. Not “it’s going to be the first line on the first sheet of paper at the next meeting of the league.”
Jackson’s article has already gone from being what Doncaster said to being what Keith Jackson would like him to have said.
Then he asks the SPFL CEO what his own ideal league structure would be.
Doncaster says that anything that led to more games would be wrong, whereas less games would be alright by him and probably alright by the clubs.
Jackson, not Doncaster, but Jackson himself, is the one who brings up 16 teams.
I’ll quote Jackson in full here, so you know what I’m saying is right.
“The cynic in me says you want a 16-team top division. And even more cynical folk out there might think this is a possible safety net if Rangers don’t get up this season. Could you change the league structure this summer?”
The cynic in me thinks this was Keith trying to get the concept of Sevco going up via reconstruction onto the table for discussion. He’s saying, in a sense, “people will question it, but what’s the chances of it being done?”
Doncaster says none.
He adds, “The first time meaningful change could occur would be next summer and any change will only come through consensus.”
Jackson, by now nearly on his knees, desperate for the answer he wants, asks;
“But are you leaving the door open to change this summer?”
And Doncaster tries to let him down gently.
“You would need unanimity from all 42 clubs if you were looking for change in time for next season,” he says. “Realistically, I don’t see that unanimity happening in time for next season.”
On the future of the league setup, Doncaster was equally straightforward.
“With a 12-team league, if you play each team four times a season you end up with 44 games. Twice is only 22 games. Neither is the right number … the split was a way of finding a decent number of games within a 12-team structure. To date, no-one’s come up with a better way of doing it.”
It is, in fact, a full blooded defence of the present setup, and one which he agrees has critics but has not, yet, seen anyone propose a different option that gives teams what they want.
So there will be no artificial help for Sevco.
There will be no summer football.
There will be no League Cup changes.
There will be no league reconstruction.
There is no prospect of a smaller or bigger top flight because the clubs don’t support it.
Has the issue been discussed?
Of course not.
But none of that would have been news.
None of that would got Jackson his one day headlines.
None of it was of any comfort to Sevco fans who realise their side needs SPL football next season, and might not be good enough to get there on merit.
So Jackson wrote an article changing all that, throwing them a bone, distorting Doncaster’s actual statements and virtually turning on its head every word the guy said to him.
I think Neil Doncaster is a clown of the first rate.
He ought to have been gone a long time ago.
Yesterday he sealed a two year deal with a sports betting company – 24 hours after I wrote a lengthy piece about gambling and match fixing for this site; how mad is that? – and for once was having a relatively good day on the job.
But that was before he sat down with The Daily Record.
Quite why anyone speaks to this newspaper, with their propensity for doing exactly this, I really will never, ever know.
It has to be the worst newspaper in the world bar none.
(On Fields is grateful for all your support over the last few years. If you like what we do, and want to continue that support, you can help us out by sharing our work, Following us or, if you’re able, by making a donation towards the running costs for the site. We literally couldn’t do what we do without your assistance, so thank you in advance.)