The Long Spoon

134831-neil-doncaster-spl-chief-executive-interviewed-for-tvLong spoons. Yes, indeed.

According to the parable, the Long Spoon has special significance in both Hell and Heaven, where they are the common utensils at the dinner table.

In Hell, the Damned starve. They cannot eat because they cannot hold the long spoons in such a way as to get food into their mouths.

In Heaven, everyone eats because the Saved used the spoons to feed each other.

The 14th Century phrase that “he who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon” is another favourite of mine, implying that you ought to keep your distance when dealing with bad people. I used that analogy at the end of my last piece.

There’s a good reason why I did that.

Scottish football is going through a period of transformation right now. Light is flooding in, and when that happens things tend to be illuminated that for a long time have been concealed in shadow.

I’ve said this before, so let me say it again; the wall is coming down. Nothing that has happened in the last four years – whether that involves OldCo Rangers and their fall into liquidation or what has happened since – is going to stay hidden.

They can’t keep these secrets forever. In many ways there are no secrets anymore. Everything is “out there”, waiting to be found, much of it just a mouse click away.

The regular readers here will know that it’s our considered opinion, our informed opinion, that Neil Doncaster’s position as CEO of the SPFL is untenable and that he should resign.

We’d go even further than that now, though, and say that he should be fired. Every day brings new things to light, and if I were on the SPFL board I would be careful about standing next to this guy … because as sure as a great big turd draws flies, the stench is going to taint more than just his shiny suit.

There are secrets so big they will blow the lid off the whole can of worms. It might be years before everything comes out, but little by little we’re starting to see the outlines of it all, and some parts of it are now being exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight.

Let me tell you a story, and before I start I want to pay tribute to the guys at the CelticResearch twitter feed, as well as the individual known as Charlotte Fakeovers. I also want to pay tribute to Ecobhoy from TSFM, for some sterling work in dragging this particular tale into the light. It would also be remiss of me not to pay tribute to a guy called Mark Murphy, at twohundredpercent.net, who’s own piece on these events, from 2012, was vital to a proper understanding of the affair I’m about to chart in its totality.

These guys have done an incredible job, but for various reasons, including the fact that the CR guys don’t write a blog, the whole thing has never been threaded together in a single article, and placed in the context of both those times and now.

Every single thing I have written here has been taken from publicly available sources. Almost all of it has been debated already, but never taken as a whole.

When I am guessing, or stating a personal opinion, I will make that clear.

Where I speculate I have done so on the basis of what seems logical, and balanced with the facts I have available to hand.

Where I am relying on second hand information – i.e. on rumour or heresay – I make that equally clear.

I have tried not to do that, except in one circumstance.

Where possible, I have provided links to the information I’m working from.

I believe what you are about to read is a sound overview of what happened, but I would welcome corrections and clarifications where I have my facts wrong or when new information comes to light.

This blog has always operated on the basis of “right of reply” and it will continue to.

There is an irony in my putting this together, and it’s this; if Neil Doncaster had not tried to raise the dead recently, with his comments on the “continuation of Rangers” this matter would have been receding into the rear view mirror until it was little more than a pin-prick.

So much is going on at Ibrox at the moment, including the latest news on Ashley’s land grab, that this piece of ancient history might not have come to light for years.

Now, with the blogosphere in uproar and the clubs largely mute, everyone out there is digging away again, looking for information on the background, trying to piece together things that might have been left in the past, at least awhile.

We’re not going to stop now until Neil Doncaster is gone. It’s a matter of time. This is not personal. It’s just business.

This story began on 25 August 2011, a Thursday evening.

Rangers had just drawn 1-1 with Maribor, confirming their exit from the Europa League. They’d already been knocked out of the Champions Cup, and in light of that the Maribor result was calamitous.

A few weeks later, according to Craig Whye, in an interview with the BBC, Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping flew to London to meet him, and at that meeting, Whyte spelled it all out to them, in graphic, ghastly detail.

He told them the club was certain to go into administration, and that liquidation was a probability because he said obtaining a CVA from the club’s creditors would be virtually impossible.

At this point, it would be useful to consider a particular fact.

Outside of the Big Tax Case, Rangers liabilities at that moment would have been very low, if there were any at all. Yet, if Whyte is telling the truth, he had already taken the decision to liquidate the club, and the SPL’s two principal officials were well aware of that fact.

They knew Whyte had decided not to pay his bills, and that all manner of creditors – including the tax payer – were going to be shafted.

They would also have left London knowing that the second biggest club in the country was on the verge of total collapse.

Not administration. According to Whyte, they were well aware that he was talking about a newco.

In his version, this club was going to the wall and there was no avoiding it, and he didn’t even intend to try. All he cared about was making sure the governing bodies were on board.

Whether Whyte’s precise version can be relied upon is not 100% clear, but there was something in the wind alright, and Doncaster was certainly in the know about the depth of Rangers’ predicament from, at least, 5 October.

The Charlotte Fakeovers twitter account has compellingly laid out the details of an email exchange between Collyer Bristow’s Gary Whitey, who was acting for Whyte, and Rangers, and the SPL’s lawyers at Harper MacLeod, where the various scenarios were discussed.

In those emails, the SPL’s “willingness” to play ball was confirmed.

So, whether Doncaster and Topping met Whyte in London – as he has suggested – or whether the dialogue was limited to emails and phone calls is unimportant. What is certainly hard to dispute is that the SPL’s chief executive knew, in early October, what the rest of Scottish football would not have confirmed for another four months; that Rangers was holed below the waterline and plans were afoot not only for an administration but for Whyte pulling the plug entirely.

The lawyers at Harper MacLeod made a strange suggestion during this exchange of emails; they proposed a “draft document” laying out the precise path the club and the governing bodies might take, in order to smooth Whyte, and Rangers’, path.

In those communications, it was made clear Doncaster had been briefed on the situation.

Futhermore, the suggestion for a roadmap document had been the CEO’s idea.

With all this going on, you’d have thought Doncaster might have briefed the other members of the SPL board, and the clubs themselves. He didn’t. Indeed, when the clubs attended a General Meeting on 31 October they were still none the wiser, and it appears that the SPL board was not any more informed.

In simple terms, Neil Doncaster had opened negotiations with Craig Whyte and Rangers over how best to “handle” an unprecedented scenario involving debt dumping on a grand scale via the liquidation of a major club, and their subsequent re-instatement in the league … and it appears as if he’d done this without bothering to notify the vast majority of his fellow board members or the clubs themselves.

At the 31 October meeting, plans were being discussed in relation to the existing TV contract, with Sky and ESPN.

At that time, that TV deal had three further years to run, but with one caveat; the league had an “opt out” which could be exercised in the summer of the following year.

That opt-out was being considered, as part of a proposal whereby the SPL would form its own television station, Fans TV, negating the requirement for further broadcasting agreements which would play second fiddle to the vast EPL deals, in which Sky and the other TV companies had placed greater import.

This would have been a radical, and potentially lucrative, step forward for the leagues, one that would have freed the organisation up to better consider the wishes of fans, in terms of match scheduling, and might have allowed some of the clubs to negotiate their own, separate, contracts for regional or transnational broadcasts.

At that point in time, anything, and everything, was possible.

The guy taking the lead in these proposals was Rob Petrie of Hibs, who was battling hard for Fans TV to be adopted, and it seems he was winning the argument. A resolution might even have been proposed at the 31 October meeting, but a follow up study had not yet been completed.

It was decided to put the discussion off until the first phase of that study had been given proper consideration by the clubs.

The meeting broke up without a decision on Fans TV, but Petrie and others had good reasons to feel optimistic about it. A new meeting was convened for 21 November.

Sometime after the 31 October meeting, the SPL board met, and it was at this meeting that “certain circumstances in Scottish football” had led them to recommend the signing of a brand new TV contract with Sky and EPSN, which had been proposed as the alternative to the Fans TV idea. These “certain circumstances” were said to be of the sort that might place the Sky/ESPN offers in some jeopardy, and that they ought to agree them “without delay.”

This new contract would extend the three remaining years of the existing Sky/ESPN TV agreement beyond 2014 and into the 2016/17 season. The total take, from that year onward, would be somewhere in the region of £50 million.

According to Doncaster, the facts that had emerged at that SPL board meeting had left its members with only one real choice, if they were to insulate themselves from potential trouble.

First, what were these new facts, and how did they come to light?

It is patently obvious to anyone with a fraction of intelligence that this new information could only have been related to the financial situation facing Rangers, and it does not take a genius to work out that there was only one way in which such sensitive information, relating to a member club, could have been divulged to the board and that was via Neil Doncaster himself, who had already been briefed by Whyte, and who had commissioned the roadmap document laying out the process by which the administration and liquidation of Rangers would be handled by the league.

In short, having already considered the scenarios and consulted Rangers, Doncaster then “filled in” his board. What did he tell them? One is tempted to suggest that his silence up until that point made it unlikely he’d have shared more with them than he thought they needed to know.

Regardless of that, in light of what came later, the one thing we can say with total certainty is that it is absolutely inconceivable that he told them Whyte’s club was actively laying the groundwork for a liquidation and NewCo, although he would certainly have known this to be the case.

It may even be that his telling them slotted nicely into his roadmap.

We know, for example, that discussions with SPL officials had already been “factored in” to Whyte’s plans. Indeed, he had already commissioned MCR to put those plans together, and that according to their draft document those meetings had been scheduled for 4 – 5 November.

Did they take place? Unknown. Were they before, or after, the SPL board meeting? Unknown. But at that meeting, Doncaster told his fellow officials – including Celtic’s Eric Riley – something, and it was sufficiently serious to spook them.

Was it a little or a lot? Did he fully put them in the picture, or did he obfuscate and tell them only what he wanted them to know? Unknown. But the result is certainly clear; the board decided that the Fans TV proposals represented too great a risk, and that Sky’s deal needed to be signed at once.

If we surmise that Doncaster told the clubs only that Rangers were in financial trouble, why was the Sky deal more attractive than Fans TV at that time?

There’s an easy answer to that.

Fans TV was going to be expensive to fund, and the clubs had already come to a provisional agreement about how much each would kick in.

We know that one club had already expressed reservations about the funds it was required to set aside towards them, and that had placed the proposals on a knife edge.

Was that club Rangers? Possibly. It might just be that Doncaster told the board only that Rangers was in grave financial difficulty and might be unable to pay its share at all.

As that club was one of the two lynchpins of the game here, and thereby mandated to pay a major part of the start-up costs, that, on its own, would certainly have been enough to wreck the prospects of a deal, without further disclosures being necessary.

Whatever he told them, the board decided to put its support behind Resolution 1, the renegotiation of the Sky/ESPN deal, and to recommend it to the clubs.

On 21 November, the clubs reconvened for the final discussion of, and decision on, the Fans TV deal.

Instead of being allowed to evaluate the merits of that proposal they were told that the board was not in favour of it and that a decision had been made to recommend proceeding along the lines of renegotiating with Sky.

Some of the clubs questioned the decision, and it was only then that they were told of these “certain circumstances” which had forced the change of tack. They were told that they, and their wishes, had simply been “overtaken by events.”

Their reaction was fury at not having been given this information sooner. Indeed, some at the meeting wanted to know why these “certain circumstances” had not been made known to them on 31 October, which suggests some awareness on their part that things had been happening behind the scenes prior to that date.

The deadline for renegotiating the Sky deal was 10 days later. That contract extension was agreed upon, and duly signed and sealed. The announcement was made to a frothing mouthed media following the meeting, and it seemed like a masterstroke of negotiation.

It committed Sky to Scottish football’s immediate future, and a renewed payment structure which would have been worth £80 million by the time it expired.

All seemed to be going well, except that whatever Whyte and his colleagues had planned to do with the club, they weren’t able to pull it together in November, as they’d intended. Their draft plan of 1 November was put on hold, but that didn’t faze Whyte that much. It worked to his advantage actually, assuring that the club’s debts would be even larger when he finally made his move.

The transfer window in December 2011 provides a nice insight into what was happening within Scottish football at that time. By then, there was not a single person in the game who was not aware, on some level, that Rangers were in serious trouble.

The SPL hierarchy certainly knew. The SFA were also in the loop by this time. Doncaster knew that an administration event was certain and that liquidation was probably going to be the end result. He, and Regan too, would have been well aware that creditors of all shapes and sizes were going to be stiffed royally in such an event.

Yet they put Rangers under no pressure to limit the scope of that scandal. The club sold Jelavic, but even with that money in the bank, the league’s governing body knew they were trading whilst insolvent and didn’t steer Whyte towards doing the right thing, and putting more aside for the inevitable victims.

They were under no obligation to do this, of course … but the moral bankruptcy of everyone involved can be laid bare when you consider how little effort the club made to soften the blow that was coming.

They knew that, in sporting terms, it wouldn’t matter, as there was going to be a hefty points penalty the moment the club confirmed what everyone by then knew … but to have done so little to minimise the damage to all the various public bodies and small traders and local companies that would later wind up being forgotten … that was lamentable.

More on that later.

We all know what happened next. Two days before Valentine’s Day, the roof well and truly fell in.

Whyte claimed to have done all he could to save the club, but that is patently false. Doncaster and Regan got in front of the cameras and said they’d consulted the Rangers chairman and were convinced that the club was in no danger of going to the wall.

They were bending the truth until the elastic snapped, because both men would have been well aware, by then, that liquidation was entirely possible, if not an outright certainty. Whyte had made that clear to them.

Almost immediately, we started to hear talk about how Rangers needed understanding, and even help, from the rest of Scottish football.

Some people think revelations about the “Old Firm clause” In the TV deal only surfaced after the club started to slip into the abyss, but in fact someone was briefing the press about that days before Whyte put the club into administration.

Ewan Murray, writing in The Guardian at the time, knew that little salient detail four days before that event as he wrote in his column on Friday 10 February, in an article entitled “Any Rangers financial meltdown could hurt the rest of the SPL as well.” The BBC were reporting the clause the day after administration, and by then it was no longer a secret.

In fact, it never was. As we’ll soon see, the briefing had been going on from the minute the new TV deal was agreed on 21 November 2011 …

The CelticResearch site has stated that “select journalists” were being briefed about the clause at an early stage, and that one of them, in particular, was pushing “the line” hard.

He was Jim Traynor, then Sports Editor at The Daily Record, who ended up working at Ibrox, for Charles Green, and who this week launched a PR company, with endorsements from Walter Smith, David Weir, Ally McCoist and other Ibrox figures.

The Record, of course, ended up leading the way in the campaign to have the club admitted to the SPL. They ran with a story on 14 June, which they claimed had come from Sky themselves, saying the company was ready to tear up its contract with Scottish football if Sevco were not granted access to the SPL, or the First Division at the very least.

The story said Sky would not tolerate Rangers’ absence from the top flight for longer than a year.

CelticResearch believes, with good cause, that, in fact, The Record was encouraged to put that spin on things by the man who, himself, gave them the story. CelticResearch has never believed that story came from Sky.

They think it came from Neil Doncaster himself.

CelticResearch are correct in their assertion that the notion of Sky themselves leaking such information is ridiculous. Apart from the lunacy of threatening their own paying customers with a “take or leave it” scandal that would have turned Scottish football into a wilderness, Sky has never interfered in the running of the game, save to change fixture dates for their audience.

The commercial consequences alone – tens of thousands of cancellations and the immense reputational damage, which would have impacted on their negotiations with the EPL and other leagues – would have laid a minefield impossible to navigate.

Indeed, one day later The Daily Record’s story had actually impacted negatively enough on Sky that the paper was running another one, saying how Sky sources were sweating at the outpouring of anger it had caused. Despite this, The Record stated, again, that Sky was ready to tear the contract up, doubtless encouraged to “hold the line” by its “fearless” sports editor. In fact, this was the article where they explicitly stated that the broadcaster had issued threats against the league.

Just two days later, Sky themselves flatly denied The Record’s stories, and re-affirmed their commitment to Scottish football. The “Old Firm” clause was not one they had even the remotest interest in enforcing. They made it clear that there would have to be some renegotiation of terms, should Sevco have to start at the bottom, but that the idea of pulling out of the game entirely was not being entertained.

The clause was a busted flush, then, something they never actually considered viable. CelticResearch and others go much further, and doubt that it would have been legally enforceable.

Which brings us to the most crucial question of all; why was that clause ever in the deal?

According to Neil Doncaster, it has been in every Sky deal with Scottish football for the last dozen years. But does that stand up to scrutiny?

In 2002, when the SPL rejected Sky’s offer of £45 million, to set up SPL TV, it was Celtic and Rangers who scuppered that proposal, by voting against the SPL TV proposals. The deal that followed was with the BBC, not with the satellite companies. It last until 2004, when Setanta came in with a hefty offer which the clubs voted to accept.

Celtic and Rangers voted against that deal too, believing the offer wasn’t enough.

The two Glasgow clubs fought side by side on the issue of TV contracts, for years. Every broadcasting company in the country was well aware of that, and therefore the commitment of both clubs, to staying in Scottish football, a commitment that was secure at the time those deals were signed.

The notion of either club being relegated, or running aground, was fantastical back then.

In short, there is no reason whatsoever for the inclusion of such a clause in any television deal in the ten years before November 2011.

On the day of the SPL meeting, 21 November 2011, where the SPL clubs were scared off Fans TV, and the agreement to accept Sky’s offer was struck, Ewing Grahame spoke to Neil Doncaster, and the Chief Executive specifically brought up the “Old Firm” clause, and was already pushing the idea that it was not a new addition.

Grahame, nevertheless, reported the story as if it was, with a headline suggesting that it “bound Celtic and Rangers to the league.”

Actually, it did no such thing as Doncaster and Grahame were well aware.

It’s an acknowledged fact in football that major changes only happen after lengthy negotiations and a long adjustment period. It is equally acknowledged that the only routes out of Scottish football for the two clubs were a move to England, or some form of European league.

In either of those circumstances, the groundwork would have been laid years in advance, with both clubs having to give “notice” before being allowed to go. It’s also an acknowledged fact that neither the EPL nor UEFA has any imperative to change things to that extent, except if it was proved that it could make more money.

In short, the accepted wisdom says that if Celtic or what was then Rangers were ever to leave Scotland behind that it would be the TV companies themselves driving the deal forward for marketing reasons and the promise of higher advertising.

With no chance of the clubs simply deciding to go one day without the TV companies approval and support, with relegation for either club considered virtually impossible and a liquidation event no more than a flight of fancy, what would have been the rationale behind the inclusion of such a bizarre clause in the first place?

It makes no sense. It fulfilled no purpose, because, as we’ve seen, even when such circumstances arose Sky didn’t seriously entertain activating it.

There are two other scenarios where the idea of the clause might have originated, and I think it’s safe to say that neither is likely at all, and we can rule them out.

The first is that the TV companies put the clause in the contracts to block league reconstruction. This is ludicrous, and doesn’t stand up to investigation.

For one thing, the broadcasters never interfere in internal governance issues, and even if they did, league reconstruction would not have happened overnight. The clause, if such existed, would not have bound the clubs for more than a year or two at best.

The only person who has ever used the TV contracts to block reconstruction on the grounds of a bigger league is Doncaster himself, when he invoked this rule and the “four Old Firm games” clause during the last round of talks that led to the creation of the SPFL.

Secondly, one only has to look at the number of times in which various clubs – including Celtic and Rangers themselves – were in favour of expanding the leagues.

Are we to believe that these clubs were willing to negate television deals, when the importance of those deals was of paramount importance to the game?

Let’s not forget that at no time during any discussions about league reconstruction, over the nine year period between 2002 and 2011, was there any suggestion that it would negate a broadcasting agreement depending on Celtic and Rangers playing each other four times.

Doncaster’s statement to that effect got headlines and had the bloggers reacting in shock because it was a bolt from the blue.

It was something that had never been considered before.

The other scenario where such a clause might have been inserted was to do with what would happen if one of the sides finished outside the top six with the SPL split, introduced in 2001 after the league went from 10 teams to 12.

This is where CelticResearch doubts that such a clause would have been legally enforceable, and therefore unlikely ever to have been put in a commercial contract. Note that it runs through the whole timeline, from the start of the 12 team SPL all the way up to the renegotiation on 21 November 2011, the ten years Doncaster spoke about at the time.

Such a rule would have been a blatant violation of sporting integrity, and a commercial interference in the running of football that no governing body would ever have allowed.

As unlikely as the scenario was, in the event that either Celtic or Rangers suffered a calamitous loss of form putting them outside of the top six – and therefore made four games between the teams impossible – it would have been ridiculous for Sky to threaten to with-hold payments or tear up a contract entirely on the basis of a sporting outcome like that, and once again there’s also the question of whether Sky would have bothered with such a clause to begin with when the likelihood of it was somewhere between slim and none.

I repeat, at no time between 2001 and 2011 was there any cause for Sky or other broadcasters to have insisted on an “Old Firm” clause in their commercial contracts with the SPL.

I have been told, futhermore, but cannot confirm, that the spin which many have put on this matter is deliberately misleading.

Doncaster and others claim that the TV deal revolved around “four Old Firm games”, and this has been used to justify everything from trying to lever Sevco into the SPL to, as I said above, actually blocking league reconstruction efforts.

This website, having spoken to sources we trust, believes that the wording of the “break clause”, which formed part of the deal memo the clubs voted on in November 2011 did not reference a specific number of Celtic – Rangers games at all, but that it was concerned only with scenarios where “either Celtic FC or Rangers FC do not participate in the SPL and/or cease to be members of the SPL.”

If we accept either club leaving was impossible without the TV companies consent and backing, what else? Relegation? Of course not.

This clause is specifically tailored to deal with an administration event. There’s no other way of looking at it. And as one of those was not going to happen at Celtic Park, what did that leave us with? A crisis at Rangers. What a coincidence.

If this is true, and documentary evidence of it ever emerges, it will be devastating for many people.

This website believes the clause was specifically inserted into the SPL TV contract in November of 2011.

We believe that if it happened, it must have happened in one of two ways;

1) Neil Doncaster himself informed Sky and ESPN of the Rangers’ financial plight, and made sure they put that clause in there so he could use it as leverage in the event the club was liquidated and had to go through a re-application process.

2) Neil Doncaster was asked, by the broadcasters, what Rangers financial position was, and he told them that it was serious but not critical, and they inserted the clause either with his support or simply to protect themselves just in case.

The latter part seems unlikely, for the reasons already stated.

Sky themselves never seriously entertained the idea of cancelling the SPL TV deal. Why would they have insisted on that clause if they had no intention of utilising it in the event worst came to worst?

We believe Doncaster, either along with other members of the SPL board, or acting on his own, insisted on the clause, in part for the purposes of leveraging the member clubs into accepting the Ibrox newco as a fait accompli.

We further believe that the nature of that clause is such that he could not have laid out the full facts as he knew them – namely that Craig Whyte’s team at Ibrox were actively considering liquidating the club and had been laying out a roadmap to that effect – either in his discussions with broadcasters or with the member clubs of the SPL.

To have told Sky or the clubs that Rangers’ position was likely to lead to the setting up of a newco would have been so damaging it would have rendered it unlikely at best that they would have extended the deal – which still had three years to run anyway – and it would have been equally unlikely that the clubs themselves would have opted to support signing it, knowing that the broadcasting companies could simply walk away.

Administration being possible, yes. I think he told them that, and offered the broadcasters the clause “just in case”, not for their benefit but so he could use it against the clubs. I doubt he ever believed this gambit would fail.

But we think it is absolutely inconceivable that Neil Doncaster gave either organisation the full picture, as he must have been aware of it at the time, which is that liquidation, and a newco, was the most likely outcome.

If this is true, then the implications are staggering.

Commercial contracts would have been signed by organisations who had no way of knowing that the ground beneath their feet could crumble to dust. I am sure I don’t have to explain what that means.

Furthermore, it suggests that the SPL and the SFA were not simply reacting to the crisis that engulfed them in the summer of 2012, but that the SPL at least had, in fact, helped bring that crisis about.

From the period of November 2011 until February 2012, Rangers was a club heading for the rocks, in a very deliberate manoeuvre executed by their chairman and members of his board, and one in which the SPL and the SFA were knowing participants.

The governing bodies failure to subject them to proper “due diligence” and scrutiny, when they knew full well that administration was coming, was inevitable, and that Whyte didn’t plan to stop there, indicates a knowledge that the club was engaged in wrongful trading from at least October the previous year, something that, could yet, open both of our governing bodies to legal action from creditors, including HMRC.

The revelations, last month, about Sevco having to borrow money to pay an overdue payable to the Treasury raises issues of its own, particularly as the governing bodies claim to have been unaware of this situation, despite HMRC’s well publicised “warning system” with the leagues … which would have been especially twitchy in the case of a club registered at Ibrox.

The truth, as we all know, is that if the club had been forced to start administration proceedings when the scale of their troubles became known in 2011 – from October onwards – and had the governing bodies treated them like any other team, tens of millions of pounds in losses would have been prevented and any number of creditors saved from the effects.

The moral scandal of this is damning, and the stains won’t wash off for a hundred years.

All of this, of course, is to say nothing for the way in which Doncaster and Regan talked the game down before and after the club’s voted, in language so flagrantly negative and incendiary that the SPL has yet to find a league sponsor, three years after the fact.

In the aftermath, Doncaster provided Sevco with a written guarantee that the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry would not strip the historical titles on which the Survival Myth depended – he even wrote them a “side letter”, as revealed by Paul Larkin’s site The Front of the Bus, in April 2014, where he reminded them that those guarantees should never be made public outside of an official legal proceeding – and he played a part in limiting the scope of that investigation so it didn’t touch on the Discounted Options Scheme, which itself is a key part in the scandal of Rangers being awarded a European License for season 2010-11 despite being in material breach of regulations governing “tax liabilities payable.”

Sometime after that, CelticResearch revealed the scandal of the “production cost subsidies” written in to the revised TV contract that Doncaster and Lawwell signed in London after the liquidation of Rangers and the decision to make the newco start in the bottom tier. This story was subsequently confirmed by STV, and created a mountain of negative publicity, leading Doncaster to write an open letter to fans.

That deal, signed in August 2012, included those subsidies, which amounted to a guarantee that the league itself would meet the extraneous costs relating to broadcasting requirements where matches were shown at grounds which lacked proper media facilities.

Doncaster claimed this was a necessary part of the agreement, without which Sky would not have signed a new deal, a claim which fell apart when a fan read over SPL guidelines and found that they placed the responsibility for meeting those costs on the host clubs, and not on the broadcasters. The media took up this story, and proved that Doncaster had given away £750,000 of the club’s money so that Sevco fans could watch their team play the likes of Brechin and East Stirling.

He has remained in post in spite of a catalogue of errors and worse.

The longer he stays the harder it is to believe that he acted alone. No club in the land should support this guy’s remaining in the job.

This, naturally, brings us to the question as to what Celtic’s involvement in the television deal scandal of 2011 might have been.

Eric Riley was on the SPL board at the time, and was the club’s representative at most of the meetings.

We said earlier in the piece that we thought it unlikely at best that the SPL board was fully aware of what was going on at Ibrox, and further, that we were sure the clubs were kept in the dark.

We stand by both those assertions, and we’ll go even further. Two clubs resisted, entirely, the pressure to drop Fans TV and to sign the SPL TV deal put in front of them on 21 November 2011.

One of those clubs was certainly Hibernian, as Rob Petrie had been the primary driving force behind the Fans TV proposals, and worked tirelessly to get them voted through.

We believe the other club was probably Celtic, operating, perhaps, for selfish reasons, in that they believed the deal did not represent as much potential upside as Fans TV, with its possible avenues for overseas agreements on a club by club basis.

Peter Lawwell has certainly helped keep Doncaster from the wolves. He was at his side in London when the TV deal was “saved”, and took much of the credit for doing it, whilst sparing the chief executive the certainty of the noose.

How much Celtic guess, far less know, about the events of November 2011 is hard to say, but the longer Peter Lawwell and others inside our walls stand beside this guy, and offer him the protection of credibility the more their own motives will be questioned, and the deeper will be the stink they get on themselves, because right now Doncaster is positively radioactive in the eyes of most fans.

Earlier this week, he sent an email answer to a Celtic supporter who requested an explanation for his comments on the “continuation of Rangers” with a bizarre answer that has been greeted with utter contempt; that he was neither speaking for himself or for the clubs, but simply stating the position that is written in the rulebook. It’s not a lawyer’s answer as much as it’s a stupid lawyer’s answer, and it has only increased the deep mistrust with which he’s viewed.

Yes, as we said at the end of the previous piece, in which we attempted to join the dots regarding the meeting in Doha at which Doncaster and Lawwell may have been engaged in efforts to organise a game abroad involving the two Glasgow clubs, in an effort to re-brand the “Old Firm” rivalry which the fans of Celtic wholeheartedly detest, we hope our CEO packed his long spoon.

We here at On Fields of Green reckon Doncaster’s time is up.

It ought to have been up following his shocking attempts to shoe-horn the Ibrox newco into the league, and for his participation in what followed and was so rancid Turnbull Hutton labelled it “corrupt.”

His departure cannot come soon enough, frankly.

We believe we’ve made a clear case for why that it is now essential for the good of the Scottish game.

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20 comments on “The Long Spoon
  1. That narrative including the angle that Celtic were not in the know at the time a new deal was being considered fits with what I’ve seen.

    The one bit that I could not fit in was why, if the then current deal had a number of years to run AND if only the SPL could break the deal (something I cannot state as a fact) then why not let the then current deal run its course?

    By then the fact of Rangers liquidation would have been dealt with and that 4 game leverage would not exist because it never ever did and was only ever an instrument of pressure, an invention.

    Keevins was a guy pushing it as I recall. He also pushed the erroneous statement put out by Doncaster about who would vote to allow Newco to have the SPL share. Doncaster said thru Keevins it was the SPL Board but pressure from fans made it an individual club decision.

    So if the then current contract could have run its course and Sky could not break it, what was the reason to bring in a new one earlier than was necessary in the circumstances?

    If it was not essential why did Doncaster simply not express caution and leave the TV deal to be negotiated until the time Lawwell did when the full story of Rangers was out there?

    On LNS: Doncaster knows now it is in error. He knows key info was kept back. The SPFL Board know this now. They may not have known it when LNS was being commissioned, otherwise they would not have said they wanted all evidence from July 1998 and made start date equate to the first side letter of a big tax case ebt.
    Few in football knew the illegal nature of early DOS ebts, but two who would have known they differed from the BTC ebts were Andrew Dickson and Campbell Ogilvie the former still at Rangers the latter a former Rangers Employee now SFA President who authorised the first one.

    The more we ken noo of what they kent then (and we do), the more we know they lied in 2011 and 2012.

    Tic toc, tic toc and innocents should get well clear of the fallout zone.

  2. Thank you James.
    I\’ve had to read it a few times to take in the scope of what you\’ve written.

    The only thing I am sure of is Mr D was not working alone.

  3. I’ve learned of many of the shenanigans of recent years via various blogs such as this, but never did I realise just for how long (and of how serious a nature) this had been ongoing – I’m left incredulous.

    Absolutely fantastic piece James.

  4. Wow. Explosive stuff. With the passing of time and the digging being done by people like yourself,the more interesting it all becomes.

    For me the withholding of evidence from hmrc and the LNS inquiry is just scandalous.

  5. Magnificent article James.

    The timeline is damning to all involved.

    It is a widely held view, in enlightened legal circles, that the right to remain silent mostly protects the guilty.

    GUILTY……Are you reading this Uncle Tom Lawwell?…..

    Hang your feckin head in shame…..Celtic will never see another penny of my cash while the Bonus King charlatan remains in power at Paradise.The SFA job is perfect for his CV……an embarrassment that he is associated with the Hoops.

    Uncle Tom Lawwell and Dungcaster would be a marriage made in heaven on the 6th floor at Hampdump…..they could sup all day with a long spoon…..Uncle Tom could take his soup and Dungcaster could spoon feed it to him.

    Good luck to all the Green Huns going to the debacle on 1st February……….their attendance vindicates everything that has gone on at Deadclub since 2011, and even longer than that really.

    The Old Firm is back……Woopy Feckin Doo.

  6. This is a momentous post, James.
    As you said at the start, most of the relevant information is publicly available one way or another but there’s vital work to be done in piecing it together and presenting it as a consistent narrative and you deserve great credit for doing that here.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll not stop saying it; people such as Campbell Ogilvie and his like-minded allies in Hampden knew well in advance that Rangers was in mortal danger and contingency plans were laid years and years in advance in order to be able to help them as much as possible if the worst came to pass (as indeed it did.) The appointment of a carefully selected oleaginous, spineless incompetent to the position of SPL CEO would have been just one of many steps that were taken in preparation for the potential crisis.

    There is no apparent limit to the Machiavellian, self-serving corruption in the running of Scottish football. Nor does there seem to be any shortage of duplicity, deceit and downright dishonesty. If only as much energy, determination and creativity had gone into serving the game as a whole rather than the interests of a single club.

  7. Sometimes we need to take a step back and see the big picture, and this article helps us do that. I’ve long thought that this whole mess equates to a jigsaw built on quicksand (if you were ever of a mind to try such a thing); the more you piece it together, the more it moves and becomes distorted. The collective efforts of this site, TSFM etc will one day be rewarded by seeing Donkey take the long walk and take his pals Ogilvie and Regan with him, and hopefully start to clear the stink hanging around Scottish Football and return it to the fans to watch some footie.

    Many fans at Sevco (naughty step I know) firmly believe that a bad boy did it and ran away (Craigy) but the reality which is now starting to dawn on them is that SDM, MA, CW, CG, and a cast of thousands that would have made Cecil B De Mille’s head spin have been piecing together the biggest scam to hit football in the UK for years.

    I would have said ‘world’ but anyone who has read Andrew Jennings book ‘Foul’ on FIFA corruption knows that Donkey etc are rank amateurs when it come to corruption.

    A hearty Hail Hail to you James, another good piece.

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