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The Curious Case of Neil Doncaster


In Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s fantasy tale, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Alice cries, ‘curiouser and curiouser’, as she begins to grow bigger and bigger to the point at which she eventually loses sight of her feet. Her famous exclamation, now immortalised in so many pantos, stage plays and Hollywood movies is fast becoming the cry of most Rangers fans and many increasingly bewildered observers of Scottish football, as Neil Doncaster’s machinations on behalf of his SPL masters becomes more and more bizarre.

As the demands of the SPL become wilder and more desperate, Doncaster’s behaviour becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser’, his claims more outlandish and his pronouncements ever more fantastical and incredulous. Indeed, his behaviour borders on the surreal, and if it were not for the fact that he appears to be sane (well almost), most of us would conclude that he must surely have lost all grasp on reality. His ‘approval’ of a claim against Rangers for legal costs of £500,000 arising from the SPL’s ill-considered, and ill-fated, inquiry into undeclared payments to players must lead even the most ardent SPL apologist to conclude that he is now delusional and probably in need of urgent psychiatric help.

But if Neil Doncaster is delusional, then so is each and every one of his constituent club chairmen. Because Doncaster is not acting independently – he is acting under orders - and I very much doubt if he has given his approval for this outlandish claim without the full knowledge, support and encouragement of the SPL Chairmen he serves. The same SPL chairmen have proven to be hostile to Rangers so many times over the past 14 months, and continue to plough their own furrow to the detriment of Scottish football as a whole.

What we do know, of course, is that he has been guided by the ‘brilliant’ legal minds of Harper Macleod, who, we understand, have requested the princely sum of half a million pounds on behalf of Doncaster’s SPL. Yes, that’s the same Harper Macleod whose founding partner, Rod McKenzie, had, according to Lord Nimmo Smith, misunderstood the construction of SPL rule D1.13 relating to player registration which was quite a fundamental point as far as the outcome of Lord Nimmo’s commission of inquiry was concerned.

By now most rational people would have quickly concluded that the legal advice offered by Harper MacLeod’s, Rod McKenzie was, perhaps, just a tad unreliable, but not Neil Doncaster and his SPL cabal. Never one to pass up an opportunity to demonstrate to his employers that he can be every bit as vengeful as they are, Doncaster has launched this latest bizarre attack on Rangers with that same overweening arrogance that characterised his announcement of the SPL’s EBT’s and ‘side letters’ inquiry.

Not content with having been severely embarrassed by the unequivocal rejection of the SPL’s presumption that title-stripping and punitive sanctions were a foregone conclusion, and that Lord Nimmo Smith and his team would, simply, rubber stamp the SPL’s perverse logic, Doncaster and his pals are determined to try again. Clearly they cling relentlessly to the old adage that, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’. A touch of déjà vu don’t you think?

Having, crept stealthily back to his desk after his brief – and as some would have us believe - purely coincidental sojourn in France during the fallout from the LNS Commission debacle, he’s now ready to take up the cudgel once again on behalf of the employers who pay him the excessive sum of £200,000 a year to do their bidding.

Neil Doncaster deserves our censure for his apparent inability to face down those who seem determined to get Rangers no matter what. As the Chief Executive Officer it is incumbent upon him to offer leadership; to influence and direct; to formulate and evaluate policy proposals for the betterment of the Scottish Premier League and the wider interests of Scottish football. But he now presides over an organisation that is moribund; more concerned about vendettas than values, and focused on conflict rather than conciliation. His motto – and that of his SPL masters is ‘get Rangers at all costs’ – and I do mean at all costs!

This is an SPL teetering on the brink of oblivion; an SPL close to insolvency (if not already at that point now), yet they have expended half a million pounds on a hopeless venture – a forlorn hope – a Commission that has chalked up phenomenal costs and has almost brought them to the brink of financial ruin. No surprise, therefore, that they’re now desperately trying to pin the blame for their arrogance and scandalous mismanagement by presenting Rangers with the bill for their overconfidence and incompetence.

However, in our justifiable criticism of Neil Doncaster, we should not lose sight of the fact that he is an employee of the SPL who is required to do the bidding of his masters. Chief Executive Officer he may be, but he is a pliant and compliant one. Doncaster has demonstrated no willingness to lead but, rather, to be led – and led by the nose he has been. He is the willing tool of a vindictive and vengeful SPL Board and has consistently danced to their tune, never once giving any indication that he dissented from any of their wilder excesses. He is, in effect, the SPL patsy – a willing one no doubt - but a patsy nonetheless, pushed out front by his masters to defend the indefensible as the disasters multiply and pile one upon the other.

It is clear that Doncaster is out of his depth. His inability to deal with the forthright and probing questions put to him by sceptical journalists and an increasingly concerned football public is there for all to see. His evasions, his obfuscation and prevarication have been laid bare. If he were Walt Disney’s famous wooden puppet, Pinocchio, his nose would have grown to unmanageable proportions by now.

He can’t tell us who the claim for £500,000 costs is made against. He can’t (or won’t) tell us what the legal basis is for the claim, and he refuses to tell us how he intends to recover it. But most shamefully of all, he refuses to tell us the motives for this unprecedented attack on our club in circumstances where the war had been declared over and everyone, we were assured, simply, wanted to move on. We have acknowledged our willingness to do so, but it appears that others have no intention of doing the same, and are content to expend their energies and squander vast sums of money to pursue their vendetta against Rangers. Yes, Neil Doncaster is the front man, the patsy as I have referred to him above, but the real culprits here are the constituent clubs of the SPL and their high profile, outspoken chairmen many of whom wear their hostility to Rangers like some perverse badge of honour.

This latest bizarre twist in the SPL’s ongoing vendetta against Rangers plumbs new depths in a saga that I thought had plunged as far into the depths of dishonour and disrepute as it could possibly go. Clearly that’s not the case. I think we all know who leads the charge when these plots are being hatched. The public utterances of Peter Lawwell, Rod Petrie, Stephen Thompson et al have painted an all too vivid picture of their antipathy toward Rangers Football Club, particularly over the past 14 months.

But what of the other SPL chairmen?

On Sunday past Charles Green attended St Mirren’s home game with Celtic and shared a few hours with Buddies chairman, Stewart Gilmour. The Daily Record reported later that, ‘whatever Rangers chief Green and Buddies chairman Stewart Gilmour discussed before, during or after the match regarding restructuring of the league set-up was being guarded like a state secret last night.’ Maybe their discussion was indeed about restructuring, but I can’t help wondering if Stewart Gilmour mentioned the SPL demand for half a million quid in passing. ‘Oh, by the way Charles, I do hope you’ll cough up the £500,000 grand you owe us for putting us to all that inconvenience with the Lord Nimmo Smith thing and all.’

I also wonder if Stewart Gilmour was party to the legal advice offered by Harper MacLeod, and supportive of the decision to demand this money from Rangers. Perhaps, he would care to tell us? Indeed, I invite every one of the SPL’s 12 chairmen to nail their colours to the mast, and tell us precisely what they know of the decision to seek costs from Rangers. Perhaps, these ‘twelve good men and true’ would care to set the record straight and inform us of their respective positions on this matter by answering the under noted questions.

Were you aware of the intention to pursue costs against Rangers, and were you involved in the discussions with Harper MacLeod/ Neil Doncaster that led to the recent letter seeking costs?

Were you consulted about the Harper MacLeod legal advice, and did you have sight of it in advance of the demand being sent to Rangers?

If not, when did you learn of the decision, and did you record your agreement or disagreement?

If you recorded your agreement, please share your rationale for pursuing Rangers for the costs of an inquiry instigated by your organisation?

If you dissented from the decision, please tell us why?

Given that Rangers has declined to accede to the SPL demand for payment, will you support legal action through the courts to recover costs?

It may be that many of these gentlemen were blissfully unaware of the decision to pursue Rangers for costs until it was publicly promulgated. Perhaps the decision was taken unilaterally by Neil Doncaster on advice from Harper MacLeod or, perhaps, it was a collective decision taken by the SPL Board comprised of Ralph Topping (SPL Chairman), Neil Doncaster (SPL Chief Executive), Eric Riley (Celtic FC), Stephen Thompson (Dundee United FC), Duncan Fraser (Aberdeen FC) and Michael Johnston (Kilmarnock FC). In any event it would bring much needed clarity to the whole affair if individual constituents would acknowledge their agreement or disagreement with the decision. As it is, the hapless Neil Doncaster continues to be the front man for a questionable decision that still remains shrouded in mystery and controversy.

Come on guys. Don’t you think it’s time you demonstrated some moral fibre, some backbone, some………er, sporting integrity, rather than hide behind the hapless Doncaster?

Calvin Spence (aka) JCS is a frequent contributor to Rangers Media as a Site Writer and occasional contributor to Gersnet. He has supported Rangers since 1974 and his career has focused on industrial relations, employment law and contracts of employment. He lives just outside Belfast.