HEARTS owner Ann Budge this weekend vowed to “formally challenge” the SPFL on any decision that results in the Tynecastle club being relegated from the Ladbrokes Premiership after league reconstruction was abandoned.

With the board having been handed the power to call the top flight after a controversial resolution last month and the prospect of the 2019/20 season being completed on the park diminishing by the day, it looks as if Scottish football’s civil war could soon enter the courts.

So is Neil Doncaster confident the SPFL are on safe legal ground? Why does he believe reconstruction was rejected? Is he confident his besieged organisation can get through this period of conflict unscathed? Have hostilities taken a toll on him personally as well as his associates?

Doncaster spoke to the media this weekend ahead of an EGM, called by Hearts, Rangers and Stranraer, today at which all 42 member clubs will decide whether to hold an independent investigation into the handling of the resolution. Here is the second part of his interview.

Is your legal advice on the resolution and relegation sound?

ND: “We’ve had literally hundreds of pages of legal advice on this issue. It’s an issue which is going to affect every league in Europe and if you look at the situation around Europe you’re seeing exactly the same issues playing out as we’ve had to confront.

“In France they have done pretty much the same as us and have drawn a line under their leagues on a points per game basis. A club who is being relegated before all games are played, Amiens, have also talked about legal action. You are going to see this playing out across Europe.

“What’s interesting is no-one, no-one at all, has come up with any viable alternative plan for the situation the game in general finds itself in, a situation where the Covid-19 crisis hit in mid-March and games can’t be played in Scotland.

“We’ve got government restrictions until June 10 at the earliest. In those circumstances, where you can’t complete the league in the lower leagues, what do you do then? No-one has come up with any viable, practical alternative to the resolution that was put forward by the SPFL board.”

Was the commitment to consider reconstruction and expansion of the Premiership cynical from the start? Was it included just to get clubs to vote ‘yes’?

ND: “I don’t think so. I wasn’t on the call on Friday, but I’m told that the view was relatively sympathetic to league reconstruction. But there was a view that it wasn’t appropriate at the moment and that the game should focus on other issues, primarily, again and again, getting money back as safely as we can.

“I don’t think there is widespread opposition to league reconstruction in the way that’s been suggested, but I’m told there was a view on Friday that this wasn’t the moment.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the huge amount of work Ann Budge and Les Gray carried out to try and push an expanded Premiership, league reconstruction and the work that was carried out by their group.

“I don’t think they did anything but put their heart and soul into a renewed effort to get people on board. People have taken positions on reconstruction throughout the leagues, but I think there was a genuine push to try and make it work. I don’t think anyone could be critical of the efforts Ann and Les in trying to make it work.”

Budge said failure of reconstruction talks was because of the Sky deal and questioned your ability to renegotiate. That suggests we have a fragile relationship with Sky. Do we?

ND: “It’s not really for me to comment on that. I think we’ve got a very good relationship with Sky. We’re just about to enter an exclusive partnership with them. A 16-team league would have created a lot of challenges. It would have meant only once home, once away in all likelihood. That would have devalued the contract. A 14 team Premiership wouldn’t have had that effect.

“Any change to the format would need to be approved by the broadcast partner, but I wouldn’t say the relationship with Sky is anything other than as good as one would hope that it could be going into a new exclusive partnership this summer.”

Would it be a risk to reopen the contract for a reconstructed league?

ND: “When looking at a 16 or 18 team format, once home and once away, that probably would have led to a renegotiation. You’d expect that. But a 14 team Premiership isn’t actually too different to a 12 team format in the way that it works. Who’s to know what the view would have been?

“We have clarity in terms of what we are heading into next season, but I think there is an open mind, as far as I can ascertain it, among the majority of clubs for what reconstruction might look like in the future.”

Brora Rangers want a play-off with Brechin City to preserve the pyramid system. Can that be revisited?

ND: “No. In the same way a line has been drawn under the Ladbrokes Championship, League One and League Two seasons and all of the play-off competitions.

“This is not particular or specific to the pyramid play-off. All the play-offs in Scotland have been curtailed because there is simply not the ability to play these games. We have a Covid-19 crisis which has necessitated a drawing of a line under the season. We know that football is unlikely to be returning any time soon.

“There is an adherence to the principles of the pyramid as there is an adherence to the principles of promotion and relegations throughout the league. But there will be no play-offs for the same reason there are no play-offs in any league.”

On a personal level how are you finding all of this?

ND: “I think anyone who tells you that being in the eye of this storm is at all comfortable would not be telling the truth. It’s uncomfortable, it’s difficult. But you have to remain utterly focussed on the job you are there to do.

“The key problem is that it’s such a distraction from what should be the day job. That is doing our absolute best to get fans in stadia and get games underway as soon as it can safely happen.

“We are in Scotland spending vastly more time with in-fighting than we are on facing the future, facing the government and medical advisors and planning for the games to resume.

“These distractions are unwelcome, unnecessary and they are extremely time consuming. That applies to me and all of my staff – and you know how few staff we have. We are just spending an incredible amount of time doing things that are not taking the game forward.

“We furloughed staff. We’ve effectively got a senior team of four or five trying to deal with all the issues we are having to confront at the same time as trying to defend attacks which have been made.”

Elections for SPFL board are coming up in six weeks’ time?

ND: “The date of the AGM may have to change to July.”

Will people either on the board now or thinking of standing look at what’s going on and think ‘I don’t really need this’?

ND: “That’s one of the problems with where we are now. You have so many hard-working professional individuals giving up their time for no recompense doing their best for all 42 clubs and just facing a barrage of criticism.

“They are having their evenings and weekends disrupted by having to go on board conference calls and reading very lengthy legal documents. I feel extremely sorry for board directors having to do this. It is a thankless task at the best of times.

“All credit to them that they are sticking with it and working at it for the benefit of the 42. It is a difficult time for everyone in society as well as Scottish football. But I do think it’s particularly unfair on those board members who give up their time for no recompense.”

How do we heal this fracture?

ND: “I do think one of the key problems that we’re facing is that no games are being played. The matches are not the focus and as soon as football resumes old rivalries will resume and the sooner we’ll get back to talking about real issues on the pitch. Once that happens then I think things will start to heal what have been some pretty open wounds.

“But it’s vital that people do pull together and give the board the space to be able to plot a course through these very choppy waters created by Covid-19 and to plan a way back to normality.”