Dear Neil Doncaster . . .

[Blogger’s note: I wrote this letter yesterday, put it down before going to sleep, and picked it up again this morning. After making a few changes, I printed it out and put it in the mail only a few minutes ago — great timing since my letter carrier arrived at the same time I was heading to the post office — and depending on how our damaged United States Postal Service (led by a Trump appointee) handles the letter, it may make it to Scotland sometime within the two or three weeks. However, here is the letter, verbatim.]

4 October 2021

Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive Officer
The Scottish Professional Football League
Hampden Park
Glasgow G42 9DE
Scotland

Dear Mr. Doncaster:

As a matter of introduction, my name is Larry Cafiero, and I am a football fan in the United States who has followed the Scottish Professional Football League since 2017 in my capacity as a supporter of one of its member clubs, Celtic FC. Insofar as my experience as a fan may be limited compared to others who may have followed the football in your league for much longer, allow me nonetheless to point out a situation that needs your immediate attention.

Mr. Doncaster, you have a problem. While it’s true that we all have problems, yours affects tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions, of football fans worldwide. It’s a phenomenally huge problem that, if not addressed immediately, is certain to hemorrhage football fans outside Scotland – and possibly within Scotland as well – from following your league.

No doubt you already know this: You cannot allow the inept level of officiating to continue in the SPFL. For the sake of argument, I will merely refer to the level of skewed officiating as inept; however many, both in Scotland and elsewhere, have made a very strong and compelling case for the officiating at Scotland’s highest level to be not so much inept as much as it is corrupt.

Of course, ineptitude can include corruption, but you cannot be corrupt and inept at the same time, at least not successfully. But I digress.

It was the great Jock Stein who said, “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” However, contextually speaking – and this is how I, and others, interpret this quote – Stein was referring to officiating that is fair and objective in its execution. It’s beyond crystal clear that you don’t have that in the SPFL this season, and for all intents and purposes, you didn’t have it last season either.

The latest in the sky-high pile of “honest mistakes” was the red card on Hibernian’s Ryan Porteous on Sunday. Putting aside the fact that the challenge successfully separated the ball from the player in question, it bears noting that Ryan Porteous has only received two red cards in his SPFL career, both received from the same official, Nick Walsh, and both received in games where Hibernian played Rangers (source: Transfermrkt.com).

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you, in all honesty, tell me with a straight face that this is a coincidence, one of hundreds this season and last? Would you really try to convince me, and thousands of other football fans, that this, and so many other calls made and not made, are really just “honest mistakes”?

To list all the “honest mistakes” in Rangers’ favour this season and last would make this letter the size of the Oxford English Dictionary, so I’ll spare you. You’re welcome. But in the meantime, this situation has reached a tipping point where your league has lost most, possibly all, its officiating credibility. Needless to say, this does not reflect well on the SPFL, and its effect on casting Scottish football in a negative light spills over Scotland’s borders.

In other words, it’s not a local problem for the SPFL. It’s global.

Here’s my perspective, from 5,000 miles away: I have a larger than normal group of football-loving friends here in the United States with whom I converse, many on a daily basis, and the general consensus here on Scottish football is this: It’s corrupt, and in its corruption the SPFL is relegated to a backwater status in the eyes of many of my American contemporaries watching and following football abroad.

Even recently, an acquaintance said to me in conversation about Scottish football: “It’s a joke. I’d rather watch the Allsvenskan.” And while admittedly this comes from a guy who my friends and I describe as a “Bundesliga snob” and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with Swedish football, I had nothing concrete to point to in order to counter his argument, because he is right: The SPFL, as it stands right now, cannot be taken seriously when only one club – a nine-year-old club at that – solely benefits from what appears on the surface to be a skewed officiating policy that consistently, and without fail, rules in their favour.

The choice is yours: As the league’s chief executive, you can fix this and make Scottish football respectable again. Or you can do nothing and contribute to its continued atrophy. It’s a simple choice, and I know you’re smart enough to make the right choice.

To be realistic, if I were a gambling man I would wager that this letter doesn’t make it past your secretary. Or your secretary’s secretary, for that matter. Regardless, while I don’t have the answers, I do have what I think may be the start of one.

Let me suggest this: You may want to try employing FIFA/UEFA officials from outside Scotland to officiate SPFL games. See if that works in the way of restoring objectivity and, in the process, credibility.

It goes without saying, but it bears repeating, that this credibility would foster respect, returning Scottish football to the status it once held — and a status it deserves — as one of Europe’s best; a justified respect for the Scottish game in both Scotland and beyond.

Football fans of every SPFL club deserve the best football officiating the league can provide. Of course, that can be said for any league in any country. That’s not happening right now at Scotland’s top level.

But it can be.

It’s your move, sir.

Sincerely,

Larry Cafiero
[street address]
[city, state, post code]
[country]
[blog post address]

19 thoughts on “Dear Neil Doncaster . . .”

  1. Sorry sir but you and I both know you just wasted the ink in pen of your choice writing to that shower. And incidentally my club Celtic are as much at fault for allowing it to fester in the pursuit of the blue pound but I get your point.

    1. A couple of things, Brian:

      a.) The amount of ink vs. the point I am making is a marginal tradeoff, and

      b.) You’re absolutely right about Celtic not being more vocal in objecting to this malfeasance.

      Regardless, I don’t think it’s a waste to write this letter and mail it off to him. By the same token, I don’t expect him to take action solely on my account, but at least the issue is raised and, to whatever small degree, amplified.

      1. Perhaps mail it to a sports letter column in a daily clickbait newspaper. An open letter to Whomsoever listens.

  2. Whilst I agree with all you’ve said. This isn’t new. I can go back to the days of Dallas- Mowatt- Wharton- Valentine-Clarke et al. It was just as bent and twisted then, and we didn’t have the technology then to highlight it. Only when the rest of Scotland challenge this, will we get an even playing field.

  3. VAR had suddenly reared up and be a thing of interest. Why not last season or the season before? The simple answer is we cannot afford scrutiny until the Ibirox club have their CL windfall. In the grand scheme of things this is paramount to the Glasgow duelists being the sales pitch to sponsors/TV monies. A duel IMHO that is holding Scottish football back. Hibs being a proper challenge along with Ibrox lite in Gorgie would be great for our game here. Of course Celtic winning all is my preference, however, Celtic seeing off 5 true challengers would be even greater. Our league has no ambition other than the tainted “OF” sales pitch and as long as that exists we will always be under funded TV and Sponsorship wise.
    Larry, your letter was bang on, but sadly it will never see the sun through a Hamden window shine on it.
    Keep up the good blog you do and keep the faith. This league is winnable.

  4. I will be writing my own letter also Larry and I suggest to all fans that they do the same.
    It would really helpful if the other club fans did the same also.
    It is not enough to moan, something needs to be done and you have provided the start.
    Thank you for this.

  5. Will copy your letter onto another forum who are interested in this type of activity in the game and will certainly give it more exposure, more power to your elbow Larry, it is never a waste of time to vent your feelings for there may come a time when someone with a modicum of decency might pick it up and decide there lies a lot of truth worth exposing.

  6. That was a very erudite and focused letter Larry, however I’m sure it will fall on deaf ears. Football clubs other than Celtic have to call out the blatant cheating because they aren’t faring any better than us when it comes to the pretendy gers ‘rub of the green’ in every game. Celtic is complicit in not rocking the boat because it suits them not to. The Establishment klub have their ducks in a row and they all wear black. HH

  7. Spot on mate, you say it really well.

    If you’re hoping for our footballing authorities to act by raising the standard of officiating and rid the country of bias referees, you’d best not hold your breath. They are majoritively Newco Rangers supporters and those that aren’t, are just plain terrified of the Ibrox club and all the terrible things they’ve threatened to do.

    We need UEFA intervention, but in all honesty they couldn’t care less about the shitey Scottish league.

    If we have impartial and honest officiating in Scotland, then there would be many shock results that are simply not permitted to happen at present as they will undoubtedly harm Newco Rangers. We live in hope, but never holding our breath.

  8. Apart from the skewered referring and bias this is fraud it is therefore criminal.People pay hard earned money to watch and place bets on the outcome of games in the reasonable expectation that the refereeing will be fair and even handed but they are not.

  9. 10-20 Countries under Scotland’s co-efficenty have VAR, and we have not, can’t afford it ??
    FIFA or UEFA should make a ruling that any Country’s without VAR, cannot compete in UEFA Tournaments Nationally or at Club level…….
    Yes there are to,’s and fro’s to VAR but it gets most right, come on this is Systemic CHEATING at best…..COYBIG .

  10. Larry, I love your optimism but feel you’re wasting your time mate. I blame the Celtic board as much as anybody for allowing this scandal to continue for years and years. Not a peep from Celtic despite being cheated year on year to keep this zombie club in the league at a cost of millions to every other club in the country. It’s the reason I chucked it this season after occupying the same seat in the North Stand since it opened in the 90s. I decided I’d paid into this racket long enough.

  11. Ever since Doncaster put together the shady Five Way Agreement allowing the new club to transfer the RFC 1872-2012 club’s ‘honours’, such as they are, we knew nothing would change.
    Industrial cheating and ‘imperfectly registered’ players allowed Oldco to 54 titles.
    That today’s TRIFC can claim 55 titles after winning its first last season should tell us nothing has changed in corrupt Scottish football circles.
    The continuaty myth goes on, without the debts of course that closed the old club down.
    Celtic turn a blind eye to this, and must share the shame.

  12. A well penned letter Larry, no doubt stemming from years of anger and frustration, however one of the replies I can imagine would be ‘what do we do with the current base of referees if we look to go down the route of foreign referees? The SFA can’t just sack them all’ And there it is… kicked once more into the long grass.

  13. Thanks Larry for your time and insight.
    Saw your letter from another forum. We need many letters like yours from many supporters to put consistent continual pressure on Hampden. Good idea to copy some of your detail for others.

  14. As much as I admire your attempt Larry to address the level of corruption that remains rampant within the spfl,
    I do however believe that you may be looking in the wrong direction.
    A well written letter will serve as no value whatsoever as it never has in the past, the same way it never will in the future either.
    I do strongly believe that the time has now come that action has to be taken as the game of football in Scotland is as good as dead with the level of corruption been as rife as it is at present.
    Isn’t it funny how the level of corruption has cranked up a few notches since SKY SPORTS has got involved in the Scottish game again?
    We all know just how bias there coverage is, in favour of that other shower of shit in Glasgow, so I would find it unbelievable that they aren’t involved in the level of corruption that exists.
    I would be in favour of protesting against SKY SPORTS been allowed any excess to Celtic Park whatsoever, on the grounds of there “kick it out campaign” is nothing but a sham, when they offer so much support to the most racist club in Britain, if not the world.
    We need to make it well known, why Celtic supporters have to make a stand against a broadcaster, who conveniently are so hypocritical in their own campaign.
    Who never question the blatant cheating ref decisions that are destroying the game as such, yet this is only the second year of a 5 year contract?
    The way things stand at the moment, it sickens me to the pit of my stomach to actually witness what is going on right in front of all of our eyes, and even worse nowadays with social media and able to judge these disgraceful actions all for ourselves.
    As usual it needs to be the supporters to take action as we all know our board will do nothing, when they are meant to represent us and how the majority of the supporters feel regarding the level of corruption within the Scottish game, and been aided by a multi national company is a step to far now imo.
    Sorry for the long reply
    Larry

    1. As a letter, John no, it will probably not be seen after it’s opened by a secretary — or a secretary of a secretary — at Hampden. I get that. That was not the point of writing it. The point is, as I mentioned in an earlier response to a comment, is the statement the letter makes, now that it’s out in the blogosphere.

      Let me ask you something: If you have an important point to make, do you NOT make it just because you don’t think it will be heard? As Gandhi said, “If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

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