NO ONE did social distancing over Easter weekend quite like Neil Doncaster.

Just as the Tory government has been sidestepping the difficult questions over its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the SPFL chief executive has been all too visible in, well, his invisibility since the farce over the vote to call the lower leagues early started to unfold. 

We could cast Doncaster in the role of hapless Matt Hancock spraying hospital balls to NHS spokespeople. But at least the minister for health has been seen fielding questions, however feckless he has appeared in doing so. 

Where has the SPFL chief executive been in the middle of this meltdown? A brief statement last Wednesday aside, there has been no word of communication from him.

Murdoch MacLennan, the SPFL chairman who has business links to Celtic owner Dermot Desmond and shareholder Denis O’Brien, has assumed responsibility for acting as the board’s mouthpiece. 

The situation has, in turn, become tribal, loaded with claim and counter-claim; all too regularly the case in Scottish football and all too regularly to its detriment. 

It is often said – sometimes too often – that the clubs themselves are the SPFL. With disparate interests to be heard, there are times of rampant discord and division as a result. 

It is therefore incumbent on Doncaster, as highest-paid director, to step forward and assume the mantle he has been entrusted with as public face of the organisation. His position should exist specifically for moments such as this – when faced with competing self- interests strong and stable leadership is required. 

On Saturday, a petition aimed at removing him from his post was launched by a Rangers fan. As of late yesterday afternoon it was closing in on a target of 25,000 signatures. 

“This man is far too close to Celtic football club [sic]. There must surely be a conflict of interest going on here,” wrote one signee, somewhat predictably. 

“Completely lost faith. No reasons properly given for not releasing funds to clubs now. Rushed and poor decision making,” remarked another. 

Outlandish? Maybe, then again maybe not. Such claims refuse to go away and do the SPFL’s credibility no good whatsoever. 

Of course, it is not the first time Doncaster has dealt with a crisis or met with stiff criticism. 

The league went three years without a title sponsor and when it finally got one it was with Ladbrokes, a third betting company (to go with Betfred and William Hill) when the game was being rocked by a succession of stories involving players and club officials breaking the rules on gambling. 

Worryingly, the language which has been expressed in the aftermath of Friday’s vote has an echo of 2012 when the then SFL clubs talked about scare tactics and bullying over efforts to find a home for Rangers in the first division. 

The feeling among some clubs is that this has been an unfair procedure from the outset, the voting process has been flawed and the publication of an exit poll before everyone had voted beyond belief. 

As an exercise in administrative probity, it was a shambles. “My role as chief executive
is to represent all 12 clubs equally,” said Doncaster, when league reconstruction was on the agenda back in 2013. 

“It’s not the case that I drive the clubs; it is the other way round.” Doncaster is actually responsible for all 42 clubs, yet too often it seems he is acting in the interests of a cartel. 

His own a la carte definition of the job is at odds with his statement last Wednesday, which 

used intemperate language suggesting “now is the time to act” and “the quicker we reach a final position the better”. 

There is no doubt that some clubs are on the brink, but previous talk of impending financial Armageddon in the face of the Rangers crisis compromises his argument. 

Doncaster possesses the comportment of a door-to- door insurance collector; you sense his definition of strong and stable might refer to the garden furniture at Dobbies. Alas, in recent days his organisation has looked as if is being held together by a few sheets of MDF and tin tacks. 

He has been lauded for negotiating the record £150million TV deal with Sky Sports that is due to come into being next season. A sizeable amount, yes, but there is no doubt that the deal could have been better. 

In 2018, the same year the Sky Sports deal was struck, Eurosport agreed to pay £48m for the rights to show games in Sweden’s top flight. In Rangers v Celtic, Doncaster has one of the biggest sporting spectacles in Europe as a selling point. 

In 2008, the Scottish Premier League successfully negotiated a deal with Setanta Sports that brought £31m a year over four years. The deal collapsed due to Setanta’s financial implosion a year later but it was a fair barometer of market value. 

The new deal agreed by the SPFL is just £1m more than that, a meagre three per cent in the 12 years since it was struck. 

It’s not even in line with annual inflation, unlike Doncaster’s salary increases, however. In 2013, when he was chief executive of the SPL he was earning £200,000, today he earns almost double that when bonuses are factored in. 

It equates to £388,000, more than the entire prize money handed to those teams that finished in places 4th to 11th in League 2 last season. 

He is surely the highest-paid powerless administrator in world football and it appears to suit the SPFL clubs to allow Doncaster to stand on the steps at Hampden and take bullets for them. 

Increasingly, though, the system he represents looks fatally flawed. If he is in a no- win situation as an employee then the problem lies with the job itself. The chief executive, his chairman and his board should have a degree of autonomy as final arbiters when competing interests prove insurmountable, yet the whole edifice is built on representatives with vested interests – Doncaster and MacLennan aside. 

Perhaps radical league reconstruction – which should be unavoidable now – must look at all facets of the structure, including what goes on behind the chief executive’s door.