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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Mitchell backs SPL
Roger Mitchell
Roger Mitchell left the SPL frustrated by blocks to change
Former chief executive Roger Mitchell has defended Scottish Premier League officials over their handling of the controversial last Old Firm match of the season.

He claims that Scotland's top flight was in danger of collapse after the 1999 title showdown between Celtic and Rangers led to violence.

But he says that he knew all along that splitting the SPL into two for the final five matches was a recipe for disaster.

Mitchell, in his first interview since departing the SPL, understands why the SPL have been so anxious for the Old Firm to play on 27 April - the only available date when it was not possible to be a title decider.

"People don't realise how close the entire SPL project was to collapse after 2 May 1999, the so-called 'Hugh Dallas shame game'," he told the Daily Mail.

Referee Dallas was cut on the forehead by a coin in the most publicly visible of several acts of violence surrounding a game that won Rangers the title at Celtic Park.

A compromise deal was reached to keep the SPL alive
Roger Mitchell
"The events at Parkhead that afternoon very nearly brought the whole edifice of Scottish football crashing down," said Mitchell.

"The game was built on Sky and the value to that company was based on 6.05pm scheduling.

"Strathlyde Police had been saying to us behind closed doors all season that it was a recipe for disaster and 2 May was one gigantic 'we told you so' moment for them.

"There were lots of late-night calls between myself and Sky Sports managing director Vic Wakeling before a compromise deal was reached to keep the SPL alive."

Mitchell said that, because SPL officials did not have the power to impose fixtures and had to consult the club chairmen, they were left in a difficult position when Celtic and Rangers disagreed over the date for their final game of the season.

Celtic said it was unfair to schedule the match only three days after their Uefa Cup semi-final second leg against Boavista.

Chief executive Ian McLeod even went as far as to warn of possible fan trouble because Celtic fans would see it as a biased decision if it went ahead on 27 April.

"I would think there are quite a few nervous policemen around the west of Scotland at this point," said Mitchell.

He added that the split three quarters of the way through the season was a compromise designed to allow the SPL to increase from 10 to 12 clubs.

It was not ideal, but Mitchell rejected the idea of an increase to 16 teams as not commercially viable.

He had argued for two divisions of 10 but had found this and other ideas - like the doomed plan for the league's own television channel, wage-capping and using television money for youth development - scuppered by the inability to find the required majority among the 12 clubs.

It was his frustration of having "responsibility but none of the power" that led him to leave the SPL to return to a career in management consultancy.



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