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Sports broadcaster Dougie Donnelly reveals he was tapped to be chief executive of the SFA

By Hamish Mackay

April 10, 2012 | 4 min read

Sports broadcaster Dougie Donnelly has revealed that he was approached to apply for the vacant position of chief executive of the Scottish Football Association before the appointment of fellow sports broadcaster Gordon Smith in 2007.

In an in-depth interview with the Herald’s chief sports writer, Hugh MacDonald, Donnelly explains: "I had a couple of phone calls and gave it some thought but I had had enough.''

The “had had enough” was down to his unhappy experience at the Institute of Sport where he was chairman until, according to MacDonald ...”he fell victim to political manoeuvring”.

"That was a chastening experience,'' revealed Donnelly.”I had hoped to meet people who were as passionate about sport as I was. And I did.

“But there were others who were interested in politics, interested in themselves and the blazers and the trips. In my naivety I thought that would not be the case. It turned out to be a fraught relationship.''

Donnelly, the first Scot to present BBC TV’s Grandstand, was once the face and voice of Scottish televised sport but now broadcasts to audiences of up to 400 million for European Tour Productions who package the coverage of golf tournaments and supply it direct to 80 countries, including the US.

However, ironically, in the UK Sky takes the pictures but supplies its own commentary team.

Donnelly has been on the golf tour for five years now following 32 years with the BBC.

"Basically, I left after doing the 2010 Scottish Cup final. I could see the writing on the wall. I was juggling the BBC with the tour but the BBC have sadly less live sport than they did,'' he says.

"This came at a good time for me and for them. There was less sport for me to do and a lot of the time when they wanted me to do a live game I was on the other side of the world. To be frank, they needed to save money because the licence fee had been frozen for five years.''

He cites "new producer syndrome'' for him leaving the golf team at the BBC and speaks warmly of better times when he was the most visible presenter on the box as he also covered darts, bowls and snooker.

"I have not missed the football as much as I thought I would,'' he tells MacDonald. ”I do not know whether that is because we are not going through a particularly good spell at the moment. For example, if Scotland had qualified for the Euros this summer I would have wanted to have done that.

"Europeans are now dominating the world of golf and it is a great time. I sense that the barriers have come up in football between players and journalists which were never there. You could take someone out for lunch and a laugh and confidences were respected but that seems to have changed dramatically.

"But it is still there in golf. We travel on the same planes and stay in the same hotels so there is a genuine rapport. I always have lunch with the Scots lads on tour such as Stephen Gallacher, Alastair Forsyth, Paul Lawrie and Marc Warren.''

Donnelly talks of his frustration of 15 years of unsuccessfully trying to pitch a sports talk show to the BBC.

"I could just bring on pals. I know Dalglish, Fergie, Souness, Gavin Hastings, Monty [Colin Montgomerie] ... these guys are on my phone. But for whatever reason this type of show does not tick the boxes the BBC wanted to tick.

"Intelligent sporting conversation will get an audience. You do your homework, ask a reasonable question and listen to the answer. And then ask the next question.

“It seems now a lot of the talk shows are about the hosts as much as the guest. They are there to get laughs and that's fine, but I still think there is a market for a sort of old-fashioned talk show.

"Sport is as life-enhancing, as important to the quality of life, as any branch of the arts, as a great book. I genuinely believe it has to be treated with intelligence. I am like most fans in that I am interested in what makes these great sportsmen and sportswomen tick.''

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