Saturday, December 18, 2010

McLeish Report Part Two: SPL and SFL

Was it a "muddle, not a fiddle?" Was it just a big fat coincidence?

It seems strange that the second part of the McLeish Report came to exactly the same conclusions about the future of our league structure as those announced by the SPL last week. Odd.

Odd and depressing. The feedback I hear from fans is hardly embracing the idea of two 10 team SPL divisions. The proposals for regional leagues below that don't seem to be massively popular either, perhaps because the details still seem unclear.

The Scottish Football League are, unsurprisingly, against a restructuring that would see their organisation disappear.

I have no sympathy for them. If we are to change Scottish football then there will need to a bonfire of the blazerati. If that starts at the SFL then so be it.

That prize money for winning the first division doesn't stretch to six figures is proof that the SFL can't provide for its members in any meaningful way.

But will these changes spread the wealth? Will they secure the futures of more clubs than the current set up? And will they improve the quality of our professional game?

Both Henry McLeish and the SPL seem confident that they will. But it is a confidence based on assumptions and hope rather than any certainty.

And, crucially, they are proposals that ignore the lifeblood of the game - the supporters. As McLeish acknowledges:

"A Premier League of 14 teams which would be more in tune with what the fans and spectators have been asking for but which would run the risk of some serious financial difficulties and a reduction in the current financial distribution going to the clubs. The quality of the SPL would also be a major consideration."

If, and history suggests that this will happen, a 10 team format becomes stale, repetitive and driven by fear will the fans simply continue to disappear? I'd say that is a certainty.

And what of our broadcast partners. Neither ESPN nor Sky seem to consider the SPL as the pinnacle of their broadcast portfolios.

If the quality drops ever further and they decide to walk away or offer hugely reduced terms the 20 team SPL set up suddenly doesn't look like a financial utopia.

For now this all remains hypothetical. The proposals seem to lack the breadth of support that they need to become a reality.

There are no easy answers. Any restructuring carries risks. Retaining the current set up carries risks.

But there does seem an appetite for change, a realisation that professional football in Scotland is currently dying.

It is yet another tragedy of our national game that both the SPL and Henry McLeish have, after careful consideration, delivered proposals that seem unlikely to take football off the life support machine.

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