Monday, January 17, 2011

The SPL's Blue Monday: 10 Plus 12 Equals The Future

Blue Monday. The most depressing day of the year.

Fitting that it was today we heard another version of the SPL’s grand new plan for Scottish football.

Forget the two ten team leagues idea of a couple of weeks ago. The head honchos have listened to the near universal condemnation of that plan.

And come up with a top league of ten teams and an SPL 2 of twelve teams. A magnificent response to the weight of public opinion:

The Scottish Premier League (SPL) clubs today reaffirmed their commitment to the work of the Strategic Review Group to develop a structure for the whole of Scottish football.

Broad support was given to progressing a 10-team Premiership and a 12-team Championship at the top of a pyramid for Scottish football as the preferred option.

The SPL clubs have asked the executive team to further develop aspects of these proposals and to update the Strategic Review Group's report.

The SPL will now consult with the Scottish FA and the Scottish Football League and its clubs before a final decision by the SPL clubs.


STV report that Inverness, Hearts and Kilmarnock were the only clubs to vote for the 14 club compromise model.

So there we have it.

To listen to Neil Doncaster, SPL chief executive, this is the model that will have stadiums full to bursting, TV companies locked in a multi-million pound bidding war and the quality of football reawakening thoughts of a Scottish football golden age. And no doubt a number of postponements causes by blue snow.

It’s unclear how he expects this to happen. Nor does he seem to be able to adequately address the fears of the sheer boredom of watching your team play against the same nine clubs four times each season.

Doncaster says a new relegation model will keep the league refreshed. He ignores concerns that it will lead to clubs playing a dismal, safety first brand of football, petrified by the fear of relegation.

The only benefit of a 12 team “championship” would seem to be to deliver the SPL a majority of Scotland’s professional sides. That will make it much harder for the SFL to prevent a “merger” with the SPL.

If the 12 “championship” sides are also going to be playing each four times a season the idea of relegation/promotion play offs to keep the top flight refreshed seems disingenuous. Surely those extra eight games will favour the top flight teams going into the play-offs.

The SFA would seem pretty powerless to do anything about all this after the review they commissioned backed a ten team league. Henry McLeish has been utterly discredited by the way in which he allowed the SPL to hijack his report. Trusting a man who couldn’t run his own office expenses to save the national game was a mistake.

What will a pyramid system involve? Surely that's not just been tagged on to the proposals because it's something that a lot of people have been calling for. How is it going to work? What financial assurances will be in place for those clubs that don't make the final cut of 22?

Do we even know if this is the model that teams in, for example, in the current Third Division or in the non-professional leagues will see as the best for them to secure their futures.

And the SPL clubs?

Rod Petrie backs a ten team SPL even as he watches his Hibs side implode. It would break my heart but deliver some form of justice to this most non-footballing of men if Hibs were to start this brave new dawn in the lower division.

Peter Lawwell backs a return to the dark days of a ten team top league even as Celtic wage a war of modernisation against the SFA.

Martin Bain backs a ten team SPL even as Rangers continue to wade through a financial mire that may or may not include tax evasion.

These are just some of the people of influence who are prepared to ignore the views of the fans to chase a short term financial gain that nobody can be sure will materialise. The usual suspects with their usual blend of arrogance, self preservation and blind optimism in a get-rich-quick scheme.

I rather suspect that these men reply to emails that offer money transfers from bank accounts in Nigeria.

As someone pointed out to me today it is unusual to have such a widespread appetite for change in Scottish football. And yet somehow the SPL come up with a scheme that seems to appeal to nobody except Neil Doncaster, Ralph Topping, Henry McLeish and eight or nine SPL chairmen and chief executives.

They are prepared to fly in the face of public opinion to pursue a course of action that they are either unable or unwilling to properly explain to the fans.

We shouldn't be surprised that we are ignored. Football chairmen have being doing it for decades. But the idea that our opinions are forged in ignorance, that none of the counter proposals were championed out of a love for the game and a desire to see Scottish football improve is sickeningly arrogant and stubborn.

I don't believe fans should stop supporting their teams. I don't believe a boycott of clubs over league restructuring is necessarily a good idea.

But prices won't drop in the SPL's new era. The kick off times will still be awkward. The pressures of life will continue to crowd in on the football going habit. And I am concerned that the prospect of repetitive Premiership with tactics borne out of fear will see fans continue to drift away.

Standing at the crossroads Scottish football has, I suspect, chosen to travel up a dead end. Extricating ourselves from that folly might be beyond us.

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