Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bad Korea move

It's become the vogue in Scottish football to declare the game - perhaps more accurately its administrators - as a "laughing stock."

That always seems a bit of stretch to me, this idea that people outside these shores care enough to chuckle. Care enough to even think about us that much, other than a feeling of mild relief when they draw one of our clubs in Europe.

No, we've probably slipped beyond being continental mirth makers. Even longer has passed since we were pioneers of the game.

Some have found that hard to accept. I recall in the early days of the SPL split various corporate evangelicals trying to sell an alien concept to fans with assurances that Scotland was blazing a trail.

Where we explored an unnatural breach in the league season so others would surely follow.

The avalanche never came. Scotland persevered but the world was unmoved. And still the English media struggled to get to grips with the essential contrivance of our league table as the post-split games threw up the odd anomaly.

But, like a reward for the most indefatigable of Victorian missionaries, distant converts have finally been delivered.

South Korea's K-League has adopted the "Scottish model" as part of a plan to revolutionise the domestic game.

Previously a 16-team league without relegation, the K-League was struggling along with a flabby belly of meaningless fixtures.

The result was supporter apathy and, rather more seriously, an open invitation to match fixers.

An investigation last year ended with 60 players and coaches being indicted for accepting money to fix games.

A desire to cleanse the game through revolution led a Korean delegation to Scotland - accusations of our own corruption have perhaps not carried across continents - and the adoption of a league split.

A different model though. 16 teams will play home and away before splitting into two groups of eight.

They'll play home and away again - the March to December season takes in 44 games - to decide the champions and sort out the newly introduced relegation places.

The architects of the plan hope this tartan tinge will spark a fightback against sports like baseball and defeat the nefarious influences with their bulging envelopes of bungs.

There have been some bumps in the road.

Military team Sangju Sangmu have announced that they will refuse to complete their final 14 fixtures after the league authorities decided they would be relegated at the end of the season.

The club uses players who are completing their national service. When their two years in the military are up the players return to their original teams.

That means they're not officially contracted to Sangju Sangmu. And that's against K-League rules.

Already Korean football is discovering that league splits and contractual complexities are not mutually exclusive. A further fact finding mission to Scotland might not have gone amiss.

But the split is in place. The K-League expects at least one team in every fixture to have something left to play for.

According to a league spokesman:

"The European league system is a little boring. Like capitalism, [the split] is not a perfect system but it works for us."

A sentiment that will surely be sympathetically echoed in the corridors of Hampden.

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