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Some Thoughts on Reconstruction


Well, it would seem that it’s all over, bar the shouting. Only the details remain to be agreed, and it’s possible that the 42 Scottish clubs will hold a vote on a possible new league and administrative structure before the end of January.

The core principles appear to have been agreed, and the Scottish Premier League clubs’ proposal for a 12-12-18 league set-up will be the centre-piece of the reconstruction proposals that will now be put to the test in January, despite the fact that the Scottish Football League clubs had tabled a proposal in November supporting a 16-10-16 blueprint for reconstruction.

In an announcement on Tuesday evening, Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan confirmed that the SPL and the SFL had reached agreement on the principles of restructuring, which will include a merger of both bodies. The proposals to be voted on in the forthcoming ballot are:

 

  • The SPL proposal for a three league, 12-12-18 structure
  • The leagues will be called, the Premier Division, Championship and National League
  • The two top leagues of 12 teams will split into three leagues of eight after 22 matches then play a further seven home and seven away games
  • The top eight teams will play for the league title and European places; the middle eight will contest promotion and relegation in and out of Premier Division, whilst the bottom eight will decide who drops into the National League
  • 11 out of the 12 SPL clubs need to vote in favour of the plans, while 23 out of the 30 SFL clubs will be required for approval (a minimum of 75%)
  • One league body will replace SPL and SFL

 

‘We have seen a willingness to make change happen and a recognition that Scottish football is crying out for a new dawn’, said Stewart Regan. ‘We have had a very productive meeting of the Scottish FA's professional game board at which we had board representatives from around a third of the 42 senior clubs in Scotland, and I'm delighted to say that we have agreed a set of principles to restructure Scottish football that will include a single league body.’

SFL Chief Executive, David Longmuir was equally upbeat when he stated: ‘Every club should be able to embrace this because they are all going to benefit from it. Ultimately it will be the clubs that decide but we have seen a willingness to make change happen and a recognition that Scottish football is crying out for a new dawn and we have now got agreement to take to clubs for a single league body. That is a huge step for the game in Scotland and it shouldn't be underestimated. The governance of the game and distribution of wealth will now affect all 42 clubs, and I think that in itself is a major breakthrough.’

Yet, David Longmuir’s warm and supportive statement comes barely two months after receiving the unanimous backing of his 30 SFL clubs for a 16-10-16 plan – a proposal diametrically opposed to that of the SPL. So should we be surprised by David Longmuir’s volte-face, or is his apparent Damascene conversion less the result of a sudden change of heart, and more the consequence of the momentous events of June, July and August last year?

I suspect that many of you will have forgotten the document tabled by the SFA/SPL in June, titled Your Game, Your Club, Your Future. A document that embodies many of the principles set out in the core agreement announced on Tuesday (and reproduced above) which was roundly condemned by the SFL clubs when it was sent to them by David Longmuir on 28th June 2012.

From the moment the 30 clubs in the Scottish Football League received the document, outlining the proposals for league reconstruction, the ultimatum to the SFL was clear. Do what we – the SFA/SPL say – or else! Indeed it was common knowledge – and widely reported by the media at the time - that the Scottish Premier League had warned the SFL they would form a breakaway second tier if their plans were not approved, and that a number of clubs in the Scottish Football League would be cut adrift from the top tier if they did not agree to the proposals for league reconstruction.

In his letter to member SFL clubs on 28th June, David Longmuir sought to persuade his constituents that the SFA and the SPL had been genuinely galvanized to resolve the ‘critical issues affecting our game’ in the true spirit of friendship and camaraderie - a spirit of friendship and camaraderie that was clearly not apparent to SFL clubs at the time, and who were unrestrained in their criticism when they complained: ‘They (the proposals) also have to be done by consensus, and not through threat or inducement again, as is the case here.’

Yet, against this backcloth, David Longmuir told his constituents that the June 2012 SFA/SPL proposals were: ‘A logical and positive communication which will hopefully eliminate some of the understandable doubt, threats and insecurities that are apparent within the game at the moment. The consultation document will fully explain the short and long-term benefits of a number of scenarios which we will be considering at a full Club Meeting next week.’

At that time many considered David Longmuir’s statement to be a quite incredible one against the backcloth of threats and intimidation and, particularly, the state of inaction, disinterest, distain and utter lethargy, which had heretofore characterised the SFA/SPL relationship with the SFL.

However, even the most ardent critic of those who resorted to the tactics of the bully-boy and the thug during the Rangers crisis of June/July 2011, would undoubtedly accept that reconstruction was not only inevitable, but absolutely imperative for the future of the game in Scotland. Indeed, it is difficult not to have some sympathy with David Longmuir who was between a rock and a hard place during those fateful months of June and July last year.

Whilst his position was, at times, equivocal, we must recognise that he was engaged in a rather precarious juggling act while attempting to reconcile the increasingly intemperate demands of the SFA/SPL with those of his indignant SFL constituents. So we should not be surprised that he has nailed his colours firmly to the SFA/SPL mast. We knew his position in June of last year, and it has not substantially altered over the past six months despite the 16 -10-16 mandate given to him by the 30 SFL clubs in November.

David Longmuir, in a weekend press interview, said: ‘We're agreed on a lot of things and it will be in the best interests of all of the 42 clubs. We are on the right road to achieving something positive. It's important we understand the objectives of all the clubs, but we do all need each other. We needed to have a structure in Scottish football that could cover every eventuality, as we found out with the Rangers case during the summer. We want a structure that is a bit more dynamic than what we have just now and - a redistribution of the wealth. We'd also like more play-offs. It looks like being a 12-12-18 set-up. It will also stand the game in good stead if we are all under one umbrella and one body. It means we can do more for the game under one roof. It has so many positives. The SPL are beginning to come round to understanding it's the best way to take the game forward.’

Clearly he is no longer an isolated voice within the SFL (if, indeed, he ever was), and it is apparent that many SFL clubs will now support the 12 – 12 – 18 format as long as it is part of a package that brings tangible financial benefits and the demise of the SPL in the form of the merger of the SPL and the SFL. Certainly arch cynic and vociferous critic, Raith Rovers chairman Turnbull Hutton, has belatedly joined his Chief Executive in support of the 12 – 12 – 18 reconstruction proposals and admits he is optimistic that the SPL’s plans for reconstruction of the game will get the green-light.

Yet this is the same Turnbull Hutton who, last July, branded the SPL ‘a dead parrot’ and demanded resignations from Scottish football’s top brass. The same Turnbull Hutton who insists our game is corrupt to the core and swears he’s been lied to by the SFA and SPL. The same Turnbull Hutton who insists he has been threatened and bullied by the SFA and the SPL, and called their Your Game, Your Club, Your Future document, ‘ridiculous’.

However, in spite of the theatrical rhetoric, the invective and the emotive language of June/July last year it’s now abundantly clear that the lobbying, the off the record chats, the inducements and promises of financial equity have paid off. The peace pipe has been smoked and a consensus is clearly emerging in favour of the 12 – 12 – 18 proposals.

Many supporters will be sceptical – indeed cynical – about David Longmuir’s conversion, and none more so than me. But for good or ill the structure proposed by the Scottish Premier League has won out over the SFL proposal of 16-10-16.

16 – 10 - 16 is dead! Long live 12 – 12 – 18!

Despite the fact that supporters appear to be in favour of a 16 team top tier, the SPL chairmen continue to be an insurmountable obstacle - they will simply not countenance a league format that produces only 30 games a season, whilst broadcasters are wedded to the concept that the leading clubs (preferably Rangers and Celtic) play each other four times a season.

Indeed, in the absence of Rangers from the top flight, the emphasis both from SPL Chairmen and interested broadcasters (if there are any!) will be on the top teams playing Celtic as often as possible! Well who wants to watch St Mirren and Dundee thrill to a 0 – 0 draw in front of an empty stadium?

So, unfortunately, we are to be subjected, once again, to a league format that requires an end of season spilt. The format has been consistently (and continuously) condemned by Celtic, Rangers, Motherwell and St Mirren to name but a few. Supporters have always taken a dim view of it and find it almost incomprehensible.

‘Why do they have an SPL split?’ asked a prominent Celtic blog last year. ‘Does anyone agree with it apart from finding it really silly; I just can’t see how it adds anything positive to the league season. Often, the team in seventh place finish with more points than the team in sixth place. Often, two teams will play each other four times, three times at one stadium and once at another stadium. Often, teams playing a 38 game SPL season will play 20 home games and 18 away or vice versa. I can’t think how much more tense a match would be if two teams on the last game of the season were playing each other and one had to win to clinch the league while the other was playing to avoid relegation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the introduction of the SPL split was to bring excitement to the league, it hasn’t, it’s just brought silly situations.’

I find it difficult to disagree with that summation, yet Celtic are in the vanguard of the new proposals that will bring us a more complex system that will see the two top leagues of 12 teams split into three leagues of eight after 22 matches then play a further seven home and seven away games!

I’m finding it extremely difficult to work up any enthusiasm for these not so new proposals, and I can’t help but feel a large measure of déjà vu. I just feel that we have been here before and there is really nothing very radical about them. Yes, we will, at last, see the back of the SPL but what will we get in its place? The SPL and the SFL will merge, and that proposal is to be welcomed – but will it simply be restructured or will it be fundamentally reformed? Who will lead it and how will that leader be chosen? Will the merger of the SPL and the SFL trigger the much needed (and much desired) restructuring and reform of the SFA?

Yes, we appear to have an agreement in principle, but I am wary – I am unashamedly suspicious – and I will not subscribe to the agreement until I have the whole picture. Alright, I accept that I’m a confirmed cynic, but I still think it would be wise to acknowledge the old idiom the devil is in the detail. What price a new league format if we emerge from the review process with those who brought our game to this sorry pass still at the helm of Scottish football?

Calvin Spence (aka) JCS is a frequent contributor to Rangers Media as a Site Writer and occasional contributor to Gersnet. He has supported Rangers since 1974 and his career has focused on industrial relations, employment law and contracts of employment. He lives just outside Belfast.