The “Reluctant Heroes” Have Saved Scottish Football

Scottish Football League clubs today voted on the latest proposals for league reconstruction and this was their last chance to save the national game.

29 of the SFL's 30 member clubs had to consider an SPL/SFL ‘merger’ - namely the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). Within these now approved proposals, the current 12-10-10-10 senior structure will remain - at least for now - and a play-off will brought in to make the top tier of Scottish football more accessible to those clubs in the second tier.

Financially, the clubs who will play in the second and third tiers of the SPFL are those who will benefit far more than they do at present, in terms of prize money. Those which ply their trade in the stale cul-de-sac that is the proposed bottom tier of the SPFL will (collectively) not receive any increase in prize money at all.

At the SFL's recent AGM on May 23rd the 29 clubs took part in an informal show of hands, to give an indication as to how the formal vote may play out. 22 of the 29 member clubs entitled to vote - no prizes for guessing which new member club does not have voting rights -  had to vote in favour of the latest proposals on offer for the motion to be passed. At that recent AGM, only 16 of the 29 clubs were in favour of these proposals.

Earlier this week we also saw Annan Chairman Henry McLelland exclusively reveal many of the details behind this proposed ‘merger’ in the Scotsman. It was finally made public that this was not a ‘merger’ at all. The SPL was taking over the 123-year-old SFL, and changing its name.

Had the vote failed, the SFL1 clubs would have broken away to form an 'SPL2'. Of that, there is absolutely no doubt, despite public quotes to the contrary from Hamilton's Les Gray, and chums, in recent months.

The creation of an 'SPL2' would have been a disaster for the whole of Scottish football, and would have done nothing for the growth of the game.

Although the birth of the SPFL may cause some short-term obstacles for many SFL clubs - especially Rangers, when you consider SPFL rule 88, which states: "trialists are not under any circumstances eligible to play for a club in a league match or League Cup match" - but in the medium-to-long-term, a merged league body will be far more beneficial to all senior clubs.

Look at the mess the SPL and SFL have got themselves in to throughout the whole league reconstruction debate? Two league bodies in itself has been the largest obstacle to change the Scottish game, and that would continue to be the case in the future.

In theory, the SFL clubs joining the SPFL will vastly improve the process of any matter of reform, and there are still two huge matters to bring to the table; one of which being the opening of the door to the senior system - through the creation of a fair pyramid structure, similar to that which is so successful in England; and the other being the structure of the senior leagues themselves.

Forgetting the structure of the senior leagues, the creation of a fair pyramid structure which offers entry to the senior system, will be the change that really allows Scottish football to survive, grow and re-establish itself on the world football map - and I can hear the laughter already!

What can Wick Academy and Spartans offer Scottish football, that East Stirlingshire and Elgin City can't, I hear you ask?!

Simple, and I will use my famous 'goldfish bowl' analogy to help you fully understand my point.

What happens to your goldfish when you don't change the water in the bowl? The fish dies.

Look at the likes of Yeovil Town in England? After entering the Football League for the first time in 2002, they are starting next season in the Championship. Have Yeovil Town made a positive impact to English football since they entered the senior system? Absolutely.

There is already the possibility of a new Lowland League being formed by those clubs playing in the East of Scotland League, South of Scotland League and Junior FAs, in time for next season.

That would open the door for a play-off to be created for the team finishing bottom of the SPFL, versus the winners of a play-off between the winners of the Highland and Lowland leagues respectively. This could be on the cards for the beginning of the 2014/15 season.

Once the Highland/Lowland teams have had their chance to make an impact on the senior system, the SPFL member clubs can then assess how many teams can be added to the senior system, as well as what structure the senior tiers can be expanded to.

With that, the disputed governance and financial issues will have to change and (hopefully) improve to better suit all senior clubs.

It was imperative for the future of Scottish football that the 13 no-voters changed their stance today, and thankfully, 7 of them did.

If they hadn’t, they would have been immediately left for dead by the likes of Hamilton Accies, Dundee and Queen of the South - and the Rangers cash-cow could only have been milked for one more season.

Yes, the SFL has been royally shafted by the SPL and the clubs were left in doe or die situation. In a press conference this afternoon, SFL CEO David Longmuir gave special mention to the “reluctant heroes” who had changed their vote, with the best interests of Scottish football in mind – I can only reiterate those sentiments. These “reluctant heroes” have saved Scottish football.

Personally, I am a bit disappointed that the historic institution that is the SFL is going to be wound up, but, it is more important to look forward, not back. The past twelve months has been long, tiresome and feels like we have all just been going round in circles. We can all be glad that it is finally over.

It might not feel like it to many today – especially when you consider the SPFL governance proposals – but the ‘merger’ will allow Scottish football to move forward.

Here’s to the future...

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