THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Scotland's biggest clubs are threatening to resign from the league. Paul Hutton details their bizarre plans

Even the most casual observer of Scottish football can hardly have been surprised by the news that Scotland’s Premier League teams were planning to resign from the League at the end of the season. It was, after all, common knowledge that they had already employed an accountancy firm to investigate how the Scottish game might be improved (bless ’em). More importantly perhaps, almost five whole years had elapsed since the leagues were last tinkered with.

To a Southern audience, the continual alterations, threatened and attempted breakaways may well be regarded with bemusement. And the fact that the news of this one was broken on the floor of the Stock Exchange – as a listed company Hearts are compelled to let the Exchange know of developments affecting share value before anyone else finds out – did give this announcement a modern touch. Even so, the initial proposals all looked strangely familiar.

In a nutshell, the ten teams that currently make up the Premier League would like to resign from the Scottish League at the end of the season, form their own company and negotiate their own TV and sponsorship deals. This will, it seems, greatly increase the amount of money flowing into the Scottish game for everyone.

Almost as an aside the spokesman for the Premier League teams, Lex Gold – chairman of Hibs for almost six months now – added that the team winning this season’s First Division will only be promoted to the new league if their stadium is up to scratch. Handy that, since it excludes just about all the likely candidates apart from Raith Rovers who have already been linked with the breakaway. Oh, and they’d like to scrap this season’s play off between second-bottom of the Premier and runners-up in the First Division.

Still, as Lex Gold (how are we supposed to take a name like that seriously?) and his chums have pointed out, almost everyone would agree that Scottish football is stagnating and we need change. And as well as bringing in more money for everyone, it’ll improve the standard of the game, facilities for spectators and allow clubs to bring through more young Scottish players.

No doubt all this has little to do with the fact that the League’s current TV and sponsorship deals expire at the end of this season. Nothing to do with Scottish club chairmen looking enviously across the border at the dosh flying about in England. Clubs other than Rangers and Celtic have come to believe it is their right to spend silly money on some haddy last seen in a team knocked out in the first round of the European Championship. While at the same time developing young Scottish talent, of course…

Not entirely surprisingly, the other 29 clubs seem to be slightly sceptical about these proposals. This will leave them in an interesting position should they resign from the League and not get promoted. Sensing this doubt, Lex has used his soothing tones to tantalize us all with a series of daring proposals. As other teams improve their facilities (presumably via visits from the stadium fairy) the league might expand to 16 teams. How about feeder teams? Now you too can watch some bigger club’s youngsters, crocks and contract rebels wandering aimlessly round your midfield trying not to pick up an injury. Or what about a British Cup? Or shoot-outs to settle drawn matches?

No mention of anything remotely sensible like a proper pyramid structure for the Scottish game, just this vague idea of jam for all and a promise that more young Scottish players will make it through to the big time, as if the current league structure made signing Norwegians, Swedes and second rate Italians compulsory.

Like the last attempt at a breakaway it’s mostly smoke and mirrors. The only way a new setup can make significantly more money from TV will be to sell many more live games than the 24 per season that was sold at the last deal, and to sell them to satellite.

It’s almost inconceivable to think that these clubs haven’t already spoken to TV companies such as Sky – even if it’s just during a quick round of golf – about what might be on offer should they, possibly, like, maybe, decide to set up their own league. On the other hand, it’s equally difficult to imagine that the money on offer will be anything like that in England, or that the live games will be played at anything like a sensible time – if a company like Sky is interested, it’s to fill up those seductive Thursday night or Sunday morning slots. And describing the teams left in the rump of the league as having “an opportunity to sell themselves” is certainly a charming way of describing cutting them off from what little share of the current money they have.

In the short term the only people likely to be making much money on the back of this proposal in the near future are lawyers. There have already been veiled threats of “restraint of trade” actions if the League Management Committee don’t waive the two-year notice period. Much talk of wanting to “do this by consensus” but being willing to get nasty if need be. This has already led to one chairman promising a similar court action if his club win the First Division this season and are refused entry to a new league structure because of their stadium. Assuming that the rebels get their way and resign without the two-year notice period, they’re still relying on the SFA recognizing them – otherwise they lose access to the European matches that keep them busy for the late part of August. And though the SFA may have a long-term view that a single body might be the best way to administer Scottish football, it’s unlikely to see creating a powerful lobby of clubs as a desirable way of achieving that goal. So far, in fact, the simple goal of resigning from the League has eluded our forward-thinking business-minded chums.

The matter of the resignations was meant to be discussed on 18th September, but was withdrawn to allow time for more information to be supplied to the rest of the clubs. A complete cynic (who was obviously not thinking of the long-term future of the game) might suggest this was due to a late realization that the convention whereby members of the committee do not discuss matters related to their own clubs meant that they would lose at least six of the votes.

Such a cock-up ‑can surely only be a temporary blip though, as Scottish football heads towards yet another bright new dawn.

From WSC 129 November 1997. What was happening this month

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