THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

24 January ~ Pick a number. Preferably an even number, and probably something between ten and 18. But any number, really. Just don't get to attached to it because I'll be asking you to pick a different one within a week or two. That seems to be pretty much the Scottish Premier League's policy on league reconstruction, and those of us who follow the lower leagues are looking on with a combination of anger and amusement as the big clubs all fall out with each other in their efforts to agree on exactly how they want to stitch the rest of us up.

Let's be clear, because this is the reason everyone is demanding "change" at almost any cost – the Scottish Premier League has been a failure. The league is less competitive than ever, European performances are deteriorating, the national team hasn't played in a major tournament since its inception, it's hard to find anyone who thinks they're watching a better standard of football and, while commercial revenues have increased, it hasn't been enough to stop a string of administrations and major debt problems that have become even more acute since the Setanta collapse in 2009. Now, however, this failed league wants to take over the rest of us and run the full show.

The first problem is they can't even agree on the make-up of their own league. The signs initially were that they were in favour of expansion, probably to 14 teams, before last month's sudden U-turn and a plan instead for a ten-team league, with the funding saved from the bottom two clubs being used to fund a second tier, also of ten. The figures didn't add up, so this week they came back with an equally flawed plan to make the second tier 12 teams.

Even worse are the plans lower down, the SPL working group having proposed regionalisation from the third tier, with the inclusion of SPL reserve teams. And in order to fulfil Henry McLeish's recommendation of merging the governing bodies, the Scottish Football League would vote itself out of existence and allow the SPL to take the whole lot over. Needless to say, the SFL haven't been consulted on any of this, and all of it is totally against the wishes of the lower-league sides. We're accused of allowing our self-interest to stand in the way of progress, but this is a bit rich given the rationale they've given us for the size of their own league – all the surveys and responses suggest that, on sporting grounds, no one wants a ten-team league (it's been tried before, after all) and the only arguments in favour are the "financial realities" facing the top clubs.

I could give you chapter and verse on just why I think all this would be disastrous, but there's only so much point, agreement is as far away as ever and there's every prospect that the plans will change again after subsequent meetings. Even a couple of the members of that original working party have expressed doubts about the ten-team top division – increasing the suspicion that the whole thing is really being driven by Celtic and Rangers, of whom the latter in particular are too skint to be able to make the financial concessions that would be needed if they really wanted to force this through. The whole process is in danger of descending into farce, but I fear it's going to get much sillier yet before there's any sign of consensus on the way forward for Scottish football. Gavin Saxton

Comments (10)
Comment by falski 2011-01-24 13:01:19

Here's an interesting idea - if they designed the league set-up based on what makes the most sporting sense, the "product" will be more appealing to the "customers". Attendances would rise, TV viewing figures would rise and the next deal would be worth more, and sponsors would be keener to get involved. Get it right from a sporting sense and the finances will follow.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-01-24 13:42:06

Spot-on - except I'd say it descended into farce years ago ... decades ago. Everything since 1975/76's first big reconstruction has just been minimal variation on a sorry theme. The continual talk of "the need for change" by SPL executives and their ilk is something I've been hearing for thirty years, long before the SPL was formed and the top fight and the divisions below it have been continually changed for as long as I can remember. Personally, as a fan of the skinter of the Old Firm, I want two large divisions, to play everyone home and away once per season for the variety and because familiarity with our ugly sisters at Parkhead has helped maintain and multiply a contempt which we could all do without.

Instead of seeing Celtic and Aberdeen four times a season, minimum, I want to go to the likes of East End Park, Dens, Livingston and the utter gem of a venue which is Glebe Park, Brechin. And, to me, the idea of Scotland having four national divisions when Germany - Western Europe's most populous nation - only recently introduced a third, is preposterous. We could get everyone into two divisions, making the lower one the larger of teh two to compensate for the probable lack of European football and latter-stages of Cup football.

But then that's me adding to the problem because the most necessary "change" regarding league reconstruction is that we finally STOP bloody changing.

I can tetify to the boredom the 12-10 team division format has forced on Scottish football for the last quarter of a century: I've seen Kilmarnock and Dunfermline returning to the top flight after varying lengths of absence and initially bringing 2-3,000 fans to Ibrox and giving us a hell of an atmosphere and a sense of occassion rather than procession. Within 5 years these same clubs - massive tradtionl clubs with great histories - could barely bring the same numbers of their fans to home fixtures against the Old Firm. I don't blame them - they're soon bored shitless by the same old outcome in the domestic scene.

Rangers and Celtic have the colour-coded bigotry fest to keep us interested in continually winning a league which is devalued immeasurably every time the team in seventh place finishes with more points than the team in sixth (All hail the "split" - fun only for the number of confused letters it must elicit from continental anoraks to publishers of European Football yearbooks: "dear sirs, I feel I must point out a typing error on page 879 where you show Motherwell FC as having finished below Hibernian Edinburgh in the Scottish Premiership, and yet ...")but everyone else has, for 25 years, had next to no hope of ever winning a league unless they're relegated.

But the most depressing aspect is that everyone with the power to change Scottish Football's construction is convinced every move should be based around the Old Firm because Rangers and Celtic's fans will always come out in massive numbers because they're inspired by sectarianism rather than results. Again from personal experience I can confirm that the religious garbage is just an excuse to glory-hunt when things are going well. When result start falling away Old Firm fans desert their club as quickly as everyone else.

Disabuse ourselves of the "we need a strong Old Firm" notion and the top-heavy, Duopoly-obsessed administration of the Scottish game will finally stop wreaking damage all the way downwards, like the waterfall of pish it currently is.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2011-01-24 15:57:17

That's a great post from Alex Anderson there.

Comment by canarly 2011-01-24 16:40:31

being a "tim" i sometimes disagree with Aex's observations but theyre always good reading. On this occasion I agree completely. an 18 team league would help nurture talent,if it still exists. The days are long gone when the Old Firm took massive numbers to grounds,with the all ticket scenario adding to problems,it's a not a uncommon to see 5,000 plus empty seats when we go to easily accessible places like Kilmarnock. Alternatively couldnt we make a 37th game and play in Dubai, New York, etc to drum up some new life..........or has someone else though of that?

Comment by mwildman 2011-01-24 20:38:54

Oh more whiney BS; 10 team league is the root of all evil is? Why then have Scotland qualilfied for several major tournements with a ten team set-up? Equally the Swiss league is ten teams - doesn't stop them qualifying? The notion that all the ills of Scottish football are the fault of the Old Firm is simple-minded nonsense as is the idea that having a lot of diddy teams playing meaningless games in the top tier is the solution.

Comment by rosstheger 2011-01-24 22:21:07

Alex, I agree with your points broadly.

However, as a Rangers fan, I think it's very unfair to generalise that all Rangers fans are only interested in the sectarian nonsense. I've been to games involving Hibs/Hearts and Aberdeen and witnessed the similar things (Unionist/Republican) within their own fans. It's not just an Old Firm problem - and anyone who thinks that is way off the mark.

Of course we need a healthy Rangers and Celtic. We don't want Rangers and Celtic getting poorer, we want other teams to get better. The worst thing for Scottish Football would be all clubs falling into utter mediocrity. We want Hearts and other clubs to get stronger.

Ideally, I would like a 16-team top flight. If the league is run properly, which it never has been, then I think it's sustainable. We need to look at our TV channel - tell Sky to go and take a run and jump. Whether ESPN are interested, who knows. The game at Tynecastle on Saturday was fantastic - these games are what you want in the season. The less of them = more significance = potentially bigger crowds overall.

It would appear it's between 10 or 14. So it's 14 if I had to choose. However, it's sad that we have had to wait 9 months for people to shuffle numbers about. The proposals are a joke and can't be more different to what the fans want if they tried.

What we need is major changes to ticket-prices and the matchday experience. The game needs major investment from the government for new stadiums and facilities across the country. Re-introduce terracing sections and give the fans a voice within the league and clubs.

Fiddling with the number just won't save Scottish Football.

What's the saying? "re-arranging deck chairs on the titanic"?

Comment by JimDavis 2011-01-26 10:41:20

How about something totally off the wall -
Football is about entertainment right.
The FAs of Scotland, Belgium and The Netherlands should pull together and form the North Sea League before all 3 leagues fade away to the Eircom Irish league standard. The Celtic league for rugby union is an example of how a cross boarder league has made more teams in it stronger than just the biggest fish.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-01-28 15:39:27

@mwildman,

If you take away the two tournaments they've hosted, Switzerland have "qualified" for the same number of European Championship finals as Scotland and only one more World Cup. Like wurselves, they've never really bothered the latter stages but with a population 40% larger than ours and a complete lack of the social conditioning which makes a Scots "athlete" anyone over 4ft tall who doesnae have a pacemaker fitted, I reckon they're performing worse than us over the ages.

No Swiss club side has ever reached a European final and while Aberdeen won the Cup Winners Cup and Rangers, Celtic and United all lost the UEFA cup final during the ten/twelve-team incarnations of our top flight, ye could say that Celtic won the European Cup when it was just the two big divisions (of course, the same season, Rangers lost the CWC final and Killie made the Fairs Cup semis - our league's best European season by a mile). Okay, it's a slightly bogus argument coz so much has changed in world football since the New Firm were getting to Gothenburg, never mind since Lisbon 67 and Barcelona 72, but it's a bogus argument both ways.

Until, that is, you realise the Swiss league has only been ten teams for so long. It's been 16 teams, it's been 12 teams and - best of all - it's morphed from 12 teams into 16 teams mid-way through the season as the top division split into a promotion and relegation mini-leagues of eight with the bottom 4 of the top flight (ye keeping up?) getting shoved into a table with the top 4 of the 2nd division. Basically, The Swiss top flight has nearly as ridiculous a history as ours on the restructurng front and, if anything, acts as an argument against small divisions, splits etc.

I see the percieved benefits for the national team in the "hot-houing" notion but, ultimately, it's a red herring: (a)If more clubs flourish with the lessened threat of relegation a bigger top division brings then everyone will get just the same number of difficult matches they get at the moment - and does the smaller division really work for Hearts who beat one of the Old Firm on Saturday then didn't turn up on Wednesday against the other half? The hot-housing has seen the Old Firm finishing 20 and 30 points ahead of the teams in 3rd over the last decade. It's a myth and (b) as soon as there's money available again Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen, and everyone else will start snapping up the foreign players they need to apease their fans, so where's the benefit to Craig Levein?

And if a league doesn't have meaningless games then it's not a proper league. We had four "last day shoot-outs" in the SPL in the 6 years from 2003 to 2009 - ask any fan of those teams ye refer to as "diddy" if they found that anything other than totally boring by the time the Old Firm were "Going down to the wire" again in 2008. As a Rangers fan it even bores the shite out of me now - that's what familiarity and repetition do. That's why we don't need to be seeing the same clubs over and over again. The Old Firm win their semis this weekend and draw at Ibrox next Sunday, they'll meet seven times this season - SEVEN freaking times! It's just devaluing that fixture and the whole of the domestc game.

Still, "whiny BS" and "diddy teams" does make ye sound really definite - that's one thing our administraors aren't.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-01-28 16:08:02

@rosstheger

I was actually agreeing with you on your first point there, mate. Sorry - it's the way I've worded it in my original post (mind you, now that I look at the number of typos in that post it's a wonder anyone could decipher anything from it ... the Swiss league's mid-season split of the mid-nineties made mair sense!). I think most of the bigoted Rangers and Celtic fans become sectarian when it suits, ie when we want to insult each other or when we want to justify glory-hunting - "Yeah, I might only have followed Rangers during their Nine In A Row but,well, I've always been a proddy!" etc - and last time, before last Saturday, we lost at Tynecastle I remember leaving the ground to the taunts of two particular jambos in that paddock in front of their auld main Stand: They were waving a Union Jack at us and one was blessing himself as animatedly as possible - all very confuddling :-)

But, basically, it's results which dictate the numbers who'll turn out for the Old Firm - just the same as for any other club. The religion/sectarian aspect might be how their supports became so big in the first place and the sectarian posturing is no less dangerous or offensive despite whatever plastic motivations lie behind it, but the Pope's visit didn't put any more bums on seats at Parkhead and Kate and William's cooncil wedding in April is equally unlikely to effect Ibrox crowds - they're just two big clubs who, whatever the structure, will be challenging for the title 99% of the time.

Scotland is just a country which loves football - everything else is just an excuse to follow a particular team. The number of Aberdeen and Dundee United "supporters" I knew at school in the early 80s who I now see at Ibrox is testimony to this. But our administrators seem to have worked the trick of actually boring the bahookies off Scotland's footballing public. And every single one of your suggstions would be laughed out a Hampden meeting room by Neil Doncaster, mate - because they all make far too much sense and are exactly the kind of things PAYING PUNTERS are looking for.

It's sick.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-01-28 16:08:02

@rosstheger

I was actually agreeing with you on your first point there, mate. Sorry - it's the way I've worded it in my original post (mind you, now that I look at the number of typos in that post it's a wonder anyone could decipher anything from it ... the Swiss league's mid-season split of the mid-nineties made mair sense!). I think most of the bigoted Rangers and Celtic fans become sectarian when it suits, ie when we want to insult each other or when we want to justify glory-hunting - "Yeah, I might only have followed Rangers during their Nine In A Row but,well, I've always been a proddy!" etc - and last time, before last Saturday, we lost at Tynecastle I remember leaving the ground to the taunts of two particular jambos in that paddock in front of their auld main Stand: They were waving a Union Jack at us and one was blessing himself as animatedly as possible - all very confuddling :-)

But, basically, it's results which dictate the numbers who'll turn out for the Old Firm - just the same as for any other club. The religion/sectarian aspect might be how their supports became so big in the first place and the sectarian posturing is no less dangerous or offensive despite whatever plastic motivations lie behind it, but the Pope's visit didn't put any more bums on seats at Parkhead and Kate and William's cooncil wedding in April is equally unlikely to effect Ibrox crowds - they're just two big clubs who, whatever the structure, will be challenging for the title 99% of the time.

Scotland is just a country which loves football - everything else is just an excuse to follow a particular team. The number of Aberdeen and Dundee United "supporters" I knew at school in the early 80s who I now see at Ibrox is testimony to this. But our administrators seem to have worked the trick of actually boring the bahookies off Scotland's footballing public. And every single one of your suggstions would be laughed out a Hampden meeting room by Neil Doncaster, mate - because they all make far too much sense and are exactly the kind of things PAYING PUNTERS are looking for.

It's sick.

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