By Gavin Saxton
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.â€¨â€¨
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.â€¨â€¨
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.
â€¨â€¨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.