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SPL ‘Agreement’ Leaves Big Questions

January 18, 2011

THE ‘broad’ agreement claimed by Scottish Premier League representatives for a 10-team top league and a second tier of 12 teams still leaves a huge amount of work to be done in producing a workable plan and securing the consent of the SFL, the SFA – and even four or five existing SPL members.

Despite claims of consensus, three clubs – Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hearts and Kilmarnock – made it clear at the meeting that they favoured a 14-team SPL. In addition, two of the six members of the Strategic Review Group and one other large club had expressed concern or uncertainty, with St Mirren hoping for consideration of the 14-team option, Dundee United keeping an ‘open mind’ until the last minute, and Motherwell also hesitating. St Johnstone had preferred a 12:10 (rather than 10:12) split.  Indeed, opposition to the original 10:10 proposal had actually grown since the BBC surveyed SPL clubs on 13 December 2010 and found only two opposed.

Talking to the BBC afterwards, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster was forced to admit: “Clearly, when clubs haven’t got a detailed, finalised plan in front of them, then we need to understand that clubs want to reserve their final position.”

Meanwhile, “extremely disappointed” Inverness majority shareholder David Sutherland declared: “The fans have been ignored but in sport you have to take your defeats gracefully.  It’s a pity the 14-team wasn’t considered a little more seriously. We’ll get on with it but I think the SPL needs to take a good, long look at themselves and what they are doing to Scottish football.”

The media also remains sceptical, with the Scottish Daily Record mounting a rigorous push for a 14-team league, and The Scotsman reflecting the concerns of Gordon Smith and others about the impact of the current proposal – because, as Barry Anderson put it, “[small] leagues and repetitive fixture lists are not conducive to cultivating young footballing talent.”

However SPL executives are now going into spin mode and are set to continue their charm offensive in an effort to massage away dissent and exert pressure on those who have held out for alternatives, with finance rather than football appearing to be the main driver. (The Express describes their efforts so far as producing  “chaos and confusion”.)

After yesterday’s meeting at Hampden, Neil Doncaster claimed that the 10:12 plan was the “only way forward” – though his own organisation’s press release described it merely as the “preferred option”.

He additionally spoke of the need to benefit “the whole of Scottish football, not just the elite.”  But he did not spell out how his executive and the four main backers of the proposal (Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Aberdeen) can legitimately claim to speak for Scottish football in its entirety (other bodies are only being “consulted”, says the SPL), or how lower league sides like Dumbarton, threatened with being diminished to regional training leagues for the use of ‘big’ clubs, are supposed to see this as an enhancement.

Doncaster also dismissed the concerns of the 88% of Scottish football fans who recently opposed the ten-team SPL in a Supporters Direct Survey –  which indicates that 93% of supporters feel they have not been properly consulted.

So while SPL executives are heavily implying that the outcome of the strategy meeting on 16 January is a ‘done deal’, the evidence – and the voting system maths –  suggests that the tussle will go on for weeks to come. “Kilmarnock’s position has not altered,” said chair Michael Johnston. “We are still opposed to a ten-team top division. Significant adjustments have to be made to the current proposals.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Football League offered a cautious response. Chief executive David Longmuir said: Until such time something is formalised or presented to us, we cannot comment. The SFL’s position hasn’t changed. We are open to change if it is for the good of all clubs in Scotland.”

For the 20 sides outside the top 22, the time for bold thinking about how to keep League football alive and kicking is now on.

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Supporters Direct in Scotland is holding a meeting of Trust representatives on 23 January 2010 to consider ‘what next’ from the grassroots perspective. Sonstrust will be there, naturally.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Peter McCormick permalink
    January 19, 2011 1:18 pm

    There are several issues regarding the SPL overhaul which have greatly angered me. Firstly, as a supporter of a team from outwith the SPL, Dumbarton FC, the SPL proposals to change the format of not just their league but also the top flight of the Scottish Football League (Scottish Division 1) and then regionalise the leagues below that would directly affect my club. The SPL is a breakaway league and has it’s own, totally independent, rules and set up from the Scottish Football League. The Scottish Football League and the Scottish Premier League are totally different bodies, wholly independent of each other, so there’s no justification for the SPL chiefs to suggest that THEY change OUR league set up as well as their own. They broke away from the SFL to form the SPL on the basis of chasing money, if it’s not working out for them then tough. They’ve made their bed and they can lie in it, not come meddling in the affairs of 30 professional football clubs who play under a different league structure and league body. The idea of my beloved team being subject to the injustice of being forced into a “regional” league set up is, frankly, a total insult and implies that only SPL clubs and those breaking the bank to almost be SPL clubs can justify having a national league, when in actual fact it’s the teams in the SPL and the teams in Division 1 trying to reach the SPL who are the ones struggling under crippling debt and chasing rainbows with borrowed money, putting their futures at risk.

    Also, the SPL proposal to have “colt” teams enter the Scottish Football League and play as “B” teams against long-established senior football clubs is a sick joke. Again, the SPL and SFL are wholly different bodies so their reserves shouldn’t be allowed access to our leagues and the idea of my team being treated as training opposition for a full-time SPL reserve side is an insult and if these proposals were given the green light then I may very well throw my season ticket at Neil Doncaster’s face. The fact of the matter is that teams in Division 2 and Division 3 are well run, live within their means, know their level of income, expenditure and support and don’t take stupid, reckless financial risks unlike the full-time sides in Scotland. To have full-time SPL “B” sides facing part-time clubs in the league would result in the true, proper clubs never having the chance to win the league and get the trophy’s that they deserve due to the simple fact that well trained, well paid, full-time professionals will outmatch their players.

    The fact that these proposals have gone on this long without being thrown out makes me sick.

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