IN FAIRNESS to Stewart Regan, Neil Doncaster and David Longmuir – not a phrase you are likely to hear very often – they did not present the 12-12-18 league reconstruction plan as a fait accompli when they announced it last week.
From the reaction it has provoked, most notably from the peerlessly bombastic Rangers chief executive Charles Green, it would be easy to assume that it was very much a done deal.
The respective chief executives of the Scottish FA, Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League did make it clear they intend to push it through for the start of next season. But it was also stressed, by Longmuir especially, that there was still much work to be done before a sufficient majority of clubs were convinced of its merits.
It is now inreasingly obvious that it is indeed no foregone conclusion. Despite Doncaster’s observation that all 12 of the current SPL clubs had already backed the proposal, Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson and his St Mirren counterpart Stewart Gilmour both broke cover at the weekend to express their reservations.
Thompson may be partly motivated by his recent resignation from the SPL board for “professional differences”, although the Tannadice chief is being consistent in his desire to take the views of his club’s supporters on board. Having accepted their view when voting against the admission of a newco Rangers to the SPL last summer, Thompson is justifiably wary of widespread fans’ opposition to the 12-12-18 set-up.
With an 11-1 vote in favour required from SPL clubs when they meet at Hampden on 28 January, Thompson and Gilmour have the power to kill the proposal stone dead.
In the SFL, a more democratic 75 per cent is needed to approve the plan. With Rangers ineligible to vote as associate members of the organisation they joined last year, that’s 22 of the 29 remaining SFL clubs. There is a school of thought that Third Division clubs will vote in favour as it gives them another season with the financial benefit of being in the same tier of league football as Rangers.
But it was instructive to read Peterhead manager Jim McInally’s comments at the weekend as he raged against what he described as “SPL-driven reconstruction” which would render meaningless his team’s quest for a place in the play-offs behind Rangers this season.
So Rangers manager Ally McCoist’s complaint at what he says is the unfairness of change being implemented midway through a season may yet have some traction. It will, after all, take just eight SFL clubs to agree with that view for 12-12-18 to fall by the wayside.
The greatest source of frustration for Rangers is the prospect of remaining in the bottom tier of league football, as the 18-team National League would be, even in the event of their inevitable Third Division title win this season.
The precedent of 1993-94 has been pointed out by some of their supporters, when Stranraer won the 14-team Second Division, which was then the bottom tier, ahead of reconstruction to four divisions of 10 teams the following season.
The Stair Park club’s promotion to the new First Division, one tier below the top flight, was validated in the circumstances to ensure their title win did not appear meaningless.
It is an argument Rangers may use, but it is one which takes us into semantics. The bottom line is that 12-12-18 will change nothing in terms of a timeline for the Ibrox club’s projected path back to the top flight.
But, while Rangers do not have an official say in the process which will determine whether Regan, Doncaster and Longmuir can push the plan through within the next few weeks, their situation may yet have the biggest influence on how others vote.
Butcher emphasises value of quality of life
Having had more football experience than most on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, Terry Butcher has a keen appreciation that the grass is not always greener in his pleasant homeland. His decision to turn down a lucrative move to Barnsley last week and remain in Inverness was testimony to that.
England may retain the biggest pull for ambitious managers keen to test themselves in one of the most high-profile and financially rewarding environments but it is a place where reputations can be trashed just as quickly as they are enhanced.
That is something Butcher, no stranger to the pain of dismissal south of the border, may have reflected upon at the weekend as one of Scotland’s brightest managerial prospects suffered the first serious setback of his career. Derek McInnes’ sacking by Bristol City following a 4-0 home defeat by Leicester City which left them bottom of the Championship, is a sharp reminder that success in Scottish management is no guarantee of the same in England.
At just 41, McInnes has plenty of time to lick his wounds and re-emerge elsewhere to recapture the high
regard he justifiably earned during his stint in charge of St Johnstone. His failure at Ashton Gate is also unlikely to diminish the willingness of English clubs to look to Scotland when recruiting managers.
But they may find that Butcher’s precedent in placing job satisfaction and quality of life ahead of boosting his bank balance will make their targets think just a little harder and longer before heading south.