The President of the Scottish Football Association, Campbell Ogilvie, has denied that moves to reform the structure of the country’s professional leagues are designed to accelerate the return of Rangers to the top flight.
Ogilvie insisted that the reconstruction which is being proposed by the SFA, the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League had been “on the table” long before Rangers collapsed into liquidation, causing the club to start again in the SFL Third Division.
During the spring and summer of turmoil in the Scottish game, leading officials at the SFA, SPL and SFL undoubtedly linked the fate of Rangers to league reconstruction, so much so that some clubs complained of being bullied over the move to place Rangers into the First Division. SFA chief executive Stewart Regan was asked by some club directors to consider his position over the issue.
Ogilvie is a former director of Rangers and a beneficiary of one of the Ibrox club’s controversial Employment Benefits Trusts which are under investigation by the tax authorities and the SPL. Latterly, he was the managing director of Hearts FC. He preferred to talk about reconstruction yesterday after jointly making the draw for the William Hill Scottish Cup second round.
The SFA President was adamant that reconstruction is not about getting Rangers, with all the club’s undoubted financial clout, into the top league as quickly as possible. He said: “I keep hearing it from outside sources but there have been absolutely no discussions within Scottish football for that scenario.
“Any league reconstruction has got to be a much wider debate and it’s about teams coming through various levels on merit.
“The whole debate on reconstruction started a year ago and got railroaded up to a point with all the meetings that took place on the Rangers situation from February. This is a much wider debate, it’s not about any one club. It’s about getting the structure right in the Scottish professional game.”
Specifically asked whether reconstruction was being put through for Rangers’ benefit, Ogilvie replied: “I can categorically take that out of the equation. This debate was on the table long before the issue came up.”
Ogilvie was also adamant that moves into or out of the various leagues will be on merit: “There is no short circuit here. Teams will have to come up the normal channels of promotion and relegation. I’ve heard some comment about Rangers getting back up quicker, but that’s not the case. People can perceive issues but, as far as I’m concerned, any reconstruction of the game will involve teams moving up on merit.”
While original reports said that the new set-up would be a Premiership and Championship only, recent rumours have claimed that a new three-league structure with a 16-team top flight is the preferred choice of the governing body and the SPL and SFL, with the SFA having asked the two leagues to join a working party under an independent chairman to progress the reconstruction. That working party could be set up as early as Thursday. A key issue will be the proposal for end-of-season play-offs to decide promotion and relegation. At present in the 12-club SPL, just one team is relegated.
Ogilvie said: “There are 12 SPL teams and four or five in the First Division who have SPL set-ups. The problem is, they have just one chance to get back up.
“It’s not going to be easy addressing the problem. The gap is so great right now and people talk about a ‘fear factor’ and negative football. But we have to find a way round that. Play-offs have got to be looked at. There needs to be more trust built up and we have to understand each other’s issues.
“We have to get the three bodies together and knock heads together. That’s something I’m keen to work on. Everyone wants the best for Scottish football. We need to work together for the benefit of the game. No-one would disagree with that. A lot has happened in the past few months and I suppose tensions are still running high in some quarters.
“But what is key to this is that the SFA, SPL and SFL work together, and I know they all share the same aim of wanting to take the game forward. I haven’t been involved in the debates with my previous involvement with Rangers, but now I can and I want to work with clubs to take things forward.”
Regan suggested earlier this month that new leagues could be in place for next season, but Ogilvie was not so definite.
“We have got to get a structure in place that’s attractive to supporters,” he said. “We are all suffering financially, clubs and supporters don’t have the money, so it’s a big challenge.
“What’s key is we get it right and I’d rather not put a timescale on it. Some of it will have to be looked at on a short-term basis and some of it long-term.”