STEPHEN Thompson has made a last-ditch appeal for clubs to set aside self-interest and vote through league reconstruction at Hampden Park next week.
The Dundee United chairman was speaking on the day his club announced season ticket prices ahead of next season.
Handing United and other clubs a problem as they seek to entice fans to purchase tickets for the 2013-14 campaign is the continued uncertainty that surrounds next season’s league format. The likelihood of the 12-12-18 proposal being voted in ahead of the next campaign was dealt a heavy blow on Monday when St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour confirmed he will be voting against the new set-up on Monday, when the Scottish Premier League clubs gather at Hampden.
Due to the 11-1 voting structure currently in place in the SPL, it needs only one other club to join forces with St Mirren for the status quo to be retained. Thompson does not share the popularly-held view that Roy MacGregor, the Ross County chairman, is a definite dissenter, even though MacGregor has voiced concerns about the new structure, after discussions with his own club’s fans.
However, Thompson has appealed to club officials to look beyond their own interests and vote for the overall good of the game in Scotland ahead of Monday’s vote. “If I was thinking solely about Dundee United I wouldn’t vote for this,” he said. “But it’s not just about us and the SPL. This package is the right way forward for everyone. Yes, we know it is not perfect. Indeed, when I met Dundee United fans a few weeks ago, my opening line was: ‘I know it is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction’.
“Ultimately, it is up to the clubs. We have done all the talking behind the scenes. I think you will find that others will come out this week and state their position, the work behind the scenes has been done. The clubs have to sell it now. They are the ones who will vote on it in the end.
“At Dundee United, we believe it is the best package we are going to get for a long, long time. I got asked a question today: ‘how do you sell season tickets?’ I am asking fans to support the club they love; and the club they care about. I just think it is a huge missed opportunity if we don’t get it over the line.
“I just ask for self-interest to be put aside,” he added. “It needs a bit of give and take. The biggest hit is taken by whoever ends up in first place; the top clubs are giving up a lot of money and are prepared to let it flush through the whole league.
Thompson is not disappointed in St Mirren’s stance, although he did wonder why their unease about the retention of the 11-1 vote, among other concerns, had not been raised earlier. “I am not prepared to have a go at Stewart in public,” said Thompson, who is also a member of the SPL board. “We get on well and he is entitled to his view.
“But we have spent six months around a table, everyone has been heavily involved. There has been compromise galore. There are things I am not happy with – there are things other clubs are not happy with, but we have to forgo that for the sake of the game.
“The all-through distribution of money is very important. The clubs in the First Division are struggling. How many other clubs are going to go to the wall before we realise finances are up the spout?
“If you get relegated then it’s a disaster financially and we have to address that. The all-through distribution model is a huge thing. It means the money goes right through the leagues.
“The clubs in the First Division will get £350,000 instead of a fraction of that. We need to push money down the leagues for everyone’s benefit, not just what’s good for us as individual clubs. And getting one league body is a step in the right direction. People need to take their club hat off for a minute.”
Thompson has not given up all hope on the proposals surviving at least the SPL vote on Monday. The Scottish Football League meet to vote on the plans later in the same week. He believes Ross County might still surprise many. “Roy [MacGregor] has highlighted his reservations in the past, but he has not come out and said no,” pointed out the United chairman. “I don’t think it is dead in the water.
“I think everyone realises this is a big, big moment for the game,” he added. “There is no plan B. There is no other option. The package has been put together and worked on for many months. It has probably taken two or three years to get to this stage. It is incredible that we even got to the stage where so many clubs were working together.”