SFA chief executive Stewart Regan last night joined his SPL counterpart Neil Doncaster in urging all Scottish clubs to vote “yes” in next week’s eagerly awaited ballot designed to overhaul the structure of Scottish football.
Under the plan, which provides a pyramid structure and a more equitable distribution model, Scotland will have three divisions of 12, 12 and 18 with the Scottish Premier League, in its current guise, disbanded.
The new top division will simply be called the Premiership, the second tier the Championship and the third tier the National League.
Crucially, the 24 clubs in the top two tiers would split into three groups of eight after 22 matches of the season – and would then play a further 14 matches. The top eight teams would play for the league title and European places, the middle eight contesting promotion and relegation in and out of the Premiership, and the bottom eight deciding who drops into the National League.
It is a system that has been tried and tested in several countries of similar stature to Scottish domestic football, notably Switzerland and Austria. But already St Mirren, quite possibly backed by Ross County, look like being deal-breakers, having said they will vote against, potentially scuppering the whole deal.
“We don’t run league football but we do believe the change would be for the good of the game,” said Regan. “We can’t control the vote but you have 42 chairmen each with a view on what is best for their own club. Those views change over time but we would hope change happens because the Scottish league is in urgent need of radical change to provide a more competitive league.
“To have a strong league you need strong clubs. This proposal puts on the table greater distribution of financial income.”
The SPL need an 11-1 vote for the reconstruction proposal to go through and the SFL a 75 per cent majority. Rangers do not get to vote and Dunfermline, because of their precarious situation, may not either.
“Obviously we need St Mirren and/or Ross County to change their minds,” said Regan, speaking on the fringes of the Soccerex Conference in Manchester where he was one of the speakers. “I recognise there are strong opinions because it’s an emotive subject. Ross County are in their first season in the SPL and have been very clear they don’t like the proposed model of splitting in three eights. As for St Mirren their chairman believes there is a better structure.
“I understand people can have different views and we are in democracy. I just hope that we get to 11 to take this over the line. League reconstruction has been on the agenda for two-and-a-half years and has come close on a number of occasions to being approved. This is the closest we’ve been.”
In his panel address Regan expanded on this theme. “There is a responsibility among the bigger clubs to think how they can keep a vibrant league going and how they can bring more money into the game. You can’t click your fingers and make it happen. The only way is with meaningful games that fans want to pay to see. We are spinning lots of plates at the moment but it’s all part of a strategy to take the game forward.”
Hibernian chairman Rod Petrie, who has yet to say publicly which way his club will vote and was on the same panel here as Regan, gave a broad hint that the green half of Edinburgh will give the proposals the thumbs up. “All our clubs are trying their best to be the best they can with the resources that they have but for some it’s hard to make progress,” he said. “They are mindful that they have a responsibility to manage their clubs in a proper way and somehow reconcile the ambition to be as competitive as you can be with making sure your club is there for the long term.”
Petrie’s comments were hard to clearly interpret but he appeared to suggest it was by no means out of the question that a club other than Celtic could win the Scottish league under the new blueprint. “You have to try and make sure you have a fair competition and that a club within its own means can have an opportunity to succeed.”
Turning to the future of the Scottish game, Regan was cautious, despite the recent emphasis on youth development, about the prospects of the national team being strong enough under Gordon Strachan to qualify for the expanded 2016 European finals comprising 24 teams, up from 16.
“Scottish football has been on a downward spiral for a number of years,” Regan told The Scotsman. “That’s why we’ve put in place a long-term plan to try and qualify for major championships. We don’t expect results overnight. Obviously 2016 provides a greater opportunity for qualification but in terms of delivering, there’s a long way to go. Let’s face it, we are bottom of our World Cup group.”