SCOTTISH FA chief executive Stewart Regan believes the proposed new Lowland League will allow ambitious clubs to make progress through their own merits rather than the demise of others.
Today’s annual general meeting of the SFA at Hampden will vote on the introduction of the Lowland League from the start of next season as part of a pyramid system which will open up the possibility of the team finishing bottom of the Third Division being relegated.
Several clubs have expressed their interest in being part of the new league, including Spartans, Dalbeattie Star, Preston Athletic, Vale of Leithen, Gala Fairydean and Selkirk. If it gets the go-ahead, the intention is for the winners of the Lowland League to earn an end-of-season play-off against the Highland League champions, with the winners of that tie then taking on the Third Division’s bottom club in a relegation-promotion play-off. That play-off would also require support from tomorrow’s extraordinary general meeting of the Scottish Football League.
But the SFA are keen to have the Lowland League in place for the 2013-14 season in any event as they seek to provide a route up the echelons of the senior game which does not depend on off-the-field calamities at other clubs. “There has to be a meritocracy in the bottom tier of the senior game and the pyramid will provide greater competition,” said Regan. “It is important that we recognise and support those clubs currently outwith senior football who aspire to reach the top. We have seen it most recently with the rise of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County from the Highland League but do we really want a situation where the only way those clubs can join is at the expense of another club who has gone bust? It is a really exciting development and something the Scottish FA has supported as part of the five principles for league reconstruction: a single league body, fairer financial distribution, parachute payments, play-offs and the pyramid.”
A 75 per cent majority of the SFA’s 93 members is required for any proposal to be passed. Also on the agenda at Hampden today is a change to rules relating to unacceptable conduct.
The SFA board hope to persuade clubs to accept the principle of ‘strict liability’ for any incidents of crowd disorder, racism or sectarianism. In effect, it would allow any such breach of rules to be punished by the SFA, irrespective of a club being able to show they had taken all reasonable steps to try and prevent it. Under current regulations, that defence limits the sanctions which can be imposed.
Regan recently attended the Fifa Congress where new measures to eliminate discriminatory behaviour were discussed, including minimum five-game bans for players, points deductions for clubs and closure of stadia. With Uefa also set on hardening their stance on the issue, Regan is keen for Scottish football to get its own house in order before being ordered to do so by the European and world governing bodies.
“Currently the regulations in Scotland are not as robust as those adopted by Uefa,” said Regan. “The ability to take stronger action should act as a deterrent, as it does when you look at instances during European matches. Essentially, the resolution is about asking the members: ‘what do you want for the future atmosphere inside our grounds?’. At a time when we are looking to unite the two league bodies, we should be doing all we can to encourage and excite a new generation of supporters.”
A total of 45 resolutions will be put before the SFA agm, many of them ongoing technical amendments to the organisation’s articles of association which were radically altered two years ago when Regan achieved the notable 93-0 vote in favour of ripping up their previous committee system and disciplinary processes. Among the other resolutions is a proposal that the SFA will be authorised by all of its members to engage with government agencies, including HMRC, to obtain information regarding the financial affairs and operations of any specific member. Clubs will also be asked to approve a resolution which will oblige any director or individual detailed in a club’s Official Return to inform the SFA of any changes to his shareholding in that club within ten days of the change taking place.