SCOTTISH Football League chief executive David Longmuir has dismissed the threat of a potential breakaway of ten of his organisation’s clubs, insisting there is no appetite in the Scottish Premier League to admit them as members.
Longmuir last night confirmed receipt of a lawyer’s letter on behalf of the ten clubs in line to comprise next season’s First Division – Dundee, Morton, Livingston, Hamilton, Falkirk, Raith Rovers, Dumbarton, Dunfermline, Cowdenbeath and Queen of the South – indicating their intention to resign immediately from the SFL if the opportunity to form an SPL2 arises.
The move came after a meeting of the clubs hosted by Hamilton on Thursday night in the continuing fall-out of last month’s collapse of the contentious 12-12-18 league reconstruction proposal when it was vetoed by St Mirren and Ross County in a vote of SPL clubs.
An alternative bid to introduce play-offs between the SPL and SFL next season, as a precursor to amalgamating the two organisations and introducing a new financial distribution model, will be discussed by the SPL clubs again at Hampden on Tuesday.
Longmuir is adamant that remains the preferred option of both the SPL and SFL, in conjuction with the Scottish Football Association, and says any increased revenue for First Division clubs would not be available if they broke away and breached the terms of the £1.8 million annual settlement agreement set out when the SPL was formed in 1998.
“What the SFL1 clubs are doing is difficult for me to comprehend, because I don’t know where they think they are going,” Longmuir told The Scotsman. “I don’t think there is any room at the inn.
“What has happened is that they had a sniff of the carrot which was there in the previous 12-12-18 proposal. They have seen a bit of money being dangled in front of them.
“That opportunity was closed off to them because of the SPL’s own voting mechanism, so they now think ‘where is that money?’ Well, you have to remember that money was coming to them because it was going to be a combined organisation.
“That would have brought back in the settlement agreement and the Rangers television money which we currently sub-contract to the SPL. So that’s where the additional money was coming from. But without a merged body, that money does not become a pooled pot. That money remains SFL money and a legally binding obligation between the two organisations.
“I have had a letter from a lawyer intimating that these clubs, in the event that they are admitted to the SPL, would wish to resign from the SFL. They have not been invited anywhere but at the moment are knocking on a door which is closed.”
In the aftermath of last month’s failure to push through the 12-12-18 plan, several SPL chairmen indicated there was no desire to form an SPL2. One senior SPL source, who did not wish to be named, insists that remains the case and described the breakaway threat as a “sideshow” and “an act of desperate men”.
Under SFL rule 12, no club can resign without a notice period of two years unless they receive the approval of at least two-thirds of the votes cast at a general meeting. But the ten rebel clubs believe they are entitled to leave immediately by exercising a separate rule, 15.2, which specifically details taking up membership of the SPL and states a club is not obliged to give any notice.
Longmuir accepts the SFL could face a legal challenge on that basis but is confident the two-year notice period would hold sway over a rule which was put in place solely to accommodate the extension of the SPL from ten to 12 clubs a decade ago.
“I would argue that Rule 15 was put there to allow the SPL to expand in 2002-03, when it increased by two clubs,” said Longmuir. “Rule 15 was put there for that purpose only. But because it was then part of the settlement agreement, it had to remain.
“But to me, our two-year notice period, Rule 12, is still required. If there was a vacancy and the SPL decided this was the route they wanted to go down to divide Scottish football further and cast aside some of the other clubs, then there would probably be a legal argument as to whether Rule 12 or Rule 15 would take precedence.
“The SPL are meeting on Tuesday to discuss some of the options and I think we’ll get a better idea after that of what they are prepared to do. Because I think it is the format of the play-offs which will be important, as well as the principle and the risk.
“I had a very encouraging meeting at the Professional Game Board of the SFA, which included Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan, last Wednesday. I was encouraged by the fact we all seemed to be getting round to how we make play-offs a viable proposition for next year. That’s all I’m thinking about at the moment.
“We discussed a number of changes we think we can bring in for next season that would take the game forward, on the basis that the SPL failed to vote through the recent reconstruction package. Our proposal was that play-offs should form part of next season’s competition as a widening and strengthening of the bridge between the SPL and the SFL.
“We also suggested that a pyramid structure could be in place by the end of season 2014-15, subject to the conditions below the SFL Division Three being appropriate for that with an amalgamation of the South and East of Scotland leagues.
“I still hope there will be a 42-club solution to this and I believe there can be.”