SFL clubs still to be convinced of reform proposals

Stephen Thompson says league reconstruction can still be in place by the end of June. Picture: PA
Stephen Thompson says league reconstruction can still be in place by the end of June. Picture: PA
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Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson insisted yesterday that league reconstruction can still be in place in time for next season, although his optimism was contradicted last night when Scottish Football League chief executive David Longmuir issued a note of caution and warned that some of his organisation’s clubs are still to be convinced.

Last week, Scottish Premier League chairman Ralph Topping said after a meeting of top-flight clubs that the aim was to have one integrated league body up and running for the start of the 2013-14 camapign. But since then divisions within the SFL have threatened to disrupt the timetable, with the ten First Division clubs threatening to break away and form an SPL2.

However, Thompson, who sits on the SPL board, said he remained hopeful that the rumblings of discontent could be quelled, and that the new integrated model would be in place as early as the end of next month. “The 42-club solution is still very much on the table,” he said last night. “And I am still very hopeful that will be in place by the end of June.

“I am optimistic. There has been a lot going on. The SFL have a vote on June 12 and we will just wait and see what that brings.

“It has been pretty clear that the SPL clubs are together on this now, and it is up to the SFL clubs what they want to do. All we have done for the last 16, 17 months is talk about stuff other than actual football. It has all been about administration and reconstructions. I think the product has suffered because of that.

“There has been so much negativity around the game that the product has been damaged. So I think the proposed changes will bring a freshness to the whole set-up.”

The original proposal by the SPL leadership was for three divisions of 12, 12 and 18 clubs. Under that plan, the top two divisions would split into three groups of eight after two full rounds of fixtures.

That plan failed to get the required 11-1 majority when both St Mirren and Ross County voted against it. The three-eights element, in particular, was also opposed by a majority of supporters who voiced an opinion on the subject, and the Paisley and Dingwall clubs said they had taken those fans’ views into account before coming to their decision.

But after failing to reach agreement then, the SPL clubs were able to come to a unanimous verdict at their meeting last week. They agreed on a four-division solution, with 12 clubs in the top league and ten in each of the other three. They also agreed there should be SPL play-offs along the lines of those in place in the lower leagues, with the second-bottom SPL club being involved along with the teams in second, third and fourth place in the First Division.

“It will be rebranded, and play-offs will be in place which will be exciting,” Thompson continued. “There will be one league body, an all-through distribution model and a pyramid system. Everyone needs to believe it is the right thing for the game, but it can still come together and happen - absolutely.”

However, it emerged last night following an emergency meeting between the 20 Second and Third Division clubs at Stilring Albion’s Forthbank Stadium that still not everyone is on board. Objections to the SPL proposals were aired as well as a request for further clarification on a number of key points.

The clubs are concerned over the lack of a complete due diligence process at this time, the new look financial distribution model that could see them worse off and without any guarantees over the length of time any that the model would be in place as well as a governance model that diluted their presence .

The meeting was held in response to an indicative vote taken at last week’s SFL agm that failed to show the 75 per cent majority backing by the SFL clubs that would be required for change. That vote prompted talk of resignations of the ten First Division sides from the SFL and it looks like the ball could be back in their court as agreement has still not be reached.

SFL chief executive David Longmuir: “The gathering of clubs from the Second and Third Division was really helpful and there was a lot of discussion however no formal vote was taken. The consensus was that we carry on with discussions and then take the formal vote on 12 June.”

“The due diligence process is something the clubs would like completed by then or alternatively to have a date for when it will be completed. There are other concerns over the proposed financial distribution model that would replace the in perpetuity settlement agreement as well as voting rights for clubs at this level.”

Longmuir added: “These clubs have concerns that need to be addressed – however, as they have said now for nearly a year, they remain committed to a 42 club solution.

“The feeling at the meeting was a positive one and there are still two weeks to go until the formal vote is taken so no doors have been closed.”