SFL clubs to meet for league reconstruction talks

SFL Chief Executive David Longmuir will lead the Hampden talks. Picture: SNS
SFL Chief Executive David Longmuir will lead the Hampden talks. Picture: SNS
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SCOTTISH Football League clubs will meet at Hampden tomorrow to discuss revised reconstruction plans put together by the Scottish Premier League amid continuing doubt over whether a reunified 42-club body can be put in place in time for the start of next season.

Just five weeks before fixtures for the 2013-14 campaign are scheduled to be announced, neither the SPL nor SFL have set a date for a formal vote on the merger proposal which was agreed in principle by the 12 top-flight clubs nine days ago.

The package of measures, which replaces the unpopular 12-12-18 reconstruction proposal vetoed by Ross County and St Mirren last month, retains the current 12-10-10-10 divisional set-up and includes an improved financial distribution model for second-tier clubs and play-offs for an additional promotion-relegation place between what is currently the SPL and First Division.

The 12 SPL clubs will meet again at Hampden on Monday when the first item on their agenda is a more detailed assessment of the financial implications of moving to a single merged league body for the first time since they broke away from the SFL back in 1998. It has yet to be decided whether a vote will be taken at Monday’s meeting. The proposal needs an 11-1 majority in favour by SPL clubs, with chairman Ralph Topping insisting last week that it would be “embarrassing” if any of them retreated from the “unanimous” agreement which was expressed at last week’s meeting.

If the SPL clubs back the proposal, it will then require the support of at least 22 of the 29 SFL clubs eligible to vote. Rangers, as associate members following their insolvency event and admission to the Third Division last year, do not have a vote.

Tomorrow’s meeting of all 30 SFL clubs will seek greater detail from the organisation’s chief executive David Longmuir on the potential implications of the SPL proposal.

It is understood an exact breakdown of the improved sums which would be earned by second-tier clubs in the merged body, which has a working title of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), has yet to be provided by the SPL.

Neil Doncaster, the SPL chief executive, said last week they would be “broadly the same” as those being offered under the controversial 12-12-18 plan which would have involved the top two tiers splitting into three divisions of eight clubs halfway through a season.

Longmuir has stated it will be a “tough call” for SFL clubs to agree to implement the merger for next season and there remains concern among some lower tier chairmen over the lack of time available to undergo full due diligence on the financial structure of the proposed unified body.

As it stands, neither the SPL nor SFL has a title sponsor in place for next season with their respective existing deals with Clydesdale Bank and Irn-Bru coming to an end this weekend. It is also unclear how the settlement agreement between the SPL and SFL, brokered following the split in 1998 and now worth around £2 million a year to clubs outwith the top flight, will be affected.

The plan already has the public support of the ten clubs who are set to comprise the First Division next season. On 2 May, following two meetings hosted by Hamilton Accies chairman Les Gray, they informed the SPL of their willingness to resign from the SFL and become members of an extended two-tier top flight if agreement on change from the start of next season cannot be reached among all 42 clubs.

If the SPL clubs ratify their approval of the proposal on Monday, the first opportunity for SFL clubs to vote on it may be at their annual general meeting at Hampden which is scheduled for next Thursday (23 May). But a number of issues will require clarification before any SFL vote takes place.

Among them is the board structure of the SPFL. The SPL are proposing it will contain three representatives from the top tier, two from what is currently the First Division and one from the Second and Third Division. The SFL believe that is weighted too heavily in favour of the top two tiers.

The retention of the much criticised 11-1 voting system, which ironically scuppered the previous reconstruction plan before it could even be put to the SFL clubs, is also a concern for some lower tier clubs.

They are also seeking greater detail on the introduction of a pyramid structure which would entail the club at the bottom of the current Third Division go into a play-off competition with teams from the Highland League and a proposed new Lowland League. That plan will be up for approval at the annual general meeting of the Scottish Football Association on 11 June.

League fixtures for 2013-14 are then due to be announced on 19 June, but it remains to be seen whether they are published by one or two organisations.