AFTER reaching unanimous agreement to pursue their plan to extend Scottish football’s top flight to two leagues of 12, Scottish Premier League clubs aim to tread softly in their attempt to reach a consensus with the Scottish Football League.
Recent experience of aiming to reach agreement from entrenched positions has encouraged a less confrontational stance by the SPL, who will present their model to the Scottish Professional Game board on Thursday after speaking to officials from both the SFL and the Scottish Football Association.
Although there is a desire to promote dialogue between clubs from both governing bodies, the SPL’s decision yesterday to ratify a 12-12-18 structure is based on a belief that it is the only option in the present financial climate. Another significant breakthrough at Hampden yesterday was the clubs’ agreement over a new voting structure, one described as “appropriate” for a 24-18 league set-up.
In the unlikely event that negotiations with the SFL prove completely painless, then it is hoped the new format could be in place for the start of next season. However, SFA president Campbell Ogilvie yesterday urged caution. “Something as important as this, it is important that we get it right,” he said, following the draw for the fifth round of the Scottish Cup.
The new structure that has found favour with all 12 SPL clubs is hinged on the need to ensure as many meaningful games as possible in a bid to increase media values as well as match attendances. The two leagues will split into three leagues of eight teams after 22 games, to resolve promotion, relegation and European qualification issues. The SPL believe the SFL’s alternative proposal of 16-10-16 will create too many meaningless games, while also asking clubs to play fewer fixtures.
The clubs’ agreement yesterday was described by one SPL chairman as an “enormous leap forward”. There had been fears that Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson’s resignation from the SPL board last week might harm the chances of reaching a consensus. Now the SPL will aim to tempt SFL clubs with the proposal, which includes a significant redistribution of money. The current gap in funding between the team finishing 12th in the SPL and first in the First Division is almost £700,000.
“I think it’s important to show those teams [in the SFL] the respect they deserve and talk to them first,” said SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster, whose personal reputation was damaged when ill-feeling intensified between the SFL and the SPL during a rancorous summer.
The question of where Rangers should play after the club’s financial meltdown was the cause of this bitterness.
Now Doncaster aims to heal wounds in the hope of encouraging a peaceful revolution. “There was no formal vote, but every club gave an informal indication of where they were and, on the back of that, we got 12 clubs unanimously agreeing to this on an ‘in principle’ basis,” he added.
“Unanimity among SPL clubs has sometimes been difficult to achieve when talking about reconstruction. We are in a position where we have that unanimous ‘in principle’ agreement from the 12 clubs about their preferred way forward.
“We now have the opportunity to sit down with the rest of Scottish football, with the remaining 18 Scottish Football League clubs, in fact all the Scottish Football League clubs, with the Scottish FA and how we might try to agree a package that works for everyone for the benefit of Scottish football.”
Ogilvie believes attempts to revive Scottish football has become overly complicated by the obsession with the number of teams in each league. He stressed the need to ensure that the next league model is the correct one after decades of tampering. “There is no perfect structure,” he said.
“It’s got to be right this time and if it means taking an extra year to get it right then I think we should take the time to get it right,” Ogilvie continued. “We’re not just talking about league structures.
“We’ve got to be looking at when we play the games, Cup competitions, how we play the Cup competitions, when the league season starts and how it ties in with Europe. So it’s not just about the number of teams in the league, there’s an opportunity to look at much wider issues within the game.”
Asked what he would do if he was asked to mediate between the SFL and SPL, he said: “Get the heads knocked together, for a start.
“No, listen, [I understand] there is no number that is 100 per cent right,” he added. “During my time, we’ve had ten [teams] playing 36 games, 12 playing 44 games, all these different scenarios. It’s not for me to say what is the right one but things evolve in football.”
“I believe there’s quite a lot of consensus between the two league bodies. The leagues have to agree but I’d hope the SFA can assist. We’re sitting in the same room, the same floor so I’d be disappointed if we can’t get the key players from the various organisations together. Everyone wants the game to improve. Clubs naturally look at their own position,” he added. “I understand that. But they’ve got to take a much wider look. The SFA are not the ones who can vote it through. But I believe we have a role to play in trying to make it happen.”