Stuart Bathgate: SFL breakaway muddying the waters

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SCOTTISH football is a shambles and in dire need of reform. Virtually everyone agrees with that, and for years now we have been edging towards a long-term solution.

It takes time to reach that solution, but all the lengthy deliberations will be worth it once we get there. That’s what all interested parties have been saying for some time, and they have the backing of just about every supporter who has voiced an opinion.

One of the most vital reforms is the re-establishment of a united league set-up, run by one league body. A country the size of Scotland cannot benefit from division.

We all agree with that too, don’t we? We are convinced that having the Scottish Premier League taking charge of the top flight, and the Scottish Football League running the three divisions below, is at best unnecessary, at worst seriously wasteful of what scant resources we have.

So why, if there is near-unanimity on all those things, are ten so-called rebel clubs seeking a breakaway from the SFL and the establishment of an SPL2? Why are they doing it now, in haste? And what possible good can it do for the game?

Let’s be honest. Most of us are heartily sick of the subject of reconstruction, and hoped we had heard the end of it, for a while at least, when Ross County and St Mirren voted down the SPL leadership’s proposals for a three-division, 12-12-18 set-up in which the top two divisions would break into three eights after two complete rounds of fixtures.

After that plan fell, along with a raft of other reforms, it quickly became obvious that there was one significant change which could still be voted through in time for next season. Play-offs between the SPL and the First Division would make the last weeks of the season more dramatic, and would also be a significant step towards unifying the game.

Many clubs in the SPL agree, and we will see tomorrow if the proposal gets the necessary 11-1 support to be voted through. If it does, great. One simple change will have produced a lot more entertainment which, in turn, could well generate more income through higher crowds at the tail end of the season.

So why, when we may be no more than a day away from taking such a positive step, have the would-be breakaway ten muddied the waters? Why, when we are so close to making the top division more accessible on merit, are they attempting to align themselves with that top division merely through bureaucratic manouevring?

The breakaway group are so unhappy with the SFL that they have written to the league intimating their intention to resign.

Their letter is understood to suggest that they have lost faith in the SFL board, and that a no confidence motion could result if they are not allowed to go peaceably.

Three of the clubs who would be involved in such a vote of no confidence – Dunfermline Athletic, Livingston and Dumbarton – all have representatives on the board. It is thought that in the case of one club, that representative actually signed the letter.

Presumably, he has no confidence in himself. And, in that case, rather than going to a meeting and voting against himself on behalf of his club but for himself on behalf of the board, he should cut through all the confusion and simply resign.

And that’s not the only confusing thing about this whole scheme. The divisive clubs want their share of the television money that was said to be on offer for a 42-club solution. But without Rangers’ involvement, that money will certainly not materialise for a 22- or 24-club rejig.

The divisive clubs appear to have been encouraged in their actions by one or two influential SPL sources but they will require a lot more support than that if they are to be adopted by the top flight. And every indication is that they will not get the support required.

What is more, Dunfermline are now involved in the play-offs and, by this time next week, may not even be a First Division club any more. If they go down to the third flight, can they really expect to be legislated back into the second?

Oh, and the fixtures for next season are just weeks away from being released. So that’s another obstacle.

In short, the breakaway attempt is too little, too late. It creates more problems than it solves, and should be abandoned now before it has the chance to do any real damage.