Old Firm to England debate reignited by league reconstruction

The English football league expansion may open a door. Picture: John Devlin
The English football league expansion may open a door. Picture: John Devlin
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Shock plans by the English Football League to expand and split into four divisions are set to reignite the debate over the chances of Rangers and Celtic moving down south.

The governing body wants to re-organise into four divisions of 20 teams below the Premier League in time for the 2019-20 
season.

That would involve the introduction of eight new clubs to the league system, and while he admitted that entry by the Old Firm clubs would be difficult, Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey has not ruled out the possibility.

With 24 teams currently in each Football League division, the plan raises the prospect of seven teams being relegated from the Championship in 2018-19 to allow for three to be promoted, while no clubs would drop out of League Two in that campaign.

Two teams would be promoted from the National League and six other sides would be added to the newly-formed League Three, taking the total number of English league professional clubs to 100.

The six additional clubs are likely to also come from the National League, although should Rangers and Celtic be added to the mix, the two Glasgow giants could enter at this point in a bid to worktheir way up through the senior divisions.

“The whole discussion can be had,” said Harvey. “But I suspect the wider this gets drawn, the harder it would be to deliver to our clubs and the rest of the stakeholders in the game.”

Football League clubs have been notified about the plan and will vote on the changes in June 2017. A 90 per cent approval rate, or 65 of the current 72 clubs, is required to get the go-ahead.

Harvey says the plan, designed to alleviate fixture congestion by cutting down on midweek games, has the approval of both the Premier League and the Football Association.

“The Football League has recognised that fixture congestion is one of the major issues facing the professional game in this country,” he said.

“We have seen a number of public spats this year in relation to scheduling and dealt privately with many others. The season only has a number of finite dates, and they are sought by all of us to try to get our games on at prime times.

“Fans and clubs have both suffered, in varying degrees, as a result of competition organisers having to move games to meet essential broadcasting requirements, increasing the move away from the traditional 3pm Saturday kick-off time.

“Also midweek fixtures are often played at a distance and the crowds are usually well below the average.

“To address the number of fixtures and create greater flexibility in the calendar, we are going to ask our clubs to consider a proposal towards altering the structure of our competition.”

Should the proposal get the green light, Harvey also plans for discussions on a winter break, scrapping FA Cup replays and moving entire rounds of the FA Cup to midweek slots.