Alan Pattullo: The future well-being of a game that has over a century behind it hinges on responses to a mere ten questions
THERE is still a long way to go, but the proposed changes to the structure of Scottish football, to be implemented over the next two seasons, is a start in the struggle to revive the game.
All 42 senior clubs will have their say before the set deadline day on 23 January. Limited space though there is on the questionnaire sheets which have been sent out – unless the club wishes to respond online – this is at least the next step in an on-going, rigorous debate. Each club is being canvassed for their views, and it’s take it or leave it time. Despite the recent signing of a new television deal with Sky and ESPN, there is not much obvious merit in keeping the status quo.
At last week’s game between St Johnstone and Aberdeen there was a crowd of only 1607. At Ibrox and Parkhead, the empty seats are becoming ever more noticeable. Dunfermline, quickly learning that the SPL is not all milk and honey, have closed a stand to save on costs.
That said, the proposals do not seek earth-shattering alterations to the SPL – it will remain at 12 clubs, therefore maintaining the required quota of four Old Firm games in order to meet a central stipulation in the aforementioned television deal. This will disappoint many who felt that a larger, less exclusive top division was required to stimulate interest.
More than 100 years of Scottish football history hinge on ten questions included at the back end of the draft proposal – there are actually 11, but the first one asks only for the name of respondent. At least one answer won’t be influenced by self-interest. The hope is that none are. While the change doesn’t go far enough for some, the proposals do cover most crucial and contentious areas. There is a new pyramid structure, for example, which connects the SPL and SFL with new ‘Lowland’ and ‘Highland’ leagues.
There will also be a potential extra promotion place between the Premier League and the division below in the form of a play-off competition and enhanced parachute payments for clubs relegated from the SPL. Indeed, this concern is a main consideration – one of the five principles outlined by Stewart Regan, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, is establishing an “all-through distribution mechanism for all 42 clubs which, in particular, bridges the gap between the bottom of the SPL and the top of the SFL”.
In fact, any difference this new structure will make for the vast majority of clubs in the existing SFL is marginal, and some Third Division clubs will be slightly worse off. The changes most benefit the top clubs in the First Division, even though we are being told it is for the good of everyone.
Most of the questions included in the document seem straightforward enough. It hardly seems necessary to have a ‘no’ box next to the one which asks whether there is support for the principle of one combined league body to administer the competitions in which all SFL/SPL clubs participate. This is a proposal to be welcomed by everyone.
The fact that a body called the Scottish FA’s Professional Game Board had to be formed in order to provide a forum in which the SFA, SPL and SFL could address and debate these issues says it all about the need for one combined organisation.
One First Division club director, who spoke to The Scotsman yesterday, complained about the changes not going far enough. The official in question believes that the 90 per cent slice of the revenue pie, which represents a fall of only 2.18 per cent on the current distribution model, is still too much for SPL clubs to demand. In any case, the model used to illustrate how this change would filter down the leagues is slightly misleading since it is based on a total distribution pot of £20 million - a figure more than £2 million greater than the likely revenue total for the current season. A more relevant comparison would have been to demonstrate what clubs will receive this season against what they would receive from the same pot using the proposed new distribution formula. But the exercise of the report is to illustrate to enough chairman that their clubs would be better off if they embrace the proposed changes, and the provided model does just that – one way or another.
But the reaction from clubs appears to be broadly supportive. Henry McLeish, who has spent two years wrestling with many of the dilemmas tackled in this draft proposal, is also receptive to the changes outlined, most of which take on board the findings he published in his two-part Review of Scottish Football. However, many remain concerned that self-interest will again serve to obstruct a bid to move in a new direction.
It is hoped that even those clubs normally resistant to change will look around at the current state of Scottish football and acknowledge that there is very little left to lose.
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