League Managers Association chairman Alex Smith wasn’t surprised St Mirren announced yesterday that they’ll be voting against league reconstruction next week, as he believes self-interest has been slowly killing Scottish football for the last 32 years.
Now 73, Falkirk’s technical director has been at the coal face of the national game for over half a century as player and manager. But he argues that it’s been going downhill ever since the decision by the Scottish Football League on February 19, 1981 to allow clubs to keep their home gates rather than share them with their opponents.
That followed lobbying from the bigger clubs – particularly the Old Firm – and led to the current situation where no club outside Glasgow has won the title since 1985. Smith won the Scottish Cup as manager of St Mirren in 1987, did the domestic cup double with Aberdeen in 1989/90 and took the championship to a last-day decider at Ibrox in 1991 but he believes that the writing was already on the wall. “You can trace the decline of Scottish football back to that day,” said Smith. “Before then the gap between Celtic, Rangers and the rest wasn’t so big but it gradually became a chasm.
“The best thing for our game would be to bring back the 50-50 split for league matches that we still have in cup ties but, sadly, that’s not going to happen. There’s too much self-interest. St Mirren’s decision means that we’ll probably have to wait another 10 years before anything is done – and we can barely afford to wait 10 months.”
Smith also believes that scuppering the reconstruction proposals makes a breakaway SPL2 more likely. “The full-time clubs in the First Division have been doing their best to maintain a high standard but the money isn’t there. At Falkirk, we’ve gone down the route of developing our own players but people don’t realise how expensive that is. We rely on selling players but Celtic now buy abroad and no-one else in Scotland buys at all.
“As a result the other First Division clubs will want to split so that we avoid more situations like Dunfermline’s. I don’t see why the good things on the table – one league body, a fairer redistribution of money and play-offs – can’t be introduced without having to accept 12-12-18. Breaking into three leagues of eight clubs doesn’t sit well with most folk and St Mirren and Ross County clearly feel they’d be disadvantaged by that. Keeping the current set-up and introducing the popular changes would be a step forward.”