SFL face pressure as SPL clubs agree league changes

SFL Chief Executive David Longmuir. Picture: SNS
SFL Chief Executive David Longmuir. Picture: SNS
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SCOTTISH Premier League clubs yesterday agreed to back the proposal for a new league model, meaning the new 12-12-18 format will be put in front of Scottish Football League clubs on Thursday in an attempt to reach a consensus.

While SFL chief executive David Longmuir has revealed that the controversial new 12-12-18 set-up may not be in place next season even it is ratified on Thursday, this is not the mood of SPL clubs, who will push for changes to the league structure to be introduced in time for next season.

All 30 SFL clubs will meet at Hampden on Thursday to discuss the reconstruction plans but Longmuir suggested that time could work against them. SFL rules state that 21 days’ warning must be given in order to call an extraordinary meeting to vote on the proposals. It could be late February before a decision is reached – just ten weeks before the current campaign is due to end.

Longmuir claims that the process could be speeded up slightly but admits that it could be too “tight” to adopt the three-division structure in time for the start of the new season in July.

Rangers, in particular, have been highly critical that the changes intended to take place in 2013-14 were announced more than midway through this season, and put out another statement from Charles Green last night questioning the need or desire for a 12-12-18 set-up.

“In terms of a voting meeting, 21 days are required but the notice period can be reduced through mutual agreement,” said Longmuir.

“I’m not giving any view either way on whether it’s feasible for next season. I think it would be very tight but we’ll see what comes from [the SPL meeting] first of all and then we’ll take it from there.”

Longmuir also stressed that it won’t be a case of the SFL joining the SPL or vice versa and that the ruling body would be a separate entity. “My understanding is that it will be a merged body, a completely new body,” he said. “That would be my view on how a merger should operate. To take the game forward properly we need a freshness about the whole thing.”

Rangers, as a new club, are currently only associate members of the SFL and aren’t allowed to vote at meetings until they’ve belonged to the organisation for four years. However, it’s possible they may be granted full membership status, and voting rights, with the new league. “You’re way ahead of us on that one,” said Longmuir. “The rule book will need to be worked on but we haven’t started on that level of detail just yet.”

Neil Doncaster, the SPL chief executive, said yesterday’s meeting had been a “robust discussion.”

“We got unanimous backing of the way forward today so it now goes to Thursday and the Scottish Football League clubs will have their views,” he said. “But today, the Scottish Premier League clubs were united in their view that this is the way forward.”

The plans were originally backed by SPL clubs last year before Doncaster stepped up talks with his SFL counterparts. But some doubt had emerged since both leagues agreed in principle to the plans earlier this month in conjunction with the Scottish Football Association, whose professional game board (PGB) has been driving reconstruction attempts.

Some clubs who were not involved in the previous meeting had requested more information amid scepticism from fans but appear to have been satisfied yesterday. Doncaster said: “We provided further details that have arisen from meetings over the past weeks. The last time that all of our SPL clubs got together was on 3 December so in the intervening time there has been some more detail that’s been discussed with the PGB and with the SFL board.

“All of that was provided today and the clubs are clear and united and unanimous in their view that this should be taken forward to the next stage.”

Doncaster added: “It is now for the Scottish Football League clubs to give their view on Thursday. The SPL clubs have made it clear that they, in principle, back this being taken to the next stage”.

The next stage is Thursday’s SFL meeting at Hampden and if the plans are given the green light, then it is very much the SPL’s intention to have the new set-up up and running by the start of the 2013-14 season.

“If it is going to happen, it will have to happen next season,” said Scot Gardiner, the chief executive of Dundee. “It won’t be delayed. If it is going to happen, it is going to happen now. To get consensus is very difficult, and to keep it for a year-and-a-half, I would suggest is impossible. Clubs’ bank positions change, and they might have reason to vote a different way further down the line.”

Gardiner, who was on the SPL’s original steering committee for reconstruction, expressed satisfaction with yesterday’s outcome. “I was being told today there was no chance; four clubs did not want it,” he said. “And yet here we are, with unanimous agreement.”

City neighbours Dundee United were one of the clubs who had to be convinced of the proposal. “We will be voting in favour of it for the sake of Scottish football,” confirmed Stephen Thompson, chairman of the Tannadice club. “It is the only proposal on the table worth looking at. It’s not perfect but it contains a lot of good things. All the SPL clubs were unanimous in agreeing to take it to the next stage, and that’s unheard of.”

Thompson was yesterday voted back on to the SPL board. He resigned in November due to what was described as “professional differences” with another member of the board. It was deemed at the time to be a blow to plans for league reconstruction.