Stephen Halliday: Light must shine on SPL plans

Ross County manager Derek Adams is one of the first SPL coaches to question the plans. Picture: SNS
Ross County manager Derek Adams is one of the first SPL coaches to question the plans. Picture: SNS
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IT has been heralded as a new dawn for football in this country by Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan, but the more light that is shone upon the detail of the 12-12-18 proposal for league reconstruction, the less bright the immediate future should appear to many.

As the Scottish Premier League attempt to push through the changes with almost indecent haste, the first sign of genuine dissent in their ranks has appeared in the voluble form of Ross County manager Derek Adams.

His observation of how radically less rewarding and fundamentally unfair the Dingwall club’s first season of top flight football would have been had it occurred under the 12-12-18 set-up, wiping out the points earned by the bottom four teams in the first 22 games of a campaign, was expressed both thoughtfully and forcibly.

Yet there remains the distinct possibility that Adams could remain a lone voice, allowing the SPL to push through the plan with an 11-1 vote in favour next month.

Yes, that’s the 11-1 voting structure vilified by so many for so long and which effectively allowed Celtic and Rangers the power of veto over all major issues in the SPL. The 11-1 voting structure which we were led to believe would be scrapped as part of the new dawn being ushered in by Regan, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster and Scottish Football League chief executive David Longmuir.

They certainly seem to have convinced many within their ranks that will be the reality under 12-12-18, with Motherwell chief executive Leeann Dempster expressing her support for the proposal this weekend by stating: “For me, the move to one governing body and the more equitable distribution of voting powers and wealth are more important for the long-term future of the game in Scotland.”

But even a cursory closer inspection of the plans which so many SPL and SFL clubs seem willing to try and put in place as soon as next season reveals that the basic gripes which many have with the existing structure will remain in place.

For, while the game may return to one league governing body, with the amalgamation of the SPL and SFL, the significant power will continue to lie in the hands of the top-12 clubs and those who run them.

According to the proposed new rule book, any changes to “protective matters” such as league structure and financial distribution, would need the support of 90 per cent of Premiership clubs in the first instance. That, of course, is 11-1.

At the most recent meeting of all 30 SFL clubs to discuss the 12-12-18 plan, it appeared that many club chairmen had been unaware of what is effectively a status quo in the top flight’s voting power, but even when it did dawn on them, it seems the majority are still of a mind to back the reconstruction set-up.

Even Turnbull Hutton, the Raith Rovers chairman who became the public face of the successful resistance to the joint SFA/SPL/SFL plan to admit Rangers to the First Division last summer, seems to have had his head turned on this occasion.

Like many of his First Division colleagues, the reason is predictably a financial one. The breakdown of the new wealth distribution plans under 12-12-18 make it plain which so many are prepared to overlook any other reservations they might have.

The 13th-ranked club in Scottish football would be £319,000 a season better off in the new set-up. While the First Division champions currently earn £68,000 of Scottish football’s commercial pie, their slice would be £387,000 under 12-12-18.

Dunfermline, currently third in the First Division and battling with serious financial trouble, will receive £66,000 if that is their finishing position this season. If 12-12-18 comes into being, the equivalent sum next season would be £301,000.

The rises are similarly enticing as you cast an eye down the list. As an example, the team who finish sixth in the First Division – the position currently occupied by Hutton’s Raith as it happens – would pick up a cheque for £189,000, rather than the £62,000 they will get this season. That’s significant money for any club currently toiling to make ends meet.

The price is being met by a reduction in prize money for the top eight clubs in the country. The SPL champions will drop from £2.7 million to £2.4 million, while the runners-up will take an even bigger hit from £2.4 million to £1.7 million.

The changes will only affect the top 24 clubs, with the money on offer for the 18 in the bottom run of the new set-up remaining the same.

With the pound signs flashing in front of their eyes, it is not difficult to understand why so many previously sceptical club chairman and chief executives are suddenly prepared to cast a ‘Yes’ vote, but if Scottish football should have collectively learned anything in recent years, it is that the lure of lucre can be a fatally short-sighted motivation for change. The very formation of the SPL in 1998 was based solely on the desire of those involved to earn more money. Their sudden reinvention as philanthropic saviours of Scottish football should be difficult for anyone to swallow.

What may look like an irresistible and immediately attainable proposition for the current SFL clubs is not guaranteed to remain in place in the longer term. The retention of an 11-1 voting system allows the top 12 the opportunity to change it when it suits them.

Scottish football allowed itself to stumble, eyes wide shut, into a hastily conceived and ill-fated new set-up in 1998. Unless more people like Derek Adams are able to see the wood for the trees, the game could be heading into an even darker place.