‘End of SFL’ as SPL merger is agreed at Hampden

IT took 23 club representatives less than an hour to call time on 123 years of history yesterday when they agreed to dissolve the Scottish Football League and allow its 30 current members to be admitted into a new Scottish Professional Football League.

SFL chief executive David Longmuir at today's meeting. Picture: SNS

• A majority of SFL clubs have agreed to merge with the SPL at talks in Hampden today

• 23 clubs agreed to vote for proposals, with six opposing move

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• Proposals tabled include 12-10-10-10 structure, promotion/relegation play-off and new financial redistribution model

• David Longmuir admits sadness at vote signalling dissolution of SFL

The SPFL, which will retain the existing four division, 12-10-10-10 structure, will come under the auspices of Scottish Premier League Ltd, the company formed in 1998 when top-flight clubs initially broke away from the SFL.

The new 42-club body is expected to be formally ratified on 27 June, signalling the demise of the SFL, which was formed in Glasgow on 13 March 1890 and which is the second oldest existing national football league in the world behind the Football League in England.

Yesterday’s Hampden vote, which narrowly surpassed the 75 per cent majority required to pass the resolution for restructuring, staved off the possibility of a summer civil war in Scottish football. The 10 clubs who will form the First Division next season had threatened to resign from the SFL and apply for membership of the SPL if the proposal had failed to attract the necessary support. Those clubs will now be the main beneficiaries of an altered financial redistribution model in the SPFL, while the introduction of play-offs will open up the possibility of an additional promotion place to the top flight.

But while many of Scottish football’s powerbrokers now have the 42-club solution they insist is necessary to improve the state of the game, the manner in which it has been achieved was criticised by SFL president Jim Ballantyne.

“It is very sad that the Scottish Football League has had to be the casualty here,” he said.

“The fact is that it is a takeover, not a merger. We are joining their [SPL] company. They have swallowed us up. They can use nice words about it, but it is a takeover. The facts determine that.

“The original plans and discussions were for a new merged independent body to take it forward. As time went on, it became clear that wasn’t going to happen so the SFL is the one which has had to take the hit. I’m very sad about that.

“Unfortunately, we were left with one option with regard to the proposal put to us. The original plan was for a merger but the clubs have agreed by the requisite majority that this is how they want to take it forward to get back to one body. It is a positive vote today in terms of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ numbers but a lot of people have left this room with a heavy heart.

“Did I want to see the end of the SFL? Absolutely not. Did I want to see football try to strive forward? Yes.

“It will be for others to decide whether this step will take us to where everyone wants to go. The only difference next season will be play-offs between the top tier and second tier which is long overdue.”

There was also disquiet over the nature of the due diligence carried out into the financial make-up of the new organisation. A brief document, produced by the Scottish FA, was finally delivered on Monday for clubs to consider but its contents are not guaranteed.

“The report threw up some areas of guaranteed income,” said SFL chief executive David Longmuir. “There were other areas of assumption and some that are still to be confirmed. There are three or four different streams of income, some hard and some soft. The clubs made a decision based on their judgement of how quickly the soft income could become hard.”

In yesterday’s secret ballot, Annan Athletic and East Stirling had made no secret of their intention to vote No.

Among those who joined them were Elgin City and Berwick Rangers.

But the Yes campaign had succeeded in changing the minds of seven clubs since last month’s agm of the SFL at which an indicative vote saw just 16 in favour and 13 against.

East Stirling secretary Tadek Kopszywa believes the swing was caused by the threats from First Division clubs to quit if they did not get their own way. “There was no need for the SFL to effectively commit suicide today,” said Kopszywa. “It was fear of First Division clubs breaking away which was the biggest factor.

“That possibility was enough to make a number of Second and Third Division clubs change their vote through fear. They feared a 20-club SFL carried more danger than a 42-club solution which is still unsatisfactory. At East Stirlingshire, we weren’t frightened by it as we have already looked into the abyss as a football club. But many other clubs weren’t prepared to look into that abyss and felt they couldn’t survive at their current level. There is a lot of frustration today but now we need to get on with it.”

Hamilton Accies chairman Les Gray, the prime mover of the 10 rebel clubs, did not attend yesterday’s vote. The New Douglas Park club were represented by secretary Scott Struthers, who insisted the right decision was reached.

“It was now or never,” said Struthers. “The SPL has been good, bad and ridiculed. Everyone in the SPL and SFL has felt there had to be a 42-club model under one banner at some point. The important thing is that we are now all back in the one room at the same time. We have the likes of Annan and Elgin discussing what needs to be discussed with Aberdeen and Rangers. It would have been wrong to wear a black tie to the meeting today. But it did finish on a sombre note. I’ve been at Hamilton Accies for 30 seasons now and 27 of them have been as an SFL club. It is sad to see the body being wound up. But we need to look at the positives and get Scottish football working.”