League reconstruction: Is it finally time?

THE saga of revamping Scotland’s leagues will reach some sort of resolution on Wednesday when lower division clubs gather. Here, chairmen from opposite camps argue their case

Hamilton Chairman Les Gray speaks to the press after the SFL AGM in May. Picture: SNS

YES - Les Gray, Hamilton Academical

I HAVE spent the past ten years, first with Clyde and now at Hamilton, attempting to bring about fundamental change to Scottish football. I believe we have never been as close to bringing this about as we are now. Yet, I would not dare second-guess how the vote on the 42-club solution will go at Hampden on Wednesday. People have become entrenched and, though I have the greatest respect for such as Henry McClelland at Annan, some Second and Third Division clubs seem to have closed their minds to the proposals.

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I think it would be a great pity if the resolutions weren’t passed and the 42 senior clubs could not go forward together as one. Surely being together, being united, is what we all want. It certainly seemed that way the other month when we had 27 clubs of the 29 eligible to vote in favour of what was on the table. Of course, that then went to 14-14, then 16-13, before a meeting of the Second and Third Division clubs last week seemed to suggest nine clubs remain against – two more than the seven threshold that would allow the resolutions to pass.

I believe, when people take a step back, they can surely see that one body, more equitable distribution of revenues, play-offs between the top and second tiers and a pyramid structure is unquestionably good for the senior game. And the reality is that a merger between the £20m-turnover SPL and the £2m-turnover SFL brings economies of scale more akin to Marks & Spencer co-opting the local corner shop than anything else.

We all have to recognise our place in the game and deal with the realities that requires us to face. At Hamilton, we know we are not one of the big boys. We have 1,500 hardcore fans in the First Division and we are not wealth generators. Celtic, Rangers, and maybe the Edinburgh clubs and Aberdeen are the only teams that probably come into that bracket. They cannot be dictated to by clubs like ours, or teams three levels below attracting a couple of hundred spectators.

One of the gripes of the “no” camp is the composition of the new board should the Scottish Professional Football League come into being. Yet, what is forgotten is that SFL chief executive David Longmuir himself proposed the 3-2-1 format, which effectively would see five places taken up by the full-time clubs. This split reflects the financial differentials involved. Some of the smaller clubs need to wake up and smell the coffee.

I offer this up as no threat, but if we cannot reach agreement on the 42-club solution on Wednesday, the next day we will push forward with a 22-club solution. All of us in the First Division have made our intentions plain to the other SFL members. That is why we lodged letters of intent, following the vote being split 14-14. I think this did refocus minds among the Second and Third Division clubs to consider the consequences of this revamp failing and I would hope those minds would be refocused once again this week. As far as we clubs in the First Division are concerned, we have full-time football teams to run and the current set-up and structures must be changed this summer so that we can strengthen the second tier and, in turn, strengthen Scottish football at the highest level.

My worry, should those of us in the First Division be forced to seek membership of the SPL, is the clubs left in the SFL drifting away. There are different interpretations of how the settlement agreement would be divided up but I must caution the SFL clubs that they won’t be in line for 20/30ths, as they appear to think.

Now, I know the dissolution of the SFL after 123 years is an emotive subject, this being the first and pivotal resolution we will vote on in three days’ time – the other four being technical legal points contingent in the dissolution being passed. However, I don’t think the fact that the SFL has always been around is a good reason for keeping it. It was created in the 19th century. We are now in the 21st century. It is not the be-all-and-end-all. The SPL is not the be-all-and-end-all. Having a joint say can give a place to all members of each, however.

Those with objections to approving the resolutions often refer to a lack of trust between the two organisations. I have often been posed the question as to why we in the SFL should trust those in the SPL. I would ask, why not? If we consider the recent past then, have there been any more attempts by the SPL to mislead us or manipulate us than there have been by any other officials in the other football organisations in this country? I would ask those who vote on Wednesday to think seriously about that. I think the due diligence concerns are now being dealt with but it is in the interests of the SPL to make the 42-club solution work. We might disagree but I think we all want to do what we feel is best for the game.

Henry and I may believe doing our best requires contrasting votes on Wednesday’s resolutions. If democracy and the decision-making process determines that a 42-club solution is not carried, we will get on with our lives and running our football businesses and pursue change. After Wednesday, Scottish senior football won’t be the same. Right now, the issue is what form the remodelling will take.

• As told to Andrew Smith

NO - Henry McLelland, Annan Athletic

I FEEL as if I am being treated as a villain for formulating objections by going through the fine detail. Or that I am some sort of dinosaur, or a naysayer. I am none of those things. At Annan we do not have the debt of some of the bigger SFL sides and that allows us to be open and critical of what is on the table here without reference to the financial position. Money isn’t the issue for us.

There are five key principles wherein there are red-line areas we simply cannot accept. The first relates to the new Scottish Professional Football League that would be formed if Wednesday’s vote sees 22 of the 29 clubs back it – which I am sure will not happen, despite the “for” camp curiously suggesting the opposition to it has weakened to the point where the split is 21-8.

The perception was that the SPFL would be a new body formed from the coming together of the 12 clubs in the Scottish Premier League and the 30 clubs in the Scottish Football League, and represent a fresh start. That is not the case. It would be incorporated into the SPL and have the same registration number. In business terms, it would be the SPL with a new name. When expressing our surprise over this, we were told it had to stay the same so that players contracted to SPL clubs could not walk away. What about the contract of players in the SFL? Where is our protection?

In reality, I have done some digging and discovered that the Companies Act of 2006 would prohibit the transfer of the SPL’s business and assets while they are involved in a £1.8m litigation with Harry Hood’s company Lisini Pub Management over the SPL’s ban on the use of foreign decoders to show their matches. This can’t be denied and I have highlighted it at open meetings. If this case was lost, what exposure would a 42-club league body have to future compensation claims? It could sink the new organisation.

Board composition is another red-line area. The 3-2-1 make-up means there will be three members from the top 12 clubs, the SPL, two members from the next ten clubs, the First Division, and one member covering the next 20 clubs, which equates to the entire Second and Third Divisions. This is not equitable. We know our place in the lower tiers but we put something back. We proposed a 3-1-1-1 composition of the board, which would have meant one representative from each of the Second and Third Divisions. It was a small gesture that would have given clubs at all the levels the comfort they had a voice but made little difference to decision-making since the top-flight clubs would still have been able to carry the day. Yet it was thrown out completely, illustrating to us that the bottom 20 clubs are to be marginalised in the “new” SPFL to the point of being irrelevant.

If any further evidence of that were needed it is to be found in the proposed voting structure contained in the new rules and articles. For a motion to be passed it requires 90 per cent of the SPL – the 11-1 – 75 per cent of the first two tiers, 17 of the top 22 clubs and 75 per cent of all 42 clubs – meaning 32 must be in favour. Yet, if 40 clubs wanted to pass a resolution but the two clubs against just happened to be in the SPL, the motion would fall. Instinctively, we feel that is simply not right. We understand that Celtic and Rangers deliver the television deals and the sponsors; we are not bloody stupid. But there is a fundamental flaw in 40 clubs being beholden to two. The scenario means that, if in the future it was decided to relegate four cubs from the bottom tier, for instance, this could be carried even if all ten teams in that set-up vote against it. Our problems with the distribution have nothing to do with the targeting of monies into the First Division. We would be delighted for those clubs to receive a real financial boost with many of them seeming to present that as a necessity after being conditioned to spend heavily in order to chase an SPL position. What has troubled us is the unwillingness to carry out due diligence from the SPL’s point of view. Now, it is understood we will be given some sort of information on these finances tomorrow, but why hasn’t that happened earlier when I understand the SFL offered to pay the £30,000 costs [of the due diligence]. Surely it is understandable that we know the organisation we are merging with is sound and stable… especially since last summer SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster told us Armaggedon awaited it if Rangers weren’t placed in the First Division.

Look, we have heard all about how the SPL and SFL combining isn’t Asda and Tesco getting together. We have no problems being no better off. We just don’t want to be altogether worse off. The play-offs between the first and second tiers are wholly positive and, despite conjecture to the contrary, at Annan our Third Division status doesn’t put self-interest ahead of us agreeing in principle with the pyramid structure. How could we be other than supportive of this change when we waited so long to make the step up to the senior game, and only did so five years ago because of the demise of another club?

Our only issue here is that, as it stands, there are few details and nothing underneath, with the Lowland Conference yet to formed. Too many proposals in the reconstruction are less than fully formed in a satisfactory fashion.

• As told to Andrew Smith