League reconstruction: Longmuir calls for SPL delay

SCOTTISH Football League chief executive David Longmuir has called on the Scottish Premier League to accept a 12-month delay in their contentious plan for reconstruction under a unified organisation of all 42 of the country’s senior clubs.

Longmuir emerged from a five-hour meeting of SFL members at Hampden yesterday, which saw a clear split emerge between First Division clubs and those in the lower two tiers over the possibility of the proposed 12-12-18 set-up being put in place for the start of next season. Although no formal vote was taken, it was firmly established that there is insufficient support among the SFL clubs to approve the immediate implementation of the SPL proposal in time for the 2013-14 campaign.

It would require the backing of 22 of the 29 SFL clubs eligible to vote. Rangers, as associate members, do not have a vote but were represented at yesterday’s meeting where the only absentees were Dunfermline Athletic as they deal with their own insolvency event.

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Longmuir immediately communicated the outcome of the meeting to the SPL, who are scheduled to hold their own vote on 12-12-18 at Hampden on 15 April, when 11 of their 12 members need to be in approval. The SFL may convene their own voting meeting on the same day, but Longmuir says the preference now is for reconstruction to take place at the start of the 2014-15 campaign, in order that every club begins next season in full knowledge of what they are playing for.

“This is football trying to get to a place which could serve us well for the foreseeable future,” said Longmuir. “It is hugely important that we get it right and that we don’t rush into something and then find we haven’t made a change which has really taken the game forward. I think certainty of competition for next season is a good thing for everyone – fans, sponsors, broadcasters and, most importantly, clubs.

“The SFL is fully supportive of the change agenda and of the need to improve Scottish football. We want to play a key part in that. We want to be a key agent for change.

“When we looked at the current set of proposals in detail today, as part of our process of bringing our clubs up to speed on the combined rule book, articles of association, finance and all the major issues, we asked our clubs to give us an indication if they were able to support the package for next season.

“Both arguments, for and against, had equal views. Therefore we are still fully committed to the change agenda and we are going to continue with the process. But we would also like to intimate now, and the clubs are fully supportive of this, that if we were to allow the change to take place in one season’s time - not the start of next season - then we fully believe that the possibility of change for the good of the game can happen.

“That was an important message today from the clubs. We are right behind change for the good of the game. The issue is clearly about timing - the time it needs for clubs to assess and evaluate everything that is being put before them.

“We fully believe we can deliver this, but just not quite for next season. But we are going to continue with the process. The key message is we are fully behind it, but if it was to be arranged in a year’s time then there is a really good chance we could get it in place.”

It remains to be seen whether the SPL will agree to put their plan on hold for a year. The board of the top flight clubs have been pushing an agenda for several weeks now in which they claim if the change does not take place immediately, it may never happen.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster last night indicated that they will press ahead with their bid to implement change for the start of next season.

“We have spent a very long time, years frankly, getting to this point,” insisted Doncaster. “We have spent months negotiating the detail of the deal which was announced at Hampden on 8 January. There is no attempt to rush anything, but we have a window of opportunity and we will be going forward on 15 April with documents that reflect the deal that was done for implementation this summer.”

An alternative strategy for the SPL may be to take 12-12-18 off the table and instead try to persuade First Division clubs to breakaway from the SFL and join them. But despite the financial inducements which have been dangled in front of his clubs by the SPL, Longmuir feels it is far from unreasonable to expect them to wait a further 12 months to get the structure they want.

“I’m hopeful that the SPL will be prepared to wait,” added Longmuir. “The argument that has always been expressed is the balance of unanimity changes from season to season and affects the voting.

“But when you look at the likely candidates who would be changing voting positions, we are all like-minded people who want change for the good of the game. Therefore, I can’t see that being an issue.

“We were equal today in terms of those in favour and others not, but in order to get everybody on board, I think one year is not a lot to ask for us to really work hard together to deliver it for the season after.”