Low in attendance, low in achievement – the SPL’s dismal legacy of failure

WHATEVER happens at today’s vote to decide whether or not Sevco will play in the First Division or Third Division, the chief executives of the SFA, SPL and SFL have all agreed that the 12-team top division has been a dismal failure.

It was set up in 1998, when the top ten clubs in the country broke away to form the new elite division. As luck would have it, all ten played in the SPL last season – with nine of them recording significantly poorer attendances. That, though, is just one example of how the SPL’s greed-is-good philosophy has failed.

• Celtic’s average attendance peaked at 59,370 in 2000/01, Martin O’Neill’s first season as manager. The figures for 2011/12 represent a drop of 14.3 per cent from that treble-winning campaign.

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• Dunfermline’s average crowd went up by only 939 after winning promotion from the First Division. Their biggest crowd was 10,140, against Celtic on 2 January. On 23 April last year, their home game against Raith Rovers drew 11,052, which suggests the Pars can survive without Old Firm visits.

• There were no insolvency events in the 14 years before the SPL was formed (you needed to go back to 1967 and Third Lanark to find an instance of a club going bust).

However, since the SPL split from the Scottish League, five of their members – Motherwell, Dundee, Livingston, Gretna and, most ominously, Rangers – have all been forced into administration.

• Scotland haven’t qualified for the finals of a major tournament since the elite division, promising to raise the standards of the game in this country, was established in 1998.

In the 14 years before the SPL’s formation, the national team competed at three World Cups and two European Championships.

• Only once, when Hearts finished 17 points behind champions Celtic in 2006 (one point ahead of Rangers), have the Old Firm been split in the SPL. However, in the 14 previous seasons, that happened almost annually. In 1995 Motherwell were runners-up to Rangers while Hibs were third and in 1994 Aberdeen were second behind Rangers while Motherwell were third. The Dons also split the Glasgow giants in 1993 and lost the title at Ibrox on the final day two years earlier. In 1992, Hearts finished second and in 1990 Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee United all finished above Celtic.

Aberdeen again finished second behind in Rangers in 1989 and Hearts were runners-up behind Celtic the previous year.

When Celtic pipped Hearts on the final day to win the title in 1986, Dundee United and Aberdeen also finished ahead of fifth-placed Rangers.

Aberdeen were the last club to become champions under Alex Ferguson in 1985, with Rangers trailing Celtic and Dundee United in fourth, ahead of St Mirren only on goal difference.

• Rangers (in 2008) and Celtic (2003) have been losing finalists in the Uefa Cup but the other SPL clubs have failed to emulate their European exploits prior to the breakaway.

Dundee United became the first Scottish club to reach the final of that tournament in 1987 (when they lost 2-1 to IFK Gothenburg), three years after losing 3-2 to Roma in the semi-finals of the European Cup.

Aberdeen also reached the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1984, a year after they had won the trophy.

Hearts narrowly lost 2-1 to German giants Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup in 1989.

Like Dundee United and everyone apart from the Old Firm and Aberdeen (in 2008), they haven’t been involved in Europe after Christmas since the SPL was born.