SPL reform: Clubs reach agreement on restructuring

Play-offs remain in frame for debate. Picture: Neil Hanna
Play-offs remain in frame for debate. Picture: Neil Hanna
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SCOTTISH Premier League chairman Ralph Topping is confident revised reconstruction proposals agreed at Hampden will retain the support of all 12 clubs in a formal vote later this month.

After announcing “unanimous” agreement on a package of measures which includes play-offs between the first and second tiers of Scottish football, a reunified single league body and an all-through financial distribution model, Topping said it would be “embarrassing” if there was any repeat of last month’s acrimonious failure to approve the original 12-12-18 proposal.

On that occasion, St Mirren and Ross County combined to veto the plan and seemingly ensure there would be no time to put change in place for the start of next season.

But at the general meeting of the 12 SPL clubs, a modified proposal was agreed which will retain the current 12-10-10-10 structure of Scottish league football. The top six-bottom six split after 33 games of the season in the top tier will be retained, but there will be an additional relegation-promotion place between the top flight and what is currently the First Division of the Scottish Football League.

The SPL board will now schedule a formal vote on the package which will again require at least 11-1 backing.

“If anybody did retreat from their position today it would be hugely embarrassing for them within the game,” said Topping. “I just don’t see that happening.

“It is a defining moment today to get 12 people in the room to agree on something like that. It’s a massive move forward. I fully accept we still have to get to the formal ratification.

“But I can’t see a circumstance where formal ratification wouldn’t happen based on the very full discussions we had today. So I’m extremely hopeful.”

If the plan is backed by the SPL, it will then be considered by the SFL clubs, possibly at their annual general meeting on 23 May. It will need the support of 75 per cent of the 29 SFL clubs eligible to vote. Rangers do not have a vote as associate members.

“I don’t want to do ‘what ifs’,” added Topping. “You can ask me ‘what if?’ if it gets rejected. I’d rather deal with it then. Pay everyone in the SPL respect and let them go away and look at this now. I don’t buy the argument that it can’t be delivered in a very zippy timeframe.

“We had a big setback when the 12-12-18, with the top two divisions splitting into three eights, was rejected. For understandable and legitimate reasons, two of our clubs decided it wasn’t for them. We’ve gone back and looked at what might be acceptable and what we might get all 12 to agree on. Today we reached that position. It has unanimity from the SPL point of view and then it will go to the SFL.

“I await with interest the reaction from the SFL. I don’t think anyone can afford to be in denial anymore. If the game is not successful at the professional level, and you can extend that definition to 22 clubs if you like, then all the ambition shown in the McLeish report, all the support you might expect from the Scottish government – that ain’t going to be delivered.

“So, in a very real sense, for the game to move forward these guys had to move forward today. I think they have but I won’t be a happy man until it is all signed off. Essentially, it’s over to the SFL now.”

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster insists the new plan is not a takeover of the SFL by the top-flight clubs and believes there should be no obstacles put in place of the new body, probably to be called the Scottish Professional Football League, to be up and running in time for 2013-14.

“It is a merger and it’s exactly the same model we were talking about as part of the proposals the last time,” said Doncaster. “The 42 clubs should be familiar with what is involved. It’s the governance model that was debated beforehand.

“A lot of the work was done for the last set of proposals so much of the drafting can be used for this proposal as well, around the governance structure, the distribution. It’s just the divisional structure which has really changed.

“So it’s not a lof of work to get a formal resolution. It will be voted upon within this month. It is in line with the principles we agreed in January, so it is hard to see where there would be any difficulties for the SFL.

“The board of the new league would still be a forum with nine representatives, of which three will be from the top division, two from the first division and one each from the next two divisions.

“It will be a central distribution model and whenever the money comes in it will be shared by all 42 clubs. It will ensure that clubs in SFL1 will get a substantial six-figure distribution and, through the play-offs, a far easier route back into the SPL.”

The new play-off would involve the 11th placed team in what is currently the SPL and the teams finishing second, third and fourth in the First Division. The format would see third and fourth in the First Division play each other, the winner then playing the second-placed team and finally the winner of that tie facing the 11th placed SPL side, all of them over two legs.

Doncaster also confirmed that the controversial 11-1 voting structure, which was one of the reasons St Mirren objected to the original plan last month, will be retained.

“There was a good discussion around voting generally today and an acceptance from all clubs that you do need issues where 11-1 remains,” said Doncaster. “It’s only in relation to issues that affect the fundamental relationship between the league and clubs, The vast majority of issues will be 9-3 or 8-4.”

Package of measures

The 12 SPL clubs have agreed on a package of measures that would deliver a merged league in time for season 2013/2014.

The principles include:

• a single merged league of 42 clubs, in line with the stated preference of SFL1 clubs

• a 12-10-10-10 divisional structure

• an all-through distribution model involving substantial redistribution of finances to the second tier

• a “pyramid” structure for the entire game

• play-offs involving team 11 in the SPL and teams 2, 3 and 4 in the division below

A formal proposal to deliver these measures will be brought back to the SPL clubs for voting this month.