SPL’s league revamp bid hit by resignation of Dundee United’s Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson: 'Professional differences'. Picture: SNS
Stephen Thompson: 'Professional differences'. Picture: SNS
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THE prospect of Scotland’s top-flight clubs presenting a united front next week to accelerate a new league construction proposal evaporated yesterday when Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson resigned from the SPL board citing “professional differences”.

Although Thompson’s decision to step away from the six-man board had no direct link to the plans for two leagues of 12 that will be debated on Monday, the move has prompted fears that the SPL’s bid to revive Scottish football could be 

Sources close to the United chairman have suggested that his anger over what he sees as heavy-handed treatment by a fellow SPL board member could threaten his presence at the discussions to be held at Hampden on Monday. Others within the SPL have expressed dismay at Thompson’s course of action at such a sensitive time, accusing him of over-reacting regarding a matter that was “not a resignation issue”

It is understood that the Dundee United chairman’s surprise decision follows a clash over a report that SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster’s handling of the Rangers crisis in the summer had caused his authority to be undermined and that he did not have the full support of his clubs to lead the latest moves to restructure the top flight.

The dispute is not related to any plans to fast-track Rangers back into the SPL earlier than their on-field achievements deserve. Doncaster was subsequently given a vote of confidence by the member clubs.

Thompson’s resignation is a fresh blow to the SPL board, from which two members have already stepped down this year. St Johnstone chairman Steve Brown and Motherwell director Derek Weir left in the summer and chairman Ralph Topping, who is chief executive of 
William Hill, has also confirmed that he will step down at the end of this season due to his work commitments.

Following Thompson’s departure, the SPL board is comprised of Topping, Doncaster, Eric Riley (Celtic), Duncan Fraser (Aberdeen) and Michael Johnston (Kilmarnock). The SPL have not indicated how quickly moves will be made to return the board to its full complement. In a statement yesterday the governing body thanked Thompson for his services. However, privately, some former board members are understood to be furious over his actions.

The statement on www.dundeeunitedfc.co.uk read: “Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson has resigned from the SPL board with immediate effect, due to professional 

The SPL later confirmed Thompson’s departure in a statement on its website, which read: “The Scottish Premier League can confirm that Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson has resigned from the SPL board with immediate effect.

“Stephen was appointed to the SPL board in September 2011 and we would like to thank 
him for his contribution as a director.”

The SPL will move forward with their strategy to revive the game on Monday, after unanimous approval from all 12 clubs last week. An SPL steering group will report back to the meeting after receiving the green light to investigate the proposal more fully. The plans would see two leagues of 12 split into three divisions of eight after 22 games. Teams would thereafter play each other twice, with those in the middle eight section having their points wiped before playing off to decide who occupies the four top tier and four bottom tier earning places.

The manufacturing of sustained competition, a 36-game programme for all clubs and a softer landing and better prospects of an immediate return for teams surrendering top-flight status are all thought to hold appeal.

The proposal is a drastic alternative to that earlier forwarded by the Scottish Football League, who have championed a 16-10-16 three-league structure.

The SPL’s two 12s format is indeed believed to have gained currency as a “blanket rejection” of their rival body’s plans when top flight clubs met last week.

Doncaster also insisted then that the SPL clubs had “unanimously” agreed to seek the expansion of their membership, but Thompson’s resignation brings that statement into doubt.

The SPL consider the SFL’s radical redraw as not economically viable, with a reduction in top-flight league games to 30 from the current 38, and fewer “high end” encounters throughout the season.

Relations between the two bodies are believed to be at an all-time low. The SFL believe the SPL should consider a new structure that would take account of the needs of the entire senior game and distribute revenues more evenly, while the SPL believes its 24-team model would circulate the major central revenues among as many professional or semi-professional clubs as Scotland, with a five million population, can bear.