St Mirren dash hopes of new league structure

Stewart Gilmour, chairman of St Mirren, will have the deciding vote. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Stewart Gilmour, chairman of St Mirren, will have the deciding vote. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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IN THE end, the irony won’t be lost on anyone, including Stewart Gilmour, the chairman of St Mirren.

The Paisley club’s board of directors have now spoken publicly of their dissatisfaction with the new league reconstruction proposals. In managing to stymie them, Gilmour will be helped by the very component that so irks him and his club.

When Gilmour arrives at Hampden Park next week and is likely joined by Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor in putting a mark in the against column on their voting slip, he will no doubt reflect that the 10-2 vote will be enough to retain the status quo, in the process delivering a knock-out blow to restructuring proposals after months of debate.

St Mirren will have been helped in their bid to de-rail the new set-up by the same 11-1 voting structure that they feel strips the new proposals of much of their merit.

Gilmour likes the idea of one governing body running Scottish football, and he likes the idea of the proposed all-through structure.

However, he has a real concern about the retention of the 11-1 vote, although it will be retained in any case – along with the status quo, if Ross County, as expected, share their dissatisfaction with the proposed changes.

It is this very pillar of Scottish football’s top tier, one put in place back in 1997 when the SPL clubs first agreed to breakaway from the Scottish Football League, that Gilmour views as being the main obstacle in the way of reform for the game in Scotland.

The fact this it is set to stay in the reconstruction proposals, and will therefore be locked-in for the next three years, has motivated him and his board to release a statement yesterday which confirmed where St Mirren stood, after weekend reports that the club had some serious concerns. This alone would not be enough to put an end to plans that were, it has to be recalled, given unanimous backing as recently as the end of January.

However, with MacGregor having also since spoken publicly about his doubts about the new structure, after consultation with the club’s fans, there seems little chance of the matter going to a later vote of the Scottish Football League clubs, when 75 per cent agreement is required.

Time and time again, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster has reminded us that it is all or nothing. Scot Gardiner, the Dundee chairman, confirmed this again last night.

“If we can’t get 12 clubs to agree something, how do we get 42?” he asked. Another new league system promising to re-ignite the Scottish game now looks stillborn.

Gardiner and Gilmour were involved in a lively discussion on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound last night, and though MacGregor’s input was also sought, he had not responded by the end of the programme, which was extended by an extra half an hour to give him more chance to do so.

Nevertheless, it was a fascinating listen as two officials at SPL clubs argued live on air about the pros and cons of the proposals. Gardiner confirmed that it was not possible to cherry-pick certain parts of the proposals, and leave the rest.

“The only way is to compromise,” he said. “From top to bottom and then into the First Division, clubs have to compromise.

“The realpolitik of the situation is that everyone has to give up something in order to agree. This is not Utopia.”

He added that the fans have to realise that clubs cannot have their aspirations met without finance, and clubs cannot get finance without the re-distribution of wealth, which is something the larger clubs were prepared to accept, although only on certain conditions.

One of these conditions is the retention of the much-discussed 11-1 vote.

It has long been a source of conflict, since it meant that the Old Firm were always able to veto change that they felt was not in their best interests.

With Rangers no longer in the SPL, or at least not for the time being, many saw the current mood for change as being an opportunity to change this ruling once and for all.

Gilmour is not prepared to accept the 11-1 vote as part of the new league structure, others parts of which he is also unhappy about. Fans, he said, could not be expected to buy season tickets when they were unsure about what it was they are purchasing.

The concept of playing 22 games and then breaking into three leagues of eight, with the middle eight teams having their point re-set at zero, was also not something the club felt was likely to improve the game in the long term.

According to Gardiner, the alternative is not conducive to improving the game either. A 16-team top league has been rejected as being financially unworkable, while a 14-team top tier has also been dismissed as flawed, despite Scottish football fans having made their opinion known, via a survey conducted by the Scottish Football Association, that this is what they want to see.

“The boot will be kept on the neck of Scottish football,” said Gardiner, who contributed a huge amount of time and energy to the proposals as a member of the SPL steering group selected to investigate the 12-12-18 proposal. “The clubs will only go bust if they spend more money than they can afford,” responded Gilmour.

Other SPL chairmen are expected to speak out by the end of this week, with Stephen Thompson, the Dundee United owner, planning to respond to the latest revelations today, and McGregor expected to confirm Ross County’s position once and for all by the end of the week.