NO-ONE ever claimed there was a simple solution to Scottish football’s problems.
In coming up with what they believe is the answer, the administrators on Hampden’s sixth floor have certainly delivered an equation which is anything but straightforward.
But, if working out the intricacies of the 12-12-18 proposal for league reconstruction which was pushed forward yesterday is a real brain-teaser, the biggest challenge ahead is in winning the approval of sceptical supporters throughout the land.
The convoluted set-up, which will see the top two divisions split into three groups of eight halfway through the season for what are effectively extended play-offs to determine title winners, promotion and relegation places, has previously been used in Austria and Switzerland. Both experiments were short-lived and are not recalled fondly in those countries.
But Scottish Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster, whose organisation is behind the plan – which received support from both Scottish FA and Scottish Football League representatives yesterday – insists that the circumstances in Scotland lend themselves to making the proposed set-up succeed.
“There were reasons it didn’t work elsewhere, especially in Austria, where the financial distribution formula used was very different to ours,” said Doncaster.
“It was frustrated by the new system. There was also a desire there for everyone to play the two biggest clubs in the country. We don’t have that problem at the moment.
“What we have is the problem of a financial gap between the 12th placed club in the SPL and the top club in the SFL First Division – the general financial climate for the clubs being relegated and the lack of chance of coming back. We have to change that and the new system does change that.
“What today represents, amongst other things, is a huge redistribution of wealth down the leagues. The bigger clubs are giving up a lot of money to fund it, particularly the gap between the top 12 and the second 12 that exits at the moment and ensuring a trickle down of wealth for the whole game.
“You’ve got the top eight that are vying for the championship overall and European places. Every single game in the middle eight is a play-off game. The third eight are also playing to avoid relegation and, from that eight, potentially four could go down. So you’d have huge excitement at every stage of the season for every club.”
Doncaster’s painting of the SPL clubs in an altruistic light will be viewed as rich by many observers, given the self-serving nature of that organisation’s decision to breakaway from the rest of Scottish football 15 years ago for financial reasons. But, following the SPL’s Damascene conversion, Doncaster is now happy to expound the merits of the single league governing body to which Scottish football will return under the proposal.
“There’s huge power in going out to sell a single league for the whole of Scottish football and we should never lose sight of that,” he added.
“In terms of broadcasters, what broadcasters won’t do is tell you what they’re looking for. What they’ll do is price what you can put forward.
“If what you can put forward is compelling, exciting competition that they want to be part of, then you’re going to maximise the value of that.”
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan believes the willingness of both the SPL and SFL to give up ground in the reconstruction debate has maximised the prospect of a new set-up succeeding.
“What’s encouraged me most is that both sides have actually made concessions in order to make this happen,” said Regan.
“Neil has said that his clubs have given up a substantial seven-figure sum that’s actually going to be shared through the rest of the game.
“Also the Scottish Football League have agreed to open up for the first time ever, subject to club consultation, and introduce a pyramid system for the game.
“Both of those are huge concessions and they indicate there is a desire to change.”
How pyramid access to the new unified senior league set-up will work has yet to be determined, but Regan is confident the ending of what has long been a closed shop will allow ambitious clubs to fulfil their potential.
“Our president, Campbell Ogilvie, spoke today about Auxerre, who started at grassroots level in France and went all the way to the Champions League,” added Regan.
“That’s a great opportunity and we have a number of ambitious clubs in Scotland. There are the likes of Spartans in Edinburgh who have made no secret of their desire and ambition.
“We would like to open up Scottish football, to encourage people to invest their time, money and energy in making it happen. That’s got to be good news for the game.”
SFL chief executive David Longmuir, many of whose member clubs will be under threat from a pyramid system, is optimistic everyone can benefit from changes which could be in place as soon as next season.
“This is quite a breakthrough today in terms of taking the game forward and standing it in good stead for the future,” said Longmuir.
“A better distribution of wealth through all 42 clubs, a single league body again to govern the game at professional level, the opening up of a pyramid so we get the Pollok to Parkhead mentality within the game and a governance model that truly reflects the broad church of Scottish football.
“It will include clubs at the bottom of the table, all the different business models, each one with a voice that is relevant to the game. These are the crucial things which have come out of today. We have to make sure the pyramid system works properly, make sure there is a clear route back for relegated clubs.
“Everyone needs to know where they would go if they were relegated, what it would mean financially and how they would come back from it. But the principle of opening up those places to a pyramid is something we have embraced.
“We have an awful lot of work to do when you think how we operate at the moment, albeit we are next door to each other at Hampden.
“We will certainly be trying hard to work at a pace which will deliver the change Scottish football needs as quickly as possible. We want to do the whole thing in one package.
“But this is not an end, this is a means to an end. If we do that and create a more vibrant league structure I think we can bring more wealth into the game so that the gross profit turns into net profit for the clubs right through the chain of 42. This is about putting Scottish football back into a position where it is attractive for investors, it’s attractive for fans, there is money coming into the game, the money bubbles around the game and, when we do get new money, it filters all the way through and everybody benefits.
“By going to one league body you give yourself a bigger piece of Scotland to sell, to market. We are talking about Dingwall right down to Dumfries and Berwick, that’s the range of the marketing opportunity Scottish football now has and that’s a good thing.”
The changes will not include any fast-tracking through the league set-up for Rangers, who will find themselves in the 18-team third tier next season if it is approved.
“No club will move through the leagues any quicker than any other club given any of the structures we have put in place,” added Longmuir. “We are unanimous on that.”