‘New dawn for Scottish football’ as 12-12-18 league structure agreed

STEWART REGAN hailed what he claims is a “new dawn” for Scottish football after agreement in principle on league reconstruction was reached by representatives of all three current governing bodies at Hampden.

STEWART REGAN hailed what he claims is a “new dawn” for Scottish football after agreement in principle on league reconstruction was reached by representatives of all three current governing bodies at Hampden.

The proposal for a 12-12-18 structure, which it is hoped will be put to a vote of all 42 senior clubs within the month, will see the Scottish Premier League disbanded and a return to a single organisation running league football for the first time since the SPL breakaway in 1998.

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SFA chief executive Regan emerged in upbeat mood from more than four hours of discussions with representatives

from both the SPL and Scottish Football League.

Accompanied by his SPL and SFL counterparts Neil Doncaster and David Longmuir, Regan confirmed the plans for a top flight of 12 teams, provisionally called the Premiership, a second tier of 12 teams in a Championship and a third tier of 18 teams in a National League.

The 24 clubs in the top two tiers would split into three groups of eight after 22 matches of the season, then playing a further 14 matches. The top eight teams would play for the title and European places, the middle eight to contest promotion and relegation in and out of the Premiership and the bottom eight to decide who drops into the National League.

All three administrators conceded they face a challenge to convince sceptical supporters of the merits of the new set-up which has been tried previously in both Austria and Switzerland without any success. But they presented a united front in their belief that it is what Scottish football needs to address its

current malaise.

While the SFL had previously called for an extended top flight of 16 clubs, they are prepared to accept the SPL’s preference for 12-12-18 in exchange for a fairer financial distribution model

and the increased potential for promotion.

“It is a new dawn for Scottish football,” insisted Regan. “I think we have made the most progress I have seen in my time in Scottish football and it’s a real breakthrough today. It’s an opportunity to change the game for the better. Fitting in with the 12-12-18 set-up is agreement on some really key issues for the game – a more equitable sharing of finance for all 42 clubs, a governance structure which ensures parity for what are currently the SPL and SFL going forward and also a series of sporting changes.

“They include the introduction of play-offs and a pyramid for Scottish football – that is, the opening up of what is currently the bottom of the Third Division of the SFL. They are some

massive steps forward for the game. There is a lot of work still to be done and the clubs need to be taken through the detail. A plan will be worked out

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collectively before the end of the month and presented to clubs for their views.”

For the proposal to go through, it requires an 11-1 vote in favour from the SPL clubs and the backing of 75 per cent of the SFL clubs. Rangers, who are still associate members of the SFL, are not yet eligible to vote, meaning 22 of the remaining 29 clubs are needed to support the plan.

It was also confirmed that there will be no short-cut back to the top-flight for Rangers, who would remain in the bottom tier even if they win the existing Third Division.

In advance of the meeting of all 42 clubs, the SFL will lay out the terms of the proposals to their 30 members at Hampden. in a fortnight.

“We will try to engage the supporters through our clubs,” said Longmuir. “We had nine of our clubs represented today and we still have another 21 to speak to. In two weeks’ time, we now have some meaningful detail to present to the clubs in the SFL which I think is important. They will begin to see that these pillars of progress, pillars of success, the foundations which are going to stand the game in good stead are what is crucial about this. We have to bring clubs with us on this journey. Through clubs fully understanding what it is going to deliver for the game, it will far outweigh any issues we have over the numbers game.”

Despite the proposals effectively killing off the SPL as an independent league body, Doncaster shrugged off any concerns over his own position. “That is detail for another day,” said Doncaster. “This is not about individuals. It is about ensuring we have a plan in place for the system going forward which benefits 42 clubs. That is what matters.”

How the proposals will work

• Proposal put forward by the Scottish Premier League is for a 12-12-18 three-tier structure, coming into force for the 2013-14 season

• One league body to replace the existing SPL and SFL

• The top two leagues will split into three leagues of eight after 22 matches then play a further seven home and seven away games

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• Leagues will be called Premier Division, Championship and National League

• The top eight teams in the Premier Division will play for the title and European places

• The middle eight teams post-split will contest promotion and relegation in and out of Premier Division

• The bottom eight sides will play to decide who drops into National League

• A vote will be taken on the proposals by the SPL and SFL clubs at their respective meetings. Eleven out of 12 SPL clubs would need to vote in favour of the plans, while the proposal requires a 75 per cent majorityapproval from the SFL clubs – 23 out of the 30 clubs.

Fans’ view: Supporters will need convincing – Goodwin

Supporters’ chief Paul Goodwin last night welcomed yesterday’s groundbreaking progress in restructuring Scottish football, but believes the game’s power-brokers face a challenge in winning over the fans.

Goodwin, head of the government-backed Supporters Direct (SD) Scotland, has been involved in discussions with the SFA, SPL and SFL in recent weeks and SD Scotland chair Neil Bone is due back at Hampden today for further talks on the way forward.

However, with an agreement on the principles of restructuring, including a merger of both the SPL and SFL, the consensus reached yesterday is being viewed as a step forward by Goodwin as Scottish football prepares itself for what SFA chief executive Stewart Regan described as a “new dawn”.

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Goodwin said: “The positive thing is that bodies are coming together to reach agreements and people are showing they are willing to work together. Moving the discussions on is good for Scottish football and we are staying positive, but we would want to see the details.”

Supporters have consistently called for the establishment of a bigger top league and the SFA-backed National Football Survey, which ended on 2 January, is expected to repeat those views from the grassroots. The most recent figures available show that only 11 per cent of supporters wanted a top division of just 10 or 12 teams and that the vast majority favour a 16 or an 18-club top-flight.

Goodwin accepts that a charm offensive may be required to bring supporters onside with the latest model of a 12-12-18. He added: “Supporters have always wanted a bigger top league, but if the big picture is totally favourable then supporters will just have to look at the issue of league sizes and address it.

“That’s the interesting part for clubs, how this is going to be sold to the fans, and David Longmuir of the SFL has already accepted that.”