On its completion, there really ought to have been only one reaction from the person who created the blueprint for league reconstruction that leaked out last week.
“It’s alive!” you hope they screamed. Because this really is a Frankenstein’s monster of a document – the provenance of which is unknown, though it is not thought to originate from within the SPFL.
A deep breath is required here to lay out the proposals. Essentially, they amount to moves to expand the Premiership to 14 clubs and create a Premiership 2 allowing for a play-off split between these two that creates two eight-team set-ups to decide the title, promotion and relegation. Below them would sit a Championship, fed into by two regional League Ones in which colt teams could figure as the number of senior clubs is swelled to 46 from the current figure of 42.
It is a 14-12-(10+10) structure, if you will. Or, a sewing together of a whole host of various previously attempted reconstruction parts, in reality. And every bit as inelegant as that sounds. The mad scientist’s stitch-work, even the neck bolts for his vile creature, are Californian cosmetic surgeon-like by comparison.
The remodelling of senior football has come to the fore because of the likelihood that the global coronavirus pandemic will prevent the current season being completed on the pitch.
It seems fitting that the document goes by the horribly unwieldy title “SPFL Reorganisation: Accommodating the premature end of season 19-20 and creating a manageable structure for the future of Scottish football”.
If a premature conclusion is brought to the current SPFL campaign, it will condemn Hearts and Partick Thistle, occupying bottom place in the Premiership and Championship respectively, to relegation that they still had the real potential to avoid in the run-in now halted. In moving from four tiers to three – Premiership 2 only comes into being after the split through grafting two Championship clubs on to the top flight’s bottom six – the reorganisation removes any jeopardy from the current season for all clubs. It does so by uplifting the Championship top two into Premiership 1, and expanding the Championship from ten to 12 with the top four League One teams stepping up to it. As a result, a raft of current concerns would immediately be alleviated.
Yet, too many elements of the would-be rejig seem fiendishly complicated and frighteningly familiar. The two eights created as a consequence of Premiership 1 splitting into a top eight and bottom six (added to by the top two in the Championship) and a Premiership 2 being manufactured is, to all intents and purposes, a modified reheat of a proposal voted down in April 2013. As for Premiership 2, a form of it was pushed for unsuccessfully by Dundee in 2006. Colt teams, meanwhile, were first mooted in 2008.
In fairness, the latest attempt to carry the majority of the teams into a brave new Scottish football world – the requirement to win any vote on a reconstruction proposals, along with 11 of the current Premiership 12 – has a number of pluses. Splitting the top flight into a top eight and bottom six means no imbalances within the mini-league created that would decide the champions and European places. While that would be welcomed, if not the addition of two more games to establish a 40-match programme necessitated by it, the same is unlikely to be said for what happens to the bottom six. Joining two Championship clubs in an eight-team Premiership 2 to decide the one team definitely relegated in a 14-game shoot-out – each playing one another home and away – might sound as if it limits exposure to relegation. What it does do is create convoluted play-offs, though, with the rump Championship winner and the second placed team in that set-up meeting the second and third bottom of Premiership 2. At least, though, it would prevent any meaningless games for clubs that didn’t make it into Premiership 1 for the conclusion of the season.
The carrot prevents the top teams in the Championship set-up drifting aimlessly in the post-split period. Moreover, the north and south demarcation for the two ten-club League 1s seems sensible, and would make for considerable savings on travel costs. The only problem is clubs at that level have always resisted such shrinking of their worlds. And the need to add a Highland and Lowland club, as well as two possible colt teams, means more mouths to feed from the financial distribution model. SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, driven by the demands made on him by the leading clubs, is never a supporter of spreading the monetary rations further and wider.
Ultimately, the parallels with Frankenstein’s monster aren’t likely to be restricted to the blueprint’s creation. In the end, we know what happened to the misunderstood wretch. He was hated and killed off.