Scottish Football Restructuring: Fan Input A Necessity

Scottish football is beginning to reinvent itself with some much-needed changes. Today on the blog, Glasgow-based football writer Andrew Winn points out that without fan input, it’s a sure fire way to make a lot of enemies.

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Another week passes in Scottish football and with it more confusion and uncertainty over the progression of the national sport.

On Thursday representatives from all 30 clubs in the Scottish Football League met at Hampden, with discussions over the future of the league system in Scotland top of the agenda. This followed Monday’s meeting with the 12 current SPL clubs, all aiming to come to an agreement on the best way to shake off the cobwebs of the current four-tier league layout, and spark some life back into a game that suffered greatly during the Rangers situation over the summer.

Though no final decisions have been made this week, the powers-that-be are keen to push forward with alterations as quickly as possible. The most prominent of which could see the SPL brand scrapped as part of a merger with the SFL, with new 12-12-18 league numbers and financial distribution models put in place as early as next season. For anything to begin, 11 out of the 12 SPL clubs alongside at least 23 SFL clubs need to vote in favour of the same plan, which is where things start to unravel.

The State Of Things

As it currently stands, the SPL, SFL and SFA are all at loggerheads as to which new league layout is the ideal solution, and when the best time to implement it may be. The SPL clubs are quite happy with the 12-12-18 layout, whilst back in November, the majority of SFL clubs had unanimously favoured a 16-10-16 structure to be established in time for the 2014-15 campaign, allowing a little more breathing space for changes to be adapted and modified.

Thursday, however, saw a new permutation suggested: 12-12-10-10, aiming once again to cut out potential “meaningless games in mid-table”, that, apparently, are a curse upon leagues with more than a dozen clubs. Rangers, currently uninvolved in any voting procedures due to their associate member status of the SFL, have even suggested quitting the league entirely, unless a reasonable solution that favours all parties be implemented.

Whilst the finance part of the discussions is perhaps the most crucial to consider, business wise, for the authorities and the clubs, it is in fact the new league proposals that could end up causing the most alarm with supporters, partly down to the fact that very little discussion has involved what they think is best, going forward.

The 12-12-18 Format

To explain the nuts and bolts of the proposed 12-12-18 idea, a brief refresher of the present system in Scotland is perhaps required: the top tier sees each of the 12 clubs play each other home and away, as is the norm for all league structures.

However, with such a small number of clubs, and a high demand for games, a 22-game season is not financially adequate, so they go round again. To avoid a long and, more importantly, hectic 44-game season, the league splits in half after the teams have played one other for a third time. As every team hits their 33rd game, each group of six play those in their half, tidying the league together after 38 games.

This, rather embarrassingly, can cause the final league table to look rather disjointed; at the end of the 2008-2009 season the seventh placed club, Motherwell, gained one more point than sixth placed Hibernian. Three years earlier, Inverness officially ended their season seventh, despite finishing with two points better off than fourth placed Hibs.

Confused yet? Well, things are about to become a little more puzzling.

The proposed changes put forward would see a similar ‘Premier League’, partnered by a new 2nd tier ‘Championship’ of twelve teams, an increase from the previous ten. Much like the current system, all teams would play to the half-way stage of 22 games, after which, the two leagues of 12 would morph into three leagues of eight.

  • The top eight teams would battle for the title, as to be expected.
  • The middle eight, consisting of four teams remaining from the top tier, and the top four from the league below, would be wiped off their points and goals to that stage, and contest a new league
  • The remaining eight to avoid relegation to a ‘National League’ of 18.

 

It’s a convoluted system, which rewards purple patches or bad form in the most backward of fashions; one that could result in some rather unjust scenarios: pity the team who, after 22 hard fought games, find themselves fourth in the 1st division, only to then have their progress reset to zero points and hurled into a brand new mini-league including those lingering near the bottom of the SPL.

What if this fourth-placed team was only a handful of points away from the team leading the Championship? The reward for a hard-fought half-season is not to continue on, and push those only just above you all the way to a title, but instead to have your points total deleted, with your end-of-season league position looking considerably less impressive.

Ask The Fans

Cynics would perhaps argue here that it isn’t just accumulated points, goals scored and the chance of league glory that fall victim to the mid-season reboot, but also team morale, and worse - stadium attendances; the latter highlighting the importance of letting fans have the final say in proceedings. If they are left out, the current trend of deteriorating attendances for top flight games will only continue to worsen.

The idea of wanting to improve the league structure in Scotland, whilst retaining a league-split is the footballing equivalent of getting some terrible letters in Scrabble, deciding to swap all of your tiles only to get them all back again. There are viable alternatives that have fan backing, should anyone in a blazer and tie rather than a replica shirt be interested in hearing them.

As it stands, they’re on course to create something worse than “meaningless games in mid-table” – meaningless seasons altogether.

 

 

Follow A.D on Twitter: @adwinn

Find more of A.D's writing at his blog ADWinn.com