Two competing plans for a restructuring of Scottish football have been revealed in recent days. But do we really need to shake up the league structures? And would either plan be an improvement on what we have at the moment anyway?
I’ve always been a believer in a well planned approached to major change projects. It’s the qualified project manager in me, you see. And my approach always begins by working out the case for change. Why do it? What problems are we trying to solve? What will a successful solution look like?
And if there is no case for change, then keep what you have. This season’s SPL is looking pretty good so far. Plenty of competitive matches, lots of goals and several clubs with gates up on previous seasons.
I don’t think any of the basic questions have been asked by anyone in Scottish football. Rather there is a rush for reform without thought.
We currently have a Scottish Premier League with 12 teams run by the SPL. Below that are three divisions of 10 teams each, run by the SFL, the Scottish Football League. And overseeing the game is the Scottish Football Association. Now before considering the exact number of divisions needed and how many teams should be in each, I think there is a far more fundamental question that needs to be answered.
Why do we require three separate governing bodies to run Scottish football?
Back in 2009 the former First Minister of Scotland Henry McLeish carried out a review of our national game. He produced a two part report in 2010. He called for a radical restructuring of the professional game, something which mysteriously seems to have been placed on the back burner ever since. I wonder why?
The Scottish Football League was first to produce its plans for a new league structure. It proposed three leagues with 16, 10 and 16 teams. Quite how such a disparity in numbers between them can make any sense is beyond me. On what basis can such a varied structure be justified?
The Scottish Premier League has now unveiled its counterproposal – two top divisions of 12 teams each under a new corporate banner. And below that the other 18 teams can do what they like, presumably.
So how would this SPL scheme work? Well, in a spirit of making things as complicated as possible, it seems. Here are the highlights:
In each league, teams initially play each other home and away. A split would come after those 22 games, following which the bottom four clubs in the top division and the top four from the second tier would play a further 14 games home and away to determine which four clubs secured top-flight status.
The top eight teams from the top division play each other again. Similarly the bottom eight in the second division play again.
Then presumably you take away the number you first thought of and declare the final positions for the season.
It all seems unnecessarily complex to me. I’m a believer that league systems should be as simple as possible and be based around some basic principles. Each team should play the same set of fixtures. That’s what leagues are all about. Each team should play each other home and away the same number of times. And each team should have an equal number of home and away fixtures overall.
I’m not a fan in splitting leagues half way through. And I definitely don’t want to see two divisions split into three as proposed. Think about it. The team in 9th place in the top division could be many points better off than the team in 12th at the half way stage. It could have won each of the two games between the two teams. Yet they would both start the second half of the season again on zero points. Where’s the fairness in that?
This new half season play off system also ends automatic promotion to the top division. All the champions of the second tier win is the chance to play in the middle league in the second part of the season. There could easily end up being no change in the membership of wither league, no promotion or relegation at all.
And how can a club sell season tickets to fans when it doesn’t know who it will be playing in the second half of the season? It could be top tier sides or those that start the season in the second flight.
No, it’s all too muddled. And, to go back to the purpose question, what exactly is it trying to achieve?
In practical terms it would seem that neither of these two plans is likely to attract the levels of support required for implementation. And that, horrifically, means that some sort of compromise between the two could yet be created.
There only seems to be one degree of commonality between the two plans – and that’s a reduction in the number of divisions from four to three. On what basis has this been decreed the ideal model for Scottish football? And has anyone anywhere bothered to ask football fans what they think?
Scottish football needs to change. But let’s start at the top and get rid of the many committee men who have been mismanaging the game for years while accepting the privileges that come with their positions.
Let’s set up a new governing body that includes independent directors, as McLeish proposed, to come up with a plan for the future.
And then let’s devise a simple and straightforward league structure that makes sense for Scotland.