So, barring last-minute changes (and we know Scottish football can provide them when needed) reconstruction is off for now. Bearing in mind Neil Doncaster’s views expressed before the SPL vote it is not simply postponed but it is back to the drawing board.
This settles the biggest questions in football here for now. Rangers will play in the 3rd tier (as opposed, under reconstruction, to playing in the 3rd tier!). The Ibrox fans will not face the dispute they might have had with Mr Green if he was seen to take what they view as the tainted SPL shilling. The decision also means that the bonuses due to Mr Green and Mr Stockbridge for getting their team into a different league will stay sitting in the overflowing Ibrox vaults.
It also means that Cliftonhill, home of Albion Rovers, won’t get the chance to welcome Rangers in the league. So my plan to have a seat amongst the Rangers fans to ask them what they think of Murray, Whyte and Green will need to be postponed.
The football authorities have major problems. There is no doubt of that. These are exacerbated by, for the second year in a row, them talking down their own product. Last summer it would be “Armageddon” if Rangers were outwith the SPL. This year we have had the bosses tell everyone how bad – how fiscally unstable – the existing product is. Now we are left with the same one – good luck Mr Doncaster in promoting an SPL to sponsors which you have made clear is inferior stock!
The proposed changes seemed to me to be gimmicky, rather than solid and constructive. The final SPL split is a gimmick too (which would have been tested if one of the Old Firm had ended in the bottom half) but it made some sense.
Some claim we want a bigger top division of 16 or 18. Do folk remember why the leagues were reorganised in the 1970s? There were too many meaningless games – mid table teams had nothing to play for from mid-season onwards. Middling teams ticked along, buoyed by Old Firm visits, with little risk or reward. Mind you, that structure saw Celtic and Rangers win titles in Europe, although the football landscape there is now unrecognisable.
There is one possible change rarely, if ever, mentioned though. The leaders of Scottish football, and of the major teams, make it clear that they run businesses. They need to make money and profits.
But Scottish football, like English county cricket, is not run as a “real” industry would be.
Put simply there are too many top flight football teams. 42 spread across our population of 5 million?
In any real industry several, if not many, would go to the wall or merge. But, for understandable reasons, none of the 42 wants to offer to be Captain Oates and to leave the tent for a walk.
But this means that, even though the lowest teams make little from the central pot, there are enough bites from it to ensure it only keeps minnows alive. The only teams to have successfully scaled the football ladder here from bottom to top have either, as with Gretna, done it by throwing external money at the problem, or as in the cases of Inverness and Ross County, by building on a strong local community which is not in the shadows of a “big” team.
Queen of the South look as if they may be repeating the successful plan.
Inverness shows Scottish football one way forward. Two long established teams combined to form a stronger one. But, as with Wallace Mercer’s ill-fated plans to merge Hearts and Hibs, fans usually do not want to see their team “disappear” even if they don’t financially support their team!
This self-preservation is shown by the SFL not bringing in relegation from SFL3 and promotion from the amateur or junior ranks.
In England we have seen many non-league teams promoted to the “big time” with varying success, but at least it brings new blood.
Every so often someone proposes “regionalising” of franchising Scottish football. We should have, they say, one team in Edinburgh – one in Dundee – one in East Kilbride – two (or maybe three) in Glasgow – one in Lanarkshire … the list goes on.
Such wholesale destruction of teams would not work. Whilst fans of Hamilton, Airdrie and Motherwell, for example, might approve of St Mirren and Morton, for example, merging, they would not want it to happen to themselves. Rationalising the teams would be fine for everyone else, but not for the fans’ own team.
But some thinning out is essential. Let the poorer (both financially and in terms of playing standards) move to a non-league set up with the juniors and amateurs. Have the Scottish league consist of twenty or twenty four teams – maybe split into conferences or divisions as in Major League Baseball or the NFL, but with the added spice of elimination from the league and promotion for the best non-league teams.
Fixture lists could be organised so as to reach an optimum number of matches for teams.
Have a play-off system at the end of the season to determine the overall champion, and playoffs for relegation from the League.
Going back to what was stale in the 1970s cannot work, can it?
I appreciate that my roughly sketched ides might seem gimmicky as well, but it could be structured so as to make a coherent system. To be fair, the most important element of my plan is not the structure, but the number of teams. Some teams might be willing to compromise their history to merge with near neighbours. Many would not. But doing so would also free up assets as spare grounds could be sold off. It might even allow for significant capital investment in facilities for training and for the fans, rather than for buying the next overpaid foreigner who is not worth the cash.
Scottish football is at a crossroads. The whole Rangers debacle has brought matters very much into focus. A game which has lived for so many years reliant on the Old Firm is now being forced to look at its fundamental product and, as Messrs Regan and Doncaster have made publicly clear over the last year or so, what they are selling is not up to scratch.
(I appreciate that it might seem odd to say this after the Scottish Cup weekend we have had, but two swallows do not make a summer. Indeed the attractiveness of those matches puts into perspective how much else of the football we see is less than scintillating entertainment).
Posted by Paul McConville