There is only one Scottish football story in town right now; the proposal to reorganise the game we all love has stirred emotion and prompted heated discussion and debate. Richard Gordon (@richardgordon48) writes.
I seem to be at odds with most supporters and commentators in that I see merit in the proposed scheme and genuinely feel it could bring the excitement we crave.
I accept the new league structure of 12-12-18 is not without its flaws – all of which have been aired extensively elsewhere – but so have the other proposals of which I have read or heard. In fact, some of those would, I feel, have a much more damaging impact on the game than the plan currently on the table.
Most fans seem to prefer an enlarged top division, 16 or 18 teams, but I don’t believe at present we have the strength in depth to make such a set-up work in Scotland. In order to service such a league we would need perhaps 24-26 sides of similar abilities, all capable of competing at the top level. Without that we would face the prospect of months of meaningless matches in the second half of the season.
I would concede that play-offs could help alleviate the risk of meaningless games, but it would require at least two automatic relegation places and two further play-off slots to have any chance of succeeding.
In any case, the SPL clubs have made it clear that an expanded top flight doesn’t work for them financially, so unless there is a seismic change of attitude, it is off the table.
The one area almost everyone seems to agree on is the plan for a single governing body. I must admit that was not top of my agenda – it seems to me the needs and requirements of the leading full-time professional clubs are different to those of the smaller ‘community’ clubs – but streamlining certainly isn’t a negative, and if it leads to more easily reached agreement on the major issues then that has to be a bonus.
The main attraction of 12-12-18 for me is the excitement and drama likely to be generated, particularly as the season moves towards its split and then into the 8-8-8 phase. The middle tier has clear potential to be the most thrilling. Critics have been quick to point out that the eventual outcome could be that not one team is relegated, while conveniently ignoring the fact that all four could be. The administrators will certainly be hoping for a significant turnover!
With the top 8 battling it out for the title, or more realistically in the case of 7 of them, European places, that leaves the third tier of 8 to be considered, and there will have to be at least one automatic relegation place and play-offs to ensure competition and to give significant encouragement to those sides in the bottom division of 18.
One other accusation I have read is that the governing bodies are being too hasty in attempting to push through these measures for next season. For decades those same bodies have been accused of inertia, of a failure to act decisively. If agreement can be reached by the SPL and SFL there is no point in delaying – it seems absolutely right to start the new set-up from 2013-14.
In the midst of all the discussion came Charles Green’s suggestion that he might seek an escape route from Scottish football. Good luck to him – if he can find one, and that’s what Rangers really want, then our national game will find a way to survive without the Ibrox club.
However, the suggestion from Rangers that they are in some way being disadvantaged by 12-12-18 does not stand up. If, as seems certain, they win the Third Division this season they will be two promotions away from top flight football, just as they would be under the present set-up. The fact that they would still be in the bottom tier is irrelevant. I was also interested by the labelling of Rangers as ‘the biggest club in the country’ – Celtic might have something to say about that.
In any case this current debate is not about Rangers, it is about Scottish football as a whole, and while there is much yet to be outlined in terms of wealth distribution, broadcasting and sponsorship deals, a pyramid structure for non-league teams and the eventual promotion/relegation/play-off numbers, there does at least appear to be a willingness right now among most of the member clubs to work together to find a solution.
The next, and perhaps more difficult, step will be to convince the supporters, the paying public, that what they arrive at is workable and attractive.
The views expressed above are Richard’s own and should not in any way be taken to be those of his employers, BBC Radio Scotland.
What do you think of Richard’s views? Do you agree that this could be the shot-in-the-arm that Scottish Football needs? We’d love to hear your views. Let us know @talkingbaws or tweet directly @richardgordon48.