Millions of kids all over the world opened their Santa stockings on Sunday morning to find football gifts of joy: Leo Messi’s garish yellow boots, FIFA ’12 for the X-Box, a new Dundee top. Me, my Xmas football gift came a few days early this year, and the Santa wasn’t a fat man with a white beard: it was Stewart Regan, head of the Scottish Football Association.
Hot on the heels of the announcement of the “Safe Standing” initiative to restore standing areas in Scottish football stadia, the SFA, Scottish Premier League, and Scottish Football League issued a joint report proposing a cohesive structure for Scottish club football with a single managing body. It needs to be ratified by Scotland’s football clubs, but the indications are that the majority of recommendations will go through by the January 23 deadline for responses.
Hallelujah! Finally common sense comes to Scottish football.
The SPL and SFL will combine as the SPFL (“Scottish Professional Football Leagues”) to administer the entire professional league structure, top to bottom, as well as the League Cup (for all SPFL clubs) and League Challenge Cup (for those outside the top tier). A good thing; for a start, we can fire one of the two chief executives and put the money to better use.
There will be a formal path of entry into the SPFL for successful teams in the lower leagues. Winners of new regional divisions in the Highlands and Lowlands will play off, with this playoff winner facing the bottom team in the SPFL. So no longer will areas like Inverness and Dingwall have to wait for league reorganisation or the failure of league clubs to find a route to the top divisions. Ambition will be rewarded.
At the top level, the second-bottom team in the Premier League will play off against the second team in Division One. Again, a positive move: one relegation spot out of twelve is one too few, but two is one too many, so this is a sensible compromise.
I have some reservations, though.
It’s not clear if the new SPFL will be part of the SFA or a separate organisation (the report that was produced by the three bodies isn’t available yet on any of their websites). Having a single body – the SFA – responsible for professional, amateur, and the national team would be preferable to having even just two competing organisations duplicating departments, costing cash, and inevitably in-fighting.
I’m also not sure about the right size for the SPFL and the point at which regional leagues are introduced. The proposal keeps all existing 42 SPL/SFL teams in the SPFL, and introduces two regional divisions of ten beneath that. These two regional divisions are presumably drawn from the Highland League (in the Highland section) and the East of Scotland and South of Scotland leagues (Lowland section).
Below that would be what are referred to as the ‘non-professional leagues’ – the remainder of the Highland league, East of Scotland, South of Scotland, and Juniors. These leagues are already discussing reorganisations, the Juniors may be happy continuing to do their own thing, and it may be difficult for (e.g.) the Highland League to accept their top teams moving off to join the SPFL, leaving behind… well, the dross. And will these remaining teams have a route into the SPFL?
But these are details that can, and will be, worked out. The overall proposal appears sound, filling me with seasonal cheer and, God forbid, optimism for the future.
As a dour Scotsman, that sort of optimism would normally give me cause for concern, but this time I have strong reason to believe I’m right to feel rosy – because the one man quoted quibbling with the report was Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne, he who has transformed Scotland’s third team into perennial relegation contenders.
If he’s against it, it must be a good thing.