Scottish Football – a time for change?

Dear Scottish Premier League, Scottish Football League and Scottish Football Association,

The national side is doing alright, right? While I’m sure Craig Levein wouldn’t mind a bigger crop of young talent coming through. Or perhaps a squad quality like England or Spain’s. Does anyone have any real issues with the national set up and progress at present?

The Scottish Cup -Arguably providing the best entertainment this season, has given us some good games between divisions. Perhaps it’s because Cup ties are different to the norm. Perhaps the knock out element keeps it exciting and winnable. Perhaps it provides respite from league fixtures. Whatever it does, it’s working. So, no changes proposed for the Cup.

The League Cup – Well! It’s the league cup isn’t it. Does it really matter? Is it really a priority for most clubs throughout any of the professional leagues in the UK? Fair enough, it is a cup and it’s there to win so good luck to you if you do. No problem with it being there, however, what if each of the professional associations in the UK voted to remove their league cup competition in favour of a British Cup? Some intriguing and exciting fixtures in those two words right there. A British Cup might work. There’s certainly commercial opportunities from the idea and European places could still go to each associations highest finisher.

Problem – The current league format? Is it just me, or are there others who agree that the current format of Scottish league football feels a little flat? I’ve no cure for that feeling, just an idea that perhaps a radical change in the format and structure of Scottish league football could work.

Let’s go back to 1974. The final season of two division Scottish football, with Jock Stein coming to the end of his ‘nine in a row’ with Celtic, and Hibs in the top two. A great national side and Scottish football was attended en masse.

What if we were return to that format? An SPL 1 & SPL 2 or a SFL 1 & SFL 2. Other European leagues run on two main professional divisions. Why can’t Scotland? With only 42 teams (two more than 1974), does Scotland need four leagues and two conflicting associations running them?

Let’s imagine those two leagues. SPL 1 with 20 teams; SPL 2 with 22. What could be the benefits?

The current format has too many of the same fixtures. This can dilute the fixture itself. Key league encounters and derbies would be better preserved and more anticipated in a two league format because they’re happening less.

The current format for relegation and promotion is stifling competition. The window for opportunity is a little narrower. A two league system could adopt the current English model of, three down from our SPL1, three up from our SPL2 to include, two automatic promotions and a 3rd,4th,5th,& 6th play off for the remaining thereby increasing promotion opportunity. The current format, because of the lesser promotion places on offer, makes it difficult for clubs in lower leagues to progress to the SPL. A two league format would improve their chances and make it easier to obtain.

The current format sees clubs from lower leagues unable to increase their attendance numbers significantly unless they’re playing against the bigger teams. As a result, smaller clubs can’t tap into the extra revenue that an increase in attendances would bring. A two league format gives that access and makes it easier to get that access. Money could reach further and the approach is therefore more sustainable.

The current format isn’t providing a higher standard of football. While most money and arguably talent, lies in the SPL, the money isn’t huge. Most teams are too knowledgeable of each other given the amount of times they’re playing together. Foreign talent is sought as a cheaper, more talented and experienced alternative to buying home grown. This diminishes the prospects for younger players coming through. Younger talent slip down the leagues for game time but don’t get the same opportunities to pit themselves against stronger opposition on a regular basis, thereby stifling development. A two league format would reduce the familiarity of fixtures and provide more opportunities for younger home grown players to develop at a higher standard.

While our SPL 1 & SPL 2 won’t necessarily break the old firm monopoly, (Rangers will return as strong), it will provide different tests for them and make the old firm games more anticipated again. It will also provide more opportunities for other clubs to break the hold.

Further down the line, a Conference type SPL3 could be derived from clubs say in the Highland League, the East of Scotland and South of Scotland leagues for example. Stadia would need to meet a set criteria to gain entry but one that isn’t too exclusive.

If Scottish football is to compete on a European stage again, if it is to get back to qualifying for national tournaments. Ultimately, it will be the changes that are made to better find and develop our young talent that will breed the greatest success. Let’s give them a new platform to perform on. Does anyone agree?

The recent move to administration by Rangers could leave a huge gap in the SPL. While I’m sure this won’t happen, it leaves the SPL’s mission statement ringing hollower. “The mission of the Scottish Premier League is to provide an environment in which Scotland’s foremost clubs can improve their quality and image, maximise the commercial value of the game and thus ensure its long term future and prosperity”. Time for change?

Andrew Isaacs

Guest Writer

A guest writer on SFF