The SPL Debate Part III: A New Beginning

Posted on August 31, 2011 by


The Scottish FA is trusted to lead the country’s national sport with integrity and innovation, fostering a culture of performance, unity and trust.

This is the mission statement that appears on ‘Scotland United – A 2020 vision’ a document from the SFA detailing plans for the game based on the findings of the McLeish Report, which looked at what was wrong with the Scottish game and what could be done to improve it.

This vision for Scotland’s future was put together during the summer, ahead of last months European disaster. It puts in place a four step goal for creating a better future under the banners of Perform and Win, Strong, Quality Growth, Better Financial Returns and Trusted to Lead.

The following are some of the objectives inside the plan

  • Scotland to have qualified for a major tournament by 2015
  • New academy system in place
  • Scottish players will make up 75% of the SPL
  • The EPL and Championship will have 100 Scots
  • The number of quality coaches in youth and childrens football will be doubled
  • Double the current number of non-professional players to 130,000
  • Make it a more attractive modern game
  • Develop more talented modern young players

Written down on paper in a fancy document it seems easy, the hard work however has already begun for the SFA, the plan is in place. Of course we all hope that all the objectives are reached and were all talking about what a success Scottish football has become over the next few years.

But what are the short-term goals? While the majority of Scottish football’s problems are looking for long-term solutions lets turn our attention to the league.

Many fans in Scotland see Celtic and Rangers as a cancer in Scottish football, their stranglehold of the SPL title in particular has taken the competition out of the game. But they are without a doubt the league’s biggest assets.

Yes they can cause controversy with opposing beliefs and views both on and off the pitch, but these are more than football clubs, they are global institutions and in many cases the sole reason anyone would want to watch football in Scotland. In its current state, without Celtic and Rangers there would not be a domestic game to save.

Both teams desire to leave the league has been made abundantly clear, but lets be frank, they’re not going anywhere. Whether it be the Atlantic league or a move to the English Premier League, UEFA will oppose any move. It would steer club football to a non-national league structure which at the moment is the lifeblood of European football.

One of the first problems with Scottish football is the league structure. The current format of 12 top flight teams followed by three leagues of 10 with no pyramid in place is dated and out of fashion. It stifles the non-league teams and stops them from ever developing both on the pitch and off it. The first thing that needs to be done is to allow for a promotion/relegation format right through our league system down to a regional level. This allows clubs to play against superior opposition and punishes clubs who for years in the Scottish lower leagues have been content with just playing each week instead of looking at ways to develop their game and raise the quality level.

There is a danger that some of the clubs at the bottom of division 3 will be sent into the abyss and possibly go out of business. But we need to let the more ambitious clubs up who will aid in the development of players and the league, the overall quality must be increased.

But its the SPL itself that needs to be addressed first and foremost. The twelve team format with a split is quite simply a joke. Talks have taken place on a restructure but no plans have been agreed upon as yet. The format that is most likely to win is a reduction to ten teams playing each other four times a season. In theory the quality should increase with the country’s best players competing against each other on a more regular basis. There is a danger the league could become less exciting by teams playing each other four times a year but compared to the option of a bigger league with reduced quality, the ten team system seems to make the most logical sense.

Another bone of contention is the league cup. Does anyone care about it anymore? The lure of European entry for the winner was scrapped a few years ago and it regularly attracts the least amount of attention season upon season when compared to the leagues and the Scottish cup.

Getting rid of it would reduce the burden on fans to follow their team during the season, following your team week in week out is a costly expense to most supporters, many with families to support. So a reduction in the amount of games played during a season may increase the chance of getting higher attendances for the league and Scottish cup.

There have been other options to consider as well, talk of a move to summer football has been banded about now for a few years, but there’s no real evidence to support a summer move is for the good.

Scottish football is at one of its lowest points for decades, while those of us passionate about the game are very upset about this we must all realise there is no overnight solution. The plan is in place, and I just hope that the SFA and all connected bring Scottish football back to where it belongs.


You can follow Craig on Twitter @CraigShields9

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