This week The Celtic Star had an in depth look at some options around league reconstruction. At that stage we were of course unaware that the current league race would go into hibernation and may not be concluded at all.
The original debate arose as it seemed Celtic were heading for the dreaded league split and with it the likelihood of an unbalanced conclusion to the league campaign.
Fixtures that would see Celtic travel to Livingston and Hibs for a third time this season. Many on the fabulous Hoops forum Celtic Noise had debated this subject and the Celtic Star readers joined in with some ideas of their own, including the thorny subject of club amalgamation.
The debate was also joined by legendary Celtic historian and Celtic Star columnist David Potter who contributed an article of his own views on this divisive subject.
Today we bring you possibly the most in depth and workable option we’ve heard. It really does cover all the bases and it is well worth looking at today.
John Hamilton contacted The Celtic Star earlier this week with a rough outline to a plan he’d already sent to Stewart Regan of the SFA, Neil Doncaster SPL and David Longmuir of the SFL, with regards to restructuring Scottish football some eight years ago. Only David Longmuir gave John the courtesy of a reply before he was ousted in the SFL/SPL merger.
John has kindly come back to us with an updated version of what he sent the governing bodies. If ever there was an opportunity to look at a proposal like this, then that time is now. If Boris Johnson gets his way the Scottish football authorities are about to be directed by the UK government to move from a league suspension to concluding the season now. What better time to re-evaluate a league system that has long since run its course? I’ll let John explain his proposal. Over to you John…
Background & Comparisons
As you know currently Scotland has a population of around 5.5 million and supports 42 league clubs. In England the population is close to 60 million and they have 92 clubs. In Holland they have a 17 million population and 38 clubs. In Germany it 80 million and 60 clubs.
Below that the clubs are classed as non-league and most cases (not all) regionalised, but importantly all clubs have access to the higher leagues should they meet certain criteria. Across Europe most countries operate a system whereby only 2 or 3 divisions have league status, in Scotland there is four.
I also looked at the make-up of division sizes, how games are split and the amount of games in a league season. Most top leagues aim for between 32 and 38 games to decide the champions although interestingly this number is often greater in the lower divisions where teams do not have a European competition commitment.
Scotland and England also appear to be fairly unique as there are two major domestic cup completions to fit in too.
I also looked at the split and the disparity it causes. Switzerland had a similar system in the early part of the century but dispensed with it after a short period. Austria have 12 team league but split after each team plays everyone home and away, then play a top and bottom six on a home and away basis, 22 games then split then a further 10 games.
So taking all this into consideration I put forward the following proposals for Scotland to the SFA, SPL, and SFA.
Two national leagues of 16 playing each other on a home and away basis. 30 league games.
Now I am aware that this is not enough games to sustain a league season, so I would suggest revamping the league cup. Split into 8 groups of 4. Seeded so that each group is made up of one team from the top half and one from the bottom of each of the two divisions. Each group played home and away so six more games. Top teams go into a knockout quarter final. This gives a total of 36 games.
Currently the league cup is a loss making exercise with pitiful crowds crammed into midweek fixtures, around the time clubs are competing in Europe. This means Midweek, Saturday, Midweek fixtures for weeks on end.
My system would allow for league cup games on a Saturday, or bringing them forward to the now free midweek giving clubs a full week’s preparations for big European ties. It also provides the ability to free extra days for the national team prior to big qualifiers.
Below the top two leagues a total restructuring of the league into geographic leagues. To do this I would incorporate the junior teams. If we look at say Albion Rovers (pictured above), their average gate is around the 200-250 mark, teams like Pollok, Arthurlie or Kilbirnie Ladeside have double that and a decent travelling fan base, so would increase the attendances of the clubs just outside the top two divisions.
We currently have 3 governing bodies, the SFA the SPFL and the SJFA, too many. One thing that is constant throughout Europe is that all registrations of players comes under one umbrella, all teams are in a genuine pyramid and all teams come under the same rules, no matter the level. This includes match officials, where promotion and relegation of officials means a better standard throughout.
In summary with the ideas that I looked at I looked to achieve the following.
- Making the league a genuinely fair test over the course of a season.
- Helping teams prepare for Europe
- Assisting the national team
- Reducing financial burdens on clubs.
- Is this achieved?
The league season is on a genuine home and away system. So yes.
There are less fixtures thus allowing clubs competing in Europe scope to postpone or bring forward fixtures to prepare. So yes.
A sixteen team league and the league cup structure would take pressure off teams for one off matches allowing youngsters to be introduced in competitive matches. So yes.
Teams in the top two tiers guaranteed 18 home games, smaller clubs guaranteed home games against top tier clubs. Distribution of prize money to less clubs. Teams outside the top two tiers have travel costs reduced and access to better supported junior teams. So yes.
The unique selling point & summer football
The one fly in the ointment would be the loss of the two ‘Glasgow Derby’ games but if this was a real problem then the Austrian 12 team league with the split after 22 games and a further 10 games would achieve all of the above. I would simply make tier two 20 teams and tier one the 12 teams.
One more thing that I would seriously consider would be the introduction of summer football. Why?
In Scotland we are in a unique situation. We share media platforms with one of the biggest leagues in the world and definitely the richest, the EPL. As such the viewing figures for the Scottish game are lower, neutral fans will watch Manchester United V Liverpool rather than Celtic v St Mirren. If the switch to summer were to take place, then with no other football to compete against, viewing figures may increase and so revenues from TV could increase also. Another benefit would be teams being fully fit for European matches in the qualifying stages but I have not researched this enough to say that this is the definitely feasible.
A big thank you to John for the time and effort he has put in to his proposal. It seems a crying shame the courtesy of a reply was not forthcoming eight years ago. Perhaps The Celtic Star could help and forward John’s updated proposal to the SPFL and SFA and save us from a further eight years of the status quo, something the majority of supporters find wholly unsatisfactory.
John has kindly agreed to answer some of questions or queries The Celtic Star readers may have. You can forward those to email@example.com and we’ll get them to John.
— The Celtic Star Editor (@CelticStarMag) March 15, 2020
More Reconstruction ideas – 16 League team with a 3 way split 4, 8 and 4 | The Celtic Star https://t.co/YG3PO63UdY
— The Celtic Star Editor (@CelticStarMag) March 15, 2020
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