In Scottish football, there are currently four professional leagues; the SPL, Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3. Divisions 1, 2, and 3 all have 10 teams in them. The SPL consists of 12 teams, splitting up into two mini leagues of 6, at a stage in the season called ‘the split.’ The SFA (Scottish Football Association) are thinking of changing the system and propose to turn it into a 3 league structure, with the two top leagues containing 12 teams, compared to the 18 teams for the proposed bottom league.
Change is felt to be necessary, due to the serious underachievement in Scottish football. This is due to the poor effort of the Scottish teams playing in the UEFA champion’s league and the UEFA Europa league. Also, the Scottish national team is not performing as well as it can. The SFA believe that if they make the leagues bigger, smaller teams will be able to get into the higher divisions and home grown players will be playing more frequently against more talented opponents. This would give more home grown players the opportunity to showcase their skills, with the possibility of becoming future Scottish national footballers. Also, more people will go to the games, as the competition will be completely different. This is down to the fact that teams will be playing other teams that they haven’t played before, or have played against very infrequently, so the clubs will make more money of the gates due to renewed interest in the games. It would also be an end to the same old twice home, twice away format that we all know too well; it’s too predictable and can, quite quickly, become boring.
People’s opinions vary on what the best way to reconstruct the leagues is. One thing that is unanimously agreed on however is that change is needed. Some people want the top league to be bigger than the bottom league. The problem with this is that the majority of the football clubs themselves want the 12-12-18 system. If they get the 12-12-18 system it will work on a pyramid system with non-league teams getting a chance to be promoted into the bottom division each year.
There is controversy surrounding the top league, because the team that ‘wins’ the league may not end up winning the title; as there would be a play-off for the title. On top of this, there would also be a play-off to decide which team would be relegated. This is causing controversy amongst many clubs as the team that has been bottom of the league for the whole season might not even get relegated, if they won the play-off. This raises an issue of fairness, as surely the team that has finished last should be relegated – much like the team that wins the league should be crowned champions, and shouldn’t have to win a play-off to make sure that they’re crowned as the champions.
Many people want to copy the model of the English Football Association, but we simply cannot do it. We are a small country, with just over 5 million people, and 42 professional and semi-professional football teams; so to copy the large English model is simply not feasible. England has more teams in their top two leagues than the combined total for the four Scottish leagues. The system in England is 20-24-24-24, and that’s excluding the Conference and its two subdivisions. We cannot do this as a nation, as we don’t have nearly enough teams. Furthermore, the financial power of the English teams is far superior to that of the Scottish teams.
On the 12th of June, the ball was set in motion, when the SPL and the SFL merged, with the new body being renamed the SPFL. The final decision was that play-offs would be introduced between the 11th placed team in the top flight and the second, third and fourth placed teams in the second tier; creating a potential second promotion place in addition to the one-up, one-down automatic promotion. And, in 2014/15, a further play-off between the bottom club in the Third Division and the winner of a Highland League v Lowland League play-off. So, much needed change was agreed to, the effectiveness of these alterations will be judged in time.
By Duncan Maguire
Duncan can be found on twitter: @DunksMaguire