There’s an old adage which goes the more things change the more they stay the same. At the beginning of this month, there were talks among the SPL clubs about the possibility of league reconstruction. This has been a debate in Scottish football that has ran for decades, in fact probably since Hibernian last won the Scottish Cup. At the beginning of 2011 there appeared to be support from clubs in the SPL for two leagues of ten teams - this despite the fact that many fans asked for their opinion on this issue favoured increasing the league from its present size of twelve. However, as the month progressed it seemed this support was on the wane.
SPL chairman Ralph Topping argued that a sixteen-team league wouldn’t work economically and would have a knock-on effect in terms of the quality of players Scottish football would attract. It is true that a sixteen team league would result in just thirty league games a season with teams playing each other twice as opposed to three or four times. I’m old enough to remember when the top tier of Scottish football had eighteen teams and with Celtic and Rangers inevitably leaving the rest behind by Christmas some seasons seemed to be never-ending. No one wants to return to the days when teams played meaningless games in the middle of March in front of a few thousand fans bored out their minds. However, a sixteen-team league doesn’t have to end after thirty games.
There has long been an argument against clubs having to play each other four times in a season in the league. Those against say this makes football stale and repetitive. When you consider there’s a fair chance of encountering SPL opposition in the CIS Insurance and Scottish Cups, you can see why familiarity can breed contempt. However, a sixteen-team league could incorporate a top eight split after those thirty games with teams in the top and bottom eight playing against each other one more time - giving a total of thirty-seven games.
In my view, there would be freshness in those first thirty games. Clubs such as Dundee, leaving side their current financial difficulties, Dunfermline Athletic, Falkirk, Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers have the facilities and would be welcome additions to the top flight. After the split the remaining seven games could become crucial to those with aspirations of qualifying for the Europa League or those who hoping to avoid relegation. I would suggest two teams going down, with the third involved in a play-off to add to the wind of change. This would stimulate interest in the revamped First Division too - can you imagine the attraction of a play-off with possible live television coverage at the end of the season?
I would go further and change the time of the football season so that it begins in March and ends at the Christmas/New Year period meaning it retains the tradition of festive football in this country. Further, I would start the season with the Scottish Cup and still have the final in May. The league season presently accommodates dates for the cup so there would be no change there. As we shiver at football grounds across Scotland this weekend, we know we should expect nothing else as it’s the end of January. However, imagine sitting in June and July, shirt-sleeved, lapping up the warmth of the summer sun watching our team play silky football. True, there may be a clash with World Cup and European Championship tournaments but other countries play through the summer - in any case, it’s been thirteen long years since Scotland had any interest in a major tournament! Hopefully we can qualify for the next World Cup and put a temporary halt to domestic football in June 2014...
My idea may seem radical but I am of the view that Scottish football badly needs radical change. Supporters - the paying customers don’t forget - have indicated they want to see a revolution in the game. It can no longer be taken for granted they will continue to turn up to see poor quality football played in Artic conditions with games being postponed late at considerable inconvenience. It can’t be assumed they will turn up week in week out to see the same teams play with survival in the top league being a priority for many rather than challenging for honours.
My idea may not be perfect but there’s something the vast majority of people in Scottish football - chairmen, managers, players and supporters - agree on. Something better change - and quickly.