SCOTTISH football’s administrators have taken a verbal battering since unveiling their radical plans for reconstruction last week, but, for all that 12-12-18 is far from ideal, it’s a much better option than the people’s choice of a 16-team top league.
If the beaks were to kowtow to popular demand, it really could be another nail in the coffin of Scottish football, which, incidentally, is in a grave state due to a lack of finance and genuine quality rather than the amount of teams in each league. The proposal from Rangers owner Charles Green to change to a 14-14-14 set-up holds slightly more appeal than a 16 or 18-team top flight. If anything, however, we should be looking to downsize the number of teams in the top division, not increase it. We need quality over quantity.
In a perfect world, I’d love to see a 20-team top division. However, it could be argued, that we don’t even have 12 clubs of enough stature to support the current format, never mind enough clubs of a worthy standard for a 16-team league.
I genuinely can’t understand the clamour to have more First Division-calibre clubs in the top flight. We should be looking for a concentration of decent, competitive teams – not a dilution. And that’s why I’d be calling for a ten-team top flight.
Look at the recent history of the current 12 SPL teams. Celtic, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen, Dundee United and Motherwell have been those who, along with Rangers, have continually held their own in the top flight and competed regularly for the European berths.
Of the smaller clubs, the likes of St Johnstone, Inverness and Kilmarnock have all established themselves as competent Premier League sides and have occasionally illuminated the division. Beyond those, however, there are few clubs in Scotland who could be considered a genuine asset to the Scottish Premier League.
The argument that First Division sides regularly oust SPL teams from cup competitions holds little water because these upsets are generally the result of the underdog raising their game.
There are plenty vibrant sides in the First Division, but if they were genuinely good enough to hold their own among the big boys, they would have done so by virtue of winning promotion and then forcing their way into top-six contention occasionally.
Aside from Inverness and St Johnstone, none have managed this in recent times. There are already too many teams in the league whose only realistic target is to avoid relegation or maybe scrape the top six. Why add more of a similar ilk?
The main argument for increasing the number of teams would be to reduce the number of times teams play each other over a season. Granted, it’s not ideal that teams meet four times – and more if they clash in the cups – in one campaign, but give me four helpings of Aberdeen-Hibs or Dundee United-Motherwell over two rounds of Inverness-Partick or StJohnstone-Dunfermline any day of the week.
The more smaller clubs we have in the top flight, the more chance of attendances slipping below four figures. Good players, especially those with international hopes, would also be slightly more inclined to stay in the SPL if they had four games a season against Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen or Celtic to look forward to, rather than a couple against Morton or Raith.
As much as it seems the way forward to me, however, a ten-team top-flight is unlikely to be backed, as low-end SPL clubs and their high-end First Division counterparts won’t want to vote away two potential top-flight places.
With this in mind, and if people are unwilling to stick with the status quo, 12-12-18, although still miles away from being bullet-proof, looks as good a bet as any.
In the case of the top flight, less is most definitely more.