With the dust now having settled on a tumultuous week in which Scottish football’s radical but controversial 12-12-18 plan was acrimoniously trashed, the powers that be now find themselves firmly ensconced between a rock and a hard place.
In short, there is little obvious solution for moving forward harmoniously. The status quo could be easily spiced up in the short-term with the addition of end-of-season play-offs between teams at the bottom of the SPL and the top of the First Division. However, in terms of revamping the make-up of the leagues, it is hard to see what else can be done to jazz it up.
The fans want a bigger top-flight, but logic dictates that, in a country the size of Scotland, a small, compact elite league is the only way to go. While the prospect of a ten-team league hardly gets the juices flowing, it certainly makes more sense than a 14, 16, 18 or even a top league of 20.
A ten-team top-flight with one team relegated and the second-bottom team entering a play-off with the First Division runners-up would be my choice. We should be looking to concentrate what little quality remains, not dilute it.
The main argument for a bigger league appears to be that teams meeting four times a season adds to the staleness of the league. Of course, this is a valid point but do we really want to be sacrificing two Edinburgh derbies or New Firm derbies a season, just so Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen or Dundee United get the “variety” of playing Hamilton or Morton? In an ideal world, we’d open up a shiny new 20-team top-flight full of well-supported, cash-rich clubs, just like the English Premier League. It sounds more glamorous, jazzy and fresh than a ten or 12-team set-up. However, if Scotland were to go down that route, all we’d be doing is increasing the mediocrity of an already ailing set-up, while drastically reducing average attendances across our flagship division.
A big league would make sense if we had a clutch of sleeping giants languishing in the First Division, but the blunt truth is, we don’t. There is no side currently in the First Division which looks obviously equipped to enhance the standard of the SPL. Our second-tier is full of good, solid First Division clubs who play nice football, but if they were really as good as the hype-meisters would have you believe, they would have won promotion to the SPL by now and gone on to establish themselves in our moderate top flight. This is a feat only managed in recent times by St Johnstone and Inverness.
In challenging for Europe after winning promotion from the First Division, Ross County have been the exception rather than the rule. Most teams who have come up from the First Division in recent times have done little more than tread water. Some have simply stunk the place out, like Dundee this season and Dunfermline last year. The likes of Livingston and Hamilton have also endured Gretna-like seasons in the SPL in the not-so-distant past.
Even Partick, by far the best First Division club this year, have been a yo-yo club every time they’ve come up in recent times. And, given that the two worst performers in the top-flight just now outwith Dundee are relatively decent teams like Hearts and St Mirren, it’s hard to envisage the Jags doing much more than battling to avoid relegation this time round.
I’m all for having the cream of the First Division gain access to the top flight on merit, but the notion of inviting a clutch of second-tier clubs into what is supposed to be our elite league just to make up the numbers doesn’t sit easily.
Any novelty value of having a raft of new teams to watch would soon wear off after watching more than half the division battle to avoid relegation.