Former Hearts chairman Les Deans is adamant Scottish football’s administrators have come up with the best plan possible to breathe new life into our ailing game.
Proposals to go with two top leagues of 12 teams and another of 18, with the top two leagues then splitting into three sections of eight after the first 22 games, have divided opinion across the country. Deans, however, is in no doubt that fans and clubs alike should cast any doubts and negativity aside and make sure the radical plans to revive the Scottish game are pushed through pronto.
“I have been watching the development of the proposals closely and I think this is the right thing being put forward for Scottish football at the right time,” he told the Evening News. “It’s an exciting development and I think it’s one that will appeal to many. For me, it’s the right way forward for Scottish football. I know there are a lot of people who still feel a top division of 16 teams is the way to go, but I can see a lot of problems with that. We don’t have 16 clubs of enough strength and there wouldn’t be enough games played, so clubs would lose valuable revenue as a result.
“By splitting the top two leagues into three leagues of eight, you will automatically create tremendously exciting competition. The top eight will be battling for the championship and European places. In the middle eight, every game theoretically could be to avoid relegation, so you will have excitement and loads of crunch games. Likewise, in the bottom eight, you could have as many as three or four teams getting relegated as well, so there’ll be a struggle to avoid that.
“Every team in the league will have to hit the ground running to make sure they are in the right section of the league when it splits. It will increase the whole competitive nature of the season and will ensure far less dull, meaningless games, where it doesn’t really matter whether a team wins or loses.”
Deans believes that, in the event that the proposals are voted through, Scottish football would rediscover a much-needed sense of excitement, and, in turn, be better placed to attract broadcasters and other potential investors to the party. “When you have games where there’s a lot at stake, historically that means the TV companies become more interested,” he reasoned. “In simple terms, that means they will pay more. As an example of one of the main ills of football in this country, look at my club, Hearts, and our friends across the city, Hibs, and compare them with, say, Wigan and Reading.
“With respect, most people would say Hearts and Hibs are traditionally and historically far bigger clubs than Wigan and Reading, who are small clubs by comparison. However, because those two clubs play in a league which is generating far more revenue, financially they both outstrip Hearts and Hibs.
“However, the plans put in place by Scottish football’s administrators would create a structure which is likely to see the TV companies become more interested and, as a result of that, the revenue coming into the Scottish game. We won’t close the gap between the Scottish and English game overnight, but this proposal would be a good start.
“There will be crunch matches going on every week and that has to be a good thing. How often have you seen in the past that a club gets its biggest turnout of the season when they’ve got a crunch relegation fixture. For example, I think Hibs’ biggest crowd of last season was for their relegation crunch against Dunfermline. Fans like these kind of matches and so do television companies, so the proposals on the table will put more excitement, drama and sense of occasion into Scottish football as a whole and you’ll have far less meaningless matches. As well as attracting fans, it could well attract investors back into Scottish football, which can only be a good thing.”
As someone who played a part in the last restructuring of the Scottish game when he was chairman of Hearts, Deans has every sympathy with the administrators of the game as they try to overcome the hostility towards their radical proposals. In short, he feels those in charge of Scottish football are faced with a thankless task. “I think there is fear of change in Scottish football,” he said. “I remember when, as chairman of Hearts some 15 years ago, I helped bring the SPL into being and there was a fear of change back then as well. I believed at the time that the changes we were bringing in were right for Scottish football, but, since then, the whole financial climate has changed radically across the UK and Europe, and it’s now time for Scottish football to change things again.
“The product’s got to be made more interesting and exciting, as people have got so many other things they can be spending their money. Football still has a huge hold on the Scottish psyche, but it’s got to get the product right and I believe that the proposed new product will generate excitement and finance, which can only benefit the game long term.
“The administrators have wrestled with lots of different formulas. The one they have chosen has been used in other countries. I know it didn’t work in Austria, but the financial distribution model there was very different to the one being proposed in Scotland. There is no set-up that is going to please everyone. In a perfect world, we’d have a top league with 16 teams of relatively equal strength, but that’s not going to happen.
“In Scotland, we have a small number of top clubs, and another relatively small number who are a bit further behind. We’re not the only country in this position, but it’s far easier to deal with when you have a league that is having hundreds of millions of pounds pumped into it every year by Sky TV. We don’t have that luxury, so we have to create a formula that gives fans excitement, while also continuing to allow our young players to develop and have a platform to perform. Ultimately, we want a greater piece of the television financial pie coming to Scotland rather than south of the border. This proposal gives us that chance.”
Deans also dismissed the cynics’ notion that the reconstruction plans might in some way be aimed at fast-tracking Rangers back to the top table. “Some people think this is all being done to get Rangers entry back to the top tier, but that is clearly not the case,” he said. “Rangers are still only associate members of the SFL and are not eligible to vote. This is not being done to benefit any club – it’s to benefit the whole of Scottish football, and I believe it will.”
Most of us really wanted rid of split
WILLIE DUNCAN reckons that most football fans wanted rid of the SPL split – never mind introducing another one.
The proposal for the league reconstruction which will come into effect in time for the start of next season will see the top two divisions of 12 teams split into three groups of eight after the first two rounds of fixtures.
The top eight will play off against one another for the title and the bottom eight will battle it out to avoid relegation.
The middle eight will have their points reset to zero and their mini-league will decide promotion and relegation from the top flight.
The new scenario, if applied to this season’s current SPL table, would see Hearts in the playoff league, as they are in ninth place.
It’s a complicated process and one that Duncan is not entirely convinced by, particularly the split.
Duncan, who compiles the Evening News’ Hearts Fanzone section, said: “David Southern from Hearts talked a few of us through the proposal a little while back and he was certainly positive about it, but I think that the majority of people will still see it as a fairly strange proposal.
“Yes, I think that there had to be change, but we will have to wait and see if this 12-12-18 works.
“If you speak to fans all over the country I think that the one thing they would agree on is that they wanted rid of the split – yet here we have a split that will see three leagues of eight after the first two rounds of
While having reservations over how the new league arrangement will work, Duncan conceded that now is definitely the time for change.
He added: “It is easy to criticise but there are also a lot of flaws in the suggestions for 16 or 18-team leagues because we would be left with an awful lot of meaningless games again.”