FIRST Division clubs stand to be the main beneficiaries of Scotland’s league reconstruction plans. Two top tiers of 12 clubs and a third consisting of 18 appeals to those in the current First Division due to the halfway splits.
Whilst fans deride the idea nationwide, many with good reason, those currently jostling for a solitary promotion spot to the top flight, are understandably right behind the new proposals.
It looks increasingly likely that the 12-12-18 model, favoured by Scottish football’s governors, will come into practice this summer in a major revamp of the game. The top two leagues would split into three leagues of eight after 22 fixtures, allowing existing First Division clubs the chance to challenge for one of four places amongst the elite for the start of the following season.
At Raith Rovers, player-manager Grant Murray is excited by the idea. His chairman, Turnbull Hutton, has already declared the financial attractions of having smaller leagues with much at stake for those involved. Murray puts across the footballer’s and the manager’s perspective. For his club and many others, the route to the Scottish Premier League is congested in the existing one up – one down system of promotion and relegation. The new proposals would increase chances of promotion fourfold.
“From a football point of view it could be fantastic. Raith Rovers could find themselves playing the likes of Hearts, who are in the bottom four of the SPL at this minute, after the leagues split into three tiers of eight. That’s a big incentive for players at our club,” explained Murray. “We can’t take anything for granted but, from a player’s point of view, the 12-12-18 system that’s been proposed would bring fresh games and fresh challenges. No disrespect to anyone in our league but we’ve already played Airdrie five times this season. Two of those were cup ties. Yet we had only played Livingston once before last Saturday’s game at Almondvale. The reconstruction would give everyone a fresh challenge.
“One of the big carrots for First Division clubs is the chance to get into the top 12. At the moment, it’s one up and one down from the First Division to the SPL. That makes it difficult for clubs aspiring to get into the top tier.
“Raith were in that position two seasons ago when we led the league for 95 per cent of the season only to be pipped with three games to go. You put all that effort into a season and you know the rules but there is such a huge sense of disappointment in that situation.”
The new format would also involve play-offs from the “National League” – the team bottom tier of 18 – into the “Championship”. Such exciting climaxes to each season are guaranteed to appeal to fans and Murray can understand why. “In England, play-offs generate so much income for teams. We aren’t going to match that but the excitement it brings is great because it keeps the whole season going right to the end,” he continued.
“People have touched on whether the top league should be even bigger. Everyone has different opinions. The guys at the top have probably sat and looked at this for a number of years and now we might be getting round to putting it into practice. We’ll never know how successful it’s going to be till we try something. We have to go with it. Every club needs to give it their all and make sure it does work.
“Other countries have different levels of football and different crowds. Scottish football needs its crowds back, especially for First Division clubs. If this is what it’s going to take then we have to stand by it. We can’t really compare it to other countries because not many have tried this formula.”
Attracting crowds back to the vastly underpopulated stadiums of Scotland is one of the main purposes of the league revamp. Murray, of course, began his career at Hearts in an era when Scottish football was financially stable with crowds generally healthy. How times have changed. “Obviously we need to look at things financially as well,” he said. “I can only concentrate on Raith and if the restructure brings more fans to games then it can only benefit us. That’s what Scottish football needs.
“People are crying out for change but, at the end of the day, every club needs fans through the door. The thing is how to go about getting them.”