Friday, 10 September 2010

Saving Scottish Football - Part One: Domestic Reconstruction

The domestic game in Scotland has struggled in the last decade. The Scottish Premier League has suffered as a consequence of Old Firm domination and no team outside has won the Premier Division in over 20 years.

It's a telling statistics that pretty much sums up the demise of the Scottish game. The days of four teams chasing a league title are long gone and already this season after 3 matches the Old Firm have a lead on the rest of the clubs.

The lack of competition has a huge effect on other aspects of Scottish Football. Fans aren't interested in paying money to watch a product which is highly predictable. It didn't surprise me to see Aberdeen fans fill their full allocation at McDiarmid Park on the second weekend of the season after their side romped to a 4-0 victory on the opening day. Granted, it was against Hamilton but the signing of Paul Hartley, a well-known face in Scottish Football, was enough to get bums on seats. Even in 2005/2006, Hearts split the Old Firm and qualified for the Champions League and were regularly playing infront of sell-out crowds at Tynecastle.

The 12-team SPL does offer some excitement if your an Old Firm fan, but generally speaking for the other clubs it is a real pain in the neck. Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen have no chance of sustaining a proper title challenge when they are playing the Old Firm 8 times a season - some losing 24 points in the process. For me, an 18-team Premier League is the way to go with a European play-off and a relegation play-off, aswell as another automatic relegation position. With 34 games, these potential challengers could afford to lose out on the 4 times they play against the Old Firm which would only be 12 points and does not make a significant dent in a title challenge. I think this structure for the SPL would also restore major interest in the crunch matches like Rangers v Celtic, Aberdeen v Rangers, Hearts v Hibs and perhaps offer some other local derbies like Dundee v Dundee United.

One of the key things that can be accommodated with an extended SPL is the introduction of a winter break. Scotland regularly find itself in a position during December/January when alot of games are being postponed due to the harsh winter weather. Having a 3 or 4 week winter shutdown would be excellent for the clubs because they wouldn't need to pay needless money on calling off games. It is no surprise that during these winter months, fans aren't attracted to watching football. Combined with an early start, possibly mid-July, a winter break would fit perfectly into the Scottish calender.

The pathetic state of our lower divisions causes major debate amongst fans, even fans from the Premier League. I think one of the main things that people do not understand is the lack of competition due to no relegation in the Third Division. It does not make sense. There are many junior and amateur clubs pulling in decent crowds and playing in decent facilities with a really ambitious backing, for example, Spartans. Without doubt, some of these clubs could probably hold their own in the division and the clubs who have contributed next-to-nothing to Scottish Football will find their level. I would also look at lowering the amount of clubs but not forcing teams to merge and perhaps keeping people away from games. I would go for two lower divisions, both with 10 teams, with the '2 up, 2 down' model.

In addition to reconstruction of our leagues, the domestic cups have become boring and poorly treated by the clubs. I would not go down the road of scrapping the League Cup because financially it is more lucrative than the Scottish Cup. For the League Cup, I would rationalise the competition and bring the Old Firm into the earlier rounds but have them playing away from home. The regional structure would encourage early local derbies and give more revenue to the clubs rather than having half-filled stadiums for the early rounds. It would also help, in my view, if the League Cup was finished for the end of the first-half of the year. The Scottish Cup, for all it's history, is poorly marketed by the Scottish FA compared to the FA Cup down south. Again, bringing the Old Firm in early on would bring in more revenue for smaller clubs if they visit smaller teams. I think we will all agree that replays should 100% be scrapped.

Those are my general ideas for SPL reconstruction. I think we do agree that the SPL lacks a competitive edge and really the only way to do that is making changes to the domestic scene.

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