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Pyramid revolution will dismantle SFL cartel

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Jim Spence | 22:06 UK time, Friday, 8 April 2011

When Scottish Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster told me on BBC Radio Scotland's "Beyond the SPL" this week that a pyramid system could work in Scottish football, he was right on the money.

English football has been reinvigorated at lower level with such a system. Scottish football could benefit similarly.

While I admit to as yet being unconvinced of the merits of a 10-team top-flight, I am wholly convinced of the need to open Scottish football up to as wide a selection of clubs as possible.

Our game needs a revolution, but revolution seldom starts with those at the top. It comes from below, from the dispossessed and disenfranchised.

That sums up the lot of a great many clubs in Scotland who have the potential to be bigger and better than they are at present.

Who would seriously argue that Scottish Junior Cup holders Linlithgow Rose (pictured) are not the equal of East Stirlingshire, or that Inverurie Locos are not as big a club as Montrose.

In Edinburgh, Spartans have a new stadium, are doing terrific work in the community and have a catchment area to provide good crowds.

But, if any of them want to play in the Scottish Football League as currently organised, they will have to wait on a member club going out of business before even getting the opportunity to apply for membership.

A club can finish bottom of the Third Division for years on end and still be guaranteed continuing membership and the financial hand-outs that go with it.

It's a great big self-interested cartel that so far has appeared frightened of competition from fresher, more ambitious clubs.

Doncaster agrees that there should be a relaxation of some of the current restrictive stadia regulations.

That will allow Highland League clubs, East of Scotland League clubs and Scottish Junior Football Association clubs time to bring their grounds up to an agreed standard.

But a pyramid system will not only challenge the institutionalised workings of the SFL clubs.

It will also challenge those committee members at clubs in those other leagues who like to be big fish in a wee pond.

I regularly speak to top junior managers who would love a crack at a higher level of football with their clubs, but they're never sure that the committee will fancy it.

In which case, new ambitious fans and business people in those communities must replace them to allow their clubs to prosper in a truly national Scottish league set-up.

The distinction between the current senior leagues and the rest is a historical anachronism. Its days are numbered.


  • Comment number 1.

    Completely agree with your article. It's somewhat disappointing that clubs retain their membership year in year out without ever being challenged on whether said membership is merited whilst others would jump at the chance at SFL football.

    Such clubs (both of those above) should be allowed to find their level within the game with nary a glass ceiling nor floor restricting their placement within the game.

    I'd be interested to see how Neil (Doncaster) would envisage changes to the stadium criteria - would there be a relaxation of pitch dimension criteria (from the SFA club licensing) and whether this would impact on the development grants that come with the aforementioned licensing.

    Definitely interesting to see how that would develop - SFL and SFA working closely for the benefit of the clubs at lower level.

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree, Jim. There should be no barriers to the ambition of football clubs; if a club has the footballing talent to get to the professional leagues, then should not hindered in doing so. Perhaps a regionalised structure below the Third Division would be the answer; with bottom of the Third Division being relegated back into their "home" region and the other regional winners playing out playoffs for the vacant space. Perhaps one of the SPL clubs would be so kind as to let them use their stadium for the final, seeing as Hampden is apparently off limits for football at the moment?

    If it were my choice, I'd plump for three "professional" divisions. SPL of about 14 teams at the top, followed by a 16 team lower tier with certain stadia criteria. The final 10-12 bottom tier would have lesser stadia criteria (i.e. having adequate segregated space for home and opposing fans to spectate) to allow the junior teams to enter the league without too much financial cost. Below this division, regional leagues could be formed with size determind by the availability of junior teams.

    Perhaps we could look at the spread of prize and sponsorship money across the board so that clubs could try to emulate the £10/£5 price we hear lauded so much. Do the Old Firm really need to deprive everybody else of this cash that could help make the other clubs more competitive? Perhaps if Rangers hadn't sold out to JJB they'd be in a better financial place at the moment; if Celtic had splurge millions each summer on new players and managers, they can afford a drop in SPL revenue.

    Now's the time to revolutionise Scottish football.

  • Comment number 3.


    Rangers financial woes are little to do with selling out to JJB; more to do with spending far above a viable sustainable level for any number of years (not just the last decade - check Rangers spend at the end of Walter Smith's first tenure and compare it to turnover).

    Celtic take in a lot of money from players sales too - £17.5m last summer I believe.

    Tellingly, you fail to mention the ridiculous sums spent by some of our other teams in previous years. As a percentage of turnover in the respective seasons/years, how much do you reckon Aberdeen spent on the likes of Hans Gilhaus, Theo Snelders, Paul Bernard etc? Or Motherwell on Don Goodman et al? Hearts on Pasquale Bruno etc?

    It's not only the OF that have ruined the game with reckless spending.

    But yes, a more even split, or even a consistent split, of tv/prize money would be very much desirable. Set against that is the fact that the tv/prize money is largely there because of the OF (let's not kid ourselves otherwise) so I can see their argument for retaining the lion's share. Should we not also, for the good of the game, split the money between the divisions more evenly?

  • Comment number 4.


    Of course, you're right. The money splurged by the top Scottish teams in the last 25 years could and should have been spent on youth development, we all know that. Obviously, the Old Firm are the major attraction in Scottish football and that's why the have argued for the lion's share of the revenue. However, they can't have it both ways. They can't demand most of the revenue and then say the league isn't competitive enough for them. They won't be leaving anytime soon, so why not surrender some (not all, naturally) of their financial hegemony to help fiscally responsible clubs like St. Johnstone, St. Mirren and help alleviate troubled clubs like Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and Dundee United? Healthier clubs breed better results; Hibs have shown in recent years that youth policies can yield talent; one glance at their youth team of 10 years ago shows most of that squad now plying their trade at the Old Firm or England. The result of this is that Hibs have used these funds wisely by continually investing in youth and facilities. In contrast, Aberdeen are building a new stadium without first really addressing their youth policy; thanks to their geographical position, they can hoover up the rising talent in the lower and junior clubs in the North East without serious hindrance.

    To return to Jim's original point about making our top leagues accessible, a fairer spread of funds would make turning professional (or even semi-professional) possible for the junior teams; without an immediate cash boost from promotion, teams are likely to borrow to secure their status or lose their best players to their established rivals. There is some money in Scottish football, it's just far too top heavy in distribution, in my opinion. The SPL (and the Old Firm in particular) takes far too much. Even out the playing field a little and give the lower clubs a fighting chance.

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree 100% with the sentimnet of this article. Yet strangely the SPL are the ones whom are in charge of the reconstruction. it's backwards.

    We need a more fluid and modern system. even if relegation in and out of the league were to be on a basis that the bottom team enters a play off between the top team in the three junior divisions, that would be a start.

    Everyone is sick to the teeth of the self interest form so so many parties in scottish football but sadly they are PLC's and greed kicks in. Even the SPL admit people want to see a 16 team league but don't have the clout to enforce it as there will be financial implications for the teams at the top. We don't just want the money to be more spread out though, scottish football needs it. I just hope somehow eventually self interest is put aside or scottish football will die before it modernises.

    Amazingly there is a living working example of how a modern league can be run in a country of 5m people. It's Norway. They have a two tier premiership in which the money is spread about. 16 teams in both tiers. it is a full pyramid system and 4 regional leagues feed in and out of the second tier. we really should be taking a leaf out of their book. In scotland it would probably make most sence to keep the 3 junior regions of north, east and west and have them feed in. Having all teams playing in the same pyramid system.

    For me albeit just an oppinion, the best use of so called COLT teams would be to have them playing in the top division of the regional leagues, eg. celtic, rangers in west - hibs, hearts in east and dundee utd, aberdeen in north, in order to increase the profile of the regional leagues. To have them playing in the second tier of the SPL would be less effective and sometimes belittling of the quality of soem of the teams that would be in there.

    Lets all just hope that sense provails over greed and we modernise before we die. we know this is more than just what we all want this really is what we need. Check out the norway example!

  • Comment number 6.

    PS. we also need to stop the pretence that scotland can in anyway compete on a fantasy football level. It cannot compete with it's bigger english neighbour at selling this product. the cut price cup replay between motherwell and dundee utd was an image of how the futur of scottish football should look.

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree with all you say Jim but Non League football must be sorted out first.

    The Highland League operates a closed shop yet a number of their teams want to be part of a pyramidal league structure, upwards but not downwards. Hypocrites.

    The East of Scotland League wants to be part of a pyramidal structure but the East Juniors might not. They also overlap considerably but don't amalgamate.

    The South of Scotland League is cut adrift but geographically could join with the West Juniors but won't.

    Logically there would be 3 Regional Leagues feeding the Football League - Highland, East and West but how can this happen if it hasn't happened in over 100 years.

  • Comment number 8.

    Just start with what you can, move quickly and recognise that its a process that will evolve.

    Evenly split the TV/placing revenue in the top leagues and cushion the drop between the top 2 divisions

    Excellent principle to break up entry to the pro-leagues. Just start with what you can agree on, move quickly and recognise that its a process that will evolve at all levels. Agree with lots in all above posts

    And interesting comment on the different ambitions (and outlooks) of Junior managers and committee's. Not kidding. But a pyramid would finally give the opportunity to build bigger clubs in three of the new towns. How a town the size of EK with a decent local economy has no professional club is just astonishing in the modern football business.

    But at least a pyramid will mean its now possible that EK Thistle could one day win the SPL title, complete the treble and play in a bigger European league!

  • Comment number 9.

    A thoughtful piece as ever, Jim.

    The problem is, as you rightly point out, the SFL is a "great big self-interested cartel", and the 'turkeys' are hardly likely to vote for Christmas, are they? Were the SFA to force the issue they would most certainly have a revolt on their hands, but unfortunately not the kind you espouse.

    While talk of 'levelling the playing field' between leagues is all well and good, it ignores a rather important point - there is not enough money to go around. Even now most SPL teams are facing dire financial hardship. How is it 'fair' to ask them to give up their TV and other revenues to support teams who cannot get more than a few hundred fans through the door every week?

    I have long been an advocate of a regionalised structure for Division Two (third-tier) and below, as they have in countries such as Italy. I also believe the experiment with relegation from the 'main' leagues that has been conducted in England has worked. We don't really have an equivalent of a Blue Square Premiership, though. Until the non-SPL/SFL leagues organise themselves, that status quo is likely to remain very much intact.

  • Comment number 10.

    Jim - I agree 100% with this article Jim.

    Cheers Jim.

  • Comment number 11.

    Oh Jimmy Jimmy, Jim Jim Jimmy Jimmy.
    Jim Jim Jimmy, Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Spence.

    Let's FLY, fly with me Jim, Jimmy Spence.

    Oh Jim Jimmy, Jimmy Jimmy Spence.

    1,2,3,4,5,6,7 - JIMMY JIMMY SPENCE.


  • Comment number 12.

    ONE, TWO, THREE FOUR...............


  • Comment number 13.

    People keep saying that an expanded top league is un affordable for a country of scotlands size. but scotland has more people turning out to league matches per head of population than anywhere else in europe i am led to believe. that's despite the current overpricing and monotony. so given that norway, a country of same population but less interest in football can run a two teir premier league with 16 teams in each tier, how is it impossible in scotland?

    I understand entirely that the clubs at the top are struggling too but that is purely because of their overspend past and present, living way beyond their means. Purely only singling them out as the most obvious example look at Rangers. Despite being successful in recent years and even making a european final that are in trouble. This is with the finaces and league structure skewed massively in their favour. Celtic would be in similar problems had strachans tenure not been so good at balancing the books. So how can any structuring of the league be justified to protect them given that even the top heavy skew at present isn't enough. Aberdeen are having to move to a council funded ground to clear debts and hearts are living off romanov. we need an entirely new way of thinking. the clubs at the top are going to have to scale down. spend less and live within their means. we can't compete on the big money stage. we never could.

    Any move to an expanded league and reducing the finances at the top will have to be done slowly to allow clubs to scale down, but how can it be justified to protect their overspending at the expense of all other teams basic ability to simply function as a professional team at all??

  • Comment number 14.

    Isn't that the model already being suggested Craig? Start with 10 and expand out once the money improves?

    You mention Rangers (debt 20m+ but still facing an uncertain future despite any takeover), Celtic (debt probably about £5m or less) and Aberdeen (debt between 11-13m). You could also have mentioned Hearts (debt 35m), Kilmarnock (debt 11m) or DUtd (debt £7m).

    Debt levels might improve for many over the next 5-10 years as they increasingly live within their means. Hibs, StM and StJ are all well run, and the Dons should return to parity with the sale of the old ground.

    Revenues are no longer largely determined by crowds but by TV.

    But if you started with 16 there is no guarantee crowds would come back. With less games the attendance revenue would certainly fall. If you reduced prices the revenue would fall further unless you speculated on this bringing in sufficient bigger crowds to compensate for less games and the reduced TV deal that would come from less games (and only two OF games each season).

    All of which effects the players the league attracts and the revenues it could attract in transfers out of the league.

    Would I like a 16 team top league? Perhaps though I'm not sure there is sufficent depth to justify it. A 14 would be more attractive though again we are talking about a revenue loss.

    I've seen plenty on the competitive, moral and social rationale for a 16 league, plenty on what fans want but absolute zip on the economic rationale for this 'Plan B'?

    Let new clubs into the leagues by all means but cutting the 'tall poppies' in our game, while sounding good and appealing to many fans (for partisan reasons), might actually kill it completely as a marketable product.

  • Comment number 15.

    You are wrong to say that a club can continue to finish bottom of the league for years on end and be guaranteed membership. If a club finishes bottom for 2 years in a row there will be a vote to remove full membership and make them an associate member. Not to let the facts get in the way of a good rant though.

  • Comment number 16.

    15 kerrazoo.

    Does that club get relegated and if so where to then ?

    Let's not play with semantics of full and associate membership.

    As things stand at present there is no relegation from the SFL third division.

    Therefore there is no path of progress for ambitious clubs into the SFL because of the dead wood at the bottom.

  • Comment number 17.

    Solomon Pain: good point but two very bad examples: Hans Gillhaus at £650k and Theo Snelders at £300k were not examples of reckless spending but astute signing that more than returned on their outlay. On the other hand Paul Bernard at a million was a mistake, John Inglis at £400k, big mistake, Robbie Winters for £750k + Billy Dodds??? incomprehensible, Colin Woodthorpe £400k aaaagh. But I digress, I don't see any sign that clubs have moved on from the short term approach that has been used so often and given half the chance the likes of Aberdeen would probably repeat their past recklessness, its just the banks won't let them anymore!

  • Comment number 18.

    Explicit within the word 'revolution' is the notion that something is in motion, rotating.

    Scottish football's fortunes are not in motion. They are calcified by generations of managers and administrators who lack imagination and cannot heed the message that their inaction is killing the professional game.

    There will be no changing Scottish football from the grassroots. However, there may be a ruin to inherit over the next generation which allows semi-pro teams to dance on the graves of teams like Partick Thistle, St Mirren and the rest of the aspiring strugglers.

  • Comment number 19.

    Rob04. I have personally contacted the spl and got response on all this. indeed their response hinted to me that the 10 team proposal is a short term measure as one of many steps towards expanding the league in the long term. they said to me that a 14 team league couldn't be considered for practical reasons so a 16 team league would be the ultimate aim. The issue i have is where is the transparency?? who here has without any personal contact from the spl seen genuine suggestions of further moves forward beyond the 10 team spl? i really dont think this can be sorted overnight, that isn't what i was suggesting. but until a long term plan is set out with the long term future of scottish football at heart, and equally importantly deciding on what sort of product the SPL in the long term really can be, no one will agree to anything. it's still all protectionist and panic driven. because what were doing isn't working and we haven't modernised fast enough. my issue is how are the changes going to make the SPL an new product.?

  • Comment number 20.

    All this talk of the SFL being a "great big self-interested cartel" is disingenuous in the extreme. Until the mess that is Highland League/Juniors/non-league seniors is sorted out then there realistically cannot be a pyramid system. Additionally, which non-league clubs have the ambition/finance to upgrade their grounds to a reasonable level in order to gain entry to the SFL? Floodlights and decent toilets/catering facilities should be a minimum requirement. Will the massive level of "financial hand-outs" outweigh the cost of upgrading grounds to a certain level in order to gain entry to the SFL? I wouldn't be too sure if there is sufficient demand/desire/finance? in the non-SFL arena to be able to create such a pyramid system.

  • Comment number 21.

    Whatever happens the juniors should be locked out until they follow the same rules everyone else has to. Letting them into the Scottish Cup was a big mistake as it legitimised them.

    Spartans is the example used, their ground could handle the higher echelons of the SFL easily.

  • Comment number 22.

    "A club can finish bottom of the Third Division for years on end and still be guaranteed continuing membership and the financial hand-outs that go with it.

    It's a great big self-interested cartel that so far has appeared frightened of competition from fresher, more ambitious clubs."

    Pot Kettle Black, this is just the very same as the other 10 SPL clubs. How many clubs have almost went to the wall trying to meet SPL criteria because the members wanted to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to replace them.
    If Mr Spence is talking about self interest cartels should he not be looking at the top division and not having a cheap shot at the teams at the bottom who are trying hard to survive because the real money in the game is being strangled at the top.

  • Comment number 23.

    This "article" is an example of what happens when you jump into a debate that's already been going on for a long time, without bothering to trouble yourself as to what has been discussed beforehand.

    I completely agree that there should be a pyramid system in Scotland, and I say that as a fan of a club whom you dismiss as "dead wood". I'd happily take my chances in the East of Scotland League if it came to that, if we're not good enough to be a legasue club then it would be up to us to prove that we deserved to return via winning a non league championship.

    However, I'd perhaps take your comments a little more seriously if you or your BBC Scotland colleagues bothered to ever show face at a game below first division level, or indeed showed the game at our level any interest whatsoever, beyond the audibly irritated ninety seconds of Richard Gordon's time that the second and the division results get on a Saturday Sportsound, before Jim Traynor comes on. As, however, that seems to be the sum total of broadcast journalist interest in the lower leagues, I doubt anyone will take what you have to say on the subject very seriously.

    A pyramid would be great. It would open up a stagnant and closed off league structure. It would give an opportunity to clubs who want into the SFL. The trouble is, I think you'd struggle to find more than half a dozen clubs interested in joining the SFL at present. Spartans, Edinburgh City, Preston, er, maybe Clydebank, Cove Rangers, maybe Inverurie.

    The junior ranks are decidedly unconvinced by the vague noises suggesting that maybe, er, somewhere, there might be a pyramid, er, sometime. It's hardly fair to accuse the bottom six of Division 3 of "self interest" and "no desire to progress" when there is no workable league for them to go to, nor any sign of a workable structure emerging anytime soon.

    Moreover, it's hardly fair to ask the committees of the junior ranks top clubs to invest massively in facilities, etc, on the vague promise that somewhere, sometime, there might be a pyramid to which they might be invited, maybe. Why would Linlithgow, with a healthy following in the East superleague, plenty of keenly contested local derbies and (usually) involvement in a title race swap that for 250 punters watching a muddy midweek February encounter with Stranraer?

    It may well be that a revolution is needed in Scottish football. Any "revolution" will necessarily have to involve change for clubs in the lower leagues. However, when you consider the paucity of ideas at the top of the game (a ten team league that no one but the chairmen want, dressed up in the language of "reform" to mask a naked grab for more TV cash), under-23 Colt teams in the lower reaches because the SPL refuse, for reasons best known to themselves, to run their own reserve leagues, is it really any wonder that, after a long time discussing ideas, that no one at the lower league level, non league seniors or juniors seems to know what to do for the best?

    Revolution in our league game is going to take a lot more thought- and then action- than the vague, loftily-toned, poorly researched platitudes offered in your article.

  • Comment number 24.

    The best post on the subject is that above IMO.
    It is easy to call the Third Division the dead wood of the game but on what basis?
    Annan a forward thinking community club with ambitions to move forward, Stranraer, sorties into the First Division in the not to distant past and rebuilding after money problems, thankfully in the past, Abion Rovers, the Cinderella club with a hard working board trying to change the clubs fortunes, Montrose, possibly overspent in recent seasons to achieve promotion and are struggling at the moment but new invester could quickly turn this round, Elgin, another newish outfit who have found the transition to league status harder than imagined, Clyde, fan base to turn things round, East Stirlingshire, were making strides under Spencer Fern, his departure a body blow and Queen's Park, fantastic youth policy that is and should be encouraged.
    All in this league have had to spend considerable amounts on meeting ground criteria, something that those in leagues below have not had to do. Many Junior big guns do get considerably better crowds but this could well be down to the £3 and £5 pound entry but many of these fans have no intrest in travelling in a national league and likewise their committee's are more than happy being big fish in their present leagues. A first step may be to allow qualifying for all Junior clubs to the Scottish Cup but on the understanding that money gained from entry would be invested in their grounds thus making them more prepared for a structured league.
    Perhaps if the SPL clubs stopped importing inferior foreign imports and gave some of their brighter youngsters a chance the need to elbow their way into the Third would not be required and then they might not have balance sheets that would make Portugal blush.

  • Comment number 25.

    Fantastic posts from JGB (sums it up perfectly) and Dont sit on the fence.

    I think Mr Spence should look closer to home when entering this debate. Instead of having a go at 3rd division clubs, the vast majority of which are well run and operate within their means, he should perhaps turn his focus to certain teams that enter administration on a regular basis, over-spending while trying to gain access to the 'cash cow' of the SPL. In my opinion it is clubs like these that do greater harm to Scottish football by, essentially, trying to obtain success on the pitch at the expense of paying their rightful dues to creditors.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    #17. At 15:39pm 11th Apr 2011, Standing on the shoulders of Jim Spence

    The outlay for Gilhaus was approximately 20-25% of Aberdeen's turnover. To put it into perspective, it'd be similar to Celtic now shelling out £13-16m on one player. Or Rangers spending £12m on Flo.


    Neil Lennon, as an 'Old Firm' player, received a 5 match ban (reduced to 3, which sent referees apoplectic at the time) for similar. Can we expect the same reaction from referees? I think we should, in fact, more so given the 'respect' campaign and referee strike earlier in the season.

  • Comment number 28.

    @25, third division clubs mainly live within 'their' means due to the handouts, away support and league cup payments (this last one cannot be stressed enough - verey lucrative tournament) that being part of a closed league set up provides.

  • Comment number 29.

    First step lets make the Scottish cup a truly national cup and allow entry to all the junior clubs. They can use their local cups as pre qualifiers if fixture congestion is an issue. Perhaps then the Junior clubs can showcase their talents and show they can compete with 2nd and 3rd division clubs. This could lead to sponsors taking notice and demanding the SFL and Juniors to reform if they want more money. Doesn't the SPL, SFL, SFA and SJFA all have offices at Hampden park surely the idea of that is that people talk to each other and collaborate where there is a mutual benefit.

    I'm an Ayr fan and if my team finished bottom or 2nd bottom of the third I would want them relegated. To be honest it would be more profitable for us to play Irvine Meadow, Auchinleck, Cumnock than going all the way up to Elgin 2 times a season which in a part time league isn't really viable in a regular basis. Montrose for instance if they went down would have games v Tayport and Lochee so might generate a derby crowd.

    Lets at least cut out the third division at least and make the 1st and 2nd divisions a bit bigger say 14 or 16 teams each. The 1st division needs to also accept its not the end of the world if some clubs there are part time. If anything it may help players progress quicker if they make the move to a higher level quicker rather than sitting in a full time contract. Outside of football no sport has more than 2 or 3 full time clubs and that is where they play cross border leagues like in Rugby union and Ice hockey. The SPL is a full time league but SFL 1 should probably look more at part time. Maybe the top 4 or 5 teams be full time but a lot of the players could be on youth contracts combined with a college course.

    East of Scotland and Eastern Juniors need to merge and done on a relatively fair basis lets them have play offs between them to decide the places in the new top league and then it is decided on the park. The northern juniors should feed up to the Highland League though maybe the Highland league could drop a couple of its poorer teams and play a few less games which helps if they insist on winter football.

    SPL -12 clubs with 2 relegation spots (surely 2 relegation spots would be progress for excitement in bottom end of SPL table and top end of SFL 1.)
    SFL Championship - 14 clubs - 2 automatic relegation and 1 play off with SFL 2 clubs.
    SFL Conference - 16 clubs
    West Prem, Highland Premier, Eastern Premier

    and so on ....

  • Comment number 30.

    I don't want to deny these junior clubs from being in the SFHell. But it'll make absolutely no difference to the fact that Scottish football is going down the tubes. The only teams in Scotland which have anywhere near a decent support are Rangers, Celtic, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen and maybe Utd. All the other teams are too small and will never ever have a support which would grace SPHell. The SFHell is worse. There are no teams currently in the SFHell which deserve to be in a top division. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn't.

    The only thing I can see being of benefit would be a 4 way play off for the league and a franchise system or regional merge a heap of teams. It'll never happen but without it there is nothing to play for in Scottish football. I'm 33, I'm almost willing to bet that no team outside Rangers and Celtic will win the league in my lifetime.

  • Comment number 31.

    You're entirely correct. The size of a club's support is exactly the criteria we should be using when deciding the merits of which teams should be in the SPL. That's how it works in every other league, eh?

    This post was brought to you in conjunction with the word sarcasm.

  • Comment number 32.

    @ 29- I agree, mostly; your structure seems fine to me. On paper, it's hard to object.

    The trouble is finding non league and junior sides who will sign up to the plan you suggest. It's a real leap of faith for all but the half dozen or so who have recently applied for election to the league. As I mentioned before, I think, you'd struggle to find the teams to populate these feeder leagues to your SFL conference. Many junior committees, and the boards of senior non league clubs, are loath to 1. make the huge investment that would be required, in many cases, to bring facilities up to the SFLs (overly?) exacting standards and 2. leave behind profitable local derbies, cups, and leagues, for the right to do battle with Montrose and Annan Athletic three or four times a season, and absorb the costs of nationwide, rather than regional travel.

    If this argument is to be won, the people that need convincing are primarily in the junior grade, but also some in the non league seniors. If a workable structure were devised and the majority of decent teams from the juniors, EOS, HFL etc signed up, then there would be nowhere left for the boards of the "dead wood" clubs to go. In any case, they wouldn't have the necessary voting power to block the move if the rest of the clubs further up the SFL supported it. Indeed, they might not fear loss of full SFL membership so much, if there were a reasonable league to play in and possibly regain the league place after relegation.

    For various historical reasons Scottish football is quite different to the English set-up; it was quite a debate, then logistical effort, to re-organise the English non leagues into a transparent and progressive system where, theoretically, a team could rise from the amateur ranks to League Two in about a decade. There are so many competing and myriad bodies running football in Scotland: SPL, SFL, SFA, HFL, EOS, SOS, SJFA and three different regional junior-sub structures.

    The first step would be getting a pyramid in place would be to get all these bodies round a table and agree to a unified administrative body to govern league football in Scotland. It's why Doncaster's latest desperate, hamfisted proposals to take over the SFL and make it redundant are doomed to embarrassing failure. He doesn't seem to understand how the game here works (beyond the bottom line for the SPL), nor does he have the slightest intention of getting all these people round a table and getting them to agree on a pragmatic solution, involving compromise on all sides. It simply will not happen. The reason? Short termism, pragmatism, self-interest. Oh, and most importantly of all, money. These issues are just as applicable to some clubs in the junior, non league and SFL ranks as it is to the SPL. Scottish football is like a bizarre Venn Diagram, where none of the subsets overlap.

    Which brings me back to the problem with the original article- blaming the bottom half dozen third division clubs for blocking the legitimate ambitions of non league seniors and juniors, is like finding that you have a broken leg, and attempting to heal it by putting your arm in a cast. In this case, the diagnosis is wrong, and the 'solution' borne out of nothing more than a vague Something Must Be Done sentiment.

  • Comment number 33.


    Interesting comments re the practicalities of restructuring. Lets hope something workable emerges over time and opens up the current set-up. And asking whether clubs like Auchinleck would give up the chance of a regular bash in the Cummnock derby (or vice versa) to play in the SFL is not an insignificant issue for those concerned. However, my understanding of a reorganised set up at the bottom end is that the leagues are regionally based and not national, and this would reduce the travel and costs involved for those concerned.


    Have some sympathy with your idea of franchising and mergers, especially when you consider that most of our teams developed in our industrial boom. The population spread has changed quite significantly now but it strikes me that the business side of football has not quite been able to adapt to that and shift or incorporate new local markets. So we have a raft of small teams with strong but locality specific traditions, identities and small supports. Yet in EK for example, in the absence of any pro team in a town of nearly 100K, is it any wonder that this is almost exclusively Old Firm territory. Support you local team in EK either means watching Junior football (which I do), or following a 'cultural' path to the Old Firm (which I also do). Similar arguements must apply in Cumbernauld (Clyde being an interloper!).

  • Comment number 34.


    That makes little sense. Clyde are seen as interlopers in an Old Firm area - where then would a merged team/franchise move to in order to get fans? Most towns are too saturated in Old Firm fans to allow a franchised or merged team to move in and become successful and/or big enough to actually change anything in the SFL/SPL for the better; instead you'd kill off a local institution (many of which were formed before Celtic), a focal point for hundreds of people on any given Saturday.

    The worst one I usually hear is that the 4 Angus teams should merge. The population between them is about 60,000, or the same as Livingston. Unfortunately, that is spread over four towns and several outlying areas. Wherever the new team played, the other three towns would turn their noses up and you'd have 1 league club (probably playing in Arbroath, as it's considerably the biggest town) and three re-formed juniors vying to get their league positions back (which, given their infrastructure, they probably would).

    So we'd have, erm, four league clubs from Angus.

    Or, the fans from the other three towns go and support one of the Old Firm or perhaps Dundee United or Aberdeen (many do already in one respect or another).

    Unsure how that would benefit the game.

    On the other hand, if East Kilbride (a junior side as you say) were to challenge for a league position, then eventually, and with the backing of drawing crowds from 100,000 people, they could become a staple part of the SPL.

    Just don't expect a franchised/merged team to be magically backed by the core population. They won't (MK Dons current average crowd is about 8,000, from a population c.230,000)

  • Comment number 35.

    Personally I like the idea of an EK Thistle getting to the SFL and eventually entering the Champions League via the SPL. Having watched them on and off since I was very young it seems a natural progression to me at least! Fantasy football but the potential and a pathway should be in place. Part of the problem with Clyde in Combernauld is that they aren't seen as the local team

    I'm not sure I magically expect anything from merged teams but they can work, as we have seen with ICT (albeit with some casualties along the way quite naturally). So I suppose the interesting issue for me is where have they worked and where else might that be applied in Scotland.

  • Comment number 36.

    The difference with ICT was that they became a new entity in one town for the specific purpose of gaining entry to the SFL. There are few comparisons that can be made with that circumstance and certainly (and logically obviously) none amongst those within the league set up at the moment. Logically, in that they are already in the league.

    There was a compelling reason for ICT to be formed, not so sure that there would be for other mergers (unless another league place was opened up). Also, a pyramid progression path completely negates the need for this type of merger - there would be little support within a community for a merging of clubs while there was a perception of being able to progress through the leagues under their own steam.

    I agree wholeheartedly that there should be a progression path for EK Thistle to gain entry to the SFL. As an actual progression path though, not because someone bought another club's license and renamed the franchise to EK Jags-Rovers or EK Thistle United.

  • Comment number 37.

    Re: 31

    My objection to this blog is that the writer thinks that introducing competition into Division 4 will somehow invigorate Scottish football when it won't. The fact remains there are very few teams in Scotland whom can ever have a support big enough to support a proper top division. That is why, despite the fact that i hate it, a top 10 division is the only option. If Dunfermline and Raith were getting 8,9,10,000 on a regular basis they would be an asset, but they don't, Dundee gets 4,500 and Cowdenbeath gets 938 and Raith get 2,760 on average. It isn't much better in the SPHell, St J average 4,022 and Hamilton average less than 4,000.

    The problem is the only thing I can see making a difference is an SPHell playoff or a heap of mergers. Even then it probably wouldn't work.....

    I'm negative about Scottish football but there is very good reason to be negative about it.

  • Comment number 38.


    You're confusing the top end of the SPL as being the beginning, the middle and the end of Scottish Football. It isn't.

    Jim's mention of the SPL in the article is short and brief, giving me the perception that his angle on this thread is more to do with the lower leagues (this is somewhat borne out by the fact the rest of the article is about this part of our leagues)

    By introducing a pyramid structure, Scottish football will be invigorated in a very big manner. From amateurs thru juniors to the non-league pro systems, a big shift will occur. A shift that will ultimately provide any team from hundreds with a path to the current SFL/SPL.

    That can only be good.

  • Comment number 39.


    Livi are another example of club metamorphosis (from Ferranti to Meadowbank to..) who successfully parachuted into a new town and have become as established as any other club in the scottish leagues: notwithstanding their recent administration adventures! And who knows what the perilous nature of finances in the Scottish game may bring for big and small clubs in the coming years: apart from the likely departure of the OF at 'their' earliest opportunity!

    There may be a lack of support for mergers in general that cannot be denied but it equally there are always exceptions to the rule and we may see other (albeit infrequently) ICT type merger moves to gain more competitive advantages from bigger resources. I'm not suggesting that the likes of Irvine Meadow should merge with their poorer cousin, Irvine Vics to create a one-town team as the former could probably power through on their own steam if that was the path they chose, but then again I'm not always convinced that 'aye bein' can't change and that changes of this nature are necessarily doomed to failure. A progression path is certainly long overdue and will hopefully refresh the place but it won't solve the financial problems for Scottish football in the short term.

    And I've become sort of agnostic on the franchising and buying-the-license idea. Its been mooted often enough in recent years in relation to the OF and poverty stricken English League 1 clubs that makes you think that someone, somewhere along the line will have a go at it.

  • Comment number 40.

    IMO franchising is a complete red herring.

    The Livingston debacle (two administrations in fifteen years of existence, many other near-death experiences aside from those instances, only kept alive by the puzzling generosity of the local council, and the largesse of an ever shifting cast of businessmen with finite resources) seems to me proof that it doesn't work.

    Ultimately, Livingston was a town full of OF supporters transplanted from Glasgow and a smaller number who owe their allegiance to one of the big two Edinburgh clubs. An even smaller number had many years of supporting one of the West Lothian junior teams behind them.

    Whether it's right or wrong, football supporters both north and south of the border and largely united in their rejection of franchising as a development model. Just look at how unpopular MK Dons and Livingston are amongst fans of other clubs. That's nothing to do with the occasional "success" that these clubs have had on the park, its to do with a perceived unfairness in how they came into existence in the first place- not playing by the rules observed by everyone else, and profiting at the expense of two clubs with small followings who were a bit down on their luck (Wimbledon FC, and Meadowbank Thistle).

    I still feel that the only way out of this is to persuade those in charge of the existing football structures to work together for a commonly agreed programme of how to make the domestic game better in Scotland. Franchises, mergers, arbitrary drawings of lines in the sand regarding who would be admitted to "SPL 2" and who wouldn't (hint: Livi and Airdrie certainly would, bet your bottom dollar that well run part time teams like Brechin or Alloa who could make it on footballing merit alone- wouldn't) all seem wrong, over-simplified answers to a very entrenched, complicated set of linked problems.

    Ultimately, the question is- do you want a football league system run on on-pitch merit before off-pitch finance. Unfortunately, the latter is the answer, and has been ever since the SPL was brought into existence in the first place in the mid 90s. Recognising that the whole SPL experiment has been a total disaster for the Scottish game, and bringing it to an end, would be a good place to start in rectifying the many problems within it.

  • Comment number 41.


    I hope you are kidding re Livi and successful.

    They are only established because they overspent by a considerable margin in order to establish themselves (and get some glory-hunting fans, that are now actual fans).

    Are you advocating setting up a club using a business model that ultimately leads into administration twice (within 4 or 5 years) as a viable future alternative to what we currently have?

  • Comment number 42.

    Livi are a modern-day example of a parachute club Solomon and I'm certainly not an advocate of any failed financial model. The landscape is dotted with numerous examples of profligate and unsustainable spending regimes from the top (Rangers, Hearts), middle (Dundee) and rising from below (Gretna).

    But in Livi's case they are coming back to the top divisions now and will hopefully have a more realistic business model in place to sustain themselves. And JGB other clubs also benefit from public largesse. Clyde might be one example. Would Aberdeen's new council built/ managed stadium proposals be another?

    I'm unaware of a general 'fan' hostility towards Livi because I don't watch clubs in that division but in England the hostility towards MK Dons is largely from ex-fans of Wimbledon. Rightly so if you are a old Don. And there is a perceived unfairness or distaste among fans for the consequences this model (the best example I know was actually in the USA among the fans of the Cleveland Browns who literally 'rioted' and fought for their team franchise) but whether its ultimately 'always' the wrong approach is up for debate. Our sporting ventures have after all evolved quite differently.

    But there is a perceived unfairness among fans across so many issues and levels you could lose count (and interest) at times (the latest McBridegate being just a topical example among many). I'm sure there are numerous examples of clubs who started with 'coming into existience' or 'how did you get here' issues. They may have merged with or co-opted another local club to become something else, or others who have changed their name to attract a wider fan base (Newton Heath - Manchester United - FC United of Manchester?). Still others who want to keep the name but relocate outwith their 'home' area (Spurs to the Olympic Stadium?).

    You make an interesting point also regarding the standards required of SPL2 clubs. Personally, I'm more interested in the standard and quality of football being played than the condition of the toilets and ground but we both know that not everyone will share that view and as I know from watching the Juniors, its sometimes for very good reasons.

    And the merits of the SPL is another good issue.

  • Comment number 43.

    I'm loath to divert this into a "franchising" debate, as it is a diversion from the topic of the original blog, but hostility to MK Dons is far from confined to fans of the old Wimbledon. Indeed, the official MKD supporters club was only admitted into the English supporters federation in the last three or four years, and only then after very heated debate. It's wrong to attribute residual hostility to the club just to Wimbledon fans.

    Similarly, whether "Livi" can be held up as successful or not very much remains to be seen. It's something of a minor miracle that the club still exists, and it does so largely becuase the council wrote off the debt f the Massone regime and let out what is an SPL standard stadium for a token rent. Even with such massive help (I can't see a local authority treating any other business which used its facilities quite so leniently, in the event of a large debt being accrued) and with substantial injections of capital from the current owners, the club has still amassed significant debt in the last two seasons. There is now talk of Almondvale being sold off to a supermarket, and Livingston moving to a smaller out of town stadium, but the future of the club still seems very uncertain. Whatever way you look at it, the Livingston franchise can hardly be seen as a model for others to follow.

    Ultimately, however, the way to undermine the unscrupulous model of taking over a club and grafting an entirely new and artificial identity, onto an old and long established name, is to have a fair and transparent set of proceedures by which a club can enter the senior leagues- bringing us back to the need for a pyramid.

  • Comment number 44.


    Ultimately, however, the way to undermine the unscrupulous model of taking over a club and grafting an entirely new and artificial identity, onto an old and long established name, is to have a fair and transparent set of proceedures by which a club can enter the senior leagues- bringing us back to the need for a pyramid.

    No its not old 'just' WFC fans but overwhelmingly so.

    You could argue that its a perfectly legitmate method and response against a private members closed shop couldn't you? A closed shop that has only opened occasionally

    All identities are 'new' when they start. They are all artificial, fans invent them and give them some meaning. Every club has to start somewhere. Which clubs deserve to survive/ exist/ take part just because they have been around the block a while, are established and have a 'tradition'? In Livi's case, were Meadowbank Thistle a long and established name? Were Ferranti Thistle?

  • Comment number 45.

    Ferranti, from 1943, yes. The name only changed as the SFL has a ban on company names appearing in team names. Meadowbank were a respected regular feature in the first division in the 1980s, punching, as a tiny club, way above their weight, under Terry Christie. They weren't a financial basket case.

    I take your point about the "closed shop" in regard Ferranti/Meadowbank/Livingston's case, however. I'm not so sure I take your point in regard to Wimbledon/MK Dons, though.

  • Comment number 46.

    I'd forgotten about Terry Christie and Meadowbank, A very good manager he was too.

  • Comment number 47.

    Ok, I agree that making the SFL a pyramid structure will dismantle the SFL cartel and that is probably a good thing. However this blog implies it will have a beneficial effect on the whole of Scottish football. It won't have any affect atall on the SPHell. I threw out franchising as an idea because it is the only way I can see teams getting a crowd approaching anywhere near sustainable : I'd say about 10,000. I know it won't happen and there are too many people in Scotland who support one of the old firm...but over several years (a decade or so) I think it might work. It won't happen but its the only way I can see Scottish football improving.

  • Comment number 48.


    I think 'unscrupulous' is a bit heavy. Not pleasant I agree but it clearly happens, although opening up the structure is no guarantee of it not happening again.

    Transparency and fair procedures?

    Now there would be a thing to have in football!!

  • Comment number 49.

    It's been interesting reading the posts as the subject matter has veered away from the original premise and back again many times,most posts make valid points in my opinion.

    I favour a pyramid system but it isn't a simple matter of deciding to have one and then asking for "volunteers".

    The first thing needing to be established is how many clubs outwith the current set -up are seriously interested in joining? I would suggest that many would prefer to be a big fish in a small pool rather than move "up" to a 3rd Division where they may not be as successful.

    Where would the money come from to get grounds up to an acceptable standard? There could be some leeway in this but there are still legal requirements that must be met.

    Presumably players would be looking for more money if their club was "promoted", how would this be financed if the club was not successful?

    Lastly, but probably most importantly, has there been any dialogue with clubs outwith the SFL ?

    There will only be one chance to get this right and the way Doncaster and his croniesare tackling it doesn't fill me with confidence.

  • Comment number 50.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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