SPFL reshuffle 'like herding mice' after 'strangest' victory leaves division

Partick Thistle have been relegated despite sitting just two points behind Queen of the South with a game in hand
Partick Thistle have been relegated despite sitting just two points behind Queen of the South with a game in hand

After five days of bitterness, rancour, suspicion and confusion, it was somehow fitting that the SPFL rounded it all off with a valedictory statement on Wednesday that added slapstick to the mix.

In announcing that their controversial resolution had now passed and that the lower leagues were thereby over for the season, SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan and chief executive Neil Doncaster thought it a good idea to congratulate the immediate winners from the vote - Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers, all now champions of their respective divisions - without commiserating with the big losers - Partick Thistle and Stranraer, who were now relegated.

Thistle, in particular, were the most notable casualty in the resolution being passed. They're bottom of the Championship, so they're automatically down despite being just two points behind Queen of the South with a game in hand.

Thistle and Stranraer weren't mapped in the original statement. Never mind sympathising with them, there was no mention of their fate at all until a clarification was put out five minutes later confirming that, yes, the pair of them were going down. There were no accompanying quotes from MacLennan or Doncaster. No empathy. It was all so matter-of-fact. Insult was added to injury.

The conduct of the SPFL board has been called into question repeatedly during this saga and so it was again after they issued their missive on Wednesday. Had you hoped that some contrition would be shown by the board, then you'd have been disappointed. Had you expected some form of acknowledgment that an unseemly mess had been allowed to happen and that they bore some responsibility for it then, you'd have been wasting your time.

This has been an intense and divisive week. Accusations have been flung about like confetti. The SPFL has been accused of bullying and coercion, of telling cash-starved clubs that the only way to get financial help was to vote for their resolution. One club said they felt like a gun was being put to their head. 'Vote for us or else...'

'Anger doesn't cover it'

The SPFL has also been accused of ignoring its own rule book when allowing Dundee to change their vote from their original No to their final Yes, the one vote that proved decisive.

Partick Thistle got a QC to examine SPFL rules and the conclusion was that the league body was in breach of its own articles - although the club have since decided against taking legal action. Instead of tackling Thistle's conclusions point by point, the SPFL allowed Dundee to resubmit a vote that saw Thistle relegated. From a Partick perspective, anger doesn't even come close to covering it.

We're now at the end of phase one in this tortured business. Phase two is the exhumation of the reconstruction debate.

We're now led to believe by the SPFL and others that there is a growing appetite for the very thing that many Premiership clubs have been dead against for years, that there is a gathering consensus for a 14-team Premiership next season - maybe for just one season - with three other leagues of 10, or some such model. It would be a revamp that would save Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer from relegation. Mend some bridges, perhaps. Take some heat out of the current situation. Remove the injustice.

Reconstruction needs a majority of 11-1 in the Premiership and 75% in the other three leagues. One senior figure in Scottish football said on Wednesday evening that it had a chance because clubs were now beginning to see beyond their own self-interest. Another said that it had no chance because enough clubs will never see beyond their own self-interest.

In the context of clubs suddenly coming together in harmony and voting for change, it's worth looking back at what's happened over the past week or so. Rangers have alleged bullying and coercion on the part of the SPFL. While Rangers said it publicly, others said it privately.

Dundee U-turn remains a mystery

Rangers have called for an independent inquiry into the conduct of the SPFL. They've called for the suspension of Doncaster and SPFL legal adviser Rod McKenzie. Dave Cormack, the Aberdeen chairman, has also been critical of the SPFL. Hearts owner Ann Budge has threatened that she may sue the league. Scot Gardiner, the Inverness Caledonian Thistle chief executive, has called out the board in the most emphatic way.

Dundee have been quite something throughout all of this, voting No then switching sides days later without ever properly explaining who they spoke to in the meantime to cause such a U-turn.

Their statement on Wednesday has angered some in the game. Far from accepting that changing their vote has caused deep suspicion, they sought to portray themselves as a bastion of good practice, a footballing Mother Teresa here to bring comfort and hope to all. "We have worked tirelessly to achieve solutions to help those who were disadvantaged and sought to find ways to help them," they said. It might have been hard for Partick and Stranraer to stomach that given it was Dundee's second vote that disadvantaged them.

Hearts

"We have discussed options with a variety of member clubs to show solidarity to the clubs most negatively impacted by the SPFL proposal," the statement continued.

The people at Thistle may have choked on that one, too. The only solidarity they wanted from Dundee was for them to hold to their promise of a No vote, a promise they didn't keep.

Dundee's statement added: "Through our discussions it appears that there's an appetite to provide various forms of support from other member clubs...these acts of kindness and solidarity will be worked out amongst member clubs."

'Strange victory leaves division in its wake'

As Dundee wrote about acts of kindness towards the poor clubs who now find themselves relegated because of a remarkable volte face, some might have been thinking more along of the lines of disbelief and incredulity. Dundee's words won't have been much of a balm to those left to pick up the pieces in the wake of their vote that never was.

Dundee's behaviour shredded the credibility of the vote. By Wednesday morning even avowed Yes supporters acknowledged that the integrity of the resolution was shot to smithereens and needed replacing by something new. The SPFL board ploughed on and got the result they were looking for. It was the strangest kind of victory that left division in its wake.

Having previously threatened legal action, Budge, along with Hamilton's Les Gray, are now heading up a reconstruction task force. Presumably, that's the end of the legal action chat from Tynecastle. Budge's club sit in bottom place in the Premiership. Gray's club are one from bottom. Like turkeys campaigning for the cancellation of Christmas, you wonder how far they're going to get before they start getting hit by accusations of self-preservation.

Budge was once of the view that 42 senior clubs was too many for Scotland. "You're looking at half that number," she said in 2016. Now she'll be arguing for a model that will likely increase the number of senior clubs to 44. When crisis hits, expedience rules.

Perhaps we're at a point now where clubs can set aside their own personal agendas and vote for a reconstruction model that would undo the injustice perpetrated on Partick Thistle, but we'd be as well holding on to our scepticism for now. It's been hard-earned. Experience tells us not to abandon it so easily.

Reconstruction would cost each Premiership club money. There'd be 14 mouths to feed instead of 12. And that's where the doubts grow. Maybe they truly are at a point where they'll put aside their own interests and vote this through, but like Dundee's vote, you wouldn't bank on it.

While we wait to hear what, if anything, the most vocal opponents of the SPFL - Rangers and Partick Thistle - are going to do next, Budge and Gray are about to embark on their bid for reconciliation and reconstruction. It'll be like herding mice at a crossroads. Good luck to them.

Top Stories