Boot new set-up into touch before system failure reigns

THE SFL and SPL are set to embark on a charm offensive in the coming weeks to sell their plans for league reconstruction to sceptics.

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SPL chief Neil Doncaster, SFA counterpart Stewart Regan and SFL head David Longmuir have collaborated over new set-up
SPL chief Neil Doncaster, SFA counterpart Stewart Regan and SFL head David Longmuir have collaborated over new set-up

I wish them well. The 12-12-18 set-up being championed is so flawed they will need the persuasive powers of a snake charmer to convince the naysayers of its merits.

There are, admittedly, some benefits to a system that was used, and fairly rapidly discarded, in both Austria and Switzerland some years ago now.

The major clubs – and, in time, that will mean Old Firm rivals Celtic and Rangers – playing each other four times a season will please satellite broadcasters ESPN and Sky Sports. The continued backing of theses television companies prevents us becoming a Third World country in football terms.

One governing body running the senior leagues for the first time since 1998 is certainly welcome. There is too much disharmony and not nearly enough unity in our national game just now.

In addition, a pyramid structure underneath the senior leagues that rewards ambitious non-league clubs for success is also long overdue.

But there is also much wrong with what is being suggested.

Examining the current SPL table and then envisaging what would transpire if the proposed set-up was presently in place gives an idea of the difficulties that await.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that both ninth- placed Hearts and bottom-placed Dundee lose their next games, to Celtic away and Hibs away respectively, later this month.

That would mean that, after 22 matches, the former would have 26 points while the latter would be some way adrift on 12 points.

In the current system, the Tynecastle club would be virtually assured of their place in the SPL next season with such a large gap. Their Dens Park rivals, on the other hand, would be hard pushed to survive.

Yet, in the brave new world of the "Championship" – the radical new "play-off zone" being proposed by our governing bodies – things would not be so clear-cut.

The points would be reset. Hearts could end up getting relegated as a result of their performances in the final 14 games.

All it would take to derail their campaign would be a series of injuries to key players. Given the physical nature of football here, that is not uncommon.

Meanwhile, Dundee, if they produced a late flourish, could easily end up winning.

Instead of taking on, say, Celtic, Aberdeen and their city rivals Hibs in packed stadiums, Hearts would have to content themselves with games against Morton, Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers.

And that would be despite, over the course of the previous nine months, outperforming a club that retained its top-flight status by default.

Imagine the anger, bitterness and resentment – emotions we have quite enough of in Scottish football as things stand, thank you – that would create in Hearts' fans, players and officials.

The apathy, in some cases amusement, that currently exists towards what is patently an unfair system will rapidly turn to outrage and acrimony as clubs fall foul of its imperfections.

There are more concerns. It is, for example, extremely difficult to see how the 12-12-18 system will help to promote youth.

If a club has just 22 games to safeguard its lucrative place in the "Premier Division" is it really going to take a chance on a promising kid? Of course not.

If it then has a paltry 14 games to secure a position among the leading clubs the following season is it going to put its faith in an untried boy? Not a chance.

There is a chance the proposed structure could still be rejected by SPL and SFL clubs.

If it gets the green light, though, its many shortcomings surely mean it is doomed to failure.

Hobbies and general interest

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