The 2010/2011 campaign has by and large been one to forget for Scottish football. A referees’ walkout combined with weeks’ worth of fixture cancellations during the December freeze has been followed by perhaps the most deep rooted problem of all. A report undertaken last year by the Strategic Review Group came to one resounding conclusion; reform. In short, Scottish football is in something of a rut and change appears to be on the horizon with the proposal of a shift to a 10 team top flight.
Yet such a move is in sharp contrast to the express wishes of supporters as a poll revealed that 88% were opposed to a 10 team division with a larger league encompassing 16 or 18 teams the desired alternative.
With the objections of fans seeming to be little more than a minor irritant, the real question has been about finance. The four Old Firm derbies generate by far the most revenue and are highly desirable from a commercial point of view. However it is difficult to see what significant improvements can come from simply reducing the number of teams by two, aside from clubs receiving a slightly bigger share of TV and commercial deals. However the proposals are likely to lead to little practical change apart from this, with playoffs hardly likely to attract anything like the hype and attention they do south of the border.
The reforms completely miss the point. The problem with Scottish football today is inherent. By this I mean that it is, as Edwin Murray puts in the Guardian, the “content of the league” that is to blame. What is clear is that fans want something fresh, opting to increase membership of the division to break away from the repetitive tedium of playing the same teams four times a season. With this being dismissed as not “financially viable”, Scottish football needs to consider a more radical and far reaching reorganisation.
The idea of Scotland’s finest competing in the English league has been around for some time, although the proposal has never got far. Yet such a move would both reinvigorate interest among the fans whilst solving many of the problems facing Scottish football at this moment in time.
With Celtic and Rangers being able to buy up whosoever they wish from other SPL clubs and controlling the lion share of commercial revenue the league has become one of the most predictable in the world. By removing the pair from the Scottish game the SPL would be freed of its monotonous predictability reinvigorating the rest of the division and giving fans a genuinely competitive spectacle.
In its own way this would revitalise the Old Firm itself. Sheltered from genuine competition and with a guaranteed Champions League spot there is on the face of it little for this pair to be unhappy about. Yet Walter Smith has regularly bemoaned the lack of finance in Scottish football as he drove the team bus into Old Trafford and parked it in front of the Rangers goal on their visit to Old Trafford, citing a lack of quality as his excuse. In themselves the two Glasgow clubs are enormous. With attendances of over 50,000 and a tradition to match, they are in terms of history up there with England’s elite. Yet having steadily withered in Scotland the only way for these clubs to realise their potential is to tap into the financial resources of the English league.
Having seen Kenny Miller depart for Bursaspor and the likes of Charlie Mcdonald and Kris Boyd heading South it seems that even the Championship has a greater ability to attract players than the SPL because of the possibility of Premier League football.
Given that these clubs enjoy huge gates and compete for players on the same financial level as Championship sides whilst having limited European income due to their early exits from both the Europa and Champions League, it is arguable that they would be able to survive financially outside the English top flight.
This could even be extended to the likes of Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen and Dundee; Clubs that have significant support and potential to develop if they escape the financial restrictions of Scottish football. As Cardiff and Swansea’s participation in the English league has shown, such a move is potentially hugely beneficial as, with the pair serious contenders for promotion to the Premiership, they have far more financial clout than would ever have been possible in the Welsh league. Meanwhile the Welsh league is far more competitive without them, producing a far more exciting spectacle. In the same way, the teams that remained in Scotland would play in a genuinely competitive environment, whilst integrating the top clubs into the English leagues would free them from the constraints of the Scottish league (not to mention the initial novelty value of playing English teams on a regular basis.)
Without the possibility of gaining a slice of Sky’s millions, it is difficult to see how Scottish sides can develop as fans tire of the league’s repetitive format and the big clubs continue to wither in a small pond.