Walsall - Saturday 1st May 2010

By Tim Graham
Last updated : 01 May 2010

Not for the first time our friends over the border are looking at revamping the Scottish Premier League, with the main one of the current proposals on the table being to increase the size of the division from 12 teams to 14 from 2011-12 onwards. Another idea being to include relegation play-offs, although both these proposals would need an 11 to 1 vote in favour from the existing 12 Scottish Premier League clubs.

The most bizarre thing about this 14 team idea is that it means some sides would play 40 league game in a season, while others would only play 36. One part of the plan being to have the current season split, which is top six and bottom six, changed to top six and bottom eight. Quite what use that will be to teams who are in the bottom eight but safe from relegation remains to be seen, two extra home games yes, but when they are dead rubbers against sides that get attendances of 4,000 they are hardly going to be exciting.

As far as the relegation situation is concerned, one club would go down and one club would come up automatically, while the side finishing second bottom in the SPL would play-off for survival against potentially the second, third and fourth placed teams in Division One. That being a system that was used in England in the first couple of seasons of the play-offs in 1987-88 and 1988-89, before we changed to our current situation in 1989-90.

The SPL have quickly tried to pour water on the flames though in saying that speculation on a new format for the top level of Scottish football is premature, particularly before SPL clubs have a "strategy day" at the end of the current campaign, an SPL spokesman telling the Press Association :

" Our chairman and chief executive are discussing league reconstruction with our clubs at the moment but it is too early to draw any firm conclusions from that work. It is fair to say that a number of different league formats are being reviewed as part of that process. It is our job to try to build a consensus across our clubs first and then with others in Scottish football. "

Even having the split as it is now with six teams in either half is causing problems, with Rangers, Motherwell and St Mirren all complaining for differing reasons. Rangers because they have had three away games from five in seven out of ten seasons and Motherwell because they were scheduled to face Rangers, Celtic and Hearts all away from home.

The Steelmen not only losing money from not playing any of those teams at Fir Park, but also missing out in their home games by facing Dundee United on a Sunday afternoon and Hibernian on General Election night. Meanwhile in the other half of the split St Mirren are unhappy because they were chalked down to make the trip to relegation rivals Falkirk for the third time this season.

So, if you are thinking of making a 14 team league, doesn't it make it even more nonsensical when the idea is to split it six and eight, thus meaning that you are going to have an odd mix of home and away matches once more. Surely you make the split seven and seven so that every team gets three games on their own turf and on the road? Particularly given the complaints you have received from some clubs about the post-split fixture list in the past.

The age old problem with the SPL though is that all these different ideas over the years have been put forward to try to make a two-team division more interesting. If you look at the table as I write, Celtic have had a poor season by their standards, in which they sacked their manager Tony Mowbray, but they are still ten points ahead of Dundee United in third and a massive 21 points clear of Motherwell in fourth.

One thing that could make the league more interesting in years to come of course is something that is out of the hands of the SPL, that being the division losing one of its Champions League places from the 2011-12 season onwards. The reason for that being the good results of Belgian clubs in the Europa League this year, namely Anderlecht, Standard Liege and Club Brugge, which have seen Belgium jump above Scotland into 15th in Uefa's co-efficient ranking table.

Despite Celtic's poor campaign it seems like Rangers could be the Old Firm club to have most to lose in the current environment if they don't get in the money spinning Champions League year on year. The Ibrox side currently under investigation by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs over a tax issue, while also being up for sale with estimated debts of £30 million, and having been unable to buy a player for 20 months as Lloyds Banking Group try to service that debt level.

The paper trail from Lloyds leading to them doubling its ownership in Murray International Holdings (MIH) to 25%, MIH being majority owned by Sir David Murray, and through that company he controls more than 90% of Rangers Football Club. Lloyds trying to get matters a bit more under their own control now after MIH made a massive loss of £175m after tax last year, which also included a £12.7m loss for Rangers themselves.

A successful season for Rangers this time round though may have seen them turn the corner slightly after winning the SPL, and more importantly, qualifying for the Champions League once more. Sir David commenting to the BBC that Rangers now had a 'limited fund' to buy new players, while saying that the board was drawing up a new business plan to keep things on a more even keel while the club searches for a buyer for the MIH stake.

So, with these things in mind, and Celtic's alarming drop in some parts of matchday revenue this season, it could be that the SPL is changed more by outside influences than itself. And that surely is the main point, while you continue to have just two clubs that completely dwarf the rest, not forgetting that since Aberdeen in 1984-85 under Six Alex Ferguson no side outside the Old Firm has won the title, there is very little the SPL can do to change things.

Infact the only other way, bar Champions League financial meltdown, you can see the SPL being more interesting, or just interesting, is if the Old Firm do a runner to England. That one idea at the end of last year from our old friend Phil Gartside at Bolton, who incidentally have net debts of £64m themselves after losing £13.2m for the financial year to 30 June 2009.

And with the it's not our fault self-survival ways of the big clubs in England and Scotland these days you still wouldn't write it off in the future. Particularly with UEFA seemingly looking to duck any responsibility when early last year their director of communications William Gaillard said the matter would be something to be decided between the leagues and associations involved. So, you never say never, the current SPL split could end up being a lot bigger than you think.

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