A new 'cold war' in Scottish Football?

Posted by John Gow

PA PhotosRangers' problems have given added power to the SFL

There is a new cold front passing over Scottish football and for once it isn't the weather. With the Scottish Football League (SFL) and Scottish Premier League (SPL) failing to establish a joint 'working party' on league reconstruction, the SFL through their CEO David Longmuir, have decided to unilaterally set out their plans without any consultation.

To suggest that the SPL were surprised at such a bold move would be an understatement. Shock would be a better term to use, especially as all 30 SFL clubs are united in what is effectively a call for the end of the SPL and a re-balance of power.

As well as one league organisation running the game, the SFL proposed three divisions of 16, 10 and 18 teams, play-offs for promotion and relegation, a new League Cup format and a change in the payment structure to ensure more money goes to the smaller clubs. Initial plans for a Rangers and Celtic 'B' team in the lowest division have been dropped for now.

The SPL quickly returned fire with two proposals of their own. The first would be an expanded SPL of 16 with no other changes. The second would be much more radical, with a two-division SPL (1 & 2) of 12 teams each. After 22 games they would merge then immediately split into three separate groups depending on league place.

The top 8 would fight for the title and Europe, the middle 8 would have 4 teams contending for a place in SPL1, (with the remainder staying in SPL2), and the bottom 8 would battle against relegation into the SFL. None of these plans give any notice of changing the payment structure.

So why now? Why does the SFL feel emboldened to take the lead without - some might say against - the SPL?

Well, the SFL clubs have always wanted a greater influence on the Scottish game and a desire for what they would see as a 'fairer' payment structure, but with the two big Glasgow clubs in the SPL they became marginalised.

Now with Rangers in their ranks - a club that so far this season has the highest average league attendances in Scotland - they now believe they can compete on a level playing field.

In essence, Scottish football is gearing up for a battle between 30 clubs with Rangers among them against 12 clubs with Celtic among them. The SPL is no longer the accepted driving force and the ever reducing money pile is now up for grabs.

There is also an added dimension in the changed attitudes from Rangers and the fans towards the SPL, including the CEO and leading supporters' group, stating they don't want to return to it in its current form, due to what they perceive as unfair treatment.

That is bad news for the struggling SPL clubs who know that when future long-term financial deals come up, they need to have Rangers with them.

It didn't matter so much in the summer because the club had to accept bad terms to ensure Rangers' membership (and history) was unbroken, but the next time will be different.

Of-course many SPL fans will say that they don't need Rangers, but they can be assured the SPL didn't want them fast-tracked to Division One for altruistic reasons. They wanted the huge fanbase, with the advertising and other forms of revenue that follow them, to be back after a year. They were aware they will struggle without it - and that is coming to pass.

However, with Rangers now in SFL3 the whole dynamic has changed. Rangers are no longer fighting for survival, and whether right or wrong, many think the SPL have burned their bridges with the Ibrox club. The Light Blues are now firmly in the SFL camp and it shows. As I predicted last month:

"If this season's trends continue... then long-term sponsorship in the game will be reduced, split or disappear. There will be two power blocs vying for power and money, and this could leave the SFA with a huge problem over who really is the top football body in Scotland. It will tear the game apart once again and will almost certainly lead to the financial collapse of a few clubs."

At present, the SFL know the SPL won't accept their ideas, but that isn't the point. With a weak SFA unable to lead, the SFL and SPL are lining up their pieces against each other to battle it out.

It might only be a 'cold war' at the moment, but all sides know it's only a matter of time before things get hot.

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