North of the Border

Reconstruction deconstruction

April 17, 2013
By Neil White

This week, the fall-out from the planned league reconstruction is examined alongside two thrilling Scottish Cup semi-finals and another special moment from Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths.


Stewart Gilmour feels the reconstruction plans needed work
PA PhotosSt Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour opposed initial plans for league restructuring in Scotland

On the pitch this week, Scottish football saw two remarkable semi-finals, each decided in extra-time with a seventh goal. These stunning matches were soon buried by the rubble of SPL plans for league reconstruction, which collapsed when two clubs in the top league voted against them. Each passing day has produced another angle - back-biting, conspiracy theories, threats of legal action - on a story that plays out like a row in a pub: raised voices, jabbing fingers and the utter absence of compromise. Time, gentlemen, please.

Previously, arguments for and against the proposals that were on the table have been analysed. They involved elements on which there was broad consensus - more even distribution of finances across all leagues; formation of a single governing body; revision of the 11-1 majority rule on major SPL votes - and a league structure that needed a hard sell. This involved a switch to three leagues comprising 12, 12 and 18 teams for the first 22 games. At that point, the top two leagues split into three groups of eight, some of which keep their points from the first part of the season, while others had their totals reset. The first group play for the title and European places; the second for the remaining four places in next season's SPL; the final group to retain their membership in the second tier.

The two dissenting voices came from the chairmen of St Mirren and Ross County. Last week's North of the Border discussed a statement made by St Mirren outlining their objections to the proposals on the table. Both they and Ross County argued for the adoption of all measures on which there was agreement and continued debate on sporting structure. Both had questioned the necessity for an 'all or nothing' choice.

By way of rebuke, their decision was described by others in the circle as if they had pulled the trigger of a gun that had been pointing at the face of the adorable puppy that is, or perhaps was, Scottish football.

Stewart Milne, the Aberdeen chairman, accused St Mirren's Stewart Gilmour, in particular, of having interests other than the healthy future of the SPL and Scottish football as a whole. David Southern, the chief executive of Hearts, claimed the argument had been partly a "smokescreen to protect the interests of others". That was when Gilmour said he'd lawyer up unless they piped down.

What happens next? Hamilton Academical, in the First Division, are trying to rally the members of that league to talk about their options, almost certainly including an SPL2, which would cut them loose from the two leagues below and create an interesting dynamic in the argument for a solution that works for everybody. However, some inside the SPL2 have briefed that the top clubs will not back such a move.

According to all data, supporters want a larger top division, primarily to avoid playing the same team four times in league competition alone and a revision of the season scheduling.

It appears that there is still a lot more talking to be done and perhaps there is time for that. The SPL have not come up with a silver PR bullet for the question asked by the two naysayers this week: why not agree on the money and the voting structure and the governance and keep talking about the sport? Perhaps a more sober approach can yet produce a solution.


The Scottish Cup final will be contested between Celtic and Hibernian after both teams earned their spot the hard way.

Celtic will shoot at a League and Cup double at Hampden Park after they edged Dundee United 4-3 in extra-time. That game was a slug-fest, the lead changed hands three times and both teams hit the post with headers. It featured big performances by a few players, notably Jon Daly, the United captain and centre forward whose contract is up in the summer.

He scored twice with perfectly executed headers and rattled the frame with another; he also showed his hold-up game with a pivot around which United broke from box to box in four passes for the game's best goal. For Celtic, there was a reminder of how decisive a weapon Emilio Izaguirre can be from left-back. The 2011 SPL player of the year combined relentless running with crosses that created big chances, including the second of Kris Commons' two goals.

Leigh Griffiths celebrates after scoring Hibernian's dramatic extra-time winner
GettyImagesLeigh Griffiths celebrates after scoring Hibernian's dramatic extra-time winner

The first semi-final ended with the same scoreline, but a different story. Hibernian were 3-0 down to Falkirk, of the First Division, at half-time. They had been outplayed and the goals they conceded had been the result of some self-destructive defending. Hibs are a team regularly accused of a lack of heart and have a special reputation for finding novel ways to lose in this tournament.

By the end of it, they could have won by more than the single goal in extra-time that took them back to the Scottish Cup final. Afterwards, analysis focused on the changes made by Pat Fenlon, the Hibs manager whose substitutions paid off. However, the deterioration in the energy levels of a young Falkirk team - including seven academy graduates in the starting XI - was staggering to watch and the key factor in the turnaround.

In the end, Falkirk still had a shot at taking it to penalties, but the game was decided by Leigh Griffiths. The Hibs striker, chasing the golden boot in the SPL, had a bad day including a missed penalty, but when the pressure was on he took a shot nobody else on the pitch would have taken, the kind he has been hitting all season from all distances and improbable angles, and gave a thrilling weekend of football its outstanding moment.