The Scottish Football Association (SFA) has scrapped the vote over implementing the controversially proposed ‘Conference’ league after weeks of backlash.
Member clubs were due to meet on Tuesday 6th June to vote on plans for a new 10-team Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) fifth tier, which would have seen four B teams associated with Scottish Premiership clubs compete against several Highland and Lowland league teams.
But after a wave of disapproval from the vast majority of clubs, including Premiership giants Aberdeen, SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said he was keen to avoid a “divisive vote”. It is the third major proposal concerning league construction to fail within the last three years.
Why is Scottish league reconstruction proving so difficult for the SFA and SPFL?
The inception of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) in 2013 brought about a huge structural shakeup, when the Scottish Football League (SFL) and the Scottish Premier League amalgamated to encompass all 42 clubs in Scotland’s top-four leagues. But since then, many have felt that more needs to be done in order to make Scottish football a more sellable product.
Timeline of Scotland’s league reconstruction plans over the last twenty-five years
After Scottish football was forced to halt all competitions due to the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, a proposal for a 14-14-14 structure was entered into serious negotiation amongst the SPFL’s 42 member clubs in order to protect three clubs from an unfair relegation.
However, although SPFL footballers voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed league reconstruction, alongside the ten Scottish League Two clubs, negotiations fell through in the latter stages after Premiership clubs voted against the plans, with Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack concluding that it was “not the right time”.
This came just a year before the 42 clubs rejected another proposal, in a plan that would have seen a total of six clubs introduced to the SPFL over three seasons, including Rangers and Celtic B teams, plus two clubs from each of the Highland and Lowland leagues. Many felt it was unfair that Scotland’s larger clubs would be given the privilege of entering B teams into the pyramid.
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Where do the SFA and SPFL go from here?
The anonymous user behind ‘Scottish Football Reconstruction’, a passionate fan of Scottish football who set up a Twitter account in dedication to this particular issue, thinks that a Premiership consisting of 18 teams would be the best approach in creating a more competitive top-tier.
The anonymous account said: “An 18 team league would make the top-tier a more sellable product, which would benefit everybody financially in the long run.
“Nobody outside of the hardcore dedicated Scottish football fans would put up with, let alone consider paying to watch these teams play each other three, four, five, six and seven times per season in all competitions.”
Increasing the size of the Scottish Premiership is a concept backed by many people, including Livingston manager David Martindale, who recently said he was a “huge advocate” of league reconstruction in this format, whilst arguing that four Old Firm games a season must be guaranteed for the financial stability of the game.
However, ‘Scottish Football Reconstruction’ believes that a pyramid allowing for the division of professional and semi-professional clubs could incentivise growth in the Scottish game, regardless of the Old Firm’s presence.
“I think we need to reorganise the pyramid into one which puts truly professional full time clubs forward first and then those who are not afterwards, allowing all the opportunity to become serious full-time professional clubs”, the anonymous account said.
“I would like to see a Scottish Professional Football League structure of fewer teams, who are full-time professional clubs, followed by a Scottish Conference Football League structure, which better incorporates the Lowland and Highland Leagues with the remaining clubs in Leagues 1 and 2.
“It would need to have a senior governing body overseeing both structures to make sure that they are as one when they need to be and separate when they need to be. No closed shop or moving the goalposts between the levels.”
What about league reconstruction concerning clubs at the bottom end of the scale in Scotland?
In 2021, Steven Gerrard, whilst still manager of Rangers, said “if you can play against men earlier, if you can play for important points and give these kids more responsibility, put them in more pressurised situations with bigger crowds, I think that can only be for the benefit of the country.”
However, Kevin Niven, chairman of BSC Glasgow, a team in the bottom tier of the Scottish football pyramid, doesn’t think the introduction of B teams would be a good idea.
“I’m pretty against it. Why should maybe Rangers and Celtic, and Hearts cos they’ve got a bit of money, have their players treated different from everybody else’s players? It becomes unfair, and how many of these players are actually going to make it to the first team is debatable as well.”
BSC Glasgow’s mens team play in the West of Scotland fourth division, and Mr Niven believes that allowing B teams to participate in Scotland’s pyramid would be disingenuous to the many clubs with dreams of one day making it to the Lowland and Highland leagues.
“I don’t think it’s fair that the smaller clubs like Darvel, and Clydebank, and Auchinleck all work extremely hard to build up a good stadium and gain a good backing to just get put down a league. I don’t think [B teams] help.
“I think a reserve league’s a better idea. [The Premiership teams] fight was they didn’t want their boys playing with boys, they wanted them to progress playing proper tough football. But would that not happen in a reserve league?”
It is clear that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a solution to Scottish football’s desire for league reconstruction. But it is also clear that in the coming months, there are plenty of options to be further discussed.