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While supporters of Glasgow Rangers think the proposed changes are being mooted to keep them out of the league their rivals feel exactly the opposite way. Danny Lawson / PA
While supporters of Glasgow Rangers think the proposed changes are being mooted to keep them out of the league their rivals feel exactly the opposite way. Danny Lawson / PA

Topsy-turvy road ahead in Scottish football shake-up

As the administrators seek consensus on the league set-up, Iain Hepburn is not sure if too many twists make a winning formula.

Following the bankruptcy fiasco of Glasgow Rangers last summer, there was much talk about the need to revamp Scottish football - trying to make it more competitive at the top and fairer for the sides underneath. After months of inaction, a sudden flurry of activity means an entirely reconstructed game could be seen in Scotland as early as next season.

In the haste to fix the game, the powers that be have come up with a solution which has left many supporters annoyed or confused.

The proposal, supported by the three governing bodies in the Scottish game, will see the current four-division set-up changed to a top division of 12, a second division also of 12, and a third division comprising the remaining 18 teams.

Here is the twist.

After the top two leagues have completed two rounds of matches, they would merge and immediately split again, to form three divisions of eight.

The top eight would be in the race for the title. The bottom eight would battle to avoid relegation to the bottom league of 18. The remaining "middle eight" sides would effectively be in an extended play-off to decide which four would be part of the Scottish Premier League the following season.

To add to the fun, the top sides in the two leagues of 12 would receive trophies before the split, with further trophies dished out for the top teams at the end of the season.

It is a structure which has been tried elsewhere with, it seems clear, little success. The Austrian league flirted with the idea, but eventually ditched because it was thought it limited, rather than promoted, competition.

As the new structure means they could win the Third Division this season and still remain in the bottom tier of Scottish football, Rangers would seem to have the most to lose from the reconstruction plans. Their reaction against the proposals has been the most vehement.

James Traynor, the Ibrox director of communications, launched a scathing attack on the revamped league concept on the club's website during the week, which was soon followed by the side's new owner, Charles Green, threatening to withdraw the club from Scottish football.

"If that is what we have sat here eagerly awaiting to transform Scottish football, my advice to the board of Rangers is the quicker we can leave Scottish football the better," he said. "I can't see anything that is going to transform the finances, the status or the excitement."

Rangers, following their financial travails over the summer, are now merely associate members of the Scottish Football League - and as such would have no say in the outcome of the vote to determine what happens next.

Some Rangers supporters see the revamp as nothing more than a further attempt by vengeful SPL sides to punish Rangers and keep them at the bottom of Scottish football.

The irony of this is that their counterparts at those selfsame clubs carry the suspicion that the new structure is designed to get Rangers back into the top flight as quickly as possible.

The proposal has supporters, in the main those sides just outside the top flight who hope the new structure will lead to a better distribution of wealth.

Last term, Dunfermline received 700,000 (Dh4.14 million) for finishing bottom of the SPL, yet Ross County's prize for winning the First Division and promotion to the top table was 10 per cent of that sum. Envious eyes are being cast at the riches of the top SPL sides by those with ambition.

Stewart Reagan, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association said: "The gap between the 12th club in Scottish football and the 13th is more like a chasm. We need to close that gap and make the clubs in the second 12 more sustainable. We think there's a desire for change."

With just days to go until clubs vote on their future, many believe too many questions remain unanswered about how the competition would work.

Will all the teams in the leagues of eight have their points reset to make the leagues more competitive or just, as has been suggested, the "play-off" league? What will the knock-on be for cup competitions where seeding is based on league position?

Whatever the ultimate outcome, it is unlikely the new structure will leave everyone, or perhaps even anyone, completely satisfied.

ihepburn@thenational.ae

Fixtures

Saturday, January 19

St Mirren v Ross County 4.45pm

Celtic v Hearts 7pm

Hibernian v Dundee 7pm

Inverness v Aberdeen 7pm

Kilmarnock v Dundee United 7pm

Sunday, January 20

Motherwell v St Johnstone 6.15pm

SPL table

Team P W D L GD P

Celtic 21 13 4 4 25 43

Inverness CT 21 8 10 3 9 34

Motherwell 22 9 7 6 7 34

Hibernian 22 9 5 8 2 32

Aberdeen 22 8 7 7 2 31

St Johnstone 22 7 9 6 -2 30

Kilmarnock 21 7 7 7 5 28

Dundee Utd 21 6 8 7 -1 26

Hearts 21 6 8 7 -2 26

St Mirren 22 6 7 9 -8 25

Ross County 20 4 9 7 -9 21

Dundee 21 3 3 15 -28 12

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