ROGER Mitchell, a man whose name remains inextricably linked with the Scottish Premier League, will not mourn its imminent passing.
There will be no grief because he regards it as a body and a concept which died a decade ago. Mitchell was enthusiastic and positive about the 12-12-18 proposal being shaped for Scottish football yesterday. And one of its consequences, the end of the SPL as a free-standing entity, did not trouble him one bit. He will not grieve for the governing body now condemned on death row.
Above all, he was pleasantly surprised and a little perplexed. The proposed redistribution of the shared broadcasting and commercial income once the SPL and Scottish Football League have merged suggests a generosity of spirit that Mitchell never detected in his own time as SPL chief executive. Celtic, and the other clubs that finish in the higher positions, have agreed that their income will be shaved in so that those lower down receive more. "In my day, the clubs would never have gone for anything you could call altruistic or for the greater good," said Mitchell. "I don't know why they believe they have to do it this time.
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"The drop-off in income for a team which is relegated is so dramatic, and they have tried to address that this time. When I was there, I would look around the table of 12 knowing that one of those 12 was going to go through that pain at the end of the season. And I would say it was in their own interests to change that, but that argument never won the day. At the start of every season they all thought it wouldn't be them, it would be the guy sitting next to them. I don't know what's changed this time. Maybe Neil Doncaster [the current chief executive] was just more convincing than I was, I don't know.
"Is it altruistic? Is it far-seeing? Or is there something that's not apparent to us yet? It doesn't make sense to me. Maybe Neil Doncaster, Stewart Regan and David Longmuir [the SFA and SPL chief executives] have been super diplomats. If so, good luck to them. But this isn't Celtic's game, this isn't Celtic's agenda. Celtic's responsibility to its shareholders is to try and get environment change."
Mitchell was the SPL's chief executive from the year of its formation in 1998 until 2002, when he left after 10 of its 12 members resigned over the Old Firm vetoing SPL TV. The 10 clubs subsequently withdrew those resignations but for Mitchell the SPL was effectively over as a league with unanimity of purpose. Now living in Italy, he has maintained a keen interest in Scottish football. He likes everything about the 12-12-18 format that is likely to be approved later this month, but with one caveat: it does everything but address the biggest issue of all. As far as Mitchell is concerned, only by Scotland's leading clubs playing in a more competitive environment – ideally some sort of British league structure – can they realise their potential.
"There is nothing, for me, that's a step back about 12-12-18," he said. "The split after two rounds of games is much better than a split after three. A single governing body makes so many things more manageable. I like the fact it goes into three leagues of eight. I think that makes a lot of the games quite interesting. I think it is quite a significant step forward.
"I'm not thinking 'these guys came after me so everything they do is crap'. This is a significantly better situation. My only point is that it doesn't address the major issue, and that is that we can't deal with teams from the likes of Finland in European competition any more. That's not acceptable for me.
"Some people don't seem to have an issue with that. There's a certain culture that we have a couple of jollies away with the lads in Europe, go to some exotic location, we're going to get beaten, who cares, and then we settle down into our Saturday afternoons in Scottish football again. I've never understood that culture.
"I don't get this attitude in Scotland that everyone needs to accept their lot in life. Are we just going to let this competitiveness slip away or are we going to try and do something about it? I wasn't prepared to just sit there and see what happened.
"Look how it's turned out: other than Celtic in the Champions League, look at the results. We can't beat anyone in Europe any more. Nobody. Brian Quinn [the former Celtic chairman] and I didn't always get on but one thing we did agree on was that environment change was absolutely necessary. It wasn't a case of that being nice to have, it was a must-have. I don't get the fact that everyone hasn't grasped the necessity for environment change. For me, this isn't good enough. We used to be at the top table and now we can't beat teams from Iceland. It's not good enough."
Environment change has been easier said than done, of course. Celtic and Rangers have had their noses up against the window pane since before the SPL was even formed, yet they seem no closer to leaving. Mitchell's view is that they aren't the only ones whose potential is being stifled. He has always believed that Aberdeen would grow if they played in a British league.
But what can the clubs do if the doors remain locked? "Keep trying. You should sit down on day one and say 'we don't know what options will present themselves but we will go after every single one'. Otherwise we are just messing around with the formula of 42 clubs in Scotland, and condemning ourselves to twirling down the plughole."