The 12 Scottish Premier League clubs yesterday unanimously agreed to push ahead with proposals to restructure Scottish football that include a 12-12-18 set-up to be put in place for next season.
Despite some individuals publicly wavering on the proposal of late, with Herald Sport understanding that three clubs were preparing to vote against the motion, the monthly meeting at Hampden reached a consensus after all clubs were allowed an opportunity to say their piece.
The 30 Scottish Football League clubs will meet to discuss the plans, which involve a merger between the two organisations and a revamped financial distribution model, when they gather at Hampden on Thursday. No vote will be held, but there is likely to be an indication of the general feeling. Both leagues would then hold a vote on implementing change, with the SPL needing an 11-1 majority and the SFL requiring 75% of the 29 voting members (Rangers only currently possess an associate membership), before detailed discussions will take place on writing a rule book for the new merged league.
"SPL clubs were unanimous that this should be taken forward to the next stage and it's now over to the Scottish Football League clubs to give their views," said Neil Doncaster, the SPL chief executive. "No other models were put forward. The next stage, assuming the green light on Thursday, is to agree a rule book that you would then get all of the clubs to vote on, perhaps in March, in time for a merger of the two organisations in the summer.
"There's a genuine desire for change. That can only be delivered if there's a consensus, and consensus means compromise. What's been put in front of the clubs is a package of changes that will lead to a pyramid structure for the game,much greater promotion and relegation from the first tier to the second tier, an all-through distribution formula, a single league body; all the things that tick a lot of people's boxes."
The SPL meeting lasted several hours and reached a consensus despite the likes of St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour saying last week that he favours a 14-14-14 set-up. Others in the SPL would prefer a top 10 and see this as a step towards that model. It is clear that change will only occur if the full package of proposals is implemented.
"We were sitting on the fence but it's the only option for us to move forward," said Stephen Thompson, the Dundee United chairman. "It's not perfect but there are a lot of good things, otherwise we've got what we've got. So we've got to grab the opportunity. You can't sit on the fence forever."
It is not guaranteed that the SFL clubs will back the plans, although the SFL board has agreed to put the proposals to them rather than pursue its own plan for a 16-10-16 set-up. Some clubs intend to ask supporters their views, but even though most forums for debate on the issue reflect disillusionment among fans of all clubs for the plans, the SPL is now committed to trying to bring 12-12-18 into play for next season.
"It is important as clubs and associations we explain very clearly the pros and cons of this system," said David Southern, the Hearts chief executive. "It is not foolproof and it is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. It is important we show leadership and make the right decision. We believe it will attract more supporters when they are given a chance to understand the model fully. We think it will create extra competition and there will be very few meaningless games."
Rangers have been critical of the plans, since any side that finishes in the promotion places in the third division will remain in the bottom 18 next season. Charles Green prefers a 14-14-14 set-up, although that would also leave Rangers in the bottom tier, unless clubs decide to reward all teams that finish in promotion places by moving them up after the restructuring takes place, as was the case with Stranraer in 1994.
'I don't understand that concern," Doncaster said. "It would be far worse, surely, to put it back a year, when the whole of SFL3 would be playing a totally meaningless competition next year. Ultimately, the club that finishes top of SFL3 this season, who would be playing in the third tier of Scottish football next season if nothing happens, would still be playing in the third tier."
The SPL clubs have essentially moved towards a model that they believe will bring greater financial security. It is also more constructive than the plans for SPL2, which involved inviting 12 teams to break away from the SFL, although that may remain as a fall-back plan.