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Clubs call an end to 10-team proposal

Plans to reduce the Clydesdale Bank Premier League to 10 teams were effectively ended yesterday following a meeting between representatives of eight top flight clubs.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster
SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster

Chairmen from each club except the Old Firm, Hibernian and Aberdeen gathered at Tynecastle to voice their fears about the reconstruction plan.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster and chairman Ralph Topping -- who are set to meet the SFA on Friday -- were briefed immediately after the meeting broke up.

They were informed that the eight clubs had agreed that the top flight should be bigger not smaller, and asked to further investigate the viability of a 14-team league.

During the meeting, several chairmen raised concerns about opposition from fans to the proposal and the dangers that season ticket sales would suffer if it was pushed through.

As an 11-1 majority is required to change the size of the league, the 10-team plan now seems to be over, although it remains equally uncertain whether three of the four other clubs can be persuaded to back a bigger league either.

“I think it’s safe to say that, after today’s discussions, a league of 10 is dead,” said John Yorkston, chairman of Dunfermline Athletic. “A 14 reflects the wishes of fans and would allow the development of players without the fear factor. The SPL have been notified of this and we’ll see how things move forward.”

Doncaster, himself, told Herald Sport last night: “We welcome very much the fact clubs are meeting to discuss the structure. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas and we look forward to hearing how an alternative draft plan might work.”

However, the 14-team model has already been aired around the boardroom table and it remains unlikely there is a working majority to get that through either.

The original proposal was just one strand of a plan produced by a working party containing directors from Aberdeen, Hibernian, Celtic, Motherwell, Rangers and St Mirren, and it was unclear last night whether elements of the 111-page document could be salvaged in time for next season.

With no date having ever been announced for a formal vote, member clubs have an annual general meeting scheduled for next month, and one chairman said the possibility of introducing a play-off between 11th in the SPL and second in the Irn-Bru first division was only likely to receive assent if the top-flight was expanded.

Further input from the SFA may also be required if a proposed merger between the SPL and the SFL is to be pushed through. “One of the problems is that everything has been bundled together and the argument has got bogged down on a number of sticking points,” said the chairman.

Henry McLeish, the former first minister whose original Scottish football review hedged its bets a little between a 10-team and 14-team top league, said he hoped everyone involved could look above the vested interests and said the restructuring idea could be parked for two seasons.

“In my report I had 10 recommendations about the SPL and only one was about league reconstruction,” McLeish said. “It seems to be we have reached a stalemate. But it’s about raising horizons and extending the vision of the game. I think it is incumbent on everyone at any level to realise there are interests outside the club level and they should be taken into consideration.

“I would like to think the SPL could continue to move on some other changes but I think they will continue to have a problem with league reconstruction. I think it would make sense for all 12 clubs to say ‘look, if we can’t agree then the best thing is to continue to disagree off camera for a year or two, and come back when the situation might have changed’.”

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