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One body? Rigor mortis, it seems, has not set in

JUST when we thought it was out, they pull it back in.

Sense of purpose: Stewart Gilmour, the St Mirren chairman, is pleased the 42-team proposal appears to be back on the agenda at today's SPL meeting. Picture: SNS
Sense of purpose: Stewart Gilmour, the St Mirren chairman, is pleased the 42-team proposal appears to be back on the agenda at today's SPL meeting. Picture: SNS

The prospect of one governing body being created in time for next season is alive again, just a week after Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Premier League, emerged from another day of fraught and fractious debate to state that the matter was finally dead for good.

The 12 clubs, he told us, had decided there was no longer sufficient time to merge the SPL with the Scottish Football League and without that there could be no all-through financial distribution model and no more money trickling down the divisions. Now, though, as the clubs prepare to get around the table at Hampden once more, it seems all options are once more up for debate. Perhaps, given their uncertainty on whether things are still alive or not, we should be grateful they don't operate a sideline as undertakers.

It was the announcement by the first division clubs last Friday that they would be willing to leave the SFL to form a second tier of the SPL that has sparked this change of heart. That did not sit well with David Longmuir, the SFL chief executive, who described it as "desperate men with desperation hanging all around them", nor with many SPL clubs who failed to see how an SPL2 or Championship would make any lasting improvement on the game as a whole. It seems not even the breakaway group themselves were entirely convinced by the idea but felt it necessary to act as talks on league reconstruction slowed on a glacial scale. It may have had the desired effect.

The SPL clubs will meet today with four different possibilities to consider. They can do nothing, try for a 42-club solution by moving towards the merger of the two league bodies, support a 22-club solution via the creation of a 10-team second tier, or move down the road of introducing play-offs on a standalone basis, something that was raised at last week's meeting.

The clubs have been given a number of different play-off models to consider as they look to find a way of introducing an extra one – possibly two – relegation berths, and will be presented with greater detail of what those could generate in terms of extra finance to compensate for the heightened risk of going down.

A vote is not expected at today's meeting given a consensus on any of the aforementioned matters seems a long way off but, for those with a vested interest, the hope is that some sort of meaningful progress can be made rather than simply another day of treading water.

"The time for having meetings about meetings has finished," said Les Gray, the Hamilton Academical chairman leading the first division clubs' push for change. "We have to now get to a stage where we can move this whole thing forward or just get on with our lives. I think everyone's tired of the whole process. But I'm hopeful that we can take a step forward and get the ball rolling towards some kind of meaningful change."

Gray's ideal wish is for a resolution that includes all 42 senior clubs. "We're hopeful that we can find a way with the all-through model that was the original plan," he added. "Play-offs have been mentioned but I'm not sure that would be attractive for the SPL clubs as for them to give away another relegation place and not protect the clubs who go down by changing the distribution model first doesn't seem to make an awful lot of sense.

"A second tier [championship] wouldn't be our preferred option but if that has to happen to protect those in the second tier then we will see if it is the will of the clubs. We're just giving them something else to consider. David Longmuir has described us as desperate men but we're anything but. We're a group of businessmen who are trying to take control of our own destiny. I would say I've had positive feedback about the stance we've taken."

Stewart Gilmour, the St Mirren chairman, believes play-offs would be worthwhile but does not believe such a concept could be introduced on a standalone basis.

"The good thing for me is that the 42-team agenda seems to be back on the table," said Gilmour. "That's really important to us, that's the way forward. I'm very much in favour of play-offs and we would look to support that but it's about the whole package. Play-offs would help give more ventilation and opportunity to the first division clubs but there's also got to be financial safeguards around about it. I don't think play-offs would work in isolation."

Gilmour was also unconvinced about the merits of creating a second tier of the SPL. "I understand totally where the first division guys are coming from but that for me is not the solution. We need to get the bigger picture sorted. I'm not sure there's an appetite for an SPL2 unless someone can sell me a really good reason for it and what would come behind it.

"If we had an SPL2, or a Championship if we're calling it that, from next season what would come next? Would we then get together as one body? Because that's what we need. We need to take all our senior clubs into consideration."

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