The option of a league-owned television channel comes around a fair bit, although it is pretty galling to now be taking lessons from the Dutch, 10 years after Scotland led the world with the idea. And for those still a bit slow on the uptake, SPL TV did not fail; it was not rejected. It received the consensus of 80% of the shareholder base. It needed 88%. Some failure.
And so it is with league reconstruction. Groundhog day. Peter Donald, the former SFL secretary, called the formation of the SPL in 1998 a treachery and betrayal on an epic scale. As he told it, daggers on the steps of the Senate was only half of it. It was indeed brutal, opening wounds which would never heal, and there is no doubt that the bulk of the SFL clubs got a raw deal. How deliciously ironic this morning for an observer from afar.
In revisiting those dramatic days in 1997/98 we should remember the basic deal of setting up the SPL. Forget the Lex Gold monologues about a virtuous circle of more money, buying more talent, making a better product, that even more money would find irresistible. That's the spin.
The reality was that enough SFL clubs were "persuaded" to vote for the SPL in exchange for money and a promise to expand the top flight to at least 12 clubs at the soonest possible opportunity. Enough clubs thought they could get into the castle before the drawbridge was raised.
So, on joining the SPL in 1998, I was left in no doubt that league reconstruction was my major task, along with resolving the hostage-to-fortune decision to allow Dundee in without a compliant stadium.
I was also told that the best solution for everyone was to "forget" that promise on expansion to 12, and stay at 10 by paying the SFL some extra "f*** off" money. Still naive, I suggested to my board that this course of action would destroy any claim to the moral high ground of the fledgling league. I pointed out that I had joined an organisation that had lobbied for a year that the old administrators were dinosaurs, inefficient, and not able to move with the times, and that the SPL would bring professionalism, accountability, transparency, and modern business values.
I must have been really naive because, when we met Peter Donald in the autumn to discuss the matter, he too suggested the best solution was for the SPL to remain at 10, and he suggested the exact monetary quantum that would be needed to get that through the SFL clubs. Welcome to the ethics of football.
My own idea of the necessary restructuring of the leagues in September 1998 was clear. If the SPL was to claim real leadership, it needed to represent all of full-time football and let the rump of the SFL morph with the juniors and Highland League into a pyramid system. So I suggested to my clubs and the SFL that the SPL expand to 20, in two leagues of 10.
Scottish football can aspire to supporting maybe 20 full-time teams. I still think that's what should happen. I'm glad to see Henry McLeish agrees. So that is what happened, right?
I've realised with maturity that life is an endeavour in which the winner is usually he who compromises best. Or, conversely, a dromedary is a camel designed by committee. Come up with an acceptable and deliverable solution, and then have the courage to lead from the front.
My committee on league reconstruction contained Jim McLean with his 44-game mantra, and Campbell Ogilvie delivering the message from Dick Advocaat of a league of 16. We ended up with 12 and a split after 33 games. It pleased nobody and was positively hated by most. I remember a particularly interesting call from McLean threatening me with all manner of physical pain over the way things had worked out. Shortly afterwards he would punch a BBC journalist during an interview.
I left the SPL in 2002 when 10 of my shareholders resigned over the Old Firm veto on SPL TV. I thought then, and still do, that the SPL as an organisation and a concept died the day of that vote, as the 10 posed smiling for a photo on the steps of Hampden. No amount of spin could recover any credibility or moral high ground we had.
The SPL has stumbled on for another 10 years. Everyone can judge the contribution the body has made. I am most certain that I made the right decision.
I also, though, have to admit my own errors. Zeal, especially in youth, always leads to a fundamentalist approach to others that is disrespectful and mute. There is much wisdom in the lower leagues, and I missed the opportunity to learn from them. I have been most impressed by many of the SFL chairmen's determination to not allow Rangers newco into the Irn-Bru First Division. I do hope they can hold that position today.
It is clear almost all fans, including those of Rangers, want Sevco to play in the third division. We all know that money will be lost if that happens. But sometimes, even from a purely financial perspective, short-term gain masks a wrong decision that will lead to long-term disaster.
My reason for saying this two-fold: I believe any newco club should have to apply to the bottom end of a league system. Sevco is not Rangers, as Rangers fans have told Mr Green in no uncertain terms. "Hunted for the rest of your life", to quote John Brown, to acclaim from the mob. Why is Sevco getting special treatment? They are a new applicant, and shouldn't have any priority.
The second reason is the inconvenient truth that money doesn't really change anything in Scotland at this point. The combined revenues of the three governing bodies could rise by 10 times, and still Scotland could not compete financially with English football for players.
Money helps indebted clubs such as Kilmarnock. But some fans would prefer to go bust and return debt free than stumble on under the weight of debt that can never be repaid. In short, let's use this moment to "reboot" the whole of Scottish football.
I do, however, see the argument that it means less money for the SFA coaching and youth plans. Maybe so. But really, have we seen any return from that money in the last 30 years?
Money, then, is a red herring and at worst should not drive decisions about the nature of the sport. Do what is right, and what your customers want. I hope that the chairmen of the SFL hold firm.
Either way, the curtain is coming down on what many consider the betrayal and greed of the SPL project. Consigned by history as a 14-year error of judgement. Whether or not any eventual compromise is reached tomorrow, this Hampden version of the Treaty of Versailles will change things forever. Some of the smarter commentators already know that certain dominoes will fall. Others live on in blissful ignorance.
The game in its current form is financed entirely by Old Firm fans, no matter how unpalatable that is to other supporters. It is a fact, and always has been. And consultants will tell you that it is never a healthy situation for any organisation to be too dependent on only two sources of revenue, especially if one – Rangers – is under serious threat.
Which brings us to the very interesting and astute silence adopted by Celtic of late. I am not privy to their thoughts, but they will be political dynamite, I suspect. I would speculate they have watched the financial meltdown of Rangers with little surprise and, hence, have had plenty of time to reflect. They for sure can see the dominoes and how they are placed. But do they view it as a threat or an opportunity?
The question is: in the face of losing your 10/2 veto in the SPL at best, or, at worst, the possibility of demands for greater subsidy to the rest of the game in Scotland, what are the contingency plans? And do they most likely involve solutions further south than Gretna?
It would be most unfair to not concede that during my time the SPL explored avenues to get Celtic and Rangers out of Scotland. The huge drop in the international competitiveness of Scottish football since then I believe fully vindicates the brave view at the time that the status quo was death by 1000 cuts, with the top Scottish clubs destined to irrelevance if there was no meaningful environment change. We just need to list the names of the conquerors of our teams in Europe during the last 10 years to back that up.
But if there is an exit for Celtic, is it a single skull boat or a lifeboat for all of the senior clubs? Like others, I await to see.