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Toxic league system clearly must be given a Swiss miss

So the gnomes of Zurich have a conscience after all.

Neil Doncaster and his fellow administrators are clearly concerned about the state of the game
Neil Doncaster and his fellow administrators are clearly concerned about the state of the game

They might still be coy about who exactly deposited what in the deep vaults, but the Swiss who stood in front of the BBC cameras this week and talked about the multi-layered league system with its spaghetti junction cut-offs they formerly employed were clearly issuing a warning to others with a mind to copy it.

However, I suspect they would also have to prove such a system would bring dry-rot to boardrooms before those pushing remorselessly for an eight-eight-eight split would pay heed. It is not that I accuse our legislators of lack of due diligence.

There is little doubt they are concerned about the frailty of the game. Who could fail to be considering, for example, that the James McFadden, returning to play for a Motherwell side second in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League was welcomed home to Fir Park by a crowd of marginally more than 4000. Yes, it was baltic. Yes, it was midweek. Yes, there were games on television. But that is what Scottish football will perennially have to face up to and be robust and attractive enough to counter.

It is a complex problem which a complex league cannot guarantee to solve. One of the arguments prominently put forward by the Scottish Premier League was to draw our attention to the excitement the proposed set-up would generate, with the battles over the various demarcations which would ensue through splits and play-offs. They cited as an example the game between Hibernian-Dunfermline Athletic at the end of last season, a relegation decider which drew one of the biggest crowds of the season. True. But the Exorcist drew massive audiences while scaring people out of their wits – and leaving them scarred for months afterwards.

How are the folk around East End Park feeling about that particular evening? Was it not torture rather than entertainment for them? And where in the SPL endorsement of that night was the word "quality"? The football was dire. Hibs followed this triumph of survival by travelling to Hampden for a cup final a few weeks later and being annihilated.

Quality is now seen almost exclusively on the box. It comes from players being constantly in an environment of skill, of a mutual acceptance by opponents in a game that skill counts over anything else.

This does not exclude having hard men in the business. There are plenty of these even in the last 16 of the Champions League. But it is about priorities. Bayern Munich exemplified that the other night against Arsenal with their mix of daunting physical presence and breathtaking passing.

These are the kinds of models you have to bear in mind when you consider future development. The fan can no longer be deluded by artificial constructs. They are paying what many consider to be way over the odds for sub-standard entertainment and pockets are being emptied by other demands.

You could not find a less propitious time to experiment. If you are not already one, think of yourself as a father-of-two contemplating a season ahead, even less secure in the notion of what a season ticket will actually mean for you and the kids given the scantily-explained and little understood complexities.

Much as I hope people will still support Scottish football regardless of what I consider to be an ill-conceived policy, I hardly predict a stampede to the ticket-offices in the circumstances. So what then?

We need stability. Watching the young, talented Andrew Driver walk away from Hearts like Oliver Twist departing his poorhouse and without even asking for more, to head for the United States where women's ice hockey arouses more passion than their soccer, sends a chill up the spine.

Hearing that Rangers still have warring factions on the board still suggests the remnants of a question mark around the stewardship.

Not knowing with any certainty whether a club such as Dunfermline can have a successful share issue shows the striving to survive amongst the provincial clubs that is testing them to the limits.

All of this will not simply be mended by the financial inducements offered through the sacrifices of the Premier League clubs down the way, when only Celtic can really afford that, and then with clenched teeth. It certainly will not be if people are not converted to an acceptance of the new, and there is little evidence to suggest they have since they haven't really been consulted and are unlikely to be.

I have stopped proposing the only league which would, in the long term, provide the environment for a renewal of Scottish skills, the 16-club league, as it has been received as if I was also recommending Morris dancing as half-time entertainment throughout the land.

The stability we need in an age of crisis is based simply on the less enthralling but sensible idea of being able to secure the future by holding on to what we have. I never thought I would admit this, but I am now an advocate of "better the devil you know".

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