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League reform: why 12+12+regional leagues would help our football

JOHN CAMPBELL, a Heraldscotland reader, Celtic fan for over 30 years, and big supporter of youth football, says regionalised lower leagues have a role to play

The current proposal for two top divisions of 12 teams is the most appropriate at present. The arguments for not extending the top division to 14/16/18 teams are well rehearsed, although some have suggested doing so and incorporating splits.

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I think if you accept the league will be split and that most teams will play each other four times, then 12 is the correct number. As none of the SPL clubs will vote themselves out of the top division, a reduction in the size is a non-starter.

As the 12-12-18 proposal has been widely publicised, there is little point in going over old ground here. I will try to stick to points I’ve not seen made and add something new.

I think the top eight section takes care of itself. There will always be excitement about teams battling for the championship and European places. This proposal ends the current anomaly of teams playing different sets of fixtures to their competitors and will make the league fairer as a result.

The middle eight section should be very exciting. Starting this section from 0pts is a contentious issue but it can’t happen any other way when teams from different divisions are brought together.

However, it is a matter of perspective. For these eight teams, this is not a continuation of their season but the start of a new season: those previously in the top division will have been relegated to the play-off section and those from the lower division will have been promoted. Every team always begins on zero at the start of a season.

Provided that the team who wins the lower division (now division 1) after 22 games will be awarded the trophy and the team who wins the play-off section receives a trophy as champions, then it is clear where there is a beginning and end.

Some have argued that teams will end up there because of insufficient time to recover from a bad start - but there has always been teams “too good” to be relegated and that is part and parcel of football (and sport in general). However, for a Hearts or Dundee Utd or anyone else who is “undeservedly” relegated to the play-offs they then have an opportunity to go on a winning run and gain success by winning a league trophy - very unlikely if they remained in the top section.

Evidence shows that more people attend games if their team is winning on a regular basis: teams often get higher average attendances in their promotion season from division 1 than they do in the SPL.

The bottom eight section will obviously decide which teams are relegated. There should also be a trophy for the winners because teams at both ends of the section must have something to play for or avoid.

It has been suggested previously that Celtic and Rangers, in particular, could enter reserve teams in a lower division - can I resist saying that may already have happened?

On a serious note, this section could be given added spice if the top two or four (it needs to be an even number) teams in the top division after 22 games entered reserve teams into this section for the remainder of the season. The perennial problem of what happens if they finish first is overcome because the promotion places have already been taken.

To accommodate the extra games, I would suggest that the bottom eight section doesn’t have a winter shutdown but the top & middle sections do. This would even give them a few weeks of having the biggest games in Scotland.

I think there should be two divisions of 10 below this instead of one of 18. But, rather than four tiers of football it would remain three if these two divisions were regionalised. It would make economic sense to reduce travelling for the smallest clubs, especially when most are part-time.

At the end of their season of 36 games, the top two teams from both divisions could play each other home and away over six games to decide which two clubs are promoted, replacing the relegated teams from the bottom eight, who would go into their respective regional league.

A summer cup could even be introduced for the remaining 16 teams to be played in a straight knock-out fashion during the last month of the season.

Both the play-offs and the summer cup will ensure these clubs still operate in a national structure, albeit from a regional division. And, if these divisions are regionalised north and south, then it makes it simpler to introduce the much-vaunted pyramid structure because the Highland League feeds into the north division and a merged East and South of Scotland leagues feed into the south division.

Of course, teams from one part of the country might be more successful, which could lead to an imbalance in the numbers of the regional divisions. A flexible system of promotion/relegation with the feeder leagues can correct imbalances every few seasons.

I believe the above system would generate more interest among fans because it would create more opportunities for winning. At present, there are four league trophies; the above system has seven (or eight if the summer cup is included).

Of course, the clubs will decide how TV money, etc, is distributed - which is important - but this model may given more people a reason to attend more games and that is a good starting point.

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