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Spiers on Sport: on league reform, we're all groping in the dark

Here is the blunt truth about the current league reconstruction debate in Scottish football. And it is a dangerous truth.

No-one with the power to change the game really knows which way to turn. There is no conviction. There is a very evident lack of certainty.

To paraphrase the scriptures, every one appears to be looking through smoky glass, seeing only smudgy, indistinct images on the other side.

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Some want 12-12-18. Some want 16-10-16. Others want 14-14-14. Others still, with new clubs being added to the mix, want a pair of whopping 20s or even 22s.

Which one is right? Which solution will, if not lead Scottish football to the Promised Land, then at least take us out of this bitter harvest?

Among the powers that be – Neil Doncaster, Stewart Regan, some club chairmen, even long-time observing “hacks”, and I’ve spoken to them all – I’ve yet to come upon a voice of singular conviction.

What you hear constantly is that “there is an appetite for change in the game in Scotland”. Well, this is true, but only to a degree.

In fact, there are quite a few who could live with the current 12-10-10-10 set-up, and I’m among them.

For me, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we had to plough our way through this current downturn in the Scottish game, until green shoots were seen again.

But that won’t happen. We are going to get change, because change is being demanded, whatever shape or form it takes. My point remains, right now I’m not convinced there is a strong enough consensus over what that change should be.

I’ll say it again: there are aspects about 12-12-18, despite its cumbersome arithmetic, which I like. I like the fact that it is aspirational: potentially four new clubs joining the top-12 each season, and four clubs gravitating from the bottom 18 to the middle 12.

I also like its financial distribution model, in which hundreds of thousands of pounds will be released – so it is alleged – from the top 12 to the lower clubs.

It may look confusing but there is much good in all of this. And Rangers – a successful, recovering, upwardly mobile Rangers – will be neither aided nor hindered by a switch to a 12-12-18 next season.

But the question remains about our top league: to stay small or go big?

Reading HeraldScotland’s League Reconstruction Dossier released this week, in which fans across the country are participating in the debate, it is perfectly obvious that this remains a sore point.

Most Scottish football fans appear to want a bigger top league: of 16 or 18 teams. Poll after poll appears to have confirmed this.

But what are the SPL and the SFL effectively doing? They are saying: “Now look chaps, we know you want a bigger top league, but we’re sorry, you don’t know what you are talking about, so this is it…”

The “it”, come hell or high water, appears to be a top league of 12. In a variation on an old theme, the fans are effectively being told to both put up AND shut up.

Then it comes to this (and it is a most unpopular stance): I believe the Old Firm have to be protected to a degree. And the only way to do that is to have them playing in a smaller - not a bigger - top league.

I say this with some caution, because across Scotland other fans are contemptuous of Rangers and Celtic. But these two clubs make up a huge chunk of the financing of the game in this country. To an extent they underwrite Scottish football, and they certainly drive the multi-million pound TV deals.

My heart doesn’t bleed for either half of the Glasgow divide, but I know their importance to Scottish football. Until football’s international borders are broken down, we need them, and we need to heed them.

As things stand, we are in a mess. I’d go for a 12-12-18 model next season because it is the best I can see so far. I don’t want a larger, “cannon-fodder” top league.

But I’m like everyone else. I’m far from convinced about it.

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