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Spiers on Sport: this 12-12-18 ‘ugly duckling’ looks good to me

It is a calculated risk being taken by the SPL/SFA to advocate a new 12-12-18 structure for league football in Scotland.

David Longmuir
David Longmuir

The risk is significant, given the level of public hostility towards it. Unless I have been hallucinating, poll upon poll appears to have shown that Scottish football fans want a bigger top league of 16 teams.

So here is the kiss of death to 12-12-18. I quite like it. I think it could work.

I accept what David Longmuir, chief-executive of the SFL, has said: 12-12-18 is a complicated model, not easily digested at first. But this minor glitch shouldn’t stand in the way of the plan being pursued, if enough clubs vote for it in three weeks’ time.

The proposal is still being fine-tuned but it offers a number of advantages, not least - for those frustrated clubs like Dunfermline, Morton, Partick Thistle, Raith Rovers and even a Queen of the South - a much greater opportunity to gain access to the top flight in Scotland.

In this new format, the top two divisions of 12 would split into three mini leagues of 8 after 22 matches - provisionally named the Super 8, the Play-Off 8 and the National 8.

The top group would play a further 14 matches, to battle it out for the league title and European slots. Fair enough.

Arguably, though, it would be the Play-Off 8 and the National 8 which would be the most interesting and dramatic.

The Play-Off 8 would consist of the bottom four teams from the top tier of 12 and the top four teams from the middle tier of 12, to fight it out over 14 matches for four slots in the following season’s top division.

That is quite an opportunity for those clubs who rightly argue that, with its one-down, one-up system from 12, the current SPL is almost hermetically sealed off. For them, this model represents their big chance.

Even the National 8 would have its appeal. As things stand, the proposal is that, over 14 games, eight clubs would play to avoid being one of four clubs dumped into the bottom tier of 18 for the following season.

In other words, four clubs would also get the chance to be promoted from the bottom tier (18) to the middle tier (12) each season. That is quite an invite.

It is not a perfect model - none which has been proposed is. But 12-12-18 does meet a lot of criteria: number of games over a season, money, and not least the scope for upward mobility among many of Scotland’s “excluded” clubs.

If the pyramid principle can also be introduced at the bottom, all the better, I say. Let meritocracy flourish.

As for the “Rangers question” – the suspicion about league reconstruction being a mere front to hasten Rangers’ return to the top – the 12-12-18 model is in the clear on that.

As things stand, it will take three winning years – starting August 2012 - for Rangers to return to the top league. Under the new 12-12-18 proposal, a successful Rangers could not work their way back up through the divisions any quicker – it would still take a minimum of three years.

One perennial weakness in 12-12-18 is that the top 8 – the so-called Super 8 – might end up being pretty dull if Celtic are romping away with the title.

This is one more reason – though many appear to hate this sentiment being expressed – why I believe a revived Rangers cannot get back to the top of Scottish football quick enough.

What Rangers have done is wrong – not least this club’s own self-destruction – but the Scottish game needs a title race as often as possible.

I’ve really enjoyed the SPL this season so far, but the campaign is diminished by Rangers’ absence. It is impossible to suggest otherwise. And one thing the legislators cannot change is the unwieldy wealth of Glasgow’s big two.

Everyone agrees change in Scottish football is needed. I say let’s give 12-12-18 a chance. It’s as good as I’ve seen.

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