RALPH Topping, the outgoing chairman of the SPFL, has warned the league's member clubs that it is their responsibility to ensure that all legal obligations are fully adhered to when it comes to the paying of players and staff. The league's chief executive Neil Doncaster and Andrew McKinlay, the chief operating officer of the SFA, have come under pressure from campaigners and politicians as to the extent of their knowledge about the practice at certain clubs of handing apprentices £1-a-week contracts which fall way beneath the UK's minimum wage of £3.50 for an apprentice. Compensation payments insisted upon for the transfer of youth players - which campaigners insist is 'immoral' and child exploitation - is another contested subject but Topping feels that football cannot escape its place in society and clubs must get their house in order, regardless of the potential financial consequences for part-time clubs.

"Football has always got to worry about the political climate," Topping said. "Although sometimes the political climate is more brouhaha than anything else. I think there are a lot of sensible people in politics and football looking at this issue, and others like the minimum wage and the living wage and the impact that could have on football, the economics of football, and how football is organised at the minute.

"There is some ridiculous stuff going on right now, where if you take a wee club like Brechin City where they have a lot of volunteers who come in and make the tea and bake the cakes, there are even question marks over whether that is allowable, or if they are employees," added the 66-year-old, who will step down this summer. "But for the clubs themselves, it is quite a serious predicament. Because how do you reconcile people who want to give their time to their community and having to adhere to the law? I do think there are some challenges around that, challenges around working time directives and the time off that players perhaps get.

"But football can't escape from where it sits in society. Football clubs must catch up, just as all other companies will have to. They might not like it, but it is the law. It is black and white. No longer can football say 'oh we are football, we are special'. No you are not, you are part of the Scottish community and you are part of the British community. So you have got to adhere to Scottish law and British law, you are dealing with the revenue and they are independent to everybody.

"It is an issue for individual football clubs to know the law and stand by the law and look at the implications for their business. I don't think they can escape it. And they shouldn't look to escape it because they can't escape it. It might even lead to clubs considering whether they are full time or go part time and more amateur players coming into the game. But the law is the law."

Project Brave feeds into this debate, and while it is an SFA document rather than an SPFL one, it could have major ramifications for the league. Topping accepts the premise that it would be nice to see more young Scottish players developing in our game and has praise for performance director Malky Mackay.

"When he talks, he talks sense, he doesn't talk in jargon," said Topping. "He has got huge credibility in terms of his record at football clubs. You could say there was a cloud hanging over him but in terms of the job he is doing at the minute he has got off to a good start."

Anyone who has been at the SPFL for a seven-year stretch has had to acquaint himself with arguments over sectarianism and offensive behaviour in football. While Topping cautions himself against "sounding like an old man", he feels thing have come a long way since he was child and praises the work of both halves of the Old Firm divide.

"Some of the singing crosses a line but it ain't there as much as it used to be," he said. "If it comes out, it is usually because you are 2-0 down and people are trying to reaffirm that they are part of the tribe. I think it is quite unfair that people don't focus more on what the two clubs have done."

Another hardy perennial in the Scottish football landscape is some form of league reconstruction. Topping admits the league, with Celtic so dominant, is imperfect and wouldn't be surprised if the topic of league restructuring emerged sooner or later.

"Personally I lived through an era of 16-team leagues and there was so many meaningless fixtures," he said. "One of the options that was looked at was the 8-8-8 and it almost got through. Do I think it will be revisited? Yes. But the bottom half of the split is always interesting because the pressure is always on. And the top CAN be interesting. But I accept that a league where one team is always dominant isn't always going to be as interesting, but tell that to a Celtic fan right now."

Then there is Scottish football's dependency on the gambling business itself. As a man who regards the William Hill sponsorship of the Scottish Cup as one one of his finest deals, and a man who will use his retirement to pursue another opportunity in the gambling trade with a former Scotland youth player called Paul Beattie, Topping clearly doesn't feel this is a recipe for disrepute.

Speaking on the same morning that Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed for having the temerity to mastermind a 5,000-1 outsider to tame the Barclays Premier League - ["it was a small loss relatively but everyone forgets the big money which might have gone on Chelsea and Manchester United," Topping says], Topping doesn't feel that the rules forbidding those in football betting on any aspect of the game, at home or abroad, are overly draconian.

"It is black and white again, I always go back to black and white," he said. "There is a rule in place. Seven years in this job, I have never had a bet on football. And I like a bet on football. So the rule has forced me to sit down and watch horse racing, and waste my money on that instead."