WHEN Gordon Smith first floated his revolutionary plan to regionalise the lower leagues and incorporate top flight reserve sides into the new-look structure during his time as SFA chief executive he was disappointed by the response.

“I went to David Longmuir at the SFL with my idea in 2009 and he put it to his member clubs,” he said. “It was rejected. David said the reason they gave was they felt the B teams would get all the publicity. I just laughed at that. I said: ‘What publicity are they getting in those divisions at the moment?’ But I didn’t make a big fuss.”

Smith still thinks, over a decade on, that change is desperately required. In fact, he believes it is more important now, when many Ladbrokes Premiership, Championship, League One and League Two outfits are facing uncertain futures due to the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown, than ever before. He is convinced it will have myriad benefits for a game facing a financial crisis.

Crucially, he knows for a fact that influential figures at many of Scotland’s biggest clubs, who have seen the members of their under-20 teams benefit from their involvement in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup in the last few years, are of exactly the same opinion.

The suspension of the game in this country and the prospect of Hearts being relegated before the 2019/20 campaign has been completed, have increased the possibility of the current 12-10-10-10 set-up, which has been in place for the last 20 years, being abandoned.

Smith, the former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Brighton, Manchester City and Basel forward and Ibrox director of football, presents a compelling argument for his radical league reconstruction blueprint.

He envisages that part-time outfits like Annan, Elgin City, Peterhead, Queen of the South and Stirling Albion would be able to cut down on the considerable costs they incur travelling the length and breadth of the country to fulfil fixtures between August and May being part of League One North and League One South.

At the same time, he is confident they could significantly increase their attendances and revenue by playing a greater number of local derbies as well as matches against opponents like Aberdeen, Hibernian and St Johnstone.

The former agent is also of the view that the most promising players at Dumbarton, Greenock Morton, Stranraer and Raith Rovers would improve their chances of winning money-spinning moves to their professional rivals by performing well.

“The reasons for it are two fold,” said Smith. “You will have teams playing each other who are nearer each other so that means less cost and probably more derby matches as well.

“But having the reserve teams of the Premiership clubs also invigorates it. That means you get bigger crowds then and you make more money. It would be a big boost for Annan to be playing against a Celtic or a Kilmarnock. Their expenses go down, but their income would increase. You play at their stadiums.

“There is another aspect to it as well. The smaller clubs’ players would be getting tested against top class opposition - which would mean that more of their players are putting themselves in the shop window to be transferred. Premiership teams would be able to see they could play against their players.”

The difficulty that many promising kids at Premiership clubs encounter making the step up into senior football has long been a concern for those charged with their development. Could this be a solution? Smith is adamant it would be.

He feels that Celtic, Hearts, Livingston and Rangers would be able to bring on their youngsters greatly by giving them regular competitive football on a Saturday afternoon in front of sizeable attendances instead of making them play insipid youth matches involving only their contemporaries in lifeless empty stadiums.

“Younger players at the Premiership clubs would also be getting tested against a better standard of opponent and would come on as a result of that as well,” said Smith.

“We have seen a move towards this with the colts teams playing in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup. But my idea isn’t for colts teams to go into regionalised leagues it is for reserve teams. I am in favour of boys playing alongside men and against men. That brings them on better, you can tell who is going to make it better.

“They would be playing in front of crowds, not big crowds admittedly, but bigger crowds than they are playing in front of at the moment. They will also be playing on a Saturday. At the moment they are playing on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons and that sort of thing. It would be better for them all round.”

Reserve teams have long been able to compete in the lower tiers of major footballing nations like France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. But the likes of Atletico Madrid B, Bayern Munich II, Benfica B, Jong Ajax, Juventus U-23, Monaco B and Real Madrid Castilla are not allowed to join their first teams in the top division. That is exactly the model Smith favours.

“They Premiership clubs don’t win promotion if they top the league,” he said. “They could discount the games against the reserve teams at the end of the season and the team that has the most points goes up.”

The SPFL board are set to meet on Monday to discuss how to move forward with the 2019/20 season. Whether to declare Celtic champions and relegate Hearts based on the Premiership placings on March 13 or try to complete the final fixtures at a later date will be the pressing issues. But expanding the top flight and altering the lower leagues has been mooted in some quarters.

Endorsing the proposals put forward by Smith would be quite a departure in Scotland, where we are not exactly renowned for being trailblazers or visionaries, but he senses there is a growing appetite for change in the academies, on the training pitches and in the boardrooms at many Premiership clubs.

“Anybody I have talked to about this in the higher leagues all think it’s a good idea,” he said. “I have spoken to people at Kilmarnock, St Johnstone. They think the lower league clubs would be better off if it is regional and if top flight clubs were involved. They also know their youngsters would come on. They all think we should be doing it.”