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What a Difference Two Years Makes

Just two seasons ago Dumbarton finished third in Division 2 of the SFL. Arbroath ended five points and one place better off.

Despite that apparently greater pedigree it was Dumbarton that prevailed in the play-off semi-final between the two, consigning Arbroath to another season in Div 2, while the Sons climbed, via their play-off win, onwards and upwards to SFL Div 1 (now the SPFL Championship.)

That mere two years later Sons have ended the season fifth in Tier 2 while Arbroath finished bottom in the next league down and so the clubs will play two divisions apart next season.

Morton were runners-up in Tier 2 last season. This year (despite beating Sons twice!) they were more or less dreadful and finished a poor last.

Things can change so quickly in football.

Ane End of Ane Auld Sang

Today the Scottish Football League voted itself into history. (I originally typed “committee suicide.”) It is ane end of ane auld sang. For 123 years the SFL has been the mainstay of professional football in Scotland – albeit recently of mainly semi-professional teams.

Quite why this has been allowed to happen escapes me. The 30 SFL clubs have now shackled themselves to – effectively been taken over by – an organisation, the Scottish Premier League, which has been nothing short of a disaster. During its short existence many of its clubs have found themselves in deep financial difficulties. The demise of the largest of these, Rangers, gave the SFL an opportunity to lever much more advantage from that situation than it has been able to achieve. Not the least of the undesirable aspects of the new body – to be called the Scottish Professional Football League – is that the top division clubs (the old SPL) have a stranglehold on any further developments in that the voting structure of the new body means any two of them can veto a proposal as an 11-1 majority among the top division clubs will be required for a change.

The SPL was originally set up on the apparent belief that the clubs at that time in the highest positions in Scottish Football’s structure were somehow or other better than the rest and could more or less cast them adrift. (The Rangers debacle showed how misguided that idea was. Without an SFL as a safety net there may not have been a continuity Rangers.) But what gave those particular clubs the right to decide that? To lift up the drawbridge after themselves, which is what they did by having only one promotion/relegation position.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary the 11-1 voting arrangements suggest the present top 12 still are of the belief that they are the best; or at any rate the most competent. The provision of an additional possible promotion place from tier 2 via a play-off is welcome but for how long will it last? Moreover the new body’s overall voting structure is heavily weighted in favour of clubs who happen temporarily to be in the first or second tier. I fully expect a few years down the line that access to the top two divisions of the SPFL will become restricted in the way it once was to the SPL – or even for the top two tiers to vote the lower two away.

The SPL was (is) far too money grubbing and venal. I have not been in the slightest interested in watching its “product” either live or on television. I don’t expect my interest in those “top” 12 clubs to change now that the others have been drawn into their web. The true soul of Scottish football, its beating heart, lies in those other clubs; the ones who provide a focus for their community, cut their coats according to their cloth and do not seek to overreach themselves. I welcome the inception of a Lowland League by the way, a much needed intermediate for the establishment of a route to the (now) SPFL for clubs traditionally outwith the main leagues and for those who may find themselves falling out of them. I only hope my beloved Dumbarton FC won’t end up there one day.

Annus Mirabilis

For the average football fan most seasons are a bit of a non-event.

By-passing glory hunters (yes, Old Firm fans, I’m looking at you) your team will achieve nothing at all – beyond perhaps mid-table mediocrity, which in itself is not to be sniffed at I suppose.

Once in a while, though, something comes along that makes the usual torments all worthwhile – a cup run (Ha! – when was the last time we had one of those; Stirlingshire Cup wins don’t really count) a promotion or the avoidance of relegation. I suppose we must add to that list nowadays a play-off appearance – if it’s the right play-off!

This season has seen that feeling enhanced. Last year’s play-off win was marvellous but once we went on the run that qualified us for it there was a momentum to follow and while nothing was taken for granted the team was playing well and since we’d actually finished third in the league losing in the play-offs wouldn’t have been too much of a disappointment.

This season though has seen what amounts to a miracle. With only one league win and two draws up until the middle of December we looked doomed. What has happened since would be incredible if we hadn’t witnessed it. (Nine away wins! More points gained away than lost. Escape even from the relegation play-off with effectively two games to go.)

And somehow the avoidance of relegation – always the main goal just after a promotion – seems to mean more than a promotion, especially when it has looked unlikely for most of the season. (Cowdenbeath fans will have been mightily relieved yesterday even though they must have felt reasonably secure for most of the time.)

But let’s not get too carried away with thoughts of doing well in Division 1 in future. For a club like Dumbarton survival at this level is success. We’ve achieved that this season – against the odds. Yet it’s always going to be a struggle when the resources are stacked against us. The likelihood is that as a part time team we cannot be a force in this division. I can live with that.

Edited to add:- The suggestion that the Div 1 clubs will break away from the SFL to become an SPL 2 fills me with foreboding. At the minute we might be in that but for the past 20 or so years we wouldn’t have had a sniff. I suspect those full-time teams who think that may be a lifeboat are kidding themselves. The country isn’t really big enough to sustain even twelve full time teams never mind twenty. Neither are the crowds.

Kiss of Death?

And so the inevitable has happened and new Dumbarton manager Ian Murray has been named SFL Div 1 manager of the month for January.

This is usually the cue for a downturn in a manager’s team’s performance. Let’s hope not in this case.

And I see we’ve taken on to the staff a Scotland international goalkeeper.

But only as a coach.

Oh, Hell

SP Hell.

I see the proposals for a reconstruction of the Scottish football leagues have advanced to the point they are now to be voted on.

I haven’t commented up to now as I’ve been resigned to gloom all season. The 4-3 at Falkirk and 3-0 at Morton did cheer me up, though.

The proposals would see a merger of the SPL and SFL with a top league of 12 clubs (as now; so no change at all!) The second tier will also have 12 clubs (an enlargement of 2.) The third tier will have 18 clubs (effectively a merger of Divs 2 and 3 of the SFL minus 2 clubs.) The fourth tier disappears (but there is a mooting of introducing relegation to/promotion from a pyramid below it.)

There is in addition to be a “split” after the top two Divs have played 22 games (home and away against each other) with the 24 clubs divided into three sections of 8,8 and 8 where again there will be home and away games against each member.

There is an air of indecent haste about this as it seems to be envisaged that this will start in season 2013-2014. That would mean changing the finishing post halfway through this season (and also effectively kybosh the play-offs for this year.)

As far as the top two “new” Divisions is concerned how is this different in essence from the SPL 2 which was shot down in flames about a year ago?

And I wonder how many promotion/relegation places will there be between the third and the second. Not enough I would suggest.

It all sounds to me remarkably like a way to hike Rangers up to tier 2 a year early. They will undoubtedly win Div 3 this season and I can see the argument running that they won their league; so deserve to be promoted. The Div 2 winners (Queen of the South?) would be going up to the second tier anyway.

In this regard it would be nice to have Rangers saying that if their promotion to the second tier in one go was advocated they would refuse to accept it – but I can’t see them making that refusal: even if they have described the plans as an abomination.

By all means have a merged league – provided there are equal voting rights across the Divisions. (Otherwise how long will it be before the top two Divisions vote away the lower completely?)

Very few fans, however, want to keep the present system where clubs play each other 4 times a season. The proposals do not really address this point. Under them 20 clubs will still be doing exactly that.*

The main trouble is that Rangers and Celtic are too dominant within the Scottish game. I have frequently said that unless and until the gate income is once again shared between the two competing clubs, along with more equal division of TV monies, no other club will have a hope in hell of challenging the big two.

I do know one thing though. Whatever and whenever league reconstruction happens Dumbarton will be demoted. That’s what always happens.

1922: third bottom Div 1. Three clubs relegated to adjust division sizes. Previously only two clubs had been relegated. It took us 50 years to get back up.

1975 : fifth bottom Div 1. Only the top 10 clubs stayed in the first tier. It only took us 8 years to get up to that level (for a brief one season visit.)

1994 : fifth bottom Div 1. Three Divisions rearranged to four, bottom five in Div 1 demoted to new Div 2. Promotion the next year saw us then have our worst season in living memory (and beyond) before tumbling down the leagues. 16 long years later we finally got back to Div 1.

Demoted
Under
Materiallly
Biased
Arbitrary
Regulation
Thrice
Over
Now

*Edited to add. The 24 “top” clubs will all play four times against at least three teams.

Hell Mend Them?

At the time of writing Rangers Newco are set to play in Div 3 of the SFL this coming season. (A welcome aspect of the SFL decision for me was that Dumbarton voted for that outcome.)

Whether that will be the situation by the end of tomorrow’s meeting of the SPL is another matter.

There has been talk of financial meltdown in the SPL with St Mirren, Motherwell, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Dundee United and Kilmarnock said to be in danger of going into administration should “Rangers” be absent for the SPL for more than one year.

If the fact of Rangers (note, there, the lack of inverted commas) being liquidated were not enough to show the SPL business model as being a busted flush then surely this would be. Not one of those clubs’ finances ought to have been dependent on the presence in their league of another club – nor on the uncertain largesse of any television company. Yet that is what appears to be the situation. As I have said before I have no wish too see any club go to the wall but if they do they have only themselves to blame.

They also seem to have the outright gall to put the blame for this on the SFL clubs’ decision on Friday. If they could not survive without the presence of a phantom club (for that is what “Rangers” now are) why on Earth did they vote to expel that club from their league?

That league was set up in the belief that the so-called big clubs did not need those lower down – that the smaller clubs were in fact a drag on them.

It now turns out that the opposite is the case. By and large SFL clubs have cut their coat according to their cloth; some have even thrived! Indeed, the SFL may well be the refuge for those in trouble higher up.

A time of crisis now no doubt faces the whole of Scottish football. That it will emerge from it leaner and fitter is only to be hoped. If it does so it might be in the absence of some of those who thought themselves above the rest. Some might say, “Hell mend them.”

The New “Rangers”

Rangers Football Club no longer exists.

The company comprising it has been liquidated, the club along with it. So why are the Scottish football authorities scrabbling around trying to accommodate a new club apparently still claiming to be Rangers?

The sleight of hand which has seemingly transferred the assets to a new company – but miraculously without also transferring its debts! – cannot carry the history with it.
It is a new company – and a new club. As such they merit no special consideration – certainly not elevation to Div 1 of the SFL when any other new club would have to start in Div 3 (and moreover would have to provide three years’ worth of audited accounts for the privilege.)

In the same way, Airdrie United are not a continuation of Airdrieonians. (They are arguably Clydebank; except Clydebank fans do not consider them so.)

Whichever title the new “Rangers” takes (I append a few suggestions below*) the club is not and never will be Rangers. The SPL, SFA and Sky may wish them to be but they simply aren’t. As I understand it they also have not much of a squad of players. That many of last season’s Rangers players are taking themselves elsewhere shows they do not think the new company is a continuation of the old.

The threats, distortions and scare stories of the SPL (and apparently, to its shame, the SFA) with regard to the potential financial apocalypse they claim will happen should the new “Rangers” not be admitted to Div 1 are a form of blackmail. What they imply is that they intend to break a contract (the annual payments the SPL makes to the SFL) or incite others to break theirs (the two years’ notice requirement for clubs to leave the SFL.) This stuff is beyond sordid. I do not believe any of the administrators, chairmen etc who put forward such arguments give a stuff for Scottish football – only for the feathering of their own nests. The hidden agenda is of course to cast adrift (via the formation of SPL 2) the smaller clubs, in other words that portion of Scottish football where its true soul actually resides.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the true good of Scottish football to be asserted, to break the stranglehold that the Old Firm had/has on the neck of the Scottish game, to make the playing field more level again.

I fear it will be thrown away.

*Not the Real Rangers, (Dis)continuity Rangers, I-Don’t-Believe-It-Is-Rangers, All-Too-Real-Rangers.

Newco or Not Newco?

With over five SPL clubs now having said they’ll vote against a team bearing the word Rangers at least somewhere in its new name being in their division next season it now seems that the Newco will have to apply to the SFL for a place.

The thought that they might be in Division 1 next season fills me with foreboding. If Dundee take their place in the SPL it would mean that Dumbarton’s first league game in Div 1 for 16 years will not then be at Dens Park (thus incidentally depriving me of the opportunity to walk to the game from my son’s flat) and may be at Ibrox – in which case I’ll not be going.

Any precedent here is surely Gretna, who when they were relegated from the SPL while in administration were immediately demoted to Div 3. But the Newco will not quite have been relegated, they will have been expelled.

Moreover they are a NEW club and ought to apply for the vacancy which will (due to shuffling within the leagues as before – Airdrie Utd you win again!) be in Div 3, not Div 1.

I fear though that some SFL clubs may vote for short term financial gain over sporting integrity despite the fact that the original Rangers were part of the process of shafting the rest of Scottish football (probably hoping it would wither on the vine) when the SPL was set up. The SFL clubs, though, have not withered but rather have managed to keep themselves alive and financially viable – certainly in Divs 2 and 3 – unlike their supposed betters.

This open letter
to the SFL was written by a Raith Rovers fan and puts the case very well.

My feeling is that the misdemeanours of Rangers have been so grievous that a mere one division demotion is no sanction at all: any other club could then play fast and loose financially and expect to get away with it with as little to pay. I am even coming round to the notion that Newco Rangers ought not to be admitted even to Div 3 (they do not meet the entry criterion of having three years’ accounts for a start.) Scottish football will find its level without them – and become steadily more competitive as Celtic will not have a partner with which to bully the rest. If this means fans of Rangers are lost to the Scottish game so be it. The smaller clubs don’t depend on them anyway.

Ramsden’s? Cup

Yet another round of alphabet soup in Scottish football. Not only is the League Cup now to be called the Communities Cup but apparently the Challenge Cup (in which Dumbarton have the worst record of any of the teams which have ever competed for it; so don’t look for progress beyond the first round this time either) is now to be known as the Ramsden’s Cup.

Ramsden’s apparently have a presence in a lot of towns with SFL clubs and peddle financial services such as pawn-broking and payday loans.

Hmm. Not much of an inspiration, is it?

It’s East Stirlingshire, by the way, at home on 23rd July.

What? No Morton?

The Death of Scottish Football? 4.

I see the changes those in charge of the SPL wish to push through seem to be closer to coming to pass.

The only difference to what most fans have overwhelmingly rejected?

That the SPL 2 will have 12 teams instead of 10.

Is that not just entirely typical of the cynical nature of these proposals?

What could be the reason (the only reason?) for increasing the projected number of teams in the SPL 2 in this way? Surely it can only be to try to persuade the present SFL Div 1 clubs to vote for it.

It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic, nor so transparent.

These bullies still appear to maintain that only a top ten is financially viable.

Well; it was tried before and found wanting. It will be so again.

With the same stale old suspects on display time after time with four games against the same opposition every year, not including possible cup ties, attendances will continue to fall, the “product” (the football on offer) continue to decline in quality – even the much vaunted Old Firm games, the last one I hear was very poor; I had not the slightest interest in watching it – and the attraction of the SPL to TV companies will wane. Then the top ten will be stuck in a deeper bind than they are now.

Here’s a thought. Why don’t they just cut their coat according to their cloth, balance their books and forget about trying to compete with the top European clubs? We, and they, live in a small country on Europe’s periphery. Scotland is no longer a football powerhouse. (That it once may have been is a historical accident.) It’s time the SPL, especially the Old Firm, came to terms with that.

Note we have no indication of what promotion/relegation arrangements there will be between the new expanded SPL and the rump SFL the changes will leave behind.

Rest assured the access to the new SPL from the SFL will be restricted. The SFL clubs will be left to wither on the vine.

The SPL 2 clubs may wither faster though.

Come on SFL. Tell them to stuff it.

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