SPL2 - Death of the Lower Leagues?

Thursday 17th August 2006 is the day that the latest league reconstruction has been announced. Except it is not a league reconstruction as such.

The twelve SPL clubs have agreed to the pandering of the First Division clubs to create an SPL 2 from season 2008/2009. It will include ten clubs with one promotion and relegation place between the SPL and the SPL 2. The team at the bottom of SPL 2 will be demoted to the top SFL league and there will be a play off between the team 9th in the SPL 2 and another team in the SFL. Sounds familiar.

The difference is that the new SPL 2 will have stadium restrictions of 3,000 all seated accommodation for fans and must have pitch protection. It looks like a clique in overdrive, as many current 2nd and 3rd division teams do not have a cat in hell's chance of ever being accepted. Also the ten teams in the newly formed SPL2 are going to be ‘invited' by the SPL. Should Dundee be relegated this year or Morton not be promoted, do you see them not being invited?

The stimulus for this change has been Bells discontinuing its sponsorship of the SFL and STV's decision to scrap Football First and the associated lack of income for the First Division clubs, especially those with ambition like Livingston and St Johnstone. A new cup competition for the select twenty-two is to be set up. This must be the final nail in the coffin for the League Cup. Again it disadvantages the teams in divisions two and three, as they would only have one opportunity to get to Ibrox or Parkhead for a payday in a season.

While nobody could argue with the reasons that the First Division teams have done this, if we were in the First just now we would want it too, it does not help Scottish football on the whole. Assume for a minute you support Peterhead, Stranraer or Cowdenbeath. How are you ever going to progress? You are in the catch 22 of needing to play bigger teams to upgrade the ground, but don't have the chance to because you have been frozen out of the top two divisions.

In an ideal world we could be looking at this and saying that it doesn't affect us. We are an established SPL team. But we're not guaranteed to stay that way forever and having seen how Dundee and Partick Thistle have done since relegation, we cannot rest on our laurels. It gives us an immoral safety net in both league stature and finances should the next few years turn into an absolute disaster.

The benefits for the First Division teams will be that they will have sponsorship again, assuming the SPL are more efficient at finding a replacement to the Bank of Scotland than the SFL were Bells and the opportunity of a TV deal. This will stop a lot of these teams going part time. In fairness, this is good because a football team should be the heart of a community. Perth, Hamilton, Livingston and Greenock are large communities and worthy of a full time football team.

While we congratulate the First Division teams on a good result today, we have to be sceptical on how moral the decision is and how well it will serve the teams at the lower end of the spectrum.