Hearts lead SPL sceptics ?
Despite our much-maligned referees being apparently now happy with the world, the Scottish football circus continues to make a fool of itself with the SPL being the latest organisation to hit the headlines by trying to tell clubs to ignore their fans and chase the money.
Chief Executive Neil Doncaster has given several interviews where he tells us that even he`d like to see an INCREASED league, but it just wouldn`t work - so he wants 2 sets of 10 instead !!
Former Chief Executive Gordon Smith has also given several interviews where he tells us …. emm… nothing, really…. just his usual bland waffle. Why the BBC has given so much air-time (and fees) to this guy for over 10 years is baffling. Fair enough - he can talk reasonably coherently (unusual for an ex-player) … but he seldom says anything which the listener couldn`t deduce for himself.
Basically, it seems that the SPL have talked to broadcasters and sponsors and - surprise, surprise - they`ve replied that they`d want to see Celtic play Rangers every week !! So, Doncaster and his steering group of 6 clubs are recommending a 10-team SPL, with another 10 competing in an SPL 2 for some sort of play-off against the bottom clubs from the top league. There may even be play-offs for UEFA places. At long last though, an end to the artificial "split".
But wait a minute. Are play-offs really any different to the split ? Not in my opinion. Both are artificial milestones on the way to the final league positions - simply there to try to whet the appetites of some fans who think their team has achieved something…. prior to finding out that they haven`t.
Some of the recent survey findings were close to my own opinions -
Too many games (38 plus Cup)
Prices too high
Too much football on TV
Too much hassle for non-season ticket holders to attend a "spur of the moment" game
And last ..but NOT least - SQUADS and WAGES are TOO BIG
This last point is the one which Doncaster has failed to mention. How could Motherwell achieve 3rd place in 2008 on very modest wages and an average home crowd of 5,500 ? Hearts look like achieving 3rd this season on about 70% of the 2009 wage bill under Csaba (and playing much better football too) - any chance that Mr Doncaster could see a pattern emerging here, I wonder ?
Actually, I doubt it. It looks like he`s there simply to grab as much money in sponsorship and media deals as he can - job done !! Everyone agrees that most clubs are irresponsible when it comes to buying and paying players. So if it`s not feasible to impose a wage ceiling in football, how about reducing everyone's "artificial" income and forcing the clubs to see sense ? A 16-team league would give 30 games, plenty variety, home and away once against teach team, no split, less chance of a fixture log-jam after bad weather. Simply a return to what most fans want - a traditional league which encourages managers to play some home-produced youngsters each season.
Would Celtic and Rangers still win the league if they had to curtail their spending on players ? Yes, probably - but the competition from other clubs would surely be more realistic than it is now.
A study of the attendance figures of the main SPL clubs over the last 5 complete seasons (2005/06 to 2009/10) shows how each is likely to view the new SPL proposals.
. . . . . . Ground . . . . 5 Year . . . . 5 Year
. . . . . . Capacity . . . . Average . . . . Drop
Celtic . . . . . 60,000 . . . . . 55,200 . . . . . 21%
Rangers . . . . 51,000 . . . . . 48,900 . . . . . 3%
Hearts . . . . 17,500 . . . . . 15,700 . . . . . 13%
Hibs . . . . . . 20,000 . . . . . 13,300 . . . . . 13%
Aberdeen . . . 21,000 . . . . . 12,100 . . . . . 18%
Dundee U . . . 14,000 . . . . . 8,000 . . . . . 4%
Kilmar'k . . . . 18,000 . . . . . 6,500 . . . . . 16%
M'well . . . . . 13,500 . . . . . 5,900 . . . . . 15%
Celtic - a huge percentage drop in attendances, due probably to the Mowbray disaster more than anything. Quite simply their fans attend (or stay away) in direct proportion to the performance of their team - regardless of the opposition. No danger of relegation from a 10-team league, huge home support and not reliant on visiting fans for income. Likely to support 10-team SPL so long as they can win a big slice of the commercial benefits.
Rangers - fairly steady attendances, close to capacity. No danger of relegation from a 10-team league, huge home support and not reliant on visiting fans for income. Likely to support 10-team SPL so long as they can win a big slice of the commercial benefits.
Hearts - the 13% drop looks worse than it really is, due to the large attendances in the Cup-winning season (and the following one). Since then, just a small drop. Limited income derived from visiting fans - a match against anyone can pull in as many fans as a visit from the OF. Since they need to reduce the wage/squad, surely they`d be happy with fewer games. Likely to want a bigger league, I think
Hibs - although their finances are in good shape, they`ve just increased their capacity to 20,000 and will be looking for ways of filling the empty seats - so they`re likely to want 2 home games against Hearts and the OF in a 10-team league. That assuming that - ahem - they`re in it !!!
Aberdeen - having gone through a few managers and players in the last 2 years against a backdrop of falling crowds, it`s likely that they`ll see the 10-team league as the best way to reverse that trend - although they`ll be praying that Pa` Broon gets them out of the relegation area quick !!
Dundee Utd - chairman Stephen Thompson is on record as saying that they cannot continue paying wages at the current level, and their crowds are now below the 8,000 mark. The risk associated with that is getting involved in a relegation fight in a tight 10-team league. It`s little wonder he is against the proposal.
Kilmarnock - their crowds have dropped 16% since the days of Boyd and Naismith, although the team is going very well this season. Attendances from OF visits never come anywhere near capacity, and the relegation risk of being in a tight 10-team league will worry them.
Motherwell - despite their achievements under McGhee and Pa` Broon, their average attendance is consistently low. I`d be surprised if a 10-team league is to their advantage - maybe the lure of better commercial income is blinding John Boyle ?
Itinerant SPL clubs like Hamilton, St Mirren and St.Johnstone have very small fan bases and probably can be grouped alongside Motherwell in that respect. A drop to the lower SPL league may not hold too much of a financial penalty for them, especially if the proposal gives them some stability.
Interestingly, Inverness are reported as being against the proposal. Perhaps they have a greater ambition to remain in the top flight, with them having the Moray/Dornoch/Cromarty Firth areas to try to develop a bigger fan base.
What do you think of the 2-tier 10-team league proposals from the SPL ?