Tonight I’m off to watch Celtic take on Hamilton Accies to extend their lead at the top of the table to six points. Here’s what’s going to happen: either we’ll win, and I’ll go home thinking about 5-in-a-row, or we’ll drop points at home to Accies, again, and there will be a joyless walk along London Road. There would be no compensation whatsoever in the latter, no matter how bravely Accies defend their 18 yard line. The former will provide limited joy, as despite previous results, I’ve already anticipated a positive outcome.
Hamilton Academical are a remarkably successful community football club. They are a fraction the size of Dunfermline, St Mirren or Hibs, who languish in the lower leagues, not to mention Dundee United, but no matter how admirable, they are not box office material.
The prospect of league reconstruction – creating a 14 or 16 team top flight, bringing in clubs unable to match Accies on the field, at the cost of games against top 12 teams, is enormously unattractive and unwelcome.
We abandoned an 18 team top flight in favour of a top 10 in 1975 because we are a tiny country who cannot support more than 10 competitive teams (or even that many). Football fans turned up in huge numbers for games against genuinely top clubs, but attendances against semi-professional clubs were as lousy as you would expect them to be.
My first objection against the last reconstruction was use of the word “Professional”. The SPFL includes professional, semi-professional and amateur clubs. The four division league was tarted up as something it’s not. We can, at best, support two leagues of genuinely professional clubs, with two leagues of semi-professional clubs below them.
A professional group of 20 clubs, separated into two divisions, should be created, with only marginal drops in commercial income distribution as you go down the gradient. Semi-professional clubs should acknowledge that status and organise their game accordingly. Set participation criteria, objectives, partnering and commercial plans to suit their needs. They should be free to formally partner with professional clubs, share resources, including expertise and youth development objectives.
There should not be automatic promotion and relegation between the professional and semi-professional leagues. At most, there should be a one up, one down, play-off. This would give teams who drop quickly, like St Mirren, a floor from which they can bounce off, instead of having to take unplanned or worse, un-budgeted, action mid-season to remain in tier two.
I love the prospect of a Scottish Cup game at East Kilbride, but that anticipation required the immediacy of the Cup. No sport survives by creating more mismatches games than it already has.
But this is Scottish football, so I suppose we should expect the worst from Hampden this afternoon.