7 March 2013

Another Scottish football casualty

Jim Leishman is trying to save his beloved Dunfermline from liquidation.

Dunfermline Athletic - former members of the Scottish Premier League - are on the verge of going out of business.

Relegation from the SPL to Division 1 last season hit Dunfermline really badly, as they had to sell 22 players just to stay afloat. They owe £134,000 to HM Revenue & Customs as well as some unpaid gate receipts to Hamilton Academical, but unless they can manage to raise around £500,000 via a share issue, they could be liquidated within three weeks.

Dunfermline owner Gordon Masterton is set to stand down from the board if and when the club press ahead with their share issue. With Masterton stepping aside, Pars legend Jim Leishman, formerly a player and manager at East End Park, has returned as the head of a steering group that hopes to save the club from oblivion.

It will be a tough job for Leishman, who said, "It's the hardest thing I've ever done at this football club, it's the hardest thing I've got to try to achieve. Will I do it? I don't know, but I can't do it by myself, that's for sure.

"I've got a short period of time - maybe two weeks, maybe three, maybe four. I've got to remain positive.

"It's about the short-term survival of Dunfermline and the long-term future of the football club."

However, it is starting to look more and more like a lost cause for Dunfermline. They are still playing SPL wages in Division 1 - or at least they were. Players have only received 20% of their wages of February so far, and have threatened to go on strike.

In addition, results on the pitch mean that the chances of them returning to the top flight for next season are, well, not good.

In the last five years, two former SPL teams - Gretna and oldco Rangers - have been liquidated. The loss of a third team, and possibly even a fourth if Heart of Midlothian's financial mess ends in tears, would be a firm indicator that Scottish football is in a financial crisis.

A survey in November found that six out of the 32 clubs in Scotland's top three tiers (SPL, Division 1 and Division 2) were in "financial distress". In contrast, just two out of the 72 in England's equivalent divisions were in choppy financial waters.

It has to be said that the Rangers saga played a big role in the decline of Scots football. Although their liquidation, and subsequent reformation as a Division 3 club, has inflated gate receipts in their new division, overall, attendances in the SPL have dropped in their absence.

The SPL needs to be reformed, and Neil Doncaster mustn't be part of it.

This also comes at a time when Scottish football bosses are discussing plans to change the way the sport is run in Scotland.

The SPL and Scottish Football League are set to merge, but in my opinion, that doesn't go far enough. It is unbelievable that there are essentially three different Scottish FAs for senior, junior and amateur football. There should only be one body that governs football from the grass roots to the Premier League, just like there is south of the border.

This new body should be chaired by someone who isn't Stewart Regan, Neil Doncaster or David Longmuir - the respective chief executives of the SFA, SPL and SFL. Scottish football would be better off without these three human soundbites going forward, to borrow a favourite phrase of Doncaster's in particular.

The new structure of the league system is also up for debate. The 12-10-10-10 system that has persisted for 13 seasons is boring, because SFL clubs have to play their division opponents four times each, and flawed, because the ridiculous split in the SPL after 33 games can lead to teams having three home games against an opponent and only one away game against them or vice versa.

The SPL have proposed a new 12-12-18 system, which gets rid of the complicated split in one division and somehow manages to turn two divisions of 12 teams into three divisions of 8 mid-season. The top eight teams post-split would contest the title and European places, the middle eight would decide between them who starts off in the SPL next season, and the bottom eight would fight to avoid relegation to the 18-team National League. Simples.

But, unsurprisingly, Rangers' chief windbag Charles Green is not happy with the SPL's plans, and wants a 14-14-14 system... otherwise, he's taking Rangers down south into the English leagues.

The Gers CEO's proposal also includes our old friend, the mid-season split. There could be a 6 and 8 split in each division, in which case the top teams would play 36 games and the bottom teams would play 40, or a 7 and 7 split, in which they'd all play 38.

Neither of these plans work, in my opinion. They should keep it simple, and go with the 18-team top-flight that existed before the Scottish Premier Division was formed in 1975. A second-tier should also consist of 18 teams, or even 20 teams, with relegation and promotion to and from the top non-league divisions. Scottish league football has been 'closed' for too long, and it should be opened up.

Obviously, reducing the number of league clubs from 42 would mean that the Scottish league would lose some members. Therefore, this is a good time for Celtic and Rangers especially to consider starting afresh in England's league system.

And if they do... good luck in the Evo-Stik League Northern Premier Division 1 North, guys!

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