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Rangers manager Walter Smith dismisses play-off idea

Celtic's Giorgios Samaras and Rangers' Lee McCulloch
Celtic and Rangers could be involved in end-of-season play-offs

By Jim Spence and Alasdair Lamont

Rangers manager Walter Smith believes the notion of a play-off to decide the Scottish league title is unrealistic.

Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson has suggested any league reconstruction plans could include a top four play-off, similar to the Netherlands league.

"Do you think that's fair? Of course it's not," said Smith.

"There's an SPL strategy committee - I don't think that's their idea is it? Is it the idea of the people who are outwith that committee do you think?"

A Scottish Premier League meeting to discuss proposals for reconstruction has been postponed as opposition grows against a 10-team top flight.

The Old Firm have won the league between them for 25 years. That cannot be good for football. Fans are fed up with the lack of competition

Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson

The general meeting was due to be held on Monday but has been rescheduled for 4 January because of the adverse weather conditions.

Representatives from the 12 member clubs were due to discuss a proposal to create a 10-team league.

But January's meeting is expected to hear fresh proposals for a new play-off system at the top of the table.

Four clubs - Dundee United, Hearts, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Kilmarnock - remain to be convinced of the case for a 10-club top league.

The Dutch Eredivisie league has a play-off system for European slots after the league champions have been crowned and Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson believes a top-four play-off could improve the SPL.

Thompson told BBC Scotland: "We need to inject some excitement into the game.

"The Old Firm have won the league between them for 25 years. That cannot be good for football. Fans are fed up with the lack of competition.

"I am not in favour of a top league of 10, but I could accept it with play-offs at the top and at the bottom.

"It would be something really fresh and new. It has worked in rugby in England. There is no reason it could not work here."

Thompson believes that play-offs would boost SPL finances.

Former First Minister Henry McLeish
McLeish was involved in the proposal for a 10-team top tier

"Could you imagine a top-four play-off with home and away games and a play-off final at Hampden?" he said.

"There would be full houses for all the games and it would create huge interest from the TV companies and the fans and would generate a lot of money, perhaps as much as £2m extra income for the teams in the SPL.

"The truth is that the Old Firm would still win the league more often than not, but every now and again, in a play-off situation, someone else would manage to win and that would be a big boost for the game."

A strategic review group - comprising SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster, chairman Ralph Topping and representatives from Hibernian, St Mirren, Motherwell, Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen - concluded their eight-month schedule of meetings last Sunday.

"I think they tried it on one occasion in Holland - one occasion - and if you look at the Championship in England, play-offs work as long as your first and second teams get the reward they deserve.

"So they should maybe have play-offs for the European places. That might be quite interesting. I wonder how they would view that."

The proposal for a two-tier SPL, with 10 teams in each division, and changes to the calendar mirrored the views of former First Minister Henry McLeish, who published a couple of days later the findings of his year-long review on behalf of the Scottish Football Association.

Indeed, McLeish himself had been involved in the discussions, with SPL sources stressing that all top-flight clubs had been in involved at some stage of the discussions to overhaul the whole of Scottish football.

It would mean a 36-match league season and the removal of the split into two sections of six, which has caused numerous controversies due to the anomalies in fixtures, for the final five matches.

The existing one automatic promotion place would be supplemented by play-offs between the ninth-placed team in the top tier and three teams in the second tier.

Those changes would be unlikely to come into force straight away, but a July start date, coupled with a winter break, could be introduced next season ahead of reconstruction.

A 10-2 majority would be required to change the size of the SPL, but league chiefs hope that fears of relegation would be placated by a focus on reducing the gap in revenues that exists between clubs in the top flight and First Division.

Clubs finishing in the upper echelons of any SPL2 would receive income closer to those in the bottom reaches of the top flight, while the Second and Third Divisions could be regionalised.

The Scottish Football League, which presently administers the senior divisions below the SPL, has been included in the talks, as has the SFA.

However, SFL clubs appear to be against the regionalisation idea and several SPL clubs - and especially team managers - are known to prefer an increase in the number of clubs in the top flight.

"Ralph Topping and Neil Doncaster will be coming up to see me in Dundee in the next two weeks, but they will not change my mind and they know that," said Thompson.

"Just going back to a top 10 will not change anything. If we are to have just 10 in the top league, we have to look at really radical proposals.

"There's a lot of talking to be done yet. There were a lot of good things in the proposals last week, but they are not radical enough."

It appears that Caley Thistle are the latest club to emerge as sceptical of the plans.

Another senior Scottish football figure told BBC Scotland: "There is now another club against the proposal.

"Those pushing the 10-club league should not underestimate the rest of us.

"Tomorrow's meeting has been cancelled, but now a bigger debate begins."



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see also
SPL may consider extending season
18 Dec 10 |  Scottish Premier
Freeze hits Scottish card again
18 Dec 10 |  Scotland
Hearts seek further play-off talk
21 Dec 10 |  Scottish Premier
McLeish review backs two-tier SPL
16 Dec 10 |  Scotland
SPL changes 'will help all clubs'
13 Dec 10 |  Scottish Premier
SPL to consider radical shake-up
12 Dec 10 |  Scottish Premier


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