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Page last updated at 14:51 GMT, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

SPL numbers game hard to add up

Empty seats at Easter Road
Fans are threatening to stay away from a new top league of 10

By Chris McLaughlin
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Another Scottish Premier League board meeting and another statement suggesting some form of unity on the ever thorny issue of league reconstruction.

But given that the meeting and the statement were once again followed by rumours of dissent, it is difficult to see what has changed since the last meeting a fortnight ago.

The first gathering was billed as a chance for the 12 clubs to discuss the best way forward.

When the meeting ended, a proposal for two leagues of 10 was hailed as the only way forward.

"This is plan A and there is no plan B," declared the SPL chairman Ralph Topping.

The former main man at William Hill was betting on the 12 clubs buying into the proposal and doing something that is a rarity when the top clubs meet - reaching agreement.

The gamble failed.


At least four clubs decided to go public with their opposition to the plan and it was back to square one.

So, after face-to-face chats with all the club's decision makers, including a Lithuanian lobbying flight to see Vladimir Romanov, the 12 met again.

Once again, agreement. Not on a 10-team league but on a statement.

The men in charge of Scottish football's top flight agreed on the wording of a statement.

Consensus was reached about what they would say to the media.

And the much anticipated media release hailed that fact that there was "broad support" for the new plan, which involves a top league of 10 and a second tier of 12.

Agreement at last? Not quite.

Yet again we hear rumblings of rebellion, with clubs refusing to back the latest tweak.

So now the lobbying and courting starts all over again - the herding of the cats begins once more.

In the middle of it all Neil Doncaster remains upbeat and positive.

Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping
Doncaster and Topping face a tough fight to push through a top 10

The SPL chief executive has no option but he faces a fight on several fronts.

His immediate battle is to convince the warring 12 that the latest proposal is workable and ultimately in their best interests.

For evidence of how difficult that is going to be, just re-read up to this point.

He must also convince a fairly sceptical media.

Campaigns have already been launched against a return to a 10-team league and pundits are queuing up to pick holes in the plan.

Doncaster has already briefed journalists at length about the merits of his plan, but so far it seems the majority side with those who could yet give the chief executive his biggest headache - the fans.

Various polls have been carried out, opinions have been expressed through phone-ins and emails on the subject have been received in their thousands.

The fans don't like it.

Football is a now a business and the money men must be listened to according to Doncaster but he must perform a pretty tricky balancing act.

Few business leaders would risk driving change that would force their customers away but in this case the SPL bosses are asking their paying public to have faith.

The message appears to be -Trust us. We know what's best and trust us to get things right.

But It'll take a pretty big leap of faith from cynical supporters who have already started to vote with their feet.

Agreement on more than the wording of a statement might be a start.

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see also
SPL clubs agree on top-10 format
17 Jan 11 |  Scottish Premier
Hearts want fairer TV cash split
15 Jan 11 |  Scottish Premier
SPL scraps vote on top-10 format
09 Jan 11 |  Scottish Premier
Fans discuss top 10 plan with SPL
06 Jan 11 |  Scottish Premier
St Mirren would prefer SPL of 14
06 Jan 11 |  Scottish Premier
Top 10 will raise TV money - SPL
05 Jan 11 |  Scottish Premier
SPL moves towards 10-team format
04 Jan 11 |  Scottish Premier
McLeish review backs two-tier SPL
16 Dec 10 |  Scotland

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