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Scotland set for ten-team top-flight

Scottish Premier League clubs are moving towards a ten-team top division after appearing to rule out a larger competition following reform discussions.

On Tuesday, all 12 SPL clubs met together for the first time in the ongoing discussions over league reconstruction after a working party proposed two divisions of ten.

No vote was taken at the meeting, which lasted more than three hours, but SPL chairman Ralph Topping believes clubs have been persuaded that a 16 or 18-team league is not financially viable.

Asked if the SPL believed they had persuaded clubs a league of such size was not workable, Topping said: "Yes, broadly speaking. Yes.

"If you look at Scottish football, a 16-team league wouldn't work economically and it would have a knock-on effect in terms of the quality of players you can attract. It's two tens or the status quo in my view."

The clubs will consider the issues raised in the meeting before reconvening on January 17, when a vote is expected to be taken on the reform package, which also includes an earlier start to the season and a winter break.

St Johnstone chairman Geoff Brown feels the proposals are destined to succeed. He said: "The meeting went well and I would be fairly confident of the two ten-team leagues.

"It has not gone ahead, all we have had is discussions and every club can make their own minds up, but I would like to think we have a consensus."

The summit, which was rescheduled after poor weather forced a postponement last month, spelled an escalation of eight months of talks over the future of the top-flight game.

A strategic review group featuring Topping, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster and representatives from six clubs - Hibernian, St Mirren, Motherwell, Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen - formulated the proposals following research by Doncaster.

The other six clubs met on Christmas Eve to discuss the plans ahead of the official meeting amid public scepticism over the ten-team proposal from some of those clubs.

Almost 90% of 5,000 fans who responded to a Supporters Direct poll on the changes were opposed to a 10-team league, with around three-quarters favouring a league of 16 or 18 teams.

However, the SPL proposals were mirrored by recommendations made by former First Minister Henry McLeish in the final part of his Review of Scottish Football, which was published last month. And the initial signs are that, on Tuesday, the clubs reached broad agreement on the plans.

Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne welcomed the inexorable move towards a top-10 Scottish Premier League - but admits the idea will have to be sold to sceptical fans.

All 12 SPL clubs met together for the first time on Tuesday in the ongoing discussions over league reconstruction after a working party proposed two divisions of 10.

No vote was taken at the meeting at Hampden, but Topping and Doncaster declared themselves confident that they had persuaded all present that a 16-team or 18-team top league was not financially viable.

With no other alternatives on the table and the status quo out of the question, it appears a top-10 SPL 1 and 2 will be ratified at the next meeting between the clubs on January 17.

Milne left the national stadium in confident mood but was mindful of the public's perception of the changes. He said: "I think we have moved forward but there is still a bit of work to be done. Each one of the options has been fully evaluated and the one that delivers way above any of the other is a 10-team league.

"I am still fairly confident that's where we will end up after the 17th. There were no alternatives put forward but I genuinely believe that's the right way forward for Scottish football, without any doubt.

"I don't think there is any other option that delivers on a financial front and on the football front. We know there is a big selling job to do with the media and the fans but that is the reality.

"If we don't bring money into Scottish football, where is Scottish football going? There is no money to invest in youth and we can't afford to bring highly-paid players to Scotland so we have to change.

"There is work to be done and discussions are going on behind the scenes with the SFL and they will continue. But change is vital and I think everyone realises that.''


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