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Feb 22, 2011

SPL edging towards reform consensus

It appears there are ten steps to heaven in the Scottish Premier League as the future face of the game moves a step closer to reality.

In the wake of the latest round of summit talks at Hampden, reconstruction plans are set to be pushed through that will see the top flight reduced from 12 to 10 teams. Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne believes a vote will be held within the next few weeks on the way forward for the game north of the border.

"I'd be very disappointed if it did not go through," he said of the proposal for a top league of ten and a second tier of 12 after the latest meeting between club chiefs. "I think the talks continue to move in the right direction. There is a bit more work to be done to get everyone totally behind it, but there is no other option on the table - we are still looking at the 10 and the 12.

"There will be a date hopefully lined up within the next two or three days for when everyone can vote and there's further work to be done on the document to bring all the elements together. And I would hope that, within the next four or five weeks, we would be able to get the clubs back together and take a vote on it.

"Not everyone plays their hand totally openly. There is still a lot of negotiating involved in these things and it's finding that balance between self-interest and the interest of Scottish football and that's where there is further work to be done."

However, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster's blueprint to switch back to a ten-team top flight with play-offs, a winter break and an earlier start to the season has been met with widespread opposition. That's not just come from the clubs who could yet pay the ultimate price and end up being squeezed out of the SPL as they battle to preserve their top flight status.

Inverness, along with Hearts and Kilmarnock, said that they were in favour of a 14-team top league in a show of hands vote at the meeting, while Dundee United and St Mirren have previously voiced objections to a ten-team division. United chairman Stephen Thompson has been critical in the past of the move towards a smaller league and often suggested expanding to a 14 team format was the best way ahead.

But Doncaster said recently a consensus was being sought for a top league of ten and a second tier of 12. Some member clubs still need to be lobbied on the merits of a smaller SPL and how plans to hand out financial help to those who suffer relegation would actually work.

Henry McLeish, the author of a recent Scottish Football Association commissioned report into the future of Scottish football, will address clubs to present his views on the way ahead in the future. The McLeish report stated that a ten-team top division was the most financially viable model for the SPL - and that is also a view shared by league boss Doncaster.

And Inverness Caledonian Thistle chairman George Fraser - whose own manager, Terry Butcher, has criticised the proposals - believes there's finally some movement towards overall agreement.

"There have been more constructive talks," he said. "We'll have another final chat in a few weeks time. So, more progress, more talks. I think the next time we meet, there should be a vote taken. Things are moving forward. I think you have got to take a balanced view on the overall thing.

"You take your own personal interests into it. But, for the good of Scottish football, you have got to listen to other people's opinions as well and hopefully we will come to the right decision at the end of the day."

So it seems as if everything is beginning to materialise as the vision shared by both Doncaster and McLeish edges a step closer to finally happening.

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