WHEN Stewart Gilmour of St Mirren and Roy MacGregor of Ross County voted against league reconstruction proposals back in 2013 they were subjected to a furious backlash from their fellow club owners.
Now Gilmour believes the SPFL could receive exactly the same negative reaction - if they change the league set-up just to address the issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Expanding the Ladbrokes Premiership to 14 teams next season if the 2019/20 campaign is unable to be completed because of the Covid-19 outbreak – so that bottom-placed Hearts aren’t relegated and runaway Championship leaders Dundee United are promoted – has been mooted.
A blueprint entitled “SPFL Reorganisation: Accommodating the premature end of season 19/20 and creating a manageable structure for the future of Scottish football”, which is believed to have been drawn up one of the 42 senior clubs, has been circulated.
But Gilmour, who is still a season ticket holder at the Simple Digital Arena despite handing over control at St Mirren back in 2016, is adamant that forcing through a new structure as a result of the current crisis would badly damage the credibility of the top flight.
The one-time SPL board member, who rejected a move to a 12-12-18 set-up that would have seen the top two divisions split into three leagues of eight after 22 matches had been played, isn’t opposed to change.
The former businessman, like so many involved in the Scottish game, is convinced a 16 team Premiership is the best way forward. However, he is against making a knee-jerk reaction to the current situation. He fears doing so would make our flagship tournament a laughing stock.
“Doing it just to try and save Hearts would be a joke,” said Gilmour. “If they are going to do it they should do it right. But just using reconstruction for one reason – to keep one of the clubs up - would be farcical and make a mockery of the whole thing.
“If you want to change, change. That’s fine. I am not against change by any manner of means. But they would be doing it for the wrong reasons. They are not changing it for the future of football, for the benefit of football.”
The new 14 team Premiership that has been floated would see the top tier split after 26 games and the bottom six sides join up with the top two teams in the Championship – which is similar to the set-up that Gilmour rejected.
“I am not particularly keen on that model,” he said. “If we change we should go to a top 16. There are 16 genuine full-time football clubs in Scotland. A 16 team top flight would give them protection and mean there is a further distribution of money.
“But I know Celtic in particular will not like that. All the commercial income, the TV money, is split on a percentage basis depending on where you are in the league. If you add more teams you are going to take the percentages down.”
Gilmour feels for those who run Premiership sides – including Gordon Scott at St Mirren – because of the dire predicament they have suddenly found themselves in as a result of the unprecedented shutdown of Scottish football.
Having balanced the books at his beloved Paisley club for many years, he knows exactly what serious financial difficulties not having any competitive football will create and can understand why so many directors are desperate to receive clarity on what is going to happen in the Premiership going forward.
But he reckons it is important the SPFL bide their time and allow themselves to be guided by both the government and medical experts - and stressed the possibility of the final Premiership matches being played in the summer shouldn’t be discounted yet.
“They either complete the season and then go into next season and play an awful lot of midweek games – which will be really tough on the European teams who will have to fit all these games in - or they call it to a halt,” said Gilmour.
“But I think it is too early to make a decision. I would be sitting for a while. I wouldn’t make a decision now. They should wait and see what happens.
“You never know, we could be back by the end of April and the league could be finished by everybody playing Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday. It could get completed. But that is optimistic based on what the medical experts are telling us.”
UEFA will hold a conference call with their 55 member associations today and Gilmour is hoping they finally take some responsibility and try to guide European football through this crisis.
“I actually thought UEFA might have come in and given more guidelines for European leagues because they want to know who’s in the European competitions,” he said. “I thought they might have taken a wee bit more of a lead in this. It would appear they haven’t.
“They should have taken a multi-national stance, a European stance, and said: ‘Right guys, if we can’t finish the leagues, if we can’t get up and running by x date, by the end of May, by the end of June, bang, that’s it, it is as it is’. If it’s the same in every country, that’s fine.
“They want to lead football when it suits them, they don’t want to lead football when it doesn’t suit them.”