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How to progress 'The Pyramid'


Cornishman
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I'm writing as an interested non-SFA/SJFA-aligned observer from outside Scotland.

NB - This opens with a lot of SPFL discussion, but bear with it, as it reaches non-league issues as it progresses...

I can clearly see that 'The Pyramid' in Scotland; while utterly needed and created in a well-meaning way; has been bumbled together with a major lack of insight. It doesn't need to stay that way.

That which has been put together so far is not a bad place to start from, to begin creating a 'proper' Pyramid that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.

That process will in its course also address some perceived gripes with the current set-up and hopefully solve them.

Firstly. The SPFL point-blank refuses to engage with relegation from its bottom tier, unless its relegatees are guaranteed at very least semi-national competition, meaning there should be no more than two feeder 'zones'.

This clashes with the traditionally historic and holistic three-way separation of the country's non-league footballing 'zones'.

Secondly, in the SPFL itself there are only 42 teams and these are split vertically into four distinct national tiers, which whilst a working paradigm, leaves much to be desired in terms of limiting opportunity for lower tier clubs to reach the higher tiers (too many promotions required). [ii] geographic footprint size in the lowest tier(s). [iii] boring fixture repetition in the inevitable double round robin match schedule.

This is countered by there being a doubling in the number of championships to be won (compared to a more 'normal' two-tier divisional split for 42 teams) and a concomitant increase in relegation places - both factors creating more interest.

However, the central argument for 'delivering fewer meaningless games' that spawned this four tier development remains deeply suspect, as in fact it is & has been statistically far more usual for these smaller divisions to continue to present 'normal' deviations from the mean (in points-scoring) than the 'bunching' of points-scoring that had been (erroneously) expected by the four tier proponents. All in all, compounded with that double round robin, it meant teams would on average just become separated by greater points differences than before - thus nullifying the expected beneficial effect.

Almost all of these 'problems' could be wiped out by the expedient of absorbing (maybe as many as) 24 of the top non-league clubs into the SPFL system over a number of seasons.

For illustrative purposes I'll deal with three seasons, with eight inductees per season.

Season 0: SPFL structure:- 12-10-10-10

Season 1: SPFL structure:- 12-18-10N/10S

Season 2: SPFL structure:- 12-18-14N/14S

Season 3: SPFL structure:- 12-18-18N/18S

Note that SPFL sponsorship(s) should increase on the basis that the publicity reach has so expanded! There should be no question of dilution here, with on-the-ball SPFL negotiators.

Also, SPFL having now been boosted to 66 clubs, the lowest 36 already playing semi-national football, the relegation transition to a three-region non-league should be acceptable.

Admittedly, this would take away the HFL & LFL in their present forms, but the former could readily reform itself with intakes from the SJFA North region & NCL. There'd be no need to reform the LFL, as its rump members, alongside the EoSL/SoSL would integrate into the SJFL East/West regions.

This ought accord well with the SJFL, bringing them to the pinnacle of the non-league game in East & West regions, and in all but name in the North region, plus they would all then occupy the new fourth tier (from fifth/sixth), with the further advantage of semi-national play should their champions choose to step up to the third tier SPFL divisions.

Of course, that chestnut of 'where an ex-SJFL relegatee should drop to in the SJFL system' would immediately be solved - as they could not be dealt with differently to the traditional SPFL clubs!

Also, as in lower reaches of the English Pyramid, there would be enshrined a 'right to refuse' promotion, with a proviso that a 2nd./3rd. or maybe even 4th.-placed club could be invited to go up - and that would be direct promotion, not subject to play-offs methinks.

This would usually provide three promotees, so perhaps there could be an SPFL play-out between its two third tier 17th.-placed clubs, loser drops out. Perhaps even winner to play-offs vs. three 2nd.-invitees from the three SJFA top divisions? I could see that work!

I cannot see any (obvious) flaws in this idea, but I'm happy to be proved wrong, discuss at length and try to overcome objections. Likewise, clarify if I've confused on any issue.

What would this all look like in practice? Based on end of last season...

SPFL Premier I've assumed would remain unchanged.

SPFL Championship


Airdrieonians
Albion Rovers
Alloa Athletic
Brechin City
Cowdenbeath
Dumbarton
Dunfermline Athletic
Falkirk
Forfar Athletic
Greenock Morton
Hibernian
Livingston
Peterhead
Queen of the South
Raith
Rangers
St. Mirren
Stranraer

SPFL Division 1 North


Arbroath
Brora Rangers
Buckie Thistle
Clachnacuddin
Cove Rangers
Deveronvale
East Fife
Elgin City
Formartine United
Forres Mechanics
Fraserburgh
Inverurie Loco Works
Montrose
Nairn County
Stirling Albion
Turriff United
University of Stirling

Wick Academy

SPFL Division 1 South


Annan Athletic
Ayr United
Berwick Rangers
BSC Glasgow
Clyde
Dalbeattie Star
East Kilbride
East Stirlingshire
Edinburgh City
Edinburgh University
Gala Fairydean Rovers
Gretna 2008
Queen's Park
Selkirk
Spartans
Stenhousemuir
Vale of Leithen
Whitehill Welfare

HFL/SJFA North Premier


Banks o' Dee
Culter
Deveronside
Dyce Juniors
FC Stoneywood
Fort William
Golspie Sutherland
Halkirk United
Hermes
Huntly
Inverness City
Keith
Lossiemouth
Maud Juniors
Rothes
Strathspey Thistle

SJFA/SoSL West Premier


Arthurlie
Auchinleck Talbot
Beith Juniors
Glenafton Athletic
Hurlford United
Irvine Meadow XI
Kilbirnie Ladeside
Kirkintilloch Rob Roy
Lochar Thistle
Newton Stewart
Petershill
Pollok
Shettleston
St Cuthbert Wanderers
Troon
Wigtown & Bladnoch

SJFA/EoSL East Premier


Bo'ness United
Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic
Broxburn Athletic
Cumbernauld Colts
Easthouses Lily Miners Welfare
Fauldhouse United
Hill of Beath Hawthorn
Kelty Hearts
Leith Athletic
Linlithgow Rose
Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale
Newtongrange Star
Penicuik Athletic
Preston Athletic
Sauchie Juniors
Threave Rovers

Not exactly how it'd look if, as I stated above, its development were staged over three seasons, but the illustration's enough to let you get the right general impression. It could, of course be developed more slowly - say, over six seasons, inducting four teams per season. As long as divisional memberships were kept at 10 (36 match season); 14 (39 match season) or 18 (34 match season) throughout it would work just fine. Even an odd 12 (33 match season) would remain acceptable in the build-up process.

Edited by Cornishman
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Issues: At the bottom end where you've split into 3,the North is unbelievably weak in terms of standard.

Issue: Simply taking the top 11 from the LL creates a division where the sub structure teams are stronger than the majority of the teams in the league above them.

I guess what I'm saying is that it is ok in principle but flawed because it doesn't get the best teams at the right level simply by starting from where we are. As such I'm not sure how supported it would be. On the flip side, any attempt to stick Talbot in where Gala are would be be resisted strongly by all who worked to get the LL up and running.

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Issues: At the bottom end where you've split into 3,the North is unbelievably weak in terms of standard.

Issue: Simply taking the top 11 from the LL creates a division where the sub structure teams are stronger than the majority of the teams in the league above them.

I guess what I'm saying is that it is ok in principle but flawed because it doesn't get the best teams at the right level simply by starting from where we are. As such I'm not sure how supported it would be. On the flip side, any attempt to stick Talbot in where Gala are would be be resisted strongly by all who worked to get the LL up and running.

Oh, indeed. However, it's now an incontrovertible fact that the LFL will hereon be senior to the whole Junior organisation, and; much like the English Northern League who failed to engage & integrate with the Pyramid when they were equal in status to the Northern Premier League; the Juniors will become systemically further & further sidelined the longer they take, dropping Levels in the Pyramid as years pass.

It would likely have been very different, with probably 8-10 Juniors initially elected into the LFL alongside a half dozen of the best EoSL/SoSL teams by now, had they just made the necessary 'leap of faith' ~ which is not such an unattractive supposition. However, it didn't happen, so the situation is as visualised above. Comme si, comme ca!

And as regards the North... yep, that's definitely so to begin with, but after 5-10 seasons the gap would close. It took the English Alliance League (later Conference, now National League) several seasons before the prior season's FL relegatee failed to win immediate promotion. It would be very similar here.

Edited by Cornishman
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...and; much like the English Northern League who failed to engage & integrate with the Pyramid when they were equal in status to the Northern Premier League; the Juniors will become systemically further & further sidelined the longer they take...

...or maybe it's nothing like the English scenario, because the SFA actually have no intention of doing away with the system of having senior, junior, amateur and welfare grades and building an all-encompassing pyramid, and all that was on their agenda was modernising the existing senior grade a bit with pro/rel into and out of the SPFL and introducing licensing to impose a set of minimal standards on full member Scottish cup entrants, because roped off pitches in public parks were becoming an embarrasment.

Beyond that I'm not even sure your analogy makes sense in historical terms. The Isthmian and Northern Leagues were the pinacle of amateur football in England up to the early 70s. The Isthmian league eventually did become a feeder to the conference on par with the Southern and Northern Premier Leagues and initially ran in parallel with the Southern league geographically even though it had given the Conference the bodyswerve when it launched. If things followed the English precedent in other words a junior superduperleague could still feed into the SPFL and initially run in parallel with the Lowland league in geographical terms before a subsequent process of integration and rationalization to form east and weat feeders, while the north region would lose its status in relative terms by not being viewed as equal to the Highland league and instead feeding into it in a Northern league sort of way.

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Oh, indeed. However, it's now an incontrovertible fact that the LFL will hereon be senior to the whole Junior organisation, and; much like the English Northern League who failed to engage & integrate with the Pyramid when they were equal in status to the Northern Premier League; the Juniors will become systemically further & further sidelined the longer they take, dropping Levels in the Pyramid as years pass.

It would likely have been very different, with probably 8-10 Juniors initially elected into the LFL alongside a half dozen of the best EoSL/SoSL teams by now, had they just made the necessary 'leap of faith' ~ which is not such an unattractive supposition. However, it didn't happen, so the situation is as visualised above. Comme si, comme ca!

And as regards the North... yep, that's definitely so to begin with, but after 5-10 seasons the gap would close. It took the English Alliance League (later Conference, now National League) several seasons before the prior season's FL relegatee failed to win immediate promotion. It would be very similar here.

I disagree that from here things can only get worse in terms of sitting it out.

Until someone realises that you cannot just split Scotland in two for regionalisation purposes,the model will never be right.

There is no way that you can balance the tiers in Scotland from a 50:50 split. The south of the country must be split into at least 2.

In England there are major population centres up and down the length of the place. In Scotland there is f**k all in large tracts of the north half of the country.

There are 167 teams in the south across LL, EOSL,SoSL,East juniors and west juniors.

There are only 60 in HFL, North Juniors and NCL.

That is simply not a viable distribution of the clubs in terms of regionalisation. If you split the south into East and West there would still be greater depth in numbers and much greater depth in quality than exists in the north.

But if nobody wants to accept that the current model is a bag of shite then you'll keep the massive imbalance. I would pretty much guarantee that a split of East and west in the south would see junior teams getting licences sorted out quick style .

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There are 167 teams in the south across LL, EOSL,SoSL,East juniors and west juniors.

There are only 60 in HFL, North Juniors and NCL.

There are an additional 21 East Junior clubs in Tayside and NE Fife that could join the north set-up leaving 146-81. Which is a lot more even than you suggest.

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Aye just the bare 65 which is more then the entirety of the West Juniors. To achieve something closer to parity geographically you'd need to draw the line at the Forth which is ludicrous.

Scotland needs a 3 way split

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Aye just the bare 65 which is more then the entirety of the West Juniors. To achieve something closer to parity geographically you'd need to draw the line at the Forth which is ludicrous.

Scotland needs a 3 way split

I take the point that if you work down through the tiers in a hypothetical fully integrated system with a two way split the whole way down, that difference in number of teams and therefore strength in depth would end up with a Lowland tier 9 that's stronger than a Highland tier 6 or something like that, but does that mean that tier 5 has to be split three ways?

Surely you could have one Lowland League at tier 5 covering the same region it does now, then have an East and West split at tier 6 feeding into the Lowland League? If we're talking about 16 teams in the Lowland League, then you could have three relegated with the Champions of East and West being promoted automatically plus a play-off between the runners-up of each for the third place. That way, rather than having a three way split at tier 5 with teams playing in a West or East Region league then jumping straight to a national tier 4, you have a halfway point of gradually less regionalisation as you work your way up, giving time to adjust to the requirements and costs of longer trips. Of course, the tier 6 leagues in the Lowlands would still be stronger than tier 6 in the Highlands, but that would do a lot more to balance it out and make it much of less of a problem.

Edited by Dunning1874
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Geographically, demographically, and club-wise, it makes sense for the levels between national and district football to be 3 regions.

There are 2 regions due to the need for tier 5 to be licensed, and the fact it was a compromise from SFL's old stance of a nationwide feeder.

I don't see it changing unless or until an agreement is reached for the Juniors for join, and a meaningful number of Junior clubs look to get licensed.

Currently there are 20 licensed clubs north of the Tay, and 21 licensed clubs south of the Tay.

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Until someone realises that you cannot just split Scotland in two for regionalisation purposes,the model will never be right.

Oh, I agree. Problem is that in real-life the SPFL only countenance a two-way split extremely reservedly, while any three or more-way split is summarily dismissed.

While my model is 'fantasy', it does attempt to address not just the geographic reality, but also the rather inert, intransigent attitude of the SPFL too. It's a compromise solution. A shedload of compromises, in fact.

The SPFL keeps its four sets of championship contests v. non-league top divisions shuffled-up to Level 4.

SPFL sacrifices national play at Level 3 v. wholesale promotion of 8 clubs to national Level 2.

SPFL agrees 3 or 4 relegations to non-league v. bottom of Level 3 'buffered' by influx of 24 non-league clubs.

Juniors guaranteed top-division non-league placement, retaining all three traditional Regions.

Junior promotees to SPFL insulated from national play upon promotion.

Non-league promotion still optional, extended to invite perhaps as far down as 3rd./4th.-place if champions/runners-up defer.

Final (4th.) SPFL relegation place by playoff (if required), following Level 3 17th. v. 17th. play-out.

Those are the basics, based upon the current realities taken to logical conclusions, steered just so, with as little disruption as possible.

Of course, some Junior clubs could be accommodated at a higher entry level in the envisaged process, but the illustration IS; as mentioned; just showing the idealised, least disruption scenario, and more, is over-simplified to show the system as it would have looked were it for this 2015-16 season, and introduced in one fell swoop instead of partially over three seasons as is actually intended.

To the commenter querying Ayr United's position: The illustration is based on end-2014-15 positions.

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Oh, I agree. Problem is that in real-life the SPFL only countenance a two-way split extremely reservedly, while any three or more-way split is summarily dismissed.

The evidence for this is what? I doubt the full-time clubs ever give this issue much thought and they probably have the biggest say on this within the SPFL. Since the emergence of the fifth tier and the merged SPFL, the mechanism of the pro/rel playoff is now agreed upon between the SFA and the SPFL executive board, which is dominated by the top two tiers. The SFL may have opposed three-way regionalisation when the smaller part-time clubs held the majority of the votes in the context of an SFL AGM. In an SPFL context it's not clear that they hold anything like the same voting clout on this issue.

I suspect the bigger issue would be the attitude of the nonleague seniors to losing the phoney barrier between junior and senior clubs and the financial subsidies that go with it. They form a large voting block at SFA AGMs, so licensing has been implemented in a way that first and foremost accomodates the existing full-members through the provision of grants for ground improvements, and when junior clubs did start to apply the progression clause was soon added to try to scare any gate crashers away.

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