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Hutton For Change
Lower league clubs will gain from the proposed changes and the financial incentive may tip the balance of vote
The proposals for a new league structure have to be agreed by all 42 clubs in the current SPL/SFL set up. A merger deal would see a 12-12-18 set-up complete with mid-season splits and end-of-term play-offs. The SFL will put the plans to its clubs later this month, with 22 of the 29 full members needing to give their formal approval. Rangers, as associate members, do not have voting rights. However, some clubs have already made it clear where they stand on the changes. Raith Rovers chairman Turnbull Hutton, who has been one of the biggest critics of the SPL and SFA and the way they managed the fall-out of the Rangers crisis, is all for the plans. Hutton says that the proposals for a fairer share of money throughout Scotland's 42 senior clubs will also spare his side from the kind of financial peril which has enveloped many teams. He said: "I'm optimistic. If I had a list of things I'd like to have changed about Scottish football going forward, then I was never a fan of the financial distribution, the fact we had two bodies running our leagues, the boredom of playing each other four times. But if I look at what is being proposed now, there are some interesting possibilities. Does the financial picture look a lot brighter now? Absolutely. Without quoting numbers, the indicative numbers would make one hell of a difference to a club like ours. The dawning reality from the SPL is that the criteria for stadiums are going to have to be tempered with some realism. That also make a big difference. There has been millions wasted on infrastructure for a bankrupt football set-up just to tick a box on the old SPL check-list." Hutton can see benefits for the fans and encourage them back to the game. The two top leagues of 12 will split into three divisions of eight to decide the title and relegation to the following season's second tier. Hutton said: "If Rovers make it into that middle league of eight, you won't have to go to an Airdrie, a Cowdenbeath or a Livingston for a third and fourth time. You will have the likes of Hearts, Hibs or Aberdeen possibly coming to Stark's Park. That can only excite fans. And if you do get promotion, your team will have done it on merit because they will have taken on SPL teams and succeeded." Meanwhile, fellow chairman of Hamilton, Les Gray is more concerned with the money and governance issues of the new set-up than the make-up of the leagues. He said: "I'm very supportive of the new plans. Everyone knows my position. I'm an advocate of protecting full-time Scottish football and in the past I have been one of the voices calling for an SPL2. I openly admitted to being one of the five SFL chairmen who voted for Rangers to be admitted to the First Division in the summer because I was looking at the bigger picture; I was looking at a better distribution model and a better governance. For me, if you have a better spread of money and better governance, then the number of teams you play isn't as significant as some people think." It is understood that SPL clubs are willing to forego a seven-figure sum each-year to ease the transition and Gray insists that money will go a long way to soothing the strains SFL teams currently face. He said: "Teams winning the SPL receive £3million or £4million, whereas Dunfermline in 12th last season got £800,000. But for winning the First Division, Ross County were handed just £60,000. That's too big a gap. The new set-up will change that significantly. "(SFA chief executive) Stewart Regan has called these plans a new dawn for the game but that's for him to say. But we do need change. Fans are turning away in their droves. We need to freshen things up, to make it more exciting. If more promotion and relegation and play-off games do that, then it can't be a bad thing."
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