The FA should learn from Scotland and end mid-table mediocrity

John Nicholson
Wolves, Fulham and Bournemouth are mid-table.
Wolves, Fulham and Bournemouth are mid-table.

While you’ve been trying to pretend you’re interested in the Premier League ’race’ like you don’t know what’s going to happen, you probably haven’t been following the Scottish Championship as closely as some of us.

Like its counterpart in England, it is an extraordinary league, where every team can and does beat any other team at any time. Currently Dundee United top it, finally overcoming the challenge from a strong Raith Rovers in second. Partick Thistle and Airdrie will likely play each other for the pleasure of meeting Raith and then Dingwall’s Ross County from second bottom of the top flight.

Even as we enter the end of the season, there are few dead rubbers. Most teams can still go up or down. There’s jeopardy shot through the league, all through the season.

Where Scotland leads, England can follow. Take a telling. It’s much better up here, but many in England don’t know why because they foolishly take no notice of Scottish football, considering it an unserious league. That’s a mistake.

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The SFA got the league structure correct, unusually so for an organisation which brought in VAR against the wishes of fans, players and managers. If ignoring everyone with an interest in the game and installing the system regardless suggests an organisation with its head firmly planted between its own foetid buttocks, you’d be right, but they got the Championship just right.

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The third-placed club plays the fourth-placed club, with the winner then playing the second-placed club. The winner of that game plays the second -team from the top flight for a place in the Premiership. This is repeated up and down the league and has allowed new sides to enter the league from the Highland and Lowland Leagues, with Bonnyrigg Rose, Spartans, Edinburgh City Cove Rangers and Kelty Hearts joining the party

Crucial to this is the fact that the league is only 10 teams, playing each other four times. This means you are rarely not in danger of a relegation play-off or a promotion play-off. The concept of mid-table mediocrity usually doesn’t raise its head.

If we split each 20 or 24-team league in half to 10 or 12 teams, we’d have a much better situation for fans, not that such a thing is of interest to the Premier League, which exists purely to drive income, as we know, and cares nothing for the fans, despite their unbelievable protestations to the contrary.

Currently Wolves would top the Premier League ’B’ division with Chelsea in one of the relegation play-offs in the ‘A’. League. A radically smaller league offers more promotion and relegations; as it is, the last few games of the season are little more than exhibitions for a handful of teams and easy points for the top teams to accrue.

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Admittedly a smaller league would deny clubs the chance to just languish in mid-table doing nothing except hoovering cash for five months, but that doesn’t matter much as the clubs desire it. As it is, the parachute payments atrophy the top two leagues, or at least risk doing so. This restructuring works against that by introducing more chances to fail.

We know clubs would rather protect their money and status so they can buy an unused defensive midfielder for £30million, but their conservative approach is of little interest to the fans, many of whom enjoy a successful relegation battle because it invests the season with a point and purpose.

It stops the ‘already on the beach’ tendency in most circumstances, because finish bottom and you’re relegated, second bottom and you can’t take anything for granted in having to play the ‘B’ leagues’ second, third or fourth best.

It’s a win-win for the fans, providing real tension and a reason to maintain their interest until the end of the season.

And the popularity of this structure is proven by the fact Scotland has the highest capacity per capita attendance in the whole of Europe, without a strutting millionaire in sight on the pitch and despite some of the most hostile weather from November to April. Who says we want to see the best football and footballers? Anybody would think that’s not what football is all about, even if the late-stage capitalist model keeps trying to say it is. Scotia knows better.

An eight-division structure to replace the current four makes both sporting and economic sense which, of course, is why the FA would never introduce it for England.

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