Date: 19th May 2023
To Hell With the Bloody Pyramid?
Fans ‘in the know’ are increasingly worried that Scottish Football is on the cusp of ditching its very particular and uniquely idiosyncratic version of what a bona fide football pyramid might look like.
The outcome could well be a return to the ‘Closed Leagues’ we all remember where historical possession of an SFA and SFL berth was forever unless you went bust and even then, that could be fixed too if you were politically active and on the inside.
This backward move to a sealed system where some clubs will have two teams playing has now become the likely fallback position of the new SPFL company set up on May 9th and is driven by those who pull the strings in Scottish Football for the usual self-interest benefit of the few who dominate both the political thinking and the outcomes.
The SFA AGM on June 6th is appropriately on D Day.
The key vote is Resolution 7 on the day and the paper justifying it all is as fine a padded piece for leading the jury as anything in any Agatha Christie book.
So once again this is not a normal Sting because despite the seeming lack of media awareness and resultant column inches these are dangerous times.
Please take the time to read what I say and share it.
We are fighting for the very soul of Scottish Football and for all our communities.
Andy’s Sting in the Tale
19 May 2023
Aggregation of Information
And Some Starting Parameters
It is a fact that football fans will never agree 100% about anything.
Our default position is we all want our own clubs to have everything.
When we come together and are asked about the future of our game it is amazing how quick we see the bigger picture and come out with strong majorities on the side of Common Good ahead of Self Interest.
Sadly our clubs are not so good at doing that.
This week’s Sting will share information that is hard to come across in the public domain.
Our 4th estate is collectively letting us down because they care about audiences and clicks on their machines.
Most fans too care more about the ins and outs and who their teams will be releasing and signing, and with the two-legged play offs there is a lot going on.
And yes Calum, Spartans getting a measly 12 tickets from a 1200 capacity crowd in Coatbridge is a disgrace but believe me there are more important fish to fry this week.
In a week where Bayern Munich announced a serious investment in digitising and personalising two-way communications with their worldwide fan base, Scottish Football is building up its usual method of doing things in a particular ‘Road to Escondido’ style.
Escondido is a great Spanish word for ‘difficult to see, and or find’ but I have put together a wee trail and am happy for it to be in the public domain unlike so much of the decision making and politics in our football.
By the way, as I write this I’m actually listening to a fine album by Eric Clapton and JJ Cale called The Road to Escondido.
Worth a listen,.
But back to football and some starting, and startling, fan insights from our most recent fans survey.
I’ve chosen 7 answers to be in tune with the D Day Resolution 7 at Hampden and, as an aside, the vast majority of our clubs are still not currently in any kind of dialogue with their fans about what the SFA/SPFL are finagling.
Ask yourself why?
For those with a lifetime background in research like me the numbers polled in the research I am about to share were statistically significant and the breadth of clubs represented is measured as a fair audience.
That gives these statistics real gravitas and I know you will not be surprised by any of them.
7 Hard Football Facts
Do the SFA do a good job for Scottish Football?
Only 12.9% of fans think so and that means 87.1% don’t.
Do the SPFL do a good job for Scottish Football?
An even worse score at 9.2%.
As a supporter do you feel valued by the SFA and SPFL?
Just 4.1% of us think that is the case.
Is there a need for greater transparency in Scottish Football?
A whopping 97.3% think there is.
Should fans be allowed to watch SFA and SPFL board meetings the same way we can watch the Scottish Parliament?
80.9% think yes, I guess the rest of us want to watch paint drying instead.
Should there be fan representation on both SFA and SPFL boards?
80.9% agree there should, and there bloody well should be.
Should fans have access to the minutes from the SFA and SPFL board meetings.
92.8% think we should.
Resolution 7 and What it Means
This is the vote where clubs are being asked to endorse a newly ‘invented’ Conference League.
Mike Mulraney the incoming SFA President has promised his pals at certain clubs that he will deliver it.
It comes in above most existing SFA club members at level 5 in the new SPFL/SFA Pyramid.
Well, it is not really pyramid shaped, more like egg timer with a very narrow blockage that there are no current plans to deal with.
Rangers and Celtic are driving the Conference creation and introduction, not because they want a level 5 league in Scotland, but because they want their B Teams to play in the SPFL proper and a level 5 newbie league is their view of an appropriate stage 1 launching point.
Very D Day indeed.
And for them the less it is discussed and thought through the better.
One of the hardest things to rationalise is how the SFA, with many members about to be seriously disenfranchised (aka screwed), have been corralled into backing the proposals.
How have the good guys there been so hoodwinked?
I think the SFA should be actively protecting the lower levels of their membership, seeing the bigger picture and working with the Scottish Government on football in the communities and upwards.
To ramrod the Conference League forwards we have heard a confused and intentionally confusing conflation of objectives and deliveries in a way that Boris himself would be proud of.
I will share the quasi-democratic steps taken to confuse and hide the decision-making process as an appendix.
We at the SFSA are not alone in seeing what is happening and there has already been a backlash from fans across the country and it is growing.
This disagreement process from mostly smaller clubs has not been well received by those on the Hampden 6th floor, used to getting their own way, and the default mechanic is to ignore us and hope we will go away.
From what I’ve been told, getting a positive vote on June 6th will not be easy as many fans have been outraged by the plans. Some clubs even think there may well be a Turnbull Hutton style claim of ‘corruption’ or ‘gerrymandering’ on the steps of Hampden like in 2012.
It made a difference then but as of now I don’t think it will make any difference to Mike’s Conference plan.
And also if it fails on the day the SPFL will quickly come to the rescue.
The SFA/SPFL fallback position that will kick in if the club vote is NO will be the introduction and implementation of a new level 5 league without a vote.
They can do that.
A league, maybe of 10 teams, maybe 4 of them B teams and 6 maybe from Highland and Lowland League clubs or maybe just invited old friends like Brechin, Berwick, Cowdenbeath and East Stirling.
The gerrymandered voting structure in the SPFL guarantees it will just happen.
And yes, lots of maybes because in the fans discussions forums there is little support for such a slap in the face to sporting principles, common good fairness, and basic integrity.
But possession is 9 tenths of the law.
Aberdeen FC have already turned down their ‘once in a lifetime’ Conference chance, and while they were not fully honest about why, blaming the cost, their real rational was hidden in very plain sight.
They don’t think it is fair.
They are right.
One chairman I spoke to at length this morning asked for his thoughts to be publicised in Sting but anonymously because he knows how the system works.
“Andy, I almost think they want the first SFA Resolution vote to fail because they can then move straight to Plan B.
That is when the SPFL and SFA will simply use their new joint company to run the 5th level league and find 10 willing clubs including whatever B teams come aboard.
In a short period of time, you will find the SPFL proper then becomes 5 leagues and the only place barred to B teams will be the top level. They don’t want any input to this ‘back of a fag packet’ plan. Certainly nothing challenging and as usual are showing a huge disregard for everyone but the usual inner sanctum.
You talk about self-interest dominating at the expense of common good most weeks in your Blog. Please shout about what is happening.
The pyramid needs change but chairmen I speak with all agree we need some real thought into how we run our leagues and how we develop talent along the way.
Here is something else.
If I and others could vote on a ‘no confidence’ vote because of all this I would, but they are dividing and conquering in the usual way, even as I speak to you.
Football really needs you guys at the SFSA right now, but the SFA and SPFL don’t even recognise they have a problem”.
We need to make a righteous fuss.
And it starts with many, many questions.
Here are two for starters.
How can a sport that gets significant public funding from the Scottish Government get away with no public records of the discussions and agreements?
How much does the Scottish Government actually put into Scottish football?
The answer is even the government don’t know because nobody adds it up.
Below, as an appendix, I outline information that should be in the public domain and this Sting will be sent to all MSPs and MPs asking why football thinks it can disenfranchise communities just because those at the top want more and more.
The Outcome is in All of Our Hands, but time is short.
Feedback always welcome
The SFA Conference League Process.
AKA “World Class Finagling”, from the 6th floor at Hampden.
“Finagling that will affect every community in Scotland and mostly for the worse”.
“Finagling that will look like just what it is if/when our politicians start asking the right questions”.
And feel free to quote me and the Scottish Football Supporters Association on any of the above or below
It all started three years ago when our two biggest clubs thought the best way to have two teams each playing in Scottish senior football was to first get their ‘Colts’ teams playing in the Lowland League.
A one-year deal was done for a payment of £25k per team.
Year two there was more push back from LL clubs and the deal was greased through at an increased £40K per team. Hearts joined the cabal.
The growing push back was the very real fact that there are ambitious community clubs fighting their way up the pyramid.
Imagine how they felt seeing the big teams ‘buying’ berths above.
Imagine a football league where sporting integrity had gone out the window and where everyone and his granny knew that the real objective was, and is, to get the big clubs into the SPFL proper, again at the expense of community clubs.
For year three it looked at one time that the Lowland League would reject the Colts teams, but two things happened.
The fee increased to maybe £100K per cabal member and an inherent threat of opening up a ‘by invitation’ Conference League for July onwards became a critical factor.
The SFA knew that the clubs who have dropped out of the SPFL over the last few years would also have bitten their hands off for a Willy Wonka return ticket, even a bootleg one, and maybe there have been promises made already.
No Fan Disagreement on Saying No to the Conference League, Well Not Much Anyway
Only 9.6% of fans are happy with the current Scottish league set up and sizes.
89.3 % of fans want the pyramid structure to be fairer and more open.
And we all want to see more youngsters making the grade.
So, there are three urgent needs in Scottish football.
A review of the Pyramid from bottom-up and top-down.
Proper pathways for elite kids.
All ‘common good’ requirements for our game but instead we got Mile’s ‘age of conflation’, and it is raging.
Has there been any proper international reviews or subsequent debate?
What is driving the current plans?
Self-interest of 2 or 3 clubs.
Scottish Football needs better than that and the SFSA will help any bona fide planning where options are fully thought through, discussed and then implemented.
But that is not Scottish Football’s way and never has been, so we are now fighting for our communities.
How Did We Get to Where We Are?
The SFA invented a ‘Pyramid Working Group’.
A great name for a blind canyon convention.
They may have built an impressive delegate list but there was no mandate, and the group had no power or place in the mechanics of change or even just getting things done.
There were two meetings on March 7th and April 25th, attendees listed below.
General polite-ish discussion, no minutes, no action points apart from that the SFA would go away and come up with a plan.
A total tick-box waste of everyone’s time except the Chairman’s who was only doing it for the record.
The SFA now want to railroad their ‘all along’ plan though with no debate, or discussion a full start in a year.
And the new SPFL company has already opened on May 9th and will run the league.
I hope I’m wrong, but the new level 5 league signals a death knell for everything queuing up below.
That means more SFA members than there are currently in the SPFL.
A majority who will lose out.
How is that acceptable?
That is a good question for the D Day AGM.
The Pyramid Working Group
This group with the impressive name had no legal standing, no SFA remit apart from meeting, and therefore in SFA land cannot achieve anything other than having meetings.
It, sort of, met twice this season.
You would have thought that the spread of leagues involved would have led to a fair sharing of views and opinions, but I’ve been told it was a poor show all round.
If you know any of the attendees, ask them what they thought and if it achieved anything good.
No minutes were taken, and no action points agreed or circulated.
March 7th PWG
Mike Mulraney, Ian Maxwell, Rod Petrie, Gary Booth, Laura Dougan
Neil Doncaster, Calum Beattie
Keith Moorhouse, Cove, Alastair Donald, Forfar, Jim Stevenson, East Fife, Paul Hetherington, Airdrie, Iain McMenamy, Stenhousemuir.
George Manson, John Campbell
Thomas Brown, Chris Ewing
North Caledonian League
North and East League
East of Scotland
John Greenhorn, David Baxter
West of Scotland
Colin Boyd, John Dalton
South of Scotland
Colin Holden, Richard Osbourne
25 April PWG
Rod Petrie, Gary Booth, Laura Dougan
Finlay Noble, George Manson
Thomas Brown, Chris Ewing
East of Scotland
David Baxter, Andrew Renwick
South of Scotland
Richard Osborne, Colin Holden
West of Scotland
John Dalton, Colin Boyd
Ian Whitehead, Sandy Steven
Scottish Junior FA
Alex McDowall, Gordon Ronney
Again, no minutes or action points apart from the SFA thanking ‘participants’ and promising to work up a plan.
The plan has now become AGM Resolution 7.
Here is a copy I was sent and below some comments on what it says.
(It should come with a bullshit warning).
AGM RESOLUTION 7:
THE SCOTTISH CONFERENCE LEAGUE EXPLANATORY NOTE OVERVIEW
The current pathway for our most talented young players between the ages of 17-21 requires improvement.
The Scottish FA, via the Pyramid Working Group, has considered ways to improve that pathway for the benefit of our professional clubs, players and national teams.
It is important we build on recent qualifications of our senior men’s and women’s national teams for major international tournaments.
Habitual qualification for World Cups, EUROS and European club competitions will have a transformational effect throughout the professional game and enhance the quality of our domestic product and the players within it.
The potential introduction of B Teams into Scottish football was discussed pre-COVID-19, but the safeguarding of the game took priority amid the grip of the pandemic.
This Explanatory Note sets out the rationale for, and the benefits of, a proposed new league within the Scottish football pyramid, The Scottish Conference League, against a backdrop of alarming statistics.
The current reality is that as of the end of April, only 18 Scottish players aged 21 or under started a match in the cinch Premiership this Season.
Of those 18, only eight have started 10 games or more.
According to data compiled by CIES Football Observatory, the average age of a player in the cinch Premiership is 27, which is in the top-10 leagues in Europe for oldest average age.
This Season, only one Scottish young player has been shortlisted by his peers for the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year Award – Charlie Reilly, of Albion Rovers.
The performance of our Men’s National Youth Teams is a critical measure in player development.
As can be seen from the table below, performance decreases as players go up the age groups, which highlights a breakage in the pathway at a critical phase.
This is in marked contrast to the most successful countries in Europe, which we will explore within this paper.
UEFA Youth competitions are split into Group Stage by seeding Pot, Elite Round, and Finals.
The table below shows the historical performance of our National Youth Teams:
This demonstrates that, at Under-17 level, we consistently qualify as one of the top 16 nations for the final tournament and have done so again for the finals in Hungary later this month.
Our Under-19s, however, do not progress beyond the Elite round and the performances of our Under-21s have steadily declined over the period.
Another objective marker of performance is the UEFA Team Coefficient. Ours are noted below and this backs up the decline in performance.
Under-17 – 15th
Under-19 – 21st
Under-21 – 27th
Club Academy Scotland encompasses players Under-18.
From the results of our Under17 Youth National Team, it can be taken that this structure works well, and player development is proven at this age.
From age 18 onwards, there is a blockage for our top talent: a number of our top clubs no longer place any real value in reserve football and are reluctant to play experienced players in that environment.
This means that any reserve league is simply an extension of the youth programme.
As players play repeatedly against their peers, their development stagnates: this has been highlighted by clubs electing not to participate in the reserve league, opting instead to arrange friendly matches against opposition from other countries to provide new challenges and development opportunities.
The SPFL Reserve League regulations have been amended frequently to seek to make participation more attractive to clubs, but this has had no demonstrably positive impact.
It is therefore the case that at our top clubs, some of their best players do not progress as they should. They are kept as part of first team squads, which limit game time, or go on loan to clubs lower down the pyramid with mixed results.
This is shown in the table below, which highlights the best players in our Men’s A squad and their pathway or otherwise through the National Youth Teams.
Number of 1st team appearances by 21st birthday
National Team representation
Andy Robertson 1994 86 21s/A
John McGinn 1994 64 19s/21s/A
Callum McGregor 1993 37 17s/19s/21s/A
Ryan Christie 1995 59 21s/A
Stuart Armstrong 1992 39 19s/21s/A
Kieran Tierney 1997 139 21s/A
A review of the players in Under-17 squads at the time that the above-mentioned players would have been of age shows that, whilst some of the players have had careers as professional footballers, very few have become regulars at that level. 3
It is against this backdrop that the creation of The Scottish Conference League – a new fifth tier within the Scottish football pyramid which will include provision for B Teams – is proposed.
WHY B TEAMS? The introduction of B Teams will help bridge the development gap outlined above.
The creation of the pyramid in Season 2013/14 provided a pathway for ambitious clubs from the Highland and Lowland Leagues to enter the senior game, with Cove Rangers, Kelty Hearts, Bonnyrigg Rose and FC Edinburgh joining the professional ranks via the play-offs.
The introduction of Rangers, Celtic and Heart of Midlothian B Teams into the Lowland League has given a pathway for the biggest clubs to optimise youth development for their academy players.
The Scottish Conference League can facilitate sporting and commercial growth, based on the following principles:
1. A competitive environment for the country’s most talented young players to play meaningful, competitive football against experienced professionals.
2. Increased opportunities for ambitious clubs due to the introduction of an additional funded league within the Scottish football pyramid.
3. Enhanced marketing and promotion of a new youth-focused, professional league.
4. Enhanced revenue opportunities for clubs and leagues alike. Rangers, Celtic and Heart of Midlothian have had B Teams in the Scottish Lowland Football League, with each club reporting a positive impact on player development as a result of regular first-team football.
Our Youth National Team coaches have also reported development of those players exposed to regular game time.
Seven of the world’s top-10 nations have B Teams in place, which has a positive impact up to the senior national teams – France, Portugal, Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, Belgium and Spain.
The subject of player development is not unique to Scotland, but in the shadow of the English Premier League’s £5bn industry, and the alarming statistics of Under-21 exposure, greater focus should be on the development of young talent for the benefit of clubs, the league product, supporter affinity and ultimately the success of the Scotland national teams at all age groups.
“Developing players in England is a problem.
B teams aren’t allowed, and we have a development vacuum for players between the ages of 17 and 18.
The exit of Jadon Sancho perfectly reflects the problem facing English football. We couldn’t find anywhere to develop him adequately and German teams were asking for him.
“Now they want to sell him back to us for 10-times the price that they paid for him.
It’s bad – something needs to be done.” – Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano
The biggest names in world football in the past 20 years have honed their craft either as a coach or a player in B Teams, so as well as player development, there are secondary benefits to Coach Education and club coach development.
Jurgen Klopp played for Eintracht Frankfurt II
Mikel Arteta played for Barcelona B&C
Lionel Messi played for Barcelona B
Cristiano Ronaldo played for Sporting Lisbon B
Erling Haaland played for Bryne 2 and Molde 2
Pep Guardiola played for and coached Barcelona B
Jose Mourinho Played for Rio Ave B /Belenenses B
Julen Lopetegui coached Real Madrid B
Erik ten Hag coached Bayern Munich II
Unai Emery coached Real Sociedad B
Marco Silva played for Braga B
Since Brentford left the EPPP system in 2016 to set-up their own B Team, arranging their own games programme against teams across Europe, 25 players have gone on to gain first-team experience.
Chris Mepham has been the biggest success and joined Bournemouth for £12m; Marcus Forss helped them earn promotion to the EPL and is now at Middlesborough;
Mads Roerslev is a first-team regular – and Romeo Beckham has just joined. Croatia – World Cup 2022
The CIES Football Observatory published a report on development of players who participated in Qatar.
The report stated that “all of the 10 clubs that contributed most to the development of players for the 2022 FIFA World Cup have B-teams playing in national senior leagues.”
Ajax, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund all featured prominently.
Of the current or former Real Madrid players at the World Cup, 36.6% of the game-time they accumulated before the age of 23 came in the B Team, Real Madrid Castilla CF.
For Ajax, 17.9% of total game-time before the age of 23 came for the B Team.
In total, and without even considering games played by B Teams that play in dedicated reserve leagues, 7.7% of the total minutes played by FIFA 2022 World Cup players before turning 23 were accumulated in the second or third teams of clubs whose first teams play in the top division.
Croatia, with a population of 3.5m and having reached the semi-final, stood out.
With the benefit of being able to test out their most promising kids against seasoned pros thanks to the inclusion of their B Team in the Croatian league set-up, they selected 15 players with B Team experience in Zlatko Dalic’s squad.
THE SCOTTISH CONFERENCE LEAGUE Proposal Outline
The Scottish Conference League will be a home for teams who aspire to progress through the Scottish football pyramid.
Scottish FA full members are invited to vote on a resolution to approve the formation of the Scottish Conference League as a recognised football body.
It is anticipated that the new league will be based on the format set out below, with the applicable rules to be approved by the Boards of The Scottish Conference League and (in accordance with Scottish FA Article 21.1) the Scottish FA.
For the sake of clarity, the proposed format set out below assumes that neither the Highland nor Lowland League winners win the Play Off against SPFL Club 42 at the end of Season 2023/24.
Creation of a 10-team Scottish Conference League consisting of four B Teams.
The first Season of the Scottish Conference League will be Season 2024/25.
Top two Highland League teams at the end of Season 2023/24 included.
Top four Lowland League teams at the end of Season 2023/24 included.
B Teams cannot be promoted or relegated from The Scottish Conference League
The Scottish Conference League to be funded by a B Team participation fee: with six non B Teams receiving an estimated payment of around £40,000 each per annum.
Minimum five-year commitment required from B Teams.
Highest placed non-B Team at the end of the Season will enter a promotion/relegation Play Off with SPFL Club 42 as per current model.
Lowest placed non-B Team at the end of the Season will be relegated to the Highland or Lowland League, replaced by the winner of the Highland/Lowland League Champions Play Off.
Second-lowest placed non-B Team at the end of the Season will enter a promotion/relegation Play Off with the loser of the Highland/Lowland League Champions Play Off.
B Teams must include a minimum of seven Scotland eligible players in their starting XI, and their matchday squad must include no fewer than eleven Scotland eligible players.
NOTE – There will be no change to Scottish Cup eligibility and B Teams will not be entitled to participate in the Scottish Cup.
Members’ voting rights will be unaffected by the introduction of The Scottish Conference League.
Some Initial Comments from a Well-Respected Fan on a Hearts web site
“The SFA and SPFL have finally recognised an issue with introducing youngsters into the premiership and their ‘solution’ is to introduce youngsters into a very restricted environment where they will face 6 adult sides and 3 other B teams 4 times a season.
Perhaps the people running the game should review why managers don’t play youngsters. Is it the critical importance of every game? Just maybe, increasing the number of teams in leagues would allow managers to test their youngsters more.
In the plan the B team youngsters will be playing against their peers for one third of the season.
The proposal criticises ‘reserve leagues’ and highlighted high profile players who have played B team football in the past.
Kenny Dalglish, rated by many as Scotland’s best ever player was loaned out to Cumbernauld juniors in his first season. He scored 37 goals, but Mr Stein wanted him to stay another year there. He turned pro and played reserve football for a year. Kenny and other regulars in the Celtic reserve team called the ‘Quality Street Gang’ like Danny McGrain, George Connelly, Lou Macari and David Hay started off playing with adults at a lower level before progressing through reserve teams. The system worked.
Finally, the inclusion of Brentford as a good example is confused and confusing.
Brentford don’t play in any other leagues and their youngsters play friendlies.
A dreadful paper more like a brain dump than a reason for change”.
I agree – it is a dreadful paper.
From Companies House
9 May 2023
Company Number SC 768587
The Scottish Conference League Limited
Hampden Park Glasgow G42 9DE
Company Status Active
Private Limited Company
Sole shareholder is SPFL
Directors Calum Beattie SPFL COO, Neil Doncaster