Football: Divisions appear as clubs seem split on future of the League

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The Independent Online
A club chairman has raised fears that a proposed new First Division "Superleague" could see teams playing each other up to seven times a season. Ian Rodgers reports.

The prospect of supporters getting bored with seeing the same old opposition was yesterday raised by the Colchester chairman, Gordon Parker, in the light of the proposed breakaway.

One plan to change the Football League would see a First Division of just 12 teams playing each other four times in League matches, and Parker is concerned that supporters might tire of seeing the same opponents in action.

He said: "Personally, I don't like the idea of playing teams four times a season. And it could be more if you end up drawing the same teams in the League Cup, FA Cup and Auto Windscreens competition.

"With regional draws, conceivably we could end up playing somebody like Cambridge seven times in one season - and that doesn't count replays."

Parker is also worried that the bigger clubs will be taking more than their fair fiscal share. "With the Premiership having sucked the really serious money out of football, it leaves a much smaller cake for everybody else in the game," he said. "If you damage the roots of a plant too much, it eventually withers. And I think we are in danger of doing that at the moment.

"There is going to come a day when the rich men involved in smaller clubs are going to say: `Enough is enough'. That is a much more serious issue."

Other chairmen, however, are backing the plan. Geoffrey Richmond, the Bradford City chairman, said a First Division "Superleague" of 12 teams from 1999-2000 would be "a tremendous showpiece".

Richmond was a member of the working party which offered various proposals for the future of the leagues below Premiership level. But he added that this was only one of a number of new ideas offered.

"This is one of just four we are putting forward," Richmond said yesterday. "We are not recommending one single one. With my Bradford City hat on, I think this is extremely exciting.

"It will provide a tremendous showpiece league for the Football League. The member clubs of the new league will mathematically have an outstanding chance of promotion - three chances in 12."

But Richmond denied claims that the new league would be like the Scottish Premier Division, which has been described as becoming stale.

He said: "Unlike the Scottish Premier, where clubs are playing virtually the same teams four times a year every season, there will be six new members of the `Superleague' every year. You are going to have a fresh division constantly.

"We believe it will be a very exciting product as regards television and the fans will respond to it."

The proposal will be discussed by Football League chairman at a meeting in London today. It still has to go before the rest of the league and the results of a vote at an EGM in February will decide if the scheme is to go ahead.

In Scotland, the Celtic striker Darren Jackson found his scoring touch at Aberdeen on Tuesday night, but then said: "There are no excuses for me now."

Jackson completed a remarkably swift return from brain surgery in early September with the second of Celtic's two goals in an assured victory at Pittodrie.

It was his first start since 23 August, when he scored in another 2-0 win, this time at St Johnstone, just before the Uefa Cup return game with Tirol.

But, just before the match on 26 August, Jackson developed a headache. At first it was a gentle throb, but it deteriorated into a pounding migraine, which forced him to seek medical advice.The Scotland forward was told he had hydrocephalus, fluid on the brain, and he could either be treated or end his career.

Since the operation, Jackson has chalked up several milestones - returning to training, playing and scoring for the reserves, then appearing as a Celtic substitute.

But on Tuesday night he achieved two ambitions in one match - a full first-team return and, of even greater personal significance, the sweetest goal he has ever scored.

Yet today's arrival of the Norwegian forward Harald Brattbakk means he faces a challenge to stay in the Celtic side. Jackson insists he welcomes the pounds 2m signing of Brattbakk from Rosenborg.

"You need competition for places at a big club like Celtic, where success is expected. It means you have to be at the top of your form every week, but Harald's record suggests he is a penalty-box player, while I prefer to play deeper.

"It is going to affect me because I'm a striker, but it was a dream return for me. I'm in the team and I want to stay there."

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