Old Firm lead top 10 breakaway

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The Independent Online
A new future for Scottish football will be unveiled today by the 10 clubs who make up the Premier Division. All 10, led by the "big two" north of the border - Celtic and Rangers - have tendered their resignation to the Scottish Football League with effect from the end of the season in the hope that an elite division similar to that in England can be established.

The breakaway by Celtic, Rangers, Hibernian, Dunfermline, Motherwell, Heart of Midlothian, St Johnstone, Dundee United, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock will be discussed by the Scottish League management committee on 18 September, although there is little it can do to halt the change coming about. At best it can delay the inevitable by a season because any unauthorised departure would leave the players' registrations in the hands of the league.

The moves will be construed in some quarters as prising ajar the door which leads towards amalgamation of clubs in Scotland and England into a British league. That possibility was not discounted by Lex Gold, the Hibernian chairman, who is a spokesman for the Premier clubs.

"That has not been part of our deliberations because our focus has been on improving the game in Scotland," he said, "although as a flexible minded person I would suggest everything is possible. The move will be in the interests of the whole of Scottish football and not just the top clubs."

There was no comment from the Scottish League beyond confirmation from the secretary, Peter Donald, that he had received 10 letters of resignation.

Jim Farry, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, said: "There has been no formal contact with the SFA about this matter by our clubs."

The proposed league will not be exclusive to the current 10 Premier clubs and promotion and relegation will continue.

Scotland's top clubs have been talking of breaking away from the league for at least five years. Back in 1992, the proposal looked like going through, only for Celtic to pull out at the 11th hour and tear the whole idea apart.

The debate came to the surface again in May of this year. That is when the 10 clubs, headed by the Rangers chairman David Murray and the Celtic managing director Fergus McCann, said they wanted a Premiership style set-up which would involve a new link with Sky TV. Accountants were asked to come up with a business plan for the pounds 87.5m, five-year deal.

The Glasgow giants have over the years become increasingly frustrated at seeing their power eroded by smaller clubs and feel change was vital. But this season opened with the same system in place and the same frustrations.

However, all that looks about to change with Murray and McCann still at the forefront of the negotiations. Sky's TV deal, currently worth pounds 10.4m runs out next May.

There is little doubt an autonomous, elite league would derive financial benefits. While the English Premiership has dramatically increased the revenue from television, clubs in Scotland have received as little as pounds 100,000 from TV shares while playing in the top division.

An important aspect to any change will be the ability of the bigger clubs to make use of huge screens in order to beam away matches into their home grounds. Rangers recently were blocked from such moves by the league who insisted on a pounds 25,000 payout for every match shown at Ibrox to be distributed to the other clubs.

However, a word of caution was sounded by Rick Parry, who helped fashion the breakaway from the Football League by the then English First Division clubs in 1992.

"Simply forming a new league doesn't mean you get millions from TV or generate more sponsorship straight away," he said. "It depends on market forces and whether there is a demand for the product. A change like this doesn't automatically improve the basic quality of the product.

"You can't wave a magic wand and suddenly everything is put right. You don't get untold riches thrown at you because you have become different."