How to save Scottish football

“Can we play you every week?” is a favoured chant of the ebullient football fan everywhere.

Except possibly in the Isles of Scilly Football League, where there are only two teams. It must become tiresome for Garrison Gunners and Woolpack Wanderers to psyche themselves up for another weekly battle against the same set of players.

But it's beginning to look like their claim to fame as the world's smallest league could be under threat from the SPL. This weekend Aberdeen will take on Hearts for the third time in 2010 – and we haven't even made it into March.

After winning on both occasions so far – once in the Scottish Cup and once in the league – the underperforming Dons will be delighted to welcome the Jambos back to Pittodrie on league duty this weekend.

The arrival of such familiar opponents may not spark as much excitement in supporters and reporters alike, although we're becoming accustomed to these regular reunions.

Last Saturday Mark McGhee's men lost in the SPL for the second time this month to bottom of the league Falkirk. Maybe the Dons should start preparing to face the Bairns once more if they fail to make it into the top six, as their current form suggests.

However it isn't only Aberdeen that seems to be playing the same teams over and over again. Motherwell and Hamilton met twice in seven days earlier this month and with only one goal in a tedious 180 minutes it isn't surprising that only 3,133 fans bothered to turn up to watch the second of their meetings – a dire goalless draw.


Empty away-end seats at Tannadice – for the Rangers game

The reason behind this repetitive fixture schedule is the recent wintry weather, which has severely disrupted the SPL calendar this term. Frozen pitches cause numerous matches in Scotland's top division to be postponed around this time of year every season.

When the games do beat the weather, attendances are often noticeably down with many fans opting for a cosy afternoon in front of the box with Jeff Stelling rather than shivering to death in the freezing stands. Who can blame them?

Our annual debate of reverting to summer football comes and goes like the weather, only to be revisited the following December when the snowy showers recommence.

One good solution to this problem of repetitive fixtures and frequent postponements would be to create a 16-team league with the top four teams from the First Division given entry into Scotland's top flight to make up the numbers.

The likes of Dundee, Inverness, Partick Thistle and Ross County wouldn't diminish the standard of the SPL as these sides would be a decent match for many of the sides currently in the league.

Teams would play fewer matches in a 16-team league, where opponents would only meet each other home and away rather than the current three or four times depending on which half of the league you reach after 33 games.

The current 38-game season is too long, with the quality of matches suffering as a direct result. You can only expect so much entertainment from jaded players and squads stretched to the limit after being forced to play as many as three games per week. A shorter season, with room for a winter break, would also benefit the Scottish national team and hopefully the success of our clubs in European competitions.

However, few of the current SPL teams would welcome a 16-team league. For a start it would mean an even smaller share of the collective TV pot of gold. It would also represent fewer matches against the Old Firm – seen as vital for the survival of some smaller clubs.

The Old Firm are also keen to play as many of their showcase matches against each other as possible. Many Celtic and Rangers fans would be quite content to watch their sides battle it out every week, so the idea of meeting six times every year (four times in the league and twice in the cups) is counted by most in Glasgow as blessing rather than curse.

But to this writer, Scottish football should consider a change to the status quo. The current four divisions should be replaced with two 16-team leagues and a pyramid system to allow the ambitious junior and part-time clubs to make the leap up to the professional ranks.

A 16-team SPL would be more refreshing and would lessen the enormous fear of relegation into the First Division, with all the catastrophic consequences that can bring. In the current SPL no team except the top four appears safe and the dreaded R-word is even being mentioned around Aberdeen at present.

It would probably take a cataclysmic series of events before this idea would ever come close to fruition. Pity: our game has been on its knees for a long time and something has to be done to breathe some much needed life back into Scottish football.

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