IF YOU are a reader of The Herald, or one of the more downmarket newspapers, or if you get your sports news from BBC Shortbread, STV, and whatever Scotland's commercial radio stations are called these days, you will probably be unaware of this, but, right now the world of Scottish Rugby is much agitated, change is in the air.
Because, the SRU is attempting to totally change the club game, by introducing six franchised, semi-professional clubs, abolishing the BT Premiership, the top level of the club game in the process.
To explain how this works, I will have to explain their system. At the top, we have the Scotland team; below them we have the two Scottish sides which compete against the Irish, Italian, South African and Welsh sides in the Guinness PRO14 and in the Champions Cup – the rugby equivalent of football's Champions League, and the Challenge Cup – the rugby equivalent of the Europa League.
(I should perhaps say, at this point, although both clubs are wholly-owned arms of the SRU, we should regard Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh as the rugby equivalent of the Old Firm. They are the only two full-time professional clubs in Scotland, and, as such, they dwarf all the rest. They attract the biggest crowds, they have the best players and so on.)
Andy Irvine - his club faces being downgraded
The next level down is the BT Premiership, here you will find some of Scotland's oldest and most-distinguished clubs: Heriot's, past players – Ken Scotland, Andy Irvine and the “Three Bears”, brothers David, Kenny and Ian Milne; Watsonians – home club of Gavin and Scott Hastings; Hawick – the club which gave us Hughie McLeod, Jim Renwick and today's biggest star, Stuart Hogg; Melrose – hosts of the famous annual Sevens, and the club which gave us Jim Telfer, Keith Robertson, Doddie Weir, Craig Chalmers and Brian Redpath; Stirling County – where Finn Russell first picked-up a rugby ball; Marr – home club of Peter and Gordon Brown and Billy Cuthbertson; Boroughmuir – club of Bruce Hay and Iain Paxton; Currie – the club of Scotland squad member Matt Scott; Glasgow Hawks – an amalgamation of GHK and Glasgow Accies, home clubs of the likes of brothers Richie and Jonny Gray and the father and son act of John and Johnnie Beattie, and Ayr – home club of current Scotland squad man Gordon Reid and former Scotland caps Steve Munro and Derrick Lee, but where players from other Ayrshire clubs such as Derek Stark and Mark Bennett got their senior chance.
These are the current top ten, but other famous clubs such as Edinburgh Accies, Gala, Selkirk – home club of the peerless John Rutherford, Jed-forest, home club of Roy Laidlaw and his nephew Greig and Kelso, who gave us John Jeffrey, Rodger Baird and Ross Ford are in the next league down.
IF the SRU's Super Six plan goes through, all of these great clubs will lose their senior status. Imagine the furore if the SFA was to unilaterally decide that the Old Firm would be untouchable, but the two Edinburgh clubs and the two Dundee clubs would need to amalgamate, only one team could operate in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire and the rest of the teams in the SPFL Premiership, Championship and Leagues One and Two would be reduced to junior football status, without compensation or consultation.
Well, basically, that is what is happening in rugby.
But, worse than that, the SRU will be taking a stake in each of the proposed six new franchised clubs. They will have a say in appointing coaches and, while they will be putting some money into the new entities, the bulk of the money has to be raised by the club itself, and, that will include installing a new 3G or 4G pitch at a cost of upwards of half a million pounds.
Now, I have long felt, we have too-many “senior” clubs in Scotland. I don't think we need four senior leagues, under-pinned by the Highland and Lowland Leagues. So, maybe a similar scheme might work in football. But, given their management of the national side, would you really want the SFA interfering in the management of your club?
We cannot really compare like with like when it comes to football and rugby, yes, both games are a form of football – but, we are, I feel, back to apples and pears here. Still, the SRU has decided, in spite of the national side currently enjoying its highest ranking ever, fifth in the world - (image the Scottish football team being that high up the rankings) – they need to do better, and, the SRU's Performance Department (does the SFA have such a thing?) feels their chosen franchise system is the way to go.
They are, in spite of a lot of criticism, prepared to give change a chance - would Hampden ever be as bold as Murrayfield and take such a huge step into the unknown?
I don't think they would dare.
The SRU has a reputation as old-fashioned, stuck-in-their-ways fuddy-duddies, slightly out-of-touch and unhappy with the modern world, but, in being prepared to try new things, in spite of opposition from among the clubs, they are giving the guys along Hampden's sixth-floor corridor a lesson in leadership.
Might the SFA get the message and try to be innovative, or, will they stick to their familiar well-trodden path of “Aye Beenism” - as in: “Naw son, ye canna dae that, it's aye been din this wey?”