Just when you think the SPL can't possibly get
any worse, you can bank on the Stupidest Provincial League
to prove you wrong.
Not content with the long-running farce of which Thistle will have
the dubious privilege of SPL membership in 2004-05, the authorities
have conspired to produce a series of gaffes in the fixture list
for next season.
True, they've got a cracking opening day fixture on August 7th
at Pittodrie where ICT will ground-share (legal arguments
permitting) with Rangers as the visitors. But it won't
be the new boys from Inverness who'll be taking on the Gers,
it'll be Aberdeen.
Inverness Caley Thistle meanwhile will make a low-key SPL
debut at Livingston. Their first 'home' game won't be until
Sunday August 15th when they'll take on Dunfermline at Pittodrie.
The reason for it being a Sunday is Dunfermline's European involvement.
To make things even worse that game will be in opposition to Setanta's
What a monumental blunder. Here was a golden opportunity to give
the newcomers a glamour start against the Old Firm or Aberdeen,
or at the very least to give them a game in their new 'home.'
Nor have they done this website's favourites - Killie
- any favours. Kilmarnock start their season with an away
trip to Easter Road. Two weeks later their next away match
takes their fans to
. er, Edinburgh again, this time to Tynecastle.
The same fixtures are repeated in late January/early February so
supporters of the Ayrshire club not only face successive trips to
Edinburgh twice, it means four visits to the capital and only two
in return to Rugby Park!
And for the fourth season in succession Dundee
United are guaranteed two Tayside derbies and neighbours Dundee
Crazy? You bet. But, remember this is the Silliest Pointless
League we are talking about.
The other opening day games send Hearts away
to Dundee and Dundee United to Dunfermline
while Celtic begin their defence of the title at home against
Still, there are always the Ne'erday derby matches to look forward
to. Right? Well, only if you're a Hibee or a Jambo.
January 1st 2005 falls on a Saturday and there's an Edinburgh derby
As for the rest, it appears that the SPL has thought 'what would
be the longest and most awkward journeys we can make fans undertake
on a public holiday?'
They're sending Aberdeen down to Motherwell while
at Pittodrie ICT will face Kilmarnock! Absolutely
mad! The Old Firm can forget about meeting up that day too.
Celtic face Livingston at Parkhead while Rangers
take on Dundee United at Tannadice. That means no Tayside
derby so Dundee are off to Dunfermline.
Now, we don't claim to be mathematical or geographical geniuses
here at scottishleague.net but we don't think its beyond the bounds
of possibility to have constructed a fixture list for Ne'erday which
contained an Old Firm clash, Dundee and Edinburgh derbies, Aberdeen
v ICT, Killie meeting Motherwell and Dunfermline playing Livingston.
Not perfect, but the closest we can get to an all-derby day. Our
scenario provides for games in the four big cities and the longest
journeys (ICT supporters aside) are the eighteen miles between
Dunfermline and Livingston and forty between Motherwell and Kilmarnock.
But those clever people at the SPL (the ones, remember, who brought
you the 'split' and no relegation) have arranged for a 300-miles
return trip for Aberdeen fans, close to 350 miles for Killie
supporters and even 170 miles for any Rangers fans travelling
We are tempted to say you couldn't make it up but the SPL just
And that's it for the holiday period. Once again, there are no games
scheduled for January 3rd/4th, which are public holidays. Yes, there
are matches on Monday December 27th but these only compensate for
there being no games on Xmas Day.
A great chance to bring in extra fans over the holiday period
has been spurned - AGAIN.
But there aren't enough Saturdays to go round so a couple of extra
fixtures have to be fitted in somewhere. Again, the collective 'brains'
of the Sad Predictable League appear to have hit on the 'solution'
of playing these games at the worst possible time. They've scheduled
full fixture cards for the last midweek in October (right after
the clocks go back and everyone's starting to think about the onset
of winter) including sending Aberdeen down to Parkhead and for
the beginning of March when the weather's usually at its most vile.
But the piece de resistance is an absolute beauty. On THREE occasions
both Aberdeen and Inverness CT are scheduled to play at home at
the same time on the same day. EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE SHARING PITTODRIE!!!
Truly, those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they
first make mad.
At least the Scottish Football League has managed to fit
in games on Sunday December 26th and the following midweek for the
First Division though even here we have doubts about the wisdom
of playing on the evening of Wednesday December 29th which is, in
theory, a normal working day.
The First Division fixture list contains an opening day cracker
as relegated (we assume) Partick Thistle travel to
face old rivals Clyde. New boys Airdrie and Hamilton
both have home games to start with, against St Johnstone
and Raith Rovers. There's a South v North clash in QOS
v Ross County and St Mirren are at home to Falkirk.
The SFL certainly sees the wisdom in giving promoted sides a home
opener and in the Second Division Stirling Albion and
Stranraer both kick off at home against Arbroath and
Alloa respectively. Relegated Brechin travel to face
close rivals Forfar and Ayr begin life below stairs
at Dumbarton. Berwick meet Morton at home in the remaining
The clubs relegated to the Third - East Fife and Stenhousemuir
- both have home games to start with, against Montrose and
Elgin. Elsewhere, it's Gretna v Albion Rovers, Peterhead
v East Stirling and Queen's Park v Cowdenbeath.
Like the Senseless Posturing League, the SFL kicks off on
August 7th though the Challenge Cup starts a week earlier.
Both lower divisions will have two fixtures over the
Ne'erday period with derby games where possible and like the First
the season will end on May 7th 2005.
As for the Simply Preposterous League, the best we can tell
you is that there will once again be a stupid 'split' after April
Nor can we tell you which matches will be moved to a Sunday to accommodate
the live Setanta deal though you don't have to be armed with
the combined predictive prowess of Nostradamus and Mystic
Meg to reckon that anytime you see Celtic or Rangers down to
play away on a Saturday afternoon you should start thinking 24 hours
And that brings us to the Setanta deal. £99 till the
end of June, £119 thereafter if paying annually, rising
to £155.88 if paying £12.99 monthly.
In return they pledge a seven hours long dedicated programme based
on a live match each Sunday, with the exception of Old Firm derbies
which will have 12.30 Saturday kick-offs. Matches to be covered
will be announced eight weeks in advance (good news for long-distance
OF fans who have had to put up with short-notice re-arrangements)
and no ground will be visited more than four times in the season.
(great news for David Murray and Dermot Desmond as this is no
threat to selling season tickets).
On the face of it a good deal for Old Firm fans, less so for others.
Last year it cost just £30 for 38 live matches. In
the coming season there's a MINIMUM 327% increase for the
same number of games. What the subscriber gets in addition is the
seven-hour programme with enhanced camera coverage of live games.
However, not many people (certainly not those with
partners and/or families) will sit through seven full hours.
And the bulk of those seven hours will be taken up by the (inevitably
OF) live game, pre-match build-up, after-match comment and a full
90 minutes re-run.
For the rest of us Setanta offer ten minutes highlights of each
SPL match. STV have just announced they will have an SPL
highlights programme each Monday at 11pm. The downside
is that their programme is over 24 hours later than Setanta's and
at an hour long won't encompass as much non-OF footage.
The upside is that it's free.
On their own website Setanta answer the question I'm not
an old firm supporter - what else will be shown? as follows:
Every week Setanta Sport will show extended highlights
and in depth analysis of all 5 SPL matches played that weekend.
All clubs will be featured in live or highlights matches. Setanta
Sport is committed to visiting all SPL team football grounds, so
all 12 SPL teams and supporters will be catered for.
In other words, when the OF are in town, we'll
Ask, How many non-Old Firm matches will be shown during
the season? and the reply is 20% of SPL matches
will be non-Old Firm derbies.
Firstly, 20% of 38 is 7.6 so we can assume that either seven
or eight live games come into that category. But what do
they mean by derby? Hearts v Hibs and Dundee v Dundee
United certainly. But Aberdeen v ICT? Possibly. However,
if you're a follower of Dunfermline, Kilmarnock, Livingston
or Motherwell it's a safe bet that you'll only see your team
in action v Rangers and/or Celtic.
And don't think you can take out a temporary subscription just to
catch the match you're interested in. Although Setanta are advertising
monthly subscriptions the MINIMUM term is ONE YEAR.
The broadcaster is taking great pains to point out this is not a
PPV deal. The only PPV available is for Old Firm derbies and is
only open to viewers outside Scotland.
Even though Setanta are also launching Celtic and Rangers TV channels
on the basis of the anodyne offerings of English club TV channels,
the SPL deal remains a good one for their fans and despite the broadcaster's
protestations, that is where the bulk of the subscribers will come
from. Apart from the vast hordes of OF supporters based in England,
Wales and both parts of Ireland, there are around 50 - 60,000 who
watch their team at home while only around 5-7,000 travel away.
That's a helluva lot of dedicated fans who'll be tempted by this.
For the rest of us it's highly questionable. Is ten minutes of your
team every week plus two or three live games worth it?
We can't answer that question for you.
Further details and FAQs can be found on Setanta's
Our Friends In The South
Normally this website doesn't like to intrude on
private grief but in the case of England's exit from Euro 2004 we'll
make an exception.
Thank God the hype is finally over. Only in England could two laboured
wins over modest opposition like Switzerland and Croatia
be thought evidence of impending continental mastery. Only in
England could the emergence of a (genuine) young talent be preposterously
compared to Pele. Only in England could a team comprehensively
outplayed in two of their four matches be deemed dreadfully unlucky
not to have won both.
And while we're here let's have no more smug comments about the
Italians and conspiracy theories. At least not from the
BBC whose reporter Garth Crooks prefaced his first question
to Sven-Goran Eriksson after the Portugal game with
it felt like we were playing twelve men out there and one of them
was Swiss in a reference to referee Urs Meier.
At least the Italians departed the competition
Let's take a closer look at England's games. The commonly held opinion
after losing to France was that they were unlucky because
they lost two late goals. The way we see it, making a rash tackle
on the edge of the area, hitting a poor passback and the keeper
up-ending a forward isn't a sign of bad luck, it's a sign of bad
Did anyone say 'poor Bayern Munich' when Man Utd mugged
the Germans with two injury time goals in the 1999 European Cup
Final? Of course not. They (rightly) paid tribute to the English
side's persistence and never-say-die attitude.
The French should have been given the same accolades. According
to UEFA's official statistics France had 16 shots
to England's 11, six on target to four for England.
They made 559 passes to their opponent's 408, 444
completed passes to 315, won five corners to England's
two and controlled possession by 54% to 46%
The only areas England were 'ahead' in were fouls conceded,
free kicks conceded and bookings.
By any objective measure France were the vastly superior side.
Even against a poor Swiss team, England had less possession, fewer
shots and made fewer passes. They were aided by a goal which could
have been chalked off when Paul Scholes was in an offside
position inside the box, a lucky deflection off the goalkeeper's
backside and a dodgy sending-off.
Yes, against Croatia they did well to come back from going behind
early on and in terms of possession the match was more equal. England
took their chances and Rooney was outstanding. Yet they still lost
two goals from set pieces against one of the poorest sides in the
None of this was enough to put off the cheerleaders who pose as
commentators in the TV studios. And surprisingly the usually more
objective BBC was worse in this respect than ITV. On the independent
channel Des Lynam and Terry Venables at least offered
caution along the 'we've seen it all before' lines. A welcome
change from Ally McCoist and his "I hope the lads
win." 'The lads?' 'THE LADS?' Now that was
TV at its most cringeworthy. By the way is the England-supporting
Ally McCoist in the ITV studio any relation to the Ally
McCoist writing in the Daily Record who reckoned that
Eriksson's men beating Portugal was a horrible thought?
The BBC kept its more thoughtful panellists like Peter Schmeichel
and Gordon Strachan away from England's games, preferring
fans-in-the-studio Ian Wright and Peter Reid. Oh,
and their pet Scotsman, Alan Hansen.
How Hansen had the nerve to say - after every team had played one
game - that England were the side that had impressed him the most
is beyond belief. They had lost two late and avoidable goals. Sweden
had won their game 5-0 but that wasn't as good as losing
to France in Hansen's book.
What happened to Hansen's insistence on the importance of defending?
He even claimed that England 'deserved' to win their game
against Portugal. Yet this was the second time they had failed to
hold on to a 1-0 lead.
The old Hansen would have been spitting feathers at such profligacy.
He would have been apoplectic at the thought that a team that lost
SIX goals in four games could be considered championship
He 's gone native. He might as well get up and
cheer with the rest of them when England score.
Here's UEFA's take on the Portugal -England encounter.
The hosts had 35 shots at goal to England's 16, made
716 passes to England's 524, found their target 550
times to 334, had 13 corners to 9 and a whopping
great 61% of possession to 39%.
Again, England were 'in front' on fouls committed and free
One team was clearly dominant and they weren't
wearing white shirts.
One of the thousands of English Mugs in Portugal
Still, this tournament will go down as yet another
where England were cheated of their rightful triumph. It was the
referee, the weather, the penalty spot even. It's never because
they're simply not good enough.
And speaking of reaching the knockout stages, ITV
tried to rub it in a bit by claiming that Switzerland joined Scotland
as the only countries to play in two tourneys and not progress past
the group stage. Technically correct, but
one of the competitions
we played in had only eight qualifiers not the sixteen there have
been when the Swiss have played. And one country has an even worse
record than that. One country had played in FOUR tournaments
overseas and failed to qualify every time until this year.
It was fifth time lucky for England whose only previous
advance past the group stage came when they played at home.
But the prize for most annoying commentator must go to the venerable
John Motson. At least in the England v France game, Clive
Tyldesley waited 83 minutes before mentioning 1966. In
the Portugal game it took Motty just 85 SECONDS. And in the
Croatia game he did even better, managing to get a mention in BEFORE
the game kicked off!
A close second is the general xenophobic joy expressed by virtually
all and sundry at the Germans failure to make the last eight.
There's an honourable exception here for the excellent Jim Beglin
who called things as they were without the jaundiced view of all
things Teutonic generally expressed on UK television.
Where the BBC managed to partially redeem themselves was with their
news and web coverage. News 24's Chris Hollins, normally
an exponent of the gung-ho brigade, steadfastly refused to blame
Urs Meier for England's exit, taking the astonishingly brave
view (for an English journalist) that the referee was quite
within his rights to rule out Sol Campbell's 'goal' and
adding that it would have been an undeserved exit for the Portuguese
if it had been allowed.
The BBC's website fell into a sad jingoistic lapse
after the Switzerland match when it proclaimed that it looked like
only Greece and Sweden might stand between England
and the Final.
That would be the same Greece that England scraped a last-minute
draw against at home the last time they played them. The same Greece
who defeated both Portugal and France where England failed. And
presumably the same Sweden England haven't beaten in 11 matches
and 36 years!
To digress for just a moment, the Greeks may have achieved their
success in this tournament by playing the same stultifyingly boring
football that brought dividends for Ireland under Jack Charlton
but their progress may just be an omen. There they are, with St
Andrew as their patron saint, on the periphery of Europe, a small
peninsula with hundreds of offshore islands. No previous record
of success internationally yet they come good under a German coach.
Remind you of anywhere?
The BBC website redeemed itself post-Portugal with
correspondent Phil McNulty admitting that it was England's
over-reliance on defending which cost them the game against a superior
Still, all the hype is over. The flags can come down for another
two years until (if they qualify) it all starts up again
at the next World Cup.
This website actually feels sorry for the kids who were crying at
England's exit and takes no pleasure at the sight of their tears.
At the same time we wish that these kids can grow up without the
expectations of effortless superiority that have burdened their
parents and grandparents and which have undoubtedly contributed
to the sad outbreaks of violence that have cursed England for a
Sadly, this tournament was to be no exception. For while the matches
themselves were trouble-free (and belated plaudits to the FA
for finally tackling their ticketing problem) there were outbreaks
of violence in Portuguese coastal resorts and, incredibly, in the
Channel Islands and Norfolk!
Apparently around 10% of the population of Jersey is of Portuguese
extraction. Reason enough for a mob to attempt to storm the local
Portuguese social club. And in Thetford a pub owned by a
Portuguese company came under siege after the game!
Those frustrated English fans would do well to consider their own
team's tactics rather than blindly lashing out at the perceived
This is the FIFTH time in a major competition under Eriksson
that they had tried to hold on to an early lead. It worked just
once (v Argentina in the 2002 World Cup) on the previous
four occasions. In the last World Cup Sweden came back to
draw and only a misfiring Henrik Larsson prevented them from claiming
victory, ten-man Brazil overcame them and in this tournament
France also came from behind to win.
Here at scottishleague.net we don't pretend to have the tactical
genius of Sven but we do think that record kind of shows a pattern
and that England just aren't cut out to defend in depth for 80 minutes.
They need to step back and take a long, hard look at their record
in the two big competitions. Outside their own shores they've reached
one semi-final of both the World Cup and the European Championship.
It's easily the worst record of any big footballing country. Far
worse than those other great under-achievers, Spain and Russia.
In European terms they're worse than Denmark or Belgium
and in the World Cup they're on a par with the USA and
The problem is they think they're in the same league as Brazil.
And speaking of those with ideas above their station, let's hope
that England's demise also means the end of the terminally unfunny
Baddiel & Skinner and their awful 'Fantasy Football.'
Away you go lads and practice your song for the next World Cup.
Here's an idea for you. Why not call it 'FORTY years of hurt?'