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July 2004
The season hasn't started - but the SPL cock-ups have

Shock! Horror! Sven's Men Lose Again










Fixture Farce

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 live offering!

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 just one.

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 Motherwell.

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 that day.

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 from Glasgow!

We are tempted to say you couldn't make it up but the SPL just did!

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 fixture.

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 16th.

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 ahead.

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 be there.

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 website.

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 unbeaten.

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 DEFENDING.

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 competition.

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 contenders.

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 kicks conceded.

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 Portuguese side.

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 generation.

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 'enemy.'

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 Bulgaria.

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?'





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