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May 2005

SPL nears its conclusion











Isn't the SPL split marvellous this season? That seems to be the cry of the media and the SPL itself. Look, they say, the split has produced a title race that has gone to the last day, a battle still raging for a UEFA Cup slot and a four-way fight to avoid the drop. Eight of the twelve SPL sides enter their final 90 minutes with something to play for. Every game has something at stake.

Hold on. The above scenario is accurate but what the hell has it got to do with the split? This lamentable intrusion into the game kicks in five matches from the end. It was the preceding 33 games which produced this year's intriguing league table. The top two would still be neck and neck regardless. Hibs would be fighting to fend off Aberdeen for a place in Europe in any case. And the teams at the bottom would still be there if no split existed.

Five games do not a season make
. The only clubs directly affected by the split were the three in contention for sixth place and they were the only ones with nothing to play for once the split came into effect. Motherwell took sixth at the expense of ICT and Kilmarnock and finishing sixth after 33 games didn't give Motherwell a chance of Europe nor did it put ICT or Killie in any danger of going down.

And that, lest we forget, was the intention behind introducing the split in the first place. Sixth place guaranteed Motherwell a bumper home gate against Celtic - nothing more, nothing less.

The split still produces the lunatic final table whereby teams in the bottom half can end up with more points than teams in the top half. It also brings home in dramatic fashion the sad reality that Scotland is the only league in Europe, possibly the world, where the authorities have to go out of their way to ensure the top two don't meet on the final day of the season.

Every other country would love such a title decider. No matter how fierce the rivalry a match between Chelsea and Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona or both Milan clubs on the last day with the title at stake would have fans, press and TV salivating at the prospect. In Scotland such a scenario is to be dreaded. And to such an extent that even before sixth placed was decided one of the final batch of post-split fixtures was prematurely and deliberately announced. The date, time and venue of the final Old Firm match was publicly available two weeks in advance of the other 29 post-split fixtures. In truth even if it hadn't been, everyone knew this game would be the first post-split fixture.

That's the sad truth behind all the SPL trumpet blowing. We daren't let our top two meet with the title at stake. Ninety-six years ago after Old Firm fans rioted at the Scottish Cup Final a resolution was put before the SFA asking for a replay outside Glasgow on the grounds that “Glaswegians are incapable of behaving themselves.” The only thing that's changed in almost a century is that Old Firm troublemakers have extended their reach far beyond the confines of the Glasgow city limits as was demonstrated by the fighting which broke out on the ferry from Troon to Belfast after their latest hate-fest.

That's Scottish football 2005. Something to ponder on while the sycophants proclaim their sudden conversion to the joys of the split.

One final thing. Every piece of apologia written about the split helps cement it as an accepted part of the season. Every encomium issued on this artificial abomination helps keep at bay the demands for change to a sixteen-club league. Think of the track record of those running the SPL and ask yourself if the exciting denouement to 2004-05 is part of their master plan?

Or did they just get lucky?

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