SPL TV is dead. Strangled in infancy by
a pair of greedy villains from Glasgow. Or so some would have
us believe. But lets get one thing clear. The Old Firm
didnt kill off the project because it was going to
make the other clubs a fortune. If it had been a viable concern,
the Gruesome Twosome would have been its biggest advocates.
Sure, the big two are acting out of self-interest. Certainly,
the bigger the trough, the longer their snouts become. But theres
a whole lot more to it than that.`
Consider the fantasy planet inhabited by SPL
Chairman Lex Gold and his henchmen Rod Petrie and
Roger Mitchell. According to this trio, this was a world-class
concept which other countries envied. All that was needed was
to push the button and the cash would come rolling in. Then
the nasty big bullies from Glasgow brought the whole thing crashing
Get real. If SPL TV was such a great idea
then Celtic and Rangers would have been at the
forefront of it. The other countries talked about (but never
named) would have been launching their own channels. In
any case Gold and Petrie are a fine pair to start spouting off
about visions for the future. Their vision at their own club,
Hibs, extended to appointing a manager who was sacked 69 days
later! Can anyone seriously imagine multi-million pound
institutions falling over in the stampede to invest in a project
led by this mob at a time when televised football is in crisis
all over Europe?
The facts are as follows: The SPL is a poor League, both in
terms of competition and talent. It has an appeal almost strictly
confined to its own country. The only exceptions to this are
the Old Firm. They have a worldwide base of support and they
know it. Under the existing deal with Sky, these are
the only two teams who get a look in. Just two matches have
been televised this season which didnt feature either
Rangers or Celtic.
Like it or not (and I for one, dont) this is the world
we live in. In the one inhabited by the SPL chiefs there is
a huge market out there crying out for Motherwell V St Johnstone
live and pay-per-view. They know. Roger Mitchell has spoken.
How dare anyone question them? In this world Gold, Petrie and
Mitchell are the repository of truth. Everyone who questioned
the validity of the concept is wrong. Thats the BBC,
ITV, and the vast majority of the sporting press
in other words, everyone involved in the media knows less
about the workings of the media than the Hibs duo and Mitchell.
In order for SPL TV to have worked it would have needed 250,000
subscribers. Thats 250,000 people who would have given
up their existing satellite packages the Premiership,
La Liga, the Bundesliga, the Ryder Cup, boxing, cricket, tennis,
snooker etc, for the dubious delights of the
SPL. They would have waved goodbye to an exciting end to the
biggest leagues in Europe in order to watch meaningless matches
after the split. To put it in language that Roger Mitchell
can understand, anyone who thought SPL TV was a viable concept
must have been smoking dope.
That is not to absolve the Old Firm. As predicted here right
at the start of the whole sorry affair, their greed has overwhelmed
the others. No surprises there. Noises are being made, particularly
by Dunfermline chairman John Yorkston, about going
it alone without the Ugly Sisters. If the best that can
be managed without the Old Firm is two games a season now, what
TV package would be sold then?
Everyone has lost through this. The Old Firm have proved once
again (if it was ever in doubt) that they cannot be trusted.
The others have led or allowed themselves to be led towards
a fools paradise. Clubs will not be able to retain their
best talents. Fans will see a poorer quality of football thanks
to a loss of revenue. Yet there was an offer on the table from
Sky of £45M. That was rejected because it was the same
as the previous deal. At a time when ITV Digital was
collapsing in full public view, the SPL went collectively mad
and thought they could up the ante. They should have grabbed
the Sky money and ran.
Perhaps the Old Firm have even, inadvertently, done everyone
else a favour (they certainly owe us plenty). Even if they do
leave for a glorious future in Rotherham, Grimsby and
the other marvellous attractions of the Nationwide League, their
legacy to Scottish football may be the prevention of mass bankruptcy.
For if SPL TV had gone ahead then its inevitable failure would
have landed our clubs with a debt that would have crippled them
for decades to come.
Oh, and if the Old Firm want to move to another country, let
them. Provided that its Ireland during the potato famine
for Celtic and Victorian England for Rangers.
After all, thats where their supporters seem to be
most at home.
The four years the SPL has been in existence has been the
worst period of Old Firm domination in history. Not a single
trophy has gone elsewhere. The brave new world has been a
Perhaps it would be best to bin the SPL and return to
a single, unified, Scottish Football League. After all, that
muddled its way through for over a century.
What are Scottish supporters to do from now
until the end of the season, given that virtually every SPL
fixture is meaningless?
Some Kilmarnock supporters have come up with the idea of a
Big Day Out for their home game with Motherwell on
April 27th. This will apparently involve drinking beer, eating
pies and singing songs.
As if that stunning change to routine isnt enough, the
lads from Killies Rivals site are planning a
friendly match between internet elevens in the morning and
making their Player of the Year award in the evening. Anything
to brighten up a dull finale is to be welcomed and you can
find out more here.
Lets get the easy bit out of the way
first. Celtic clinched the League title in some style with
a 5-1 victory over Livingston. Their football was a joy to
behold: good movement, slick passing, clinical finishing.
And even if the opposition gave the impression that they would
rather be anywhere else than Parkhead on title-winning day,
it didnt matter. Martin ONeills team were
far and away the best in the country and thoroughly deserved
However, much has been made of events before the game, namely
the minutes silence to mark the death of the Queen Mother
and its lack of observance by large sections of the Celtic
support. In fact, Referee Willie Young sensibly blew for kick-off
after just 32 seconds. The behaviour of those who whistled,
chanted and booed for that half minute has brought the whole
issue of remembrances at football matches into the spotlight.
While this writer regards the actions of those Celtic supporters
who failed to observe the silence as moronic and counter-productive
to whatever cause they purport to represent, it is only fair
to say that the problem should never have occurred. I have
yet to meet anyone who can make a convincing case as to why
this silence was imposed on football clubs.
I dont want to go back to the bad old days when football
was so insular that it ignored the outside world entirely.
On New Years Day 1929 for instance, Paisley was a town
in mourning after scores of children lost their life in a
cinema fire on Hogmanay. St Mirren and Kilmarnock requested
a postponement of their scheduled fixture and were told in
no uncertain terms by the League that the game must be played.
Those callous days are gone, thank goodness. But it appears
that things have gone to the other extreme. At the televised
Hearts V Rangers game there was a silence in memory of Princess
Margaret but not at other Scottish games. Why? Would the
deceased even have known Hearts and Rangers were football
clubs? Did she have any interest in football whatsoever? To
the best of my knowledge she was never seen in among a crowd
of bears belting out God save my gracious big sister.
As for her mother, it is surely the irony of ironies that
after the SPL had fiddled the fixture list so as to get Celtics
title-winning celebrations out of the way before Rangers next
come calling, that the old woman died, leaving the Parkhead
side in a no-win situation. Not to observe a silence and they
would have been dumped on from a great height by all and sundry.
Observe it and it was inevitable that a lot of their fans
To be fair to Celtic, their supporters have a point when they
ask why they should commemorate a monarchy which doesnt
allow Catholics to become sovereign. But it runs much deeper
than that and anyone who thinks Celtic supporters would turn
into flag-waving royalists if Prince Charles had copped off
with Mother Theresa instead of Camilla is well wide of the
Anyone who witnessed the after-match celebrations at Parkhead
would have had no illusions as to where their supporters true
allegiance still lies. Fields of Athenry, The
Wild Rover, Black Velvet Band,
they were just some of the anthems on display. Whilst not
denying that Celtic have a right to celebrate their roots,
nor that they know a good tune when they hear one, isnt
it just a little bit sad that after 114 years there was nothing
distinctly Scottish about their party? In any case, having
once had the misfortune to visit Athenry, all I can say is
give me Botany Bay any day of the week!
But back to the silences. What is to be done? I cant
see how any hard and fast rules would work, let alone satisfy
everybody. Just five years ago there was uproar when Jim Farry
wanted Scotland (in my view, correctly)to go ahead
with a World Cup qualifier on the day of Princess Dianas
funeral. Yet back in 1965 on the day of Winston Churchills
funeral, the full English and Scottish programme went ahead.
Yet I doubt if even the most fervent of royalists would claim
that either Diana or the Queen Mother was a more important
figure in British history than Churchill.
Even this season there has been inconsistency. UEFA fixtures
were postponed in the wake of September 11th, but the Scottish
League Cup carried on serenely as if nothing had happened!
Given that it is impossible to satisfy everybody, I would
(and some of you may have already caught this on Monday
Night Live) as a rule of thumb propose the following as
far as silences are concerned:
Terrible events like Sep 11th or an earthquake YES
Football tragedies like Heysel or Bradford YES
The deaths of footballing legends like Jim Baxter or Bobby
Pampered centenarian aristocrats and spoilt princesses with
no known interest in the game NO