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September 2002
SPL fixture lunacy. TV chaos. Boastful Leishman. Broadfoot. U-21s





Aneurin Bevan once said that on an island made mainly out of coal and surrounded by fish that it took an organising genius to produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time.

The SPL demonstrated genius of the kind Bevan talked about last season when they failed to play a single game over the Easter weekend. This term they’ve actually managed to top that lunacy just a few weeks into the campaign.

Thus far they’ve contrived to give some teams just one home fixture out of the first four played. They’ve given both Dundee teams home games on the same day’s card, forcing one match to be changed to the Sunday . They’ve moved a match (Partick V Celtic) from Saturday at 3pm to Sunday then back to Saturday but at 12.30 so quickly it should be in the Guinness Book of Records. They’ve forced some clubs to go four weeks between home fixtures.

And it’s going to get better. There are midweek matches scheduled for December - madness in itself. But that wouldn’t be all that bad if fans didn’t have to travel too far. Say, Old Firm and Edinburgh derbies, Killie v Thistle, Motherwell V Livingston, one Dundee team at Dunfermline and the other at home to Aberdeen.

But that’s far too sensible for the SPL. Instead, they’re sending Partick to Dens Park on December 4th. But the biggest joke of the lot must be sending the most southerly side in the SPL - Kilmarnock - away to the most northerly - Aberdeen - on the same December Wednesday night!

Boxing Day sees Dundee United travel to Livingston and Kilmarnock to Dunfermline!

Then they’re letting the New Year in by sending Killie to Tannadice and Celtic to Pittodrie on January 2nd - a public holiday!

And in the midst of all this chaos, where is the guiding light of the SPL? Chief Executive Roger Mitchell.

Mitchell has been keeping his head down since his lunatic SPL TV scheme exploded all over his face, leaving Lex Gold to face the critics. But the bold Roger re-emerged from his bunker recently to give an audience to a party of ‘selected’ (read ‘tame’) hacks.

Here, amidst a bravura performance of “nothing to do with me guv”, he made the astonishing assertion that if the SPL doesn’t get its act together, then he’d have to consider his position as it wouldn’t feel right taking the money and the car in those circumstances. I seem to remember him saying something similar when SPL TV collapsed.

If he handed the car keys back tomorrow, could things really get any worse?

Mitchell used to be a marketing man for the Spice Girls. They were unaccountably popular for a while, though never as big abroad as at home. Then their glaring lack of talent became all too obvious and they broke up amid acrimonious slanging matches.

No wonder Roger feels at home with the SPL.

Put on the Leish

Jim Leishman should start taking the quiet tablets. The Livingston gaffer sounded off about UEFA Cup opponents Vaduz, accusing them of sour grapes after Livvy squeezed past the minnows on away goals.

Leishman should have been down on his knees giving thanks to whatever deity inspired the referee to rule out Vaduz’s last-minute strike which,in a fairer world, would have given them the victory they deserved.

As for his complaint that Livvy were rookies at this level and should have been given more credit, that beggars belief.

Firstly, his squad is packed with experienced pros who have played for clubs all over the continent. Secondly, where would he rank a goalless draw against a team from Liechtenstein among these past European debuts by Scottish clubs? Dundee 8 Cologne 1, Kilmarnock 5 Eintracht 1, Dundee United 2 Barcelona 0, St Johnstone 3 Hamburg 0.


Our favourite hack Darryl “Were you at the match, caller?” Broadfoot continues to get all the glam games. Fresh from his trek to Moldova, Darryl was sent to Fir Park on Saturday. Even by his own standards he excelled himself.

He started off his 550-word match report by talking about coloured boots before going on to do a number on players hairdos. Throw in the obligatory name-checks (Di Canio, Beckham, Ljungberg) and the reader might be forgiven for wondering what has happened to the Motherwell V Hibs match report he assumed he would be reading.

But fear not, Darryl misses nothing. Halfway through his piece, he actually BEGINS his match report, starting (where else) in the 73rd MINUTE.

Treasure him. His legions of admiring Eastern European feminist Orangemen just can’t get enough.











Rumour has it that the SPL are beginning to regret those clauses in their TV contract allowing satellite broadcaster Setanta to show 44 pay-per-view matches this season.

For a start, the Irish-based organisation have hardly gone out of their way to advertise themselves. Despite booking Channel 435 on Sky, all the information available on that channel relates to GAA sports.

There’s nothing on their website to show that they’re covering the SPL in the UK (though plenty on how to get it in North America).

Press coverage is almost non-existent and when there has been a mention in the papers it has hardly been flattering. Rangers fans watching Celtic being beaten in Basle for free and complaints over camera angles being the most prominent.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a disaster. Excuses may have been plausible at the outset, given the hurried manner in which the deal was cobbled together. But over a month later, Setanta’s pleadings are beginning to look a little pathetic.

But even if this was the most publicity-conscious organisation in the world and had the finest technicians, cameramen and commentators on the planet, it would still struggle to pull in viewers.

And not just because of the poor quality of the SPL.

Remember, you have to have Sky to get Setanta in the first place. And even if the canny customer cancelled Sky Sports during the summer , it is much cheaper to return to Rupert than to sign up to Setanta.

Adding the Sky Sports package costs the average punter around £6-£14 per month, depending on the package. That entitles the viewer to over 20 live matches in September alone. Already, top-quality matches like Liverpool V Newcastle and Barcelona V Atletico Madrid have been broadcast live.

In terms of ability and entertainment, Rangers’ turkey-shoot at East End Park doesn't bear comparison.

On top of that, there’s the usual coverage of other sports which this month includes live coverage of the Ryder Cup.

Even Sky’s much-criticised pay-per-view, at a fiver a game or £40 for the season, beats the Setanta equivalent hands down.

Setanta are charging nine (or is it ten, they can’t make their minds up)) quid for 90 minutes. There is still no mention of a season ticket. And they can’t get their hands on the fixtures they really want - the Old Firm derbies - as the rights for these have gone to the BBC.

Perhaps worst of all, the very existence of the Setanta contract eliminates any chance of the BBC showing other SPL games live throughout the UK. They don’t want to anyway, but given that this is now Setanta’s territory, the BBC have the perfect excuse to do nothing.

Does any of this matter to anyone other than we poor deluded souls who persist in wanting to watch our native football, no matter how bad it is?

Well, yes it does. For by handing the TV rights over to the BBC in Scotland, the SPL have deliberately colluded in a decline in attendances. The empty seats at televised matches are growing in number. More people watched Hibs v Aberdeen than Hibs v Rangers for example.

The Old Firm fans are voting with their feet and refusing to travel. The only people hurt by this are the ‘ten’ who suffer at the gate and find that instead of TV cash being extra income, it is instead being used to defray lost revenue from spectators.

And the genius who presided over this fiasco? Have a look at the column opposite.


What about a country where they play international matches in a stadium that’s only half-built and where they can’t get the floodlights to work? Surely that would be fertile territory for Darryl Broadfoot?

Unfortunately the stadium in question is in Hamilton, the venue for Scotland’s Under-21 match against Israel which the Scots won 2-1.

That game also showed just how hard it is for commentators to shed their inbuilt Old Firm bias. After Shaun Maloney’s opening goal, Sky’s Ian Crocker opined: “And Celtic are in front!”

Motherwell’s James McFadden has a surprising number of fans in Hamilton. How else to explain the constant shouts from Tommy Sheridan’s Ragbag Army of “intae Fadda” that permeated the game? And just who is this Paul O’Stine the Sheridan stormtroopers kept calling for?

Memo to Charlie Nicholas from the same game. Kris Boyd is a striker with Kilmarnock who was a late call-up to the U-21s and wasn’t even on the bench against Israel. The player you called Boyd is Chris DOIG, a defender with Nottingham Forest.

An easy mistake to make - for anyone who doesn’t read the team-sheets or watches only Old Firm matches.


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