We’ve reached the time of year where the twelve club Scottish Premier League splits itself in two. And that means anomalies and uneven fixtures lists benefiting some teams over others will be with us once again.
For the uninitiated, here is a short guide to how one of the sporting world’s silliest league structures operates. Anyone who understands the basic principles of quantum mechanics should have no difficulty in understanding how it all works.
Firstly each club plays the other eleven clubs three times, meaning that it will play some twice at home and once away, while meeting others once at home and twice away. Based on the total number of points accumulated in this uneven set of 33 games, the league then splits into a top half and a bottom half. Clubs then play the five other sides in their mini league once more, giving a season of 38 games.
The final five rounds of fixtures will be scheduled by the governing body rather than being randomly generated in the normal fashion. Now this gives considerable power to a few people in deciding in what order the crucial final games of the season are to be played.
But the bizarre system also throws up anomalies, meaning that they have even greater power.
At the time of the split some clubs will have played 17 home games and 16 away. Others will have played the opposite. In theory, the final five games will even this up. But in practice it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes a club will end up playing 18 home and 20 away games (or 20 and 18) over the season. Hardly fair, is it? Especially when a point or two here and there can make the difference between winning and losing a title or success and failure in European qualification.
In order to try to avoid this anomaly, those who schedule the final set of fixtures will first try reversing home and away fixtures within the final five sets. But this means that the four games between two clubs over a season will often end up with three at home for one club and only one for the other. This is equally unsatisfactory in my book – and potentially gives a huge advantage to one club over another where points totals are close.
To illustrate let’s look at the potential final set of fixtures for Celtic this season.
After Saturday’s game against Hibs. Celtic will have played 33 games of which 17 will have been at home and 16 away.
Let’s assume that the top six teams stays as it is now (which is very likely given the final fixtures). Celtic have already visited four of the other five top clubs twice this season (Motherwell, Inverness CT, Ross County and St Johnstone) while playing Kilmarnock twice at home.
Celtic then should now be given four home games and one away in the final five – but this would mean a final total of 21 home and only 17 away fixtures! So presumably two of the fixtures will be reversed, meaning that Celtic will play three away matches and only one at home against not one but two different clubs this season.
This is manifestly unfair, both on Celtic and on all of the other teams involved. It means that league officials will be able to decide which of these teams, all of whom will be chasing a money spinning European place, will have the advantage of three home games and only one away against the champions.
One of the basic principles of a league system is that teams should play the same set of fixtures over the season. Clearly this will never happen under the current Scottish set up. And obviously some will end up with an easier set of fixtures that others. How can that possibly be fair?
It’s not at all difficult to devise a league system that works properly. Look at Spain’s top division. There are 20 teams, so each plays the other 19 in the first half of the season. They then start over again, with the fixtures reversed for the second half of the season. Simples!
There is much talk at present of another reorganisation within Scottish football. Quite how the league structure might look next season is a complicated question and another discussion entirely. But can I make a plea?
Surely it is not beyond even the manifestly low collective intelligence of those who run the Scottish game to come up with a fair and simple system akin to that used to good effect in Spain?