8 April ~ Rangers played a rearranged match with St Johnstone in Perth on Tuesday. What makes this particularly newsworthy is that the game kicked off at 6pm, in order to allow it to be televised and not to clash with the night’s Champions League fixtures in Madrid and Milan.
Perth is 60 miles away from Glasgow and, combined with rush-hour traffic, the 6pm kick-off was tough for away fans – and indeed much of the home supporter. Television money is a lifeline for many Scottish clubs, however, and the SPL is still feeling the effect of the collapse of Setanta. If that means working a match around Inter v Schalke to keep Sky and ESPN happy, then it has to be done.
It is nearly a year since Henry McLeish’s report on the state of Scottish football was published. The report proposed an expansion of the Scottish Premier League from its current 12 to 14 or 16 teams. This idea was popular among fans bored with the effects of a small league, such as travelling to the same away grounds two or three times a season. Needless to say, these proposals were also popular with Strathclyde Police; fewer Old Firm matches would lead to, theoretically, less violence, or at least less opportunity for violence.
But as a commercial product for television rights, four Old Firm derbies are easier to sell than two, especially with the bad blood following last month’s match. When the SPL teams met to discuss the proposals, most of the clubs declared a preference for a smaller, ten-team top tier rather than an enlargement. Those in favour of a smaller league claim that it will boost average attendances which reformers counter that a league reshaped according to the wishes of most fans would increase public interest overall.
Hopefully Tuesday’s 6pm start is just a one-off due to a postponements caused by a particularly harsh winter. But given the way that money talks in Scottish football, one worries that it may become common practice. David Childs