Since the start of the season, one thing has bothered me looking at the fixture list; the way in which we had to play at Pittodrie, Tynecastle, Easter Road, Ibrox and Livingston in the first series of games, which guaranteed that we would need to visit all those grounds again in the third series.
The reason this is so infuriating is that Ibrox has the reverse fixture list.
And that means, of course, that when the split comes although technically we should have the easier run that Ibrox will, in all probability, dodge at least one tricky away tie that they would have otherwise had to play … and we’ll end up back somewhere we’ve already been twice.
This is probably the most weighted post-split fixture list I’ve seen since the damned thing was introduced, and it is confirms the ludicrousness of the whole thing.
At the moment, we don’t know what the post-split fixtures will look like, of course, but we should presume that it’ll be us, Ibrox and Hearts filling half of the spots.
It’s who fills the rest which makes this a tricky situation. Right now Motherwell and Hibs are doing just fine, along with Dundee Utd … but that could change to see either Aberdeen or Livingston there too.
So what would the fixture list look like, if things were as they stand right now? A team can only play a maximum of three games at home, with two away or three away and two at home.
If things finish as they are at the moment we should have home games against Ibrox, Hearts, Motherwell and Hibs.
Realistically, we’re not going to get that.
Dundee Utd have been to Parkhead twice, so there’s no danger of a change there; we’ll be at Tannadice for one of our away games. But it means that we’ll also be either at Tynecastle, Easter Road or Fir Park as well.
And that’s if things stay as they are.
But if Aberdeen or Livingston make it, we could be facing a third away game at one of their grounds. See, the way this stands right now we will have played every one of the top eight twice away, save for Dundee Utd, before the split happens.
And if Dundee Utd don’t make it and the split ends up Celtic, Ibrox, Hearts, Hibs, Livingston and Aberdeen – as it could – we will visit two out of them, Ibrox excluded, three times in the campaign.
And that is just absolutely shocking.
The corollary to that is that Ibrox is supposed to visit Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs, Celtic, Motherwell and Livingston away.
They will certainly not have to do so, with at least one of those matches certain to be switched to a home match. Dundee Utd are a home game anyway as they’ll have been twice to Tannadice when the split comes.
But if Dundee Utd don’t finish in the top six, then the reverse scenario which Celtic face will accrue with the Ibrox club; they will play two games at home from Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs, Motherwell or Livingston which ought to be played away.
In the interests of something approaching basic fairness, you want Dundee Utd to keep on playing and make the cut … but Aberdeen have a game in hand over them in seventh, and one point separates the teams. Aberdeen – technically – has the tougher run-in, but anything could happen here and in the scenario where United don’t make it you have an ending to the season which might come down to a handful of points where the final fixtures give one side – and not ours – a marked advantage.
And it won’t even be close to something that can be defended.
The SPFL “blurb” says of the split that “We generally aim for the fewest switches possible and try to avoid reversing fixtures that have a key impact on the league title.”
Well, when you give one side two additional top six away games and their direct rivals two additional top six matches at home how the Hell can you claim, with a straight face, that it might not have an impact on the title race? There is one point in it.
Even in the scenario where Dundee Utd makes it, the plain fact is that they will get an extra game at home against one of the other sides whilst we’ll play an extra game away.
As I said, I’ve never seen a fixture list so slanted as this one has been with the sides who’ve consistently been in the top part of the league all playing at Ibrox twice in the first 33 games.
Amazingly, the press appears to have finally twigged to this, a scenario which myself and some of the other Celtic sites saw coming a mile away and which I wrote about in an article some time ago, when I made my argument that the winter break should be brought forward, pointing out that the split was already going to advantage Ibrox and that we couldn’t be further punished by playing a critical game in front of no fans when the corresponding fixture had been played at a full house over there.
The split was very much an issue I was thinking about – and said so – at the time, but the full picture, which I was intending to write about this week, is of course now even more ridiculous.
Whilst it’s good to see that this matter is finally getting some national coverage – and hopefully a proper discussion about how ridiculous and potentially corrupt it is – it’s being treated as if it’s a headache for the governing body, as though it doesn’t affect clubs at all.
If the “computer” really is random, it has picked one Hell of a selection in their favour, and no mistake about it.
The only moderately difficult away matches they faced in cycles 1 and 3 are Perth – and in a year when St Johnstone are having a shocker – and Tannadice, and that’s only considered a tough one because they lost there in their first defeat this season.
For all that, Celtic has already been to Tynecastle and Motherwell on this cycle and we’re about to go to Aberdeen.
That leaves Hibs, Livingston and Ibrox still to visit before the split … but we’re almost halfway to the prize and looking very strong, and whilst there’s no reason to believe that we won’t do it, the scandal of the split and what it means makes it harder than it should be.
There is no “sporting integrity” in this little farce.