Even if the fare that gets us to it is pretty drab, the SPL “split” offers the sort of excitement that your club simply wouldn’t get if it sat in a mid-table position in any other league in the World.
Much has been made of the vagaries of the format, whereby the SPL splits into two after three “rounds” of fixtures. One justifiable gripe from supporters was that two clubs – Rangers and Celtic – were always generally left with 19 home and 19 away matches at the end of the campaign while others can have an imbalance. It matters just as much to St Mirren, after all, in relative terms, to stay in the division as it did to Rangers, and still does to Celtic, to win the championship.
But let’s look at the positive side of things.
The relegation battle
Most leagues across Europe have more than one relegation spot. As a result, there is nearly always last-minute drama in the relegation battle. In a league where there is only one team getting relegated, there’s nearly always a team getting caught adrift halfway through the campaign (see Dundee, this season, for example).
After the split, the bottom six teams all play each other, it makes every game a proverbial “6-pointer”. Sure, one team might already be hopelessly stricken at the bottom of the league, but if they’re 8/9 points away with 5 games left, they know that they are playing the teams around them, not chasing lost-causes like visits to Celtic Park or (dare I say) Tynecastle.
The simple point is that, with five games to go, and nine points to make up, most teams would throw in the towel. Knowing that you’ll be playing the teams near you might be the last bit of motivation that is needed to do the impossible, and stay up.
Making the “top six”
In the English Premier League, a team like Aston Villa rarely has anything to get excited about, the occasional relegation battle aside. Every season, teams like St Johnstone and Inverness Caley Thistle have a benchmark to set themselves, the reward being high profile matches against better teams and the opportunity to make more money from bigger fanbases. Ok, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but surely a “making the cut” scenario is better than one where you have nothing to play for with 15 games left of the season?
Getting into Europe
After the split, the teams in the top six are battling against each other for those all-important, money-spinning European Qualification spots. As with the relegation battle, nearly every game is a “6-pointer”.
Winning the league
The league is often won before the split, and certainly now that Rangers aren’t in the equation, the league title won’t often get decided post-split! However, teams are going into the split knowing that they can be responsible for another team throwing it away, if you’ve got nothing to play for, sometimes that can be motivation enough!
It’s fair to say that the concept of a league split is hated amongst Scottish football, but, in me, at least it has one fan. Are there any others out there?
Energy industry media officer during the week... Rubbish Pub League footballer at the weekend.