SPL fixtures: New fixture list clouded by questions over Club 12
CHAMPIONS Celtic will raise their Scottish Premier League title flag against Aberdeen at Parkhead on 4 August, but it is the identity of the cryptic ‘Club 12’ which raised most interest after the fixture list for the 2012-13 season was published yesterday.
• ‘Club 12’ to face Kilmarnock on first day of season
• Early Edinburgh derby to take place on August 11
More is set to be revealed on 4 July, just four weeks before the season is due to start. This is the date, confirmed yesterday, when the 12 SPL clubs will meet to vote on whether Rangers’ place in the league can be transferred to a newco.
In an explanation published on the SPL website, secretary Iain Blair confirmed that Rangers had been omitted from the fixture list, for the time being at least. It remains uncertain whether Rangers, relegated Dunfermlime or Dundee, runners-up in the First Division last season, will occupy the Club 12 slot, although the fixtures, compiled with the assistance of Canadian company Optimal Planning Solutions, do appear to have been drawn-up in the expectation that the Ibrox club would compete in the SPL competition next season.
Celtic are due to face ‘Club 12’ on Boxing Day for example, the date for which the second Old Firm derby of the season had been pencilled in. However, the process of drawing up the fixtures began before confirmation last week that Rangers will be placed in liquidation.
Also catching the eye yesterday after the 9am publication of the fixtures is confirmation of the return of a winter break to top flight Scottish football, for the first time since the 2002-03 season. It is, however, a far from extensive shutdown. Following the New Year fixtures on Wednesday 2 January, there will be no matches played until the weekend of 19/20 January. “Supporters have often told us that they favour a winter break,” said Blair. “Indeed, we have always been open to reviving the break but fitting it into the schedule can be a problem. With no World Cup or European Championship next summer, we are able to finish our own season slightly later and incorporate a shutdown covering two weekends in January.”
The break means the Scottish Cup fourth round, when SPL sides enter the competition, will take place on the weekend of 1/2 December, with the fifth round not due to take place until two months later, on the weekend of 2/3 February.
Cup holders Hearts can look forward to an early re-match with Hibernian, who they conquered in the final at Hampden Park. The first Edinburgh derby of the season is due to take place at Easter Road on Saturday 11 August, the second weekend of the league campaign. Hibs manager Pat Fenlon will need to watch the game from the stand after being sent off near the end of his side’s 5-1 defeat to their rivals last month. He was handed a four match suspension by the SFA last week, though two of these games are suspended until the end of the forthcoming season.
Ross County start their first season in Scottish football’s top flight with a home fixture against Motherwell, while Hearts, who are currently without a manager, host St Johnstone on the first weekend. Hibs travel to face Dundee United on Sunday 5 August, with the hosts given an extra 24 hours to recover after their Europa League qualifying first leg tie on the preceding Thursday. Both Celtic and Motherwell will have already kicked-off their Champions League qualifying campaigns, on either Tuesday or Wednesday of that week. Celtic have been allowed to postpone their home fixture with Dundee United, which had been due to take place on 11 August, in order to play a friendly match with Real Madrid in the United States. A re-arranged date has not yet been confirmed. ‘Club 12’ are due to be at home that same weekend, when they will host St Mirren.
Should Rangers line-up in the SPL after all, then the first Old Firm derby of the season is scheduled to take place on 22 September, while Ross County play host to Celtic for the first time in a league fixture on 18 August, the week after the Parkhead side have taken on the Spanish champions. Blair confirmed that the split will remain as long as there is a 12-team league. “I appreciate why some fans are against it but it has undoubtedly helped generate excitement at the top and bottom of the table in recent years,” he said, with the season set to conclude on the weekend of 18/19 May.
Dundee chief executive Scot Gardiner yesterday gathered together all employees at Dens Park and explained that the club remain focused on reaching the SPL via the more conventional route of finishing top of the First Division. As far as Dundee are concerned, their league season begins a week later than the SPL, and kicks off with a home fixture against newly-promoted Dumbarton. “Everything else is speculation,” said Gardiner. “There are no hard and fast rules. There is nothing we can do about which way the vote goes. We are ready [for the SPL], in terms of the ground and everything. But we don’t expect it to happen. We have set a budget for the First Division, and we have brought in players to win the First Division. I have had to call a staff meeting because everyone is getting asked about what is going on”.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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