Aidan Smith: Doncaster says play-offs, I say it’s all a gimmick

IS IT too late to get the coming season stopped? I don’t know about you but I’m not really up for it.
The SPFL's newly-appointed chief executive Neil Doncaster was all smiles at Hampden for the launch of the new Scottish Premiership brand. Picture: SNSThe SPFL's newly-appointed chief executive Neil Doncaster was all smiles at Hampden for the launch of the new Scottish Premiership brand. Picture: SNS
The SPFL's newly-appointed chief executive Neil Doncaster was all smiles at Hampden for the launch of the new Scottish Premiership brand. Picture: SNS

Record 7-0 defeats – on a night when your club is honouring the memory of one of its greatest sons – can have that effect.

Surely there’s something in the articles of association that would permit the scrapping of 2013-14 and we could all meet back here next August.

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I mean, we’ve had the rules bent and twisted to shrink the leagues, expand them, do away with offside, save certain clubs, boost the finances of others, permit mascots, discourage wingers, turn midfielders into hyperactive goons who can’t make a forward pass – and allow our top division to ludicrously split in two – at the expense of dribbling, half-time scoreboards, Oxford Bags as compulsory terrace-wear, scarves tied round wrists, witty anthems ripping off chart hits (“We’re the mental Hibees, baby… ”) and anything approaching a decently-struck corner-kick.

What? You say the rules have been altered enough this summer? That 123 years of history wrapped up in the Scottish Football League has disappeared? That Neil Doncaster’s still in charge and he’s still sporting that funny hairstyle with the privet frontage, a barnet in outright defiance of the banning order put in place as part of urgent measures to move oor fitba forward?

Ah, but it is moving forward. Well, forward and back. The big, sexy, secret weapon for 2013-14 is the play-off, and a return of the especially perverse – and, yes, especially Scottish – method of settling the promotion/relegation issue.

Sometime before the end of the last century, all our divisions had play-offs. They were a fad of the age and in many countries they still happen. Indeed they’ve continued to be used in our lower leagues. But the fiendish, ghoulish Scottish dimension back then – and the one being revived now – was the involvement of the top-flight’s second-worst team. If you’re in a foul mood, you don’t want to have to go to a party and be sociable. If you’re playing rotten football, you don’t want to have your chronic deficiencies exposed in a nerve-shredding contest with a bunch of upstarts in fine and fierce form. You want the season to end, ASAP, and maybe you’d accept straight relegation. Second-worst teams should be required to take part in cup finals because there’s a very good chance they’ll lose 5-1. Believe me, I know.

The play-offs which hooked in the SPL were eventually stopped, presumably on humanitarian grounds. But they’re back, back, back. They’re a gimmick – just as the re-branding and re-naming of the divisions is flim-flam. Particularly unimaginative flim-flam, too, because, as has been widely remarked, Scottish Premiership and Scottish Championship are very English.

Without remotely wishing to start a rant about “creeping Anglicisation”, we can be fussy and touchy but also proud about such things. Doncaster is English and, bless him, probably doesn’t appreciate the niceties here. I can’t imagine that Ernie Walker or Jim Farry, if they were still presiding beakishly over oor fitba, would have been quite as keen on copying the English terminology.

Not when the Premiership has fancied itself rotten for quite a while, even if it isn’t actually called the Premiership anymore.

Perhaps Doncaster would say that the choice of names was always limited. There are only so many ways to skin a dead horse, after all. Or flog a mangy moggie. Or maybe I mean lion. Yes, lion!

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The emblem of the New World Scottish Football Order is indeed the king of the jungle, just like in England, but we’ll let that pass because, with 2013-14 almost here, we must try to be positive and avoid petty self-interest (although, after losing 7-0, I reckon you’re entitled to a bit of an indulgent greet).

What kind of lion will ours be? The lion who sleeps tonight? Joe the Lion, as in the David Bowie song, who “went to the bar”?

This makes me think of the anti-drink ad from the 1970s featuring the fan who flogged his match ticket so he could carry on bevvying – an unthinkable act back then, very tempting with the state of the game now – but we can’t, we mustn’t.

No, we must be the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz who miraculously finds his strength. I’ve changed my mind – 2013-14, bring it on.