It’s that time of year again. The SPFL have released the fixtures for the upcoming football season and, along with anticipation building around the wonders of what could lie in wait, there has been a healthy dollop of bleating to go along with it. Tradition is tradition after all.
No New Year game
Matches on New Year’s Day are a tradition of Scottish football and fans tend to get a little grouchy when they’re taken away, especially those who follow clubs with derby matches typically played on the day - Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs, Dundee etc.
The past couple of years there have been games on the 30th and the 31st, which is almost the same but not quite. This year, though, it’s the 29th of December that will host the juiciest festive encounters and, quite frankly, we will not stand for that.
Another midweek Edinburgh derby
Midweek derbies are great. There’s something about seeing your team dishing out a good skelping to your rivals under the floodlights which makes it just that little bit more special. That being said, one of the attractions of a midweek game is the infrequent nature. They’re a treat to be enjoyed once in a while. We all love a good treat but you don’t want to gorge on them, if you can help it, and the decision to schedule the first Edinburgh derby on 31 October means there will have been five consecutive league games between Hearts and Hibs on a midweek night. Things do return to a weekend schedule for the next two games, though, and the fact the match is on Halloween should add a little wrinkle to fight off any weariness.
Timing of the first Old Firm clash
Celtic and Rangers are scheduled to meet for the first time on 1 September, four games into the new season. Though they’ll have an advantage of playing at home, a few members of the Parkhead faithful are displeased with the timing of the game. You see, it’s the first fixture after the second leg of Celtic’s Champions League play-off clash (should they get that far) and there may be a few tired legs in Brendan Rodgers’ camp.
Rangers similarly could go into that game having played in Europe - with a day less to prepare - though Celtic fans don’t lend much credence to the idea that, after last year’s Progres Niederkorn debacle, their rivals will make it that far.
Rangers away three of their first four
Celtic fans aren’t the only ones to cry conspiracy as a few grumpy members of the Rangers contingent were unhappy with the fixture list too.
It has to be said the Ibrox side do have a tricky start to the campaign. They face three away games in their first four matches, two of which come against the top two from last year’s Ladbrokes Premiership (Celtic and Aberdeen) along with a tricky trip to Stephen Robinson’s dogged Motherwell side.
The debate over whether Steven Gerrard is cut out to be a football manager in the Scottish top flight will be debated all summer. it appears we’ll get a good indication of the answer by the second week in September.
Aberdeen travelling to Hamilton midweek
When the Ladbrokes Premiership returns on Wednesday 23 January, Aberdeen will have to shake off the winter break cobwebs during a midweek trip to Hamilton. Since this was discovered, Dons fans have pointed out that they always seem to be travelling to New Douglas Park on a school night. While it didn’t happen last season, or the 2015/16 campaign, it did happen twice the season before and once in Accies’ first term back in the top flight.
What can we deduce from this? Is it that football fans, if there’s nothing obvious, will complain about literally anything? That’s not for me to say... but yes.
Hearts and Kilmarnock going to Ibrox twice
The way the fixtures are supposed to work around the Premiership split is that if you’re facing a team twice away from home (pre-split) one season then you’re supposed to get them twice at home the season after. However, with new teams coming into the league and other factors for the governing body to take into account, it’s not always possible to follow this model.
On this occasion, there are quite a few teams travelling to the same ground twice pre-split as they did last, but none are quite as chagrined as Hearts and Kilmarnock. Both clubs were forced into travelling to Ibrox three times last year as the post-split fixtures had to be arranged in such a way as to get as close as possible to having everyone play 19 home and 19 away games.
Too many games in December
This is now a common complaint and has been since the introduction of the winter break. In order to make the games fit, there are seven rounds of fixtures in December, compared with only three in November and (this year) two in January. There are considerations to take into account — namely scheduling games on Champions League nights, which the league is now allowed to do but will still hesitate from doing so as they don’t want supporters staying at home to watch Barcelona v Liverpool instead of welcoming the visit of Livingston — but it’s still a bit of a headache for the fans who have to juggle going to see their team with pre-festive period commitments.