Today saw the release of the Ladbrokes Premiership fixture list for the 2017/18 season. When the SPFL makes the announcement, or any announcement in fact, it’s usually met with widespread derision from the fans of Scottish football. We love our football in this country, and we love moaning about it even more.
However, on this occasion, there wasn’t a whole lot to moan about - unless you supported one particular team. It was like they acted as a grievance vacuum. Even in Scotland, there is only so much complaining fans can do (if you can believe that) and this particular club hoovered it all up before anyone else could mouth off.
As a result, they feature prominently on this list, with only a couple of minor gripes padding things out. Mostly, fans were happy with how the fixtures lined up, except...
The Tynecastle fiasco
According to the Gorgie Road club, Hearts had an agreement in place with the SPFL to have their opening four games of the season scheduled away from home. So imagine their surprise when the lists came out this morning and bang (!) two home games against Kilmarnock and Motherwell in August when Tynecastle would be out of commission thanks to the ongoing construction of the new main stand. Apparently the request wasn’t taken into account when the SPFL fixture computer rattled out the list, leaving Hearts scrambling around looking for alternatives. Regardless of whether the games are postponed, swapped for corresponding fixtures later in the campaign, or played at a new ground, one thing is certain - Hearts are not happy.
Hearts’ start to the season
Clubs have the right to request the postponement of one home fixture in August every season. Essentially, this is the Old-Firm-glamour-friendly rule, which allows Celtic or Rangers to undermine their own league by participating in some sponsored exhibition tournament against world famous clubs, though Aberdeen did use it to their advantage in two of the last three seasons, pushing back fixtures against Hamilton and St Mirren to concentrate on Europa League qualifying.
Hearts could do likewise this term with either one of their opening two home fixtures against Kilmarnock or Motherwell. The downside is that, if Hearts postpone the Kilmarnock game, then their season will start like this...
Ouch. The first proper home game doesn’t get any easy, either, as Aberdeen come to Tynecastle in a match which should see the opening of the new main stand.
With pressure mounting on Ian Cathro, they really needed luck to be on their side and grant some some winnable away fixtures. Instead, there’s a real possibility that Hearts could go into mid-September without a victory. Poor Cathro, when it rains it pours.
Midweek derby games
An Edinburgh derby at the height of the festival in some lovely weather is a real Scottish football pleasure. Unfortunately, such an occasion will not occur until 2018 at the earliest with Hearts and Hibs fans having to wait for late October to meet each other.
The computer is supposed to fairly assign fixtures randomly, but we all know that the second Old Firm game was hand-picked for 30 December, why can’t the same occur with the capital equivalent? Especially when it’s the first Edinburgh derby in the top flight in over three years.
Furthermore, the volume of post-game pintage will have to be curbed, as the game takes place on a Wednesday evening, with the punters returning to work the following morning. This is also true of their 27 December clash, which is also on a Wednesday.
Squeezing 11 fixtures into two winter months
Only a couple of supporters complained about this, but it’s worth further examination. After the winter break is finished, there are two sets of midweek fixtures squeezed into the final seven days of January, meaning clubs will still have to play four times in the month despite the winter break. With seven games crammed into December, the same as last year, that means top flight sides will play 11 times over the two coldest winter months. Wasn’t the whole point in a winter break so teams could play more games in brighter weather? Having them in December or later January instead doesn’t really make much of a difference.
Admittedly, it is difficult to schedule these games between August and November because we’d hope our teams, or at least one of them, will be competing in the group stages of a European competition. But what about in the spring?
Fans were happy with the news that domestic leagues were once again allowed to schedule games on Champions League nights. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like we’ve taken advantage of it.
Motherwell’s pre-split fixtures
Here are Motherwell’s five fixtures leading right up to the split...
St Johnstone (a)
Wow. That’s really tough, especially for a team tipped to struggle once again next season. It’s hard to imagine a tougher run in the Scottish top flight.
Dundee’s pre-split fixtures
Motherwell are sitting smugly with a stacked hand, but Dundee have a faint smile forming at the corner of their lips. They slam the cards dealt down on the table...
St Johnstone (h)
Full house! Each of the top five from the last season. Even Hearts will be a tough proposition then, because either they’ll be good under Cathro or they’ll have a new manager.