Last week was a big week for splits, absolutely mega. There was Jennifer Aniston and her latest beau, forget his name, hardly surprising because there have been so many of them. Then the Queen and the Duke of Embra, not the real ones but Claire Foy who plays Lizzie in The Crown on Netflix and her, now former, actor-hubby. Then Cheryl Tweedy and Liam Payne, although these two were accused of fabricating their split so they’d dominate tabloid coverage of the Brit Awards.
Piffle, all of it. The only split that matters to us is the one where the Scottish Premiership cleaves in two, breaks like an oil tanker on some rocks and spews a gunk of confusion, frustration and inequality over the last few weeks of the season. This happens every year and you’d think we’d be used to it, even resigned to it, by now. Not this time. 2017-18 looks like producing the Torrey Canyon of splits.
Reason being, Hibernian might end up playing at Ibrox three times. Or Hearts might. Or both Edinburgh clubs. A top six of Hearts, Hibs, Celtic, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock plus Rangers – hardly the most fanciful permutation – would require two teams to make a third trip to Govan. Rangers have played the other five at home twice already but under split rules couldn’t be expected to finish with five away games. So which two teams are going to do the needful?
Imagine this happens: Aberdeen beat Celtic today and Rangers win the Old Firm derby – at Ibrox – early next month. The 12-team league comes to a juddering halt with the Glasgow rivals separated by no more than the width of a square sausage. Are the SPFL really going to ask Celtic to go back to Ibrox again? Or, if they maintain their challenge, Aberdeen?
I know, let’s ask Hibs. They’ve got the best Ibrox record of anyone and are big on “firsts” so won’t mind another visit and the chance of a unique, maybe never-to-be-repeated feat – sending the Copland Road cognoscenti home early a hat-trick of times in the same season. Well, Hibs do mind.
Possibly they think that this is how the cookie, or pie, will crumble for them, that they’ll be Ibrox-bound once more. In their relationship with Rangers, the latter would be viewed by most as the dominant partner, the Cheryl Tweedy, pictured, if you like, with Hibs taking the role of Liam Payne, ex-One Direction.
Now, proud as I am of this analogy, I’m not going to mention it to Neil Lennon because he’s been striving to rid the Hibees of what he calls their habitual “boyband” tendencies right from his first day in the job. He says, not unreasonably, that three times away to Rangers would be unfair on his team if, rather than challenging for the title, the Gers are attempting to keep Hibs out of Europe.
As we head for those rocks, it’s been suggested that the beaks should have navigated a safer course for 2017-18. That if someone at the SPFL had at the outset predicted a top six of the Old Firm, the Edinburgh clubs, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, no one would have suspected they were hooked on LSD.
Couldn’t a tiny spanner – say, the one on Bob the Builder’s extremely macho toolbelt – have been flung into the fixtures computer so that the potential scenario currently facing us might have been avoided?
Ah, but wouldn’t that have been tampering with nature or what passes for it in Scottish football? A season should be allowed to evolve – with an entirely improvised script of, say, Hamilton Accies winning at Ibrox in the league for the first time since 1926, Celtic finally losing a game, Brendan Rodgers halting post-match questions to drape one of his special garlands round an opposition manager who’s soon out of a job – and no one wants a Frankenstein version of our game.
But doesn’t anyone still want the split? The one foolproof way to prevent a Hibee Big Hoose triple-decker would be to kill it. Stop the nonsense right now. I don’t know about you but I’m embarrassed travelling to the great cities of the globe and overhearing the inhabitants of these far more advanced cultures sniggering over our league table in a copy of World Soccer magazine with the perforated line dividing it in two.
Or worse, hooting wildly at the table’s final positions with the teams at seventh and eighth having achieved higher points tallies than the club sitting at skew-whiff sixth. Well, I would cringe if I ever went anywhere, but you get my drift.
Splits are Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky – the fabulous furry freaks in 1960s kids TV variety show The Banana Splits. Splits are the players of Hajduk Split, Euro conquerors of Hibs but not Dundee United.
Splits are even Split Enz, the New Zealand rock band with the clown-paint faces and electric-shock hair. But a split shouldn’t be a clunky contraption of contrived excitement in the football season. This split promised to send a few volts through the league run-in, top and bottom, but has rarely delivered them.
In the words of another failed showbiz pairing, the split has been a “conscious uncoupling”. Explaining how it’s supposed to work to people with no vested interest in Scottish football is often tougher than telling a small child why Daddy doesn’t want to live with Mummy anymore.
The question often comes back: “But isn’t a league of only 12 teams simply too small to divide into two?” Yes it is. “And why should Scottish football be encouraging elitism, a Downton Abbey of dreadful snobs on the upper levels and a rabble scrabbling around below the stairs?” You’re right, it shouldn’t.
In The Banana Splits, whenever danger was imminent, someone would shout: “Uh-oh, Chongo!” Neil Lennon is shouting it right now. He thinks Graeme Murty will be shouting it as well, because he won’t want Hibs back at Ibrox either. Quite apart from a third home game for Rangers handing them an advantage whoever they end up playing, there’s the unfairness of the other team being denied a bumper home gate from the Gers coming to their place.
Splits are for “love rats” and the easily-bored on the unmerry-go-round of showbiz romance.
Football should have nothing to do with them.