It can be curious how time plays tricks on the memory. It certainly was decidedly strange how elliptical the recollections of former SFA president George Peat proved this week.
It is wearying for those not of a Rangers/Celtic disposition to have the events at the conclusion of the 2007-08 domestic season revisited. A denouement that brought Gordon Strachan’s side a dramatic third successive title triumph that had everything to do with the fixture pile-up created in large part – though, crucially, not entirely – by the Ibrox side’s remarkable run to the Uefa Cup final as they also battled through to the Scottish Cup showpiece at Hampden.
It was a turn of events that, at the time, and forever since, has given way to rehearsed, and often specious, arguments and recriminations. Why Peat chose to get bogged down in the period and bring it back into the public domain during a BBC Scotland Sportsound interview this week only he can answer. But having had the poor grace to do so, he allowed the myths that have grown up around what happened to be given another ill-deserved airing.
Asked about his biggest regrets from his four years in the presidency from 2007, Peat said that there were certain things and “one in particular disappointed me”. He went on: “I remember when Rangers got to the final in Manchester. I got a phone call from a prominent chairman of a club requesting me not to help Rangers in any way. And it so happened that I had already had a meeting with Lex Gold [chairman] at the SPL because what we were willing to do was to extend the season because of the fixture pile-up that Rangers had and I was most disappointed when I got back to the office to receive this call to ask me not to help them in any way. That really stuck in my throat.”
It sticks in the throat that Peat should bring the matter up in a potentially misleading way. For one, it was the SPL and not the SFA whose role it was to schedule league fixtures – and Rangers had two games outstanding as the season reached its end.
The idea that nothing was done to help the Ibrox side over the challenges this brought is plain wrong. The SPL extended the league season by four days, with the final games played on Thursday 22 May, instead of the previous Sunday.
Undeniably, Rangers were running on empty by that night, evidenced by a limp loss at Aberdeen as Celtic clinched the championship by beating Dundee United away. It was a fourth game in 11 days for Walter Smith’s men, and their 17th in a seven-and-a-half week spell.
Of course, Rangers wanted the season further extended. They would hardly have felt otherwise considering they had to regroup following the Uefa Cup final loss to Zenit St Petersburg on 14 May, and play rearranged league fixtures with Motherwell on 17 May, then St Mirren on 19 May before their trip to Pittodrie.
Peat apparently floated the idea of pushing back the Scottish Cup final from 24 May, in order that Rangers could still be playing league games at that stage.
This was a non-starter on two fronts. Queen of the South, their opponents at Hampden, already had the disadvantage of twiddling their thumbs for four weeks before taking on Rangers owing to the First Division finishing in April. And any further delay in the completion of the SPL league season would have meant a host of clubs in the top flight kicking their heels waiting for Rangers to catch up with them.
The 2007-08 season is the only one in the history of Scottish football to be extended over the inability of one club to fulfil their fixtures. And if Rangers supporters want to direct their ire towards anyone for that fact, perhaps they might want to consider Peat’s part in it.
The SFA asked the SPL to postpone Rangers’ trip to St Mirren and Celtic’s hosting of Falkirk on the weekend before Scotland’s decisive Euro 2008 qualifying match against Italy at Hampden on 17 November. That was the same Love Street fixture that Rangers ended up being unable to play until 14 May.
As of that November, a free midweek emerged in the middle of January and Smith’s side might have been able to play it then. But that was given over to a re-arranged encounter against Gretna at Fir Park that Rangers had asked to be moved from 8 December in order that they could have more time to prepare for a decisive Champions League encounter at home to Lyon.
The decision to postpone the new year derby meeting with Celtic following the death of Phil O’Donnell brought Rangers another outstanding fixture. The SPL requested that the SFA consider cancelling a Scotland get-together on 5-6 February, but it appears that Peat and his cohorts weren’t receptive to the idea.
It wasn’t until 27 April that derby could eventually be fitted in. That wasn’t strictly to do with the succession of Uefa Cup midweeks Smith’s men racked up through progressing in the tournament.
Rangers lost three more to an SFA tournament: the first of these the result of poor drainage at Ibrox that forced the postponement of their Scottish Cup tie at home to East Stirlingshire on 13 January; the second the result of a Firhill replay being required to see off Partick Thistle in the fourth round, while the third was their quarter-final against Hibernian which also required a replay.
Ultimately, though, it is hellish if reaching the Uefa Cup final and pushing on in the cup means you have to play 18 games in eight weeks, and four in the league across little over a week. Yeah, it was tough on Middlesbrough when dealing with that schedule in 2006. Not that anyone then in the FA would ever think to speak gravely about it now.