SPL fixtures list ensures derbies at New Year

NEW YEAR derbies will again be part of the SPL's fixture list next season, the league's company secretary Iain Blair revealed yesterday. The list, to be announced this morning, has also managed to place Old Firm games away from Scotland internationals.

"We do try and take the national side into account," Blair said. "A big issue in the past has been the scheduling of the Old Firm derbies. Hopefully the guys at the Scottish FA will appreciate that there won't be an Old Firm derby either before or after any of the international dates next season.

"The Old Firm fans should look forward to another New Year derby though – we reintroduced them last year and this was popular. In fact all the local derbies will take place on the New Year card. This has the added benefit of minimising travel around this time of year."

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League organisers are confident they have done everything in their power to make the schedule of games as fair and transparent as possible, Blair continued. "Putting together the fixture list has always been a complicated process, but in recent years we have tried to do more to explain how it all works. We have a group of club representatives who sit on the Fixtures Working Group.

"Celtic, Hearts, Hibernian, Kilmarnock and Rangers are all involved in this. They provide the SPL Board with their recommendations on issues like the start date of the season, how many midweek cards are to be used and what our priorities should be. So, while the clubs don't get the chance to review their individual games, they do set our objectives and let us know what the key things are we need to try and avoid."

Blair said the old schedule in which a club would play at home one week and away the next was "mathematically impossible" given the present set-up, and also said that no attempt could be made to ensure some clubs did not have too "difficult" a start to the season, as evaluation of the toughness of fixtures was subjective. He insisted, however, that as much as possible would be done to ensure fairness, in particular after the split.

"The split system does throw up issues and imbalances," he said. "These happen when a club who finished in the top six one year finishes in the bottom six the next year or vice versa.

"But if Celtic, Dundee United, Hearts, Hibernian, Motherwell and Rangers finish in the top six this season then all clubs will play 19 home games and 19 away games. Also, if this happens, clubs in each half of the split will play their opponents twice at home and twice away.

"Most of the games have also been reversed from last season. For example, the first Old Firm derby was at Ibrox last year, so this year it will be at Celtic Park."