Tuesday, March 01, 2011

SPL: Doncaster's Diary Diplomacy

Mark the date in your diary, start crossing off the days.

The 2011/12 SPL season will begin on the weekend of Saturday 23rd July 2011.

The SPL were keen to stress that this is the earliest start ever.

Which it is. Although not by much, the SPL in its current incarnation having opened in the final week of July no fewer than five times.

And this change comes alone, no winter break and the season will end at the same time.

There is also a twist. To allow certain clubs - go on, guess - to compete in lucrative pre season friendlies each club will be given the chance to request a postponement of an early season fixture.

Thus, rather niftily, have the SPL got their earlier start and allowed - to use the ready made example - Celtic to play in the Dublin tournament they are signed up for on the 30th and 31st of July.

Benefits are said to include better preparation for our Euro hopefuls, fewer midweek fixtures in the winter and the chance for fans to enjoy more sun bathed matches.

Personally I don't think this rather wishy-washy change will make much difference to our European prospects, it will take rather more than this to turn that particular sow's ear into a silk purse.

I presume any "glamour friendly" postponements will be rescheduled with the appropriate promptness so that we don't actually end up carrying a backlog into the winter months.

The weather argument will find no complaint from me but I have to point out that the worst rain I think I have ever battled through on the way to Easter Road came before a European tie played at the start of July. There are no guarantees.

I'm uneasy at the optional postponement idea, the league season has either started or it hasn't. And when it has started it has to preserve its integrity by taking priority above all other considerations.

But mainly I just can't see the point in such half hearted change. I didn't think the promise of an early start would involve kicking off just a week earlier than we were five years ago.

On his SPL blog, chief executive Neil Doncaster said:

"Woddle oo teep a dop? Gloob a woddle a hop!"

No, he didn't. You can read his comments here. Basically "you can't please all the people all the time, but we can please ourselves most of the time."

He mentions, as always, appeal to broadcasters although it's difficult to see what exactly that is based on. How much negotiating power is a start date just two weeks before the Community Shield going to buy us, especially when we might be able to offer only one appearance from each Old Firm side in that short time?

He also talks about re-jigging the League Cup to offer more flexibility in the future. This is fair enough but again demands a merger agreement being reached with the SFL - an idea that continues to exist more in Doncaster's theoretical discourse than in actuality.

When Doncaster stresses this is a one off we are invited to believe that an earlier discussion of an early start will set a date in stone in the future. But he doesn't mention that Euro 2012 is likely to scupper this plan in the season after next.

In Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin explores the ways in which Abraham Lincoln used compromise to build consensus. It shows how pragmatic leadership can be touched with genius.

Compromise, consensus, pragmatism. It's a shame that in adopting these principles Doncaster has shown himself to be more Nick Clegg than Honest Abe.

My main worry is not really about scheduling issues. This move has to be seen as the first step in a series of changes that Doncaster is promising will be nothing short of a Scottish football revolution.

But rather than a major boost for the greater good, the SPL Revolution Part One has proved itself to be a classic fudge.

That, I fear, does not bode well.

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