With sporting integrity returning to the footballing agenda it’s perhaps appropriate to highlight the obstacles that Celtic’s u-19 side have overcome to take them to within touching distance of the championship.
A 22 game season could almost be described as a sprint rather than a marathon making a decent mix of home and away fixtures of extra significance.
While Celtic and ten of the other clubs have managed to achieve that Rangers have found themselves in a very strange run of fixtures.
Of the first sixteen games of the season Rangers played 11 of them at home giving them what would appear to be a significant advantage in the title race.
For whatever reasons a significant number of Rangers away matches during the course of the season were postponed leaving the Murray Park kids with six away games to complete their season.
Despite the advantage of such a favourable run of home fixtures Rangers currently find themselves trailing Celtic by nine points as they approach their final five matches, Celtic have three games remaining.
During the season Celtic had home games against Aberdeen and Hibs postponed due to weather conditions as were the games at Motherwell and Hearts. The first Celtic-Rangers fixture, scheduled for October was cancelled due to international commitments for both clubs.
Assuming that Rangers win all five of their remaining matches, Celtic require to take seven points from their last three matches to take the title with their recent 1-0 win away to Rangers the significant result of the season.
Should Rangers slip up in any of their remaining matches Celtic can clinch the title by winning their next two matches, at home to Hibs and Aberdeen.
It is very ironic to hear Martin Bain use the phrase sporting integrity in regards to fixtures, perhaps he’s not aware of how his u-19 side are faring this season?
Every season you can anticipate the arguments and complaints that arise from the post-split fixtures.
The SPL- governed entirely by the member clubs- have a set of criteria to follow with the priority being to give as many clubs as possible 19 home and 19 away games.
Every season this has happened with Celtic and Rangers.
The added complications are caused by the SPL’s desire not to have a Celtic-Rangers title decider/clincher and being unwilling to play the derby fixture on the weekend of the May bank holiday.
These requirements create the problems with the SPL arranging their fixtures in order to give Rangers the chance to win the title at home in the first post split fixture and to be formally presented with the trophy in the final match.
To allow for this Rangers will play three back-to-back away games, something that many clubs face during the course of a season.
If the championship ‘race’ had been tighter Rangers would have been given a better balance between home and away fixtures- this season’s schedule is to ensure that the clinching of the title and trophy presentation gets maximum publicity with Rangers slotted in to play those games at Ibrox.
The phrase sporting integrity is one that first came to light two seasons ago when once again the SPL fixture list was being manipulated to suit Rangers needs.
Having taken the unusual step of agreeing to postpone a fixture at Gretna to help Rangers Champions League prospects- the SPL took the unprecedented step of extending the season to accommodate Rangers bid to win four trophies.
Celtic and other club’s kept their unhappiness over this situation private but when a request for a further extension became an issue Peter Lawwell made Celtic’s opposition public.
Whilst Rangers kept on playing matches when it suited them Celtic had to wait ten days between their final two fixtures before clinching the SPL title away to Dundee United- Rangers finished that season with three consecutive away fixtures- one of those against St Mirren had been held from October of the season with the Saints players counting down the minutes to their end of season sunshine jolly.
As his club prepares to win the SPL title perhaps Bain should think more about the facts and his own club’s credibility rather than playing to the gallery as he attempts to sell season tickets against a very uncertain financial backdrop.
Now that sporting integrity is back on the agenda hopefully the SPL will keep a close eye on u-19 postponements to ensure that no club finds itself playing eleven of their first sixteen fixtures at home before ending the season with six consecutive away matches.
Next season’s Champions League group stages will consist of six matches, three home and three away for each club, with the officials selected from outwith the nations of the competing clubs.