Competition structures · English clubs · European football

SPL Format

Surely one of the most ridiculous ever devised in 120 years of league football:

“Under this system, after 33 games (i.e., when every club has played every other club three times, either twice away and once at home, or vice-versa), the division is split into two halves, and clubs play a further five matches, against the teams in their half of the division, taking their total to 38 games.

This can (and often does) result in the team placed seventh having a higher points total than the team placed sixth, because their final five games are considerably easier. In the 2005/2006 season, the seventh placed club, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, gained more points than the fourth placed club Hibernian.”

There is no practicable solution within Scotland:

“There has been criticism regarding the current format of the Scottish Premier League from several quarters, mostly focused on the controversial ‘split’ format. In April 2007, current Dundee United manager Craig Levein labeled the format as “rubbish” and a “nonsense”, claiming that it resulted in lost revenue for clubs and put more pressure on managers. While Rangers manager Walter Smith branded the format as “unfair” and called for an 18-team league to be considered. The SPL has defended the split format, however, and dismissed the possibility of expanding the league due to a lack of strong enough clubs within the Football League.

In March 2008 Kilmarnock manager Jim Jefferies was the latest to call for a league revamp, claiming that the potential for four matches per season against the same opponent is too many.

However, all the alternative options are themselves difficult to conceive. A 14-team league, playing all opponents thrice, would fit into the schedule (increase from 38 games to 39) – but could be unfair as, for example, Rangers and Celtic would play twice at one of their grounds, and once at the other.

A 16-team league, playing all opponents twice, would result in a reduction from 38 to 30 matches. It would also replace many high-profile derbies and clashes between bigger clubs, with smaller teams. As a result, clubs would experience severe financial losses which might make a 16-team format unviable.

Leagues of 18 teams (34 matches) or 20 teams (38 matches, as currently) would not face the massive fall in fixture numbers of the 16 team league. However, the increase in matches versus smaller clubs and the huge increase in ‘meaningless’ mid-table games, might still impact attendances and finance.


One of the main criticisms of the SPL is the dominance of the two Old Firm clubs, Rangers and Celtic. No team outside the Old Firm has won the SPL since it was formed in 1998 and there has only been one season (2005-06) where both clubs failed to occupy first and second positions, with Hearts finishing second behind Celtic. Both clubs’ average home attendances are significantly higher than the other 10 clubs, resulting in the Old Firm having far greater revenues and therefore more money to spend on players. Both clubs also receive significant revenue from regular participation in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup.

However, despite having more resources than other Scottish clubs, the Old Firm still experience difficulty in competing with big clubs from other leagues due to the SPL’s relatively low television revenue. A recurring theme in recent years has been the prospect of the two clubs leaving the Scottish football set-up to join either the English set-up, or a European league with clubs from countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal. While some feel that the departure of the Old Firm from the Scottish football setup would be detrimental to Scottish football as a whole, others, such as Craig Levein, believe it would benefit Scottish football due to increased competition among the remaining clubs for the SPL title.

World football’s governing body FIFA, however, has ruled out the prospect of any move to the English set-up.”

A British Premier League might be a solution, with the English, Scottish, Welsh (and Northern Ireland?) leagues as feeder leagues.

A British Premier League, or a regional league of equivalent standing, would be part of my proposal for the revamping of European club football and the formation of a European League.

A lot of people will be up in arms, but then, a lot of people are always up in arms!

(Article first posted on Tony Kempster’s Non-League Forum)


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