Yes, okay we’ve had the World Cup in Brazil, but really – what’s that got to do with us? The waiting’s over and it’s time for the real fitba’ – the blood and snotters Scottish stuff!
The days of poring over the fixtures in The Wee Red Book have long gone, of course – TV demands mean you’re just as likely to be watching your team at some ungodly hour on a Sunday as you are on Saturday afternoon – but the Leagues get under way this afternoon and it promises to be a season like no other in Scotland. Who would have thought that all interest would focus on the second tier?
Champions League hiccups aside – and they seem to have been very, very, lucky -, it’s inconceivable that Celtic will be allowed to lose the SPFL this season – possibly their last without the company of their dear Glasgow rivals. Aberdeen, Motherwell and Dundee United have all shown signs of being able to narrow the gap but it would be foolish to expect any one of them will pose a serious challenge to Celtic in the top flight this season. Celtic need Champions League cash – and they have the resources on and off the field to ensure they are back in the draw for next season. Whether their current manager will still be leading them into Europe is another issue, of course …
So if the top flight – the Premiership to give it it’s posh name – is a one horse race, what about the Championship (that’s Division Two for our older readers)?
In Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller bookies favourites Rangers (or The Rangers or Newco Rangers) have striking talent and experience in abundance – assuming they remain fit there should be no shortage of goals at Ibrox this season. It’s not impossible to imagine that either man could well score more goals than some teams manage over the course of the season.
Rangers (or The Rangers or Newco) should have more than enough resources on the field to lift the title and return to the top flight – or reach the top flight for the first time, depending on how you see the club’s status. As has been the case over the past few years, the Glasgow club’s problems are off the field. Boardroom shenanigans, HMRC (not HMFC, we’ll come on to them later!) circling ominously once again, poor response to share issues, fans unrest, Charles Green waiting in the wings … Rangers’ business problems have not gone away, and until they are resolved there’s bound to be uncertainty at Ibrox. If that ongoing uncertainty starts to affect the players confidence – and experience shows that it often does – Rangers are far from certain to win the Championship. And if legal issues continue to dog the club, will there even be a Rangers Football Club to support come the end of the season?
So who are most likely to benefit from a Rangers slip? It’s unlikely to be Hibs, who paid for years of underperforming when dropping to the second tier at the end of last season. A new Chief Executive, and yet another new manager simply can’t solve the club’s deep problems overnight. A bright new dawn or more misery with the Chairman still pulling the strings? We’ll have to wait and see, but title challengers? Unlikely. With just a handful of new players added to a very bare squad this is a season to rebuild – the club needs time.
The so-called ‘smaller’ clubs shouldn’t be underestimated – a few of them have proved more than good enough to beat the ‘big boys’ over recent seasons – but it’s hard to see any of them sustaining a season-long challenge.
No, it’s Hibs rivals Hearts who are poised to complete a remarkable resurrection. The club now has something the other contenders lack – stability – and the management team, knowing that Hearts were almost certain to be relegated at the end of last season, has meticulously planned this seasons’s campaign with that in mind.
The players brought in appear to have one something in common – for different reasons, each has a point to prove – and there’s a quiet confidence emanating from down Gorgie way. Whisper it, but don’t be surprised if the Jambos go on to lift the title.
Enjoy your season! I’m away to look out my lucky scarf!