It’s almost here. The shiny new SPL season starts this Saturday, the 14th of August. After a summer spent grimly watching a poor World Cup (although at least we could rejoice in England’s misery) and listening to increasingly tedious and unimaginative transfer reports (Barca and Fabregas; Man City and EVERYONE), us Scottish football fans are about to be relieved of our boredom by the unquestionably exciting and technically accomplished exploits of Scotland’s finest football teams…
Well, okay, we’re about to watch another season of miserable, negative, dunderheaded managers pacing touch-lines, chewing gum, kicking imaginary balls and yelling unintelligible instructions to their arrogant, over-paid, under-worked players. Celtic and Rangers will finish 1st and 2nd (not necessarily in that order, and really who cares anyway?).
Dundee Utd, Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen and possibly Motherwell will slug it out for the dubious honor of representing Scotland in a qualifier for whatever the hell UEFA decide to name the UEFA Cup next year, and they’ll embarrass themselves and the rest of us by failing miserably against some Macedonian team that we would naturally arrogantly assume are rubbish.
Below them will be some other teams that no one really supports or cares about like St. Johnstone, St. Mirren, Caley Thistle and Hamilton, and below them will be Kilmarnock.
In writing a ‘season preview’ the aim is to be optimistic. Try to sell the league and its merits. Whip up some enthusiasm and excitement. In essence, the aim is to lie and patronize your audience into thinking that something unmissable is on the horizon. Some grand, wonder-iffic, socially uniting orgy of sport which will make grown men weep with joy and forget their differences and treat their fellow man as equal.
Well, that’s if you’re being subjected to one of Sky’s increasingly annoying adverts for the Premier League or the Champions League. I suppose that the SPL will make grown men weep, but certainly not with any joy.
Putting my pessimistic hat to one side, it’s time put on the hat of reason (a dapper trilby since you ask) and try to objectively assess the chance that each team has of performing with the slightest sliver of dignity. Let’s do it alphabetically, since the hat of reason is on.
The infinitely unlikeable Mark McGhee begins his second season in one of Scottish football’s most undesirable jobs. Not only does he have to work (and presumably live) in Aberdeen, he has to work under the laughably delusional expectations of the Granite city folk. Aberdeen are the only club outside the Old Firm to have any level of domestic and European success within living memory, leading to their fans having unattainably high standards that are pretty much never met.
The Dons have attempted to strengthen their youthful squad with a smattering of pretty standard fare signings; Yoann Folly, Scott Vernon and Josh Magennis coming from the English leagues; Scott Howard coming in from St. Mirren to provide competition for picking the ball out of the net. More interestingly, however, they have also signed the Scottish international Paul Hartley from Bristol City and immediately installed him as captain.
McGhee will no doubt be hoping that Hartley’s unwashed slimy appearance will not be the only thing that remains from his successful spell with Hearts and Celtic.
Final Position: 6th
Star Man: Paul Hartley
One to Watch: Fraser Fyvie
The infinitely unlikeable Neil Lennon begins his first full season in charge of Celtic, and he’ll be no doubt keen to make a flying start to the SPL campaign given Celtic’s pathetic attempt to qualify for the Champions League. Lennon’s supermarket sweep style shopping spree this summer has provided the only real transfer tattle interest for the tabloids in the past few months. Lennon has signed two full-backs (Mulgrew and Du-Ri), three midfielders (Ledley, Juarez and Kayal) and two strikers (Hooper and Murphy).
Fans will no doubt be hooping (get it?) that Lennon will also strengthen his nervy, Jenga-like options in center defense and in between the sticks. It looks increasingly likely that star player Aiden McGeady will depart for wealthier pastures, however Celtic undoubtedly still have enough talent and depth of squad to expect to win the title this season, or at the very least put up a creditable challenge to Rangers.
This will be a big season for Scott Brown, his form having been patchy at best since signing from Hibernian three years ago. With so much upheaval at the club in the last year, so many new arrivals and established players departing, it will be up to Brown to prove himself as a leader at the highest level.
Final Position: 1st
Star Man: Scott Brown
One to Watch: Nobody
The Arabs were probably the most consistent and honorable team of last season, finishing 3rd comfortably and giving both Old Firm clubs reasons to worry when visiting Tannadice. Gaffer Peter Houston seems to believe firmly in his successful squad from last season; subsequently transfer activity at Tannadice has been as quiet as Richard Blackwood’s inbox.
Houston has only dipped his toe in the transfer pool to snap up a reserve goalkeeper, Filip Mentel, and a young left back from third division Queen’s Park, Barry Douglas. However, the loss of Andy Webster, whose season long loan from Rangers proved one of the most successful transfers of last season, will remain a concern for Houston.
United have a relatively young and progressive squad; with the likes of Swanson, Kenneth, Dixon, Gomis, Buaben, Conway and Robertson improving season upon season, and it’s hard to find reason to doubt their continued progression.
Final Position: 3rd
Star Man: Morgaro Gomis
One to Watch: David Goodwillie (again)
Billy Reid’s Accies finished comfortably in seventh place last year, although their squad has been massively weakened by the summer sale of James McArthur to Wigan. The team has been supplemented by a number of Scottish league journeymen (i.e. Gavin Skelton, Jack Ross and Gary McDonald) over the summer, but with McArthur and McCarthy before him leaving, it does leave a creative deficit in Hamilton’s midfield that captain Alex Neil will have to single-handedly fill.
Hamilton’s consistency in the middle of the bottom of six over the past two years may be tested this season, as Falkirk and Kilmarnock found out last season there is only so much treading water that you can do before you start to sink. Hamilton’s aims will again be survival, but I think they may be relying heavily on weaker clubs around them at the bottom of the league to ensure their safety for another year.
Final Position: 10th
Star Man: Alex Neil
One to Watch: Kyle Wilkie