Is the early SPL Kick-off the correct decision?

Inverness manager Terry Butcher has voiced his displeasure at the SPL's July start We’re starting to approach the end of July and teams around England are in the process of completing their squads and putting the final touches on their preparations ahead of the new campaign.

With 19 days still remaining before the new Premier League season gets underway (12 for those in the Football League) time is still on their side – but not so for the top clubs in Scotland.

This weekend saw the 2011/12 SPL season get underway, just 69 days after the conclusion of the previous campaign back in mid-May.

This premature start could catch teams cold, as was seen on Saturday when Rangers got their title defence underway with a tepid draw at home to an impressive Hearts.

When the SPL board announced the decision back in February, they cited the reasons were to help clubs qualifying for European competition around that time, as well as to take the pressure off the fixture schedule during the winter.

Both reasons can be well justified; last season, only Rangers qualified for the main stages of a European competition, as other teams North of the border such as Celtic and Dundee United didn’t make it through the qualifying rounds.

As for the problems during the winter, there were a whole host of postponed matches around December and January, meaning that many sides had a huge fixture pile-up during the run-in.

So surely all clubs in the Clydesdale bank Premier League would be satisfied with this compromise? Well, not entirely.

Just because clubs knew well beforehand that they would have shorter time to prepare doesn’t mean that it makes it easier for them to be completely ready for the early start.

Having less than 10 weeks to get your squad in order and fitness levels ready following the summer break must be hugely difficult.
These thoughts have been echoed by some of the managers themselves, most vocally Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager Terry Butcher, who viewed his annoyance this week.

The ex-England defender said, “we’re off and running again on Saturday and we are three weeks ahead of most other leagues and teams and countries.

“You look at the squads that have been assembled by clubs in the SPL and they are nowhere near complete.”

Butcher also stated that the decision was farcical and that managers & players weren’t advised about the possibility before the decision was announced.

It’s easy to see why Butcher and other SPL managers are angry about not being consulted, especially when you bare in mind that some teams are still going to be playing pre-season fixtures AFTER the season has begun.

For example, Celtic got their campaign off to a winning start at Hibernian yesterday, but next week they play in the Dublin Super Cup, a four-team tournament at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

However, you can also understand why the club owners have agreed to this.

Revenue from the Europa League may be scoffed at by Premier League sides, but a decent run can lead to a considerable income for teams that are not blessed with the countless millions that England’s top-flight generates from television rights.

Scotland also does not have a guaranteed place in the Champions League group stages, so Rangers may miss out on the riches of Europe’s elite competition due to being under-prepared.

Plus postponements cost teams money, such as getting the pitch in a playable condition and the loss of money from gate receipts.
If you had back-to-back home games cancelled due to adverse weather conditions, then clubs could find themselves not making any money from attendance figures for a month.

This potential lack of income means that an early start is, in my opinion, justified.

At the end of the day, football clubs are businesses and owners are trying to ensure the security of their business ahead of potential downfalls in the months ahead.

The winter months could pass without any interruption, and people will be wondering what the point was in starting the season three weeks early.

But nobody has the wonder of hindsight, and while the frustration of managers and fans is easy to understand, the decision could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Sources: SPL, BBC Sport

So what do you think? Is the July start to the SPL farcical? Is it unfair on teams to have just ten weeks to prepare? Or is it necessary to ensure a fixture pile-up is avoided? Let us know your thoughts.

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