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Hearts can break stale duopoly

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Jim Spence | 17:44 UK time, Friday, 31 December 2010

Hibs fans won't thank me for saying this, but Hearts could be set to break the Old Firm duopoly of coming first and second in the SPL.

That would be a great thing, in my opinion, and would give our game a huge boost.

Before Old Firm fans get up in arms, this is not a knocking job on them, but a fervently desired hope for some serious competition in a league which reeks of staleness at the top end.

Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown have been round the block and know how difficult mounting a challenge to split Scotland's two powerbrokers will be.

But if anyone can do it, the Jam Tarts can.

Billy Brown and Jim Jefferies have steered Hearts to third in the SPL table. Photo: SNS

Billy Brown and Jim Jefferies have steered Hearts to third in the SPL table. Photo: SNS

It's been a great season so far for Kilmarnock and Inverness, but realistically the Tynecastle side are best equipped over the season to mount a sustained challenge.

As I write they're just six points adrift of leaders Celtic, which is testimony to the great run they have been on.

Seven wins and a draw in their last eight matches is inspired form and with the quality they have always had in the ranks but are finally showing, a challenge to split the Glasgow pair looks to be a real possibility.

Hearts have underachieved since they threatened briefly under George Burley to go all the way to SPL glory.

Now though they're scoring regularly and not conceding many and their talented, but often erratic, squad has mastered the art of consistency.

They have also brought to the party Kevin Kyle who has a direct, no-nonsense approach which opponents struggle to cope with and he has given them a new dimension.

I can never make my mind up whether Hearts or Aberdeen are the third biggest club in the country, but there is great tradition and potential to be unlocked if the Gorgie side can emerge as genuine challengers for second spot.

Who knows, maybe they can go all the way.

I suspect not yet, but their prospects for a second-placed finish are looking brighter by the week.

And that would be good for Scottish football.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    You are right about the need for competition and Hearts have done very well recently, just like Killie in pushing themselves up the league.

    Will they break the duopoly? Both the OF are vulnerable but even as a Celtic fan I have to say that we look more creaky than Rangers just now and if anyone is more vulnerable than the other I think its us. The New Year OF game is a must not lose for Celtic and a huge test for the motely collection of individuals that Lennon has put together.

    Can't understand why more teams don't come to Ibrox and Parkhead and have a go. Killie played very well there recently and deserved to get something from the game.

    Scotland's 3rd team? Now there is an interesting question. Jambo pals of mine used to say they always felt they were on a par with the OF! But then you need a good sense of humour down Gorgie way Jim!

    I personally always felt it was either Hearts or Hibs for the big 3rd team and both are big city clubs, though Aberdeen can carry a big support if they got going with Pa Broon.

  • Comment number 2.

    It all depends on the January form. If Hearts have aspirations of challenging at the top, continued consistency in form is essential. Perhaps a couple of signings in the window, too (Bryson?). At least the bad weather has saved them from injuries during a traditionally busy schedule.

    Celtic will likely add to their squad, Rangers might too if one (or more) of the "crown jewels" of McGregor, Bougherra, Davis or Miller leaves. The squads of the Old Firm still outstrip those of everyone else and I see no reason to believe this changing anytime soon.

    Best of luck to Hearts, but the Old Firm will in all likelihood take first and second spots, again.

    Happy new year.

  • Comment number 3.

    "I can never make my mind up whether Hearts or Aberdeen are the third biggest club in the country"

    What would be the criteria? Here are a few...

    All-time Scottish league table:

    Hearts (3rd) - 4650 pts
    Aberdeen (6th) - 4044 pts

    All-time SPL table (since 1998):

    Hearts (3rd) - 667 pts
    Aberdeen (4th) - 580 pts

    Major trophies (Europe, domestic cups and top Scottish league):

    Hearts - 14
    Aberdeen - 17

    Other criteria include average attendances (Hearts), European coefficient pts (Hearts), International players winning first caps at club (Hearts), ground capacity (Aberdeen), highest transfer fees brought in (Hearts), largest attendance (Hearts), richest owner (Aberdeen)...

    On balance I'd say Hearts can lay fair claim to being Scotland's third club in both all-time and modern times, as they have managed to challenge and win things at various stages of their history. Aberdeen shone very brightly but briefly in the 80s thanks to Alex Ferguson, probably the best football manager in history, and, let's be honest, they have been trying to live off those memories ever since while Hearts have shown much more consistency particularly in their league positions.

    However, Aberdeen's European trophy and higher overall trophy count maybe put them in the driving seat. I wouldn't bet against Hearts overtaking them in domestic trophies before too long though. And if there were points for just missing out on league and cup trophies, Hearts would be out of sight!

    Happy New Year! I'm working :( hence the time to find stats

  • Comment number 4.

    I don't think their has ever been a better opportunity for some team to split the old firm. Both are the weakest they have ever been and I have watched them for over 55 years.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hell's teeth Jim. Nae need to usher in a new year with this topic.

    It is less than an hour to kick-off at Tynie. Don't know whether to watch it, listen to Sportsound or go walk the dog.

  • Comment number 6.

    Should have gone out with the dug Jim.

  • Comment number 7.

    You must be joking no one is any where close to the Old Firm teams ...unfortunately.The Scottish Premeier League is ranked 16th in Europe and Rangers and Celtic ranked 31st and 53rd respectively in Europe.The other SPL teams are a poor standard no higher than the League 1 in England

  • Comment number 8.

    To split the OF the team in question needs to consistently take points from them and to be frank I can't see that happening over a season. Depth of squad, consistency and a slice of luck all needed. Hearts have put themselves in a position to push but the last 10 to 15 seasons have shown it to be unlikely but not impossible.

    Would be good for the game if they did but I for one won't be holding my breath.

  • Comment number 9.

    Given that in your previous blog Jim you and others were bemoaning the lack of competition for the OF, Hearts are at least providing a visible challenge (almost) at the halfway mark.

    Big day ahead for Lennon.

  • Comment number 10.

    Yep, a good challenge from Hearts so far, but i still see 3rd place being at least 15pts from 2nd

  • Comment number 11.

    I hope they do, united stayed quite close to celtic till after the split last season, so it is possible. Wish we were back up there this season, i like to see any team taking points of the OF,if someone doesn't split the OF or win the league soon i fear for our game, its so boring. Who is this tomslafold guy??? He has got problems.

  • Comment number 12.

    Tomslafold, you seem to have real issues with scottish football you are almost obssesed with it, the best game of football i seen last year was germanys complete distruction of england world cup bid, and what about montanegro oofftt.

  • Comment number 13.

    Best chance in a long time for someone to challenge - last year Hibs, United never had the squad to keep going, whereas at Hearts, we have that squad, minus back up for Kyle. I hope the rest of Scottish football cheers us on and takes points off the Old Firm as well.
    Key month this month though, got it off to a cracking start, but must stay in contention for the Scottish Cup, before playing United and Killie away, Rangers home then Celtic away, emerge from that still undefeated then we must be considered contenders.

  • Comment number 14.

    From reading the article and the comments below it is worrying just how damaged Aberdeen’s reputation is. Mr Milne please take note – you have tried your best but you have been outfought by Hearts over the last 15 years. Living within your means does not work - as Hearts seem to be proving.

    Anyway who is the 3rd biggest club? Without a shadow of a doubt it’s Aberdeen. Some of the information above is incorrect.

    What people fail to see is the huge advantages Aberdeen have over its rivals. Firstly there is only ONE team in the city. Edinburgh has a population of roughly 480,000, which has two major football teams. Aberdeen virtually has the Grampian region to itself – population is 525,000. Hearts and Hibs have to compete with Livingston, Falkirk and Dunfermilne (all three teams have been in the SPL over the last 10 years) for the catchment area. In addition Edinburgh is only 55 minutes away from the two biggest teams in Scotland. The other advantage Aberdeen has is that there is no religious connection to the club which can be seen as a selling point. Thirdly, Aberdeen is a footballing city – other sports such as rugby are not as popular as they are in other areas of the country. Edinburgh has a huge rugby following and in the past had a popular American football team. Hearts have a bigger average attendance at the moment, however other the last 20 years Aberdeen in nearly every season has recorded the biggest crowd for a league game – ranging between 18,000 and 21,000.

    Furthermore there has been roughly a 2,000 difference between the two club’s average attendances over the years. If the same level of investment was put into Aberdeen, Aberdeen’s crowds (and the average) would be a lot better then Hearts. It’s worth pointing out that the last 15 years has been one of Hearts best periods whilst Aberdeen is going through a slump (to say the least). And let the difference is minimal.

    Success: Aberdeen win’s hands down. They have clearly won more trophies. In fact Aberdeen have won more European trophies then both the Old Firm! Hearts have done nothing in European competitions. Even in the last 25 years, Jimmy Calderwood’s team were playing in Europe after Christmas – which is the best a non-Old firm team has done since…..Aberdeen in the 1980’s.

    It really annoys me when people say “Aberdeen were only good in the 1980’s”. That’s rubbish. Aberdeen have won trophies in the 1940’s, 1950’s , 1970’s and the 1990’s. What every one forgets is that Hearts won roughly 6 trophies before Aberdeen were formed in 1903. The all time league table shows Aberdeen in 4th place for this reason. If you look at the all time table from 1903 onward’s you will see Aberdeen are 3rd.

    In conclusion – the potential of Aberdeen is huge. There is no doubt that if someone would invest in Aberdeen, Scottish football would see the raise of the only club that could realistically challenge the Old Firm on a continuous basis.

    On a side note how can the media or anyone praise Hearts for doing well? They are spending money they don’t have. In fact up until last moth they were technically insolvent! Aberdeen, Hibs, Hamilton, St Johnstone and St Mirren are arguably the best run clubs in Scotland (and are praised by PWC). i.e. they live within their means. Yet they are all in the bottom half of the table. Its wrong and its something the SPL/SFA should be looking into. Football has gone mad. We praise teams for spending 126% of their turnover on wages, and are 35 million (now 25 million) in debt. No wonder they are third at the moment.

  • Comment number 15.

    super-al

    I know you're valiantly defending your team but surely your point about the potential fanbase of Hearts compared with Aberdeen kind of counts against rather than for you?

    Hearts have consistently had higher attendances for a long time now (despite as you say having a potential fanbase of about half Aberdeen's). Aberdeen's ground has a higher capacity so of course they will always have the higher single attendance in any season (although Hearts showed their potential with a huge attendance at Murrayfied for a European tie in 2006).

    As for spending, every club in Scotland and beyond spends what they don't have. In Hearts case as the club's owner also owns the bank lending to the club it could be said he is spending money we DO have. And remember debt is only a problem when you can't pay it back and Hearts have an arrangement in place that appears to suit both parties right now. Yes, if Romanov loses interest that's a problem. But the same oculd be said of Hibs, Aberdeen, Dundee Utd and other teams that rely on rich benefactors to varying degrees.

    Aberdeen is actually a very rich club as your owner is worth more than Romanov - he just chooses not to spend it on the team, unlike Romanov.

    Hearts went into so much debt as it is the ONLY way to mount a challenge to the OF. Now that the OF's spending power is declining the necessity of doing that is less and hopefully we will see other clubs challenging again, including Aberdeen.

    To say that Aberdeen, Hibs, Hamilton, St Johnstone and St Mirren are the best-run clubs in Scotland is ridiculous when you look at their league positions. It begs the question - what is the point of football if being well-run means having healthy bank balances?

  • Comment number 16.

    Also, super-al, this is wrong:

    "Even in the last 25 years, Jimmy Calderwood’s team were playing in Europe after Christmas – which is the best a non-Old firm team has done since…..Aberdeen in the 1980’s."

    Hearts got to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1987, losing out very narrowly to Bayern Munich.

    Not sure of the importance of Christmas, but in 2004/05 we also became the first Scottish team to reach the group stages of the UEFA Cup. And in 2005/06 we became the first non-OF Scottish club to play in the CL qualifying stages.

    I remember Aberdeen's European adventures well and supported them much more than I have ever supported the OF in Europe, but they have done very little since the OF started spending big money. Hearts, in contrast, have at least tried to compete.

  • Comment number 17.

    I really hope Hearts can mount a sustained challenge but like most people here I remain sceptical. The point is Scottish Football badly, badly needs a team to break the dull Old Firm 'duopoly'. The SPL is declining and there is nothing to entice neutral fans who would sooner tune into the English Premiership. In the interests of Scottish football I will therefore be quietly hoping that Hearts can do something...

  • Comment number 18.

    SuperAl - you seem to have a problem with Hearts but ignore or misrepresent some points. While some of your arguments are well founded you miss the target several times.

    Your strange assertion that Grampian region is bigger than Edinburgh is a specious argument. Aberdeen do have clubs within an hours drive, including Highland league. Although Hearts & Hibs have rival attractions, you should compare like with like - Lothian & Borders have a much higher population, and more direct transport, than Grampian region, despite being geographically smaller in area..

    I don't agree that Aberdeen have taken more points than Hearts since 1903. If you could supply details and source please?

    Comparing debt & POTENTIAL support is hardly relevant to points gained surely? Incidentally, Hearts last 2 major trophies (in the last 12 years) brought crowds of nearly 300 000 and over 200 000 onto the streets- even the CWC couldn't bring much over 50 000 onto the streets of Aberdeen.

    The last non-OF side to still be in Europe after New Year were Hearts in 1989, who played Bayern in the Uefa Cup QF in the March.

    Hearts had 27 consecutive home sellouts between 2005 and 2008. Even with Tynecastle's reduced capacity of 17400, Aberdeen's average was well below that.

    Whether or not you like it, Aberdeen won more than half of thir total major trophies in a 7 year spell under one manager. Outside that, they have only one 1 major trophy more than Queens Park. Aberdeen's last 2 trophies were the League Cup, which didn't attract European qualification therefore its dubious whether this is now a major trophy

    Aberdeen have 2 European trophies - one of which is a friendly between 2 teams who won a meaningful trophy. Do you want to compare East Of Scotland Shields to Aberdeenshire/Forfarshire cup wins? They are trophies too I don't count these either!

    We need a strong 4 to 6 teams to consistently challenge for the league. But until the squabbling about who was historically best ends and focus on the now, we'll all keep cutting each others throats.Right now Hearts are the only side who look capable of POTENTIALLY building a challenge if they can build a squad. Part of this is that the club's academy graduates are now coming through to the first team. This is key to the future for ALL clubs.

  • Comment number 19.

    First things first - old spencey has rather missed a trick (not that that is unlike him never mind the bbc). He states at the outset of his blog that 'Hearts could be set to break the old firm duopoly of coming first and second in the Spl'. Can anyone remind me how the league table looked at the end of the 2005/06 season? Better still could someone remind jim spence please? Ok, i'll do it - celtic won the league (albeit with some considerable help from the referees that are all apparently against them but never mind), hearts came second and the less than mighty rangers came third. Think this rather means the old firm duopoly has already been broken. It also brings me onto my second point rather neatly....

  • Comment number 20.

    Jim,

    I agree that Hearts can split the OF and hope they do break the duopoly.

    Not sure if it will be this season given today's result at Ibrox.

    Incidently for those contributors debating the Hearts vc Aberdeen potential, either could mount a challenge although Hearts have the edge on attendances.

    See table in Appendix A at http://www.helpchangescottishfootball.co.uk/downloads/attendance-comparisons

  • Comment number 21.

    Can anyone remind super_al when aberdeen last came second? Or much better still won anything? Or (slightly more spuriously i admit) when they last won anything of any importance i.e. not the diddy cup?

    Or perhaps aside from one 7 year spell when both the old firm especially rangers were in a shambles how many other periods of sustained time near the top of the league have aberdeen had? Or how many exits in the very early rounds of cups have aberdeen gone out to giants like stenhousemuir compared to hearts of late?

    As has been pointed out elsewhere even in europe where aberdeen have obviously had their greatest success (which i remember reasonably well and was delighted about i should stress) and whose overall european record is admittedly better than hearts i would venture to say hearts being the first Scottish team to qualify for the uefa cup group stages (pre-romanov 'money' i should remind super_al) or getting to the uefa cup 1/4 finals more recently or having a much higher uefa co-efficient or qualifying for the champs lge qualifiers which aberdeen haven't ever done makes a fairly sizeable dent in the respective records over the last 20 yrs of european competition between the two clubs i would say al does it not?

    Or selling players at £9million (more than either of the old firm have done it should be pointed out) or having more points over all time than aberdeen, more wins, more points in the spl all time list than aberdeen etc.

    The notion that the irrelevance that was their super cup win counts as a trophy of importance is laughable - do liverpool and man utd count charity shields as major trophy wins? No, they don't.

    As for his assertion that aberdeen come from a bigger area therefore must be bigger!!! Seriously. If it is such a big area for them to garner support in yet with edinburgh divided between two teams yet hearts constantly have bigger average attendances how does that work out? Nonsense at best. Mentioning competing against falkirk, livi and dunfie for fans not to mention a long since defunct gridiron team makes me think you are at the wind up super_al?

    Spending money hearts don't have you also say? Remind me again - are aberdeen debt free? Has stewy milne put any of his own hard earned into aberdeen(maybe not enough, maybe not as much as romanov but still a good few million) to keep their yearly accounts looking even close to break even and stop the debt piling up?

    Was it hearts or aberdeen that got 60'000 for a pre-season friendly only a few years ago? Was it aberdeen that whilst winning two major trophies in the last 12 years on both occasions had at least 150'000 people onto the streets (even more than that if you believe some reports)? How many times over whatever time frame from the last 2,3,4 - 12,13,14 years have aberdeen came third in the spl v hearts record on that score? Or what about being in the much maligned top 6?

    I could go on and on but quite apart from boring myself with a debate that isn't even a remotely serious contest i think even super_al by now has probably accepted that on virtually any and every level Hearts are easily the third biggest team in Scotland. Case closed.

  • Comment number 22.

    Firstly I have nothing against Hearts, I used to live in Edinburgh and know a lot of Hearts fans. Also I was wrong regarding Hearts getting to the quarter final.

    However how anyone can call the Super cup a meaningless trophy is crazy. I wonder what you would have said if Hearts had won. It.

    A few things to point out:

    1.) Aberdeen have actually won the Drybrough Cup twice, which was a recognised/official tournament and only ever won by Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen. Secondly Aberdeen actually won the first ever League Cup, beating Rangers in the final, however it is not counted due to so few teams taking part.

    2.) Aberdeen has never been relegated – whilst people will argue it was because of a technicality, all SPL teams at the time had the same rules apply to them for that season.

    3.) The attendance of 146,433 for the 1937 Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Aberdeen at Hampden Park is a European record for a club match. Apparently (I was not around then) Aberdeen brought a huge support down that day.


    Shall I dare start the argument that Aberdeen still has the biggest travelling support outside the Old Firm as is claimed?

    We could start getting very silly with a “we did this and we did” that argument which is why I always mention potential. As the two clubs are evenly matched in many respects.

    What people can’t argue is that over the last 15 years since Milne has taken over we have received (compared to Hearts) very little investment. Therefore it is no surprise that Hearts are doing better.

    I agree with two of your points :

    Yes Hearts could have gotten bigger attendances if they had a bigger stadium but so could Aberdeen. The demand for tickets for the big games has been huge. What a lot of none Aberdeen fans don’t know is Aberdeen’s background is with regards to attendances. Firstly one of the main reasons we need to move stadiums is that Pitters is falling to pieces. Due to health and safety/fire reason, having a set 2,500 (roughly) for away fans and segregation we are not able to actually sell out the stadium. So for example if Inverness only bring 500 fans, there are 2000 seats that we can not touch which are left empty. On several occasions over the last 10 years Aberdeen fans have been locked out for games against Inverness and St Johstone but the attendance is only 18,500.

    Finally Aberdeen’s problem historically is that they can’t attract fans to turn up every week. Even in the 1970’s Aberdeen would get 32,000 against Rangers one week and then 7,000 the next against East Fife. That’s Aberdeen’s biggest problem.


    “To say that Aberdeen, Hibs, Hamilton, St Johnstone and St Mirren are the best-run clubs in Scotland is ridiculous when you look at their league positions. It begs the question - what is the point of football if being well-run means having healthy bank balances?”

    You have hit the nail on the head. We constantly read in the papers and are told by the likes of PWC that club’s need to live within their means. Every season they are several stories about clubs going bust. However if clubs do live within their means they suffer. Now this is wrong. Aberdeen were praise for having a bonus system which other clubs should follow. Yet because of this we had to sign lower league English player who were not any good because this is all we could afford.

    This is a matter which needs to be reviewed by the SPL/SFA.

    However there is no argument as to whether Aberdeen has a bigger potential fan base. Aberdeen’s catchment area is the Grampian region, which we share with the likes of Elgin and Peterhead! Hearts suffer because not only are there two major teams in Edinburgh, you have other SPL teams within close proximity. You also have to compete with other sports.

    Aberdeen have huge advantages over Hibs and Hearts and it is a shambles how small Aberdeen are. They should be a lot bigger. This is not a reflection on Hearts but how mis-managed Aberdeen is.

    Aberdeen has never reached its true potential and never will unless substantial investment can be found. In the current climate Hearts could claim to be bigger however the potential of Aberdeen is far greater.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think this discussion (the Hearts/Aberdeen one) is a bit like two bald men arguing over a comb, but the points made do illustrate the problems facing Scottish football.

    On the one hand you have Hearts who have gambled by overspending in an effort to at least close the gap between the OF and the rest.

    On the other hand you have Aberdeen who perhaps think there's no point spending as they will never catch the OF and therefore they just 'exist' and hope rather than aim to achieve success.

    For me the perfect business model to challenge the OF is a combination of Aberdeen in the 80s (a good manager, well-coached team, good young players), Hibs under Mowbray and briefly John Collins (home grown talent with a smattering of good foreign players coached to go and play football without fear) and Hearts of 2005/06 (high quality imports on higher wages, good home-grown players, ambitious coach).

    I think Hearts may be close to the perfect model just now - good manager, good youngsters, team playing decent and fearless football, decent foreign players.

  • Comment number 24.

    As there is no dominant force in Scottish Football I'm not sure whether there is or ever has been one dominant third force in Scotland. 'Third' or even 'fourth' forces if you like have largely come and gone, and some come back again, and none of the historical arguements above convinces me at least that there is any established long-standing main competitor to the Old Firm. In reality the gap between the historical records of any of the contenders for the 'third' force and the OF is pretty considerable.

    But as an exercise in delusion the comments from #19 about Celtic winning in 2005/2006 because of the refs are priceless nonsense. Hearts imploded that year just as they did more spectacularly in 1986(?) when they lost the league and cup after a serious attack of the jitters. The lame duck blame the refs (and of course rampant paranoia directed towards anyone associated with St Mirren and Dundee!) excuse was trotted out then too if I remember correctly.

    The main problem that AFC would have in convincing anyone that they are an actual and not potential third force would be that they largely rose during the 1980's and the reign of Fergie (and its more immediate aftermath or legacy). Before that AFC were largely anonymous both domestically and in Europe. And although it could be argued that over recent years that Hearts (described only last year as a financial 'basket-case' as opposed to the 'perfect model') record has been largely funded through debt accumulation to a level that compares favourably with both of the OF combined (mindful of course of the uncertainty that surrounds the true levels of debt at Rangers!), they have been a more established top club compared to the Dons.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think that there is always a possibilty for Hearts to split the Old Firm. It has been done by other clubs in the past and there's no reason why Hearts can't do it.
    Everyone knows that there is stiff competition between the Old Firm and that a single mistake means a lot. If Hearts are going to reach second or even first place in this league they will obviously need consistency with positive, point gaining results.
    They will also need a bit of luck as gaining points is only one of 2 main things for Hearts. They will also need the Old Firm to slip away some points which is not impossible, but unlikely on a scale which Hearts need at the moment.
    Hearts do have some talented players who can win these games and take some points. I agree that Kevin Kyle has been a threat to opposing clubs and is well feared in the SPL. Yet the Old Firm have some brilliant players aswell which could make this season a real fight for the finish line.
    Overall I think it is possible for Hearts with consistent results and a bit of luck to really challenge the Old Frim and end up in the top 2 but they do have some mountains to climb.

  • Comment number 26.

    Whether Hearts have what it takes to break the sequence will probably be determined this month when they play both OF teams as victories would surely give them the impetus to carry on.
    However, it's a long season and, following yesterdays result and the confidence boost Celtic will have received from that I feel that the main rival to Hearts, for second place, will be Rangers.

  • Comment number 27.

    @Stew10

    "But as an exercise in delusion the comments from #19 about Celtic winning in 2005/2006 because of the refs are priceless nonsense. Hearts imploded that year just as they did more spectacularly in 1986(?) when they lost the league and cup after a serious attack of the jitters. The lame duck blame the refs (and of course rampant paranoia directed towards anyone associated with St Mirren and Dundee!) excuse was trotted out then too if I remember correctly. "

    Classic Celtic fan response. I would love to see the reaction from Celtic fans if the following scenario happens this season (Rangers=Celtic; Killie=St Mirren; Celtic=Hearts; Motherwell=Dundee):

    Last day of the season, Rangers playing Kilmarnock away, need to win by a few goals; Celtic away to Motherwell, need a draw; despite Killie being on previous good form they collapse and Rangers win 5-0; Killie's team contains a number of known Rangers fans, including one who has since admitted to a serious gambling addiction and to not trying as hard against the club he supports; Celtic are denied a stonewall penalty at Motherwell and go on to lose two late goals against a strangely motivated 'Well team.

    That happened on the last day of the 85/86 season. Given Celtic fans' love of conspiracy theories, are you seriously trying to say they would not complain!!

  • Comment number 28.

    #27

    Far too many convoluted assumptions you make when your point is at face value quite simple: a combination of refs and Celtic supporting players denied you the title in '86. Nonsense.

    The game against Dundee was yours to win, lose or draw. You lost. And Albert Kidd relates a story of how he sat in a silent dressing room afterwards being given the cold shoulder by at least half of his own team. Dundee a well known Celtic leaning team and club!?!

    And FYI #19 wasn't complaining about '86 but some other imagined Jambo conspiracy! You obviously have some issues about '86 and while I'm happy to admit you deserved the title that year the sad reality is that your team froze on the day and were still suffering the effects of it a week later in the cup final. That's football!

  • Comment number 29.

    1986 - Hearts squad hit by a flu bug in the camp, SFA refuses to postpone game despite this. Referee for the game at Dens that day was a Hearts fan - an awful decision, a man who would do his best to prove he was not biased. The Celtic v St Mirren game? The story behind that has been made fairly clear over the years, and on this blog.

    Hearts v Aberdeen - Hearts are the bigger team, on a number of factors, such as more sustained success over the years. One point nobody has mentioned is the head to head record between the teams:
    Played - 293
    Hearts wins - 116
    Draws - 70
    Aberdeen wins - 105

    Even with Aberdeen peaking through Hearts 'lean' years, Hearts still ahead in the head to head record.

    But what does it matter? All that matters is right now, and all of Scottish Football should be backing Hearts to mount a challenge to the Old Firm, and who knows, maybe go all the way?

  • Comment number 30.

    #28 Read Frank McGarvey's book and then come back and tell me the St Mirren vs Celtic match was played in the trues spirit of football. Then get a recording of Frank McAvennie on Off the Ball a couple of years ago talking about how he told the St MIrren goalie which way to dive for a penalty the next season in a game St Mirren couldn't lose or else they would get relegated.

    A case of you scratched our back now we'll scratch yours? Certainly these admissions raise questions that the supposedly anti-Celtic media are reluctant to ask.

    I agree Hearts had the title in their hands but no-one can convince me that St Mirren didn't throw that match.

    And my point in bringing it up was to imagine how Celtic fans would have reacted to the same set of circumstances.

  • Comment number 31.

    #30
    I'll happily read those articles you suggest. But with a sceptical eye of course as I don't always necessarily believe what ex-footballers say, especially when they are trying to make another buck and sell another headline.

    But I'm glad you agree that Hearts had their destiny in their own hands that day at Dens. Whatever other interpretations, speculations, half-stories and conjecture surround that afternoon, that point is undeniable.

  • Comment number 32.

    #30
    And as a final point on this issue you will note from my posts that I've not forwarded any conspiracy theory from a Celtic pov, so there is absolutely no need to refer to what you imagine to be the views of any other set of fans. Personally, I've always found the views of Celtic fans like any others to be fairly diverse and not always what you stereotypically think.

  • Comment number 33.

    >Hearts can break stale duopoly

    No they can't. End of story.

  • Comment number 34.

    I think those bigging up Hearts' chances are overlooking the self-destruct button that Vladimir Romanov invariably seems to press whenever the team looks set to do well - most (in)famously bringing about the departure of undefeated manager George Burley, such a long time ago.

    Perhaps it has been for the good of the team and Scottish football that the banking crisis has caused the Tynecastle tyrant to take his eye off the ball, quite literally, and to focus his attention upon the business(es) where he made the money in the first place.

    The only chance Hearts have is "No Chance".

  • Comment number 35.

    With a 16 or 18 team league, Hearts might have a chance. With a 10 team league - no chance.
    Let me rephrase that:
    With a 16 or 18 team league, Scottish Football might have a chance. With a 10 team league - no chance.
    Once again Scottish football is the turkey voting for Christmas. Reallocating what dwindling resources there are to the big 2 in the hope that the scraps from the once/twice a decade decent european run might trickle down in a way that they never have before and clearly never will.
    For God sake bite the bullet. Give the fans what the want and give Scottish Football a chance to regenerate - with an 18 team top division.

  • Comment number 36.

    Hearts v Aberdeen No Brainer......... Hearts are the bigger club........... Anyway.......

    1, I do believe that some St Mirren players were seen celebrating at FT with the Celtic players in 1986 and at after parties, where they should have been on their knees head in hands after being hammered, If it was a true result. Also as mentioned before there has been stories from various former Celtic and St Mirren players who back this up that the game was apparently thrown, By St Mirren FC.....

    2, Also yeah putting a known Hearts fan in charge of the biggest game of his career was unfair and a SFA ploy. You knew that any incident would be waved away, As to make it not seem as any bias to Hearts. Take for example the stone waller penalty that Hearts would have been awarded by any other Match Official. That would of seen Hearts go on and win comfortably and then Win the title.

    3, Unsurprisingly the event's that transpired on that day were covered over by the Glasgow Media.

    4, Shock horror even after being confronted with this the SFA did their usual cover up.



    I do believe that Hearts have the potential to Split if not win the SPL. Yeah, it takes luck and good play and I believe Hearts have the players and hope get the luck.

  • Comment number 37.

    #36

    Celtic leaning players in collusion with a Hearts supporting ref specially appointed as part of a wider SFA ploy to ensure Celtic won the title and all covered up by the Glasgow media and the SFA.

    This linking and sequence of events makes believing in the author James Ellroy's thesis on the Kennedy killing in Dallas look tame and standard orthodoxy!

    I'd say that you couldn't make all that up but then you just did!

  • Comment number 38.

    #36 Wow this thread just keeps on going. Quick Jim, write a new blog!

    This thread has gone off topic but there are enough questions around the St Mirren-Celtic result (not the Hearts-Dundee result IMO) to raise an inquisitive eyebrow, especially given the admissions that have emerged since.

    But no-one in the media will ever investigate this game as they will instantly be branded anti-Celtic by the hooped masses and will probably have a few windaes broken as a result.

    Jim - what's your take on it?

  • Comment number 39.

    38 Rabbity

    This topic isn't new and has been kicked around for years now.

    I was at Dens Park the day Hearts lost the league: Hearts blew it.

    Very few people expected Dundee to win that day, and very few expected Albert Kidd to score two goals.

    Generally I'm a fan of the cock up theory rather than the conspiracy theory.

    Hearts had the title in their grasp that day and couldn't take their oportunity.

    Who knows perhaps they may go one better this year.

  • Comment number 40.

    #39 Jim Spence

    Looks like everyone's a conspiracy theorist now,I thought Celtic fans had the rights !!

    To go even further off topic Jim, why don't you forward the details of the last blog re SPL re-construction to the SPL/SFL/SFA ?
    That would be a service on behalf of Scottish football.

  • Comment number 41.

    His CSI 'inquisitve eyebrow' will be quivering Jim.

    Watch you don't get labelled as part of the Glasgow-media now!

  • Comment number 42.

    Hearts must have watched the old firm game and rubbed their hands together at the possibilities. Both sides were pretty terrible - Rangers slightly more so than Celtic.

    Over the next two months both halves of the old firm have to face several tricky fixtures - if Hearts can maintain their good form and avoid defeat in the games against Rangers and Celtic (they will hope for even more than avoiding defeat) then there's a real chance that come the next Old Firm game in February that Hearts could be right in the mix.

    The problem as always is maintaining their form, in any number of seasons a team has threatened to get close to the big two but they always fall away when it really matters.

    It's great for the league if Hearts (or anyone) can challenge the old firm, but a one season flash in the pan is not enough they need to do it regularly to break the duopoly

  • Comment number 43.

    #39 Thanks for replying Jim but my questions surround the St Mirren-Celtic game. I fully agree Hearts blew it at Dens but it seems clear at least some St Mirren players did not play their match in the right spirit. Apologies for bringing it up, but all we here these days is how everyone is against Celtic - I'd say Celtic caught a break that day.

  • Comment number 44.

    @38 & 39

    Jim - Morbhoy makes a good point re collating your last blog and sending it to the SPL on behalf of the real fans. I have just watched tonights evening news to see Messers Doncaster and ex-SFA supremo Smith trot out more vested interest as the rationale for a pair of ten team leagues. Just supports my earlier comments on that blog that, until a way of by-passing the 11-1 vote and nullifying the vested interests in Scottish football nothing will change including the prospect of Hearts or anyone else slitting the old firm or having any reasonable chance of challenging the Status Quo.

  • Comment number 45.

    On a more positive note I think Hearts have a reasonably good chance of at least splitting the OF given form and the momentum that this can bring. At this stage their home and away win/loss record and their goals for and against, both compare favourably with the OF: none of whom look wholly convincing.

  • Comment number 46.

    Jim talks about Hearts spliting the Old firm being a huge boost for Scottish football. But hearts did this in 2005/6 season. I don't remember that being much of a boost. Hearts are on a good run, but the season is longer than 8 games.

  • Comment number 47.

    a challenge to the old firm is at least a slight whimpher of hope. i'm proud to be a jambo anyway just now as they seem prepared to look beyond the greed of the 10 team spl. anyone else feel sick when they see doncasters grin? yuck!

  • Comment number 48.

    Even if Hearts were to achieve the unthinkable and win the SPL this year, the shock of them doing this would alert all of the football vultures. Teams from England (and perhaps abroad) would swoop in and sign the likes of Templeton, Wallace and Kyle. Hearts success would be the means of their own demise.

  • Comment number 49.

    Uriah Heep and Morbhoy, The powers that be could certainly do with looking at the replies to the blog, most of which have proposed excellent ideas and suggestions for a better way forward for the game.

    One thought though, if six of the member clubs aren't given what they feel is due consideration, then I wonder if your views and mine would fare any better.

  • Comment number 50.

    Great original question Jim.

    The best possible result for SPL would be Hearts in the top 2.
    But anyone other than the OF again would be a positive.
    The league must expand and the real long term solution is a better academy system developing youth players.
    Scotland has been on a decline now for a number of decades in world rankings all because everyone want to get a wealthy foreign owner to buy players ( An issue not unique to Scotland). This instead of teams developing local talent and building long term ties with the comunity they claim to represent. (This takes more work and commitment and consistancy)
    Also people have to recognize the clubs are not just in competition with each other but other forms of entertainment, hence the only way of getting the best quality product is to develop it yourself for the betterment of the whole rather than just trying to sustain 2 clubs memories' on the European stage.

  • Comment number 51.

    Come on, be real, is this a joke, no way for Hearts to break into Top 2 - its easy for Hearts to get close to Celtic and Rangers when you don't play them for a while.
    During 17 days at the end of the month Hearts play Rangers twice and Celtic once.
    Lets see where they are then. Write your blog then.

  • Comment number 52.

    LogicalLou

    No joke....I'm simply posing the question "Could" Hearts break the Old Firm. During those 17 days you are right to suggest that many questions will be answered.

    I am not saying Hearts will break the stranglehold, but given that their budget is vastly smaller than either of the Old Firm it would be a remarkable achievement if they could do it.

    And I suspect fans of other clubs would be delighted to see at least a chink of light in the monotonous two horse race.

    Football is about dreams after all.

  • Comment number 53.

    @49 - jim

    I don't suppose they would listen - in fact we know they wouldn't and that's the really sad part. All the so called extra cash generated will simply go the same way into the pockets of some really mediocre players on many thousands of pounds per week! So I for one would bite the bullet on revenues and hunt some of the deadwood that make up the 'squad player' ranks and make do with the hundreds of young players who can't break through. I suspect we would be in better shape in 3 or 4 seasons - good young players, wage bills under control etc.

    The price to be paid - teams not capable of challenging in Europe - no change there then!!
    Squads propped up with young talent - and the problem is?

    Players like McCourt, Ness etc have actually shown themselves to even more entertaining than some of their so called seasoned colleagues and personally I believe people (and TV) will turn up to see entertaining football.

  • Comment number 54.

    #49
    It will end in tears and acrimony no doubt but wherever we end up its not looking like a 16-team league. This is now being touted as the fans choice, though I have to say that after looking at the report, the Supporters Direct survey which is being widely cited in the media as some sort of definitive answer really isn't worth the column inches its generating: its badly flawed Jim and doesn't merit many of the claims being made on its behalf.

  • Comment number 55.

    #49

    The biggest problem with so many of the footballing institutions, but especially the SPL, is that the pipers are also the paymasters calling the tune, and executive committees and the like are seen as perks for the 'amateurs' who devote their time (and often considerable amounts of money) to their respective clubs.

    If the SPL was truly independent - owned and run by a trust, for instance - and clubs were required to comply with whatever edicts emanated from there, then the SPL could [try to] do the right thing. (The SPL's 'power' would derive from its receipt of TV money, for onward distribution to the clubs.)

    For all that I have disliked some of its past decisions, the FIA (which oversees Formula One) is a good example of how independence should be arranged - sometimes the competing teams are almost united in opposition, but the 'regulator' has the whiphand and the teams grumble for a bit but then get on with their jobs and leave the FIA to do its.

    The club chairmen (pardon my ignorance, but has there ever been a chairwoman in the upper echelons of Scottish football?) should restrict their input to the oversight of their respective clubs, and leave the professional administrators to get on with running football.

  • Comment number 56.

    #49 I take the point Jim, but you merely emphasise exactly what is wrong with this whole proposal.
    It's supposed to be about improving Scotish football yet we have two employees of SPL apparently telling clubs and fans how it must be.
    Let's get real here. Topping & Doncaster can support the working group proposal and explain to the member clubs how they see it as beneficial but that's where their role should end.
    The clubs have to make the decision not the hired help and the clubs would do well to pay attention to the fans, not just Supporters Direct but ALL those who attend games. If this means polling season ticket holders then so be it,we just need to be sure the questions are not slanted as they were in the last SPL attempt.
    If clubs don't listen then they will be the ones who bring the game to its knees when fans take the ultimate action and stay away. Let's see how they all manage without season ticket money.

  • Comment number 57.

    #52, Jim Spence:

    "I'm simply posing the question"

    Do you recall what happened to John Barnes when he put a particularly asinine question to Jim McLean but tried to cover himself with "I'm just asking the question"?

    Not suggesting that this is an altogether comparable case, but that particular knee-jerk defence in the face of criticism is more likely to create hostility than dissipate it.

  • Comment number 58.

    It's all rather simple: wait until Hearts play the Old Firm... they play them thrice in around a week. This will determine Hearts' title challenge!

  • Comment number 59.

    I think, as an avid hearts fan, that all the other teams in the SPL should be getting behind us to do something special this season. The OF has dominated the league for years, and hearts have a great chance to finish above them, and shove it down the SFA's throat. Killie are playing well but i believe that 3rd place is in our pocket already, and it is time to have a real push for second place... or even first. Whoever says that hearts cannot win the league this season is wrong, we are doing all the right things. Grinding out results and also steamrolling teams, the OF have done that for years and that's how theyve been so successful.
    Im not saying we are going to win the league, but how can you deny that we have a chance? January and february are very very important months for hearts, and could decide whether we are just going to be challenging for third, or if we can really mount a challenge to the old firm.

  • Comment number 60.

    It's often been said that prior to matches featuring either of the Old Firm, the Glasgow based (biased) media will put out a story linking an oposition player to a transfer, or interest from another team, to undermine the opposition. With this in mind, the following appears on the BBC Sport website under Friday's Gossip:

    'But Hearts defender Ismael Bouzid claims Rangers want to take him to Ibrox. (The Herald)'

    I've searched the Herald website and can see no reference to this, possibly because they've not reproduced it on their website, or I've just failled to find it. Either way, with Hearts' owner being well known for dropping 'want away' players, it could be seen as a ploy to have a detrimental effect on Hearts' title challenge.
    Despite many years of complaining that the SPL offers them no challenge and they therefore suffer in Europe, they have an undoubted interest in keeping their dominance in place. It's this dominance that I see as their main interest in reducing the SPL to 10 teams. This season we have seen Hearts, Kilmarnock and ICT progress and Hearts, in particular, looking capable at least, of mounting some challenge. I doubt this would have been the case if we'd had a 10 team SPL last season as for a large proportion of the year they'd all have had to consider safety first, as would be the case of all non-OF teams in such a small league. If you take the current league positions and look at the top ten teams then up as high as 6th spot, Motherwell, would not be safe from relegation and would have to deal/plan during the transfer window to stave off relegation. Instead the reality is that they can look to sign with a less scarey future and concentrate on catching the teams above them rather than those below them. With money no longer as freely available to the OF they know that the feild is levelling out and unless they can stop the others catching up their monopoly is in danger. That danger will be reduced if all the other SPL teams first thought is for their own SPL safety, and this is made more difficult in a smaller league.

  • Comment number 61.

    #60
    Maybe its really a very sly fox, cunning as cunning can be BBC ploy and not a Herald one at all.

    The BBC is based in Glasgow!

  • Comment number 62.

    57 Michty Me....

    You've kinda lost me here. It wasn't meant to be taken as a knee jerk reaction. I was simply pointing out that I didn't say Hearts would do anything, but posing the question "Could" they split the Old Firm.

    In truth I'm not sure they can or will...that's the beauty of football, the very possibilty of something fresh happening.

    And as for the question John Barnes put to Jim mclean, as i recall there was nothing asinine about it. It was a fair reflection of what many United fans were asking themselves.

  • Comment number 63.

    RobO4

    We're not all based in Glasgow, heaven forbid.

  • Comment number 64.

    #63

    Yes I know what you mean Jim. Large parts of it are Apache territory to me!

  • Comment number 65.

    Jim - regarding the SPL's supposed consultations with fans' groups.

    It would not be difficult (or expensive) to survey season ticket holders at all Scotland's clubs through snail mail or email. That way they could canvas the opinions of the people who keep Scottish football alive.

    On top of that, they could survey armchair and walk-up fans by handing out survey forms at turnstiles and through a basic website - something similar to the UK gov's Spending Challenge initiative (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/spend_spendingchallenge.htm)

    I'd be interested to know why this hasn't been done... maybe you could ask Doncaster?

  • Comment number 66.

    But a very, very expensive approach (in distribution, collation, analysis and reporting) when you don't need the views of everyone. The costs would be prohibitive and I doubt the clubs would be willing to pay the price of this kind of undertaking.

    The SD survey had a great sample size comparable with many national SGovernment surveys but the problem was that it was an opt-in (i.e. like the UK Gov't Spending Challenge Initiative and is far more likely to attract those with issues regarding reconstruction) net-based approach rather than based on RANDOM respondent selection. You wouldn't want the skew and you don't want to weight too much.

    All you can say about the SD survey results is that some people who are internet-savvy have a problem with league size. Respondents aged 55 and over not surprisingly were significantly fewer in number.

    A former colleague of mine, an elderely professor used to say of his peers: 'They laugh at my jokes, I laugh at their research'.

    Sadly the SD approach as a solid piece of research on fans opinions is in this latter category, leaves a lot to be desired and actually raises more questions than it answers.

    They would have been better taking some stated preference approach. In other words, give people the options and the likely implications (e.g. financial impact on clubs, etc) of each. In my experience that tends to sharpen or focus people's opinions a bit more keenly than you might otherwise get from a bog standard survey snapshot.

  • Comment number 67.

    #66 Nonsense. The SFA should be surveying their paying customers at least once a year - through clubs or on their own. Just one of the fines paid by Vladimir Romanov, for example, could pay for a basic survey.

    It would also be relatively cheap to set up a website that allows fans to post ideas for league reconstruction. It's all about having a dialogue, something Henry McLeish, the SFA and the SPL have spectacularly failed to do (the SPL can't even seem to have a proper dialogue involving all 12 SPL teams!). It's being left to the media and fan websites and forums to give fans their say.

    I can't think of another industry that ignores the views of its customers to such an extent.

  • Comment number 68.

    #68

    Why should they be doing this once a year and what would they ask each year?

    I sometimes shop at M&S but that doesn't mean I want them to ask me to rate them on a five point scale every year.

    And since its an SFA private members club doesn't Vlad get to chip in for the costs as well.

    But I'm not arguing against a customer satisfaction survey or consultation but providing a method as to how you could achieve it for the issue of reconstruction.

    Can you actually read?

    But since you seem wholly ignorant of statistical theory and practice, its not that surprising that you are limited to a superficial notion of costs in this area as well is it now?!

    Honestly when you have a topic you actually know something about just tell us all and we'll listen!




  • Comment number 69.

    The only way any provincial club can split the OF on a consistent basis is (and I expect Celtic fans to laugh at this) if referees start to card OF players as regularly as they see fit to yellow and red card players from the lesser clubs. I for one am sick to the back teeth of seeing Hearts players booked for petty instances for example celebrating goals Skacel and lately Templeton for his "dive"? against ICT in the 1 - 1 draw, funnily enough NOT shown on the OF biased BBC highlights.

    The simplest and best way to improve the SPL - Send Celtic to the Republic of Ireland and Rangers to England. Leaving the rest to compete in a very even and exciting Scottish League for Scottish teams who actually want to play here. As for the money I believe within 2 - 3 seasons the OF wouldn't be missed as I know dozens of people who would attend games and are only put off by the antics of the OF morons

 

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