Scottish Premier League
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Beginnings Of The SPL
The Scottish Premier League was founded in 1998 and was formed out of the Scottish Football League. The older Scottish Football League has been in existence since 1890 and has had a host of different divisions and teams. Clubs were frequently promoted and demoted at the end of the season. In the mid 70s the Scottish Football league set up a structure of three divisions – the Premier Division, the First Division, and the Second Division. The configuration stayed in place until 1994 when the Third Division was added. In 1998 the clubs in the Premier Division decided to follow the successful example of the English Premier League and form their own wholly separate league. As with the English Premier League, the motivating factor for this decision was money. League sponsorship money was evenly dived amongst all leagues in the Scottish Football league, something the top teams in the SFL did not agree with. It was decided that the top 10 teams from the Premier Division in the SFL would break off and form the Scottish Premier League. These original 10 teams were enlarged to 12, the current number of clubs, in the 2000/01 season.
Structure and Format of The Scottish Premier League
The promotion and demotion from the Scottish Football League to the Scottish Premier remained the same as it was between all divisions before the creation of the SPL. The 12th, or last, placed team in the premier league would be demoted to the Scottish First Division and replaced by the top finishing team from that league. This system had been in place for over a hundred years and worked well, although there were a few loopholes that some teams attempted to exploit. In 2003 Falkirk’s promotion was blocked thereby sparing Motherwell from being relegated. The same situation again occurred in 2004, however the league decided to alter the rules for promotion and relegation so that they were applied more fairly.
In its inception the league was sponsored by the Bank of Scotland, however that relationship was not renewed at the end of the 06/07 season. Instead, Clydesdale Bank took over sponsorship of the league and will do so at least through July of 2011.
The twelve teams in the league are required to play each other three times during the season. This can be either twice at home or twice away, but not three of either. Each teem is awarded three points for a win and one point for a draw with no points being awarded for a loss. At the end of the 33 games the teams are ranked by points, then goal differential, then goal for. The teams are then split into a top six and bottom six where each club will play a further five matches against those divisional opponents. After this is completed the bottom club is sent down to the Scottish First Division if the top team from that division meets the league’s qualifications for entry.
This basic structure and format forms the foundation of most of the principles within the league. Clubs compete hard not only for recognition within the league, but also to get a coveted spot within the UEFA champions league. Since the league was formed in 1998 it has slowly gained strength within UEFA rising from being ranked 26th during the inaugural season all the way to 10th as of 2008. Currently this means that two teams from the Scottish Premier League will qualify for the UEFA Champions League (usually those that finish first and second) as well as two for the UEFA Europa League (generally the 3rd and 4th placed teams). In addition if a team wins the Scottish Cup, the oldest national trophy in the world, and they have not made it into either league by their ranking they will be allowed to compete in the UEFA Europa League as a fifth team from the Scottish Premier and possibly Football leagues.
Old Firm – Centre of The League
Since it began in 1998 only two teams have won the championship of the Scottish Premier League – Celtic and the Rangers. This long standing rivalry is referred to as the Old Firm and has its origins in a match from 1888. Between these two clubs 66 Scottish Cups and 93 Scottish League championships have been won. This rivalry is steeped in history and tradition with sectarianism being a primary focal point. The teams’ supporters and management have tried to move away from this relationship but old traditions die hard. Celtic is often backed traditionally by Irish Catholics and Irish Catholic supporters. The Rangers traditionally have been supported by the Protestant Loyalist community. This heated relationship has taken the rivalry of these two teams to a whole higher level. Recently however many have attempted to end the bigotry and hatred on both sides of the rivalry. Regardless of this, the two teams continue to dominate the Scottish Premier League and have some of the best football matches you will ever see. Passionate fans and play are the hallmarks of these competitions. The overall head to head record of matches between Celtic and the Rangers is very close, with a slight edge going to the Rangers. A total of all Scottish League, Scottish Cup, and League Cup matches gives a total of 152 wins for the Rangers, 137 wins for Celtic, with 92 draws. Celtic has begun to close the gap as of 2008 winning the last championship.
As you can see the Scottish Premier League is steeped in a history and tradition that dates back to the 19th century. Long standing rivalries will continue to dominate this league with a higher level of play as revenues increase. The league however will have to stay competitive it wishes to stay in business, as outside of the two dominant teams it can be difficult to maintain a football club.