No need for break, says SPL chief

Doncaster insists recent weather-ruined schedule is no reason to change calendar
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The Independent Football

The Scottish Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster yesterday insisted the decimation of the midweek fixture list was not proof that the season schedule needs a revamp.

The big freeze this week claimed four of Tuesday and yesterday's six SPL matches, with snow and ice playing havoc with the roads and pavements surrounding stadiums. Tuesday's game between Aberdeen and Falkirk was postponed, while Hamilton-St Mirren, St Johnstone-Hibernian and Kilmarnock-Celtic, which were set to be played last night, also fell victim to the weather. The postponements have led to renewed calls for the reintroduction of the winter break or summer football.

But Doncaster has reiterated his opposition to both concepts. "It is important to get the scale of the problem into some sort of perspective," he wrote. "You have to go back almost 10 years to find as harsh a cold snap as we are currently experiencing.

"Prior to this month, we had only lost on average one game per season due to frost or snow since the undersoil heating rule was introduced in 2003. Looking at last season, of the top 25 European leagues, just three – Russia, Norway and Sweden – had a March/April start date, playing to a climax in November. None of these nations have to squeeze in the amount of domestic league and cup fixtures though."

Doncaster recently explained there was simply no room to fit a winter break into the calendar, mainly due to Uefa forbidding domestic games being scheduled at the same time as Champions League and Europa League matches.

The SPL chief also believes summer football is not without its problems, pointing out it could lead to the season finishing in December during World Cup and European Championship years, a scenario he branded "totally unattractive".

The former Norwich chief executive said: "As I experience my first winter in Glasgow, I can testify that there are not many months when games would be safe from the ravages of the elements. Over the years, we have had games postponed in November, December, January, February and March, from a combination of snow, frozen grounds, icy roads and waterlogged pitches.

"I have seen precious little evidence to suggest that supporters are clamouring for a change to summer football. If summer football proved not to be a hit with the paying public, we would then undoubtedly lose supporters during the process of changing back.

"Breaking habits is difficult. But trying to reverse the change when those habits have been broken is a risky business. A desire for change has to be about strategic benefits rather than short-termism.

"Arguably, the recent bad weather is less an argument for summer football and more a case for focusing on good quality indoor facilities and all-weather pitches. This would let our coaches coach and enable our players to focus more on improving technique.

"There is not a lot we can do to change the weather in Scotland. Maybe, as a country, we should be focusing more on improving facilities to allow players young and old to enjoy their football whatever the weather.

"There may yet be a day when summer football works for Europe's professional football leagues. But, for the time being, cold snaps, the odd call-off, gloves, scarves, hot pies and Bovril will remain staple fare at SPL games."

Last night's game between Hearts and Motherwell had also been under threat from the terrible weather but Tynecastle managed to pass a safety inspection yesterday afternoon. Rangers' game against Dundee United also went ahead after a successful inspection of Ibrox and the surrounding areas was held by the club and Strathclyde Police in tandem.