Per capita, more people in Scotland watch their domestic top level league than any other nation in Europe. The Scottish Premier League is currently ranked tenth in the UEFA rankings of European leagues, which are based on the performances of member clubs in European competitions. A total of 18 clubs have competed in the SPL since its inauguration in 1998-99, but only two have won the title: the Old Firm of Celtic (six) and Rangers (four).
Originally the SPL contained 10 clubs, but it subsequently enlarged to 12 for the 2000-01 season onwards. The increase from 10 clubs to 12 was part of the deal offered to obtain approval from SFL member clubs. Since then, the SPL has operated a "split league format" to prevent the need for a 44-game schedule, which was once used in the Scottish Premier Division, but is now considered to be too high a number of games in a league season. Under this system, after 33 games (i.e., when every club has played every other club three times, either twice away and once at home, or vice-versa), the division is split into two halves, and clubs play a further five matches, against the teams in their half of the division, taking their total to 38 games.
This can (and often does) result in the team placed seventh having a higher points total than the team placed sixth, because their final five games are considerably easier. In the 2005/2006 season, the seventh placed club, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, gained more points than the fourth placed club Hibernian.
In 2003, the league's promotion criteria caused controversy as the chairmen of the member clubs voted against Falkirk's proposed ground share with Airdrie United and stopped the club from having the 10,000 fan stadium capacity it required, thus saving Motherwell from relegation.
The same situation nearly materialised in 2004, but after several votes and discussion, including threats of court cases from Partick Thistle, the team then threatened with prospect of relegation, Inverness Caledonian Thistle were finally allowed promotion provided that they groundshared with north rivals Aberdeen at Pittodrie, a ground over 100 miles (160 km) away. In 2005, the stadium size criterion for entry to the SPL was reduced to 6,000, thereby allowing Inverness Caledonian Thistle to return to their home stadium during the 2005-06 season.
There are currently twelve clubs in the Scottish Premier League. Teams receive three points for a win and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, then goal difference, and then goals scored. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is crowned champion. If points are equal, the goal difference and then goals scored determine the winner.
During the course of a season, which runs from August until May, each club plays the others at least three times, either once at home and twice away or vice-versa. After this first phase of matches, by which time all clubs will have played 33 games, the league splits into a 'top six' and a 'bottom six'. Each club then plays a further five matches against the other five teams in their own section. Points achieved during the first phase of 33 matches are carried forward to the second phase, but the teams will compete only within their own sections during the second phase. After the first phase has been completed, clubs cannot move outwith their own section in the league, even if they achieve more or fewer points than a higher or lower ranked team, respectively.
At the beginning of each season, the Scottish Premier League 'predict' the likely positions of each club in order to produce a fixture schedule which will ensure the best possible chance of each club playing each other twice at home and twice away. This is known as the league seedings and are based on clubs' performance in previous years. However, should a club predicted to finish in the top six finish in the bottom six, they face the possibility of playing more games away from home than at home or vice-versa. This, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the top-six with an imbalance of fixtures resulting, for example one club may play one team three times at home and once away.
The bottom placed SPL club are relegated, and swap places with the winner of the Scottish First Division, provided that the winner satisfies the league's entry criteria.
The Scottish Premier League is currently tenth in UEFA's coefficient ranking, meaning that two SPL clubs currently qualify for the UEFA Champions League (the first and second placed clubs) as well as two qualifying for the UEFA Cup (third placed club and the Scottish Cup winner). If the winner of the Scottish Cup has already qualified for Europe via their league position, the UEFA Cup place is allocated to the runner-up. If both Scottish Cup final representitives have qualified for Europe via their league position, the final UEFA Cup place is given the SPL's fourth placed club. Clubs also have the opportunity to apply for qualification to the UEFA Intertoto Cup, which is given to the highest placed applicant, although only two clubs have chosen to play in the tournament since the SPL's inception in 1998/99 (Dundee in 2001 and Hibernian in 2004, 2006 and 2008). Clubs may also qualify for Europe via the UEFA Fair Play ranking.
Since the SPL's inception, Scotland's UEFA coefficient has increased significantly, having been ranked 26th in 1998/99. In 2003 Celtic became the first Scottish club since 1987 to reach a European final, eventually losing 3-2 to FC Porto after extra-time in the UEFA Cup final. In 2003-04, two Scottish clubs (Celtic and Rangers) qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time. In 2005-06, Rangers became the first Scottish club to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League, a feat which was repeated by Celtic the following two seasons. In the 2007–08 season, three Scottish clubs were competing in Europe after Christmas for the first time since 1970, while in the same season Rangers reached their first European final since their UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph of 1972, which they lost 2–0 to Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg in the UEFA Cup Final. During the season Scotland's European representitives collected the most coefficient points since the 1982–83 season.
In March 2008 Kilmarnock manager Jim Jefferies was the latest to call for a league revamp, claiming that the potential for four matches per season against the same opponent is too many.
However, all the alternative options are themselves difficult to conceive. A 14-team league, playing all opponents thrice, would fit into the schedule (increase from 38 games to 39) - but could be unfair as, for example, Hibernian and Hearts would play twice at one of their grounds, and once at the other.
A 16-team league, playing all opponents twice, would result in a reduction from 38 to 30 matches. It would also replace many high-profile derbies and clashes between bigger clubs, with smaller teams. As a result, clubs would experience severe financial losses which might make a 16-team format unviable.
Leagues of 18 teams (34 matches) or 20 teams (38 matches, as currently) would not face the massive fall in fixture numbers of the 16 team league. However, the increase in matches versus smaller clubs and the huge increase in 'meaningless' mid-table games, might still impact attendances and finance.
One of the main criticisms of the SPL is the dominance of the two Old Firm clubs, Rangers and Celtic. No team outside the Old Firm has won the SPL since it was formed in 1998 and there has only been one season (2005-06) where both clubs failed to occupy first and second positions, with Hearts finishing second behind Celtic. While this is similar to other European leagues which also have the same clubs dominate the top positions, this problem predates the SPL itself, almost since the beginning of Scottish league football (with a few exceptional periods). Both clubs' average home attendances are significantly higher than the other 10 clubs, resulting in the Old Firm having far greater revenues and therefore more money to spend on players. Both clubs also receive significant revenue from regular participation in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup.
However, despite having more resources than other Scottish clubs, the Old Firm still experience difficulty in competing with big clubs from other leagues in terms of transfer fees and player wages due to the SPL's relatively low television revenue. A recurring theme in recent years has been the prospect of the two clubs leaving the Scottish football set-up to join either the English set-up, or a European league with clubs from countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal. While some feel that the departure of the Old Firm from the Scottish football setup would be detrimental to Scottish football as a whole, others, such as Craig Levein, believe it would benefit Scottish football due to increased competition among the remaining clubs for the SPL title. World football's governing body FIFA, however, has ruled out the prospect of any move to the English set-up.
However, the SPL has consistently pointed out that a Winter Break can never alleviate weather issues. Games are called off in Scotland any time from November to April - a short December break would not assist this, in fact it would result in more games (that would have been played during the break) being scheduled for later in the season. These would also be on midweeks, potentially reducing crowds. The SPL has stated that giving players rest and recuperation time may be reason for a break.
Scottish Premier League clubs have almost complete freedom to sign whatever number and category of players they wish. There is no team or individual salary cap, no squad size limit, no age restrictions other than those applied by general employment law, no restrictions on the overall number of foreign players, and few restrictions on individual foreign players — all players with EU nationality, including those able to claim an EU passport through a parent or grandparent, are eligible to play, and top players from outside the EU are able to obtain UK work permits.
The only restriction on selection is the "Under-21 rule". This rule states that each club must include three players under the age of 21 in their matchday squad. Opinions on this rule appear to be divided among SPL managers. Walter Smith, Gus McPherson and Jim Jefferies have expressed their disapproval of the policy. John Collins, meanwhile, expressed approval of the ruling, claiming that it is healthy for Scottish football and encouraged the development of young players.
Recent decline in television revenue has resulted in relatively little spending among SPL clubs in recent seasons, with major transfer spending mostly limited to the Old Firm clubs. As a result, many clubs are now more reliant on developing their own young players and selling them on for profit. This has also resulted in a large proportion of SPL clubs' squads being made up of Scottish players (73% in 2004-05).
Livingston became the third SPL club to enter administration in February 2004, with debts of £3.5m. Dunfermline Athletic's financial position also looked bleak, with several players asked to take wage-cuts, while Rangers Chairman David Murray announced in September 2004 a plan to raise £57m via a rights issue in an attempt to wipe-out a large proportion of the club's debts. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2003 described five SPL clubs - Dundee, Dunfermline Athletic, Hearts, Hibernian and Livingston - as "technically insolvent".
PricewaterhouseCoopers' 2007 report revealed a collective loss of £9m for 2005/06, however six clubs - Falkirk, Hibernian, Inverness CT, Kilmarnock, Motherwell and Rangers - all made a profit. The report highlighted the increasingly precarious financial position of Hearts, describing their current finances as "unsustainable" with debt rising by £7m to £28m and a wage bill which represents 97% of their turnover. The figures for 2006-07 showed a collective profit of £3m, with eight clubs making a profit.
Despite recent improvements in the financial position of SPL clubs, Gretna became the fourth SPL club to enter administration in March 2008 after their main benefactor Brooks Mileson withdrew his financial support after ill-health.
Between season 1998-99 and season 2001-02, exclusive television rights for live Scottish Premier League matches were held by Sky Sports, with a highlights package held by STV's Scotsport. After Sky Sports withdrew their interest in the SPL when their offer for £45m million to continue ownership of the live TV rights were declined by the SPL on the grounds of not being substantial enough, discussions began in 2002 for a new pay-per-view satellite television channel, dubbed "SPL TV". Discussions broke down in April 2002, however, when the Old Firm clubs, Rangers and Celtic, utilised the 11-1 voting system to veto the proposals. This caused discontent among the remaining 10 SPL clubs who subsequently announced their intention to resign from the league.
Despite a two-year television deal being agreed with BBC Scotland in July 2002 (for a significant amount less than the money previously offered by Sky Sports), the 10 non-Old Firm clubs confirmed their resignation from the SPL in August 2002, citing discontent with the league's 11-1 voting procedure which effectively gave the Old Firm clubs a veto over attempts to change SPL rules. The ten clubs withdrew their resignations in January 2003 after an agreement was reached to change the voting procedures and to change the distribution of TV revenue.
With BBC Scotland's television contract due to expire after the 2003-04 season, the SPL agreed a new television deal with Irish broadcaster Setanta Sports in February 2004 in a four-year deal worth £54 million. In June 2008, it was announced that a further four-year deal would commence for the 2010-11 season, with the deal worth £125m.
BBC Scotland's Sportscene currently own the rights to broadcast highlights of each game first on terrestrial TV. The BBC also hold the rights to show on-line internet highlights to U.K. users for 1 week after each game.
The BBC Alba, when launched in September 2008, will show one full SPL game every Saturday for two seasons. The games will be broadcast three hours after the game has ended. The game shown will be a selected one not covered by either live Setanta Sports or on an on-demand basis by BT Vision.
Radio broadcasting rights are currently held by BBC Radio Scotland, who have held the rights since the SPL's inception in 1998/99. BBC Radio Scotland also provide internet webcasts to all Scottish Premier League matches, having became the first broadcaster to introduce such a service in June 2000.However Old Firm games are broadcast when available on BBC Radio 5 Live and also on 102.5 Clyde 1.
|First season in|
|First season of|
current spell in
|Hamilton||1st (First Division)||1906–07||2008–09||—|
|a = Founding member of the Scottish Premier League |
b = Played in every Scottish Premier League season
in top division
|Last season in|
|Dunfermlinea,||5th, First Division||1926–27||2006–07||—|
|Livingston||7th, First Division||2001–02||2005–06||—|
|Dundeea,||2nd, First Division||1893–94||2004–05||1961–62|
|Partick Thistle||6th, First Division||1897–98||2003–04||—|
|St. Johnstonea,||3rd, First Division||1924–25||2001–02||—|
|a = Founding member of the Scottish Premier League|
|Celtic Park||60,832||Celtic||Celtic Park is the biggest football stadium in Scotland.|
|Ibrox Stadium||51,444||Rangers||Ibrox Stadium is one of two UEFA 5 Star Stadia in Scotland (the other being Hampden Park).|
|Pittodrie Stadium||22,199||Aberdeen||Pittodrie was the first stadium in the UK to be all covered and all seated.|
|Easter Road||17,500||Hibernian||Hibs are building a new East Stand that will be complete by the 2009/2010 season raising the capacity to around 22,000|
|Tynecastle Stadium||17,420||Hearts||Hearts have played some European games at Murrayfield Stadium. Capacity planned to increase to 23,000 by 2010.|
|Tannadice Park||14,209||Dundee United|
|St. Mirren Park||10,800||St. Mirren||St Mirren will move to a new 8,000 seater stadium during 2008/2009 season|
|Caledonian Stadium||7,500||Inverness CT|
|Falkirk Stadium||6,935||Falkirk||Falkirk are currently in building work to expand their newly built stadium.|
|New Douglas Park||6,000||Hamilton Academical||Half-finished. Temporary stands allow SPL capacity.|
The All-Time SPL Table is a cumulative record of all SPL matches played since the inception of the SPL, in 1998. The table is accurate from the 1998/1999 season to the end of the 2007/2008 season, inclusive.
|P ||Club ||Ssn ||Pld ||W ||D ||L ||F ||A ||GD ||Pts ||PPG ||1st ||2nd ||3rd ||4th |
1 Gretna were deducted 10 points for going into administration in the 2007–08 season.
P = Position; Ssn = Number of seasons; Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points; Ppg = Points per game.
Source: SPL official website
|1||Henrik Larsson||Celtic (1998–2004)||158|
|2||Kris Boyd|| Kilmarnock (2000–2006)|
|3||John Hartson||Celtic (2001-2006)||88|
|4||Scott McDonald|| Motherwell (2004–2007)|
|5||Stevie Crawford|| Hibernian (1998–2000)|
Dunfermline Athletic (1999–2004)
Dundee United (2005)
Dunfermline Athletic (2006–2008)
|Nacho Novo|| Dundee (2002–2004)|
|Chris Sutton||Celtic (2000–2006)|
|8||Billy Dodds|| Dundee United (1998–1999)|
Dundee United (2003–2006)
|Derek Riordan|| Hibernian (2001–2006)|
|10||Stilian Petrov||Celtic (1999–2006)||55|
Statistics obtained from Soccerbase.com
|Jim Jefferies||Kilmarnock||February 28, 2002|
|John Hughes||Falkirk||January 31, 2003|
|Gus MacPherson||St Mirren||December 18, 2003|
|Jimmy Calderwood||Aberdeen||May 28, 2004|
|Gordon Strachan||Celtic||June 1, 2005|
|Billy Reid||Hamilton||June 2, 2005|
|Craig Levein||Dundee United||October 30, 2006|
|Walter Smith||Rangers||January 10 2007|
|Mark McGhee||Motherwell||June 18, 2007|
|Craig Brewster||Inverness CT||August 27 2007|
|Mixu Paatelainen||Hibernian||January 10 2008|
|Csaba László||Hearts||July 11 2008|
|Season||Winner||Runner-up||Relegated||Top Scorer||PFA Player of the Year||Writers' Player of the Year|
|2007–08||Celtic||Rangers||Gretna||Scott McDonald 25 (Celtic)||Aiden McGeady (Celtic)||Carlos Cuellar (Rangers)|
|2006–07||Celtic||Rangers||Dunfermline Athletic||Kris Boyd 20 (Rangers)||Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic)||Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic)|
|2005–06||Celtic||Hearts||Livingston||Kris Boyd 32 (15 - Kilmarnock, 17 - Rangers)||Shaun Maloney (Celtic)||Craig Gordon (Hearts)|
|2004–05||Rangers||Celtic||Dundee||John Hartson 25 (Celtic)||John Hartson (Celtic) / Fernando Ricksen (Rangers)||John Hartson (Celtic)|
|2003–04||Celtic||Rangers||Partick Thistle||Henrik Larsson 30 (Celtic)||Chris Sutton (Celtic)||Jackie McNamara (Celtic)|
|2002–03||Rangers||Celtic||No Relegation||Henrik Larsson 28 (Celtic)||Barry Ferguson (Rangers)||Barry Ferguson (Rangers)|
|2001–02||Celtic||Rangers||St Johnstone||Henrik Larsson 29 (Celtic)||Lorenzo Amoruso (Rangers)||Paul Lambert (Celtic)|
|2000–01||Celtic||Rangers||St Mirren||Henrik Larsson 35 (Celtic)||Henrik Larsson (Celtic)||Henrik Larsson (Celtic)|
|1999–00||Rangers||Celtic||No Relegation||Mark Viduka 25 (Celtic)||Mark Viduka (Celtic)||Barry Ferguson (Rangers)|
|1998–99||Rangers||Celtic||Dunfermline Athletic||Henrik Larsson 29 (Celtic)||Henrik Larsson (Celtic)||Henrik Larsson (Celtic)|