This past weekend is often one of my favourite in the SPFL calendar and I know this is something which puts me at odds with many of my fellow Scottish football-supporting bredren.

I am, of course, talking about the Scottish Premiership ‘split’, where the league breaks off into two halves of six teams after three rounds of fixtures. 

 Many Scottish football fans hate the split with a burning passion. Yet here we are in 2024 with the structure having just celebrated its 23rd birthday, and there will be many more to come. 

Once universally unpopular, more and more fans have come around to the concept, but it still has a large pool of vocal detractors across the country. People think it’s either unfair or tinpot, or a combination of both. 

 Due to it coming into effect after everyone’s played each other an odd number of times and the league’s desire to keep everyone at an even split of 19 home games and 19 away games each campaign, we often see teams having to travel to one stadium for the third time in a season, with the caveat that this never happens for derby matches. 

Then there’s the fact that a team finishing in the bottom half of the table can assemble more points than teams in the top half but remain stuck in seventh place. You’ll often hear folk saying, something along the lines of, “I have to try and explain it to my English football-supporting friends because they don’t get it”. Putting to the side that these definitely not made up people are either being disingenuous or are really quite thick, it is a model which isn’t mirrored by the likes of the EPL, Serie A, La Liga or the Bundesliga; leagues Scottish fans look towards as something to aspire to. But Scottish football is its own unique animal and we should never copy what fellow European leagues are doing just because it works for them. It’s a folly we’ve fallen into all too often, with V-A-sodding-R being the latest example. 

Our top flight used to have a similar structure to the big five leagues and it didn’t work. There’s too much imbalance within Scottish football for that model to ever be a success. We have a couple of behemoths, a trio of sleeping fun-sized giants, a scattering of others just below that level and then loads and loads of clubs that are of very similar stature. It may make things a little more fun at the bottom, as more teams would come in and out of the league from a very watered-down second tier, but it would do nothing for excitement at the top. 

Fans often say they’re fed up of playing the same team four times in the same season, which can get particularly tiresome for supporters if their club also draws the same opponent in the League Cup and Scottish Cup. And in the days of replays, that number could reach seven in one campaign. 

Maybe it’s because I have a fondness for a couple of American sports where seven-game series are the norm, but I have never viewed that as much of an issue. Say we expanded the top flight back to the 18-team league it once was. Yes, there would be the novelty of going to more away grounds per season. This would be a lot of fun to begin with, but it would wear off within a handful of seasons and then you’d be left playing matches against Greenock Morton and Airdrieonians (no offence intended) when you could be having another derby match. It is what helps create rivalries between teams who wouldn’t become so otherwise. Familiarity breeds contempt, after all. 

Ultimately, the reason it still exists is down to money. Clubs in the top flight, with regards to their bottom line, would rather have Hibs, for example, coming to town for a third time in a season with their strong travelling support rather than play a completely even fixture list with Raith Rovers or Ayr United (again, no offence intended) travelling instead. And the key factor in all of this is the desire, the almost basic need at the top of our game, for there to be four matches featuring Celtic and Rangers every season. Whether we like it or not, this is our showpiece fixture. Our TV deal isn’t great by any means as we struggle for relevance in a country where we’re tied to the biggest single football market on the planet, but it would be so much worse if four Old Firm encounters became two.

This column isn’t just about the logistical stumbling blocks which prevent the split from being scrapped, because I truly believe it is a credit to Scottish football. 

Throughout the leagues in Scotland, from the start of the season to the end of the campaign, there is always something to play for and the split helps ensure that. A bigger league would only lead to there being so many more meaningless end-of-season games with teams having their competitive edge in the campaign removed by Valentine’s Day. It adds another level of drama to the typical title race, European place, relegation battles you see in every league and has given us some truly iconic moments: Rory Boulding scoring with the last kick of the game to send Dundee United into the top six at the expense of Aberdeen; Gary Harkins coming back to haunt Kilmarnock by scoring a double for Dundee to knock his former club out of the promised land, and, from Saturday, Motherwell’s Shane Blaney scoring in the 94th minute to consign Hibs to the bottom six. 

For those who still strongly believe the split does more harm than good and wish to get rid of it, there are ways to go about that. Instead of mopping and moaning about the SPFL and their governance, instead go to your own club and demand something be done. Unite with other fans, organise protests, boycott games, make your voices heard until the members which run the members league that is the SPFL Premiership listen, if it actually means that much to you. 

But nobody is actually going to do that because, well, it’s not really that big a deal is it? Seventh has more points than sixth because the league broke into top divisions with five games to go? So what? It’s really not that difficult to understand. And if you’re not bothered about doing anything to get rid of it, maybe just embrace it and look for the positives instead of only focusing on the negatives. Because it isn’t going anywhere any time soon and I, for one, am happy about that.