New season approaches

European seedings and UEFA Cup draw. Gretna replace Airdrie. Fixtures for 2002-03


Seed You Jimmy

Livingston will travel to Liechtenstein for their UEFA Cup debut while Aberdeen face a trip to Moldova. The West Lothian side have been given a gentle introduction to European football. They faced potentially tricky trips to Latvia or Georgia in their section of the Qualifying round draw, but ended up paired with FC Vaduz, the Liechtenstein cup winners. Vaduz are one of the lowest ranked sides in the tournament and the draw couldn't have been kinder for Livvy.

By contrast Aberdeen will have to negotiate a trickier tie against Moldovans Nistru Otaci who entered the competition as domestic cup final runners-up. The lowest ranked team in the Dons section was Irish club Dundalk but given what happened against Bohemians of Dublin in Aberdeen's last European venture, they may not be too unhappy at avoiding a trip across the water.

But the Dons will also be wary of their Moldovan foes as their recent track record against "unknown" teams from Eastern Europe is not good. It's not that many years ago since Latvians Skonto Riga knocked them out of this competition. Having said that, this is a favourable draw for both Scottish clubs and it would be a major surprise if either failed to go through to the first round proper.

Ties to be played on 15th and 29th August


The World Cup is still in full swing but already season 2002-03 is rushing fast towards us. The SFL have admitted a new club into membership, and the SPL have released the fixture list.

The Scottish press has finally caught up with the news that Celtic will be seeded in the draw for the final qualifying round in next season's Champions League. Anyone who visits Liam McGurk's excellent site on Scottish clubs in Europe (see our Links page) could have told them weeks ago that the Celts have scraped into 16th and last seeded place.

And what a difference a couple of rankings points makes. Among the clubs Celtic CANNOT be drawn against are: Man Utd, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Feyenoord, Newcastle and Rosenborg. It still won't be easy to secure that Champions League berth though. Possible opposition for Celtic includes: Fenerbache, Brondby, Sporting Lisbon and Auxerre. Lowest ranked potential opponents are Rangers' old adversaries Maribor.

And here's the paradox. Celtic owe their seeding to Rangers' extended run in the UEFA Cup last season. Will their supporters show any gratitude towards the Ibrox club? Sure...around the same time Satan has to call in the plumbers to deal with the burst pipes caused by the big freeze-up.Had the situation been reversed, Rangers attitude would be just the same.

Celtic will find out who they play on July 26th when the draw is made. In the UEFA Cup, Rangers have a bye straight into the First round and will be seeded up to and including the third round and possibly the fourth as well.

No such joy for Aberdeen and European newcomers Livingston who will find out their opponents on Friday June 21st when the draw for the Qualifying round is made. Both Scottish clubs will be seeded at this stage but it is highly unlikely that this will be the case should they get through the qualifiers.

Highest ranked opponents would be a club from Cyprus, Slovenia, Latvia (not a happy thought for the Dons) and Finland. If the Scots duo get lucky they could be facing a journey to San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein or Luxembourg. One place they will want to avoid is Kazakhstan which, for some ludicrous reason, has been accepted as a member of UEFA.

If you're a Dandy Don or a Livi Lion, watch out for FK Atyrau and Kairat Almaty. They're the Kazakh clubs in this competition.


Here's the opening month's SPL card

All 3.00 kick-off

Saturday 03-Aug-02 Celtic V Dunfermline  
Saturday 03-Aug-02 Dundee V Hearts  
Saturday 03-Aug-02 Hibernian V Aberdeen  
Saturday 03-Aug-02 Kilmarnock V Rangers  
Saturday 03-Aug-02 Livingston V Motherwell  
Saturday 03-Aug-02 Partick Th V Dundee Utd
Saturday 10-Aug-02 Aberdeen V Celtic  
Saturday 10-Aug-02 Dundee Utd V Kilmarnock  
Saturday 10-Aug-02 Dunfermline V Livingston  
Saturday 10-Aug-02 Hearts V Hibernian  
Saturday 10-Aug-02 Motherwell V Partick Th  
Saturday 10-Aug-02 Rangers V Dundee
Saturday 17-Aug-02 Celtic V Dundee Utd  
Saturday 17-Aug-02 Dunfermline V Dundee  
Saturday 17-Aug-02 Hibernian V Rangers  
Saturday 17-Aug-02 Kilmarnock V Motherwell  
Sunday   18-Aug-02 Aberdeen V Hearts  
Sunday   18-Aug-02 Partick Th V Livingston
Saturday 24-Aug-02 Dundee V Hibernian  
Saturday 24-Aug-02 Hearts V Dunfermline  
Saturday 24-Aug-02 Livingston V Kilmarnock  
Saturday 24-Aug-02 Partick Th V Celtic  
Sunday   25-Aug-02 Dundee Utd V Motherwell  
Sunday   25-Aug-02 Rangers V Aberdeen
Saturday 31-Aug-02 Dundee Utd V Dundee  
Saturday 31-Aug-02 Dunfermline V Rangers  
Saturday 31-Aug-02 Hearts V Kilmarnock  
Saturday 31-Aug-02 Motherwell V Hibernian  
Sunday   01-Sep-02 Aberdeen V Partick Th  
Sunday   01-Sep-02 Celtic V Livingston

Open Season

Highlights of the opening day of the Scottish League programme on August 3rd include a clash of the two Saints at Love Street and Gretna's first ever League game. The newcomers take on Morton at home. It's the first Third Division fixture for both teams. Raith start life in the 2nd division at home to Stranraer and Queen of the South mark their return to the 1st with a home game against Clyde.

Perhaps the two luckiest clubs are Falkirk and Stenhousemuir. Both were reprieved from relegation thanks to the demise of Airdrie. The Bairns travel to Somerset Park while Stenny take on newly-promoted Dumbarton at home.

Arbroath v Ross County
Ayr United v Falkirk
Inverness CT v Alloa
Queen of the South v Clyde
St Mirren v St Johnstone

Brechin City v Berwick Rangers
Clydebank v Forfar Athletic
Cowdenbeath v Hamilton Academical
Raith Rovers v Stranraer
Stenhousemuir v Dumbarton

East Stirlingshire v Montrose
Gretna v Morton
Peterhead v East Fife
Queens Park v Elgin City
Stirling Albion v Albion Rovers

All kick-offs 3.00

Green With Envy

The incompetence of the Scottish football authorities seems to know no bounds. In opting for Gretna to take up the vacant spot in the League, they have made the worst choice possible. The last additions to the League - the non-voting Elgin and Peterhead - must have looked on in horror as their colleagues foisted a twice-yearly nightmare trip on them.

But the Highland pair's travel problems are the least of the concerns which surround this decision. There were seven applicants for the vacancy but only three realistic contenders. Gretna, perennial contenders Gala Fairydean and the newly-formed Airdrie United. The worries clubs had that the admission of the latter to replace the defunct Airdrieonians would set a dangerous precedent for others facing financial hardship were genuine. Even so, the embryonic Diamonds received eleven votes in the final ballot - mostly, I imagine, from teams rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of doubling their average gates twice a year when Airdrie came calling.

But if it is understandable that they didn't want to offer a bolt-hole to indebted clubs by electing Airdrie, why Gretna? True, Gretna have been a great success in English non-league football. But this is a team with no supporters. They might gain a few more locals now that they are in the Scottish League and I dare say that, initially, they will pick up fans from Queen of the South and Carlisle. But once the novelty of playing East Stirling and Albion Rovers wears off (and believe me that can happen very quickly indeed), how many fans will Gretna attract? 200? 300? Would they even be able to fill a supporters bus for away games?

On the playing front, the decision could be even more embarrassing. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they stormed to promotion at the first attempt. Although they have declined from their early 1990s peak when they twice reached the first round proper of the FA Cup, they have been playing in the Unibond First Division - three levels below the Nationwide League and probably on a par with the Scottish Third Division. Helped by the impetus their new status will provide, Gretna will not be there just to make up the numbers.

Now I've nothing against Gretna as such. They are a well-run club from top to bottom with a steady income stream from their Sunday market. Certainly, no other Third Division club is better managed. But they chose a long time ago to play in England when options such as the South of Scotland League were open to them. Some will argue that they are merely coming home and that this decision will have no impact on any proposed Old Firm move south. Rubbish! The Old Firm are the real winners here. They are now able to argue that cross-border moves are perfectly acceptable. The only way to stymie the Old Firm's arguments would have been to say that Gretna is in Scotland and that the club are returning to their natural home. But that would have meant casting Berwick Rangers into limbo by forcing them to head in the opposite direction.

What about Gala? They've been trying to get into the Scottish League since Third Lanark folded in 1967 and have been rebuffed yet again. Of all the contenders they had the greatest experience and the longest history. It is true that they would not necessarily be greatly supported but the inclusion of a side from the Rugby stronghold of the Borders would have brought League football to the only significantly populated part of the Scottish mainland without League status.

It would also have created a vacancy in the East of Scotland League which Airdrie United could have applied for. I know Airdrie isn't in the East of Scotland but neither are Annan, Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie - all places with teams in that League. And Airdrie is a damned sight handier for Edinburgh than any of those towns.

This would have been what I termed earlier 'the Aldershot solution.' When the Hampshire club folded a decade ago, the supporters refused to let it die. They formed a new club called Aldershot Town and have worked their way through the non-league pyramid until they are now just two levels below the Nationwide.

So, a League club in the Borders for the first time and a football club continuing the 124-years old tradition in Airdrie. An eminently sensible solution. Too sensible for the SFL.

So, while wishing Gretna well, what is the future of football in Airdrie? Even more supporters buses heading for the Old Firm and a trivia question for the future. Name the team that never played a game? Airdrie United.



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