The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Midweek increase for dread of winter
THE SPFL will announce an increase in the number of unpopular midweek mid-winter fixtures when the full Ladbrokes Premiership schedule is revealed a week on Friday.
The measure is forced upon the league because the three-week January shutdown has been maintained and the campaign needs to finish earlier ahead of the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
That means all top-flight clubs returning from the winter break face a Scottish Cup fourth-round tie on the weekend of January 20/21 then back-to-back Wednesday matches on January 24 and 31.
There will also be full weekend Premiership cards on January 27 and February 3 in a congested kick-off to the second part of the domestic campaign.
Other midweek dates are slated for October 25, December 13 and 27, February 28 and — after the split — the penultimate round of games on Wednesday, May 9.
SPFL secretary Iain Blair said: ‘There simply isn’t the break in the summer for top players these days so we have to break in the winter, which we brought in last year. But with the contraction at the end of the season for a World Cup release period it does mean we’ve more midweeks.
‘You have to fit the games in somewhere. So we’ve seven midweeks. No one worries about the Christmas one, which is popular. And the post-split one is in nice weather with end-of-season excitement.
‘But there are five other midweeks where, in an ideal world, you’d prefer not to have them. The ones in January and February are more challenging.
‘With the potential for cup replays it can really get congested. But that is football nowadays.’
Blair will spend the next week bolting down the specifics of the 2017/18 calendar for all four divisions, starting with opening day on Saturday, August 5.
The final SPFL match will be the play-off final’s second leg on Sunday, May 21 — the day after the Scottish Cup final.
There will be three festive rounds of fixtures on December 23, 27 and 30.
While there will be an Old Firm fixture on one of those, it will not be shifted to Hogmanay.