According to Greek myth, a princess of Troy by the name of Cassandra was the object of the god Apollo’s amorous attention. As an immortal Olympian, Apollo did not have to rely on a box of Milk Tray and a bunch of flowers to impress the princess.
He gave her the gift of prophecy.
Unfortunately, Cassandra wasn’t of a mind to give in to Apollo’s advances and turned him down. No Olympian god could take back a gift once given, so the disgruntled deity instead spoiled the gift by ensuring that no one would ever believe Cassandra’s prophecies.
Many years later, the people of Troy awoke one sunny morning to find that the Greeks who had been besieging their city for a decade had gone, leaving only a huge wooden horse behind.
The Trojans decided to bring the gargantuan horse into the city, despite it being too tall to fit under the gates.
As they prepared to dismantle the arch of the city gates to accommodate the horse, Cassandra warned of the doom that awaited them if it was brought into the city. No one believed Cassandra when she said that a large force of hoplites was hidden inside the horse, and without even bothering to check, the gates were brought down and the horse brought inside.
The rest as they say, is Homer, but if only they’d listened to Cassandra, Troy may well have prevailed over the flowing-haired Achaeans.
The Cassandras of Scottish soccer were loud and forceful this summer, as Rangers FC slid into oblivion.
SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster warned of an approaching Armageddon, while his SFA counterpart Stewart Regan claimed a, “slow lingering death,” was in store for Scottish soccer if the new Rangers were not parachuted into the SPL, or at the very least, allowed into Division 1 to ensure their swift rise to the top division.
In the event, like the original Cassandra, Doncaster and Regan were not believed, neither by the fans nor chairmen of the other 41 Scottish clubs who voted the new Rangers into Division 3.
So how is the Scottish Premier League shaping up as the leaves begin to fall?
We were warned that attendances would fall, there would be no new TV deal and that interest would collapse in an uncompetitive competition as Celtic secured the title by the end of November.
Actually, there are signs that Scottish soccer will be just fine.
With the first round of fixtures just about done, Celtic sits on top by just two points with Hibernian having played a game fewer.
With the Glasgow club having already lost two matches this season, there is no guarantee they will stretch that lead when the game in hand is played.
With Aberdeen and Saint Johnstone also at 18 points and Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Kilmarnock just behind at 15 points, only five points separate the top six.
This time last season, Rangers had 32 points and were nine ahead of second place Motherwell, and 19 ahead of sixth place Saint Mirren.
The league is much more competitive this season than it was last season.
How about attendances then?
While overall attendances have fallen due Rangers and Celtic’s averages dropping by about 5,000, most teams’ averages have actually risen.
Aberdeen’s average attendance has risen by over 1,000, while Hibernian’s has risen by about 500. Neither club has so far hosted Celtic, while Aberdeen have not yet hosted Dundee United, traditionally one of their highest-attended home games of the season.
Although Heart of Midlothian has seen a slight drop—by about 1,000—they have yet to play either Celtic or city rivals Hibernian at home. They should see that average rise significantly by the time the second round of fixtures is completed.
Dundee United’s average attendance has risen by almost 1,500, while Saint Mirren, Saint Johnstone and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have seen more moderate increases.
Fears over a TV deal have also proven to be groundless, with BskyB recently signing a new five-year deal with the SPL for the right to broadcast 30 live matches per season until 2017.
On the European stage, apart from Celtic, Scottish clubs have again failed to reach the group stages of either the Champions League or the Europa League.
Hearts though did give a good account of themselves in their matches with Liverpool, and after taking a late lead at Anfield to level the tie, a more streetwise team would have taken it to extra time rather than chase a winner in the final seconds and get caught on the breakaway.
We were warned that, with Rangers gone, Celtic would suffer in Europe due to a lack of competition in the SPL.
So far though, Celtic are doing just nicely, sitting in second place in their group after recording their first ever away win in the group stages against Spartak Moscow and coming within 30 seconds of a draw in the Camp Nou against Barcelona.
SPL teams still face tough financial circumstances and the standards are still below those of comparable European leagues, but there are encouraging signs.
The league is more competitive, attendances have risen at most clubs, TV funding has been secured for another five years and exciting young players are emerging throughout the division.
Like Cassandra, the SPL’s prophets of doom went unheeded this summer, but unlike Cassandra, they may just have been wrong.
Follow Daniel O'Connell on twitter @DanielOConnel18
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