Living in China these past few years has been a cultural education for me. I’ve given red packets of ‘lai see’ money to my employees at Chinese New Year (always crisp, new notes); I understand why a large apartment block on a hillside was designed with a hole in the middle (it’s so the spirits on the peak can get down to the sea without disturbing the residents); and I avoid wrapping gifts in white (it symbolises funerals and death, therefore bad luck).
One topic that is fascinating is the luckiness, or otherwise, of numbers. Many traditional (read: old) Chinese people place a lot of value on the auspicious properties of certain numbers, using them to guide decisions on major life events such as house purchases and wedding dates.
The powers-that-be in Scottish football also seem to be fixated on numbers right now – specifically, how many teams there should be in the top division. So let’s take a look at the SPL reorganisation plans in the context of Chinese numerology. Let’s face it, it’s probably as sensible an approach as any being used in the halls of Scottish football’s leadership right now.
Two of anything is deemed good. Except when it’s the Old Firm in Scottish football, but then most Chinese haven’t heard of Rangers or Celtic. To capitalise on this auspicious number, I propose we create a new top tier in Scottish football – the SSPL, for Scottish Super Premier League – consisting of Rangers, Celtic, and no-one else. They will play each other on the first Saturday of each month (3pm kickoff) and between times, the papers can talk about them incessantly while they can play a bit of Euro football and the odd cup game. There’d be no more call-offs for internationals, because Old Firm players would be dying to get a game at all.
The rest of Scottish football can crack on with it, in a league that will be highly competitive with any 4 or 5 teams capable of winning the league in any given year. Hurrah!
Four is considered very unlucky in Chinese culture because the word for four sounds like the word for death. There’s no 14th floor in my office building, or 24th floor, or 34th floor (there also isn’t a 44th floor, but that’s because the building is only 35 stories high).
There are four main trophies in Scottish football, counting the Challenge Cup, and I think that’s one too many. So scrap the League Cup!
Maybe don’t nix it entirely, but do something with it so it’s better for Scottish football – put an age cap on the team so the total age of players on the field can’t exceed 250, or have 5 players under 23, whatever – to make it differently competitive, but still meaningful.
Eight is a lucky number – it represents long life (the symbol is infinity sideways) and in Cantonese it sounds like the word for ‘prosperity’. So any number ending in eight is good – maybe this is why the idea of an 18-team league is being floated! It’s not a new thing for Scottish football – we had an 18-team top league until 1975, when it was discarded because our football had grown stale, and people were sick of too many meaningless games. Sounds awful – do we really want a return to that?
Take the top six in the First Division right now – Dundee, Caley Thistle, Dunfermline, Ross County, Queen of the South, Partick Thistle. Three, maybe four teams are in with a decent shout of winning the title. In the Premier League, some would be fighting relegation (and fans don’t turn up to watch relegation battles) and the rest would be safe from relegation but well away from a chance of winning anything (and fans don’t turn up to watch meaningless games). Look at Blackburn or Stoke in England, they don’t have much to bother about from now until the middle of May.
Because two of anything is good, and 8 is good, two 8s are exceptionally good – double happiness!
’88 was not so happy for me, because Celtic won two trophies that year. Divide 88 by two and you get 44 – the number of games in the 1987-88 league season, because the top league had 12 teams playing each other four times. The following year the league returned to 10 teams, but in 1991-92 it was back to 12 again, until 1994-95 when they finally realised what a dumb idea it was and settled on 10. For a bit.
44 games are way too many – let’s not go back to that.
Even numbers are generally considered better than odd (good things come in pairs) so 12 is actually a decent number. The 44-game approach was definitely nonsense, but our current setup – is it really that bad?
I would admit that when the playoff was introduced I felt it was a silly idea – mainly because I am a grumpy old bastard and don’t like people messing with the traditional things in football (except men peeing on the terracing, perhaps – ‘Then Things You Just Don’t See These Days‘). But I have come to quite like the split.
Prior to the cut, there’s competition for a top-six place among teams who might otherwise have nothing to play for. This season, a three-way race between St Johnstone, Hearts, and Aberdeen means the recent games between those clubs have had some value. And after the split there’s a title run-in where you have to play the best teams, so you can’t just rely on pumping shedloads of goals past a team with nothing to play for; while at the other end, there’s at least some honour for mid-table teams in coming top of the bottom, and similarly relegation is fought out with a few more six-pointers than there’d otherwise be.
2-4+18+88+12 = ?
These discussions on the future size of the SPL have reminded me of an old saying, which in the spirit of this article I will illustrate with an equation:
turd + polish = turd
In other words – you can’t polish a turd. Maybe the football’s just not good enough – and tinkering with the size of the league won’t do a thing to change that.