It may only be July but Football is back this weekend as the Scottish Premier League returns.
Rangers finished champions last season ahead of arch-rivals Celtic to complete the three in a row, while Stephen Kenny’s old side Dunfermline are back in the big time after Hamilton were relegated to the First Division.
Will this season be as exciting as last when we had touch line bust ups, death threats, refs being bullied,sex scandals, in fact a tabloid writers dream.
Bust up of the season had to have been Craig Brown and the Motherwell Chairman. Two veterans going toe to toe and showing the young pretenders how to do it.
Irish focus of course will be at Parkhead as Neil Lennon will look to topple Rangers as top boys. He really needs now to focus on the pitch and not to court controversy off it. From the Boardroom down they need to concentrate on football. He did manage to win the cup and gain more points since the O’Neill era. However fans will be restless if they don’t look like taking that title.
Just as interesting will be Ally McCoist over in Govan. With no money to spend, the light blues have been top for three years now and have just kept the heads down and gone about winning in a tight effective way. Carlos Cuellar’s return could be signing of the season as the hero of the UEFA cup run of 2008 will lock down defence in front of a resurgent Allan McGregor. I wouldn’t rule out four in a row.
Over in Edinburgh, the rumblings over the recent player sex scandal has resulted in Hearts losing sponsors and Colin Calderwood is still linked with Nottm Forest but for the moment is still in charge of Hibs.
Graham Carey will be of interest for Irish fans at St.Mirren. Dublin born he had a spell on loan with Bohs but has opted to sign for Saints and will line up alongside David Van Santen, x Tolka Rovers.
Willo Flood is fasting running out of managers to blame for his lack of progress and really is at last chance saloon at Dundee United whilst Paul Heffernan will be turning out for Kilmarnock.
Adam Rooney may be gone but Richie Foran is still going well for Inverness with the former Shelbourne man a main cog of Terry Butcher’s side.
Predicted 2011/12 table
4th: Dundee Utd
9th: St Johnstone
10th: St Mirren
Manager: Craig Brown
Last season: Ninth
Nickname: The Dons
Players in: Youl Mawene (Panserraikos), David Gonzalez (Manchester City, loan), Isaac Osborne (Coventry), Chris Clark (Plymouth).
Players out: Chris Maguire (Derby, £400,000), Mark Howard, Zander Diamond (Oldham), Derek Young, David McNamee, Paul Hartley (Alloa), Sone Aluko, Myles Anderson (Blackburn).
Key man: Scott Vernon.
Chances: Brown and Archie Knox instigated significant but not really lasting improvement when they took over in December, and are still in need of more new signings, but they will expect their team to be challenging for the top six.
Manager: Neil Lennon
Last season: Second
Nickname: The Hoops
Ground: Celtic Park
Players in: Adam Matthews (Cardiff), Kelvin Wilson (Nottm Forest), Victor Wanyama (Germinal Beerschot).
Players out: Paul McGowan (St Mirren), Freddie Ljungberg, Ryan Conroy (Dundee), Graham Carey (St Mirren), Niall McGinn (Brentford – loan), Ben Hutchinson.
Key man: Scott Brown.
Chances: Celtic achieved their highest points total last season since the Martin O’Neill era and should go one better if the likes of Kayal and Gary Hooper can go through the campaign without injury, unlike last term.
Manager: Peter Houston
Last season: Fourth
Nickname: The Terrors
Players in: Willo Flood (Middlesbrough), John Rankin (Hibernian), Gary Mackay-Stevens (Airdrie).
Players out: David Robertson (St Johnstone), Darren Dods (Falkirk), Morgaro Gomis (Birmingham), Craig Conway (Cardiff), Prince Buaben.
Key man: David Goodwillie.
Chances: Houston has lost the bulk of his midfield but brought in two experienced replacements and United have coped well with similar losses in recent years. Still one of the strongest squads in the league and Goodwillie’s goals could take them to third – if he stays.
Manager: Jim McIntyre
Last season: Irn-Bru First Division champions
Nickname: The Pars
Ground: East End Park
Players in: Paul Gallacher (St Mirren, free), Paul Burns (Queen of the South), Kevin Rutkiewicz (St Johnstone), Paddy Boyle (Partick), Andy Barrowman (Ross County), John Potter (St Mirren, free), Jason Thomson (Hearts – loan).
Players out: Calum Woods (Huddersfield).
Key man: Andy Kirk.
Chances: Only one promoted team has gone straight back down from the SPL in 10 years and that was financially-stricken Gretna, but the Fifers still have it all to prove as they join a league without any other obvious relegation favourite.
Manager: Jim Jefferies
Last season: Third
Players in: Jamie Hamill (Kilmarnock, free), John Sutton (Motherwell, free), Danny Grainger (St Johnstone), Mehdi Taouil (Kilmarnock).
Players out: Ruben Palazuelos, Jamie Mole, Dawid Kucharski, Ismael Bouzid.
Key man: Kevin Kyle.
Chances: Jefferies has added proven SPL quality to the squad that would have run away with third last season had Kyle stayed fit.
Manager: Colin Calderwood
Last season: 10th.
Ground: Easter Road.
Players in: Ivan Sproule (Bristol City), Garry O’Connor, Sean O’Hanlon (MK Dons).
Players out: John Rankin (Dundee United), Derek Riordan (Shaanxi Chanba), Kurtis Byrne (Ross County), Colin Nish (Hartlepool), Valdas Trakys, Kevin McCann, Steven Thicot, Ricardo Vaz Te, Jakub Divis, Kurtis Byrne (Ross County).
Key man: Garry O’Connor.
Chances: Uncertainty over the future of Calderwood, wanted as number two by both Birmingham and Nottingham Forest, has done nothing to lift a general pessimism at Easter Road following a poor 18 months.
Manager: Terry Butcher
Last season: Seventh
Nickname: Caley Thistle
Ground: Tulloch Caledonian Stadium
Players in: Greg Tansey (Stockport County), Gregory Tade (Raith Rovers), Tom Aldred (Watford – loan), Andrew Shinnie (Rangers), Josh Meekings (Ipswich), Aaron Doran (Blackburn), Billy McKay (Northampton).
Players out: Grant Munro (Ross County), Stuart Golabek (Brora Rangers), Roy McBain (Peterhead), Russell Duncan (Ross County), Chris Innes, Adam Rooney (Birmingham), Dani Sanchez, Chris Hogg.
Key man: Jonny Hayes.
Chances: Butcher has gambled by releasing a succession of reliable stalwarts and replacing them with younger players following their successful return to the SPL. They will miss the goals of Rooney but a fit Hayes can keep them in mid-table.
Manager: Kenny Shiels
Last season: FifthNickname: Killie
Ground: Rugby Park
Players in: Paul Heffernan (Sheffield Wednesday), Gary Harkins (Dundee), Patrick Ada (Crewe), Danny Racchi (York), Zdenek Kroca (Luton), Danny Buijs (ADO Den Haag).
Players out: Alexei Eremenko (Metalist Kharkiv – end of loan), Jamie Hamill (Hearts), Craig Bryson (Derby, undisclosed), Frazer Wright (St Johnstone), Mehdi Taouil (Hearts), Steven Old, Mohamadou Sissoko (Udinese – end of loan), Willy Aubameyang, Rui Miguel.
Key man: Cammy Bell.
Chances: Killie have lost arguably their five best outfield players from last season – on top of the January departure of Conor Sammon – and did not win in eight games after Shiels replaced Mixu Paatelainen, but the manager was instrumental in their overall success last season.
Manager: Stuart McCall
Last season: Sixth
Nickname: The Steelmen
Ground: Fir Park
Players in: Michael Higdon (St Mirren), Nicky Law (Rotherham).
Players out: John Sutton (Hearts), Francis Jeffers, Maurice Ross, Esteban Casagolda, Gavin Gunning (Blackburn – end of loan), Steve Jones.
Key man: Steve Jennings.
Chances: Motherwell’s already-thin squad has been further depleted but their first team remains one of the strongest outside the Old Firm and newcomer Law has impressed in pre-season. Another top-six challenge awaits if Higdon can settle quickly and McCall’s men steer clear of major injury problems.
Manager: Ally McCoist
Last season: Champions
Nickname: Light Blues
Players in: Juan Manuel Ortiz (Almeria).
Players out: El-Hadji Diouf (Blackburn – end of loan), Richard Foster (Aberdeen – end of loan) Vladimir Weiss (Manchester City – end of loan), Kyle Bartley (Arsenal – end of loan), Andrew Shinnie (Inverness).
Key man: Nikica Jelavic.
Chances: The arrival of new owner Craig Whyte has so far failed to spark an influx of signings, leaving McCoist with an uphill struggle to retain the championship in his first season in management.
Manager: Derek McInnes
Last season: Eighth
Ground: McDiarmid Park
Players in: Callum Davidson (Preston), David Robertson (Dundee United), Sean Higgins (Dundee), Frazer Wright (Kilmarnock), David McCracken (Brentford), Carl Finnigan (Falkirk).
Players out: Michael Duberry (Oxford), Kevin Rutkiewicz (Dunfermline), Danny Grainger (Hearts), Cleveland Taylor (Burton Albion), Scott Dobie, Danny Invincibile, Peter Macdonald (Morton), Andy Jackson (Morton), Graeme Smith (St Mirren), Collin Samuel, Jordan Robertson.
Key man: Murray Davidson.
Chances: McInnes is still looking for a prolific striker after his side finished as last season’s lowest scorers in the SPL with just 23 goals. The arrival of Wright and McCracken should compensate for the loss of Duberry at the back.
Manager: Danny Lennon
Last season: 11th
Nickname: The Buddies
Ground: St Mirren Park
Players in: Steven Thompson (Burnley), Nigel Hasselbaink (Hamilton), Graeme Smith (St Johnstone), Paul McGowan (Celtic), Graham Carey (Celtic), Gary Teale (Sheffield Wednesday).
Players out: Paul Gallacher (Dunfermline), Craig Dargo, John Potter (Dunfermline), Gareth Wardlaw (Ayr), Garry Brady (Brechin), Michael Higdon (Motherwell), Sean Lynch, Patrick Cregg, Nick Hegarty, Jamie McCluskey, Jure Travner.
Chances: The arrival of former Scotland internationals Teale and Thompson has given Saints fans optimism they can escape the lower reaches of the table, but similar hopes have proved unfounded in the recent past.