When we embarked on the quest to win ten in a row, we saw a lot of potential potholes in the road.
I foresaw an Ibrox spending spree, probably with money they didn’t have.
I thought refs might pose a significant challenge.
There was always Celtic’s ability to shoot itself in the foot.
All of these scenarios turned over in my mind.
What none of us imagined was the real threat might not come from Scotland, or Scottish football, at all.
None of us could have guessed that an East Asian flu virus not found, at the time, in humans would leap into the population and spread around the globe almost before anyone was even aware of it, and emerge as the gravest threat to our dominance.
Yet today, as March begins, that’s exactly where we are.
What I’m about to tell you is not alarmist although it will sound that way. I’ve watched the news these last few weeks in some mounting disquiet. The reason is simple. A few years back I started to do research for an as-yet unfinished fictional piece I was (and still am) writing, about a bioterrorism attack.
As such, I consider myself pretty familiar with the protocols for such an event.
Nothing I’ve heard or read so far contradicts any of what I expected to happen.
It’s what happens next that should concern all of us.
The virus currently spreading throughout the country is called Covid-19, better known as coronavirus.
There are several coronaviruses; the common flu is one of them. In a bad year, influenza kills around 2000 people in the UK. We don’t even have that many infections of Covid-19 yet, far less a death toll that touches those figures, but don’t let that fool you.
There are two numbers you have to consider when looking at this.
The first is the reproductive rate – the R Nought – which tells you how many people, on average, a sick person will infect.
The second figure is the case fatality rate, which is how many people who are infected are likely to die.
Those numbers tell you how serious an infection is.
If you’ve been following the news you might have seen stories about a cruise ship which was quarantined due to the virus.
This was, in fact, the best place to find out what the reproductive rate for Covid-19 is; estimates from there indicate that it’s between 1.4 and 2.8.
This is not great news; it means that Covid-19 is more transmissible than the flu.
The case fatality rate brings even darker tidings.
This thing is 20 times more lethal than the common flu and there is no vaccine as yet.
It will be months before we get one.
That means we’re not even in a race against time as much as we’re struggling to contain something that might already be out of control.
Again, I want to stress that I’m not being alarmist.
Naturally, the government has plans in place for an event such as this, but they’re pretty draconian.
In a bioterror incident, you’re probably talking about sealing off the city where it took place from anything between 14 days and a month.
Mandatory curfews would be in place.
Emergency centres would be opened in most neighbourhoods, most likely in public buildings.
Schools would be the most common, as they’d be closed and are centrally located.
This might not get that bad, but Nick Hancock was talking just yesterday about the possibility of quarentining cities; as ghastly as it sounds, it’s actually the strategy being enacted in Italy, Iran, South Korea and of course China.
And so right here at home, certain societal changes would have to be made, and they are pretty obvious when you put your thinking cap on.
Large businesses would close, except for those connected to the national infrastructure. Subways would be closed; they are incredible for amplifying the spread of an aerosolised virus. The use of public transport would be greatly discouraged if not abandoned completely.
And large scale gatherings – concerts, trade shows, conferences … and, yes, finally, sports events – would be indefinitely put on hold. Which is where the trouble comes in.
A football season is a calendared, well planned thing. It can’t over-run to any significant degree.
A suspension for a few weeks is something we could probably live with. A suspension of football lasting a month or more, and we’re in real hard times.
Again, I don’t want to seem alarmist but if this thing reaches a critical point where it’s spreading out of control – and we may not be far away from that – then the government is not going to have a choice in the matter.
Standard measures to contain the spread, such as the wearing of face-masks, will be of limited value if you’re putting 60,000 people together for two to three hours in a stadium. The nature of the average football support – with many folk travelling from all across the country, and beyond – makes cancelling games a no-brainer if you need to lock things down.
In Italy, where the virus is spreading fast, games have already been postponed.
There is talk of trying to play matches behind closed doors; this is an option for us as we go forward, but if Covid-19 hits hard then even that might not be a solution for long.
Time is a crucial factor here; there are ten league games to go and Scottish Cup ties on top of that.
We’re racing the clock to get the season completed, and it’s going to be tight.
Depending on how many people are infected right now without being aware of it, we might already be far behind where we really need to be. The suspension of the season becomes likely, if not inevitable, if cases start to pop up all over the place, as many fear is a certainty.
If this thing gets much worse I don’t see how we’re getting to late May without at least suspending football altogether or keeping fans away from the games; the infection rate of this thing means that we can be into tens of thousands of cases per week before then.
The government will publish a “plan of action” tomorrow; we’re likely to find out then what London has in mind. But at this moment, we should probably start getting if not cosy with this idea then at least acquainted with the possibility.
Don’t go thinking, by the way, that anyone in Scottish football is particularly keen on this scenario … it doesn’t help anybody, it doesn’t suit anybody and it would be of no benefit to anybody.
Phil and I were talking about this issue this morning, and he’s just published his own piece on it, which is excellent and offers up a horrible possibility that SevcoLand might not have considered as its more rabid elements hope for this scenario coming to pass ….
Believe me, they should not be celebrating the possibility. Instead they should be gravely concerned.
We all should be, and not just because of the possibile impact on football.
This is getting serious now, and it’s only right that the authorities are preparing to treat it as such.