The Daily Record published one of its nonsensical stories today, this time on the coronavirus and the possible impact on Scottish football. Luckily for them, it wasn’t the most ridiculous thing to appear in the newspapers. I’ll get to that one later in the day.
For now, let’s focus on the Record and its so-called list of “nuclear options.”
I want to cut through the nonsense that’s being talked here and get to brass tacks. Nearly everything that was in that report is cobblers, from the options to the threat of the “legal actions” which make up part of the piece. Coronavirus is a unique situation.
It may require a unique response.
That response will pay no heed to the snivelling and whining of the Peepul. It will come with both the sanction of UEFA and be precisely in keeping with what’s in the SFA and SPFL rulebooks. That will ensure that any “legal challenge” doesn’t get off the ground.
The Record says that various options have been discussed. It goes on to suggest that these will be similar to things being discussed in Italy; there are four major plans that are under discussion, or so says the report. I find it hard to believe that three of them are credible.
First is the option of simply ending the season and with-holding trophies and titles and ending both the European football and relegation battles at the same time. It isn’t going to happen that way. There is no chance of that whatsoever. UEFA tournaments depend on knowing who qualified for those places; that has to be decided. Suspending football in the country cannot, and will not, set aside all the results for all the games up until now.
So take that one off the table. It is a non-starter.
Sevco fans will cling to the straw that some kind of hybrid scheme might be hatched, one that allocates the European places and relegation and promotion slots but which denies clubs at the top their league titles. Not a chance of that either.
It’s one of two scenarios which would, indeed, spark the legal actions that the SPFL and the SFA dread … it won’t happen.
The second scenario is the “pools panel” idea which came from God knows where and is so patently ridiculous that SPFL insiders have already shot it down in flames. People aren’t going to simply make up results and then have them added to the total; it would be farcical and bent. It would be make a mockery of our game. It hardly needs pointing out how lunatic that particular idea would be, so put a pin in that one as well. Consider it dead.
The Record is floating the idea of deciding all these issues by play-offs. But even the writer acknowledges that the concept of a play-off to decide the title when we’re miles clear is “farfetched.” It’s just as “farfetched” to have a multi club play-off for Europe as there are a number of teams with a good claim to be playing for a place.
Option four is the most likely, it’s the fairest and the most logical, which is to declare the season ended on an “as is” basis and award titles and European places and relegation spots based on the standings when the final series of games are complete.
This, says the article, would also prompt legal challenges.
Except that it wouldn’t. Whilst the rules have no provisions for with-holding titles and the like as a result of a suspension of games, and nothing in the rules about a group of grey men in a room making up scores, or anything about how play-offs could be organised, there is a simple paragraph in the SPFL guidelines about how a season is defined.
The straw to which some are going to cling is that the Premiership regulations appear to define, for the benefit of those interested, what constitutes a season.
“The Clubs for the time being entitled in terms of these Rules to participate in the Premiership shall, disregarding any abandoned or postponed matches, play in 38 League Matches in any one Season.”
But that is superseded by an earlier clause which spells it out.
“Season means the period of the year commencing on the date of the first League Match in a Season and ending on the date of the last League Match in the same Season or otherwise as determined by the Board and which excludes the Close Season.”
It is right there in black and white; “or as otherwise as determined by the board …”
Which means that a season ends when the SPFL board says it does. It doesn’t require 38 games.
This clause is specifically in there for a situation like this, or one in which a team drops out of the league. In certain special situations the league has the right to determine that the season will end on a given date, or even immediately, if exceptional circumstances arise.
Other relevant sections make it clear that failure to fulfil fixture obligations is valid if the circumstances are “out-with the control” of the clubs.
“No Club shall, unless the circumstances of the failure are outside the control of the Club concerned and could not have been reasonably foreseen and reasonably anticipated and remedied prior to the match, fail to fulfil its fixture obligations in respect of any League Match or Play-Off Match on and at the appointed or, as the case may be, rescheduled date, time and venue.”
Neither the SPFL or any other agency would have any difficulty in viewing these as exceptional times and that rule would be interpreted accordingly.
And in those circumstances there would be no doubt at all about the destination of the league flag, as it is spelled out pretty clearly in the rules.
“The Club occupying position one in the League at the end of a Season shall be declared the Champion Club of the League and shall hold the “The Scottish Professional Football League Championship Trophy” until the next Season’s League Competition is concluded.”
There is a precedent for this, of course, and it is Chile.
Their league season ended prematurely in November of last year, with issues still up for grabs, and their national football authority awarded all the places on the “as you were” basis, with the title awarded to Universidad Catolica, who were, like us, 13 points clear at the top but had six games left to play.
Their chairman did not support the decision to end the season early any more than I would expect Celtic’s board of directors to support ending this one the same way, but he made sure that his opposition in no way influenced the thinking of those who might want to argue, for their own spurious reasons, that it was a “tainted title.”
“t’s not the way we would have wanted to win the title but I hope everyone recognises that we are the legitimate champions,” he said.
The one caveat there was that relegation and promotion were both suspended by the leagues, which is another indication that domestic football authorities can pick and choose how to handle these matters as they see fit.
UEFA is watching this situation all around Europe and the one thing they will not allow is the slightest ambiguity over who won domestic titles and who qualifies for the competitions next season. Nobody is declaring the season null and void. Any scenario which involved “pools panels” or “play-offs” would still not respect any “38 game season” requirement even if such was written in stone, and so the arguments against them are exactly those some would raise about awarding the titles “as is.”
Arguments that this violates “sporting integrity” are spurious nonsense.
The suspension of the season and the acknowledgement that the respective positions of the clubs is on merit, and after an equal number of games have been played, is the only fair and logical basis in which to proceed.
Any scenario which awards the titles and European places and which respects the rules – which as I’ve shown the SPFL constitution does – will be welcomed by UEFA and signed off on without reservation … and therefore they would most probably be upheld by CAS as well.
There are plenty of reasons to be alarmist here … but the prospect of us not being awarded the title if we’re top of the league when the hammer comes down isn’t one of them.
The Record and other outlets know this … the effort to “taint” the title if we’re declared champions in this fashion is well underway.
Don’t be suckered by it.