Before I start this article proper, I want to give a big shout out to Dave and the guys at The Celtic Star for their excellent suggestion that we start referring to our club as the “provisional champions.”
From now until its official, that’s what we should all be calling them in every email, text, tweet and Facebook post.
I’m delighted to put it in this headline.
One of the things that’s been coming up over and over again since this thing first threatened to sweep away the game here – I wrote about it on 3 March and it had already been on my mind for about a week at that point – is the idea that we can solve all this with league reconstruction. That it will pour balm on the wounds of clubs like Hearts and pave the way for promotions and titles to be handed out to the winners.
In other words, a consequences free decision. A football season with no real losers, although the ones at Ibrox will certainly make sure the whole world hears about how unhappy they are, and their fans will just go absolutely nuts.
But I have a number of worries about that scenario, and I’m sure that there’s much disquiet inside Celtic Park and elsewhere about the prospect, for many of the same reasons I have my concerns.
The first of them is this; a football season shouldn’t be consequences free. In a game based on merit there are winners and there are losers and the winners should get their prizes and the losers take their medicine. Hearts haven’t been at the races for the whole of the campaign.
They are stone last in the league, by four points.
I see nothing that suggests to me that Hearts will survive, even if we play the remaining eight games.
Why should they be spared? What merit-based argument is there for them? If this season ends on 30 games – and no-one wants that except maybe Sevco, and only then in their optimal scenario which is that the whole thing is declared void – then they’ll merit relegation based on the form as it stands right now.
They can complain, but no-one should listen.
What’s more, if we support Hearts getting off the hook we’re giving license to those who will say that the decision to award us the title is a joke.
I don’t support that idea, we deserve the title for the season we’ve had, but it makes it harder to argue the sporting merits of it and we should be defending that argument with all we’ve got instead of knocking out one of its support pillars.
Listen, this is the most serious situation our game has ever faced. It was entirely predictable that some people would see opportunity amidst the ashes and start scrambling about in the dirt. Hearts are not the only club operating purely on self-interest here, far from it.
Indeed, I understand their situation and their predicament and even have a grudging kind of respect for how brazen they and the likes of Inverness are about proposing these changes as “a solution for the whole game” instead of just one for themselves.
But it doesn’t make it right. And even if it was – even if you could make an economic case for it and say that we need to spare clubs relegation and change the league setup, the proposals are all over the map. The one being pushed right now is the 14 team top flight.
Just how is that going to work?
How is it going to get the support of the clubs? A straight up 14 team SPL without the split – more on that in a minute – would either be 26 games of home and away ties, which no-one will accept even in a truncated calendar, or God help, a league season of 52 matches.
I don’t think I need to highlight how unacceptable that is.
But consider the split. 14 teams play each other twice for those 26 games. Then you split the league. Into what though? Some have proposed six and eight; okay. Let’s make it home and away games because that gives us ten matches and a 36 game season … two less than right now.
Which all seems perfectly fine until you consider the bottom eight.
They will have to play each other twice for a total of fourteen games … so you will have some teams in the league having played 36 games and others having played 40, and the teams who played 40 will, because of the split, all finish below the top six regardless of how many points they have.
Could you get votes for it? No, because all eight clubs in the bottom – most of them established SPL sides right now – will miss out on trips to Celtic Park and Ibrox, which is the reason we have the 33 game pre-split calendar at the moment, as ludicrous as it is.
I don’t view that scenario as anything other than an unsaleable farce.
Split the league along 7-7 lines instead. Each team plays twelve more games, six home and six away, and both halves of the league finish with what you have now … the 38 game season. But even if the point was to simplify the campaign and somehow shorten it, and this proposal doesn’t – how the Hell do you organise a 7-7 league schedule? One team from each half misses out every week? How in God’s name is that supposed to work?
Aside from this there’s talk of jettisoning the league cup and/or the winter break; I think if the League Cup goes or is devalued we’ll be lucky to get it back and I’m loathe to lose it in its current form, although if the daft league stage was reverted back to a straight knockout competition I would certainly not complain about that.
The winter break is essential for players at clubs like ours who slog through eight group stage qualifiers following by twelve group stage games and on top of a domestic league and cup challenge … those wanting shot of it are selfish sods, those to whom it brings no benefits. Expect to see Sevco in favour of getting rid next, as it costs them money and they’ve emerged from the last two in bits whereas we’ve come back fresher and stronger.
We’re facing real pressures here whatever way we turn, but league reconstruction has fallen at every hurdle in the past ten years. Every single one. Because no version of it makes a blind bit of sense. All are driven by purely commercial motives and have contributed to Celtic playing a huge number of games every single year. No proposal which seeks to lessen that burden of matches would even get an audience in normal times.
And I don’t believe anyone is proposing that now, not for the long term. Instead I see clubs suddenly seizing on this dire moment and exploiting uncertainty and fear to hammer through ideas which haven’t been thought out, or costed, or are remotely credible.
The one version of this which might find favour is the one least considered, and the one which UEFA currently makes impossible and this crisis had wrecked on the rocks; one where we play some of our season during the summer. It’s a write-off here for obvious reasons.
The only way it might be viable is if we called time on the SPL right now, as is, awarded everything on that basis and started thinking about a summer calendar and how it would work, and this assuming that the virus allowed us the opportunity to put it into effect.
Which puts us back on square one, the desperate jockeying for position and power from those who see only their own self-interests here. Some of them would prefer to see the whole season voided, with all that chaos that would ensue, than accept what is the cleanest, and fairest, solution all round. I cannot believe that this is where we’ve landed, but Celtic should be pushing back against league reconstruction with everything it has.
And yes, that might turn clubs against us and out of spite they may well vote to deny us our title. But if they’re going to do that then they deserve whatever happens to them in the scenario which they will have brought on and which Lawwell has already said would be catastrophic for the whole game. In the ashes of what follows that there would be no winning, only degrees of losing, and I know our club is strong enough to survive that … but not everyone can say the same.
Now you’ve heard the arguments, vote on our newest poll.
Should Celtic support league reconstruction to get us to a resolution of this season?