The best journalist in the whole of this country is Marina Hyde of The Guardian. Not by a little either, but by a country mile. She is a phenomenally talented writer, capable of biting wit but also brilliant insight. I would read everything she ever wrote.
Today she’s done a piece on how the UK government’s pandering to UEFA could have grave consequences for controlling the pandemic.
I agreed with every word, but when she got to the part of her piece about Billy Gilmour having to self-isolate, and two of his Chelsea team-mates with him, I smiled at her vivid summation on no Scottish players having to do the same.
“(The) idea that no Scotland players came into close enough contact with Gilmour, anywhere from the dressing room to the team base is – in strictly epidemiological terminology – a complete piss-take. Do look at the pictures of Scotland manager Steve Clarke holding Gilmour’s sweating cheeks in the course of embracing him. I mean, it’s not often you see the hands, face, space hat-trick in a single instant.”
Yesterday, one particular Celtic fan site called for the Scottish Government to “treat Scotland” as they had allegedly treated us; I thought that was a nasty, spiteful sentiment that belonged on the other side of the city, taking no heed whatsoever of the differing circumstances or that it was Test And Trace and not individual ministers who took the decisions.
Hyde makes sure to point out that she’s not asking for quarantining to be extended to other players, and indeed doesn’t want it to be – “I’m not even convinced many people truly want super-fit athletes who are already in bubbles to isolate unless they’ve actually got the virus,” she said. It was more a general observation about the system itself and how it works.
Or rather, how it sometimes doesn’t work.
Right from the start, it has been clear that this system is built on two things; the presumption that people will be honest and the willingness of people to actually be honest. But the flaw has always been that in football and in other fields of business or sport there will always be people who don’t think follow the rules is for them, or who prioritise things other than public safety and the general wellbeing of the community at large.
I am not suggesting – for one second – that those in the Scotland camp lied to Test and Trace, but they could have, and if the alternative was seeing half the team having to quarantine for this game then I can understand why the temptation might be there, and why, if the rest of the team tested negative, it might be something that they considered necessary.
After all, where’s the harm in it? Where’s the risk? You can see why this might be the thinking in certain places, depending on what was at stake. Imagine a club was desperately indebted and facing an existential crisis if it’s rivals won the title. Imagine what that club might be willing to do to succeed. Does it sound far-fetched? Of course not.
Our problem – and it had nothing to do with conspiracies or anything else – is that we gave an honest and full accounting of our situation and compressive details on what our players did, who they did it with and what the circumstances were.
We played it straight, and we paid the price for that. For our integrity and our commitment to public health and the greater good, the costs were momentous. It’s why whenever I hear Lennon talking that crap of his, sounding like the worst Ibrox conspiracy theorist, my toes curl. Our problem was that we didn’t try to game the system.
The government didn’t do us. Our own sense of responsibility is what cost us so much last season, and I don’t think that’s something we ought to have regrets about. It’s others who should have trouble looking into the mirror. Not everyone has told the truth. Not everyone was willing to pay the price. For some, there were other priorities.
The common good and public safety probably never even entered their thinking at all.