Scottish Daily Mail

SPFL and SFA set to give Celtic the title

SPFL and SFA to end term early and reveal winners and losers...

- By STEPHEN McGOWAN

THE SPFL and SFA will today discuss plans to curtail the season and crown Celtic as league champions, with a Hampden insider telling

Sportsmail there is ‘zero chance’ of the campaign being declared null and void. Hearts also face relegation to the Championsh­ip as part of a coronaviru­s response likely to prompt a legal challenge from the Edinburgh club.

Sportsmail first revealed doomsday plans for an early end to the season on March 6. The SFA and SPFL joint response group confirmed the suspension of the league campaign until further notice last Friday. With the coronaviru­s yet to reach its devastatin­g peak across the United Kingdom, senior figures in the game now fear a league shutdown until August or September. The Westminste­r government are set to push through emergency legislatio­n banning all mass public

gatherings this week. With players’ union PFA Scotland prepared to veto the playing of games behind closed doors on health grounds, the SFA and SPFL joint response group will hold an emergency meeting today to war game their remaining options.

A game placed in cold storage for four months will cause serious hardship for the nation’s clubs.

And SFA president Rod Petrie, vice-president Mike Mulraney, chief executive Ian Maxwell and Neil Doncaster of the SPFL are now prepared to call the destinatio­n of the title and settle promotion and relegation issues in order to allocate end-of-season prize money immediatel­y and prevent cash-strapped clubs going to the wall.

Branding the uncertaint­y surroundin­g the fate of the season ‘untenable’, Stenhousem­uir chairman Iain McMenemy has called on the joint response group to take decisive action to help struggling lower-league sides.

‘This is the time for leadership,’ McMenemy told Sportsmail. ‘And leadership means taking the tough decisions one way or the other.

‘This is the time for strong leadership to come out of the SFA and SPFL and tell us quickly what is going to happen to the season.

‘Stopping football is the right thing to do and I have yet to speak to anyone else within or outwith a club who has issues with that. But the wrong approach is to limp forward. I would be in favour of stopping the leagues now, paying out and declaring the season null and void so that there are no winners and no losers either.’

With the season already 80-per-cent complete, the SPFL will resist calls to declare the season null and void, however, citing the fear of expensive litigation from broadcaste­rs and sponsors demanding a refund.

Ending the season based on current standings, meanwhile, risks legal action from member clubs such as Rangers, Hearts, Inverness Caley Thistle, Partick Thistle or Falkirk.

Sportsmail understand­s the SPFL believe they are on strong legal ground and reckon they have to allocate prize money to clubs quickly to prevent many going bust.

Reconstruc­ting the Premiershi­p to expand to 14 teams and avoid any promotion and relegation litigation has also been ruled out as an option.

The SFA will take part in a UEFA video conference tomorrow to discuss delaying the Euro 2020 finals to the summer of 2021.

The forthcomin­g Euro 2020 play-off with Israel now looks certain to take place later this year before a full Hampden.

The Scottish Cup semi-finals and final could also be shunted back to the beginning of next season. With William Hill’s sponsorshi­p of the national trophy due to lapse this summer, however, another option is to scrap what’s left of the tournament and allocate the Europa League place to the fourth-placed team in the Premiershi­p.

Privately, senior figures at the SFA and SPFL hold out little hope that UEFA — already beset by questions over the Euros and the fate of the Champions and Europa Leagues — will offer any solutions or guidelines for domestic leagues embroiled in internal turmoil.

Partick Thistle chief executive Gerry Britton concedes the Jags are facing at least a £150,000 loss in income should the remainder of the season be scrapped.

And although Thistle, who are debt-free, would be able to absorb that financial hit, Britton admits he fears other clubs might not survive.

Five of Partick’s nine remaining Championsh­ip games are due to be played at home and former striker Britton admitted not fulfilling those fixtures due to the coronaviru­s crisis would leave the club staring at a significan­t cash black hole.

‘It’s massive across the whole game,’ said Britton. ‘We looked at one scenario where we wouldn’t have any further income over the remainder of the season.

‘Estimates suggest that it would cost us anything upwards of £150,000. For a club our size with the turnover we have, that’s a massive impact.

‘We are fortunate that we are in a situation where we don’t have any debt. A club of our size may be able to pick up a shortfall.

‘However, if there was a situation where it did roll into the new season then there would be serious repercussi­ons for us financiall­y.

‘It is unpreceden­ted and you are not catering for this in your budget.

‘I genuinely fear for a lot of the smaller clubs who are on a real tipping point and a situation like this could very easily push some clubs under.’

Partick are currently bottom of the Championsh­ip but Britton believes relegation should be voided if it is decided that the rest of the season should be cancelled.

Speaking to BBC Scotland, Britton added: ‘If the league stops here then okay, teams have to be rewarded.

‘It’s hard not to be self-interested. When I look at it, the one proposal I’ve heard of the top two teams getting promoted with no relegation, of Kelty Hearts and Brora Rangers coming up (to League Two), that works for me.’

LET’S cast our minds back a few years ago to March 2016, when the greatest story ever told in football was unfolding before our eyes.

Little Leicester City were tearing up the script and marching towards the Premier League title. The most improbable triumph, against all the odds.

By this stage of the season, with eight game left to play, Leicester were already well clear at the top of the table.

They were five points ahead of Tottenham — and ended up winning it at a canter by ten points. They romped it as others around them self-imploded.

Can you imagine the outrage that would have followed if, at such a late juncture of the season, they had it cruelly snatched away from them through no fault of their own?

We’d never have seen Claudio Ranieri and Andrea Bocelli stood together, arm-in-arm, tears flowing, belting out Nessun Dorma.

One of the most iconic, spine-tingling moments I — and I’m sure many others — have ever seen in football would have been lost.

It would have been the mother of all injustices if the season had been voided at that point. What are you supposed to do in that sort of scenario?

Just pretend that the previous seven months and 30-odd games never happened? No, sorry, I’m not having that at all.

That’s what absolutely cannot be allowed to happen here. Under no circumstan­ces should the current season just be declared null and void, and effectivel­y wiped from the history books.

The reason nobody is quite sure what’s going to happen next is because the situation with the coronaviru­s is totally unpreceden­ted. Football is in uncharted territory.

Listen, in an ideal world we all want things to be played out to their natural conclusion and for the fixture list to be fulfilled.

I think we can take it as a given that the Euros in the summer are going to be pushed back to 2021 once UEFA get their finger out and actually do something this week.

So that would then open up a window in the summer for the Scottish Premiershi­p and all the other domestic leagues to be completed. If, however, the effects of the coronaviru­s are prolonged to such an extent that doing so is simply not possible, then so be it.

Sorry, but tough. There has to come a point in the season when you say enough is enough and you accept the current league table as the final standings.

It happens in Formula One. When a race is red-flagged due to a bad crash or some horrendous weather conditions, the authoritie­s have a decision to make.

If it becomes clear that the race has to be stopped and a resumption is no longer possible, they have it within their power to declare the result as it stands.

No points will be awarded if the drivers have completed two laps or less; half points will be awarded if they’ve completed more than two laps but less than 75 per cent of the race distance; with full points awarded if they’ve completed more than 75 per cent of the laps.

That’s where we’re at in Scottish football. We’re over three quarters of the way through the league season and Celtic should be crowned champions if we can’t find a way round this.

Dundee United would go up from the Championsh­ip and so on and so forth. The main complicati­ons come around the issue of relegation.

But I’m open to the idea of sending United up along with second-placed Inverness, inflating it to a 14-team league next season, then having two teams go down and returning to the normal quota of 12. Ultimately, nobody knows what to do because we’ve never been here before. But the system F1 uses seems as fair and as logical as anything else I’ve heard.

Playing games behind closed doors clearly isn’t great. But if doing that eventually allows us to finish the season, then so be it.

It’s important to have a sense of perspectiv­e about all of this. In the grand scheme of things, football becomes an irrelevanc­e when there’s a global health crisis going on.

What matters is that everyone stays safe and healthy. As much as we might be twiddling our thumbs for the next few weeks, football can wait.

What definitely can’t be allowed to happen, though, is for the past seven months to be wiped from history as if they never existed.

It’s an argument which should be a total non-starter when the governing bodies thrash out their plans this week to take us forward.

It’s also an argument which is being weaponised by blinkered fans who care as much about denying their rivals success as they do about seeing their own team do well.

Good grief, Liverpool fans have waited 30 years to see their team in this position. They’ve absolutely knocked it out of the park this season.

They are champions in all but name. Coronaviru­s has basically confirmed it before mathematic­s could do so officially — and the same applies to Celtic.

We either find a way of rejigging the calendar and fulfilling the fixture list, or we just call it a day and start looking ahead to next season.

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 ??  ?? Champions-elect: but will Celtic get the trophy now?
Champions-elect: but will Celtic get the trophy now?
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