Thoughts on a way to conclude the Premiership and Scottish Cup

I had a GP appointment this morning. As I approached the automatic door it didn’t open and I looked for a button to press. I then heard a voice coming from an intercom low to my right. As I crouched low and advised I was there for an appointment, I was asked a series of questions around symptoms I may or may not be exhibiting, as well as my foreign travel experiences of the past 14 days. I must have passed the test as I gained entry and the door opened. As I walked in the receptionist advised me not to approach the desk and to walk straight to the waiting room.

Something similar happened when I went to collect my son from his after school club later that day. Stopped at edge of car park I was asked by a nice teaching assistant, who I was there to collect. Usually I get to walk in, sign him out, collect his schoolbag and hear his complaints that he’s ‘not ready to go home yet’. Not yesterday.

I was then brought his coat, schoolbag and strangely, wellies, change of clothes and PE kit. Reason being, the school is getting a deep clean at short notice and anything left behind after today was getting destroyed. I wasn’t even allowed to touch the signing out book or pen, it was signed on my behalf. I was sent on my way and advised to check in regularly with the school’s website as to when they may close. When and not if I noted.

It seems no-one is taking any risks. Today Scottish football took the same common sense approach and stopped football indefinitely or until at least the 3 April if they follow the lead from the FA. That’s unlikely to be enough, however it gives time for everyone to take stock and work out what we’re all going to do.

All of this is unprecedented for everyone. No-one has the answers, there isn’t a soul who can draw on experience on this one. It’s a common occurrence in society to have a blame culture, but in this one you can blame who you like, chances are they are in no way responsible or know much more than you or I about what to do.

All we can do is listen to the most qualified medical minds and hope they somehow get more right than they get wrong. Then we follow advice and put one foot in front of the other until we ride this out. If we’re lucky enough to do so.

We may be fortunate and the measures we put in place mean we can get back to normal in a couple of weeks but that is highly unlikely, it may be a visit to the cinema, a holiday abroad or attending a fully spectated game of football is a possibility within 4-6 weeks, the truth is that is rather optimistic.

In the meantime we have a pause in the footballing calendar in Scotland. No big deal in the whole scheme of things I’m sure, but I for one am agitating for a fair way to conclude this. We have a league season with eight or nine games to play depending on which team you follow and if you are Celtic, Hearts, Hibs or Aberdeen the not insignificant issue of a Scottish Cup to win.

For me the SPFL and SFA have only two choices. Once this three weeks is up and if the current situation is unchanged or worsened they can only do this.

They can give advance notice that the league will conclude once all clubs have played each other an equal amount of times. They can then conclude the Scottish Cup semi-final and final over the course of a Tuesday and Wednesday midweek, followed by the final on the Saturday of that same week.

In the case of the league that means everyone has three games to play (four in the case of ‘the Rangers and St Johnstone) and they have advance notice that at the end of those matches promotion, relegation and European places will be decided. All games can be concluded within a two week period of weekend and midweek fixtures. The Scottish Cup will be played over a 4 day period straight after the final league games have been concluded.

The governing bodies need to be brave enough to set a date by which those games can be concluded otherwise the finishing positions as we stand is how we finish. The Scottish Cup, given it is only three games, is played at the start of next season. It may be that any European qualification berth attached to that trophy is given to a club based on league position instead.

There can be no cancellation of a league season, no null and void, when so many games have already been played.

We have completed the vast majority of the season and we either find a way to conclude that fairly or we reward the teams’ endeavours up to now by stopping where we are. We have European places to submit for next season and we need to know who is playing in what division as we plan for season 20/21.

Assuming the Euro 2020 competition will be postponed until next summer-and the common sense around the travelling will mean that is the most sensible approach-then it opens the opportunity for the Scottish game to look to a date in June as a red letter day.

With next season’s European qualifiers likely to start in the last week in June or first week in July then it would appear the end of the first full week in June should be that line in the sand. That means league games need to start Saturday 16 May and conclude by the 30 of May with the Scottish Cup concluding the following weekend 6 June, appropriately enough D-Day.

Players can’t be kept in cold storage indefinitely. They can stay fit to an extent, but that match sharpness recedes quickly. The eight weeks from now until the 16 May, could well be enough time to allow the fitness levels to remain and have a satisfactory conclusion to a football season.

If that doesn’t happen we must have leadership strong enough to say, that’s the contingency plan and for any reason this situation lasts any longer than the 16 May, all teams have to be aware that current standings will determine who wins, loses, goes up and goes down.

Other leagues in other countries may have a harder job finding a solution. Our league split gives Scottish Football an opportunity to reach a fair and equitable solution to a far from perfect scenario. If we can get football up and running by the middle of May that is.

If we can’t, then we draw the lines where we finish. Announce this before the 3 April and we’ll all know where we stand. Next, we’ll take a look at the legal aspects in all of this and point out that the null and void straw clutching is a complete non-starter, for one thing it would mean NO PRIZE MONEY to any of the teams.

Niall J

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About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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