Celtic to be ratified as 9-in-a-row champions

SPFL board will terminate Premiership season on Monday, relegating Hearts to Championship

Celtic celebrate last season's title win, their eighth in a row. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty
Celtic celebrate last season's title win, their eighth in a row. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row celebrations have been placed on ice until next week.

Scotland’s top flight clubs met via video conference yesterday to agree the end of the 2019-20 league season but the decision still needs to be formally ratified by the SPFL board at their meeting on Monday.

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The board was given the authority to terminate the season when clubs voted to bring an end to the lower-league campaign last month. But it is understood that executives gave assurances that the top 12 clubs would be consulted again before an official decision was taken. That happened yesterday and despite there being eight rounds of fixtures remaining, the Premiership representatives have decided that the Covid-19 crisis and ongoing social distancing render it far too troublesome to attempt to fulfil the outstanding fixtures ahead of what would be the scheduled summer shutdown.

It means leaders Celtic will be crowned champions for the ninth successive season after they built up a 13-point lead over Rangers, who had one game in hand.

It will also see bottom club Hearts relegated to the Championship after reconstruction talks collapsed last week.

Scotland’s stance only adds to the confusion caused by different approaches throughout Europe. While German football returns today and the Czechs, Portuguese, Spanish and English are working towards a restart, albeit behind closed doors, the Belgium Pro League yesterday became the latest to formalise their decision to halt proceedings. Yesterday they declared Club Brugge champions and relegated Waasland-Beveren.

France have acted likewise, giving PSG the title and relegating Toulouse and Amiens
from Ligue 1, while the Dutch have abandoned their campaigns without awarding titles, or determining promotion or relegation.

Uefa set a deadline of 25 May for nations to state whether they will be attempting to see out seasons, voiding them, or calling them to a premature end and it appears that Scotland’s top clubs have opted to follow the lead of the SPFL’s three lower leagues and curtail the campaign. With positions frozen since the last game was contested in mid-March, honours and relegation will be decided on current standings.

After two months of waiting and debating, of failed reconstruction talks and an unprecedented level of acrimony, the feeling of member clubs is that they now need to look ahead, and focus on finding a safe way to start the new season as close to the end of July as possible.

The decision, which was taken yesterday and is expected to be rubber-stamped on Monday, is designed to end the uncertainty that has been hanging over the game since it was suspended in March.

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But, with Hearts and a cluster of other SPFL clubs still considering their options and refusing to rule out legal action, it could simply ring the bell on the next round of debates.

Several clubs have criticised the way key votes have been handled and feel the decision to expel clubs from leagues with eight games remaining leaves Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer unfairly and disproportionately punished by the coronavirus crisis.

At the other end of the spectrum, Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor is adamant they will be worthy winners if they are declared champions with eight games left.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, the Scotland midfielder said: “Regardless whether we win it on the pitch or circumstances dictate that we don’t get to finish it but we still get crowned, I think either way we would be worthy champions.

“We have been absolutely outstanding and over the season we have put so many wins together and played a real attacking style as well, and scored a lot of goals.

“The boys were desperate to finish the season on a real high the way we were playing and that’s been taken away but to get nine titles in a row, it would only be the second time in the club’s history, so that tells you how big an achievement it is in itself and something that I know the players would be extremely proud of.”

At the contentious 10 April meeting, Rangers and Hearts were the only two top flight clubs to vote against the resolution to call the season, although Aberdeen have since revealed that they sought assurances that clubs would be consulted before any decision was made.

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However, Dons chairman Dave Cormack has admitted in recent weeks that completing the season looked a forlorn hope and his Motherwell counterpart, Jim McMahon, this week said that “there are now no credible voices still arguing that the 2019-20 season can be completed”.

With the Scottish Cup at the semi-final stage and due to be played some time in the future, the ultimate winner of the knock-out competition will not be guaranteed a European place. Instead, Celtic will be the Champions league representatives, while second, third and fourth placed sides Rangers, Motherwell and Aberdeen, will be Scotland’s Europa League clubs, although uncertainty remains regarding the format of UEFA’s club competitions in the wake of the pandemic.

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