Like it or not, Celtic’s title win must carry an asterisk

But former Rangers player Gareth McAuley was wrong to suggest the victory is ‘hollow and tainted’

Gareth McAuley provoked an incensed response from Celtic supporters with his remark about their title triumph. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

Sometimes, you can read or hear a word so often that its true meaning can become blurred.

So, even in this digital age, it’s still comforting to be able to pull the Collins English Dictionary, given to me by my parents when I was a child, from my dusty bookshelves.

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The motivation for referring to the trusted old tome this week was the agitated reaction to Gareth McAuley’s forthright observations on Celtic being declared Premiership champions by the SPFL.

The former Northern Ireland defender wasn’t the first to declare the title win will have an asterisk next to it and he won’t be the last. But the fact the bold Gareth had a brief spell as a Rangers player was sufficient to provoke an incensed response from many Celtic 
supporters.

Which takes me back to the revered dictionary first published in Glasgow by William Collins back in the 19th century. As the redoubtable Mr Collins lived and died before either of the Old Firm clubs were formed, we can safely assume there is no agenda in the following entry on page 38 – 
‘asterisk n a star-shaped character (*) used in printing or writing to indicate a footnote’.

Like it or not, the record books will be remiss if they do not place an asterisk against the final Premiership table to inform future generations that the 2019-20 season was curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The same applies to the other eight European countries (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Wales and Gibraltar) who, in common with the SPFL, decided not to follow Uefa’s preferred route of extending their campaigns and attempting to conclude them on the field of play over the course of the next few months.

McAuley’s further claim that Celtic’s ninth title in a row is “hollow and tainted” is another thing altogether. If anything is tainted, it certainly isn’t the performance levels and consistency of Neil Lennon’s squad which saw them build a commanding 13-point lead at the top of the table which, by any 
reasonable judgement, would have seen them seal the deal on the pitch had football not been suspended on 13 March.

What may yet prove questionable is the decision taken by the board of the SPFL that completing the top-flight season was simply not going to be possible.

All around Europe this weekend, several other countries – including Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Poland, Portugal and Serbia – are following Germany’s lead in resuming their leagues behind-closed-doors.

Many others still hope to do the same in the coming weeks – including McAuley’s homeland of Northern Ireland, where the Irish FA this week granted the NIFL an extension to a season in which David Healy’s Linfield held a four-point lead over Oran Kearney’s Coleraine at the top of the 
Premiership table when football was suspended.

Northern Ireland, like Scotland, operates under devolved protocols in emerging from lockdown and it remains to be seen whether it is a fool’s errand for the NIFL or evidence that the SPFL were unduly hasty. It certainly wouldn’t be a great look for Scottish 
football if a smaller and less-resourced league just across the Irish Sea can find a way to fulfil the outstanding fixtures of their 
2019-20 season.

But the odds remain stacked against that scenario playing out and for the SPFL, the priority now is to get the 2020-21 Premiership up and running on schedule, or as close as possible, at the start of August. What size that top flight will be remains to be seen as Ann Budge prepares to run her reconstruction plans by all 12 current Premiership clubs on Monday, while the threat of legal action from the Hearts owner continues to lurk in the background if the Gorgie outfit are not spared from their unquestionably iniquitous relegation. Which, incidentally, will also require an asterisk.

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