Likelihood increases of Celtic being named champions

SPFL could take lead from England

Celtic's players celebrate the Ladbrokes Premiership title in 2019. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

The likelihood of the Scottish Professional Football League calling time on its 2019-20 season because of the coronavirus pandemic is intensifying amid growing pessimism over the prospect of fixtures being resumed before Uefa’s 30 June deadline. The SPFL board are closely monitoring events elsewhere in European football, especially in England where their counterparts at the fifth-tier National League have now indicated their wish for the campaign to be declared at an end as soon as possible.

It follows on from last week’s decision by the Highland League to formally conclude their season and declare leaders Brora Rangers as champions with eight games remaining on the schedule.

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The ramifications of the SPFL following suit would be widespread throughout its four divisions in terms of titles, promotions and relegation issues controversially being determined on the basis of league positions when football was first suspended due to Covid-19 on 13 March.

Celtic, currently 13 points ahead of Rangers at the top of the Premiership, would be awarded a ninth consecutive title despite their Old Firm rivals having a game in hand and 24 points still to play for if the season was to continue.

Hearts, four points behind Hamilton Accies at the bottom of the table, have already indicated they would seek legal redress if they were relegated to the Championship without the campaign being completed. But as the SPFL seeks to ensure prize money and broadcasting rights income can be distributed to all 42 clubs on schedule over the next two months, they remain firmly opposed to the alternative option of declaring the season null and void which would have a similar effect on their commercial contracts.

The passing of the Coronavirus Bill through the UK Parliament on Wednesday, providing emergency powers which include banning large public gatherings or events, could ultimately see government intervention into how long football remains suspended. If any such decision extended beyond Uefa’s current 30 June deadline, the SPFL are understood to feel they would be left with no option but to end the season.

The National League’s bid to end their season came after a conference call of its board members after which chief executive Michael Tattersall said: “The broad consensus was that our clubs wish for a decision to be made to close the season as soon as possible.

“The FA have been asked to assist us with making the decisions to officially postpone all remaining National League fixtures and to end the season as soon as possible for the purposes of player contracts.

“The National League is also working with the FA to define all reasonable and practical options for the determination of the 2019-20 season, and to provide guidance to clubs on dealing with player contracts, player registrations and the application of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.”

Barrow, currently four points clear at the top of the National League, are on course to return to the English Football League for the first time since 1972. Their manager, Ian Evatt, insists they should be declared champions even if their remaining seven games are not played.

“If you were to play a 90-minute football match and something was to happen in the last 15 minutes of a game, the result would stand if it was abandoned. So why is it not the same for a full season?” he said.

But Notts County, still in contention for the title and automatic promotion, have declared their opposition to the season being called on the basis of current league standings.

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