There really was something hapless about the SPFL board’s move to buy off clubs that presently find themselves in a parlous financial position in order to terminate immediately the Championship, League One and League Two.
However they might choose to dress it up, that is precisely what they sought to do. If 75 per cent of the 42 senior sides vote through a resolution that would instantly award titles and promotion to Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers, relegate Partick Thistle and Stranraer and cancel the play-offs then, and only then, will prize money flow into fast-emptying coffers. As transparent as a freshly buffed window, unlike such a pane, it did not stand up to close inspection. More pathetic still was the sop that if those in charge of the clubs were good boys and girls and voted as instructed, then the old perennial of league reconstruction, in time for season 2020-21, could come under discussion. They know, as we all do, that there isn’t a hope on earth of the necessary support being obtained to expand the upper tiers in time for next season. The only means to spare clubs of relegation under the current proposal.
Rangers and Thistle immediately saw through it, and admirably called it out for being the rushed, ill-considered plan it undoubtedly is, one that attempted to lay out the groundwork for the Premiership being concluded in the selfsame fashion further down the line.
In the SPFL’s statement, chairman Murdoch MacLennan stated that “to their credit, every single club has been committed to completing the remaining fixtures for season 2019/20.” MacLennan and his fellow power-brokers didn’t think so much of this creditable stance to consider options that might actually allow it to happen.
As a host of clubs, both publicly and privately, intimated they were prepared to vote against the resolution, there was a genuine sense last night that the SPFL have misjudged the mood in a fashion reminiscent of 2012.
Then, with SPL chief executive – as he was at that stage – Neil Doncaster the pre-eminent pusher, there were strong-arm efforts to force clubs to, firstly, vote newco Rangers in to the top flight. And when that failed, have SFL clubs admit the post-liquidation Ibrox club into the second tier. The more the game’s suits – and not just Doncaster – pushed, the more pushback they encountered. History could be about to repeat itself.
The SPFL press release set out the circumstances that had led to the current thinking. It stated, with some justification, that the potential for the coronavirus lockdown to remain in place across the next 11 weeks gives rise to the probability that “the remaining fixtures in Ladbrokes League season 2019/20 and the related play-off competitions cannot be scheduled without significantly damaging the SPFL’s ability to start and complete, on time, league season 2020/21 and next season’s Betfred Cup.”
This begs the question as to why finishing this season, whenever it is possible to do so, seems of secondary importance to contesting a campaign that hasn’t even started. It is a question that has been asked often and answered never.
Medical experts have said that, with no vaccine likely to be available for a year, it is possible that the world will suffer a second wave of the pandemic later this year. If there are disruptions to next season, in the form of another three-month hiatus, the scheduling of the Euros in June would prevent a second successive campaign being completed on the pitch. As a consequence, would the SPFL then seek an early termination of the 2020-21 season?
If reconstruction isn’t a serious proposal – and without a widespread change of mindset, or change to the financial distribution model, it isn’t – the only means to ensure clubs aren’t penalised unjustifiably at the foot of leagues, or clubs aren’t given championships they haven’t won on the pitch, is to play all the fixtures required even if not within the standard timeframe. One full season is surely better than two three-quarter seasons. And a well-thought-out proposal is certainly better than a half-baked resolution.