Glastonbury – gone. Wimbledon – not happening. The Declaration of Arbroath – no 700th anniversary celebrations this year. Some miners’ galas in Midlothian are holding out, which is remarkable considering there are no miners anymore, but the Eurovision Song Contest has been cancelled, yet another victim of Covid-19. Or has it? You might have surveyed the Scottish football scene this week and wondered. You might have struggled to make sense of that vote and thought: “How very Eurovision.”
I haven’t watched the contest in years but continue to be amused by the posturing, the flouncing, the intemperate language, the conspiracy theories and just the sheer, unmitigated chaos which often envelops it. In the absence, though, of Greece bickering with Turkey for the millionth time and a rumpus over Austria’s bearded lady, what has been more chaotic than the countdown to decision-day on how 2019-20 resolves itself in the midst of the global pandemic – and then the revelation that Friday wasn’t in fact decision-day at all?
There we were looking forward to one minute past five and the hotly-anticipated news of how the season would pan out. Would the Celtic players be throwing a nine-in-a-row party via Zoom? Would the Hearts faithful be commiserating with each other over relegation through WhatsApp? But Friday wasn’t D-Day. We might have to wait another four weeks for a decision, or indeed non-decision.
Don’t forget the Sanity Clause, don’t forget the Companies Act. There is no Sanity Clause, as the noted philosopher Chico Marx confirmed, but the Companies Act exists and, in this instance, enables clubs to prevaricate and procrastinate and hum and haw.
Amid the confusion, the claims and counter-claims, other great Marx Brothers lines came to mind including “The party of the first part … is hereinafter called the party of the first part.” Also: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them … well, I have others.”
Then we learned that the potential delay was down to just one club. There had been a problem with Dundee’s verdict and suddenly we were back at Eurovision.
“Good evening, Dundee, can we have your vote please?” Memories were stirred of Katie Boyle in a shimmering gown – yes, I go back that far – clasping her microphone with pinky perfectly extended as she attempts to make contact with a small, grumbly, isolated nation with an antiquated communications network bought second-hand from the old Soviet Union. Refusing to be flustered, a total pro, Boyle, pictured inset, flannels impeccably: “We seem to be having difficulty getting through to our friends by the silvery Tay right now. And while we’re waiting, here are some lovely photographs of the city for you to enjoy … ”
What happened? Did Dundee cast their vote? They said they did and also revealed their position – no to the resolution to end the season for the lower tiers. The SPFL, though, are seemingly unsure of the “competence” of the Dens Park ballot. Did they vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party? Did they spoil their paper? Or scribble: “Where’s our old MP Winston Churchill when we need him?”
Whatever, the fate of the proposal to call the leagues rests with Dundee and surely they won’t take the whole 28 days to deliberate the matter. But why would you say that? These are – cliche alert – unprecedented times. And if there’s one bunch of folk who can make unprecedented times more complicated, more exasperating and more of a guddle, it’s Scottish football.
Who are Dundee in this? Greece, perhaps, who’ve frequently fallen out with noisy neighbours Turkey? A headline on the day of the vote, which turned out not to be the day of the vote, read: “Dundee in bid to halt city rivals.” This inferred that uppermost in their minds in going against the resolution would be preventing Dundee United being declared winners of the Championship - in short, an act of spite.
But Dundee currently sit in one of the play-off places. Standing on tiptoes, they can just about see the Premiership. It’s a rocky path as others from the second tier have discovered, but it is a path. The resolution would block the route with a giant boulder. There would be no play-offs under it.
There was a feeling before the vote that the resolution would be thrown out. This was based on there being still too much to play for in 2019-20 and there is. Ask Hearts about that, and Partick Thistle. Meanwhile, battling to progress from the Championship, along with Dundee, are Inverness Caley Thistle and Ayr United, plus Dunfermline, Morton and Arbroath all still with a chance of promotion. Would these clubs put ambition before survival? Seemingly not. Apart from ICT, those whose votes have been counted decided the season had to be over. This sample of the vote tells you everything you need to know about the precarious state of Scottish football, and why no one here has the optimism to plan for a restart involving 113 games in 56 days like the lower leagues in England, even if Covid-19 might still scupper that.
Obviously in Scotland there are rivals to the Tayside twosome for the roles of Greece and Turkey (remembering that the latter flounced off from Eurovision in 2012 and haven’t been back, but as devotees of the contest I’m sure you know this). Celtic will be suspected of lobbying hardest for the resolution so they can be declared champions again. Meanwhile Rangers’ fierce opposition – and counter-motion – will be viewed as a desperate attempt to hold their rivals at bay for as long as possible.
For Rangers to call the resolution “abhorrent” was extreme and the kind of playing to the gallery – of the Copland Road End – that we often hear. But their idea for the season’s prizemoney to be released early to help clubs stay in business is a good one. I still believe the campaign should be played to a conclusion although accept this is getting more difficult to justify with every passing day. We do need a Churchill to show us the way out of this. Or a Chico Marx or a Katie Boyle or someone, please? ...