Coronavirus: What does Scottish Football do now?
By Charles Paterson, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 24/03/20 8:57pm
As the world struggles to deal with a pandemic not seen in living memory, Scottish football is, like almost every other sport and business in the UK, frantically trying to create a contingency plan to keep itself afloat.
Sky Sports News has spoken to four clubs, one from each division of the SPFL, to gauge their thoughts about what happens next. A number of different views have been aired about the current crisis, and considering what is at stake for so many, we have kept the identities of these clubs anonymous - but all were candid in answering key questions about the way ahead in Scotland…
How worried are you about the current situation?
PREMIERSHIP - Because UEFA is not sure of where football is, and what the financial consequences of it might be, it's currently a bit of a stalemate. People know there won't be football anytime soon, but nobody's prepared to say it.
CHAMPIONSHIP - We will come out of this stronger as a club - it's about restructuring sensibly as a business. Fans are sometimes ignored by their clubs, but there are a lot of clubs now saying to their supporters, can you help us? That can't be short term - clubs must realise that their fans can't be taken for granted.
LEAGUE 1 - Nobody likes uncertainty; there is huge concern. Ultimately there's the short-term managing of the cash flow, and the medium term - what is the effect going to be on club sponsors and hospitality packages? Will people have the disposable income to spend money at their club? There's a fear of the unknown that everyone shares at this moment in time.
LEAGUE 2 - There's a lot of pressure on us just now. We've managed to pay the players wages for the month of March, but it's difficult. We're probably at the lower end of the scale, and it's very difficult for us - I can only imagine what it's like for teams above us paying bigger wages. It's just a nightmare unfolding in front of us.
We are trying to establish whether we are eligible for the 80 per cent wage pay-out that the government are introducing, and we should get feedback on that this week. We are trying everything in our power to pay the contracts, but if we don't get that support, then we could be forced to decide on where we go with players wages.
I'd be surprised if any clubs go to the wall; I sincerely hope not.
Should the 2019-2020 SPFL season:
A. Be finished immediately, with current league positions being declared final?
B. Be completed at some point, whenever that may be?
C. Declared null and void?
PREMIERSHIP - There is no way we are going to play football this season - by the time we are shut down for six weeks, it then becomes a pre-season, so we'd take four weeks of training and two weeks of conditioning, so it's a minimum of six weeks back.
Every club has self-interest and will have a different view on it. The season is finished; we can't say if it should be null or void, but it really should be finished - and we should also be trying to say we will start on August 1, perhaps before anyone else. There might be a window for Scottish football to get some more exposure than other leagues which are going to start later.
CHAMPIONSHIP - If any decision is made on calling the league at this stage, and clubs then legally try to challenge it, then all they are doing is putting the rest of the clubs under huge pressure, because the prize money will probably be frozen until any legal challenge is sorted out. Self-interest cannot dictate what happens in Scottish football; if a decision is made that the leagues are finished, it's about how that is then carved up.
If the league is finished, prize money must be paid out; if clubs complain about the decision, all they are doing is putting the rest in jeopardy by blocking the money. Common sense must prevail.
LEAGUE 1 - We would like the season to be resumed and played to a conclusion, as opposed to it being null and void. That is the fairest way; if it means reconvening for a period of "pre-season training" and then a short finish for the final quarter or so, and then recommencing at a later date for the new season - which might be truncated - we feel that would be the safest way. It's important we don't rush decisions; there are technicalities with regards to player contracts… it's too early to discuss many things really. Things are changing by the day with government guidance, so we need to see how thing pan out over the next three weeks if we make progress as a nation.
LEAGUE 2 - We don't think anybody seriously believes that this season is going to be finished. The issue at our level is that existing contracts are only up until June 9 or 10; will the season be finished by then? We very much doubt it. The pressure on clubs is huge - we're on lockdown and the manager has told the players to look after themselves, but will they be fit? We believe the leagues should probably be declared null and void.
What happens to the teams at the bottom of the league - what happens to the playoff games? We don't think anybody has an answer to that just now. In our opinion we should make the league null and void - if the top teams do get promoted, we don't think the bottom teams should be relegated as that wouldn't be fair.
Who should make the final decision - the SPFL board or the 42 clubs?
PREMIERSHIP - We believe the board can make that decision. If they are strong enough to make it without the clubs is another thing.
CHAMPIONSHIP - Ultimately the decision on what happens with this season will be made by UEFA and/or the government with the white paper they are pushing through. Until then, it's a bunfight with self-interest. We can understand clubs in relegation positions fighting their corner, but ultimately, it's not about individual clubs - it's about the collective game in this country.
We've been impressed with the SPFL board; they've engaged with the members. If a decision was made about the league, once it has come through government or from UEFA, we think the board would give their recommendations, but ultimately, they would want the clubs to decide. Any club that has a modicum of sense about them would vote for the big picture rather than individuals. There will be people unhappy about some things but that's the nature of the beast.
LEAGUE 1 - You can't rush into changing everything; the system is in place and the current voting rules apply regardless, with the percentages of the different leagues and different clubs. All part-time teams would like it to be one member, one vote, but that would be changing the league's constitution. In times of crisis, these are what the rules are for, and we should stick to them, as opposed to creating anymore uncertainty; but we think there should be consultation.
LEAGUE 2 - We believe every club should have a say in what's going to happen. I think most, if not all, have realised this is not just going to be a short-term thing - this is going to last a while. Those on the board have some tough decisions to make, and they won't keep every club happy, that's for sure.
Is this an opportunity for SPFL league reconstruction?
PREMIERSHIP - No comment.
CHAMPIONSHIP - If there's a desire to do something, it can be done. The English leagues will play their normal season, but the Scottish and Irish leagues could play through March to October - think about all the games that could be played through the summer. It would give Scottish football a big platform.
We don't know why there is a reticence to do it; it makes sense. If the top teams in Scotland were blocking it, they would be able to go from October through to March playing in European tournaments or on lucrative tours - they could make a fortune. Who wants to play in horrendous weather?
LEAGUE 1 - It would be a danger to make quick decisions on things like reconstruction on the back of this. Every club has their own perspective on this, but any decision to be made must be considered and looked at not just in the short term, but in the medium term as well. A decision about reconstruction is usually something made over months, not weeks.
LEAGUE 2 - We believe there is an opportunity now for league reconstruction. Previously there were suggestions about Rangers and Celtic "colt" teams coming into the lower part of the leagues, and there was a lot of resistance to that - would that be part of it? It's an opportunity worth exploring.
Should games be played behind closed doors? PFA Scotland is against it…
PREMIERSHIP - We think mentally, players have switched off on this season. There is a transfer window coming up; players are not sure if they have jobs for next year come the end of May. It's going to be almost impossible to motivate players to go and play football again. It is a mindset thing. In theory, finishing the leagues is the right thing to do, but the mindset for players is going to be difficult to get back without proper emotional conditioning.
We will get players fit again, but the mental challenge is bigger, especially when some players don't know where they are, and might be left high and dry without a contract. We haven't really looked at contracts; it depends on how the governing bodies see the leagues and when/if they finish.
CHAMPIONSHIP - We don't think it's a goer. We understand the rationale behind it, but how many teams are going to have a full squad of players to pick from? How many players might catch this virus?
LEAGUE 1 - Football is a spectator sport; there might be compromises along the way and it certainly is not the preferred option, but if that is one way of concluding the season, it may be something we have to consider. We can't rule anything out - it wouldn't be the first choice but even with that, there would still be a loss of income, so it's not ideal.
LEAGUE 2 - We don't think that is the way forward. Football is about fans and the whole experience of it; we don't think we should be forced into that at all. UEFA has co-opted out of this; its main issue is to get the European trophies played, but it never gave enough guidance to the domestic leagues on how to make their own decisions.