THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN
THERE are far more important matters than football or sport right now.
The Covid-19 virus is killing people near and far and staying indoors and away from as many folk as possible is the best option as we collectively aim to beat it.
When we return to cheering on our teams and in what stage of competitions has yet to be seen and seems a long way off. Belgium were quickest out of the traps on this front on a week when European football’s governing body, UEFA, were aiming to guide countries through these choppy waters. The Belgians opted to hand their top title to Club Bruges, who were 15 points clear of Gent. There was one round of regular matches left, but play-offs were due to decide the top positions.
In Scotland, Celtic are 13 points ahead of Rangers in the Premiership, while Dundee United are 14 points clear of Caley Thistle in the Championship. Celtic would be nine-in-a-row champions if the SPFL follow Belgium’s lead.
However, one of two big UEFA statements will be considered carefully at Hampden. There’s a warning that any bid to conclude a campaign early, or null and void it, could lead to zero qualification for our clubs into the Champions and Europa Leagues.
There’s also the pressure for leagues to be concluded by the end of summer, when it seems that late summer would be the likelier time for the next round of action. The second UEFA red letter moment arrived on Friday afternoon when they confirmed it has lifted the ban at showing games live on TV in Scotland and England on Saturdays at 3pm.
The Scottish and English FAs had appealed for this to happen. It could well open the door for matches to be played behind closed doors in the UK. The restrictions for broadcasting were created to protect attendances, so a one-year relaxation to get games completed is now a live possibility, but is still a long way off.
Football without fans is not a route many would favour. It’s an unrealistic setting and nothing sits easily with me about that possibility. Yet, the fact this concession has been made by UEFA really does put it back on the agenda.
There are no balls being kicked in anger but there are daily developments with this story. When writing this, I heard Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack on BBC Radio Scotland explain that his legal advisors say if clubs have placed their players in furlough, or paid leave aided by the UK government’s 80 per cent wage contribution, they shouldn’t be training. Doing so, or following fitness programmes, is the equivalent to working.
Ross County and Dundee United are two clubs who have gone down this route in the past 10 days. Cormack’s announcement may see lawyers and directors throughout the country discussing their next moves.
The ball is back with the SPFL and there is a suggestion that the null and void option is – thankfully – the least likely.
There are so many unknowns and, as I say, football matters far less within the bigger picture. However, with UEFA’s statement about European qualification fresh on the ink, I’d suggest getting the 2019/20 season finished first before starting another. That way, every club will have earned their rightful places.
Fortnight off air may be just for starters
LAST week, I wrote about how I pressed on with my weekly Alive and Kicking sports show on North Highland Radio.
The feeling I had, however, was that it may have been a return journey too many when we’re all being told to stay at home in a bid to curb the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t have the facilities to broadcast from home, so that isn’t an option.
I decided, therefore, to take two weeks out of going on air and I’ll take stock as to what the government advice is after that with regards to travel.
As an aside, I’ve witnessed a definite increase in vehicular activity over the past week. The message is not getting through. I can see the PM tightening people’s movements further with the support of Police Scotland.
As promised, while not behind the mic, I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter to promote stories of interest, both at local and national level.
My Alive and Kicking pages highlighted among other topics – a plea from former Scotland shinty manager Drew MacNeil for a one-year north-south league revamp, a united appeal from North Caledonian League clubs for a promotion route into the Highland League, and the announcement that Ross County’s players were being put into furlough but in full pay during the enforced period of lockdown.
Nothing beats broadcasting as my way of delivering a weekly sports round-up, but being accessible via social media is the next best thing.
Follow Alive and Kicking on these platforms to stay abreast of what’s happening and also show support to your community station, North Highland Radio, as some presenters are putting on shows from home. It remains a 24/7 station and you can listen via the North Highland Radio website, the Tune In app or through your smart speakers.
Journalists are allowed to carry out duties amid a lockdown such as the one we are experiencing and I’ll weigh up the pros and cons of returning to air potentially the week after next. I’ll weigh it up carefully, as we all must do on so many levels right now.