THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN
SCOTTISH football has a long summer of in-fighting ahead after an explosive weekend of votes about our game’s future.
Football is off the agenda worldwide until June at the very earliest. In the meantime, the SPFL have pressed ahead to call the season as it is but to cancel any promotion and relegation play-offs.That means with eight fixtures left, Celtic would be crowned champions for the ninth successive season. Rangers, with a game in hand, trail their city rivals by 13 points.
At the opposite end of the table, Hearts would be relegated, replaced by Championship leaders Dundee United, who were all but promoted anyway thanks to their 14-point advantage over Caley Thistle. In the Championship, Partick Thistle are poised for relegation, with Raith Rovers coming up from League One as champions, while Paul Hartley’s Cove Rangers would step from League Two at the expense of Stranraer, the worst League One side.
It also means Brora Rangers would be denied the opportunity to contest the pyramid play-offs for the right to get into League Two. The Highland League, of course, called time on the season several weeks ago, with champions-elect Brora being handed the crown after the full agreement of the other HFL sides.
If the senior league season was to be wrapped up as it was, clubs were set to be handed their prize money in accordance with their current league spots. So, the members were advised to get their votes in by Friday night, although technically they were permitted 28 further days. But, why wait for that when we all seek clarity?
In the Premiership, it was well publicised that Hearts and Rangers – understandably given what’s at stake – were to vote no and they were the only clubs to do so. Aberdeen and Hibs made noises about following suit, which would have scuppered the SPFL plans, but opted to vote in favour.
In Leagues One and Two, the members voted overall 16 for and three against, with one abstention. It was how the votes were cast in the Championship which have hit the headlines in some style, aided by a voice from the Highlands. On Saturday afternoon, ICT chief executive Scot Gardiner took to the airwaves of BBC Radio Scotland and revealed in clear detail that discussion between several Championship clubs showed that ICT, Partick Thistle and Dundee would be voting no. Seven yes votes was one short of the required tally for the overall SPFL proposals to be given the green light.
Gardiner said the Dundee secretary had assured him via communication that “no” was how they had voted. However, the SPFL have not received the vote from Dens Park and it’s opened a massive can if worms, which I’ll come to in a moment. However, Gardiner stated that the chief reason why they simply couldn’t vote it through as a yes was because it would relegate Partick Thistle, they felt, unfairly. That decision for a club which is facing financial uncertainty, he added, ruled them out of almost immediate windfall of £330,000 as the runners-up.
Another reason why Caley Jags fans would be urging their club to vote against the proposals is that Hearts dropping into the Championship and ICT staying there would make next season – whenever that may happen – extremely tough in terms of trying to win the title. If they can’t go up via play-offs or as part of a league reconstruction, Caley Thistle need a second tier with no big gun, like Dundee United have been in 2019/20.
All eyes are on Dundee, who on Saturday afternoon were remaining silent over where their missing vote has gone. After all, Gardiner had told listeners that as far as he was concerned Dundee had voted no, pure and simple.
Just as the pundits chewed over the ICT chief’s frank explanations, even more startling news broke. Rangers, still firmly determined to see the season finished on the field, have called for an independent investigation into the SPFL vote. The Glasgow club claim they have been given evidence that raises “serious concerns” over the voting process. Reading between the lines, they suspect foul play and have called for the suspension of SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and legal adviser Rod McKenzie.
Not only that, the Ibrox hierarchy claimed Doncaster tried to “silence” their bid to talk about these grave concerns.
Dundee will surely have to respond. It could be a genuine error on their part and they may be permitted to re-submit their vote, but the Rangers revelations seem to suggest this will rumble on for some time. The under-fire SPFL hit back through a statement issued by its chairman Murdo MacLennan, urging Rangers to either back up their suggestions or withdraw them. The SPFL will meet early next week to discuss a variety of matters.
Everyone seeks clarity and we want football to return when it’s safe to do so. The chances of my favoured route of finishing this season before starting a new one is looking less likely by the day. I read earlier that former Scotland and Celtic manager Gordon Strachan also wants the campaign concluded first, even if it means a shortened season in 2020/21.
However, players’ contracts run out by the end of June and that would leave squad numbers in disarray, so with so much uncertainty no amount of legal work could turn that situation around. Also, and a huge reason why clubs voted overwhelmingly (notwithstanding the Dundee situation) in favour of the SPFL proposals was to ensure there is no threat to the vital broadcasting money by any altered, or late, kick-off to next season.
The fallout from the events over the past few days could go on for some time yet. Just as well so many folk have little else to do right now…
• Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show on North Highland Radio is currently on hold during the pandemic and national lockdown. Follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook and Twitter for regular sport updates and news of Paul’s studio return.