Virus fallout wipes out Caley Thistle hopes of promotion

by Paul Chalk                                                                                                                    Wednesday, April 15

AS sure as night follows day, it always seemed likely Dundee would change direction.

The Dens Park club’s decision to vote for the SPFL’s proposals tonight (Wednesday) has brought the 2019-20 Championship and League One and Two seasons to an end amid the coronavirus pandemic, which led to last week’s all-member vote.

Scot Gardiner raised the league controversy to boiling point.

And, as soon as UEFA rubber-stamp it, the Premiership will follow suit, meaning Celtic will win nine-in-a-row in the top-flight, much to Rangers’ fury. Hearts, off the scale in anger, will be relegated if all goes through as they are the current bottom side.

Dundee United go up as Championship winners, with Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers the respective champions of Leagues One and Two.

There are no play-offs, meaning no relegation sweat for Ross County, who sit only two points above the drop zone, while Caley Thistle are denied their opportunity to follow Dundee United up to the Premiership via the play-offs. They conclude this aborted campaign in second spot, four points ahead of Dundee, the club we’ve all been talking about since Friday.

The reason why the Championship club have hit the headlines is because after a sensational interview by Inverness CT chief executive Scot Gardiner it emerged Dundee’s vote which was meant to have been lodged with the SPFL on Friday at 5pm had in fact not gone through.

Caley Thistle have been denied the chance of a play-off for entry to the top division.

The details made public by the SPFL showed that Dundee’s vote was actually the one their proposals hinged on. The season in the three lower leagues could only be called if Dundee voted yes.

Caley Thistle and Partick Thistle voted against the plans to prematurely end the campaigns and, as Gardiner revealed in graphic detail, Dundee intended to vote that way too. Quite why they hadn’t was anyone’s guess.

Mystery surrounded the reasons why Dundee didn’t vote as they said they would, but they refused to be drawn on it and talk of underhand chats between clubs with vested interests and/or the SPFL went into overdrive.

ICT, according to Gardiner, didn’t vote for the season to end mainly because they couldn’t bring themselves to cast the vote which would relegate Partick Thistle from the Championship, as well as Stranraer and, most likely soon, Hearts from their divisions.

It was a call reportedly costing ICT £330,000 – the sum the SPFL intended to pay them for ‘finishing’ second in the Championship. Voting through these proposals would lead to prize money paid to all clubs now. A lifeline for many who are already in trouble.

Gardiner described the Caley Jags as being “on one knee”.

The story moved on further this week when Dundee’s vote was reportedly retracted, a move that rivals and many neutrals say is completely unfair.

However, they were allowed this midweek reprieve and they changed their mind. The Dark Blues are pressing for league reconstruction which may well benefit them and such a change to the Scottish football landscape requires rewritten rules. As it stands, league reconstruction requires 11 of the 12 Premiership clubs to favour it.
Ross County have been spared any prospect of relegation.

With £160m of Sky Sports cash riding on it, clubs are hugely reluctant to gamble too much. The big-playing and big-paying broadcasters will not want a scenario where there won’t be four Old Firm league games, so that must be factored in.

At the other end of the ladder, there is no route this season into League Two for Highland League champions Brora Rangers as the pyramid play-offs are binned for the year due to the coronavirus crisis. That means Brechin City, the worst team in League Two, stay where they are.

Barry Ferguson’s Kelty Hearts, who were named Lowland League winners with a six-point advantage of a Bonnyrigg Rose side who had a game in hand, are also denied a crack at a step up.

This ugly battle looks set for the courtrooms, so although there’s a measure of clarity by Dundee voting yes today there’s a long way to go.

If all goes as the SPFL hope now, Ross County can breathe a sigh of relief by staying in the Premiership, but Caley Thistle remain in the second tier and are likely to have the might of Hearts to contend with.

Earlier today, an STV report suggested Scottish football won’t be back before August at the earliest and that came 48 hours after it was claimed in newspaper reports that Scotland’s Euro2021 play-off semi-final with Israel could be delayed until the New Year as domestic leagues will get priority.

• Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show on North Highland Radio is currently off air due to the coronavirus crisis and safety measures recommended by the government. However, follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook and Twitter as there will be sport on the station this Friday. Details will be published on those platforms.

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