In unique circumstances football without fans must be an option

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There’s a strong argument for playing games behind closed doors to finish the Scottish Premier League season.

THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN

                                                                                                                                                   Sunday, April 19

AS Scottish football considers how to progress from a bloody battle over how to conclude the season, there are uneven playing fields across the country.

The much-debated Dundee FC vote-changer from no to yes gave the SPFL the power to immediately blow the final whistle on the Championship, League One and Two campaigns and spark pay-outs to clubs, many of whom are on their knees with no income due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting sport down.

Caley Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner described his own club as being down on one knee as they risked their £330k prize money for finishing second in the Championship, despite there being nine matches left.

The Scottish Premiership is expected to also be called to an early halt, meaning Celtic would be nine-in-a-row champions. At the other end, Hearts would drop down to the Championship.

Dundee United – 14 points in front of Caley Thistle in the Championship – have been granted early promotion to next term’s Premiership, while Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers have been declared the respective League One and Two winners, so have been promoted. The losers from the vote, in which 81 per cent of the clubs voted for the SPFL proposals, were Partick Thistle and Stranraer. 

Many of those yes votes, perhaps including that of Dundee, were secured courtesy of the carrot of league reconstruction dangled by the suits at Hampden. Discussion about a 14-club top-flight has now emerged. That would be a scenario which would catapult Caley Thistle up to the top divison with Dundee United. Highland derbies against Ross County back on the biggest stage would certainly whet the appetites.

I’ve said all along that, by hook or by crook, we have to finish the 2019-2020 season whenever it is safe to do so. That might be some months away, although June 10 is the optimistic date set right now for football to go on again in Scotland.

Closed-door football had been mentioned in dispatches, but only on Thursday did we read that PFA Scotland, the players’ union, would be willing to work with the SPFL to make it happen if that was an option. There will be guidance from UEFA this week as to how European countries should end their seasons. Nulling and voiding and pretending the league games since last August didn’t matter have faded as options.

So, it looks like the Premiership more likely will be called as it is and it’ll all be about what the make-up will be of our leagues next season. However, should the SPFL have the chance to play fixtures behind closed doors – like the English Football League is planning – they really must grasp it.

Ann Budge, the Hearts chairwoman who is driving forward the push for league reconstruction with Hamilton chief Les Gray, has been vocal in her view that no club should be champions or relegated until the full campaign has been played. She’s no doubt damaged any faint support she did have for Premiership clubs to vote for sweeping change with her frank comments, but I take my hat off to her because she is spot-on.

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Hearts supremo Ann Budge is standing firm against moves to relegate the Tynecastle club.

That’s why I believe – for this unique year only –  games should be played within empty and SAFE grounds.

Deals with broadcasters would need to be arranged so that fans can see the action at home rather than down the pub, depending on restrictions.

The chances of the season being concluded on the pitch seem less likely by the day and the ramifications from making Celtic early winners and Hearts early losers will go on for a long time. However, should the green light be given for closed door football in Scotland, the SPFL has jumped the gun by making it a top-flight issue only.

The scrapping of play-offs, which denied Brora Rangers a chance of a promotion as well as Inverness, has infuriated some clubs and given others a Get out of Jail Free card. If all these matters affecting clubs so acutely could have been settled on the pitch – even in front of empty stands – then that should have remained a realistic option until the SPFL were told otherwise.

White’s exit could open door for Todorov 

 CALEY Thistle’s top striker from the past two terms could well follow former Inverness player Liam Polworth to Motherwell. Jordan White, who has bagged 26 goals in 89 appearances for ICT, has caught the attention of Motherwelll gaffer Stephen Robinson since joining from National League side Barrow.

I have seen the big striker grow in stature during his time here and he’s a better player who won over many of the critics who were too quick to judge. If he does exit the Caledonian Stadium, manager John Robertson should ensure – if he hasn’t already  – that he’s secured the services of goal-grabber Nikolay Todorov. The 23-year-old Bulgarian notched seven goals for the Caley Jags in 2019-20, with five of those coming after he came on as a substitute.

Todorov has gone public over his frustration at not getting nearly as many starts as he reckons he should have. He has earned his chance to shine and further show his worth to the team.

• Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show on North Highland Radio is not on air during the national lockdown. However, a special one-hour programme should be broadcast this Friday at 7pm – see Alive and Kicking’s Facebook and Twitter pages for confirmation later in the week.

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