SPFL Suspension: Winners and Losers
While the footballing world is working to bring this season to a suitable conclusion, Cameron Wanstall has taken a look at the Scottish clubs most affected by the SPFL suspension.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to run rampant throughout sport, with all those in football being affected by the situation – fans are growing impatient while waiting for a solution, some players and staff will be facing an uncertain future while some lower league clubs are creeping towards financial turmoil. Many proud Scottish footballing institutions may not survive the long wait until football returns, with the crisis providing the SFA with a number of lessons to learn as a result of the cancellation.
The Scottish Professional Football League’s handling of the crisis has been criticised at every turn and we must not forget this pandemic could still wreak further havoc on Scottish football. However, this article will focus on only what we know at this point. No club should profit while another suffers a loss from a global pandemic, but the reality is that there are going to be winners and losers here.
Winner: The Champions
While it seems inevitable that Celtic would win their ninth straight title this season, Rangers weren’t mathematically out of the title race – whichever club the title is awarded to will benefit this suspension more than most.
While speaking to Sky Sports, club captain confirmed that Celtic players and staff would certainly prefer to finish the season outright – despite the club voting yes for the SPFL’s resolution. Chief Executive Peter Lawwell has said the SPFL must find a “fair and reasonable solution” to the season. Should the season be cut short, Celtic would officially be crowned champions to claim their ninth consecutive title in their quest for ‘ten in a row’.
However, the squad back themselves to win the Premiership should the season finish in full. With eight matches to play, Celtic are thirteen points ahead of Old Firm rivals Rangers (who have one game in hand) and are unbeaten in the league this calendar year. Steven Gerrard’s side would be faced twice in the run-in but an opportunity to silence those rival fans who are calling for the league to resume would be irresistible for Celtic fans and players alike.
Celtic may still play the rest of their season but first placed sides in the leagues below will not. Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers have all been awarded titles for their respective divisions. At the time of suspension, Dundee United and Cove Rangers were both runaway leaders in the Championship and League Two and very few have objected to each club’s champions status. Raith Rovers on the other hand…
Loser: The Chasers
Raith Rovers were crowned League One champions when the SPFL’s controversial resolution passed. Raith were only eight points clear off fifth-placed local rivals East Fife (who voted against the resolution), six points ahead of fourth-placed Montrose and five points ahead of third-placed Airdrieonians. That alone may be enough for some people to question the handing of the title to Raith.
Each of the three chasing teams mentioned above have been too busy furloughing staff and raising the necessary funds to survive to properly contest the decision. The real kick in the teeth comes for hapless Falkirk. The Bairns, like Raith, are a side considered too large for the third tier and were breathing down the neck of their title contenders.
Falkirk were just one point behind Raith, had a far superior goal difference and the sides had drawn all three league fixtures between each other so far. The goal difference is astonishing, and the head-to-head tie may seem harsh, but they were one point behind Raith with zero games in hand. Nothing can be done. Falkirk have accepted the outcome of the resolution, with chairman Gary Deans explaining how the club will move forward as a result of the proposal being passed. However, the Bairns will no doubt feel aggrieved by the decision and hope league reconstruction works in their favour.
Winner: The Relieved
Hamilton Academical, Ross County and St. Mirren have all been spared a relegation battle with the long-suffering Hearts for the time being. In the increasingly likely event that the current season does not resume, all three clubs will be safe and, unless there is reconstruction, Hearts will be relegated.
Each club voted to end the season prematurely. Hamilton chair Allan Maitland said: “We will be doing everything we can to protect the jobs and livelihoods of everyone connected with our club.” Each club seems to be making sure everyone associated with them is taken care of, with safety from relegation being an additional bonus.
Scottish Championship sides Alloa Athletic and Queen of the South will feel even more relieved as there is no chance of the Championship season being completed and both are officially safe from the drop.
Loser: The Anxious
Heart of Midlothian have been ever-present in the headlines since the suspension of the 2019/20 season was confirmed. As quoted in a statement from April 16th, Hearts chair Ann Budge has made it clear that the Edinburgh side will contest any decision to relegate the club, stating that the campaign must be completed in full or league reconstruction must be implemented to keep bottom-placed sides from being unjustly relegated. Under the SPFL’s current proposal, Hearts would be relegated if the season is not completed.
Budge has been handed the role of joint chair of a ‘Reconstruction Group’. The task force will attempt to find a solution for SPFL members to agree on which would see clubs promoted, avoid relegation and make sure all are protected from financial ruin. Budge has already claimed that the current proposal would cost Hearts over two million pounds in the next year and it has been widely reported that Hearts have had serious setbacks in trying to rapidly slash wages in an attempt to save money.
In the two divisions below, Partick Thistle and Stranraer have already been officially relegated – unless reconstruction saves them. Partick have described the relegation as “arbitrary and unjust” but have accepted their fate. No legal action is to be pursued by the Jags and have assured fans that they’re financially secure and prepared for when football resumes. Meanwhile, Stranraer (who were unlikely to recover from bottom spot) were angered the SPFL’s handling of the crisis but are ready to work towards a solution with all member clubs.
Winner: The Saved
Another promotion/relegation dilemma for the SPFL is the League Two relegation play-off. Brechin City were seven points adrift at the bottom of the fourth tier before the season’s suspension. Brechin were facing a possible third straight relegation after their infamous zero-win Championship campaign and last season’s disastrous League One demotion.
Brechin have officially been spared from the play-off or relegation by the resolution but that does not explain what happens to their possible replacements. Winners of the fifth tier Highland and Lowland leagues, Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts, would ordinarily face each other in a play-off before the winner would take on League Two’s tenth-placed side for a place in the professional leagues.
The SPFL is yet to confirm what the plan is for Brora and Kelty, whether they will have a shot at promotion at all is unknown. However, the obvious winner in this predicament is Brechin. City fans can rest easy knowing that their place in the football league is safe.
Loser: The Commendable
Hibernian have become both winners and losers in this situation. Hibs have received widespread praise after announcing that their next kit will have the message, “Thank You NHS” emblazoned across the chest, the space typically reserved for a sponsor. The kit has already become the best-selling Hibs kit of all-time, while the club is planning to raise over six-figures for NHS charities from the kit sales and other fundraising activities. Additionally, Hibs’ recent takeover by millionaire Ron Gordon also means the club is financially secure in these uncertain times. Win-win.
However, in strictly footballing terms, the club is may feel hard done by. Should the season not be completed the table will be sorted by points per game meaning Hibs would fall from 5th to 7th place in the Premiership. This two place slip would cost Jack Ross and his men a European adventure next season. Chief Executive Leeann Dempster is aware of this, announcing that she has left the reconstruction task force to instead “explore options” for finishing the season outright.
The Hibees also had a great chance of success in the Scottish Cup, before the competition was suspended, after drawing crisis-hit city rivals Hearts in the semi-final. Winning the cup would have offered Hibs another route into Europe, but chances of the competition resuming are close to zero percent. Lose-lose.
Bonus Loser: The SPFL
Finally, we get to the association that can apparently do nothing right. It is quite impossible for the SPFL to satisfy every member, however, the utter incompetence of those in charge has caused chaos, confusion and conspiracy theories – because some things never change. Allegations of bullying and dodgy dealings appear to be far-fetched, but the handling of the resolution vote was a catastrophe.
The missing Dundee vote, the untrue five o’clock deadline and the immediate escalation of the matter from Hearts and Rangers put the SPFL under intense scrutiny. An internally commissioned investigation clearing the association and chief executive Neil Doncaster of any wrongdoing has done nothing to calm down furious supporters, with a fresh call for an independent investigation into the process already being made.
No matter what resolution is reached, fans are all just hoping that the day football can return comes sooner rather than later and we can only hope it comes soon, so that Scottish football can finally return to normality.