Sporting integrity is a rare commodity in Scottish football. Clubs will discard players, coaches and managers and disregard contracts at the drop of a hat, if it means saving a few bob. We are in unprecedented times during this current coronavirus pandemic and there seems to be no limit to the amount of traction the dreaded ‘sporting integrity’ tagline is being wheeled out as some sort of badge of honour. In Scottish football in particular, it’s a phrase masked in tribalism, self-interest and false honesty, often used as a stick with which to beat the other side into submission when we want to champion a cause. In this instance, that cause is the Scottish Premiership season and there are all manner of theories as to what we should do next, and in almost every case it is self-interest that will be the overriding factor in determining a club’s stance, rather than some sort of warped take on ‘integrity.’
There are three possible outcomes to the current impasse. The first, is end the season now, declare Celtic champions and all other finishing positions remain as they are. The second, null and void, and the third, finish the season and play out the final eight games no matter when that may be, before the next season starts.
Rangers have very firmly pinned their tail to the donkey. In a surprise of cataclysmic proportions, they have decided that their preferred option would be to end the season now and declare the season null and void, go back to square one and forget that 179 games have already been played in a season of 228. That’s 78%. Who’d have thought it?! Apparently the ‘integrity’ of the competition would be compromised if the current finishing positions were finalised. All manner of former Rangers players have been rolled out to the press in order to back up their stance that null and void should be the only outcome. In the last few months, Rangers have lost to Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Hearts and dropped points to St Johnstone and Aberdeen. There is a 13 point gap at the top of the table, albeit Rangers have a game in hand and two derbies still to play, but are we really to believe that Rangers still think they can win the title? Sure, it’s mathematically possible, but the realistic, honest definition of that phrase is ‘probably impossible.’ The truth of the matter is that the gap is more likely to get bigger in the final eight games, rather than diminish. It should have been Frank Gallagher making that statement from the Chatsworth Estate rather than Stewart Robertson from the Blue Room. It lacked humility and class. Mr. Robertson is also on the board who will have a major in role in deciding the outcome and how we move forward when this crisis is over so could reasonably be expected to have a conflict of interest. Where is the integrity in that? If there is an argument for null and void, then the one thing that absolutely does not back it up is ‘sporting integrity.’
TV money and distribution rights are paramount to the survival of many clubs and an essential part of the contracts drawn up by sponsors and TV companies. Champions League and Europa League qualification is entirely based around final league positionings. Neither of these scenarios is possible with a null and void outcome which makes it all the more unlikely. Are we to believe that these competitions next season, with all the money they generate, will be null and void too? Unless we partake in a bizarre game of finishing position bingo, it would seem well-nigh impossible that the null and void brigade will get their way. Although, of course, it’s still mathematically possible.
For my own part, I have to admit to being embarrassed at my own reaction. I make no apologies about being an ex-footballer and a Celtic supporter and most of you will know that I follow my team up and down the country week-in, week-out. When I first heard about the suspension of the season I was devastated. The thought of a historical nine-in-a-row and potential quadruple treble being snatched away was mind numbing. I reacted emotionally and could think of nothing but the self-interest and selfishness that blights Scottish football. I was wrong. The seriousness of the current pandemic, made me, in the ensuing days, recognise that there are things I need to think about above my football team. My emotional reactions based on my loyalties and love of my team, were at best misguided and at worst, shameful. I can only hope that when this current crisis is a long and distant memory, we can all self-reflect and recognise what to prioritise.
For what it’s worth, I will now be happy to abide by whatever decision the authorities decide is the best for everyone. My own personal preference is that we somehow, finish the current season before starting the next one. Sure, it might be a logistical nightmare, but if integrity really is the buzz word then playing the season to a finish and making sure everyone gets their rightful reward, should be the only priority. If it means pushing back and shortening next season then so be it, but if we are to preserve the integrity of the competition, then we must do everything possible to see the season out. Every Celtic supporter I know wants this to happen. There can be no arguments and no dissent on any part when the league is won after 38 games. It would also ensure that Scottish football does not eat itself because the ensuing fallout and meltdown to a ‘null and void’ season or a title that has been won before all games have been played, would put the last eight years of acrimony in the shade.
Finally, what of a declaration of Celtic as champions and all finishing positions standing as is? As I have stated previously, I will be happy and humble enough to stand by whatever the authorities decide. I will be utterly honest and say that without the season finishing, it would leave a slightly bittersweet taste in my mouth, but if we get the title and nine-in-a-row is declared then the powers that be will have exhausted all other possibilities. After all, we are always encouraged to look at the record books when questioning the validity of a title* win. Celtic are currently 1/100 with the bookies. I’m certain there’s hardly a Rangers supporter in the land who would take a punt on us losing it. There can be no question that given current standings, Celtic deserve to be champions. Very few, if they wish to keep their so called integrity intact, could argue with that.