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Hearts are drifting towards disaster as Scottish football faces being sucked into a black hole - Keith Jackson

The conundrum facing Scottish football would need Stephen Hawking to work it out.


There are some conundrums which are way too complex for the average human brain to

But grappling with the concept of infinity and dimensions of the space-time continuum may soon look child’s play compared to the complications which are about to blind-side Scottish football and tie it up in knots.

At 10am this morning 10 Championship clubs will dial into a conference call to discuss whether or not it is financially viable for their division to start up behind closed doors whenever Nicola Sturgeon and professor Jason Leitch give them the go ahead. That’s the easy bit.

Some of them, like Hearts and Morton for example, will say it can be done. Others – and most probably the majority – will reluctantly concede that it cannot.

And at that point, if a general consensus is reached that the second tier of our game will have to shut down for the foreseeable, then we are all about to be sucked into a black hole by this absolute atrocity of a coronavirus plague.

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Hearts in particular will be left drifting off towards disaster. They may have made some bullish noises over the weekend but if they have no league in which to play whenever the country is allowed out of the house again, then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where they are headed.

Ann Budge was running a wage bill of around £9million before the world was stopped in its tracks.

If her club is now denied any matchday income for the next six months or so then it stands to reason that the strain they will be placed under will be
enormous and potentially devastating.

It’s for that reason a number of Premiership clubs are willing to begin another conversation today about resurrecting plans to reconstruct the SPFL. Budge has prepared a paper which she hopes to distribute around all 42 of Scotland’s clubs later today, presumably as soon as she’s logged off from this morning’s meeting about the potential mothballing of the Championship.

She needs to be thrown a lifeline from the top flight. That much is obvious.

But, hold on a minute, because this is where things are likely to become seriously complicated and not least because six of the top 12
clubs booted out a previous reconstruction proposal just a couple of weeks ago.
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Budge may need as many as 11 of them on her side but are clubs such as St Mirren, Hibs and St Johnstone suddenly expected to put their own needs and best interests to one side in order to keep her head above water? The theory of drowning man syndrome suggests they will not.

And yet it may not be that straightforward either because the entire Scottish game is fast approaching a point of full-blown crisis at which stage some sort of league recalibration, while undesirable to so many, may become completely unavoidable for all.

Because while clubs such as Dunfermline, Arbroath, Queen of the South and Ayr United may see no option but to shut down until fans can return to their grounds, others below the
Championship level – such as Partick Thistle, Falkirk and Cove Rangers – do have the funds to play on even if the turnstiles remain locked.

Very soon it may be necessary for the SPFL to ask for a show of hands from like-minded clubs up and down the land to determine how many of them would be able to restart without fans.
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And that’s when the entire league structure may have to be overhauled in order to keep football being played.

The potential legal ramifications from this would be mind blowing. If, for example, overnight a new 18-team top-flight was established, would Sky TV still be willing to pay the same amount for it?

What would happen to those clubs who opt to hibernate until Covid-19 has passed us by? Would they still be entitled to a share of broadcast payments during this time?

And how would they react to being effectively dumped down the divisions just because they couldn’t afford to play on during a global pandemic?

It doesn’t end there either. Even if the top flight is brought out of cold storage at some point in the next three weeks and players are allowed to return to training, a big number of its current 12 clubs will be in no position to do so until they know for sure when next season can begin.

Hamilton, St Mirren, Motherwell and Kilmarnock are only surviving right now because they have taken full advantage of the government’s furlough scheme – cutting their wage bills by 80 per cent.

Unless they have a cast-iron guarantee that the game will begin again in early August – and there are still concerns that it may not be back until October – then it makes no sense at all for them to be bounced into bringing back players and staff in mid June and paying them the full whack for four months with no income.

These clubs would not be able to stay afloat for that long.
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It’s an entirely different situation for Celtic and Rangers for whom furlough money doesn’t touch the sides of the monthly payroll.

But what’s the point in the big two getting ready to return to action if there’s no-one left for them to play?

The future for the Scottish national team is also a picture of considerable confusion. UEFA’s pig-headed executive may very well insist later this week that the game will soon be up and running again across the continent but they’re not having to deal with the issues their hair-brained scheduling will create.

If, for example, it is confirmed that Steve Clarke’s opening Nations League double-header goes ahead as planned in September then how exactly do they propose these matches, at home to Israel and away to the Czech Republic, take place?

Under current restrictions, all Israelis are required by law to self-isolate for two weeks if returning home from abroad.

Would clubs be willing to allow their players to be ruled out of action for so long?

Closer to home, how would Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Aston Villa feel about letting Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay and John McGinn leave their sterile training environments to jump on a plane to Prague? A week or so before the next Premier League campaign is proposed to begin?

These are just some of the questions for which football will soon have to find all the answers. Someone inside Hampden had better get the next Stephen Hawking on the phone.