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The rot in the SPFL set in long before Covid 19

2 December 2020


Nine-in-a-row was imminent, and lets be honest it was always a matter of when, not if, even before the coronavirus outbreak resulted in not only  a premature halt to the football season, but slammed the brakes on life itself.

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Never in any our lives have we endured a time like now.

There have been calls from some particular quarters that an asterisk be placed next to Celtic’s name in the history books for last season, when we were awarded the title without playing out the remaining games.

This might seem controversial to most of my fellow fanatics but to be honest I’d would have had no argument with that whatsoever. On further investigation, all it will indicate and confirm to readers in 30, 40 or 50 years from now is that Celtic were awarded the title on merit.

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It’s laughable and ludicrous that some supporters of other clubs think our players, coaching staff and supporters want this to be the manner in which our league campaign concluded.

We were all looking forward to retaining the championship, and celebrating equalling our record nine consecutive league titles on trophy day. Further to that, we are still in the hunt for a quadruple treble after we navigated our way past Aberdeen in the semi-final to face Hearts in a showcase Scottish Cup final showdown on December 20.

After the league was called to a halt, war broke out between The Rangers and the SPFL board, with unsubstantiated accusations of bullying and coercion when the clubs voted to allow the governing body to call the season early.

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There’s something quite ironic about our city rivals’ claims regarding the governance of the game and that has led to them being lent little sympathy from fans elsewhere, and especially so from those who support Celtic.

Putting the city rivalry to one side, do I think there is any legitimacy in their concerns or claims? Yeah, I do. While I can’t claim to have any real insight into any “bullying” or “coercion”, I do believe that we too should have concerns over the way the vote was conducted. It was and remains an absolutely farcical state of affairs. And there is no doubt that many of us who support Celtic have had grave concerns over the insular way that football has been run in this little country for decades, and particularly in what’s gone on during the past decade.

It’s all good laughing at them when it seems the boot is on the other foot for a change, but the game here needs radical change at the top. It’s a pity it’s only debatable when a particular club mention it though. We’ve been hitting our head against a brick wall for years.

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Celtic kept quiet all through this vote debacle and the resultant fallout, and rightly so. Why should we wade into it when we have nothing to gain from getting involved?

Many media “experts” and pundits keep trying to say it’s all about Celtic and The Rangers, but it’s not, it’s about the governance of the game and self-interest on the part of both the SPFL and the vast majority of the clubs.

The ninth title was inevitable it would seem but the celebrations, on our part were muted.

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The league was called and Celtic were crowned champions. The Scottish Cup games could be played this season. Which takes me on to another point – we were asked to fork out for season tickets and with no idea what shape or form that would take. I’ve heard a good few Celtic fans at the time saying we should all just pay up and keep the club in as good a financial state as possible.

I agree with that sentiment to an extent but there were many supporters who had lost their jobs, or were struggling to pay the bills and support their families. The majority of them will have already written off the money they previously paid for the current season for games that were not played.

The directors at Celtic have sold the fans short countless times in recent years, and rarely backed them. They’ve led a number of our supporters up the garden path in respect of Resolution 12, asking them to provide a smoking gun and then when they did, they decided to throw it in the Clyde. Supporters were left out of pocket in pursuit of the truth and sporting integrity, a term that’s been bandied about readily in recent months.

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It makes you wonder if the gun was thrown in the Clyde in case it backfired on anyone?

And that’s not to mention the five-way agreement!

We’ve also had blanket bans on supporters in the standing section, where I stand, regardless of individual guilt. Then they hope we will just pay up and shut up. We could be buying a pig in a poke as they say, but no doubt the majority have parted with their cash regardless of what’s on offer.

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But we talk about other supports being gullible. The push for 10-in-a-row was the main selling point no matter how many games we are set to play or when the season started.

That takes me on to the failed efforts at reconstruction. If ever there was an opportunity or time to make things better this was it but league reconstruction plans were scrapped.

Any proposals of increasing the top league would never have got through regardless of how promising they looked because for too many clubs it’s just about self-preservation, and I include Celtic in that. The club make the right noises to appease the fans but they would be aghast if faced with only two games against the club from the south side of the city each season.

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I would be more than happy to meet each team twice a season. The derby matches have been reduced in spectator terms to the level of other derbies in the UK. We can thank Dave King for reducing the derby, even if it is against a tribute act, to not much better than a Newcastle v Sunderland match. That’s not just my opinion, I’ve spoken to several visitors from abroad who have been left somewhat underwhelmed by the spectacle from a fan’s point of view in the last few years.

Every year there are complaints about the split, last season could have saw us going back to play a top-six side for the third time away from home. The argument is that the split leads to less meaningless games with more teams having something to play for at both ends of the table.

A bigger league with even two more teams would have allowed a split after 26 games where teams would meet each other an even number of times. But the clubs don’t want what’s good for the game or its fans. Celtic want two home games against their city rivals so they can charge 800 of their fans and thousands of ours over £50 a pop for tickets, then there’s the hospitality etc.

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Many of the other teams in the league want to retain the possible four home games against the Glasgow sides as for a lot of them it’s their biggest income of the season. It’s a vicious circle and a bit like watching a dog chasing its own tail.

There are too many professional clubs in Scotland chasing not enough spectators and barely enough cash. Many, we are led to believe, lead a hand to mouth existence.

The longer this Covid-19 pandemic goes on the more likely it is that clubs will fold. Change could be forced upon the structure of the game whether the clubs like it or not.

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The rot set in a long time ago and it’s at the top of the game, and if you don’t cut it out then eventually the whole tree is in trouble.

Michael Pringle is a journalist from Glasgow. He is a member of the Garngad Millburn CSC and has been a regular contributor to More than 90 Minutes since 2004. As well as following Celtic home and away he can also be found on the south terraces of St. Pauli’s Milerntor staduim during the football season, where he is a club member.

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