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Neil Doncaster admits ‘no consensus’ on how Scottish season would be ended

SPFL File Photo
(Image credit: Jeff Holmes)

Scotland’s league clubs remain split on how to decide the current campaign if another coronavirus spike forces the season to be cut short again.

Scottish Professional Football League chief Neil Doncaster admits there is “no consensus” among the body’s 42 member clubs after examining the responses to a questionnaire sent to chairman.

The Hampden boss is keen to avoid a repeat of the bitter fall-out that followed the curtailment of last term’s action, when Celtic were awarded the Premiership title and Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer were handed enforced relegations as the UK was rushed into lockdown.

The SPFL board have already made one unsuccessful attempt to claim extra powers that would allow them to decide how to end the season if Covid-19 cases continue to spread across the country and Doncaster confessed indecision continues to reign through Scotland’s top four tiers.

But he has vowed to continue talks with clubs in the hope an agreement can be reached.

SPFL chief executive Doncaster said: “We are grateful to all those clubs who responded to the questionnaire.

“It is very clear from the responses that there is no consensus, let alone the necessary majorities, for any decision to be taken now about how we might draw this season to a close if it becomes impracticable to complete all fixtures as a result of Covid 19 disruption.

“Like everyone in the game, the board is keen to avoid the division and dispute caused when Scottish Government restrictions prompted by Covid-19 forced the curtailment of last season.

“In light of the fast-changing nature of coronavirus restrictions, the board is seeking to ensure that the game is as well-prepared as it can be for any eventuality and the League is consulting regularly with all 42 member clubs.

“We have already carried out one such consultation exercise this season and the second, which we have just completed, is unlikely to be the last. In the interests of transparency, we expect that we’ll continue to monitor and publish the collective views of clubs as the season develops.”

Only 20 clubs agreed that the SPFL Board should be given powers allowing them to call the season on a points per game basis once a number of matches had been played, while just 17 backed plans that would give the league the right to void the entire season if another lockdown was to be called for at an early stage in the campaign.

The one thing the clubs could agree on was their rejection of calls for clubs failing to fulfil a fixture because of the virus to be handed a 3-0 defeat, with 38 members voicing their disapproval.

That follows on from a debate sparked by Kilmarnock and St Mirren’s recent call-offs after both sides found themselves unable to raise a team after being hit by Covid outbreaks.

The Premiership pair face an SPFL disciplinary hearing next week and a number of teams admitted they would prefer to take their chances with “due process” should they find themselves in a similar situation.

In a statement, the SPFL added: “A wide range of views were expressed as to how many fixtures should be completed for a valid season to be deemed to have been completed, in the event of early curtailment.

“Nineteen clubs felt that it was ‘too early to take decisions now’ and that decisions on any Covid-19 related disruption should be considered later in the season.”

But Doncaster remains confident the SPFL will be able to squeeze all its fixtures in before the scheduled climax in the middle of May.

He said: “The board continues to seek to complete every scheduled league fixture on its scheduled date, except where necessarily dislocated by cup matches, and welcomes the Scottish FA board decision to have no replays in Scottish Cup matches during the current season.

“Encouragingly, the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Strategic Framework underlines that professional football will continue to be permitted, even under Tier 4 restrictions, giving us the best possible chance of completing the season, and that remains our over-riding focus.”