Date: 5th March 2021
But Will Hampden Still Host the Euros?
The wonderful news this week is the scheduled return of football in SPFL1 and 2, the SWPL1 and the Scottish cup.
But first the Euros and the pressure of time counting down on our old pal, ex soldier, karate black belt and well known petrol head, Sandy fae Slovenia.
For weeks we have been following the tortuous decision that Mr Aleksander Ceferin (to use his Sunday name), the head of Uefa has to make.
He is well aware that he is running out of time to ensure he makes the right financial decisions about his Euro’s.
Every day he can be seen staring at the final, final, final red mark on the Colin Baxter wall calendar we sent him in December.
His big red circle is around the 7th of April, coincidentally the day his martial arts hero Jackie Chan was born.
It is also the day he has to either hold the faith and keep his already postponed Euro’s Tournament as is, across 12 cities and nations or make changes.
In a growing state of agitation none of his 3 options are easy for him or us to call right now.
1 Stay as it is and maximise the art of the possible on a city per city basis when more is known.
2 Tweak it so it stays mostly as it is but making some changes and plans to minimise any last minute crises.
3 Move it all to one venue. Indeed first Israel and now London have made it known they could host the complete tournament.
The reality in a week where tonight’s Raith v Dunfermline game was called off because of an unforeseen Covid outbreak is that there will almost certainly be Covid appearances somewhere during the tournament.
Sandy deep down knows that.
He has to have a Plan B that factors in the very real risks.
Sandy Ceferin the Fans Advocate?
In the press you will have read that Sandy has pledged that fans must be allowed into games.
The reasons we are told and read are things like “fans create the atmosphere, enhance the games, make it a better tournament” and other platitudinal PR’d stuff like that.
The reality is simpler and baser.
UEFA want the tournament to make a profit and need bums on seats at grounds to make their numbers work.
I’ve seen different figures but they require between 30% and 40% capacity at all games.
They are rightly worried.
The Pre April 7th Game Has Kicked Off
12 stadia, 12 governments, 12 different and wildly fluctuating Covid situations, 12 different football associations and no certainty with an ever mutating virus.
So ahead of April 7th Sandy has come out stirring and using the giant spurtle we sent him for his birthday for maximum effect.
Stirring away to see what it brings.
Looking for financial guarantees.
He and his team have identified (picked on) three venues and leaked they may be dropped altogether, having done nothing wrong.
Hampden, Dublin and Bilbao are reportedly in his firing line for not guaranteeing crowds at each of their 4 allocated games.
Sandy is desperate enough to believe political leaders like Boris who says with verve that he can even hold more games, with crowds guaranteed and is overtly positive.
We can see through that but it makes Scotland look distinctly unwelcoming and uncooperative compared to our near neighbour even though our virus metrics are lower.
Boris’s populist style is a stark contrast to our pragmatic style but it’s all bluster.
The fact is that nobody actually knows.
Not Sandy, Not Boris, Not Nicola.
Ceferin’s pressure though is working and Nicola and her team, ahead of elections, seem to have blinked first.
“Nobody wants Scotland to lose the Euros and I don’t think that we should be thinking that is the case.
All countries are grappling with giving indications to Uefa of what will be possible with fan attendance and fan zones.
Let’s stick with the (Covid) rules just now so that the Euros and much more besides becomes possible”.
'Let me be very clear, we are absolutely intent on having the Euros'
— STV News (@STVNews) March 5, 2021
In response to Ms Sturgeon well known assistant referee and Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross said, “The UK’s leading vaccine roll out has made the possible return of fans possible”.
An interesting statement.
Speaking as a Scottish based, under 65, unvaccinated and so far un-contacted member of the public I can confirm the current vaccination logistics will preclude most fans under 65 in Scotland from attending Hampden games.
I say this because our 50s to 65s age group will only get their first jag by late March/ mid April. The required second, 12 weeks later, will be well towards the end of the Euros.
Younger adults will be even later.
Mr Ross’s is right to praise our programme of vaccinations but it will be too late to be of any use for most of our potential fan base.
So who will be fully vaccinated by 14 June when the first game is scheduled and therefore who could be at Hampden?
Most of our senior citizens (the over 65s) will have been jagged twice and potentially vaccination passport-ed up too by then and all the better for it.
And there is a growing cohort of those currently getting the jag early from carers to health workers to others.
Can we find 25,000 or even more for 4 games as Douglas sees possible?
So Hampden can be roaring again, just not with certain age groups, simples.
Well Done to Our 20 “Can-Do” Clubs
Many moons ago our blog asked “Where is Paul Cave when you need him?”
He is the amazing Australian guy with the can-do attitude who found logical and safe answers to all the reasons he was told would prevent tourists ever climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge.
He thought about it, spoke with experts and introduced all the protocols needed to maintain safety and created the biggest tourist attraction in Australia.
I loved his climb when I was there too.
Late last summer we introduced Paul Cave and asked why Rod, Ian and Neil didn’t take a leaf out of his book and do the same to get our game back playing and with fans instead of closed doors.
We were asking for a “can-do” approach to recognising and overcoming difficulties without shirking responsibilities or safety.
We got no response but maybe it was too big an ask.
Our Wee Guys Have Just Taken the Fight To Nicola and Won
Our lower leagues were dumped on big style by the SPFL/SFA/JRG when their leagues were closed for 3 weeks in early January.
No wonder they were, to say the least, pissed off and felt let down.
They waited the 3 weeks.
No sign of a return.
So they took matters into their own hands and came up with a set of protocols a couple of weeks ago to reopen.
There was the expected knock-back from the JRG but the point had been made and it registered with the government too.
Now we have approval for football in SPFL1 and 2 to break out of the JRG-inspired shut down and restart on March 20th.
It was already a short season and after the late start the leagues are only around one third through their curtailed 27-match plan.
Most teams have only played around 8-10 games.
In a Zoom meeting all clubs agreed to play a rearranged and reduced card.
The plan was to make the season one of 2 full fixture rounds (18 games) then split into a an upper and lower tier of 5 teams with 4 final games each.
A total of 22 games.
All planned and doable and competitive.
They made the appropriate requests to the SPFL board and at time of going to print there are now four issues being discussed.
1 To approve a restart on March 20th for a 22 game season.
2 To consider the SPFL initial response that 18 matches i.e. two full rounds would be logically better.
3 To extend the league season by 2 weeks until May 15th.
4 To delay the scheduled play off matches 14 days till May 19th. (Potentially affecting the 2nd bottom side in the Championship waiting for the play offs).
SPFL Chairman, Murdoch MacLennan, was quoted in a press release, “In the board’s view, an 18 game season would have created more flexibility but that said we respect the club’s right to determine how many games they will play.”
We’ll find out soon enough.
Scottish Cup To Restart Without Whitehill
The Scottish Cup, sans Whitehill for reasons still unresolved going back to December, is also due to restart with the second round tidy ups now slated for Tuesday March 25.
The Third round is 11 days later on Saturday April 3.
Fourth round on Saturday April 14.
Fifth round on Saturday 24 April.
Semis on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 May.
Final Saturday 22 May.
Nothing is ever simple though.
The second round tidy up contains clubs currently without football.
Buckie Thistle, Brora, Huntly, Formartine, Keith, Nairn (and Fraserburgh, in the 3rd round). All idle since January 11.
7 clubs, effectively having to restart their seasons for maybe just 1 game.
Not a fair contest.
Not a fair ask.
Nobody I’ve spoken to can yet tell me what their guidance for training and testing has been from our secretive JRG.
Last Week’s BBC Scottish Cup Vote
After I raised it last week many of you voted in the BBC poll.
A week is a long time in football and Nicola certainly changed the landscape by approving the restart of the lower leagues and the cup too.
However the results were interesting and with 10,000 taking part and are statistically significant.
6% agreed with throwing out and compensating the smaller clubs, as had been fed into the press for discussion as a likely solution and the SFA’s preferred option.
19% thought the best thing was to move the cup to next season and maybe play it at the start.
37% agreed with the plan to hold a fast tournament at the end of this season.
38% said just scrap it.
If you aggregate the figures it showed 62% of fans wanted the cup to be played in some way and 38% just thought ditch it and move on.
Anyway it’s back and very welcome too.
But in case you haven’t noticed.
The SFA have effectively picked the kick the wee clubs out option by reinstating a cup when they have had no game time to prepare.
Which Team is Top of the European Pass-Back Leagues?
The surprising result is it is Man City with 41.6% of all passes going what we think is the wrong way, aka backwards.
Chelsea, Real, Paris St G and Barcelona run them close.
It is the kind of thing that surprises you at first and then makes sense.
These teams don’t lose possession and play the patient game until they see openings.
The data, from the CIES Football Observatory, ranks six other teams from the five major European leagues in the top 10 positions of the table: Chelsea (4th), Arsenal (5th), Sassuolo (7th), Barcelona (8th), Paris St-Germain (9th) and Real Madrid (10th).
The CIES Football Observatory using InStat data, drew a correlation between the competitiveness and the number of backwards passes made by its teams.
“The more competitive the leagues, the higher the percentage of backward passes”.
Finally they summarise the findings with a truism.
“The time for kick and rush is definitely over”.
Click here to see the full report.
Football’s Child Abuse Problem Wasn’t Just in Scotland
The very recent SFA report into Child Abuse in football has been raised across some of the press over the last few days.
Some have spoken with victims and highlighted that there has been no comment or apology from some of the clubs specifically mentioned.
Talking to one of my legal pals suggests that the reasons for the silence of some and the careful wording on acknowledgements already made are down to legal advice.
The truth is clubs know whatever they say or do that it is all heading for our courts.
This week in a parallel development it was reported that Newcastle United are facing several civil claims against them for their former employee George Ormond who worked in their youth set up in the 90s.
It has been said that he “used his position of power to abuse 18 boys and young men between 1973 and 1998”.
He was given 20 years for 36 convictions.
Newcastle, like some up here, have also declined to comment.
Their insurers have denied responsibility, as they all do at the early stages but there may be a specific part of English law that comes into play.
The report I read said “claims for abuse to under 18s must be dealt with before they are 21.”
Sounds unreasonable and unfair but I’m no lawyer.
What if the abuse was made a week before the 21st birthday?
Newcastle maintain, for now, that his crimes were not connected to his role at the club and also cite the legal timeframe issue as an extra back-up reason for denying responsibility.
Sometimes “The law is an ass”, to quote George Chapman and subsequently the retweet by Dickens’ Mr Bumble.
“Sometimes clubs are Asses too”, to quote me.
Like the abuse outfall heading our club’s way up here this Tyneside one won’t go away either.
Even though stuff has been done in an attempt to stop this kind of abuse Scottish football needs a whistle blower hotline.
Finally a Wee Question for Maxie
I was asked this by email from a Motherwell fan.
“Andy please ask on your blog why the five Rangers players who breached Covid rules at the recent party have had no action taken against them by the SFA?
Why are they being treated differently to others?”
There must be a reason Derek and maybe Ian will tell us what it is.
I suspect not but it’s a fair question.
As always feel free to drop me a line about anything football related.
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