Is the suspension of the lower leagues justified?

On Monday 11th January, all football from below the Championship was suspended for a three-week period.

A month and a half later, there are no signs of a return. With a huge lack of communication leaving many people pulling their hair out, it is hard to quite pinpoint the real reason that many teams are still unable to play.

There seems to be a real lack of consistency with decisions that are being made right now. Here are some key points I have taken a look at.

Player Testing

With teams from the third and fourth tier of the SPFL all agreeing to complete player testing with the money they have been funded by the government, it really does make you wonder why they haven’t returned to action.

However, when Championship teams were given the go ahead to return to football should they complete testing, this option was not given to the two lower divisions. Surely to get all teams back playing is the desired outcome.

If all clubs are carrying out player testing, then the leagues should be allowed to carry on. So why is this not being put into place.

It seems that the teams in these two divisions are all coming together to try and come up with solutions but anything they say is falling on deaf ears.

For teams below these tiers player testing is simply not manageable.

Part Time? Full Time? Bubbles?

Next up is the debate that part time teams are going to other jobs mixing with other people and then mixing with their teams. However, these days you have part time teams in the Championship and full time teams in League One and League Two.

It seems that there is certainly some inconsistency throughout the leagues.

You have to think that the full time teams in the lower divisions will be left feeling disgruntled with this outcome as will the others.

The bubble situation is certainly one that, for me, makes the least amount of sense. Is anybody really in a proper bubble?

The Premiership players all have families they will be going back to. Their families will have work that they may be going to, colleagues that they are mixing with.

So again, to single out the lower divisions as being unsafe to return is a shambles.

Communication

So, who is making the decisions right now? Government? SFA? SPFL? There does not seem to be one clear decision maker throughout this pandemic.

Or better that, there are no signs of anybody working together to try and look for solutions.

It’s looking like the pandemic has brought to light many problems within Scottish football. It was also alleged that, in a general meeting between the SFA and the chairmen of the clubs, held on zoom after the announcement of the suspension, club representatives were told to turn their microphones off and were not given the chance to speak.

This has been denied by chief Neil Doncaster, however with everything going on right now it is slightly worrying to think that this might have been the case.

With some clubs saying they have had great amount communication and others saying they’ve had next to none, I come back to the word that I have used many times before, inconsistency.

Why has there not been one clear and concise announcement? Why are clubs still second guessing?

It appears that there has been a real lack of information behind everything. It has just been a case of – “there is no football” – and not a why. No reasons, no clarity.

Future of our Nation

Another worry that comes with this is the future of our players.

Firstly, you have youth players who are now not playing or even training. How long are these players going to wait?

They might look for other ways to pass their time. Could they fall out of football altogether?

This is becoming a real issue for the development of this nation’s younger players.

With the suspension in League One and Two, you are taking away the possibility of Premiership clubs sending their younger players out on loan to gain the first team football their personal development needs.

As well as youth players this will undoubtedly be having an affect on players coming towards the end of their career.

We may well see a lot of players taking an earlier retirement than they had already planned should there be no clear return date to look forward to.

Women’s Football

A further situation that is not making much sense and will no doubt be leaving players feeling aggrieved is the suspension of Women’s football.

Although the majority of the teams in the SWPL are not full time, there are eleven players in the league that have been called up to the Scotland squad to take part in the two European Qualifiers this month.

However, they are currently not allowed to train or play with their clubs.

Premiership Problems

January saw Celtic travel to Dubai in what has become a regular trip in recent years. This caused major uproar in Scottish football.

After pictures appeared of manager Neil Lennon and captain Scott Brown sitting poolside with a beer, failing to follow guidelines, Celtic fans, along with other clubs were quite rightly feeling extremely frustrated with the champions.

On return, Celtic announced that defender Christopher Jullien had tested positive for the virus therefore leaving him and twelve others having to isolate.

This news would be the last straw for the Scottish Government, as Nicola Sturgeon announced the suspension of all football below the Championship soon after.

This month it was confirmed that five Rangers players had breached COVID -19 rules, while gathering in a flat with a further reported five people.

As well as the two old firm clubs, eight Aberdeen players were found to have broken the rules on the first day of the season after a 1-0 defeat to Rangers. They were charged and suspended for three games. Two of the eight also subsequently tested positive for the virus.

While it seems to be players of Premiership clubs who are breaking the rules, they are allowed to continue to play week in week out, while players of tiers three and four have to sit at home and pay for the big clubs’ mistakes.

They certainly must be wondering why they have not been trusted or why the players of the Premiership and the Championship are held in higher regard.

Hearts Hassle

Lastly, would the Championship still be going ahead if Hearts were not in it?

After all the drama at the end of last season and the relegation of Hearts, the announcement of the suspension of the Championship would not have gone down well.

With a much higher financial backing than any other team below the Premiership, could Hearts have taken further action? This had already happened during the battle against their relegation.

A second court case is the last thing that the SFA would have needed, so might it have been easier to just allow the Championship to go ahead under the correct guidelines.


The past few weeks have been a huge wake up call for all involved in Scottish football and it is clear to see that there needs to be a lot more organisation and communication throughout the leagues and above.

If you want to hear more about what players, fans, journalists and league/club administrators think about the current situation you can listen to our podcast with Danny Denholm, Boab Fallon, Euan Robertson and George Fraser here.

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