“Yes [we feel like champions]. It was well deserved because we were miles ahead of the rest. We had basically played against every team twice apart from one and, after that, we had so many points that we were clear and were going to be champions one way or another.”

No, these words are not Scott Brown's latest tub-thumping, get-it-roon-ye missive to Rangers and their supporters upon hearing of the SPFL's decision to call the Premiership season and award the title to Celtic

Instead, they come from an interview with Simon Mignolet at the weekend. The former Liverpool goalkeeper was reacting to the news that his Club Bruges side had been declared Jupiler League champions despite the campaign still having nine matches to run. 

The scenario in Belgium is worth analysis because it compares similarly to that in Scotland. When that league was called last Friday, Bruges held a 15-point lead over Gent in second. You would need to have been self-isolating on the moon to have missed the row over whether Celtic’s 13-point advantage over Rangers with a game more played was good enough for them to be awarded their ninth title in a row.

In Belgium, one might argue it was a fait accompli; certainly Gent did not object vociferously to the decision taken by the Pro League. But it was a laudable response considering that it wasn't necessarily the foregone conclusion it looks on paper. The finer detail is worth scrutiny because the Belgian league format halves all points accrued at the 30-game mark – the clubs were one match away from that juncture – whereupon a further eight play-off games would have been played to decide the champions. In other words, Gent had real cause to think they could overhaul Bruges and therefore a good case for complaint.

Instead they opted for restraint because as Mignolet himself observed – when asked about the situation in which Bruges found themselves having been denied the chance to celebrate their victory – “we have to accept what time we are in at this moment and that isn’t possible. For me that is more the downside”. It was a refreshing reminder that some folk still understand that – across the world – people are dying on a daily basis.

It's worth noting, too, that Gent are not exactly supine lapdogs. In February, they exempted themselves from an exclusive broadcast rights deal with Eleven Sports in protest at what they felt was the undervaluing of the exclusivity aspect of the offer with a number of other companies lining up to counter the bid. It was genuine concern rather than mischief making. They eventually came back to the fold after what the club themselves referred to as “positive and enlightening” talks with the chairman of the Pro League Board of Directors.

Following that meeting Gent said they wanted to join the collective agreement based on “the conviction that mutual solidarity is necessary” and that acting in the common interest was “part of the club's DNA”. Reading between the lines, an accommodation was found by the Pro League that met to the club’s liking, and so conciliation, not conflict, won the day.

The parallels with what has happened in Scotland since the sporting shutdown on March 13 are striking and yet, depressingly, a million miles away from the dignified response to the Belgian scenario which has remained free from internecine squabbling despite what was at stake.

One thing that was overlooked throughout much of the toing and froing in the SPFL’s rammy was that it was possible to think that Celtic should be declared champions and also to believe that the SPFL had made a pig's ear of the way the process was handled by Neil Doncaster and Murdoch MacLennan in relation to communication over the vote deadline and the publication of results midway through the ballot. 

It was fair, too, to feel aggrieved for a significant number of clubs harmed by the cack-handed delivery of that decision – chiefly Partick Thistle, when a fairer method for calling the leagues would have been on average head-to head points. The Firhill side were two points adrift of Queen of the South having faced the champions-elect Dundee United four times, held a game in hand (against an Inverness Caley Thistle team they had beaten two times already) in a fixture that was postponed only because the Highland outfit reached the Scottish Cup quarter-finals.

Yet, to line up in support of Thistle and others was to be treated as support for Rangers according to some, a conclusion that could only be drawn in the absolutist world of Scottish football

In reality, it was never Rangers' battle to fight. At the risk of repetition, they were 13 points behind with a game in hand. In the aftermath of their Scottish Cup defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle on February 29, the manager Steven Gerrard appeared to wave the white flag saying “I am desperate to win here, but looking from the side today I didn't get the impression that the feeling among my players was the same.”

There was speculation that Gerrard was considering his future but by the time he appeared on Talksport earlier this month, he seemed to be of the impression that the SPFL was in an “almighty rush” to finish the league. Well, there were reasons for that: financial ones mostly, with a number of clubs in danger of going to the wall.

More damningly, he neglected to say what had changed in the mindset of his group – players whose winning mentality he was openly questioning just a few months prior – in the intervening period. Make no mistake, Celtic were deserved champions; Rangers and Gerrard must now embark on another summer of trying to find the individuals with the psychological make-up capable of unseating their rivals.

A dash of Gent's humility wouldn't go amiss, either.


The speed with which football careers are turned on their heads was never more starkly illustrated than at the weekend. Having finished a conversation about the 10th anniversary of Dundee United's Scottish Cup final win over Ross County in which he scored twice and was named man of the match, Craig Conway spoke about what the future would hold for him with his contract due to expire at Salford City.

“I honestly don’t know what I am going to do next year, I’ve spoken to the [Salford] manager [Graham Alexander]. We’ll just see what happens,” he said a matter of hours before it was announced that he had been released by the Skybet League 2 club.

One suspects Conway will be part of a much longer line than usual of out-of-contract players seeking gainful employment for next season. He says he is as fit as ever and still has plenty to offer. A lower-league club in England could do worse than a former international midfielder with more than 200 Championship appearances to his name.