JUST when the ill-feeling over the curtailment of the 2019/20 season had started to subside. Just when the bitter divisions caused by the crowning of Celtic as champions, the relegation of Hearts and the promotion of Dundee United were beginning to heal. Just when the accusations of SPFL impartiality had died down.

Anyone longing for peace to break out in Scottish football with lockdown restrictions being eased, the new Premiership campaign getting underway behind closed doors and Championship clubs returning to training had their hopes dashed this weekend.

The decision to force St Mirren to play their league match against Hibernian at the Simple Digital Arena on Saturday even though all three of their goalies had been ruled out – Jak Alnwick and Dean Lyness had tested positive for coronavirus and Peter Urminsky was forced to self-isolate as a result – provoked a furious reaction.

That the Paisley club were told to hand a defender, midfielder or a striker a pair of gloves and the No.1 jersey if they failed to get an emergency loan keeper registered in time – they managed, mercifully, to get Bobby Zlamal in from Hearts just a few hours before kick-off – sparked outrage.

“We would have been the laughing stock of world football if we had a Premiership team putting an outfield player in goals for a competitive game,” fumed their indignant manager Jim Godwin after his team had, not surprisingly in the extraordinary circumstances, been beaten 3-0. “It would have been ridiculous.”

Goodwin’s response was easy to understand. St Mirren had suggested the match be replayed on Wednesday week when neither they nor their opponents had a fixture. Their request was flatly refused. What possible reason could the SPFL have had for turning them down? It seemed an eminently sensible solution.

Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer were all incandescent when the final league placings were decided on a points per game basis and they were consigned to the drop in July; they could have survived if the final matches had been played.

How will St Mirren feel if they struggle in the coming months and end up suffering a similar fate? What credibility will the Premiership have as a competition if they finish, say, two points adrift at the bottom? The governing body’s hierarchy will be hoping that such a situation doesn’t arise as a result of their call. The resentment will linger.

Questions have already been asked about why Aberdeen and Celtic had two games called off as a result of protocol breaches by their players, but St Mirren, who had done nothing wrong, were not extended that courtesy.

Would Aberdeen, Celtic or Rangers, too, have received the same edict if they had been in a similar predicament? The remarkable incident has done nothing to restore faith in officialdom among clubs and supporters.

Yet, the SPFL hierarchy, as the SFA independent arbitration process last month highlighted, know their rules inside out. They wouldn’t have rejected St Mirren’s proposal unless they were within their rights to do so. There is a simple explanation for their intransigence.

If the SPFL had switched the game in Paisley on Saturday it would have set a precedent which could cause untold complications further down the line. Wednesday week may well be free for St Mirren and Hibs. But this fixture list is jam packed with domestic and European matches as well as international games as a result of the extended shutdown. It may be impossible to accommodate future switches. There is little, if any, room for manoeuvre.

The SPFL are clearly prepared to play hard ball to get the 2020/21 season played to a finish regardless of who they upset and how unfair a scenario is.

A return to some sort of normality in the game is, even with a small number of fans being allowed into the Aberdeen and Ross County games, still some way off in the distance. The Covid-19 pandemic is set to wreak havoc and cause widespread consternation for some time to come here. In fact, there is every chance this campaign will be as crisis-hit as the last.


IT isn’t difficult to understand Neil Lennon’s frustration at Celtic not being allowed to welcome socially distanced supporters back through the Parkhead turnstiles when other sporting franchises around the world are doing so in large numbers.

The Glasgow club have the largest fanbase in Scottish football and their followers give Scott Brown his team mates, who are bidding to make history by completing 10-In-A-Row this term, a definite edge over their opponents when they are cheering them on from the stands.

They have snapped up season tickets in record numbers – they sold out back in July – even though they knew they would have to watch their games on television or online for much of the season. It would be nice to repay some of them for their backing.

Lennon last week questioned why the Kansas City Chiefs had allowed a crowd of 18,000 into their Arrowhead Stadium for their opening NFL game when Celtic were, due to lockdown restrictions being reimposed in certain areas of the country, not allowed any.

But as Professor Jason Leitch, the Clinical Director for Scotland, pointed out on Saturday the high coronavirus death rate in the United States shows that is not an example to follow.

Hopefully the test events at Pittodrie and the Global Energy Stadium on Saturday are small steps on the long road back to normality.