Neil Doncaster
Motherwell, Scotland; Neil Doncaster of the SPFL in the stands xVagelisxGeorgarioux PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxHUNxSWExNORxDENxFINxONLY ActionPlus11860269

That’s why we all love the game, right?

Before I get stuck into this article, I’m going to be completely upfront and honest… I’m a Hearts fan.

Okay, that’s probably not the dramatic introductory admission that you’d typically expect of a blog about football – but nevertheless, it’s important.

The reason for that is because at the moment, no matter who you are or what you do, your opinion on Scottish football seems to boil down to what team you support. But for this article, trust me – it doesn’t matter. Try to forget my allegiances and read on with an open mind – you’ll get more from it that way.

That said, I know that many of the replies to this will consist of remarks like “boohoo”, “time to move on”, “dry your eyes” or “bitter Jambo” – and maybe you’re right – but for me, it all comes down that headline sentence… “Anything can happen in football”.

And ‘anything’ really does happen.

West Brom’s escape from relegation in 04/05, Rangers’ “Helicopter Sunday” title win the same year, Leicester winning the Premier League in 15/16 and even (dare I say it) Hibs finally lifting the Scottish Cup…

Hibs players celebrating their Cup win
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – MAY 22: A Hibernian official shows supporters the trophy as they gather at Leith Links at the end of their team’s victory parade to celebrate yesterdays historic Scottish Cup final win over Rangers on May 22, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Hibernian players are celebrating their first Scottish Cup win since 1902 after beating Glasgow Rangers 3-2 yesterday at Hampden Park in the final. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

We all invest our time, energy and money in football for these moments. That’s what makes football – or any sport – what it is.

It’s knowing that your team could be a few points behind their rivals with five or six games left to play in a season, but still having a chance. It’s the fear of being ahead of a team by goal difference only, with two rounds of fixtures remaining. It’s exhilarating.

And what is football if we take all of that away? Well, in Scotland, we’ve unfortunately had the answer to that over the course of the last few months.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Scottish footballing authorities decided – in their infinite wisdom – to force through a resolution that brought about an abrupt end to the season and declare titles, promotions and relegations on a ‘points per game’ basis – meaning, for example, that Partick Thistle were relegated from the Championship to League One, despite being only two points adrift, with a game in hand, and a further eight fixtures to play… crazy, isn’t it?

And since then, football in Scotland has become nothing more than petty squabbling that takes place over video conferences or phone calls. Pathetic arguing that is laden with self-interest and tribalism – presided over by people who really, really don’t know what they are doing.

And all broadcast to the watching world – or those who are interested anyway – by a mainstream media service that just wants to sensationalise matters, rather than help to set the tone for what is right.

Rangers fans in 2012
Rangers fans (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

“Sporting integrity” has become the phrase that is back on everyone’s lips – just as it was in 2012 when Rangers suffered financial ruin – but let’s not get into that one just now…

The problem? People really don’t seem to understand what ‘Sporting Integrity’ actually means.

By definition, it is the “manifestation of the ethics and values which promote community confidence in sports, including fair and honest performances and outcomes, unaffected by illegitimate enhancements or external interests.”

In layman’s terms, you earn your win fairly, through sporting means.

It’s incredibly unfortunate, but that hasn’t been allowed to happen in Scotland this season – and in other years, teams like Partick Thistle, Hearts or Stranraer would’ve been afforded the opportunity to dig themselves out of the hole they’d got in to.

Ann Budge of Hearts in crowd
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – DECEMBER 01: Hearts owner Ann Budge is seen during the Ladbrokes Premiership match between Rangers and Hearts at Ibrox Stadium on December 01, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

But what is really leaving a sour taste is the fact that football across Europe is back up-and-running.

In Spain, when coronavirus brought about a halt to the league season, Barcelona were out in front and strong favourites to win La Liga. Fast forward a few months and Real Madrid are crowned champions after a nine-point swing. Beautiful. That’s football!

In the Bundesliga, Werder Bremen were in a perilous position when football was stopped. They survived on the last day of the season, securing a vital point away from home to retain their league status.

I could ramble on for another 700 words, but my real question is just “why?”

  1. Why didn’t we take a breather, see how the situation played out and get the season finished on the pitch?
  2. Why didn’t we explore avenues that ended the season without a selection of clubs being disproportionately punished?
  3. Why did we choose to make a mockery of our game and the ‘sporting integrity’ that is supposed to hold it all together, again?

Without answering these questions, for a number of people, the spirit of Scottish football is gone.

The outcome of season 2019/20 will forever be left to a series of “buts” and “what ifs”, and the game in this country might never fully recover.

However slim, there does seem to be one last chance for those in charge to restore some kind of sporting merit, through the arbitration process that is due to start this week.

And for those of us who really believe in sporting integrity, let’s just hope that “anything can happen” applies to a Zoom call, the same as it does to the football pitch.

A Hearts-supporting digital communications guy with an enthusiasm for writing about football.