We can debate whatever we want to see who is the most influential person in Scottish football right now – Peter Lawwell is reportedly top of many lists – but it’s not even a competition. In a few moments in his press briefing, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon settled the argument.
In what looked like one of those fake tackles in the opening seconds of a great match, both poisonous and legitimate while leaving you reeling, his removal from Pittodria’s rule breakers left you in no doubt who has all the power. in this precarious football world we live in.
Ms Sturgeon slashed players who walked into a pub in large numbers on Saturday night, destroying protocols that allowed them to kick a ball – not at all effectively – against the Rangers earlier in the day. Two positive coronavirus tests were the result with six other players forced to self-isolate. The Donations have seen better days.
A number of things here – why would Aberdeen players with any sense of professional pride want to go drink at a bustling downtown bar after putting on such a dismal non-entity of a performance against their greats? rivals? Wouldn’t a quiet retirement home have been the order of the day? Did someone in authority sanction him? Aberdeen says they will investigate all of this.
Second, and this is the howitzer, have any of them given some thought to the bubble he’s supposed to live in and the potential consequences of moving away from that bubble, not only for his club but for the league as a whole? Word is, the importance of caution has been affirmed and reaffirmed to all Aberdeen players. How could the penny not fall?
Players must take responsibility and apologize
On Wednesday night, Aberdeen felt their Saturday game was going as planned. They would be missing eight players, but they saw the game – and a likely loss – as the kind of punishment they deserved. Dave Cormack, the president, appeared calm in his Friday morning video message, but in reality he was apoplectic, mortified and weary. He spent much of his time at night before calling people and apologizing to them for the actions of his players. The man didn’t seem to have slept much.
On Friday, in what is already the runaway candidate in the understatement of the year competition, the government “asked” for a change of mind around the St Johnstone game against Aberdeen. The Prime Minister, one might say, made an offer to FPSL that he could not refuse.
As it stands, Aberdeen’s games against Hamilton on Wednesday and Celtic on Saturday are going “as planned,” according to an FPSL statement. The SPFL will hardly have a say in this matter. The government is running the show here. If the Prime Minister does not like the optics, these matches will be postponed and Scottish football will have to suffer the consequences. Neil Doncaster, Murdoch MacLennan, Ian Maxwell, all club presidents, GMs and GMs are chasing the shadows now.
Aberdeen players are lambasted for their unprofessionalism and rightly so. Nowadays the way to go is that sooner or later a justified kick becomes an unpleasant stack and the culprit turns into a victim. These Aberdeen players are expected to show a semblance of the kind of responsibility that was lacking on Saturday night and issue a statement of apology so everyone can move on and deal with the fallout. Their own fans might take a while to forgive them.
St Johnstone will now kick off on Saturday. There is an argument that they should receive all three points, but the rules do not allow it, it seems. Hamilton and Celtic will also fear that their games with Aberdeen will also be drawn by the government. This is the kind of uncertainty they could do without. Doncaster was on the radio last Saturday, pointing out that there was virtually no wiggle room in the schedule for the revamped games. By lowering those pints, the Aberdeen players have put a lot of people under the pump.
Cracks appearing in a superficially healthy relationship
To fit the rescheduled St Johnstone v Aberdeen match into a schedule already as tight as a drum, the SPFL had to put Aberdeen’s match with Livingston back one day. The downside to these clubs, however, is nothing compared to what is happening in Holyrood.
Scottish football’s relationship with the government through the lockdown has been superficially strong but somewhat strained below the surface. While various people first pushed for a return to the game and then continued to push for the return of (some) fans to the stadiums, the perception of the pressure exerted did not always go well. Fans in the stadiums now seem to be an increasingly distant prospect.
The Prime Minister was sufficiently convinced that football had its house in order and that the games behind closed doors could resume, but this was done on the condition that everything could come back unless the protocols were followed to the letter. Just a week into the new season and there is chaos. When Ms Sturgeon said she was ‘furious’ at players who ‘blatantly broke’ the rules, you could imagine everyone in the SPFL and the Scottish FA and many of the 12 Premiership clubs swallowing hard the realpolitik of the moment.
The behavior of the players had been “totally unacceptable”. She didn’t say it out loud but the threat to shut down Scottish football if it ever happened again was very much present. As a midfielder executor, Ms Sturgeon is not to be bothered on this one. Football has had its warning. It may be more of that and it’s off.