BILLY BROWN has predicted a backlash from bosses against ‘unfair’ plans to cancel the Scottish football season and honour current league positions.
The former Hearts and Hibs assistant, who now serves as chairman of the League Managers Association [LMA], plans to hold talks with gaffers at all levels of the game in the coming week amid the indefinite shut-down.
However, he has balked at the idea of calling off the campaign with immediate effect and dishing out trophies, promotions and – potentially most damaging of all – relegations based on the standings as of March 13.
And he has urged those in the corridors of power to canvass the opinions of managers, insisting they are too-often ignored.
According to the latest reports, the 2019/20 calendar is set to be scrapped in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, with Celtic being declared champions and Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers winning promotion. Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer would be relegated.
Brown told Capital City Press: “My opinion is that would be unfair and I would have thought the majority of managers would be against that plan. I think it will be an unpopular idea – and the wrong decision.
“The season needs to be finished. Granted, Celtic are going to win the league, but Hearts are only four points adrift with eight games left.
“This isn’t a personal thing because I worked there, but how can you relegate a team who could have survived?
“Dundee United are likely to win promotion, but what about the teams below them still vying for promotion? And all the teams that would have real financial problems if they are relegated?
“I don’t blame, for example, Neil Lennon calling for Celtic to get the title. But they’ll win it regardless and there are a lot of other issues to be taken into consideration. Do we kick Brechin [bottom of League 2] out of the SPFL and threaten their survival?
“I’ll be talking to managers over the coming week and the consensus will become clearer. In general, there should be more clarity next week. But the opinion of the managers should be considered, and they often aren’t.”
Brown accepts that there is no easy solution to an unprecedented crisis but believes honouring the campaign with fixtures being played behind closed doors is the lesser of the evils.
Brown continued: “My view is the season should be completed behind closed doors. It’s not what football should be about, you need a crowd atmosphere – but I think it remains our best solution.
“This limbo could go on for months and months so we should try to get the games played.
“There are things you could do; stream the games through Club TV channels, ensure matches are televised, and try to mitigate the lack of folk in the stadium.”
The players’ union PFA Scotland have expressed concerns about their members undertaking a physical, contact sport as the illness spreads – but Brown is adamant that, with the right precautions, that could still be viable. There have been, as yet, no confirmed cases of Covid-19 among SPFL clubs.
Brown responded: “If there are any players who are showing symptoms, then they obviously wouldn’t take part. But if everyone is cleared then we should try to complete the calendar.
“Testing would need to be done very regularly within the clubs but I’d like to think that could be organised quite easily.”
Regardless of what decision is reached, Brown believes the LMA members are facing unprecedented challenges, from planning playing sessions, deciding whether to give stars time off, to navigating contract talks and attempting to build a squad for next term.
He added: “It’s a hugely difficult situation. They will all have different ideas about when they should train, where the players should go, how to stay sharp. Aberdeen and Hibs have given players time off, whereas Hearts and Livingston haven’t.
“There’s no right answer because this is all unprecedented.
“Ordinarily, managers would be considering whether to offer contracts, sign players and general planning for next season but that forward planning is on hold. There’s so much uncertainty and, in many ways, the managers are the ones in the middle of it.”