Entertainment, Sports

Moving winter break was common sense, not a Celtic led conspiracy: Graeme McGarry

THERE was an amusing theory that surfaced on social media at the start of December, just as the world was bracing for the impact of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus.

You see, ‘Omicron’ was an anagram of ‘No Crimbo’. Well, if you added a ‘b’. Coincidence…?

Quite apart from the thought that the perpetrators of the largest apparent conspiracy in the history of the world had an anagram department, was that while involving every government on the planet in their nefarious scheme and somehow managing to keep it all under wraps, they had then decided to leave a huge clue for those sleuths of Facebook – albeit a misspelt one – in their naming of their latest plot to rob us of Christmas parties. For some reason. The bastards.

Even in this time of illiterate biological terrorists and Bill Gates planting microchips in our bloodstreams though, there is surely no more fertile ground for conspiracy theories than Scottish football. Because as soon as the variant inevitably impacted the game here, the tin-foil hats were on and accusations of foul play were flying.

The merits (or otherwise) of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arriving at the decision to limit crowd numbers at 500 by the apparent use of a tombola machine have been debated and done to death already.

But as soon as that dispiriting news was released, my initial dismay gave way to a feeling that it would probably be best for the winter break to be brought forward so that supporters would have the best opportunity to attend matches down the line.

As I wrote in this column a couple of weeks ago, football matches without fans are a soulless experience, for the players involved and for the majority of supporters streaming from their living rooms. We had an unwelcome reminder of that on Boxing Day, as the Scottish Premiership card was played out to the echo of largely empty stands.

So, it seemed perfectly logical to bring forward the natural break in the season to limit the amount of matches that would be played to such a bleak backdrop.

But then, when viewing life through the prism of the Old Firm, rarely does logic play a part. And seldom is a decision taken that isn’t immediately viewed suspiciously for the potential benefits to their rivals.

So it was that many Rangers supporters immediately voiced their theory that the rest of the Premiership clubs – save for Ross County – were working in unison with Celtic to ensure that the winter break was expedited, ensuring that they wouldn’t have to take on Rangers at an empty Celtic Park while suffering from injuries to multiple key attacking players.

You see, Celtic were taking advantage of the Omicron situation as they were running scared of facing Giovanni van Bronckhurst’s resurgent Rangers, and everybody else was in on it.

Motherwell CEO Alan Burrows explained why his club would vote to bring the winter break forward, saying: “We need to be above the – I don’t want to say pettiness as that’s what makes football great – but this is a global pandemic.

“While these restrictions are in place, we have to do what is fundamentally right for Scottish football.

“If we can protect the supporters coming to games, let’s try our best to do that. I understand the difficulties facing the SPFL, but I believe there are ample dates to fit in fixtures.

“Playing games with 500 fans should be the last resort, not the first resort.”

What he really meant though, apparently, was that his club and the rest were putting their own priorities and concerns to one side so that Jota could have an extra couple of weeks of rehab.

The three week supporter shut-out may be extended, bitter experience tells us that, but surely any supporter – particularly a season ticket holder – would want the best chance to attend as many matches as possible? Why any match-going fan would prefer games to definitely go ahead behind closed doors is beyond me.

Does the decision to delay the season benefit Celtic for the reasons mentioned? Potentially, yes. But it’s a stretch to argue that it was even Celtic’s primary motivation in calling for the break to be brought forward, never mind anyone else’s.

Frankly, it’s insulting to the other clubs in the country to suggest that they would make any decision that affected their supporters at the behest of one of the big two, and symptomatic of the arrogance and disdain by which some of those who support the Glasgow giants view the rest. As witless pawns in their never-ending tit-for-tat battle for supremacy.

And Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou clearly took umbrage at his own club’s motives being questioned.

“There is a lot of violin playing around the place, we are not going to be one of them,” Postecoglou retorted. “I am very supportive of our club’s stance. It makes sense to me to use the natural break.

“I have said all along that fans are an integral part of this game. If having that break gives us a chance, without guarantees, to get them back in it’s much better.

“I don’t like playing closed doors – fans are an important part home and away.”

No matter your allegiance, I had thought that such sentiments were ones that fans of all hues could get behind. I suppose that depends though on whether you have your scarf on, or your tin-foil hat.

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