Celtic champions again as Scottish clubs agree to end season
Neil Lennon’s side secure ninth-straight title as Hearts are relegated from Premiership
Celtic fans celebrate their title victory outside Parkhead on Monday. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA
Celtic have been crowned Premiership champions for a ninth successive season while relegated Hearts are contemplating taking legal action following the curtailment of the 2019-20 campaign.
The Scottish Professional Football League announced a decision that was widely expected to be reached after all 12 top-flight clubs agreed last Friday that there was no viable way to complete the remaining fixtures.
A points per game average has been used to determine final placings, leaving Celtic to celebrate another league triumph as they were 13 points clear of Rangers — albeit having played one game more — when football in Scotland was halted on March 13th because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon said: “We would have loved to play out the season, it is what we all wanted.
“We were desperate to continue the blistering form we were in when the season was suspended. However, do not in any way let this detract from our achievement.
“While many will seek to challenge us, the title is ours and we deserve it. We are indeed champions for a reason.”
Hearts were four points behind second-bottom Hamilton with both sides having eight fixtures remaining.
The Edinburgh club have left open the possibility of legal action to the decision, saying in a statement: “We have stated from the outset that we don’t believe it is right that any club should be unfairly penalised because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Hearts will shortly submit a member’s resolution that we believe is a pragmatic solution to the issues the game currently faces and a way forward that the clubs can unite behind.
“It is our belief that this resolution, if supported, will provide an opportunity to avoid disproportionately disadvantaging — financially and otherwise — any club.
“The club has been taking legal advice throughout this process and are continuing to do so.
“We hope that the resolution being prepared will avoid the need to go down this route. Legal action would be both time consuming and expensive. However the cost to the club of relegation would outweigh these considerations.”
The only change in the standings sees St Johnstone leapfrog Hibernian into sixth.
SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan said: “We would all have rather seen the league season played out on pitches, in stadiums and in front of supporters.
“This is not the way anybody involved with Scottish football would have wanted to conclude the league season but, given the grave and unprecedented circumstances that we are facing, the board has agreed that it is the only practical way forward.
“Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on sporting competitions around the world and the repercussions will be felt for a long time.
“Scottish Government restrictions and deep concerns for both player and spectator safety left the SPFL with no realistic option but to call the Ladbrokes Premiership now and we thank the Premiership clubs for their support on this decision.”
The weeks leading to this decision have been protracted and steeped in controversy while the issue may yet rumble on after a report claimed Hearts owner Ann Budge was tasked by her fellow Premiership clubs with taking forward attempts to resurrect a shake-up of the SPFL last week.
For now, the league can pay out £7million in prize money although chief executive Neil Doncaster warned Monday’s decision does not draw a line under the saga, pointing out plans for next season need to be considered.
He said: “This decision now enables us to pay out around #7million in fees to help clubs stay afloat during this incredibly difficult time. We will begin processing these payments immediately.
“The focus of all those involved in the game will now turn to how we get football up and running again safely as soon as possible.
“Nobody should be under any illusion as to how complicated and difficult a challenge it will be to return Scottish football to normality.
“We will be liaising with Government on the best way forward and working to ensure that all of our 42 clubs are playing football again as soon as humanly possible.”