THE Highland League’s decision to award Brora Rangers the title before completing the 2019/20 fixture list hasn’t set any precedent for the Ladbrokes Premiership according to a high-ranking official.

A meeting of representatives from the league’s 17 member clubs in Lossiemouth on Saturday agreed unanimously to name Brora champions - even though the Sutherland outfit still had six games to play and could potentially have been overtaken by Inverurie Locos, Fraserburgh, Rothes and Buckie Thistle.

Debate has raged in the Scottish game about what to do in the senior leagues since the SFA and SPFL Joint Response Group made the call to suspend domestic and grassroots football on March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The possibility of the SPFL naming Celtic, who are 13 points clear with eight games remaining, champions and relegating Hearts, who are four points adrift at the bottom, based on the current league placings has incensed many.

Ann Budge, the Hearts owner who last week asked players and staff at the Tynecastle club to take a 50 per cent pay cut, has threatened legal action if that is the route they go down while Stewart Robertson, the Rangers managing director, warned of the detrimental impact it would have on sporting integrity.

However, Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive who last week stressed the Parkhead club would like to play their outstanding matches, has stated the season can’t be declared null and void, as some have demanded, because “the consequences of that are so severe”.

The unanimous decision to award Brora - who were 13 points clear with six games to go - the Highland League crown has been seen by some fans as a sign the Premiership crown will be given to Celtic.

However, Rod Houston, the Highland League secretary, believes it is impossible to compare the part-time division with the multi-million pound Premiership and predicted their decision will have no bearing at all on the course of action the SPFL take.

“We’re not suggesting that others should follow our example,” said Houston. “We simply took a decision to suit our circumstances on our terms to enable us to move forward, get through this situation and be ready to pick the threads up when we get a chance, whatever it looks like on the other side.

“You’re talking about full-time professional football, big clubs, where principal livelihoods are at stake in the Premiership. The Highland League is a part-time league and I would be astonished if there was any player in our league receiving wages which formed a substantive part of their income. It is apples and pears.

“The Highland League does not see itself as a league to suggest to other leagues that this is what they should do. It has made its choices for its reasons and within its jurisdiction, no more, no less.”

But Houston, the former president of the Scottish Schools Football Association, believes the fact the contracts of many Highland League players are set to expire at the end of June would have made carrying this season’s remaining games over into next term unfeasible.

Brora and their nearest challengers Inverurie Loco Works, Fraserburgh, Rothes and Buckie Thistle could potentially have won the title with completely different sides to those that kicked off the 2019/20 campaign.

That could be a consideration in the SPFL discussions over this season’s Premiership as seven players, including Mortiz Bauer, Mohammed Elyounoussi, Fraser Forster and Jonny Hayes, at Celtic and no fewer than 15, including Ianis Hagi, Andy Halliday, Florian Kamberi and Sheyi Ojo, at Rangers could have moved on when play finally resumes.

“The Highland League isn’t a big league, it’s a part-time league, but I think it’s pretty professional over the piece,” said Houston.

“A lot of players are coming out of contract. I can think of a number of cases where you are going to have substantially different playing staffs, playing in a season they weren’t actually recruited to play in. We felt that was a bit incongruous and should be taken into account.

“There was a general consensus that Brora have been the best team this year. If you look at all the key results, they have won these games. There wasn’t an argument against.”

He continued: “We have half the land mass of Scotland. That is a big area to be hanging around in. The clubs just felt they wanted to bring the season to an end. They couldn’t see when the season would end. Therefore, they will determine when the season ends.

“Other than the upwards play-offs, which Brora Rangers now, if they happen, go forward to, we are kind of self-contained. At the moment, we don’t have relegation, although that may change in time as we develop a tier six below us.

“There is no hangover, other than the League Cup semi-finals and final (which the clubs have agreed will take place when play restarts) and that is a three game package which will be straightforward to incorporate into the new season.”

Declaring the season null and void was another option discussed by the Highland League clubs – but Houston revealed it was rejected outright due to the large number of games that have already taken place.

“There is history,” he said. “In the 1954/55 season there was a difficult winter and there were a number of games waiting to be played to conclude the league championship. But the league decided to abandon rather than award the championship even though they had a club in a position remarkably similar to Brora Rangers.

“That story was put forward on Saturday. People said: ‘Why should we abandon the league when 80 per cent of the games have been played?’ That’s not fair on the games that have been played, the players, the volunteers who have done the work, the fans who have paid their money. They deserve to know there’s an outcome.”