AFTER Rangers had suffered their cataclysmic off-field implosion back in 2012, the spokesman for one of their supporters’ organisations made a chilling prediction for the game in this country.

Doubtless irked by the pygmies who had been gleefully agitating for the Ibrox club to be stripped of every honour they had won since their formation in 1872 and consigned to the Highland League, he forecast a grim future for Scottish football without his heroes at its forefront. “It will become a wasteland,” he said.

His apocalyptic prophecy didn’t come to pass. Life continued as normal for those in the top flight. Celtic may not have faced meaningful challenges to their dominance in the four years their city rivals were absent. But no club experienced financial difficulties, never mind folded.

Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Ross County and St. Mirren all won the League Cup while Hibernian, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnstone prevailed in the Scottish Cup.

Meanwhile, part-time outfits like Elgin City, Peterhead and Stirling Albion all benefitted enormously from the presence of the Glasgow giants in the lower leagues. Their crowds shot up and their bank accounts swelled.

When Rangers finally secured their place in the Premiership back in 2016 everything looked pretty much the same as it had when they departed. Crisis? What crisis?

It showed that harbingers of doom can, like an Alfredo Morelos shot on goal in an Old Firm game, be well wide of the mark.

Yet, those who have warned of dark days ahead for Scotland’s provincial clubs when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the return of fans to stadiums would be delayed further last week should be taken very seriously.

The start of the Championship, League 1 and League 2 was pushed back to October 17 by the SPFL in the hope that lockdown restrictions would be relaxed and a limited number of socially distanced spectators could be allowed in.

That looks, with the number of people testing positive for coronavirus increasing alarmingly, some way off despite two successful “test events” at the Global Energy Stadium and Pittodrie.

How can Annan Athletic, Cowdenbeath and Stranraer survive without gate receipts? As Stenhousemuir chairman Ian McMenemy explained following the Holyrood bombshell “a number of these clubs have no way of generating other income”.

The members of the Scottish senior leagues rely on the money they take in at the turnstiles to stay afloat. It accounts for 43 per cent of clubs’ turnovers. You don’t need to be Warren Buffet to figure out what the outcome will be if that cash dries up.

It is, then, to be hoped that Nigel Huddelston, the UK Minister for Sport and Civil Society, is sympathetic to their plight and prepared to provide some sort of recovery package in the days ahead. Without it, many much-loved and historic institutions face going out of business.

Their demise may not impact on the performances of the national side or the standard of the professional game here. But their loss would be devastating to local communities.

Many areas of society are looking for aid from Westminster. But Scottish football is as deserving of it than any of them given the joy it gives to huge numbers. As Stephen Robinson, the Motherwell manager, last week stressed, it has an important role to play in raising the morale and protecting the mental wellbeing of the population.

If no assistance is forthcoming, many of the traditional heartlands of the sport are in real danger of becoming football wastelands.


THE news that James Forrest may not be fit to play for Scotland in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel at Hampden on Thursday week due to the ankle injury he suffered in the Europa League qualifier against Riga in Latvia last week is concerning.

The Celtic winger may not be suited to the 3-5-2 formation that national manager Steve Clarke experimented with in the Nations League matches against Israel and the Czech Republic earlier this month.

Having to play at wing back could well have been the reason he failed to make a significant impact on proceedings in the first of those outings.

Clarke has options if Forrest is ruled out. Liam Palmer took over from him in Olomouc and provided the pass that set up Lyndon Dykes for his first-half equaliser. Still, it will be a blow if he is missing.

But not having any fans in attendance will be far more damaging to Scotland’s chances of reaching their first tournament finals since France ’98.

It was certainly a significant factor in their subdued display against Willibald Ruttensteiner’s side three weeks ago and was one of the first points Clarke raised following the final whistle.

Andy Robertson and his team mates will have to raise themselves against opponents who have been handed a major boost to their chances of progressing without the Tartan Army roaring them on.