FOR decades, both Celtic and Rangers have dominated the national conversation when it comes to football in Scotland. The vast majority of issues seem to revolve around the two Glasgow clubs and, predictably, the issue of how to conclude the Premiership campaign has been boiled down to whether or not Celtic should be crowned champions if – as is looking increasingly likely – the 2019/20 campaign is unable to be played to a finish.

There has been the usual squabbling from fans of either side of the Old Firm divide. Rangers supporters will taunt their rivals with claims of an ‘asterisk’ title, insisting that it doesn’t really count, while Celtic fans gleefully proclaim that their side will pick up their ninth title in a row – just one away from that all-important record-breaking tenth.

Except, it isn’t that important. In fact, if you speak to punters from any of the other 40 SPFL clubs – not to mention fans of teams in the Highland and Lowland Leagues, and the Juniors – you’ll find that no one really cares.

Why? Because fans of other clubs, particularly lower down the SPFL pyramid, have bigger issues on their plates at the moment. The financial uncertainty that has engulfed Scottish football during the Covid-19 pandemic has posed a threat the like of which has never been seen. There is a very, very real danger that clubs in Leagues One and Two – where resources are already squeezed – could end up being wound up. By the time football resumes, whenever that may be, there is no guarantee that all 42 SPFL clubs will still exist to compete in the 2020/21 season.

This is the real crisis facing Scottish football at the moment, not whether or not Celtic win a title. It would make no material difference either way to the Parkhead club. The current champions are perhaps the only team in Scotland who will come out of this crisis relatively unscathed, thanks to the tens of millions they have saved in the bank.

The longer sport’s hiatus goes on, the greater the risk becomes that clubs will go to the wall. How long can any business survive with little to no income? Particularly ones where the financial situation is so precarious to begin with?

If the worst-case scenario for Rangers fans is that a team they don’t like very much are awarded a title that they were almost certainly going to win anyway, then that’s getting off pretty lightly. They have not been relegated. Their financial future doesn’t depend on it. They don’t have to worry about whether or not they will ever see their team play again.

No, the real losers out of all of this can be found further down the leagues. Spare a thought for the likes of Partick Thistle, Stranraer, Falkirk, Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts. The former pair will be relegated unless reconstruction can be pushed through, while the latter trio have been denied the chance of promotion to a higher league. Such decisions have far-reaching, long-term effects and could shape the future of these clubs for years to come.

These are the clubs that are paying the real penalty of the current crisis. And even then, the situation that these teams find themselves in pales in comparison to those whose very existence is on the line. Covid-19 could irrevocably change the landscape of Scottish football forever, so it is tedious and a tad distasteful when fans of other clubs are bickering over whether or not a particular team are really champions.

The tribalism within Scottish football inevitably leads to a blinkered approach. Fans are rightly concerned with their own club first and foremost but it is important to take a look at the bigger picture, too. It is frustrating for supporters of lower league clubs to see so much energy put into a debate that is simply about gaining bragging rights over your rivals when there are far more serious concerns that should be the priority at this time.

How many teams have we seen teeter on the brink of financial oblivion over the last 20 or so years? This century we have seen Queen’s Park, Morton, Motherwell, Dundee (twice), Livingston (twice), Rangers, Hearts and Dunfermline enter administration at one point or another, and that was without the help of a widepread financial crisis. Others, like Gretna and Clydebank, ceased to exist altogether and had to reform outside of the professional pyramid due to financial mismanagement. If that can happen during business as usual, what could the outcome be when clubs throughout the SPFL are bringing in virtually zero income?

This is the crux of the matter, and it is a situation that only gets more perilous with each passing day. The resolution to end the lower leagues freed up some much-needed prize money, as has the payment from UEFA that will be distributed amongst SPFL clubs. The incredible fundraising efforts of supporters in the lower leagues, where hundreds of thousands of pounds from fans have given clubs a semblance of income, is to be applauded. But teams cannot rely on supporters digging deep forever, and there will come a time when there is no further finance forthcoming from the game’s governing bodies. It is unsustainable.

The hope is that by then, football will be back under way and clubs can start to regain their fiscal footing but there is no guarantee that this will be the case. Sport will not resume until it is safe to do so and there is nothing to indicate that events with large crowds will be going ahead anytime soon. Before long, we could reach the point where clubs’ income drops to zero yet their outgoings exist all the same. In such an event, it would not be long until some clubs began to fold.

It’s a scary and unsettling prospect ­- but it is a very real one. And it is one that should be occupying the thoughts of every Scottish football fan at this time, as well as the administrators of our game. We need to focus on the big picture. For the sake of our game, we must look beyond the plight of our own teams. The future of Scottish football as we know it depends on it.