The thorny issue over when football clubs will return to action has replaced the incessant chatter over the fallout to the SPFL vote, the Rangers dossier and failed attempts at league reconstruction (notwithstanding the latest, likely abortive, efforts of Hearts owner Ann Budge). With residual matters resolved superficially, it has allowed the game to focus its collective efforts on finding a suitable date for a resumption.

Over the weekend Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive, suggested that August is the outline timeframe in which it is expected that top-flight clubs in Scotland might begin the 20/21 season.

The Inverness Caledonian Thistle chairman, Ross Morrison, had indicated that his club was preparing for a worst-case scenario of January. In the best instance, Championship clubs are focusing on an October return, a more conservative estimate than their Premiership counterparts.

“We have a four-to-six-week training schedule, which the medical group are working through,” said Maxwell. “Those six weeks can be regardless of whenever the start date of a division is.”

Whatever the outcome, the wheels are turning again across Europe. In England yesterday, Championship clubs began full-contact training while, on Sunday, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a June 8 resumption for La Liga.

Elsewhere, it is not so clear cut. The hope for clubs with the sword of Damocles hanging over them is that a restart is sooner rather than later. But much depends on the speed of the emergence from lockdown and, clearly, whether there is a second spike in infections. Health matters have been on the minds of players in England with some such as Troy Deeney at Watford and Glen Murray at Brighton voicing their opinions publicly on their opposition to a return at all costs.

Cynics suggest that it seems a little too convenient with both players' clubs firmly ensconced in the relegation zone. But who are they to argue about what people exposing themselves to the virus – Watford and Brighton have reported five and three positive tests respectively  – should or should not do?

It is not just for fear of infection that players will be mindful. In the Bundesliga, one study after the first week of matches post-lockdown, indicated that there had been a 226% increase in injuries prior to the suspension of German football. Those figures recognised the small sample size and the overly cautious approach from clubs in relation to any and every injury. The report noted that Gio Reyna was injured in the warm-up prior to Borussia Dortmund's 4-0 win over Schalke and Thorgan Hazard, his goalscoring replacement, limped off with cramp in the 79th minute. The study suggested that this might indicate a degree of overloading as Dortmund attempt to chase down Bayern Munich in the title race. So why not the same when it comes to relegation from the richest league in the world?

It is not the only race against time. Across Europe, with clubs facing extinction, the rush to return to action might seriously endanger player safety in another manner. Gary Lewin, the former Arsenal and England physiotherapist, said yesterday on Sky Sports News that without a properly structured pre-season programme – allowing for light training, contact sessions, strength and power conditioning and work on reaction times – that factors in friendlies, then clubs might be asking for trouble.

The collateral damage here might just be the players who are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Already vulnerable to job losses as a result of the lack of revenue being generated – in Scotland, see Dunfermline Athletic and Queen of the South – a rushed or incomplete strategy aimed at the swift return of football will leave players exposed to a greater risk of injury. In turn, particularly in the lower leagues where contracts will be short and there are unlikely to be any guarantees over payments while injured, players may find themselves out on a limb.

Maxwell's four-to-six week sliding scale looks ambitious at the lower end of it, not to mention potentially dangerous if the Bundesliga, which was in hiatus for 40 days, is anything to go by in the early days of its return.


Roy MacGregor is one of Scotland's richest and most successful businessmen so when he predicts a period of chronic uncertainty and gloom for football in this country it is probably worth listening to him.

“I think we’re going to have a tsunami of unemployment and mental issues and big things to deal with, and lack of disposable income,” the Ross County chairman said in an interview on BBC Sportsound at the weekend. “I think the challenges ahead are more than the challenges we’ve had up to now.”

MacGregor's solution? He says it's time for clubs across Scottish football to unite, work together and forget their differences. Wonderfully utopian but, actually, he's right. It won't happen, though.

These are unprecedented times but for the most part Scottish football has carried on in a vacuum, one in which they recognise the peril at their doors but rather than opening them up to invite in neighbours offering co-operation and communitarian spirit they have battened down the hatches and protected the status quo.