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JIM SPENCE: Football players aren’t monks – and Dundee United stars were entitled to their night out in Newcastle

Dundee United stars got flak for a night out in Newcastle after news broke of a Covid scare at Tannadice
Dundee United stars got flak for a night out in Newcastle after news broke of a Covid scare at Tannadice

Criticism and flak flying in the direction of Dundee United players over their Christmas party in Newcastle is harsh.

If Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon wants to ban nights out or public gatherings – or indeed football matches with fans in attendance – then they have the legal powers to do so.

However, they need to do it properly and not by a nudge-nudge, wink-wink approach, which might be fine for comedy sketches, but not for running a country amid a Covid-19 pandemic.

Whether discretion might have been the better part of valour for the United squad as we face the uncertainty of a new strain of the virus – and in an industry so reliant on having its players fit to play – is a different question.

Dundee United have enjoyed celebrating with fans this season – and they chose Newcastle to celebrate Christmas together

Football players aren’t monks; they already forego many things we all take for granted in life but which are incompatible with being a professional athlete, but they’re entitled to a night out.

Whether the United players should have swerved their once-a-year blowout in what appears to be everyone’s favourite party town – and where there’s no suggestion that they were swinging from night club chandeliers or dandering bare-chested along the Gallowgate – is a question which everyone will have their own answer to.

The simple fact remains that in the eyes of the law as it stands their behaviour was legal, anything else is purely subjective opinion and moralising.

I was at the Hydro in Glasgow to see the Human League just over a week ago; the venue was jumping and in the standing section for every one Lone Ranger on the floor there were ten folk unmasked and going Tonto.

Admittedly, the current situation is moving quicker than Peter Pawlett on a mazy run, but when the public and football players aren’t breaking the law it’s completely subjective to criticise folk for doing something which is legal.

In the words of the Human League song: “I’m only Human, born to make mistakes,” and to go a bit further back to a book with maybe a bit more gravitas than a simple pop tune: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Football players aren’t above the law. No one is.

When they transgress the laws on the pitch they get a yellow or a red card.

Those decisions are open to appeal and VAR in some cases.

In this situation there’s no need for either.

Dundee United boss Tam Courts was comfortable the club acted correctly in sanctioning a team night out to Newcastle

No laws were transgressed or broken; so it’s a case of play on.

With the English game looking as though it might be about to have an outbreak of Covid-related postponements and cancellations it’s entirely possible and indeed probable that we in Scotland might be next.

It’s a fast-changing scene and, in fairness, our political leaders are trying to deal with a moving landscape in which new facts are emerging daily.

It’s harsh in my view to be pointing the finger of blame at a group of footballers for having a Christmas bash, when they were doing nothing different from millions of others.

Any criticism on this occasion should be reserved for what happens on the pitch, not off it.

If Santa has any spare strikers in his sack then he needs to make sure he has addresses for Dens Park, Tannadice and McDiarmid Park on his gift list.

Currently all three clubs’ managers must feel they’re on the naughty list, given the absence of goal threat from their teams.

The Premiership table suggests strongly that St Johnstone and Dundee are heading into a prolonged winter battle to ensure their top league status.

United fans will be delighted that they made such a strong start to the season and their current fourth place still looks very impressive.

But there’s no room for complacency and, with just one win in their last eight games, the ocean of clear blue water between them and the likes of Aberdeen and Hibs a few weeks ago has dried up like a desert creek.

The Tayside trio have managed to net just 41 goals between them; that’s just one more than Rangers and two more than Celtic have managed on their own so far.

Goals for all three are harder to come by than a cheap pint in Norway.

Saints have lost lone hit man Chris Kane to Covid self-isolation and with Eetu Vertainen having been hooked at half time in the Ibrox defeat, there’s a sense of desperation surrounding the emergence of any serious goal threat from within Callum Davidson’s squad.

Eetu Vertainen closes down Scott Arfield.
Eetu Vertainen closes down Rangers’ Scott Arfield.

James McPake’s team scored a wonder goal in midweek at Hibs, but unfortunately it was from their own front man Paul McMullan, who deserves praise not criticism for his lung-bursting run back to try to assist his defence, despite his attempted headed clearance bulleting past his own keeper.

Leigh Griffiths and Jason Cummings, who I had high hopes for in providing a powerful goal threat, aren’t doing enough to force their way into the manager’s starting 11, so there’s a lot of weight resting on the shoulders of Danny Mullen.

United had invested striking hopes in Max Biamou signed from Coventry, but he’s managed just three appearances and is injured while Mark McNulty remains out of action too, leaving Tam Courts side also goal-parched.

In the absence of front men capable of bringing home the goals it looks like all three clubs are going to need their midfielders and defenders to join the party and chip in with some festive goal cheer – otherwise a long dark winter may be looming.

Nicola Sturgeon: Why Rangers vs Dundee United game will go ahead despite Covid fears

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