MARCH 12 2020, Rangers fans depart from Ibrox Stadium after witnessing their side going down 3-1 to Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League last sixteen. Little did they realise at that point that they would be the last set of fans in Scotland to have attended a football match to date.
The following day, football was halted as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and the Scottish Premiership only resumed last month by playing in empty stadiums as it was still deemed unsafe for fans to return to our grounds.
On Saturday, the six month wait for fans to attend football in Scotland will be over for two clubs, Aberdeen and Ross County, after getting the green light from the Scottish Government and SPFL to hold test events in front of 300 spectators spread out across Pittodrie and the Global Energy Stadium respectively.
This is a major starting point if we are hoping to have crowds come back to our games on a regular basis, and is ahead of schedule as the fear was we could be waiting until January. After the recent Edinburgh v Glasgow rugby match piloted without a hitch, football finally gets its chance.
Of course, there are question marks as to why Aberdeen v Kilmarnock and Ross County v Celtic were the two that were picked from the six fixtures taking place this weekend.
We are aware that Rangers made an application for their home match with Dundee United to be used as a test event. Unfortunately, Scottish Government restrictions on Glasgow caused by an increase of positive cases meant that Ibrox was ruled out, with St Mirren v Hibs also not able to be considered as Paisley falls under the same restrictions. It does seem unfair from the outset that the restrictions, which apply to people visiting households, means that Ibrox and the Simple Digital Arena can’t have minimal crowds this weekend. People are still allowed to go to the pub in enclosed spaces, albeit they should have social distancing measures in place, so it is a contradictory message that 300 fans cannot be spread across stadiums of 50,000 and 8,000 respectively.
The other two Premiership matches are Livingston v Hamilton and Motherwell v St Johnstone, which rightly prompts people to ask why those matches aren’t being used for a test event. Neither the West Lothian or North Lanarkshire regions are under further restrictions, unlike Glasgow and Renfrewshire, so, on the face of it, there’s no reason why the Toni Macaroni Arena or Fir Park couldn’t be picked. You have to assume that there is one of three possible reasons why their respective games were ignored.
1. They didn’t submit an application to hold a test event for 300 fans.
2. The governing bodies weren’t satisfied with the measures put in place to host an event in front of a reduced crowd.
3. Only two games were permitted for this weekend.
Which brings us onto Pittodrie and the Global Energy Stadium being selected to test running a football match in front of a significantly reduced crowd. Naturally, fans of rival clubs are up in arms given the recent rule breaking by eight Aberdeen players and Boli Bolingoli of County’s opponents Celtic, with those fans thinking it is absurd that these clubs benefit from the events.
Firstly, these fans are overlooking the fact that Celtic are the AWAY TEAM and that no Celtic fans are going to be in Dingwall on Saturday. Ross County will be selecting fans from their Staggies Army incentive so this in no way benefits the defending Champions.
With regards to the grievance of Aberdeen being selected, those people do have a point. The actions of the eight players ignoring protocol and guidance on social distancing, which played a part in two of them catching the virus, were a black mark on our game and led to three of their games being postponed by the Scottish Government. However, the club dealt with the issue swiftly and were pretty condemning of their players, and this matter is to test if they can successfully stage a game without risk of spreading infection to a limited crowd. Why should the club and, more importantly, fans be penalised for the idiocy of eight individuals? If Aberdeen have satisfied the authorities that they can stage a test event in front of 300 fans they should be given that opportunity.
The number of fans is raising questions across social media, with many saying that the 300 figure is “pointless” and others are questioning the rules that are being put in place with regards to no singing and wearing face masks. First of all, the 300 figure is not pointless and is 300 times better than zero fans. We have to start somewhere and this is what’s being put in place by the relevant authorities.
Regarding the rules being enforced, to put it bluntly there is absolutely no cause for grievance. We want to get back to football matches as soon as possible, we have to do it in a safe environment and if wearing a mask and being asked not to sing is part of that then there should be no questions asked. Whether fans like it or not, the Scottish Government is a major player in our game whilst this pandemic is ongoing, and they have already shown that they’re not afraid to put the shutters on football if need be, therefore they will not hesitate in doing a u-turn on restricted crowds going back to grounds if fans don’t adhere to the guidelines put in place.
Should the two events at Pittodrie and the Global Energy Stadium pass without any evidence of the virus spreading from the matches, fans will be permitted back into all grounds very soon at a reduced capacity to begin with. These small steps are ones we should be grasping with both hands, we should be looking forward to the prospect of going back to matches again, we’ve waited long enough. Let’s not let negativity get in the way, there’s been far too much of that in Scottish Football this year and it’s about time we had something to look forward to.
Jock Stein’s famous quote “football without fans is nothing” has been evident in games across the globe as sides struggle for intensity to their game without a crowd to feed off. Scottish Football is more dependent on fan income than any other in Europe and supporters have been good for helping their clubs through the pandemic by buying season tickets, merchandise and even Just Giving pages to see them through this tricky period. Saturday is the first step to injecting much needed normality into our game, doubters need to see the bigger picture and not let club politics and self pride stand in the way.