THE Scottish Cup Final should be the perfect climax to the season. For Hibs and St Johnstone, who don’t get to win the trophy all too often, it should be a Final to look forward to.
However, the occasion has turned sour before the game is kicked off as the Scottish Government went back on their initial plea to let fans into Hampden for the big day. This is because they made a last minute decision to keep Glasgow in Level Three amidst a recent increase in positive Covid cases.
Yet again, another football match is taking place in front of no spectators.
It really is a kick in the teeth for Scottish Football and sums up the awful season in a nutshell. It’s been a season where only one senior league has managed to complete a full card, with two more having to cut their matches even further after an enforced shutdown in January that lasted almost three months. Further down, the Highland and Lowland League called their respective campaigns to allow Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts their shot at the League Two playoffs, which was quashed last season due to the self preservation of the SPFL, and the inaugural West of Scotland League being declared null and void.
But it’s the absence of paying spectators that has been the primary reason why the season has lacked enjoyment for most. The Cup Final was supposed to represent hope going forward as we move closer to normality after this awful pandemic, instead we’ve taken two steps backwards!
The Scottish Government’s last minute U-Turn will deflect blame from the SFA in the minds of the media, and of course they deserve their criticism, which I’ll come back to. However, the SFA could’ve avoided this fiasco had they been proactive in the first place – by seeking an alternative venue to the National Stadium!
It’s been known for sometime that UEFA were taking control of Hampden ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020 Finals, in fact the SFA knew that control would be in European Football’s governing body when they rejigged the dates of the Scottish Cup in March. Knowing that UEFA were unlikely to allow fans in whilst they work on getting the National Stadium ready for the Euro’s, our governing body should have moved quickly to source out alternatives.
Rumours are that Celtic Park, Ibrox and Murrayfield were approached as potential hosts for the 2021 Scottish Cup Final, to which all, for various reasons, said no. But there are other alternatives across the country. Tynecastle is the perfect example, a 20,000 plus capacity stadium could easily host the Final with the 600 fans with the two metre social distancing measures in place. Aberdeen offered the services of Pittodrie, albeit travelling distance is not ideal for fans of clubs from Edinburgh and Perth, but again that is another stadium more than capable of hosting such an occasion. Tannadice in Dundee is another alternative that could host the occasion for a small element of fans at social distance in their stadium and isn’t too far away for either set of fans.
Have the SFA explored those options? If not, why not? Given that all of Scotland, bar Glasgow and Moray, are moving into Level Two, which allows up to 500 spectators without requiring Government approval, it would be foolish of them to ignore these options.
Whilst the SFA’s typical incompetence shines through yet again, we can’t ignore the fact that they have been let down by the Scottish Government. Having finally convinced UEFA to allow a small section of fans to attend the Scottish Cup Final, they did put a proposal for 2000-3000 fans to socially distance at 1.5 metres, only to be told it must be 600 with the two metre rule in place. Within 24 hours, that was consigned to the bin once the announcement came through that Glasgow was staying in Level Three.
Now it has to be acknowledged that the Scottish Government are trying to avoid complacency regarding the spread of the virus, and that an increase in cases is not to be ignored. However, their decision to go back on their word was mean, and ruined any hope for the small number of Hibs and St Johnstone fans of attending the Cup Final.
Surely an exception could’ve been made? Ahead of the Euro’s, this could’ve been used as a test event. It’s not as if there’s going to be tens of thousands of fans descending on Hampden Park on Saturday, it’s 300 per club, and even then most of them would’ve been the players family. Here’s the other big point, they would be sitting two metres apart with masks on in the open air. Also, three weeks after the Cup Final, 12,500 spectators will be heading towards Mount Florida for Scotland’s opening Euro 2020 group match with Czech Republic, so the U Turn is even more bewildering with this in mind.
With six days to go, time is running out either for the Scottish Government to reconsider or for the SFA to find an alternative venue that allows even up to 500 fans without Holyrood approval. In a week that should’ve represented hope, and ended the season of gloom with a ray of positivity, both parties have badly let people down.
At least the playoff finals should all have some form of fan attendance to create some form of atmosphere for those crucial matches. Let’s hope that fans starved of not being able to attend games all season embrace them for what they are and enjoy the occasion, even if they have a lot at stake with promotion and relegation on the line.
With this season being almost a complete write off for fans, the message for next season is clear. No more locking spectators out! By the time the season kicks off, most people will have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and many will have had their second dose. We cannot keep living in fear from a virus that clearly is not going to go away, but unlike up to six month ago we have something that can stop it having as deadly an effect. Like everything else, football has suffered through the pandemic both on and off the field, enough is enough, it’s time that authorities stop killing the hope we have and let us back in to watch the game we love.