I WISH there had been social distancing at football stadiums when I was a boy.

I can still vividly remember going to see Scotland play England at Hampden way back in 1970 when I was just 13.

I can recall that Jim Cruickshank, the only decent player Hearts had, was in goals for Scotland that day. Elsewhere, Billy Dickson of Kilmarnock played left back, Willie Carr of Coventry City was in midfield and Colin Stein of Rangers played up front.

For England, Brian Labone, the Everton defender who I was lucky enough to meet years later, was in his usual position at centre half. It finished up 0-0 at the end of the 90 minutes.

Anyway, there were 137,438 people there that afternoon. It was kind of uncomfortable for me to say the least. In fact, it was horrendous, truly horrendous. There were about 50 people crammed into the square metre where I was standing.  I could have done with some social distancing that day. 

I had the exactly same sort of experience in 1979 when I drove down to Wembley with my Aberdeen team mates Alex McLeish and John McMaster and my brother-in-law for the Home International match between Scotland and England.

We stood behind the goals. I was up against a barrier. When John Wark put us in front I thought I was going to die. I was lucky big Alex was there. He pushed people off me and basically kept me alive.

So I was in fully in favour of social distancing at football grounds long, long before the Covid-19 outbreak. But I am certainly behind it now if it means we can get fans back through turnstiles as lockdown restrictions are eased in the coming weeks and months.

The crowd situation at sport now is strange. I was watching the US Masters on television on Thursday night. There are “patrons”, as they call spectators at Augusta National, behind the ropes again this year. But you do think: ‘It has still not quite got it has it?’

I am fortunate enough to have been at Augusta twice in the past. At the short 16th there is always a wall of people who make a lot of noise when a player hits it close. But when Tommy Fleetwood got his hole-in-one the other evening you could practically hear the ball drop in. It just isn’t the same. 

Still, I think having a limited number of socially distanced fans at an event, at a football match especially, is certainly much better than having none at all.

Which is why I think the SFA should give serious consideration to switching the venue of the Scottish Cup final on Saturday, May 22, from Hampden to either Ibrox or Parkhead if it means that some supporters can attend the last match of what has been a difficult season.

There had been hopes the showpiece match could have been used as a “test event” for the Euro 2020 finals after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week confirmed to UEFA that Hampden will be able to accommodate 12,000 supporters at the ground in June.

However, because the stadium will be under the control of the tournament organisers, who will be getting the stands ready for the opening group games, by the time of the final that will not happen. So why not move the venue of the game and let spectators in? 

If you can get 12,000 or 15,000 people inside Ibrox or Parkhead – depending on the outcome of the last 16 match between Celtic and Rangers a week today - for the Scottish Cup final I think it would be a good idea.

How would that sit with the Scottish government? It couldn’t be considered if there was a chance that anybody was being put at risk. Lockdown restrictions would obviously need to be eased. The SFA would clearly have to satisfy a lot of criteria to get fans into a ground. But if they can then they should.

Having some sort of crowd and atmosphere, even if it is just 12,000 in a 50,000-capacity ground, is better than playing behind closed doors. Ibrox and Celtic Park are far more enclosed than Hampden, too, and would therefore generate far more of an atmosphere.

I have played at Hampden a lot as a player. I have also been there as a coach and a manager. It didn’t give me the same buzz that I got whenever I went to Ibrox or Parkhead.

I would be interested to hear what the St Johnstone and Livingston players thought about being involved in the Betfred Cup final at an empty Hampden back in February. Would they have preferred to play elsewhere with a crowd?

I am sure if you asked the players who will be involved in the Scottish Cup final if they would rather play in front of nobody at Hampden or 12,000 people at Ibrox or Parkhead it would be a no brainer.

I don’t think it is any coincidence that both Celtic and Liverpool, who have arguably the best fans in the modern game, have suffered such difficult seasons in the last eight months without their supporters in attendance. 

Jock Stein was absolutely right. Football without fans is nothing.